Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER TENTH.: MANTUA—MONTEPULCIANO. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 5 (Defence of the Constitutions Vols. II and III)
Return to Title Page for The Works of John Adams, vol. 5 (Defence of the Constitutions Vols. II and III)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER TENTH.: MANTUA—MONTEPULCIANO. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 5 (Defence of the Constitutions Vols. II and III) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 5.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Equicola1 concurs with Leonardo Aretino and all the other Italian writers, in his account of the antiquity, riches, and power of the Tuscans, Etruscans, Etrurians, Tyrrhenians, or Dodecapoli, (for by all these names they were known); their original emigration from Lydia; their government of Lucumoni; their twelve confederated peoples; their subjection, in a course of time, to the Romans, Goths, Lombards, and Charlemagne, who, for his merit, was, in the year 800, created emperor, with the titles of Cæsar and Augustus, by the Pope Leo III., who understood the effect upon the minds of the people of words and titles so anciently beloved, as well as dreaded, in Italy. He gave him also the title of Great, which had been before given only to three princes, Alexander, Pompey, and Constantine. The authority which the Roman senate and people had anciently exercised, of electing and confirming the emperors, was now by Charlemagne transferred to the Roman pontificate; and, to prevent seditions, the power of confirming the pontiff was given to the emperor; a promising alliance!
“Afterwards, Gregory V., in 1002, ordained a constitution, which continues to this time, that the election of future emperors should be free in the power of the Germans, and the ecclesiastical and temporal electorates were then created.*
“In 111, Mantua fell into discords, threw off her subjection to Matilda, and assumed an independence; but being besieged and reduced to great distress, was obliged, in 1114, to submit again to that princess.
“Sigebert, an enterprising man, took the opportunity of the troubles in Italy to aggrandize himself, and going from Lucca, he made himself lord of Parma and Reggio. He was a Lombard by descent, and was prefect or lord of the aforesaid city. Sigebert had three sons, Sigebert II., Atto, and Gerardo; two of them died, and Atto alone remained, who, by the change of the letters, was afterwards called Azzo. He fortified Canossa, in Reggiano, and dwelt there as his principal seat, whence his descendants were called da Canossa. He had two sons, the first of whom was named Tedaldo, and the other, uniting the names of his grandfather and father, was called Sigebertazzo, although it was afterwards corruptly called Albertazzo. This person was sent into Germany, and recommended himself to Otho the emperor so effectually, as to obtain a grant for his services of Calaone, Monselice, Montagnana, Arqui, and Este, with the title of marquis. He married Alda, a natural daughter of the emperor. From this match there issued two sons, Ugo and Folco; the latter remained in Germany with his mother; Ugo came into Italy with his father, and succeeded to the lands above mentioned, and to the marquisate of Este. From this Ugo are descended the illustrious lords of the house of Este, who reigned so long in Ferrara; and from them were descended the family that was called the Canossi of Verona.
“There were in Mantua, in 1265, four most powerful families, and four others their adherents, of somewhat less influence. The Bonacossi and Grossolani inhabited one quarter; the Arlotti and the Poltroni another; these not long before had driven out the Calorosi. In a third quarter were the Casaloldi and those of Riva; and in the fourth, the Zenacalli and the Gaffari.”
The government was, as in all the other cities of Italy, in one centre, a general council, who first appointed consuls, then podestàs, then gonfaloniers, captains of the people, &c., which produced the usual struggles for power.
“In the year 1266 the Gaffari entered into a secret conspiracy to deliver the city of Mantua into the hands of the Estensi, Lords of Ferrara. The treason was discovered; those who saved their lives by flight were banished forever, and the others instantly put to death, and the houses of all who were accomplices or privy to the crime were burnt and demolished. The power of individual citizens increased every day, and parties and factions in consequence. The podestà, though a foreigner was usually appointed to that office, administered its functions according to the will and pleasure of a small number of the principal men. Justice was oppressed by power, and equity gave way to violence.* In such a tumult of the factious, the prudent men called a convention, to deliberate on a new form of government. Some were for ephori, as in Sparta; others for cosmi, as in Crete; others for suffetes, as in Carthage; but the most were for hypati, as in Greece, or rather for two consuls, as in Rome. Two magistrates were, therefore, created; and that they might be sure to guard against ambition, they must be chosen in rotation every six months, two at a time, from each of the four quarters of the city. These were to be called captains of the people, and were to be the protectors of the plebeians, and defenders of their liberties. Two magistrates, therefore, from the body of the nobility, were elected, in the nature of tribunes of the people, and those were Pinamonte, of the family of Bonacossi, and Ottonello, of that of Zenecalli, in the year 1274.
