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1 REPUBLICANISM AND GOVERNMENTAL STABILITY IN RENAISSANCE VENICE 1300 1600 BY MICHAEL McGURL A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts U nder the s Sarasota, Florida May 2013
2 Acknowledgements Special Thanks To: Dr. David Harvey and Dr. Thomas McCarthy My friends and family The New College History Department Whose invaluable help and support made this thesis possible.
3 Table of Contents iii iv 1 Chapter 1: Ducal Challenges to the Republican Stability 12 Chapter 2: Conciliar Cha 34 Chapter 3: The Myth of Venice 50 67 Appendix : The Composition of the Venetian Government 70 72
4 REPUBLICANISM AND GOVERNMENTAL STABILITY IN RENAISSANCE VENICE, 1300 1600 Michael McGurl New College of Florida 2013 In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the numerous small states of the Italian peninsula were experimenting with many different forms of government In this time many such states attempted to govern themselves as republics By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the political landscape of northern Italy had become largely a collection of princely states, indicating the instability of republican regimes at this time In this landscape of political change and a tendency towards autocratic or even princely rule the Most Serene Republic of Venice stands unique Unlike most of its peers and neighbors during this time period, Venice never became a monarchic or autocratic state This thesis seeks to explain how, through a mix of ideological motivations and personal interest, the Venetians crafted a state with a particularly responsive and adaptive government, which allowed for i ts power base to shift drastically when the balance of power was threatened an autocracy or a more closed off oligarchy and maintained republican stability throughout the Renaissa nce. Research for this essay includes the close study of primary sources as well as a wealth of secondary literature on the political st ructures and history of Venice. All of this research has been synthesized in this essay in order to explain the role of governmental Department of History
5 Introduction: Why Venice? One morning in May 1618 the bravi French mercenaries who had gathered in Venice after witness to a grisly sight Without warning, notice, or mention of a trial, three of their leaders were to be found in the Piazzetta swinging by their necks from a gallows The bravi fled the city in droves, making their exits so swift that there were rumors that the shadowy Council of Ten was actually havin g them killed in large numbers their bodies deposited in the Canal Orfano Soon, the Spanish ambassador to Venice, the Marquis of Bedmar, was expelled from the city He had attempted to enlist the aid of the bravi to destabilize t he Venetian republic in hopes that Spain and the Papal States could make territorial and economic gains in the Adriatic Sea The Venetian government, especially the Council of Ten, had moved against the plot with frightening speed and quickly neutralized i t Thus a pressing threat to the stability of the republic had been crushed before it had a chance to begin. The Bedmar Plot, as it came to be known, had been years in the making The first stirrings of trouble had begun in 1605 when Venice severely reduce d the rights of papal land ownership in their territory while expanding their mainland empire This led to a papal interdict, which the Republic promptly defied This drew the ire of not only Pope Paul V, but also his ally Spain Spain entered the fray hop ing that Europe would see them as the force that shook Venetian resolve in this conflict The next year an uneasy compromise was reached, with the perception that, even though both sides had made concessions for which they were not prepared, Venice had com e out on top It had demonstrated the power of a state standing against the Church. 1 1 Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 396 7.
6 Long standing tensions between the papacy, Spain and Venice were far from resolved at this stage, and the Habsburgs soon entered the fray Seeking to be more assertive in the protection of one launched an attack against the Austrian Habsburg archduke in 1615 The conflict was over the actions of the Uskoks, Croatian Habsburg soldiers who were operating as pi rates in the Adriatic Sea Their activities had brought them into an ever escalating conflict with Venetian merchant ships, including a particularly gruesome incident in which they had captured a Venetian commander, murdered him and eaten his heart at a ce lebratory banquet. 2 The archduke acted as their protector and so it was to stop these attacks that Venice confronted the Habsburgs The offensive stalled and peace was reached in 1617. 3 Later in the same year, Venice engaged in a war with the Spanish vice roy of the kingdom of Naples, the Duke of Ossuna The Duke had sent a naval force into the Adriatic in order to break Venetian dominance in the area Venice survived by virtue of its close ties with England and the Netherlands which allowed the Republic to hire ships and soldiers This solidified their control of the Adriatic, but the cost of hiring mercenaries proved higher than the Senate had originally planned The French bravi hired by the Venetians for the war began to gather in the city of Venice itself They met with the Spanish ambassador, the Marquis of Bedmar, and discussed plans to seize the Ducal Palace, assassinate the senators and pillage the homes of wealthy Venetians This was no half baked notion, but a well organized plot to be carried out by experienced mercenaries. 4 If the Marquis did not personally take part in creating the plans, he certainly encouraged them, hoping that such actions would destabilize the Republic This would allow Spain and its allies to make great gains in Veneti an territory 2 Lane, A Maritime Republic 398. 3 Lane, A Maritime Republic 399. 4 Lane, A Maritime Republic 399.
7 When a Huguenot captain revealed the plot to the Council of Ten, its reaction was swift and harsh The leaders of the conspiracy were rounded up and executed, while the Marquis of Bedmar was removed from his post as ambassador and expelled f rom the city. 5 A potential disaster had been avoided The Council of Ten, in particular, had acted well within its authority as just one of several branches of Venetian government at this time, but it had acted with a level of decisiveness autonomy and e fficiency that under other republics might have been impossible It is in this balance between efficiency and republican stability that early modern Venice truly shines. The reaction of the Venetian state to the Bedmar Plot reveals much about the character of the Venetian government and its people The Venetians civic pride did not stop at the splendor of their churches or the glory of the doge Rather, the Venetians also took great pride in the beauty and elegance of their civic institutions Many descrip tions of the city spend as much time describing the functions of Venetian government as they do the other aspects of a city which are more typically the focus of laudatory civic literature 6 The sixteenth century Venetian statesman and historian Gasparo Co (1542) stands out in this regard Not only does he describe the mechanics of the senate, but he argues that its very 7 This obsession with statecraft is noted not only in the writings of Venetian historians like Contarini, but in those The Marquis of Bedmar himself wrote 5 Lane, A Maritime Republic 400. 6 History of Florence, (Written 1508 9, published 1859) for example, certainly takes pride in the republican heritage of Florence. However, Contarini seems to make the doge or republicanism central to nearly all of his writings on Venice, whereas Guicciardini frequently leaves the political realm when issues such as architecture or infrastructure. 7 Gasparo Contarini, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice trans. Lewes Lewkenor (New York: t published in 1599. The 1969 copy used here is a from a reprint)
8 relationship with their government in his Re lation a letter intended for the King of Spain sent in 1617 state they embrace and destroy at one blow all piety and fear of God, maintaining intelligence with enemi conserving the Republic, they cause the ruin of plans for the increase of the holy faith, consulting, discussing and deciding everything according to their habitual way of government. 8 The Marqu Sovereignty and republicanism took precedence over the efforts by other states to expand Christendom. The complex and adaptive nature of the Venetian government reveals a passion for politics and statecraft Many changes were made to the structure of the government itself in order to respond to a particular need without straying outside the boundaries of republicanism The state functioned swiftly in a time of crisis, such as during the Bedmar Plot, without transitioning to autocratic control In this case, autocratic refers to a system of government in which one individual, or a small group of individuals, is able to make and execute policy without oversight While the C ouncil of Ten possess ed great power, it still had to answer to a rigorous system of checks and balances within the Venetian government Vesting so much power to act unilaterally within the Council of Ten at times caused great consternation to the Republic, but it also saved it This is the intricate balancing act which Venetians undertook with the construction of their government. Due to devotion to statecraft and sophisticated governmental construction, the Venetian government proved remarkably resili ent to pressures that radically changed other early modern Italian states The Bedmar Plot was simply a continuation of a long trend By the seventeenth century, Venice had been a func tioning republic for over seven 8 William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty (Berkeley and Los Angeles: university of California Press, 1968), 503.
9 hundred years Many Italian city states had been able to sustain republicanism for a time during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but often they sped through a revolving series of governmental structures, or became little more than a petty fiefdom run by a local signore In the first case, Genoa provides a good example of the tendency for rapid governmental turnover Despite maintaining a nominal republic, the Genoese government experienced frequent revolts in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries T hese revolts often changed the str ucture of the government between a government of multiple consuls, a government by capitani del popolo and podesta rial government Most of these regimes failed to last two years. 9 On the other hand, one need only look to Floren ce and the influence of the Medici to see a republican government gradually converted to autocratic rule It is its defiance of these two traits that makes Venice unique It maintained its republican government throughout the early modern period with its executive and legislative institutions largely unchanged This thesis analyzes the Venetian government at the institutional level in an effort to There is no sin gle easy answer as to why the R epublic survived in the face o f such adversity and for as long as Venice did government became veste d in the upper echelons of the R epublic In particular, the Council of Ten, the do ge and the Senate all struggled often forming alliances between th emselves to gain more power relative to the others This political maneuvering ultimately le d to significant factionalization among the branches of government, but it also meant that these branches were numerous and powerful enough to effectively check eac The structure of the Venetian government was complex It was simult aneously a republic and a multi tiered oligarchy At the top sat the doge, the foremost elected official in Venice He was 9 Carrie E. Benes, Urban Legends: Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250 1350 (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), 65 and 210, endnote 16.
10 served by the six members of the Ducal Counc il Below these men sat the Council of Ten Forming the larger, more republican branches of government were the Senate, the Forty, the Great Council and the General Assembly Each played an important role in the functioning of the government, and their exa ct positions and duties were far from fixed On the contrary, the dynamics of these offices changed greatly over time The chart located in the Appendix traces the history of each of these branches of the R epublic with an emphasis on the events that led to power shifts between them. Special attention should be paid to the fact that power tends to gravitate toward the upper end of the chart consolidated and became more oligarchic over time, it never made the jump to autocracy and never strayed from its republican roots There is broad consensus on the general course of Venetian history among the Renaissance scholars cited in this thesis Rather, most disagreements are minor and interpretive, with most historians in ac cord with each other regarding the broader historical narrative This has resulted in a broad, sometimes repetitive, but generally compatible historical narrative of the city In this thesis I seek to combine the governmental mechanisms that are described but not fully explored incorporating and embracing the more culturally focused narratives of historians like Edward Muir I also make extensive use of Robe which focuses less on the institutions than the relationships between the politicians themselves. The scholarship regarding Renaissance Venice is extensive and covers many aspects of the Numerou s general histories have been written on the Republic, along with countless books on narrower topics related to the Venetian state While many of the general histories are well written and researched, their job is to provide an overview
11 istory The point of such work is not to research the full impact of the governmental structure, but rather to lay a framework upon which more specified research can be carried out Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter Reformation (1968) is a staple of such scholarship, as is Venice: A Maritime Republic (1973) These are two of the finest examples of this kind of source Both of these books present sweeping general histories of Venice that include detailed descriptions of its governmental processes While these books emphasize their own of government institution s and the maintenance of a republican regime Robert Finlay has examined Venetian politics in finer detail Politics in Renaissance Venice constitution thesis was that Venice was a successful and stable republic because the government acted as a focal point for the factional rivalries that plunged other cities into chaos ain how the informal influence and interactions of the various political bodies resulted in a more stable and functional government Instead, my focus is on how the unique institutional structure of Venice contributed to this phenomenon Civ ic Ritual in Renaissance Venice takes a decidedly more cultural approach, where the images projected by those in power reveal the state of Venice through many historical lenses These displays can reveal a great deal about the political climate of the time from the relative feelings of security in the state, to the relationship between the common people and the ruling classes Such analysis is useful in the context of my thesis in that it demonstrates the way in which the government ch ose to present these institutions.
