Episode 26 of our FREE thirty-part Summer Series of articles with audio recordings, which cover the thousand-year medieval period in the Italian peninsula, is now ready.
We’re in the middle of a sequence of four related articles, which recount how the various powerful ‘comunes’ ended up back being ruled by hereditary figures.
Monday’s article was about Verona’s Della Scala family, today we’re in Milan and Lombardy, finding out about the curious Viscontis, on Friday there will be the famous Florentine Medicis, and next Monday’s article links them all together (if I remember correctly), considering their regional rivalries and who came out on top – can’t wait for the finale!
A recurring theme in history, it seems, at least for those who make it to the top of the greasy pole, is the problem of securing their gains of power and wealth for future generations.
Why was this a problem? Because you needed male children, better if from a legitimate marriage, or you’d have the Catholic church breaking your balls, better still if their mother came from an influential family, who could be relied upon to lend support once you were gone.
But not everyone was fertile, and changing wives wasn’t easy. Not to mention the very high mortality rate in childbirth (both mother and baby), and during your future heir’s earliest years, from disease.
The longest-serving rulers, of which we’ve come across only a few in the last 25 episodes, would have had the opposite problem. Most people didn’t live very long in the middle ages, so if you happened to survive twenty or thirty years on your throne, AND have a reasonabe selection of male heirs, it wasn’t a given that your kids would still be alive when you eventually popped your clogs. Especially if you’d kept them busy commanding your armies, and/or if they hated each other’s guts.
Well who would care, you might be asking yourself? The affairs of kings and aristocrats are their own problem. They need and deserve little sympathy from the likes of us!
And yet that’s true only in part. As we saw with the proto-democratic experiments that were the coumunes, forms of government which were more inclusive were also prone to corruption and chaos. Remember poor Dante, living half his life in exile? Politics can be vicious.
And so we’ll read in today’s article that, even when offered the chance to govern themselves after a wild period of autocratic rule, there was every chance that, soon enough, the masses would be left wishing that they had the predictable old despot back (or at least one of his sons, preferably one of the saner ones…)
Which brings us back to fertility, and the difficulty of securing the gains from a lifetime (or multiple generations) of scheming.
Read through last year’s Summer Series on the Romans (you’ll find it here) and you’ll discover, assuming that you didn’t already know, that from a certain point on, Roman Emperors who knew how many beans made five would plan ahead and ADOPT a suitable heir. Full marks for civic responsibility!
Over a thousand years of progress later, in the late middle ages, adoption was no longer a thing. But in a last resort, there might at least have been the odd daughter who, while not being much use on her own, could, with forethought, be married off to someone who might be.
And there we have it!
How to marry the boss’s daughter and become Duke of Milan?
Find out here:
Episodio 26, I Comuni diventano Signorie, I Visconti e Francesco Sforza a Milano (XIV-XV secolo)
N.b. The twenty-five previous episodes in the medieval series (it gets more gripping as you stick with it, promise), along with the thirty episodes of last year’s series on the Romans, can all be found, now and forever (I have three heirs and am keeping my fingers crossed), on our History page.
A venerdì, allora.