The Duke of Milan

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Sforza is given a glimpse of what will happen after his death.

Chapter 33 (v.1) - Reflections upon Mortality.

Submitted: January 21, 2018

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Submitted: January 21, 2018

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‘Don’t you dare die on me!’ Bianca commanded.

I knew I would be happy to oblige, but I was not sure it was going to be entirely my own decision. I had just finished paying my customary courtesy call upon Lucia when it happened. One moment normality, the next, my body declared its rebellion against my will. They carried me to my bed, a blur of images and faces, sounds of concern and reassurance. A candle flickered. If death was coming, it was not welcome. It was too early and entirely uninvited.

A man often wonders what will happen when he is gone; in recompense for my many sins the Almighty granted me a vision of the future, a vision that haunts me every time I look into the face of Galeazzo.

The rumour was that I was already dead and being thought dead, the question now was how would the state react? What would the Sforza inheritance be? Would my heirs have to fight to preserve the legacy? Would the cities rebel, would the generals stay loyal or would they try to profit from the disorder and disharmony?

In the first critical hours of my incapacity, Bianca assumed control of the state; positions were manned, troops marched and her agents dealt with the suspect and the discontented. The lucky were arrested; the more dangerous were simply executed where they were found. No one escaped her.

I opened my eyes.

‘You live,’ said Bianca. She seemed to have aged considerably.

I smiled weakly. I could see dust floating in shafts of light. Was that the true place of a man and his ambition in the universe?

‘We are safe. Milan, Cremona and Pavia have stayed loyal, but Piacenza has rebelled.’

I closed my eyes for a few moments. I heard voices, but not the words. I opened my eyes again.

‘You’re awake,’ she said.

‘You look different?’

‘It has been two weeks. How do you feel?’

‘Dreadful.’

‘That’s wonderful,’ she said starting to cry.

Women.

 

‘I sent an army to deal with the rebels,’ Bianca told me later, ‘they had to be brought to obedience. There were executions.’

‘Who?’

‘Tiberto Brandolini for one, he was intriguing with the d’Este. There were others.’

I always trust Bianca’s judgment in such things and if she wanted to settle a few old scores that was her concern.

‘I have sent troops to the other key positions; Simonetta has been instructed to continue with the affairs of state as normal.’

‘Has Morosini reassured the powers?’

She frowned; even in my distracted state I could tell it was not a good sign.

‘Simonetta has doubts,’ she said, ‘mainly rumours and gossip, but no proof or I would have acted. I have placed a discrete watch upon him.’

I would deal with the bureaucratic infighting later.

‘The seal?’

‘I used a duplicate.’

‘I did not know we had one.’

‘I have always had one.’ Typical Bianca.

I lapsed back into the bed.

‘Sleep.’

 

When I was sufficiently recovered I ordered Antonio Vailati to investigate the disturbances caused by my illnesses. He was thorough I will say that for him. I am inclined to believe that his investigation marked an innovation in the relationship between a prince and his subjects. The most learned professors at the University of Pavia have confirmed to me they know of no other attempt to divine the true opinion of a ruler’s subjects. He visited all the chief towns and talked to the high and low.

‘We conclude that there is nothing to build upon, because there is no love,’ he told me.

‘Is there any good news?’

‘Cremona views you favourably.’

Bianca was utterly unbearable for the rest of the week.

‘Milan and Pavia are peaceful.’

‘That is good.’

‘In Pavia you are loved, particularly when you are absent, whereas in Milan, no one really believed you were dead.’

‘Is there no good news?’

‘Power is personal, where you are known and more importantly seen, you are popular with a strong bond of affection for you and your family. The newer additions to the Duchy or those places where you are rarely seen, loyalty is more circumspect.’

‘And the common people?’

‘They approve of your grace’s firm hand on law and order. It is commonly said that a man may now walk across the Duchy with gold in his pockets.’

‘Your recommendations.’

‘If your lordship would reduce the level of taxation you popularity would be considerably enhanced.’

‘The people cheer me on the streets then go home and complain about the cost.’

‘If you didn’t want to know what the people thought you shouldn’t have asked them in the first place,’ said Bianca. Who had disapproved of the whole enterprise from the start.

I imagined my father and the Duke looking down from heaven and laughing.

I wrote to Cosimo telling him of my experiment and asking him what he thought. Cosimo wrote back saying my ‘Greek practices’ would never find favour with serious politicians. ‘They would argue that your belief in the potential of the common people is erroneous and will inevitably lead you astray. If a man has no stake in the state it will be of no concern to him whether the outcome of a decision is good or ill. Whereas those who have at the their command, land, property, manufactures and other moveables, have an interest so closely bound with the prosperity of a state that they will inevitably act in accordance with the common good.’

I remained unconvinced, in my time I have seen more charity and common sense reside with those who possessed but little and I continue to believe that there are inherent possibilities in the good people of Milan.

As soon as I had recovered I turned my attention to the affairs of Genoa. Long had this city been a source of disharmony between the states of Italy and desirous as I was of removing said disharmony to the public good, I applied my mind to solving the problem once and for all. The first question was how to remove the French. Cosimo suspected, but could not prove, that I was using agents to stir up trouble. Such was the benefit of being educated in Ferrara, that and learning to sleep with a knife under the pillow.

