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It is well known that the tragedy of tomeo and Juliet owes its origin to indents which took place in the city of Terona, when
"Civil broils, bred of an airy word
These rival factions were a subdivision f the two grand parties known as the fuelphs and Ghibellines. Verona thus ivided was the first stage where Ezzelino i Romano, one of the most notorious laracters of his age, appeared before the orld. By historians he is represented as man of no ordinary energies, but who by irning them to evil became the scourge : his cotemporaries, and the execration 'posterity. Tradition describes him as ie most cruel of tyrants, and the poets of aly have treated him still worse. Ariosto ims up his character by calling him a son 'the Devil, -who did so much mischief at Marius, Sylla, Nero, and Caligula may ! considered as merciful when compared i him.
"Ezzelino immanissimo tiranno
, Orlando Forioso.
Dante, though a fellow-Ghibclline of
our hero, describes in a certain part of the infernal regions a lake of boiling blood, from which the heads of such monsters of cruelty as Dyonisius of Sicily and Alexander Pherceus are seen to emerge, only however to be pierced by the arrows of Centaurs ranging on the banks. While he is looking at them the sage Chilon his guide, pointing to one of them, says: "Seest thou those horrid features, overshadowed by dark locks?" "lis Ezzelino.
"E quella fronte che ha il pel cosi' Nero E' Azzolino."
Interno, Canto XII.
It cannot but prove interesting to have a brief sketch of a person handled so unmercifully by such celebrated authorities, more especially sis his chronicle furnishes an idea of matters and things during the thirteenth century, in the leading events of which he bore a prominent part.
Ezzelino da Romano, so called from the name of the village where he was born, began to rise into importance about the year 1225, when, uniting himself with Salinguerra, a famous desperado chief of those days, he appeared in Verona to reinforce the Montecchi, who had just driven out of the city Count Richard di San Bonifazio, head of the Cappelletti or Guelphs. The good services rendered by Ezzelino to this faction, gained him, in Verona, a littlo power, which he increased by his subtlety
and boldness. He had frequent opportunities of signalizing himself on account of the unceasing broils between the cities of Lombardy and the Marca Trevigiana, torn by numerous factions, each division of which was headed by some warlike noble, or ambitious adventurer, desirous to increase the fame of his house, and enlarge the number of his adherents. His first care was to expel from Verona the nobles who adhered to Count Richard, reducing their palaces and towers to ashes.
We find him soon after on horseback, at the head of his Veronese, crossing the country in the direction of Vicenza.— Through the assistance of his brother, Alberico da Romano, who had some little power there, he entered the place, and the v'eronese war-cry terrified the unwary Vicentines, who flew to arms and fought desperately in the streets and thoroughfares. Although the forces of Padua soon came to their assistance, Ezzelino defeated them with great slaughter; and having created Alberico Governor of Vicenza, he returned to Verona proud of having detached a city from the GueJph party.
The Paduans, however, had not to wait long for an opportunity of retaliating upon Ezzelino. He had got into his possession the castle of Fonte, allied to the Paduans, but they fell upon him with such determination that he was compelled, much to his confusion, to retreat before their superior forces.
They got word soon after, that he had caused the city of Treviso, which had named him its citizen, to take arms and proceed against the Bishops of Feltre and Belluno, and that, putting himself at the head of the Trevisans, he had taken those two little towns. The Paduans exhorted the citizens of Treviso to get rid of Ezzelino, and not having succeeded, they formed a league against him with the Patriarch of Aquileja and the Marquis of Este, and marched towards Treviso, setting fire to everything they found on the way. Felre and Belluno were finally given up to the aggressors, and Ezzelino was obliged to go and create mischief in some other quarter. He owed thenceforth a grudge to tha_Marquis Azzo D'Este, which time •*' ^ake him forget, as we shall see. 1isseusions of Verona had not ;, and they were stirred up
anew by the election to the office of Governor of Giustiniani, a patrician of Venice, who not only recalled the exiled nobks. but received into the city Count Richard of San Bonifazio, head of the Capulet faction. The jealousy of the Honteochi at this occurrence can be easily imagined. Ezzelino and his old associate, Salinguerra, blew the coals; and at their instigation, and with their assistance, Giustiniani ws* driven from the town, and the Count, with several of his adherents, was thrown m\: prison. The principal part of the Counts faction took refuge in the castle of Sac Bonifazio, where they elected, a Governor, and implored the help of the commune of Padua. Every device they could think of was tried by the Paduans to coax or terrify Ezzelino and Salinguerra into the liberation of Count Richard, but in vain. Tiiey and the Marquis of Este, with other friends of the imprisoned nobleman, even beggwl that holy and learned preacher, Friar Anthony of Lisbon, better known afterwards under the title of St. Anthony of Padua, to induce the Veronese to set the Conn: free. Willing to do anything that mi.lead to restore peace among brothers. the good saint proceeded to Verona, ari tried both reason and entreaty with the chief men of the city, showing them the direful consequences which would ensue from their refusing to release a prisot' • obtained by means which they knew thessselves to be fraudulent and unjust. H* exhortations were cast to the wind on ir count of the state of exasperation in whkL all minds were at the time, so that after doing all that lay in his power, he left thec:and returned again to Padua.