12 This thesis does not attempt to subvert or counteract the per spectives presented in the works mentioned above Instead, it delves more deeply into a specific aspect of Venetian Renaissance government that is only touched on in other works While other works have dealt extensively with the structure of the government and the nature of the Venetian state, there has been little effort specifically to address the durability of the Venetian government in a time period with such widespread political instability across Italy It is important to note that this thesis is still confined to a narrow scope centered around the institutional stability of the Venetian Republic For example, it is not intended as an argument for the super iority of Venetian government over that of other Italian city states It is an analysis of government Similarly, I have made no attempts to justify the oligarchic natu re governmental representation The fact that Venice was run as an oligarchy and a republic is not in dispute here The oligarchic nature of the R epublic meant that only certain classes of people could participate in government As this t hesis focuses on government institutions, it is limited to those who were active in government This means that the focus is on the citizens of Venice, The situation of the lower cl asses, when it does not directly interact with the function of government institutions, is beyond the scope of this thesis. Thus this thesis is intended to build on other historical works rather than stand in opposition to them It seeks the commonalities between them that are not extensively explored when they examine governmental institutions The Most Serene Republic of Venice was stable due to a confluence of factors addressed by scholars like Lane, Bouwsma, Finlay and Muir However, the one that seems to the most basic is the structure of the government itself, which serves as the
13 foundation for so much of this research Therefore, to understand the stability of Venice at this time, one must look at the governmental structure with the specific intention of exploring that topic While others have laid out the structure well, and still others have analyzed the way that individuals or groups interacted with the structure, taking the concept back to its most basic level involves e xamining the ways in which the structure itself was designed, as well as how it functioned in the real world. 1350 to 1600 was a period when Venice experienced numerous challenges to government al stability, both from within its own structure and from outside threats Thus I chose this timeframe because it gives us an idea of the how the Republic adapted and used its institutions to combat threats to its stability It is also a sufficiently long pe riod of time that the changes in Lastly, it was during this time that many Italian city republics fell under the control of the signori after having experienced the kind of political whipla sh experienced by cities like Genoa from the mid thirteenth to early fourteenth centuries The fact that Venice did not veer down this path is unique F or these reasons my study deals specifically with the period 1350 1600 in Venice and will analyze the ways in which the Venetian government responded to various crises I have further focused on internal challenges to stability as, generally speaking, the issues which threatened Venetian republicanism were primarily internal Conversely, the external chal lenges tended to threaten the sovereignty of the state itself rather than the structure of its government Each crisis detailed in this thesis presented a new challenge which the city responded to in a different way This demonstrates the flexibility of Ve netian government institutions and demonstrates how their roles changed over time
14 In order to reveal these interactions between institutions and threats to government stability, I have organized this thesis thematically in accordance with the nature of s aid threats The first chapter details ducal challenges to the Venetian balance of power A s the single most powerful elected official in Venice the doge had a great deal of influence over the political landscape Occasionally, this led certain doges to a ttempt to seize more power for themselves and the office, which might have resulted in a system of government not unlike the signori in other states The second chapter will address es conciliar challenges to the balance of power The various councils of t he Republic each sought to increase their own power, or the power of an allied block of councils, at various times throughout Venetian history The most obvious example would be the constitutional crisis triggered by the power of the Council of Ten in the 1580 s, but there were also long term efforts by larger councils like the Senate to concentrate the bulk of Venetian political influence in their own ranks Bot h chapters one and t wo examine the way in which the institutions of Ve netian government responded to these crises and how the end result affected the overall balance of power. Chapter three will examine the strong relationship that the Venetian people seemed to have with their government and republicanism in general. It will also include the way Venice was seen by outsiders. Using this analysis, it will study the relationship between Venetian attitudes and the effect they had on the Republic. While the other chapters look at specific instances, this chapter will fit them toge ther into the greater narrative For example, I will use this opportunity to look at the system of government which Venice devised as a sort of segmented oligarchy, with each part of the greater whole acting as a check on the others This approach will all ow the reader to situate the disparate events in the political and ideological trends of the Venetian state between the mid fourteenth and early seventeenth centuries
15 ion In order to understand why, this thesis sets out to demonstrate that the institutional structure of the Republic allowed for quick responsiveness to potential challenges while still ensuring homeostasis within the government itself These features, un ique in their design to the political structure of Venice, can be examined as reasons why this form of government proved so durable to the Republic when it was abandoned in favor of signorialism by so many other Italian Renaissance states.
16 Chapter 1: Ducal Challenges to Republican Stability The stability of the Republic of Venice was in many ways a product of the tension which existed between the diff erent branches of government Often when describing the stability of any given thing, be it a person or a concept or a building, people use the tired metaphor solid as a rock. However the Venetian government did not gain its stability through solidity a nd inflexibility Instead, it could be said to possess qualities more akin to a gyroscope It relied on constant change and constant change with an even distribution of forces pulling in opposing directions in order to stay aloft One of these forces was t he doge, the foremost elected official of the Republic The system allowed for and even depended on the balance cre ated by the d oge checking the powers of other branches of government in order to enhance his own, and vice versa. Occasionally, one branch o r the other would pull too hard in one direction As we have already seen with the Bedmar Plot, the real secret to the Venetian government was its ability to respond to these imbalances through flexible and adaptable institutions that restored the Republic One such attempt to alter the power dynamics of the Venetian government was the attempted power grab in 1355 by Doge Marino Falier (r. 1354 1355 ) As in with great speed and efficiency. Some historians argue that it was in large part the result of a personal affront At his inaugural banquet Falier had been harassed by a young nobleman who got off with a light
17 sentence 1 Hazlitt argues that a confluence of factors led to the conspiracy. The first element was social strife stemming from what Falier perceived to be a weak, corrupt and dangerous aristocracy Th It seems true that Falier had a violent temper In on e incident in 1339 when he was podest at Treviso he publicly boxed the ears of the local bishop at the start of a religious procession Some say it was bec ause the bishop had unnecessarily inflated his role and his office in this procession, others that he kept Falier waiting. 2 Whatever the exact slight was temper, impulsive nature and somewhat entitled attitude were fully represented in thi s small episode It is likely that personal vengeance played at least a supporting role in motivating Falier towards treason It is also notable that it was not merely the fact that the noblemen had offended Falier that bothered him He was vexed by the fa ct that he held the most important office in the state and yet he lacked the personal authority to punish even minor transgressions So he and the arsenal commander hatched a plot in which they planned to do away with the insolent aristocracy, which they c onsidered overbearing. 3 They then discussed their goals : the Republic Once more, after the lapse of centuries, supreme unlimited power 4 predecessor, Doge Andrea Dandolo (1343 1354) many feared that the aristocracy was too weak and indecisive to keep the Republic safe. 5 The ambitious Falier saw this as an opportunity and decided that this was the proper time to strengthen the power of t he doge by force, using public dissatisfaction to his advantage in the 1 William Carew Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic: Its Rise, its Growth, and its Fall (New York: AMS Press, 1966), 6 02. 2 Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic 498. 3 Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic 604. 4 Hazlitt, The Venetian Republic 604. 5 Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 181 2.
18 creation of a more autocratic government In carrying out his plot, Falier enlisted the aid of Bertuccio Isarello Isarello was not an aristocrat but a galley commander. He was among th e In 1355 an incident occurred in which a nobleman named Giovanni Dandolo, paymaster of the naval secretary, struck Isarello in the course of an argument over the appointment of a particular man to a particular galley At this point Falier himself had to intercede in order to prevent violence. 6 While Falier someone he could count on to be sympa thetic to his cause Falier seemed to believe that popular support would see him through this transition He specifically recruited non aristocrats to aid him and required each of them to raise a group who would fight against the weak and ineffectual nobl es that made up the government. He was not anticipating the events that actually transpired He had chosen upper and middle class conspirators in the maritime industry who would be admired by those whose loyalty he hoped to capture In particular he chose Isarello and Filippo Calendario, a stonemason, shipowner, and in part builder of the Ducal Palace They were each to choose twenty chiefs from people they could trust, each of whom would gather forty trustworthy men to carry out the coup This force of ro ughly 1,600 men would easily show the support and strength necessary to overthrow the Venetian government and install Falier as an autocratic ruler However, things did not go according to plan Many of those approached by Calendario and Isarello refused t o participate and, instead, warned noble friends of the impending danger These nobles gathered at the Ducal plot was uncovered. 7 6 Lane, A Maritime Republic 182. 7 Lane, A Maritime Republic 182.
19 At this time, the councils pur ged the few members who were either caught up in the plot or and began conducting a series of trials. They proceeded in an orderly fashion with practically no violence Before the sun had set on April 15, the day the coup was t o take place, Calendario and Isarello had been tried, sentenced and hanged Doge Falier was beheaded two days later. 8 In the end the attempted coup caused few ripples in Venetian life It was stopped quickly and effectively, displaying great competence b y the republican government as a whole in an era when autocratic, or even princely, states were believed to be more decisive and efficient The resistance to autocratic rule across is also evident in that the conspirators failed to raise an army and an ari stocrat attempted to warn the doge, whom he did not know was involved, of the potential coup All in all the result of this turmoil was, if anything, a renewed confidence in republican government. The incident also contributed to the formation of the Zonta which was an extra conciliar committee formed for certain emergencies or crises when a sort of investigative committee was necessary It acted as a further safeguard in the Venetian government from then on The Zonta was formed from the Great Council and was called in on numerous occasions when there was a need for additional oversight or a tie breaking vote in the Council of Ten, which they would work closely with in the future The Zonta would play a large role later in the 1580s when the Council of Ten became too powerful It is significant that in handling this crisis Venice acted completely within its contemporary legal system while still showing great institutional flexibility The creation of the Zonta was legal and necessary to deal with the invest igation in a timely manner The government moved quickly and created the Zonta virtually overnight At the same time there was no declaration of martial 8 Lane, A Maritime Republic 182 3.
20 law or partisan violence of any kind This demonstrates that mechanisms already existed within the state to handle the crisis when it appeared, and yet there were still refinements made to at the institutional level to better handle these problems in the future The transition to a system util izing these refinements was exceptionally smooth and they would prove especially beneficial during the most powerful years of the Council of Ten in the late sixteenth century. It is difficult to say how much of a lasting impact the coup had on the Venetian government The most significant effect was the creation of the Zonta but other changes were also made in the latter half of the fourteenth century For instance, while most important duties were still handled by the Senate, more and more responsibilitie s were handed over to the Council of Ten and its smaller advisory bodies This was a practical change that allowed the Senate to act more efficiently and not bog it down It could also be argued that the transference of yet more power to the conciliar bodi es represented a trend of anti A strong Council of Ten and a more focused Senate would be able to keep a tighter rein on the doge in the future Such reallocation of power seems to fit a broader pattern of contra ction which occurred throughout the fourteenth century, though it could easily have been accelerated by the fear generated by the coup Francesco Petrarca (1304 1374) better known as Petrarch, presents a contemporary view of these events in his correspon dence 1355 letter to Guido Sette elaborates on the impact Before this incident the Council of Ten had the power to execute a doge for cases of gross misconduct, but to actually do so was unheard of dem onstrates his great shock at this turn of events : t officer considered inviolate throughout the centuries, and always held in high esteem by the
21 9 With this Petrarch demonstrates the venerable position of the d oge To liken him to a Venetian god may be an exaggeration, but it nonetheless shows the To kill the doge was practically unthinkable Petrarch believes that the Venetians would never re sort to such measures unless circumstances were dire While he makes it clear that he is not privy to all of the facts, he trusts that the people would not have undertaken such an act without great reason Petrarch also underscores the most basic of the m otivations for the execution While he does not know about the extent or the violent nature of the coup, he is aware that Falier attempted to fundamentally change the government some change in gover 10 He implies that, sacred as the doge was to the citizens, the office of the doge was far more important than the man who occupied it Preservation of the government took precedence to such a degree that they were willing to put their most prominent citizen to death for that cause transgressions Many historians do not assign great importanc It seldom is afforded more than a page or two in any given history of Venice This is largely because it did not change the political or social landscape very much and the recovery from these events was so quick Petrarch, b y contrast, explains how shocking the events were at the time and demonstrates the uncertainty that prevailed in the wake of the execution the death of 9 Letters on Familiar Matters, Volume 3 trans. Aldo Bernardo (New York: Italica Press, 2005), 94. 10
22 11 This becomes all the more significant when Petrarch spends the rest of the letter decrying the contemporary state of Italy as dangerously unstable and torn apart by war and political unrest: Uprisings in Pisa and Siena, revolution in Bologna, Florence bearing no fruit, Rome weeping, Naples in dismay, the Terra di Lavoro too rightly named, Sicily seething in sul phureous hatreds, the actions of Genoa, preparations in Lombardy, the plots of Emilia and the Marches, the sleepless efforts of Mantua, the fears of Ferrara, the miseries of Verona, barbaric incursions into Aquileia and the Trentino, and worst of all the r avages of mercenaries that overrun Italy. 12 Clearly Petrarch felt at the time that this was a tremendous blow to Italian security and liberty and symptomatic of a wider trend of decay Petrarch views the execution as yet another domino falling in a chain o f instability that is sweeping through Italy and is clearly concerned about the effect it will have on regional stability He seems to believe that the entire city could soon give way to discord This makes the rapid recovery of the Republic all the more i mpressive. Whatever happened to Italy outside the Venetian l damage to the Republic of Venice With his beheading there was a relatively quick return to normality strength In 1363, he even moved to Venice He uses the metaphor of the Republic as a shelter from the storms of tyranny 13 That Petrarch would choose coup should be indication enough of the cit s remarkably quick stabilization Once again, the 11 Petrarch, 12 Ernest Hatch Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 146. 13 Holloway Calthrop and Henry Calthrop, Petrarch: His Life and Times (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1972), 247.