I managed to unite the various factions against the French forces of occupation who found themselves besieged in the city. The difficulty was the French King; my policy could do nothing, but alienate him. Fortunately Charles and Louis were never going to be reconciled. So I was honest with Louis and explained what I was doing while at the same time stressing my personal relationship with him. He wrote back saying that he personally did not see it as an unfriendly act. This gave me carte blanche to send men, money and several artillery pieces. I soon received word from my friends in Genoa that Anjou was mounting an expedition to raise the siege. This could not be permitted. Fortunately my troops arrived just in time as the Genoese were giving way to the French attack. At first the French maintained discipline, but catching sight of my banner the retreat turned into a complete rout.

It might be thought that the death of Charles VIII and the accession of my good friend Louis would lead to the successful culmination of my foreign policies. There is an old saying of being careful for what you wish.

‘He blames you for the loss of the French army and from keeping Anjou from Naples,’ said Albreco Malleta the famed doctor of law and one of my best ambassadors.

‘Guilty on both counts,’ said Bianca.

‘Louis knew beforehand what would happen.’ I said.

‘In my private audience with his majesty I explained that everything was done with either his consent or by his instigation.’

‘Knowing Louis he will draw a distinction between what he knew as Dauphin and what he now knows as King.’

Malleta nodded.

‘We have letters,’ Bianca pointed out, ‘and Louis knows we have them.’

‘He also knows that I will not use them.’

Maletta nodded again.

‘He is a new king,’ I said, ‘and he needs support. If Louis supports me he will alienate Orleans and Anjou and lose all claim to Genoa. Therefore, it would not be prudent for him to begin his reign with a defeat and two powerful enemies. I assume he made some sort of threat.’

‘Drop Ferdinand and support Anjou or else there will be grave consequences.’

‘Support the King. You gain more than you lose,’ advised Bianca.

I asked Maletta for his opinion.

‘The King appears remarkably well informed, particularly as to your intensions, be that as it may, you either, submit to the King’s will and become his vassal, or face his wrath in the future.’

I glanced at Bianca and being of one mind, she nodded her agreement as to what needed to be done. I would leave her to take care of the details.

‘Say this to the King,’ I said, ‘neither the prospect of advantage or loss to myself nor respect for the wishes of the King should induce me to relinquish the path I have taken. As for any other matter, it will be dealt with.’

‘And for the future?’ Asked Maletta.

‘Oh, I shall do absolutely nothing.’

‘For how long?’

‘As long as it takes.’

 

It did not take very long at all. By August 1462 Alessandro had defeated Piccinino at Troya in what proved to be the decisive battle of the Neapolitan campaign. After that Anjou had very little prospect of success. Many of the Neapolitan barons were willing to submit, but not to Ferdinand, only to me. It required some small exertion upon my part to reconcile the two sides. At this point Piccinino decided to cast himself adrift of Anjou and went into business for himself sacking the town of Celano for its food and money; he then offered his services back to Ferdinand. With Ferdinand gaining an army and Anjou losing one, the war was effectively over. And before long Anjou and John sailed for home.

In the end I doubt Piccinino’s actions will do him much good, he seeks to follow my example, but seems incapable of learning from it. Ferdinand has a long memory for those that cross him. He is a tyrant of the worst sort and a man would be foolish to place himself completely in his power.

Nevertheless, Ferdinand expressed his gratitude to me by making my son, Sforza Maria, Duke of Bari. I hope the boy is suitably grateful for the efforts made upon his behalf.

I also gave thanks for the destruction of Malatesta. It seemed God does listen to our prayers after all. Malatesta had waged war upon His Holiness’ realm and managed to do some harm and it was because of this His Holiness decided upon a final reckoning. For me friendship did what age could no longer do and it was upon my recommendation that Federico entered the service of the church. With a little discrete help, he quickly overran the lands of Malatesta leaving him only Rimini and a few fortresses. Malatesta tried to save himself by begging for help from Venice, but she was preoccupied by the Ottoman. His Holiness in his infinite mercy ended the war before Malatesta’s complete destruction, but everything Malatesta possessed would, henceforth, be the property of the church. At last the beast was chained before the cross.

Amen.

Louis could not stop laughing Maletta told me later. ‘Malatesta chained to the rock of St. Peter, his son a Duke, and now all Genoa cries out the name of ‘Sforza.’ A king should know when he is beaten.’ He signed the document agreeing to invest me with Genoa and Savona and sent me a personal message expressing his eternal love and friendship, and his sorrow for the death of Morosini who was killed in a tragic accident whilst out riding with Bianca.

Although the warrant of Louis was useful I was determined not to be beholden to the French for the city. Equally, I was determined not to be seen as a conqueror, such a display would not be appropriate. It was therefore agreed that Genoa should send ambassadors to offer me the city by right of acclamation of the people. For what is given by the people, only the people can take away. I sent da Vimercate to arrange matters.

I am told that my acquisition of Genoa seemed to cause near panic in the courts of Italy, where would the banner of the Sforza fly next they wondered.

‘I am content,’ I told Cosimo, who had come to Milan to find out personally.

‘The funny thing is I actually believe you.’

It was the last time I saw him. Cosimo left us on the 13th day of August 1464. As long as I live I will light a candle for him. Cosimo had been my adviser, confidant and friend for over thirty years. He maintained faith when all others deserted. He was my higher; better self, free of error, absurdity and pretension. If example is the school to mankind, let the world know of his life and profit by it.


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