The effect of this unchristian obstiott? was, that not only the forces of Pads and the Marquis of Este poured into tb territory of Verona, but even Modena as. Mantua were drawn into their side of tar quarrel. Several towns and castles werreduced to ashes, and the tide of war roi- on to the very gates of Verona. Blind i: tachment to a favorite leader, and fact*, a> enmity, may account for many outrages ■ > one who understands the state of I: the middle ages, when every man warrior, every warrior's country town of his birth or adoption, and town's code of honor the principles petty prince or baron. But erem
meagre excuses cannot palliate the conduct of Ezzelino. He respected no laws, and cared for no standard, but served in the capacity of leader, man-at-arms, or cutthroat, the master whose influence he could use to the best advantage for the accomplishment of his private ends.
In the year 1232, Frederic II., Emperor ~)i Germany, was in Ravenna. Having lone his utmost on several occasions to sow dissension among the Italian commonwealths, and show his ingratitude towards .he Pope, by whom he had been crowned, :hanging his tact with every change of brtune, but still getting worse as he grew ilder, this monarch deemed it his interest n the present year to maim and disable, ts far as possible, the cities of Lombardy, vhich had formed a confederacy against urn.
Ezzelino was among the foremost to id, by his counsel and his arm, this plot Icsigned for the ruin of his native country; ad the foreign tyrant was so much pleased rith his advances, that he subsequently ewarded his zeal with the hand of an illeitimate daughter. One of the first acts f the infamous Ezzelino was to imprison ruido da Rho Podesta, or Governor of rerona, with the judges, and give the city ito the hands of the Count of Tyrol and ther officers, who, accompanied by a hunred and fifty horsemen, besides a hundred ross-bow men, took possession of Verona i the Emperor's name. The reward of ie traitor was the captaincy of a foreign >rce, at the head of which he resisted lose of the confederates who opposed im, sacking and burning their towns and rongholds, besides giving them a warm •ception whenever they showed their faces i the territory of Verona.
Division became so rife in Lombardy, id the two parties of the Imperials and onfedcrates so violent against each other, lat Pope Gregory IX., who had changed a residence from Avignon again to Rome, id succeeded in quelling dissension there, solved to try to open the eyes of the ombards upon the danger to which the hole country was exposed by their interinable feuds. The manner in which the ope set about completing his wise and ous purpose, is characteristic of those nes when respect for religion, feudal fatticism, and warlike passions were the
elements which, mingling together, formed every man, and predominated over him by turns.