23 general conclusion of modern historians is that the coup had little lasti ng effect on the Venetian government, indicating that this was not merely a change in attitude by Petrarch H e understood understood that it was more stable than any of the other states in Italy with their rapidly revolving governments Concordantly, the praise that Petrarch heaps on the city tends to focus on the threefold qualities of liberty, justice and stability The emphasis on these notions and their representatio n within the Venetian government is significant so soon after the beheading of the travelled and learned as Petrarch, who had In the end, government If it had succeeded, Falier might have been able to institute a more traditional aristocra tic or signorial system But because it failed the incident reveals several factors that The commitment to republicanism the sophistication of the ir allowed it to deal with this crisis Such char acteristics effectively stopped a potentially disastrous affair with minimal impact on the Venetian people and government That the coup was handled so efficiently and that it led to so few significant changes in governmental structure speaks to a well dev eloped institutional system for maintaining the stability of the Republic. As previously mentioned, many historians gloss over the execution of Falier but that is not to say that it is not important. A particularly interesting explanation for this lack of focus comes from Robert Finlay He argues that, for the vast majority of Venetian office holders, doges included, the man came secondary to his office Therefore, there is a relative paucity of information on Venetian doges as people, with most of the records focusing on the rules,
24 regulations and presentation of the office 14 Here, Finlay specifically mentions Falier, noted for his execution, and Francesco Foscari, who will be discussed next in this chapter end into the the dogeship of Francesco Foscari (r.1427 63) presented a more subtle threat to the Republic Foscari is another one of those rare doges whose name com es up frequently in Venetian sources He is usually noted for his opulence and imperiousness by historians and diarists such as Marin Sanudo (1466 1536) and Gasparo Contarini (1483 1542) His position in history is unique among Venetian doges because of th e great dissonance in views of his legacy Despite being highly regarded in his time as a brilliant and inspirational leader, his imperialistic tendencies and personal identification with the ducal office caused him to be deposed late in life. Contarini book The Commonwealth and Government of Venice was written in 1520, during his time as an ambassador to Charles V ; in it he outline s 15 In this book, he describes Doge Foscari as a much beloved doge, especially at his election He claims that the people of Venice celebrated for a full year upon his ascension to the office. 16 treatment of Foscari paints the doge in a very positive light He mentions that the doge was deposed in 1457 eighty four years of age, in 14 Robert Finlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 35. 15 Finlay, Politics 222. 16 Gasparo Contarini, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice trans. Lewes Lewkenor (New York: Amsterdam & Da Capo Press, 1969), 224.
25 17 This is perhaps too kind to the doge His rule was not proble matic merely due to incompetence but because of the conflation between doge and monarch with which he imbued the office The shock that Petrarch expressed so poignantly over one hundred years earlier when Falier was beheaded stemmed from the dissonance b The position of the doge was of great importan ce and he was a symbol of the Ve netian people and their government It was exceedingly rare to depose a doge In fact, no doge had been executed or dismissed from office since Falier age and inefficacy are often blamed for his dismissal (and it seems that these were in fact the most acute reasons), after his reign the patriciate chose to elect increasingly feeble doges conciliar bodies This not only but that they believed that more power should be instilled in the conciliar bodies at the expense of the ducal office It was actually a confluence of factors that led to the deposition of Francesco Foscari As he stirred up hatreds which took revenge when the expansion in Lombardy was checked by Francesco Sforza, when war taxes became a bitter burden, and when he was made vulnerable by the misbehavior of 18 Essentially, he had taken on many of the characteristics of a monarch both in form and function, and this caused a backlash among the nobility I t was difficult for the Venetian electorate to criticize Foscari when he was leading effectively : h e brought the state military success, expanded the mainland holdings and strengthened trade However his princely aspirations never explicitly voiced but strongly 17 Contarini, Com monwealth 224. 18 Lane, A Maritime Republic 267.
26 implied did not sit well with the Venetian conception of republicanism Therefore, o nce the d the Senate and the Council of Ten were ready to oust him A nother interpretation is that the deposition of Foscari was a product of the ambition of other statesmen, which had its own way of curbing monarchism For e among the longest in Venetian history It was unusual for a doge to reign for thirty years as Foscari did This caused great discontent in the senate was still a highly desirable office, causing jealousy and factionalism to flourish This may have been one of the reasons for electing older doges to the office If someone felt that he was not going to be elected in a given election cycle, it behooved him to elect someone who would die and vacate the office quickly Thus ambition curbed monarchism and this is lengthy rule caused so much discontent. The areas in which Foscari stood out most among doges were the lavishness of his appearance and property, the unusual length of hi s tenure in office and his warlike tendencies These tendencies cast Foscari in a princely light The length of his tenure in office was particularly challenging to the Venetians in that it equated one man with the ducal office, thus raising him to the sam e level as the role which he was assigned to fill year reign created an entire generation who had known no other doge It would be only one small step from there to a hereditary title, which was unpalatable to the Venetians His opulence was also indicative of autocracy Foscari is highly emblematic of this time in Venetian history as he was part of a fifteenth century trend towards greater magnificence and display among the doges century magnificati on of ducal splendor challenged the republican regime to make a careful distinction between the man and his
27 19 As the grandeur of the office grew, the doge had a tendency to become more than an office holder The more lavish his robes or the larger his palace, the more it appeared that the citizens were honoring the individual with luxuries While th ese were actually intended to display the magnificence of Venice itself, it came close to the treatment afforded to princes The Senate attempted to correct this image, to little avail (4. 1414 23), had been made to pay a fine for merely recommending a renovation of the ducal palace He then proceeded to push the renovation through anyway. 20 Foscari himself adde d a new wing to the palace during his reign Marin Sanudo, writing in 1493, made special mention of his home, marking it as one of the most expensive in the city. 21 This s was a lengthy and laudatory description of the city of Venice, so the Cathedral speaks to its status as a symbol of power and wealth within the city. 22 Further evi medals and coins bearing the likenesses of rulers Patricia Brown makes the connection between the medal as a replicative mode were immediately appreciated by princes and condottieri eager to propagate an 23 Surely enough, these medals were becoming popular 19 Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 264. 20 Muir, Civic Ritual 264. 21 David Chambers and Brian Pullan, eds., Venice: A Documentary History, 1 540 1630 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 5. 22 Elsewhere, in the 1460s, there was a strong trend in which ruling families, such as the Medici in Florence and the Gonzaga in Mantua were displaying their personal grandeur through liberal massive architectural projects, both public and private. Spending on private residences was especially indicative of personal authority (See Martines, b oth represent an association with these trends and an indication of autocratic tendencies. 23 Patricia Fortini Brown, Venice and Antiquity: The Venetian Sense of the Past (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 104.
28 among the princes and signori of other states and i t was not long before Foscari himself insisted on just such a medal being produced The medal was hammered, not cast, in the tradition of Roman coins and was widely circulated In this way, Foscari not only connected his authority and splendor to contempo rary princes and nobility, but to Roman antiquity Connections to the imperial authority Therefore Foscari was equating himself with Roman imperial rule F visage All of this was meant to mirror classical notions of power and was in keeping with trends towards more singular, autocratic control in which the ruler was, in many ways, held higher than his office To put the face of the individual on a coin in this manner was a prioritization of the ruler over his proper place in government Furthermore, this set a trend The next two doges had similar coins and medals produce d to honor their rule. 24 However, it appears that the trend among Venetian doges was started by Foscari It is easy to see why this would have eventually caused problems when filtered through the perspective of Venetian sensibilities This Romanization of Venice reflects other changes in the R epublic What had traditionally been an independent maritime trading city was now an empire with firm claims to territory on the mainland, or terraferma The state expanded quickly in the fifteenth century creating a pressing need to establish Venetian control over the new territories It is likely that new association with Rome was to help foster notions of legitimacy to their mainland claims It also speaks to Venetian insecurities regarding other states Now that Venice had to compete directly with mainland states one could argue that the Roman imagery was an attempt to present itself as a strong, united empire that was not to be trifled with Unfortunately, they had a string of doges who were only too hap py to fulfill that role. 24 Brown, Antiquity 105.
29 they presented no tangible threat to the R epublic However, given the increasing presence of princely or other autocratic states in Italy, including many like Florence or Genoa that had once been republics themselves, even the most subtle distinctions were of great importance To the Venetian citizenry it was important to maintain ducal prestige in order to elevate their republic to the level of grandeur embodied by the autocratic states but to actually become one of them would go against everything that the Venetians had ever held important and everything that had ever proven successful for the state For Foscari to style himself after princ ely rulers was to attempt to change Venetian values and sensibilities Therefore, after Foscari the ceremonial nature of ducal power was emphasized and grandeur was always offset by other symbols One of the most notable was the aforementioned s word added to ducal appearances after Falier Funeral ceremonies, to be discussed later in this chapter, also emphasized the distinction between ducal appearance, autocratic rule and republican authority. Possibly the best way to understand the legacy of a given doge is to examine his promissione a document that each doge was required to sign before entering office Promissioni outlined the duties of and restrictions on the doge These documents were revised by the Senate for each new doge and changes mad e from one promissione to the next serve as support for or indictment of the actions and practices of the previous doge In the case of Foscari, the numerous changes that were made tend to limit the more imperialistic characteristics of the ducal office wh ich he had fostered Otherwise, there were reinforcements of policies that had until then been questioned The promissione of 1457 specifically limited the ability of the doge to conduct business personally with the mainland Laws had been written into pre vious promissioni that stated the doge could not open letters from emperors or popes in the absence of his advisors However, this
30 25 With the increased presence of the Republic on t ambitions, there were now two threats to republican stability One was the power of the doge to form these alliances and the other was the susceptibility of Venetian holdings to terraferma states In accor dance with this new provision, the doge could not conduct secret correspondence with other states and it involved the conciliar bodies from the inception of communication This ensured that there was greater republican representation in foreign corresponde nce It was also one of the provisions which further hemmed the doge into a role as more of a figurehead than as the monarch that he was dangerously close to becoming Elsewhere in the promissione are laws which eliminated the ducal exemption from taxation as well as other earlier privileges of the position. 26 some of the financial incentives and business advantages afforde d the doge This reinforced the notion of the man holding the office as separate from the office itself and also contributed to preventing future doges from seizing power and influence through business connections and monetary rewards. Conversely, it is im portant to note what provisions were left in this iteration of the promissione There were now even greater restrictions on what the doge could wear in public with the intent of presenting him wit h a certain degree of magnificence at all times. 27 This can be interpreted as a way of maintaining the elevated status of the ducal position, even if there was less substantial power behind the position The Venetians now had a public figure who projected the image they intended to 25 Dennis R omano, The Likeness of Venice: A Life of Doge Francesco Foscari, 1373 1457 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 329. 26 Romano, Likeness 239. 27 Romano, Likeness 239.