“These had not continued one month in office together, before such animosities arose between the two families, that Zenecalli was treacherously called in the night into the palace of Bonacossi, under pretence of consulting upon some sudden affair of the last importance, and there murdered. The next morning Bonacossi called together the principal nobility, and, with fictitious grief and pharisaical tears, communicated the fact, and exhorted the people to revenge, wishing that every one might believe that the deceased magistrate had been assaulted and put to death by some private enemy. An inquiry was ordered, which engaged so much attention, and took up so much time, that no man spoke of any successor, and therefore Pinamonte governed alone.”
The scramble for power was as yet altogether among the gentlemen.
“Benvenuto da Imola, in his Commentaries upon Dante, where he discourses of Mantua, writes, that this city had been inhabited by gentlemen of Riva, of Mercaria, and of the Casaloldi; and that Bonacossi had agreed with these houses to expel from the city every other nobleman; and that afterwards, forming a particular agreement with two of them, he drove out the third; and then uniting with the Casaloldi, he banished the second; and, finally, driving out the Casaloldi, he remained alone, and, by artifice assisted with force, continued without a colleague in the magistracy; and taking for his podestà Alberto della Scala, for a stricter union he obtained the place of podestà in Verona for Giannino de’ Bonacossi, not failing to maintain a good intelligence with the Marquis of Este. By all these arrangements he easily obtained from his followers the prolongation of his own power for another six months; and when he had thus laid his foundations sufficiently strong to support any edifice, he assumed the title of captain-general. These encroachments were very uneasily supported by the nobles, who perceived that from free citizens they were become, by little and little, the subjects of a tyrant. Whereupon the Arlotti, the Casaloldi, the Agnelli, and the Grossolani, conspired together to throw off the yoke; but Pinamonte, being informed of the plot on the very day on which it was to have been executed, and being well prepared, fell unexpectedly on the conspirators separately, a part of whom he took prisoners; others were killed, many wounded, and the great multitude saved themselves by flight. Many suspected persons were sent out of their beloved home, and confined in various places. Pinamonte did not cease to persecute his adversaries, until all things in the city appeared to be quieted under his dominion.
“The miserable Mantuans were dispersed in various places, and particularly in Gonzaga; but the tyrant had the art to hold out temptations of lands, restitution of property, and restoration to their country, to these, till they surrendered to him that Gonzaga, which had often defended itself both against popes and emperors. Pinamonte then established a friendship with Venice and Padua, but was interrupted in his career, in 1289, by death.”
The family of Bonacossi, with Pinamonte at their head, had, by forming a popularity among the vilest plebeians, been able to expel the other noble families, and make themselves absolute. So complete was their ascendency over the minds of the rabble, that, upon the death of Pinamonte, the minority were not able to obtain any regular election or rational reform of the government; but,
“Bardello Bonacossi was set up by his party for a successor, a man universally hated, a monster without virtue, wholly without capacity, insolent, without judgment or experience; equally ignorant and arrogant, vile and suspicious, yet credulous, and a slave to adulation; devoted to cruelty and lust. This pestiferous tyrant governed in Mantua five years, according to Platina; but the plebeians themselves could bear him no longer, and set up another of the same family against him. Bottigella Bonacossi with little difficulty was able to expel him, and Tamo, his brother, one of whom died miserably at Padua, and the other at Ferrara.”
We pass over the actions of Bottigella, and his wars with Cremona and with Azzo of Este, &c. In 1308, Bottigella died, as well as his enemy Azzo; to the latter succeeded his son Flisco, and to the former Passarino, his brother; for this plebeian tyranny was already become hereditary in the family. Although the government of Passarino was not remarkable for folly or severity, yet Luigi Gonzaga, who had connected himself in marriage with the Bonacossi, being a man of abilities, and knowing the general discontent of the people, and the universal hatred of the nobility against that family, entered into concert with some of the neighboring lords, as Cane della Scala, &c., found little difficulty to depose and expel Passarino, put him to death, and reign in his stead. The family of the Gonzaghi were named from the place of their ancient residence, which was Gonzaga. A multitude of conjectures and fables, collected from various authors, concerning the origin of this family, we pass over. Guido Gonzaga, who fought against Manfred, King of Naples, had five sons, the first of whom was Luigi, the author and founder of the lordship and marquisate of Mantua.