The Pope elevated to the honor of Envoy Apostolic, and endowed with ample faculties, Fra Giovanni da Vicenza, of the order of St. Dominic, a man of acknowledged sanctity and persuasive eloquence, charging him to represent to the jealous cities of Lombardy, with words of heavenly unction, the grievous sins and the injury to their native land ensuing from their detestable brawls, and to exhort them to sincere repentance, and to the maintenance of the brotherly love nearly forgotten amongst them. Friar John was soon upon the field of battle. So great was the fame of his virtue and eloquence, that the inhabitants of Padua turned out in their best clothes to receive him; and having met him on the road between their city and Monselice, taking him up with great devotion, they put him on their carroccio or war-chariot, and drew him fairly into the town with loud demonstrations of joy. The good friar spoke to them, and afterwards to their troublesome neighbors, with such effect that even the Montagues of Verona promised to behave themselves better in future; and the wicked Ezzelino himself swore to do all the holy father had ordered for their greater good. Several of the cities, at the suggestion of Friar John, gave liberty to those of different factions who were confined in their prisons,, and made away with such parts of their statutes as had been the cause of civil contention. Encouraged by the beneficial effects of his mission, and desirous to give stability tto the peace which had been obtained, Friar John, in accordance with the principal chieftains and councils of the towns, appointed a day upon which all the communes should meet, for the general good and tranquillity. He chose^for the rendezvous an extensive plain near the river Adige, four miles from Verona.
A great day for the cities of Lombardy was the Feast of St. Augustine, August 28th, 1233. The cities of Verona, Mantua, Brescia, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso, had poured out their warriors in arms, and all their people—men, women, and children—in their gayest attire. Each population was preceded by the carroccio tastefully and gaudily arranged.
This carroccio was a large chariot on four wheels, surmounted by a mast, on the top of which was a golden apple, or some other device, and was destined to bear the standard of each little commonwealth. The chariots were decked with precious cloths of different colors. They were greatly in use in the thirteenth century, forming as it were the palladium of each town, whose inhabitants it preceded to the field, and by whom it was defended at every peril; for it was a lasting dishonor to a town to lose its carroccio in battle. Sometimes the chieftain addressed his feudsmen from it, and sometimes even mass was celebrated on a portable altar erected upon it. (Vide Sismondi, and Muratori Delle Antichita Italiane, Tom. I. P. 2, page 198.)
Multitudes had come to the great assembly from cities more distant than those mentioned above. The inhabitants of Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, &c, appeared unarmed, preceded by their bishops, and walking bare-foot in sign of penance. The most celebrated chieftains of the day were on the ground, and most conspicuous amongst them the Marquis of Este, the Signors of Comino, Ezzelino da Romano, and his brother Alberico. According to the chroniclers of the day, the number of people present was more than four hundred thousand, and no less than ten bishops.
Such a spectacle had rarely been seen in Italy before, and the circumstances of such an extraordinary assemblage must have inspired the worthy Dominican preacher with no common eloquence. From a platform sixty feet high, he harangued his immense audience, exhorting them in the name of God and the Holy Father to give to each other the kiss of peace, and forswear those fatal brawls which tended only to exhaust and weaken their country, until it became an easy prey to the watchful invader.
His words had an immediate effect upon every heart. The Ghelph chieftain embraced the Ghibelline whom he had met on the field of battle, and armed to the teeth, three days before; the Capulet kissed the cheek of the Montague whom he would have run through the body, the preceding week, for "biting his thumb" at him; and even the people of Vicenza settled all quarrel with the Florentines, who the year r » had not only besieged their walls,
but thrown into the town, by means of a machine, the carcase of a donkey as a compliment to the inhabitants. The peace was mutually promised, agreed to, and stipulated by all parties, and the awful sentence of excommunication fulminated against him who should be the first to destroy su holy a work.
Friar John witnessed the successful result of his mission with unbounded satisfaction, and gratitude to God, who had effected it. That the peace might be sull better established, he proposed to the assembled parties the marriage of Adelaide daughter of Alberico da Romano, whose brother Ezzelino was the most conspicnom among the Ghibellines, to Prince Rinaid'. son of the Marquis of Este, chief of ilG.uelphs. This proposition was applauded by all, and the articles of the peace were inscribed and signed in a document which is still extant. (Vide Muratori, Anafr Ital.)
Friar John had certainly arranged matters satisfactorily amongst the differtn". populations which had listened to bis address on the banks of the Adige ; and had they been left quietly to themselves Uwv would no doubt have remembered asd kept his good advice. But many oi \he chieftains had only feigned a desire for * peace which would have deprived them ii their favorite adventures, and the rich spcds which were their object. Hence it is thii they only waited for a plausible pretext !■ destroy the universal reconciliation whki had apparently been effected. New dsSr culties began to arise very soon, and m a few days passed before several of ti* cities broke off from the compact at tiinstigation of these malicious advisers, *s*only a few months elapsed before all Lxlbardy was again in a blaze.