31 convey to the world, which was one of wealth and power equal to that of any monarch or signorial ruler The Venetians had elected, in many ways, to pursue the trappings of monarchy while retaining the substance of a republic On e of the most damning aspects of the promissione is directly related to the reasons for which Foscari was deposed It placed new restrictions on the family of the doge, preventing its members from using their status to obtain extra privileges The document specifically states that the dogaressa the sons, grandsons and daughters in law of the doge are forbidden from accepting any gifts when travelling outside of Venice The only exception was food, which they were not allowed to accept for more than one day This was a direct answer While many of the details are murky, it seems that Jacopo was guilty of accepting expensive gifts from both local and foreign politi cians officials While Jacopo had no temporal power of his own, his status as the As such, it was already illegal for him to accept such gifts. 28 The reception of gifts by the doge and his family impl ied the honor of the individual rather than the office If the family accepted such gifts, it implied that they were entitled to ducal status and authority Essentially, it implied the heredity of power and the distinction between their republic and the p rincely states was of great importance to Venetians The new condition regarding gift reception in the promissione was added on top of existing statues to reinforce the law in this matter This was not uncommon for Venice, whose list of rules governing the doge grew longer with each successive reiteration, and often repeated itself However, these restrictions also display a desire to stop a single family from gaining too much power As such this can be interpreted as a strike against the notion of monarchi sm within the Venetian government 28 Romano, Likeness 293 4.
32 His aggressive expansion of the terraferma state kept the city relevant in a time when other, more autocratic states were expanding rapidly However, t his necessarily embroiled Venice further in regional politics, complicating its relationships with other states It took away a degree of independence, which Furthermore legal problems too k a heavy personal toll on the d oge, reducing his effectiveness in government He was being pulled in two directions one of the father who wanted to protect his son and the o ther as doge, bound to serve the state Not only was this conflict dangerous for Venice in an institutional sense in its threat to transform the city into a hereditary monarchy, it also compromised public faith in the ducal office From this point on, special emphasis was placed on the role of the doge as a figurehead Du cal identity was reaffirmed as an office rather than a n individual private life having no place in the public sphere By virtue of his long aggressi ve expansion and his contributions to increasing ducal splendor, Foscari had taken on the tendencies of a princely ruler rather than a republican leader By blurring these lines between the man and his office, Foscari had elevated the office of the doge to new heights and used his power to increase the glory and success of the Venetian state However, the Venetians recognized the consequences of those actions After Foscari, the Venetians seemed to attempt to recreate the authority and decisiveness of most of his rule without succumbing to the autocracy to which it often led Essentially they believed that executive power was better reserved for conciliar government than left to an individual Vesting it in a body like the Senate or even the Council of Ten ensured was one important way in which Venice distinguished itself from princely states
33 The result was that more power was invested in the upper branches of government thus maintaining a system of republican pluralism the Venetian aristocracy became more vigilant against any potential ducal usurpation of power This is well displayed in the funeral rites and ceremonies of the doges In other regions of Europe, such as France or Tuscany, the funeral of a monarch or prin ce symbolized the continuation of the spirit and the influence of the leader after his death. 29 This could not have been further from the intent of Venetian ducal funeral customs Doge Agostino Barbarigo (r. 1486 1501), for example, was considered to have overstepped his boundaries in numerous ways during his time in office He was unusually corrupt even by the standards of Renaissance Italy, drawing the ire of the entire noble class as he used his influence to obtain favorable interest and exchange rates a t the expense of the nobility and the subject cities of Venice among many, many other charges. 30 However, as Muir points out, his most dogeship with adulatio 31 As a result, there was great backlash against the doge after his death, when charges of corruption were brought against him F uneral processions in the century after Barbarigo were designed to demonstrate the separation between the man an d his 32 For example, three key symbols of ducal power were used in Venetian funerary rituals First, the ducal ring, forged for each new doge as the symbol of his pow er, was smashed by a secretary of the Council of Ten This symbolized the duty of the Council to curb the authority of the doge 29 Muir, Civic Ritual 272. 30 Venice: A Documentary History, 1450 1630 ed. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 74. 31 Muir, Civic Ritual 272. 32 Muir, Civic Ritual 272 3.
34 broken Two silver emblems we The smaller one had no name on it The larger one was smashed, symbolizing the separation of the deceased man from his office The smaller, nameless medal was given to the next elected doge, a statement that the office itself was eternal and would continue to be passed down. 33 The separation of man and office wa s important to maintain if the R epublic were to continue to function After the reign of Foscari, the Senate and Great Council became increasingly concerned that failure to separate the two would lead to loyalty to a man and even his family above the office This was the path to monarchy For the Venetians, the ideal doge wa s an ornate figurehead who exemplified the glory of the city and could build consensus through his influence and his popularity. Furthermore, the role had to be perfectly transferrable There should be no difference in the way the office was conducted from one doge to the next The role should always be more important than the man Returning to the case of Agostino Barbarigo, one can see how the Venetian government made institutional changes to safeguard against future similar transgressions Barbarigo was specifically named as being in violation of twelve of the laws in his promissione but no action could be taken against him until his death when enough evidence was uncovered and witnesses were willing to come forward It is important, though, that at thi s time a special committee wa s quickly formed to assess the d recompense those who were hurt by his practices. 34 Their ability to do this was an effective check on monarchic power that reinfo rced the symbolic nature of the separation of man from office found in the funeral ceremonies Even more important than this was the creation of the three offices bearing the title of Investigator of the Dead Doge 33 Muir, Civic Ritual 27 1. 34
35 death, the ducal Correctors performed their posthumous audit on the doge, as was customary reign they found they had no power to deal with the issues that they uncovered In response to this, the office of the Investigators was created from scratch as the executive arm of the Correctors They enforced the repayment of those of whom the doge had taken advantage. 35 This highlights, yet again, the adaptability of the Venetian government Much like the creation of t he extra conciliar Zonta there was an immediate need to create a new arm of government which could handle an unforeseen situation This allowed the government to maintain an executive authority that could always be held over the doge and prevent him from seizing more than his share of power It also explains the limitations that were increasingly placed on the doge. The steady decline of the power of the ducal office is later exemplified by Andrea Gritti (r. 1523 38) As d oge, he was powerless to stop a ca se of electoral fraud despite personally witnessing it, as recorded by his contemporary, Venetian statesman and historian Marin Sanudo (1466 1536). 36 This impotence was to become the norm as multiple factions within the Republic struggled for power It als o demonstrates the new confinement of the doge to a largely ceremonial role He was not expected to generate action, merely to lead and inspire The prestige associated with the ducal office was allowed to increase, as it did in leaps and bounds under Fosc ari, while its actual power dwindled. Ultimately, ducal challenges to the Venetian republican government were consistently, if not always swiftly, put down overt attempt to overthrow the Venetian government resulted in his execution This demonstrates a resistance to monarchic rule at a fundamental level among the Venetian aristocracy, which could partly be explained by a lack of 35 Muir, Civic Ritual 267. 36 Lane, A Maritime Republic 270.
36 feudal roots There was no t radition of monarchy in Venice, nor a landed aristocracy Later on, the tendency of doges to seek princely or autocratic power was repeated with doge Francesco Foscari who attempted to gradually increase the authority of the doge rather than orchestrat e a coup He never sought to overthrow the R epublic, but he did introduce many aspects of a traditional monarchic, particularly imperial, state into Venetian politics While there was little dispute over the expansion of Venetian influence on the mainland, the entanglements that this brought were much less popu lar. For example, the wars with Milan were costly for Venice, both in terms of losing money and in terms of cutting off business In many ways, this went against the very core of Venetian society as it greatly to his influence and social standing This was reflected in the promissione written for demonstrat ing the ambivalence that the Venetians felt about one of the longest serv ing doges in Venetian history The aspects of his rule that were maintained were largely ceremonial After this time, the dogeship became more focused on prestige than on real power as authority was diverted to the conciliar branches of government in an ef fort to keep any individual from seizing too much power T institutions to deal with unprecedented crises had prevented several attempts to transform it into an autocratic state The power now vested in t he conciliar bodies would eventually raise problems of its own, but at the beginning of the sixteenth century this distribution provided much needed balance to the Republic While frequent legislation in this style created a rather bloated and redundant se t of laws and political bodies where even today it is difficult to tell what was and was not enforced at any given time it did give the government, especially the senate and the Council of Ten, great flexibility and executive control Although this created occasional
37 imbalances, the very idea that the law and government were living institutions, constantly growing and changing, avoided stagnation and helped to prevent the collapse of the Republic.
38 Chapter 2: Conciliar Challenges to Republican Power While the Venetians seemed to desire the doge to fulfill more of a figurehead role, they still needed strong leadership to maintain an effective government To that end, when they gave the doge power, they often counterbalanced it with power in the conci liar and senatorial branches of government The conciliar branches and the senate were elected bodies and, therefore, more likely to enact policies that reflected the desires of the Venetian citizenry For most of these positions there was a high turnover rate and there were regulations against holding multiple offices at the same time or relatives holding certain offices simultaneously This was designed to reduce conflicts of interest which would jeopardize the integrity of the governmental decision makin g apparatus Venetians also believed in extensive oversight among branches, especially on the doge These conciliar branches, consisting of the Council of Ten and the Ducal Council, were at various times aligned with or against the doge, but the Council of Ten and the Senate remained locked in a more or less permanent struggle for executive authority and specific powers of oversight The Ducal Council and Council of Ten in pa rticular frequently sought to increase their own authority However, the government was designed in bala nce each other out Combined with an adaptable political structure, this equilibrium helped to ens ure that Venice continued as a r epublic rather than falling under the rule of an autocratic oligarchy. One of the main institutional checks on the power of th e doge was the Council of Ten, a highly select group of leading citizens w ith a tremendous degree of autonomy and authority in
39 civic affairs republican liberties and as a guardi 1 As with the doge, its power waxed and waned but over time there is evidence of a distinct trend towards pluralism in this constantly evolving government As the Senate placed greater restrictions on the doge with each successive term much of his executive power was vested in the Council of Ten However, in the 1580s, this would ultimately lead to what can be termed a constitutional crisis. 2 This crisis resulted in a backlash a gainst the council and the transfer of many of its power s to the senate. One of the most important responsibilities of the Council of Ten was to provide oversight on the ducal office It had the authority to depose, or even execute the doge, as well as t o execute or exile the greater nobles of Venice. 3 of these powers numerous times especially when the suspected crime was treason. The execution of ducal secretary Antonio di Landi for example is discussed by Sanudo, along with several other cases of alleged treason 4 This degree of power became dangerous when accompanied with the secrecy in which the Council operated S trong regulations were placed on members of the council, rendering every conversation that occurred within the chambers a state secret The R epublic had comprehensive policies to prevent a breach of security For example, all correspondence and notes given to any council member in an official capacity were required 1 Robert Finlay, Politics in Renaissance Venice (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 193. 2 David Chambers and Brian Pullan, eds., Venice: A Documentary History, 1540 1630 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 40. 3 Hurault de Venice: A Documentary History eds. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: Univ ersity of Toronto Press, 1992) 82. 4 Marin Sanudo, Venice, Cit Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of Marin Sanudo ed. Patricia H. Labalme and Laura Sanguineti White and trans. Linda L. Carroll (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Universit y Press, 2008), 121.