In 1328, it is said, that “by the consent of the people, according to the laws and good custom, one was elected, after the death of Passarino, to whom, and to his successors, the whole empire was given for perpetuity, as was usual in the heroic times. The Mantuans reasoned in this manner: The mode of making a commonwealth perpetual, or of any long duration, is by prudence, which disposes and rules with manly energy, as well as with wise discernment. This can alone be performed in a state by means of justice, which distributes to every one his deserts; to the good, rewards and honors; to the wicked, punishment and infamy. As the virtue of clemency is the daughter of magnanimity, and participates of divinity, we always applaud it when it extends only to offences committed against ourselves; and it is commended in princes whenever pardon and mercy cannot cause an injury to the public, and give insolence to the daring to rise against the laws. It should be a pleasure to princes to remit private injuries; but skilful in the healing art, they should not be so partially compassionate as to heal one wound at the hazard of destroying the whole body. The liberty of the people consists in two things, in the laws and the tribunals; when these prevail in a city, without favor, respect, or partiality, that city and its citizens are free.
Upon these principles the Mantuans, finding that liberty never had been enjoyed by them under their uncouth government of a republic, strange to relate! adopted voluntarily an absolute monarchy. Louis Gonzaga was elected and constituted upon these principles and for these reasons, and began his reign by an assiduous attention to the revival of laws which had been trampled under foot, and by a diligent solicitude that all the good customs should be observed with equality. And this is sufficient for another example of the struggles of a few families, in an unbalanced government, for preëminence, and of the final triumph of the Gonzaghi over the Bonacossi, in a monarchy erected on the ruins of a republic.
Chiusi, the country and residence of Porsenna, the ancient king to whom Tarquin fled for hospitality, was one of the most ancient and powerful cities of Tuscany or Etruria. As Chiusi was in a low situation and a bad air, Porsenna chose, for his pleasure and his health, a mountain in the neighborhood, where was a salubrious atmosphere and an admirable prospect; an ample plain, the lake of Thrasimene, and the river of Chiane, with hills and valleys loaded with every production of the earth, in grapes, grains, and fruits, in the most perfect elegance and abundance, were around it.1
“In after ages, upon a civil war in Chiusi between the gentlemen and plebeians, in which the former were expelled, they retired to this mountain, and gave it the name of Mons Politicus, which was corrupted afterwards, in the vulgar pronunciation, into Monspolitianus, and since into Montepulciano. The plebeians of the same city passed the river, took possession of another elevated situation, where they built a castle, and called it Castrum Plebis.”
Though Florence and Siena have, at different times, pretended that Montepulciano was in their dominion; yet it is certain that, for three hundred years at least, it was an independent sovereign republic. At an expense of continual wars, it maintained its liberty. Its government was by podestàs and general councils like all the other cities; and its whole history is made up of revolutions, from nobles to plebeians, and from plebeians to nobles, Florence and Siena taking the parties of opposite factions. Even in this little village, there were great families as well as little ones, the Guidos, Ugolinos, the Bulgarellos, and Rinieri, continually struggling for precedence.
“In the year 1328, the Rinieri, or rather the family del Pecora, were accounted noble, because they were rich, and powerful in followers, adherents, and relations; they had increased in reputation and power to such a degree, that they domineered, at their discretion, over all their compatriots. The heads of the house were Jacob and Nicholas de’ Cavalieri, who governed in concurrence, with prudence and good order, till 1352, when dissensions and discords began to arise between them.
“Jacob concerted with Peter Sacconi, who governed in Arezzo, a project to make himself master of Montepulciano; but Nicholas, his colleague, revealed it to the governor of the people, who excited an insurrection, and expelled Jacob, with twenty of his followers; and afterwards, with the influence and counsels of Nicholas, the government was reformed, and all the friends of Jacob were excluded from any share in it,”* according to the custom and nature of all majorities, when there is no power but a minority to rebuff their pretensions. “Jacob then intrigued with Visconti, Archbishop of Milan, and his allies, and, corrupting a notary, an officer on guard, broke down a gate in the night, entered with all his men, and excited a tumult. Nicholas, a knight of great spirit, seized his arms, and mounting his horse, with a few of his companions, waiting for no further help, attacked the enemy with such impetuosity that they fled in a panic. Jacob, with twenty-five horsemen, escaped; the others were taken, to the number of seventy-five, together with the notary and the guard. The governors of the people hanged thirty, and released the rest, having first marked them forever, by slitting their noses and cutting off their ears.