It was in vain that the good Dominies made every effort to compose these *** dissensions. In vain did he reasoa wi-S the turbulent princes, and urge tbois maintain the stipulations so solenvr agreed upon at the famous mwti: Finding everywhere a deaf ear turned' his remonstrances, and seeing all bis tempts fruitless, he retired to Ids cee'- — in Bologna to meditate upon the iasub ■"■ of human affairs. If the pious faii-' through human weakness, ii-ui JJ^M some little sentiment of s*lf-comjd*ae=
to arise in his heart at the time of his great speech, and its wonderful effect upon the multitudes, he learned a lesson upon human nature, which must have been extremely iseful to him in his after-life. It is unfortunate that he did not dictate in a form to \>e preserved, the oration which he had ielivered to the Lombards, which must lave been a rare specimen of popular elo]uence, and his meditations upon the sequel of events that followed it, which wovid be probably no less instructive and entertaining.
The only document relative to those ex:raordinary circumstances, which has been landed down to posterity, is a letter of 3opc Gregory IX. to Friar John, wherein le expresses his entire satisfaction with his )raiseworthy exertions, and consoles him or their signal and utter failure to effect «rhat they were intended for.
The quarrelsome Lombards paid dearly rery soon after for violating promises so olemnly made ; and the chief cause of the uisfortunes which befell them, was the incorrigible Ezzelino. This turbulent spirit ouldf find no pleasure in a peaceable state if things, so unlike that of his younger lays. His first iniquitous act was to create i renewal of civil war in Verona. But not atisfied with so small a scheme of mischief, te engaged in a far more perilous and treaherous enterprise by writing to Frederic I. Emperor of Germany, exhorting him to lass the Alps, and enter into Lombardy, t the head of a powerful army. Frederic ras not slow in following the advice of his aithful adherent.
He resolved to carry war into the very ieart of the country, to urge on and enourage its progress by his presence on tie spot, and to strike at once at the trongest bulwarks of the national party. Whatever advantages his cause might have btained in Lombardy, the two important ■ties of Milan and Brescia were yet unonquered, and their resistance to all the >rmer efforts of his faction rankled in the lind of the proud Emperor. By the adice of Ezzelino he determined, upon'his rrival in Italy, to attempt first the capture f Brescia as the easier to overcome of le two obnoxious cities.
A florid army bearing tho imperial tandard entered Verona in 1238. Several ities of Italy had sent their forces to
strengthen the German ranks. A number of Saracens had likewise been enlisted in his pay. But those who seem to have attracted the greatest share of admiration were a band of English warriors, armed at all points and mounted on richly caparisoned steeds. They presented themselves to Frederic, offering him at the same time a large sum of money as a token of friendship from his kinsman Henry III. They were gallant fellows, these Island Knights, and would have liked better, although they said but little, to deal their blows on French mail, than to spend their lives in sacking and burning Italian hamlets, in the cause and quarrel of a foreign prince.
The imperial army, after having reduced the surrounding country to a howling desert, sat down before Brescia strong in number, and well provided in the different machines of siege then in use, the Emperor being firmly resolved not to withdraw from the place before having planted the German standard on the towers of its citadel.
He had, however, no easy bone to contend for. The Brescians were distinguished among their neighbors for enterprise and perseverance, and understanding well that from Frederic and Ezzelino they had no mercy to hope for, they determined to fight to the last for their beloved city, and at least sell their lives at a price not soon to be forgotten. While the hostile army was advancing, they had furnished the town with all the stores necessary to sustain a lengthened siege. It discouraged them in some measure, to think that they were totally deprived of the warlike machinery which rendered the beleaguering army doubly formidable. But they were fortunately delivered from this exigency by an occurrence which they considered as a special interposition of Providence in behalf of their just cause.
Some of their people, while foraging in the vicinity for provisions, had entrapped a Spaniard on his way from Germany towards the imperial camp, and brought him prisoner into Brescia. This traveller was discovered to be a man of great acquirements in various branches, but above all a thorough adept in the art of constructing all manner of engines of war offensive and defensive, and in the science of equipping and directing them, whatever their shape or calibre. His new entertainers were de