40 to be discus sed and scrutinized by the council. 5 The council would then determine what action, if any needed to be taken This kept any correspondence that could jeopardize security within the council, but also meant that the council members were often the only peopl e with access to highly sensitive information, which they often acted on without the knowledge or consent of the other branches For Venice this constituted a less egalitarian and republican facet of their government The official secrecy with which the co uncil acted made it difficult to oversee It also wielded enough executive authority that attempting to remove matters from their jurisdiction was often as dangerous as it was difficult While Venice was already an oligarchic republic its primary legislative bodies, the Senate and the Great Council, between them comprised the vast majority of the electorate, totaling over two thousand people in the sixteenth century The t the government faced the danger of becoming an autocratic oligarchy run by the Council of Ten, the Ducal Councilors and the doge, a total of seventeen people It was this danger that the city was forced to address in the 1580s. The secrecy of the Council of Ten seemed to increase over time along with their status and importance within Venetian government This was a matter of some concern to many Venetians as issues that would at one time have been debated on the public floor of the Senate were now being dealt with behind closed doors, away from any oversight This secrecy can be seen in the oath of office taken by each of the members of the council around 1578, just a few years before such authority and secrecy caused a partial breakdown of the system In addition to the chain of command regarding notes passed to or found by the Ten, strict measures within the oath made it nearly impossible to discuss anything which had come up in council Confidence could not be 5 Venice: A Documentary History, eds. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 56.
41 broken regarding the identity of plaintiffs or of action taken They could also not reveal or even hint at so much as a gesture made within the Council under pain of expulsion. 6 The qualifiers used to protect this secrecy were as numerous as they were specific in an effort to make the case against anyone who broke this oath airtight reveal a sign or word, by any device, hint or other means, which could be plotted or planned 7 The secrecy that surrounded these concil iar proceedings had a number of uses It allowed the Council, often in concert with the doge and the ducal councilors, to act on a matter quickly without having to gather the consensus that would be necessary to move the motion past the Senate It also pre vented other states from It makes sense that such secrecy would intensify as the Council was entrusted with increasingly sensitive information on important issues However, with this increase in responsibility and secrecy came increased suspicion from th e other branches of government That an entire branch could act with such authority and without oversight t hreatened the stability of the R epublic, not to mention the authority of the senate and other governmental branches One curious aspect of the Counc il of Ten is that as opposed to the doge, it gained influence and authority over time up until about the 1580s T his was certainly the result of t fear of excessive ducal power As more and more restrictions were placed on the doge, the aut hority of the C ouncil to act against him was increased to keep him in check However, by the 1580 s, this caused great consternation among the Venetians as they began to fear that the council had become too powerful The Venetians seemed initially to prefer the Council of Ten to the d oge as the primary source of executive authority due to the perceived checks placed on it The rotational period was 6 56. 7 56.
42 designed to be high, with terms of only one year and regulations agains t being elected to consecutive offices Furthermore, only one member of a given family could serve on the council at once, meaning that it was much more difficult for a single family to control the powerful council Until the mid to late sixteenth century the council acted as an effective check on ducal authority p l aying a large role (for example) in preventing both Falier and Foscari from becoming autocratic rulers However, these powers of oversight, which were intended to prevent the doge from becomin g a princely figure, gave the council enough authority that it itself became a threat to republican stability. First, some background on the Council of Ten is necessary to understand how the jurisdiction and executive authority had increased over time By the late fifteenth century the powers of the Council of Ten were not just a threat to the d oge, but to anyone they perceived as being in violation of their areas of influence life it could do so quickly and quietly If someone was brought before the Council he had no rights to legal counsel. The Council could even bar them from contact with the d ucal palace meaning that it could carry out its interpretation of justice without the doge interference, or even his knowledge 8 Once the Council took action against someone h e was effectively cut off from all outside help If the defendant was found to be acting in a manner state, then it was within the cases dealt almost exclusively with the nobility. 9 The council could use this authority to a degree, to mold the political land scape of Venice, both by the removal of certain individuals and by the mere threat of removal. It was only a small step from using these privileges in order to 8 Venice: A Documentary History eds. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 55. 9 55.
43 preserve the security of the state to using it for personal political gain Conflicts between br anches of government were accentuated amid this atmosphere of mistrust. Sanudo describes the ever increasing role of the Council of Ten in the early sixteenth century He states that the Council had control over the peace of the Republic, overseeing coinag e and policing sodomy. 10 These three areas were broadly interpreted to maximize the but this was not the end of the expansion of the Co u Later it justified the expansion of its role and its increased secrecy This tendency toward an increase in jurisdiction over time eventually expanded to include treason, conspiracies, counterfeiting, questions relating to the scuole grandi (the major guilds) and the Chancellery, not to mention sacrilege of monasteries, added in 1513, and blasphemy in 1514. 11 This illustrates not only the tendency of the upper branches of government to increase in status and power over time but also their ability to use that power Using the aforementioned areas of influence the Council of Ten could involve itself in virtually any issue in which it s members took an interest Furthermore, it was difficult to wrest jurisdiction from them once they had taken interest in a case. An example of the struggle for jurisdiction occurred in 1511 when Gaspa ro Valier killed a man named Rocho D espite having previously had a bounty put on his head, Rocho was tak en under the protection of the C ouncil of Ten expected to receive the bounty. Instead, he was qui ckly arrested 12 Valier was tried in the usual swift and secretive manner of the Council and cut off from all outside help His family and their allies attempted to use their influence to get the case dismissed They made the claim that the s actions in rescinding its condemnation of Rocho were illegal If so, this would 10 Sanudo, 11 Patricia H. Labalme and Laura Sanguineti White, eds., and Linda L. Carroll, trans., Venice, Cit Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of Marin Sanudo (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 120 1. 12 S anudo, Excelentissima, 116 7.
44 have exonerate d Valier. 13 Unfortunately the authority they had to convince was the Council of Ten itself There was no office with the authority to take such cases out of the ir jurisdiction Once the Council decided that the case was theirs, it was all but over. Still, the unyielding nature of the Council was not reason enough for Valier and his family to give up The Doge had expressed his wish for the Ten to release Valier, and public support was 14 This had caused such a great public furor that the office of the state attorneys became involved The attorneys investigated the matter and came to the conclusion that the Council had indeed that Valier should go free They were granted an audience before the Council to plead this case After they were heard the Council met for a long deliberation When they broke several hours later they promptly fired every one of the state attorneys, barred them from ever holding that office again and barred them from service in the Council of Ten for two years Furthermore, certain members of the council felt strongly that the attorneys should be jailed, although they did not act on this. 15 This represented a near catastrophic breakdown of Venetian safeguards regarding the Council As Lane notes, the mandatory presence of state attorneys at Council meetings had originally been established in order to counteract its oligarchic tendencies exceeding its 16 Lane seems to believe that, while the Council of Ten itself was an oligarchic entity amid 13 Sanudo, Excelentissima 117. 14 Sanudo, Excelentissima 118. 15 Sanudo, Excelentissima 118 9. 16 Lane, A Maritime Republic 256.
45 aristocratic republicanism, it was kept well enough in check so as not to constit ute a threat This seems at odds with this particular circumstance as evidently, at this time in Venetian history, the state attorneys were dismissed for performing duties well within their responsibilities The three men who were dismissed were all upstanding citizens who had been elected to the office of state attorney rightfully and had not broken the law, but rather had followed the duties of their office in their conduct with the Council of Ten Their cas e was never taken to the Great Council, which never interacted with the Ten during the Valier case There were no legal grounds to strip them of their offices except that the council had the authority to do so and the attorneys had drawn its ire Furthermo re one of the attorneys was only one day away from retirement and another was nephew. 17 This demonstrates on multiple levels the inability of the doge or the rest of the government to check the authority As early as the early six teenth century, t he ability of the Council to adopt any given issue as its business constituted a threat to republican government The Council had become both vital to the effective functioning of the government and powerful beyond reproach Ostensibly, t hey had managed to cultivate such power in the name of preserving state secrets and political security. 18 The secrecy allowed their authority to grow even further as it gathered momentum over time In this light, the constitutional crisis of the 1580s was an even more important event It was a moment when the Venetian government collectively decided that the powers of the Council of Ten needed to be curbed The Great Council and the through preexisting institut ional channels and by bringing their collective weight to bear on it. 17 Sanudo, Excelentissima 119. 18 Labalme, Excelentissima 121.
46 The constitutional crisis of the 1580s occurred when the Great Council and the Senate, comprising most of the Venetian electorate, came to the conclusion that the Council of Ten had become powerful enough to constitute a threat to the republic T he S enate and the Ten disagreed over whether it was the The Ten made these decisions in cooperation with the Zonta. 19 T he Zonta was not its own governmental branch, but rather a special committee that was called by the Council of Ten whenever it was faced with an issue that required special research or consideration In late 1582 the Great Council cancelled the election of a new Zonta, effectively dissolving it. 20 dissolution was the first significant event of the constitutional crisis and it brought up the question of whether or not certain rights which it held in conjunction with the Ten should be retained by t he C ouncil or given to some other body such as the senate This was actually a calculated move by the Great Council, and the reason that they refused to hold elections for the Zonta. 21 The two most important of these responsibilities were first, appointing magistrates and second, meeting with ambassadors This in 1583, now that the Zonta had been eliminated the question of whether the Council could retain these powers was brought up in 1583 The council fought for this authority and Doge Nicola da Ponte (r. 1578 1585 ) sided with the council. 22 It may seem odd that the doge, whose executive powers had consistently been reall ocated to the Council of Ten, would fight for it to retain these rights. The situation becomes clearer when one considers that over time the oversight provided by the council brought them into ever closer 19 See p.4 for more details about the Zonta. 20 Bouwsma, Defense 226. 21 Bouwsma, Defense 226. 22
47 contact with the doge. By the 1580s the doge and t he ducal council were effectively members of the Council of Ten meaning it actually operated as a body of seventeen. 23 T hus t he doge now possessed all of the rights and privileges given to the Council of Ten in addition to the prestige of the ducal office and the seventeen foremost Venetian politicians constituted a powerful oligarchy at the highest level of Venetian politics The stakes for the council in retaining these rights were, therefore, very high. There was significant backlash from the senate and other sectors of the populace Ultimately, the senate won the right to appoint the magistrates along with the right to hear ambassadors from other nations and their proposals publicly Previously this right and duty had belonged to the Council of Ten and had originally been implemented to prevent the doge from conducting business alone with other states. 24 With the doge now a member of the council it made sense to transfer that right to the S enate. The reallocation of conciliar authority demonstrates that the Venetian system o f checks and balances as of 1583 was expanding in order to counter act the increased power of the C ouncil and its increased cooperation with the doge The ability of such a small group to meet secretly with foreign re presentatives constituted a real threat to the government since a lliances, deals or other associations could then be passed without debate and with the approval of a tiny percentage of the electorate There was a strong desire among the electorate to tra nsfer the rights to hear ambassadors and to assign magistrates into the S enate The Senate and Great Council elected to remove this power from the Council of Ten almost as an afterthough t The appointment of magistrates had previously at least been a joint function of the Council of Ten and the defunct Zonta, but the power to hear ambassadors was not even necessarily a connected issue Instead, the Senate 23 David Chambers, and Brian Pullan, eds. Venice: A Documentary History (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1992 ), 40. 24 De
48 The e lectorate did not just want to balance a powerful branch, but to curb its ability to function Therefore the reallocat enate was not an indictment of the effectiveness of the Ten as a governing body, nor a mere slap on the wr ist The electorate saw that the R epublic was in danger of becoming an autocratic oligarchy. It then gave those powers effectively curbing the power of the Ten. By 158 9 the increasing openness of the Venetian government had sparked a public debate A report from Rafaelle de He states that the Venetian senate at one time comprised only about twenty members However by 1589, the number had reached about three hundred On the other hand, the author points out that only about two hundred of those members voted. 25 seems to interpret this information as an increase in the inclusiveness of the Venetian governmen t If so, it would represent a reversal of a trend towards a more powerful and closed off oligarchy in the upper echelons of Venetian politics that had existed for over one hundred years Bouwsma considers the crisis of the 1580s and its aftermath to be an important attitudinal step in maintaining the Venetian republic He 26 referring to its dismissal of the entrenched conservative government. De also reported that the elder statesmen of the senate prefer red a return to the older and more secretive ways in order to reach consensus and execute policies more quickly, and that many others in government were also in favor of such policies However, th ere was such great 25 in Venice: A Documentary History ed. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 83. 26 William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), 226.