“Jacob then fled to Siena, and there attempted to form connections and obtain auxiliaries; and Nicholas, and the governors of the people of Montepulciano, applied to Perugia. A war was excited between those two cities, which was terminated by ambassadors, upon these conditions, that Montepulciano should remain under the government of the people, under the protection of the commons of Siena, for twenty years; Jacob and Nicholas were to be indemnified for the expenses, and their estates restored, and the commons of Florence and Perugia were to be guarantees. Tommasi adds, that another condition was, the restoration of all the refugees.*
“The next year the peace was broken, and Nicholas sent into banishment; but, collecting his friends without, and concerting measures with his partisans within, he found means to enter Montepulciano, with two hundred horse and five hundred foot; but he met with such a resistance from his enemies in the place, and their Sienese allies, that he perceived he could not overcome them. He therefore took the barbarous resolution to burn the town, and retire; his party set fire to as many houses as possible, and, while the people and soldiers were intent upon preventing the progress of the flames, he retreated. Nicholas and Jacob, at length finding that they gained nothing and lost much by continual quarrels, came to an agreement, and solicited the emperor to hold the government of Montepulciano as imperial vicars; but the people would not admit them, because the Sienese would not receive such vicars. This occasioned a fresh war between the commons of Montepulciano and those of Siena, on one side, and the Perugians, in conjunction with the Pecora family and their adherents, on the other. In this war a memorable battle was fought, and the Montepulcians distinguished themselves by so much valor, that the Perugians created four of them cavaliers, namely,—John, the son of Nicholas, and Gherard, the son of Jacob, and two of their nephews, Berthold and Corrado, all of the family del Pecora; and the Perugian conquerors, with their Montepulcian cavaliers, committed the customary depredations and devastations.
“The government of the land being in the hands of the people, for the sake of the public tranquillity, Jacob and Nicholas del Pecora remained abroad in banishment, inhabiting Valiano, a strong place, and a plentiful situation. The latter, knowing the nature of the citizens of Montepulciano, accustomed to hope more than they ought, and to tolerate less than was necessary, discontented and prone to novelties, vacillating between the commons of Siena and those of Perugia through alternate envy, jealousy, and resentment, and being never at rest, entered into a secret correspondence with them, in order to return to his country. His purpose was in time accomplished, and he was joyfully received by the people, and mutual forgiveness of injuries and affronts was stipulated. Recollecting that the rupture between him and Jacob had been the cause of all the evils, he sent a messenger to him, and a reconciliation was effected between them for the common benefit of their country. All was now joy, friendship, and festivity, in appearance, but the secret causes of discord were still at work, and before the year 1363 produced another revolution, and Nicholas and his friends were again exiled.
“Five years afterwards the exiles from Montepulciano, with some assistance from the grandees of Siena, entered and conquered their country, and sent Jacob, who had made himself lord and master, to prison. But the plebeians and others, who had been oppressed by him, and mortally hated him, could not satiate their vengeance merely by burning and plundering all his property; they broke open his prison, and tore him into pieces so small, that no part of his body could ever be collected for sepulture. The grandees were so transported with indignation at this infamous barbarity, that they put to death a great part of the plebeians, and banished the remainder. They reformed the government of the land, however, into a popular state, and banished the Cavalieri as rebels.”
Not to pursue this relation to any greater length, it may be observed in general, that this little hill maintained its independence for three hundred years, by the mutual jealousies of Florence, Siena, and Perugia; but it was by uninterrupted wars with one or the other of them, all in their turn seeking its alliance or subjugation, and all in their turn taking its part when in danger of being subdued by any one. This occasioned a continual vacillation of its friendship and enmity with those cities, and constant revolutions of government at home upon every change. There was no balance in their government by which parties or powerful individuals might be restrained, and a few families were continually scrambling for superiority. There were no nobles by name, that is, there were no marquises, counts, or barons; but there were gentlemen and common people, and the gentlemen were called cavaliers, because they could afford to keep a horse, or at most, three horses to each man. The family del Pecora was the principal one of these cavaliers, and they enslaved their country of course, as the Medici did in Florence.