49 support among the general population for more inclusive and transparent government that the elder statesmen feared that the first senator who proposed such an action would quickly become universally hated by the populace, a fate that he 27 Therefore, their political action was stalled De report further indicates the feeling among the elder members of the Senate that it was actually necessary for the government to be more guarded and secretive were certainly in the minority or it would not have been possible to bring down the Council of Ten. Whether greater secrecy was needed or not, the disapproval of these senators indicates that the Senate It is noteworthy that d might have had a personal stake in encouraging divisive trends in the Venetian government A weak or autocratic Venice could benefit Tuscany from a security standpoint, or even in regards to trade. goes so far as to suggest that the Grand Duke of Tuscany should convince the pope to ask the Venetians to reduce the size and transparency of their government. 28 It is difficult to tell if reducin transparency is the goal, or if simple divisiveness is. This makes it seem as if the author is hoping that such oligarchic practices will succeed A further indicator of his intentions, and one that reveals a great deal about th e state of the Republic After indicating that the Grand Duke of Tuscany should encourage those in the Senate who want a less transparent government and even threaten to cut ties with them if they do not take su ch measures, he says o ne must not suggest or remind them of the Council of Ten and the Zonta, as 29 This statement raises several interesting points First, it appears that there is still a rift between 27 83. 28 29 83.
50 the Council of Ten and the Senate, as correspondence deals almost entirely with the Senate He is saying that suggesting to the Senate that they restore executive authority to the Council will not go well When one examines the contest between openness and secrecy in the late sixteenth century Venetian republic it becomes apparent that much of the conflict stemmed from generational differences 30 The Council of Ten was main ly composed of older citizens who had been involved in politics for years By comparison, most of the members of the Senate and especially the Great Council were relatively young Several other factors, such as political dissatisfaction and idealism in the wake of the Venetian victories at such battles as Lepanto 1571, contributed to a resurgence of civic pride republican government led to greater enthusiasm for republicanism. 31 This infus ion of idealism and republican zeal from the younger members of the Senate simply deepened the generational rift that had been steadily forming between them and their older colleagues. The Senate and the Great Council felt that the narrow oligarchy which t he Council of Ten represented was no longer in the best interests of a republican government In the late sixteenth century in fact, Venice seemed to settle into its republican identity It seemed to give up its imitation of the neighboring autocratic an d princely governments and instead embrace its broader government The Council of Ten was still a viable and useful branch of the government, but to grant so much executive authority to such a small group with so little accountability was antithetical to t he republican revival that Venice was experiencing Bouwsma notes the words of the statesman Antonio Paruta, who pointed out to the ambassador Michele 30 Bouwsma Defense 226. 31 Bouwsma, Defense 225.
51 kinds of 32 This reflects a turning point in Venetian political thought of the time It was now acknowledged by the majority of the Senate and Great Council that the safeguards they had established against autocrat ic rule had simply created more autocrats It was with this mindset that they set about altering the balance of powers afforded to the Council of Ten in relation to the other branches of government As a result much of its authority was transferred to the larger branches. It is also possible that the redistribution of executive authority was as much a result of republican prudence as it is political rivalry One need not carry political grudges to simply want to avoid the mistakes of the past Even if the S enate desired to increase government secrecy they might still have remembered and understood the crises that arose from a secretive and powerful Council of Ten Therefore suggestion that the Duke of Tuscany not bring up the Council of Ten when discussing increased governmental authority was probably wise In the end, whether it was because of political rivalry, historical prudence or, more likely, some mixture of the two, the Senate and the Great Council held a clear bias against the Council of Ten This further indicates that the Senate would proceed with greater caution in future redistributions of political power T his led to a certain degree of political stagnation in the 1600s, but it nevertheless contributed to republican stability. These two documents represent a three way clash between the desires of the large governing bodies, the general population, and the more elite ruling classes The Council of Ten wanted to preserve its authority as its rights and duties were transferred to the sen ate, and the electorate evidently had strong feelings about keeping their government open and transparent Furthermore, such openness could only have occurred if the government had in fact become more inclusive, or at least broader, since the Golden Book w as closed At one time, significant executive authority 32 Bouwsma, Defense 226.
52 rested with the doge By the late 1500s, the very checks put in place to contain his power had caused too much authority to flow to the Council of Ten. The Venetians addressed this problem by divertin g that executive authority to the senate The resolution of the constitutional crisis represented the reversal of a more than two hundred year trend towards concentrating power in the upper ranks of government Between its formation in the early fourteent h century and the constitutional crisis of the 1580s therefore, judicial authority within the Venetian government This was part of a larger trend in which Venetian power tended to flow upwards from the Great Council and the Senate, while simultaneously the powers of the doge were increasingly restricted The Council of Ten happened to be at an ideal pincer location in the hierarchy of Venetian government where they received the dual benefits of the desire for an efficient government and the fear of a monarchic figurehead As a result they became more powerful than any other singular body, despite comprising only seventeen members authority and autocra tic tendencies resulted in a backlash The Venetian electorate reacted against the and the tightening of the oligarchy by stripping them of certain important powers The powers to appoint financial magistrates and to privately hear forei gn diplomats would have given the Ten important policy issues, without oversight or knowledge on the part of the other branches of government Furthermore, these po wers also increased the authority of the doge and the ducal councilors as they were the seven additional members of the Council of Ten Therefore the Senate and Great Council had not really decreased the authority of the doge so much as forced him to share it with the governmental branches immediately below him Once this had resulted in
53 a particularly powerful oligarchy of seventeen people at the top of the government it violated the Venetian sense of what constituted republican government hence the backla sh Fortunately the Senate and the Great Council were able to use their powers of legislation and sheer numbers to correct a concentration of power which was antithetical to the practices of a republic, albeit a naturally oligarchic one Riding a wave of r epublican pride that resulted from the height of took an ideological stand against the older members of the Council of Ten, the ducal councilors and the doge himself Despite the power of these seventeen individuals, they could not withstand the united bodies of the Great Council and the Senate, both of which considered the Ten a collectivist autocracy which risked locking out the other branches of government The power of the Council of Ten, whi ch had been growing slowly but steadily since its inception, was curbed quickly once it reached a sort of republican tipping point. Regardless of its factionalism, the two largest bodies of the Republic were able to pull together to stop this oligarchic de velopment once it became a threat to the government it was designed to serve.
54 Chapter 3: The Myth and Reali t y of the Venetian Republic Government al institutions do not exist in a vacuum In a republic they affect and are affected by the citizenry Therefore, the attitudes of the Venetian people in their relationship to To that end this chapter analyzes two documents praising the city of Venice in order to understand t his relationship. The documents used in this thesis primarily focus on the government of the republic. They can therefore give us greater insight into what the Venetians aspired to in their system of government, as well as how outsiders perceived them The study of these documents can reveal much about Venetian attitudes towards their government in practical terms as well their general theories on the duties and structure of the Republic Therefore, despite the often heavy biases that must be accounted for in the evaluation of these writings, the information they contain is invaluable to understanding the ideas, rather than just the policies, that contributed to the structure of the Venetian republic In the case of Venice, biases are often as important as t he information contained in them Both accurate and exaggerated descriptions demonstrate how a state viewed itself, how it wanted to be viewed and what its political ideals were These writings can be, and certainly have been, used to inform historians of how Venice operated However, the information in these documents political structure two descriptions both of which paint the city in a largely positive light, but reveal much about Venetian government and how it was viewed Perhaps no diarist or historian of the Renaissance better captures the civic pride of Venice than Gasparo Contarin i (1483 1542) One of the main points of this thesis has been the multi
55 tiered structure of the Venetian government and how each of the branches possessed a unique set of powers In his book The Commonwealth and Government of Venice (1543) Contarini goes beyond simply summing these powers up and instead draws symbolic parallels between the branches of Venetian government and other forms of government around the world He writes popular and 1 He then ascribes the role of royal government to the doge, the popular government to the Senate and the noble government to the Council of Ten. 2 Such a division makes sense when analyzing these branches on their own terms, especiall y when one considers that Contarini probably wrote The Commonwealth and Government of Venice in order to educate both his fellow pa tricians and those outside the R epublic as to the nature of Venetian government 3 As Contarini equates the office of the doge with a form of royal rule he establishes a degree of legitimacy with princely governments Furthermore, many sources from the Renaissance refer to the doge as the prince. 4 Referring to him in these terms helped to communi cate the role of the doge to other states While the princely characteristics of the doge were essentially ceremonial in nature, it conveyed the sense of prestige and importance which the Venetians desired to project when dealing with other states The dog e was also expected to use the prestige and respect of the ducal office in a leadership capacity Therefore such a description of the doge satisfies both the role that the Venetians wanted him to play domestically and the image of their state they wanted t o portray to foreign powers. 1 Gasparo Contarini, The Commonwealth and Government of Venice trans. Lewes Lewkenor (New York: Amsterdam & Da Capo Press, 1969), 64. 2 Contarini, Commonwealth 64. 3 Robert Finlay, Politic s in Renaissance Venice (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1980), 222. 4
56 The Senate and the Great Council, for all intents and purposes, are the bodies that made Venice a r epublic Venice was not a representative republic in the modern sense It was a large oligarchy, made up of nobles elected by other nobles However, their terms had limits and their offices were not hereditary They were subject to the authority of the other governmental branches and responsible to the will of the electorate While oligarchic in nature, Venice was still a republic and the Senate represented this to Contarini and the general population. 5 Contarini identifies the Council of Ten as the element of noble government within the Republic 6 This assessment is probably not as accurate as the other two, but it has already been established that the Council of Ten was intended to act as a check on ducal authority maintaining the republican nature of Venetian government While the se checks broke it could certainly be said that the purpose of the Council was to reconcile the princely characteristic s of the doge with the republicanism of the Senate, where the real authority of the city lay. Another aspect of Venetian government stressed by assessment is its harmony Each of the branches is portrayed as working in perfect synchronicity to present all of the advantages of each of these disparate forms of government The conflict which was a core component of the Venetian political structure is glossed over Today many historians regard the sole republic to survive the Renaissance with its original government intact historians and 5 Muir ( Civic Ritual in Renaisssance Venice, a modern, representative democracy. 6 Contarini, Commonwealth 64.
57 As Muir describes it the city achiev[ed] for itself an international reputation as a state in which the interests and passions of the citizens were almost mystically bound to the system of 7 Citizens of other states associated Venice with a careful and concerned ruling cla ss who were often willing to put aside their personal ambitions for the common good. 8 They believed that those characteristics, in turn led to internal harmony, decisiveness in action and outward stability This is not to deny the observations of those w ho perpetuated the myth of Venice It takes a well balanced and adaptable government be withstand one thousand years of domestic turmoil and foreign interest. Where those who bought into the myth were waylaid is simply in their interpretation of why it was so stable Take, for example, the notion that the Republic possessed a particularly harmonious government While it can certainly be argued that the government promoted harmony in the sense that it restrained disorder quite effectively and ensured that it was difficult to move forward on a given issue unless there was more or less full consent on the part of each of these branches, one cannot say that it was harmonious in the sense of lacking conflict This is one of the places in which the myth of Venice collides with the reality. On the other hand, just because Venice was not as harmonious in practice as Contarini would have us believe does not mean that there is no validity in the statement harmony demonstrates that it was consid ered an enviable quality Therefore it makes sense that Venice would strive towards such a goal However, the actions which different branches of the Venetian government took were not usually designed to encourage different groups and factions to cooperate in a harmonious manner If there was a real expectation of harmony then there 7 Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 12. 8 Muir, Civic Ritual 12.
58 would be little need for oversight We would see none of the checks and balances that define sive power could be curbed 9 seems to imply a perfect harmony and marriage of the governmental branches As has been demonstrated, this was far from the case It was not by virtue of harmony that Venic e managed to survive the Renaissance It certainly achieved wealth, domestic peace, political stability and international importance, but these conditions do not imply that harmony existed Harmony, as Contarini seems to define it, was neither a cause nor an effect of success and longevity. Conversely it is hard to deny that Venice was stable and domestically peaceful throughout the history of the Republic Therefore, while harmony may not be the right word to describe it, orderly and balance d seem to serve as good descriptions The perception of the state as this perception is not born out when one considers the actual government mechanisms for maintaining order. Contarini also plac es great emphasis on the duties, restrictions and powers of the Senate It is odd that, while he often praises the doge, whoever holds that office at the time, his praise is usually confined to wisdom, prestige or grandeur Essentially h e commends the but all mentions of his power or his deeds in office are conspicuously absent Conversely, when it comes to the Senate, Contarini focuses on the authority that it wield s and how th is benefits the city His descriptions of the Senate actually seem to mark it as what he considers to be the most important branch The doge may have been the face of the Republic, but without the Senate there would be no Republic at all As Contarini states t he whole manner of the commonwealths government belongeth to the 9 Contarini, Commonwealth 64.
59 senate 10 He then lists numerous powers of the senate including levying taxes, appointing ambassadors and m agistrates and creating new offices. 11 When looked at as a whole, even this incomplete list covers an enormous amount of ground For example, it was through the power to create new offices and magistrates that the Council of Ten and the Zonta were created in the first place The ability to create such bodies in times of need meant that the Senate was essentially responsible for the very balance of government that was so important to the Republic This also extended to the right to form ad hoc advisory commi ttees, which was among one of the most potent and flexible powers that they possessed As Martines describes the process : b y summoning an array of advisers, the 12 The existence of such committees establish ed a formidable front in the face of major opposition on controversial issues since s uch committees were usually formed by members of the higher branches of government It was not the most democratic way of sol ving problems, as it relied on the brute force of the foremost members of the political scene, but it created the appearance of consensus, which in turn b roke up factionalism and kept the system both stable and efficient Fortunately the Senate retained th e ability to strip the powers of these branches or committees, or even to dissolve them entirely as the need arose The best example of this is the constitutional crisis of the 1580s All of these factors indicate that the real core of Venetian power lay with the Senate It is for this reason that Venice was able to call itself a republic despite the oligarchic nature of its government Contarini shows us that that, while the doge certainly had the most prestige and 10 Contarini Commonwealth 68. 11 Contarini, Commonwealth 68 9. 12 Lauro Martines, Power and Imagination: City States in Renaissance Italy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 160.
60 could often use his influence to great e ffect, tangible political authority and control of the government always rested with the Senate. 1580s At that time, t he Council of Ten, in conjunction with the Zo nta, held the ability to appoint However, Contarini indicates that it was by the will of the Senate. Bestowing such powers on the Council of Ten was clearly an effort by the Senate to increase efficiency, implying that it was, in a sense, licensing this ability to the Ten Therefore, one could argue that this particular power should have naturally revert ed to the Senate anyway once the Zonta was dissolved up the Zonta This was the path which the Senate pursued in order to keep the power of appointment from staying with the Council of Ten One as pect of Venetian politics which has been discussed in some detail in this thesis is the belief that the political office, not the man who held it, was of paramount importance Such ideas represented a glorification of the state, rather than a veneration of its politicians When considering this notion, one can see that there is a certain continuity between it and the respect that Contarini held for the Senate In sharp contrast to the lifelong and public rule of the doge, t he Senate had a high turnover rate and t he office tended to be rather faceless M ost of the sources examined in this thesis include few mentions of individual senators unless they later rose to a more prominent position Usually the Senate is referred to as a monolithic group with separat e factions mentioned occasionally to demonstrate conflict over a given issue However, even separate factions were not really an issue until the rise of the conflict between the Old and
61 the Young Senators in the late sixteenth centur y 13 To the Venetians t here was a sort of quiet nobility in carrying out the public service of a term in the Senate, where one was not expected to stand out but simply to carry out a necessary duty for the good of the Republic The idea that the Republic was always above the ind ividual was further guaranteed by the simple fact that few powerful people could successfully exploit their position for personal gain The possibility of such action was minimized in a body as large as the Senate No matter how great the ambition or the e go of an individual senator, it would never eclipse the glory of the Senate itself All of these theories of government, however, are useless unless it can be demonstrated that those in government believed in them at least to some degree Belief in such i deals was expressed in numerous ways, whether in public ceremony or simple testimony The Venetian statesman Marco Foscari (1477 1551) remarked to the Senate upon his return from a diplomatic mission to Florence in 1527 that of the three most important qua lities of a Senator, those being epublic was most important To be more specific, he argues that it must be filial, rather than servile love. 14 He compares this to the love sons give thei r fathers despite demands placed upon them The unconditional nature of this love is what makes it filial 15 The proliferation of these ideas does not mean, of co urse that they were perfectly followed, but it is one more indication that there was at least a commitment to the spirit in which Venice ought to be governed, even when particular individuals fell short of that ideal Venice as a city also placed great em phasis on civic ritual There were entire bureaus attached to the Ducal Palace, San Marco and the Great Council whose job it was to oversee the 13 Frederic C. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 393. 14 Muir, Civic Ritual 21. 15 Muir, Civic Ritual 21.
62 various ceremonies that the city performed on a regular basis The reason for such an extensive system of magist racies is that these were rituals which sought to promote the ideals of harmony that they wished their government to embody T hus decisions about them were of great importance and required consideration from a wide variety of angles 16 They represented a fusion of faith, patriotism, hierarchy and republic anism which the government was supposed to embody The Ducal Procession provides evidence of this balance This procession, essentially a solemn parade, was held when ever the doge need ed to perform a public ceremonial duty including on all major religious holidays. 17 Centered on the doge and featuring dozens of representatives from all levels of government, Muir likens the event to the truest expression of the Venetian constitution. 18 T he event was highly legislated down to the last detail demonstrating that the Senate and the Great Council knew exactly what type of image they wanted to convey 19 Therefore the symbolism and values of the procession reveal that the electorate believed in the myth of Venice and sought to promote it. As it essentially represented the Venetian constitution, t he order of the ducal p rocession was of the utmost importance to the entire citizenry. Thus it was slow to change as each change was considered signific ant to the image that the electorate wished to communicate. 20 Regardless of who occupied an office, he had a carefully circumscribed role to play His office not his personal qualities, determined his spot in the procession once again elevating the offic e above the individual The Ducal Procession consisted of three segments The first segment was made up mainly of lesser functionaries and representatives of the higher offices to come The d oge 16 Muir, Civic Ritual 188. 17 Muir, Civic Ritual 190 91. 18 Muir, Civic Ritual 189 91. 19 Muir, Civic Ritual 189. 20 Muir, Civic Ritual 190. Muir also mentions an anecdote regarding Marin Sanudo who apparently became enraged when proper protocol was not followed regarding the use of the ceremonial sword in the procession (Muir, 114).
63 came in the second segment, along with any foreign ambassador s who happened to be in the city He was accompanied by servants bearing the symbols of the ducal office The third segment contained the ducal counselors, the Procurators of San Marco, the heads of the Council of Ten, certain senators and various other in dividuals. 21 offices received no personal recognition 22 The extreme rigidity of the order of the procession demonstrates the importance of hierarchy to the Venetian government, but it also carries broader institutional implications The procession center ed completely on the doge, imbuing him with sacred symbolism on account of his elected status as the figurehead of the Republic, but it was a celebration of the office rather than the man. 23 Muir also observes that the obsession with such hierarchies represented an effort to use constitutional roles to smother political strife while also implying that there was no way to gain political power except through legitimate ele ction. 24 This was not merely a warning or an attempt to dissuade the unscrupulous ; it reflected political reality While the institutions of government were adaptable in their execution of policies able to respond quickly to various crises the political structure was rigid and designed to prevent anyone from coming to power through illegitimate means To harness the power of the Venetian government for a single group or individual was next to impossible under such a system and once the Venetians found a s ystem that worked, they tended to settle in to it, making a concerted effort to change only if absolutely necessary. 25 21 Muir, Civic Ritual 190 2. 22 Muir, Civic Ritual 192. 23 Muir, Civic Ritual 203. 24 Muir, Civic Ritual 200. 25 This can be contrasted with the Florentines of the time period, who had no such living representative of the Civic Ritual, 203). However, the Medici did not make the same distinction between the o ffice and the man. Their funeral rituals, also, were much more concerned with passing on power to a legitimate heir, as in other European states, rather than the clear separation between the doge
64 The symbols carried by various servants or members of government also carried great significance One of the most interesting examples is the ducal sword While it had always been Marino Falier it was often carried behind the doge, both in processions and at other public appearances 26 It was usually carried by an official who would soon leave to bear the authority of the doge on the mainland as podest of a dependent commune or a member of the local judiciary. However, it could also be carried by a member of the Council of Ten In any case, the sword was closely bound with the notion of justice. So close was this association that it was very rare that the sword appeared in the procession without one of these figures to bear it, as each was considered a symbol of one form of Venetian justice or another 27 It was one of the many symbols in these processions that elevated the authority of the state above any office holder, even the doge himself. myth of Venice, the notion that Venice was a harmonious city w here hierarchy and republicanism were highly respected and stability was considered given. However, referring to it as a myth is not to say that it is entirely untrue. Regardless of how Venice actually functioned, the citizenry widely embraced the ideals o f the myth and politicians constantly pushed them to the fore front of Venetian discourse Celebrations of republican liberty and constant use in rhetoric meant that such ideals were never lost or forgotten Therefore, even when Venetian government was at its most oligarchic, everything had to conform to these ideals eventually and it was easy to appeal to them in order to and his office at death that was demonstrated in Venice. Thi Cosimo, with the pagan emperors of Rome and their undying authority at his funeral (Muir, 264). 26 Muir, Civic Ritual 191. 27 Muir, Civic Ritual 114.
65 The myth of Venice, therefore, could be said to have contribute d to the real world republicanism of Venice. Another perspective regarding Venetian government comes from one of the greatest champions of the city of Florence, Francesco Guicciardini (1483 1540) Guicciardini was a historian and statesman noted for his Hist ory of Italy written in the last few years of his life but not published until 1579 In 1524 Guicciardini wrote a dialogue set in 1494 ( after the first removal of the Medici family ), that sought to decide which form of government Florence should now adopt He uses Venice to great effect as an example of the kind of republic to which Florence should aspire Guicciardini draws many parallels between the Florentine and Venetian republics in terms of their government s and constitution s In fact the only signi ficant difference he claims to be able to find is nominal 28 He then goes on to describe how this difference is purely ter minological as Venice simply bestows upon every citizen with a right to the electorate. 29 Indeed this was a Venetian peculiarity, but as Guicciardini rightly poi nts out it did not make them any more or less republican in practice than any other Italian republic, Florence included If this is the case then what was unique about Venice in relation to other cities? Guicciardini sums up the situation astutely pract ically spell ing out the arguments of this thesis in the process First of all distinction between a government of the people and a government of nobles is itself significant While the functional aspects of the Florentine and Venetian 28 Venice: A Documentary History, 1450 1630 ed. David Chambers and Brian Pullan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 61. 29 61 2.