Perhaps it may be said, that in America we have no distinctions of ranks, and therefore shall not be liable to those divisions and discords which spring from them; but have we not laborers, yeomen, gentlemen, esquires, honorable gentlemen, and excellent gentlemen? and are not these distinctions established by law? have they not been established by our ancestors from the first plantation of the country? and are not those distinctions as earnestly desired and sought, as titles, garters, and ribbons are in any nation of Europe? We may look as wise, and moralize as gravely as we will; we may call this desire of distinction childish and silly; but we cannot alter the nature of men; human nature is thus childish and silly; and its Author has made it so, undoubtedly for wise purposes; and it is setting ourselves up to be wiser than nature, and more philosophical than Providence, to censure it. All that we can say in America is, that legal distinctions, titles, powers, and privileges, are not hereditary; but that the disposition to artificial distinctions, to titles, and ribbons, and to the hereditary descent of them, is ardent in America, we may see by the institution of the Cincinnati. There is not a more remarkable phenomenon in universal history, nor in universal human nature, than this order. The officers of an army, who had voluntarily engaged in a service under the authority of the people, whose creation and preservation was upon the principle that the body of the people were the only fountain of power and of honor; officers, too, as enlightened and as virtuous as ever served in any army; the moment they had answered the end of their creation, instituted titles and ribbons, and hereditary descents, by their own authority only, without the consent or knowledge of the people, or their representatives or legislatures. If these gentlemen had been of opinion that titles and ribbons were necessary in society, to have been consistent, they should have taken measures for calling conventions of the people, where it should have been determined, first, whether any such distinction should be introduced; secondly, how many such orders; thirdly, what number of individuals of each; and, lastly, there should have been in convention a general election of noblemen for each of the thirteen states. As great injustice may be done by giving too much honor to one, and too little to another, as by committing trespasses upon property, or slanders upon reputation; the public good requires justice in the distribution of fame as well as fortune; and the public, or some tribunal erected by the public, can be alone competent to the decision.1
As there is no instance more parallel than this of Montepulciano, where the people who owned horses agreed together to call themselves cavaliers, and thus created a distinct order in the state, this opportunity has been taken to make an observation upon an institution, which ought not to be passed over in considering the subject of these labors. It is greatly to be wished that the officers would voluntarily discontinue their societies, and lay aside their eagles, which will do them, as well as the community, much more hurt than good; they have already excluded many excellent men from places in civil life, to which their merit in other respects entitled them; they have excited disputes which are very pernicious; they are founded on no principle of morals, true policy, or our own constitution.2
[1 ]Dell’ Istoria di Mantova, libri cinque. Scritta in Commentari da Mario Equicola d’Alveto. Quarto. Seconda impressione, in Mantoua, 1610.
[* ]Equicola, p. 25.
[* ]Cresceva ogni dì più la potenza de’ particolari, & augumentavansi le fattioni & parti. Il podestà, quale forastiere si soleva creare, ad arbitrio di alcuni pochi amministrava il suo officio; la giustitia dalla forza era conculcata, & l’equità cedeva alla violenza. Commentari Mantouani, di Equicola, pp. 47, 48.
[1 ]Storia della città di Montepulciano, di Spinello del Capitano Marcello Benci. 4to. In Fiorenza. 1641.
[* ]Matt. Vill. lib. iii. c. 10, f. 146, an. 1352.
[* ]Tom. lib. x. fo. 319, an. 1353.
[1 ]Of the feeling which was excited throughout the country by the establishment of the order of the Cincinnati, there is abundant proof in the publications of the time. The moderation of Washington in recommending a modification of the objectionable features of the institution, and the wisdom of the society in yielding at once to public opinion, smoothed all difficulties. Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the institution ever had in it the seeds of any mischief, for it was not based upon a distinction of property, without which no aristocratic class can really continue. The statute of distribution of estates is the most solid pillar of a republican edifice.
[2 ]This volume contains all of that part of the Defence, devoted by the author to a review of the domestic history of some of the Italian Republics in the Middle Ages; a portion to the perusal of which it is difficult to attach great interest, and yet not without its value to those disposed to study faithfully the working of popular forms of government. M. de Sismondi has since given to the public a more extended and perfect sketch of the Italian history for the same period, and has endeavored to analyze the causes, as well of the prosperity as of the decline of the republican states. His hundred and twenty-sixth chapter is devoted to an examination of their ideas of liberty, and to a comparison of them with those established at the present day. He considers the former as embraced in three propositions, which are equally considered as axioms among the people of the United States. The first is, that all authority exercised over the people emanates from the people. Secondly, That the power conferred should return at stated intervals to its source. Thirdly, That the recipient of the power must be responsible to the people for its exercise. These axioms M. de Sismondi considers as sufficient to account for the great impulse given to the energy and activity of those communities at that time.