66 repu blics are practically the same it could be argued that even this slight difference reflected certain ideas and realities that resulted in greater stability among the Venetian electorate Similar councils to the ones which governed Venice existed i n Floren ce, Lucca, Perugia, Genoa and Siena However the social standing of the various council members was often different While the council members almost always the wealthiest and most powerful men in the city there was almost universally a sharp division between propertied, relatively wealthy men who were not of the noble families from the older, established aristocracy It has been argued that this produced a psychological imbalance within these councils. 30 S ocial and economic disparities made it difficult for the (comparatively) less affluent members of the ruling councils to vote against those who were especially rich or powerful in ways not defined by the constitution In Venice, however, the more elite branches of g overnment, such as the Council of Ten and even, to a lesser degree, the Senate, contained members who were nearly identical social and economic peers The members placed much less emphasis on heredity and no one stood to lose anything by voting against a m ember of the one of the councils who happened to be richer or more influential. 31 Therefore the designation of nobility that the entire electorate carried appears to be indicative of this narrow socio economic range reaching, but the idea of nobility indicates a much narrower scope This homogeneity and protection enjoyed by individuals in nearly all positions above the Great Council could very well be one of the reasons that Venice enjoyed such stability Guicciardi ni also addresses the longevity of the Ven etian Republic He remarks that no other city has maintained peace and concord for such a long period of time The dialogue addresses a common fallacy of the era to its location It is 30 Martines, Power 159. 31 Martines, Power 159.
67 true that it was difficult for an invading army to pose a serious threat to Venice as t he lagoon precluded the possibility of attacking it with ground troops such as infantry or cavalry However, as Guicciardini correctly indicates, this does not explain why no significant uprising s occurred in the history of the city As he says of its location i t does little or nothing to keep the city from re 32 It is significant that Guicciardini, someone outside of the Venetian government, could or would make this observation. Guicciardini has no real stake in promoting the Venetian government, and yet he acknowledges His outsider status lends him a greater degree of objectivity than if he was a native of Venice Guicciardini wrote this dialogue in a troubling time for Flore nce The Medici had returned to power after they were first removed in 1494 and had quickly settled back into their role as hereditary rulers in a powerful city that was nominally and institutionally a republic. 33 It is likely because of these troubles that Guicciardini so admired the Republic of Venice : i t represented a republic in fact as well as name Furthermore one can see his traditions in his writing If this reflect s the broader opinions of Venice that were pre valent at this At the same time he stresses the similarities between it and Florence i n order both to show the glory of his home city and to demonstrate how it could improve its government The outside perspective of someone from a city well respected in its own right who seeks to imitate Venice indicat es the spread of the myth of Venice G uicciardini also seems to find no reason why his government 32 Guicciardini 62. 33 Martines, Power 290.
68 could not simply turn over and become a stable republic However, he does not seem to realize sta tes to replicate This is emphasized by his belief that the aforementioned titles bestowed upon the citizenry were the biggest difference between the two governments. However, he does bility relative to other republics. for the political structure, as one may call an infinite number of their particular rules, not to be 34 Here th e Florentine proposes that it is not by virtue of simply being a republic that Venice is able to maintain its government Instead the governments differ at the institutional level He does not go into many specifics, but he does analyze respond quickly and fluidly to threats to its stability Possibly referring to Foscari or Barbarigo, : i n later times there were Doges and others who aspired to tyranny, but were soon suppressed, because of the good institutions of 35 Guicciardini gives a certain degree of credit for this to the citizens themselves, as he considers that those who participate in government look upon it with great affection Given the amount of power tha t the electorate had, including each citizen having an automatic seat on the Great Council, it would require far reaching support in order to make any headway towards establishing a tyrannical form of government Such a takeover would be complicated by the mere fact that each citizen voice in government and, thus, a motivation to maintain it To jeopardize this privilege would be unthinkable for all but the most egotistical and ambitious of Venetian citizens 34 62. 35 62.
69 Still, one could easily argue that these factors are present in any form of republican government with broad enough representation Guicciardini himself would argue that Florence possessed many of these qualities, despite framing them as a unique quality of Venice Therefore, the real difference, even for Guicciardini was in the institutions themselves institutions made it difficult for a given group to become too powerful in the first place, but, as has been mentioned numerous times and as Guicciardini su btly observes, Venice was unique in its ability to respond to and not just to prevent crisis It is this quality of Venetian and well designed to suppress quickly anyone who begins to rise by taking this road [towards 36 This sentiment echoes the idea inherent in the Ducal Procession that one can only advance by legitimate election ortrait of Venice still manages to capture the subtle point of distinction between an institutional design and a natural facet of republicanism of angles Divisions of power and extensive ch ecks and balances ensured that accumulating more executive authority was difficult for any single branch, let alone an individual Furthermore, if a group did manage to acquire more power it was possible to keep it from holding and cultivating it or making the situation worse The Council of Ten kept the d oge in line, while they in turn were checked by the S enate and the Great Council There was really no need to guard against the power of the Senate or the Great Council As these were much larger groups th an the Council of Ten or the Ducal Council, consisting of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, the more power that was vested in these bodies the more republican the state became It was only for purposes of external respect and efficiency that they even allowed such a small, oligarchic group to exist at the top of the political ladder. 36 Guicciardini 62.
70 Guicciardini and Contarini were contemporaries separated by less than two hundred miles However, Contarini writes as a dutiful servant of the city, who demonstrates a clear love and zeal for his republic whereas Guicciardini is a citizen of yet another prosperous city looking at Venice with admiration from afar Their views may not paint a perfect picture of Venice as it was, but they do represent Venice as it was vie wed at the time even by members of its own government It shows the values that the Venetians aspired to and the image they wished their city to convey to the world The citizens of Venice both in and outside of the government, wanted the myth of Venice to be a reality.
71 Conclusion Venice in 1797 By then it had weakened to a point that it could no longer defend itself, especially against the powerful militaries of Austria and France It had lasted for well over a millennium However, even then it did not collapse from internal pressures, nor change its political system It is true that the government weakened, but it still took a military force conquering the state to bring down the Repub lic In order to survive, the government of Venice had to be stable, but not static Instead, it had to be flexible and adaptable without every getting too far away from its ideals Demonstrating these qualities is the end to which the chapters of my thes is were conceived In an era where numerous Italian city states began as republics but transformed over time into entirely different governments, rather than allowing their government to buckle under the pressure of domestic politics The first chapter dealt with ducal challenges to the Republic As princely governments were becoming increasingly common, there was a real chance of the foremost officeholder in Venice turning into an autocratic ruler Therefore to u nde rstand ducal challenges to the R epublic is to understand the role of the doge and the landscape of Renaissance Italy. The second chapter, concerni ng conciliar challenges to the R epublic is much more focused ld threaten its stability A body which was sight in order to maintain the R epublic became a threat to it However, the strength of the Council of Ten did not diminish the streng th of the Senate or the Great Council the latter of which used its right to
72 Then, t hese two bodies, constituting the republican heart of Ve nice, were able to un ite and using their considerable authority remove certain key powers from the Council of Ten With the Ten checked, r epublican balance was restored The third chapter concerns the myth of Venice and analyzes sources from Contarini and Guicciardini Th e point of this analysis is not merely to determine the veracity of these writings, but to address the attitudinal factors that helped to shape Venetian state and policy Both of these men, both living during the same time period demonstrate the way that the Venetian state yth largely rose to are essentially interpretive. Thus the troubles outline d in my thesis demonstrate the qualities that made the Venetian government so uniquely resilient It was self balancing, even harnessing the ambitions of its own politicians as a tool for stability To the Venetians civic pride did not just mean pride in o nes city, right or wrong Rather it meant pride in the particular government and state of Venice It was not perfect, but the citizenry stuck with their government and attempted to refine it rather than rejecting it when the system appeared to break down This fusion of self interest, ideology and a desire to guard a known good defined the Venetian system of government It was designed to account for and cope with the failings of the men who made it up They would certainly be ambitious, they might be ineff ectual or corrupt, but the system made sure that these traits could be limited The office came before the man and, regardless of status, anyone who attempted to change the republican status quo instigated a strong reaction When they were judged they were merely men, not the offices they inhabited.
73 One may ask why this even matters Why do we care that this republic was able to last so long ? Venice can teach us much about the balance between ideals and reality By minimizing the glory of the individual an d maximizing the glory of the state, the Venetians were able to engender a sense of civic duty and pride that either guided or constrained politicians, depending on the particular circumstances It speaks to the importance of oversight, especially over the branches that are entrusted with the most authority It warns us against becoming swept up in the interests of the powerful few and the dangers of secrecy in government It demonstrates that calm and calculating patience, even if it is a slow process, can lead to longevity and stability While not every lesson learned from Venice will translate perfectly into the issues of today scholarship only stand s to gain from a more detailed understanding of how this resistant republic functioned A more perfect und erstanding of what contributed to the stability of Venice, whether deliberate, accidental or circumstantial, can contribute to modern governmental theory in a meaningful way This thesis is only the tip of that iceberg While I chose to focus on the govern ment institutions that aided in maintaining a r epublic, there was a wide array of factors Therefore more research must be done in this subject It could be carried out in term of economics, or a more detailed look a t class relations or any one or combination of dozens of different approaches The government of Venice has the capacity to tell us a great deal about our present It is only up to us to delve into its history and try to understand it a bit more each time. 1100 s 1200 1250 1250 1300 1300 1350 1350 1400 1400 1500 1500 1550 1550 1600 1600 and on Doge Foremost elected official of the Republic. Largely a figurehead with some executive aspects. 1177, pope authorizes use of symbolism procession. General increase in prestige. 1268, rigorous ele ction process started by Ducal C ouncil 1401, Law states doge must be referred to as messer not dominus 1462, references to
74 removed from Ducal Council Along with Doge and 3 Heads of GC, comprised the signoria Short term limits and limits on family involvement. Founded 1178 with 6 members. 1268, Propose election process for the doge. Their own election process becomes incredibly complex as well. Council of Ten Formed to counter plots against state, but power and influence grows with time 1310, council established. Power increases steadily, but unofficially, for next 270 years. Powers curbed by senate and 1582 3 Senate Originally 60 men who dealt w/commerce, sending of embassies & movement of fleets. 1329, senate begins auctioning state galleys to highest bidder. Some powers temporarily displaced by smaller committees of Co10 for certain issues. However, more import ant matters more frequently dealt with in Senate 1481, stricter secrecy laws placed on senate 1510, Senate service age lowered to 30 Successfully financial and foreign affairs responsibilities (1582 3) 1580 1630, Youngs and Olds in senate form basic political parties. The Forty Court of Appeals (Pinnacle of judicial system). Prepared financial and coinage legislation for approval by the Great Council More authoritative in general than Senate during thirteenth century Act on financial and political matters only when meeting with the senate (contraction) Great Council 3 400 people including ex officio members of Ducal Council. Center of power in thirteenth century 3 Heads rivaled ducal council in importance. Elected all 1297, size unlimited following closing of Golden Book. over 1100. By 1323, membership restricted. Must have proof of ancestor holding high office. Following fourteenth century trend, contractions in participation felt throughout the government, 1423, G.C. declares that laws they pass valid without need of popular approval, even if changes an 1523, all citize ns given membership in the Great Council 1797,Diss olved by Napoleon.
75 magistrates and members of all other councils but esp. G.C. existing law. General Assembly summoned only to ratify basic legislation and acclaim a nominating choice of doge. Before 1172 considered unruly mob. 1297, Golden Book closed 1423 G.A. abolished
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