Golden Ambrosian Republic
|Aurea Repubblica Ambrosiana|
|Legislature||Capitani e defensori della libertà|
|Historical era||Late Medieval|
The Golden Ambrosian Republic (Italian: Aurea Repubblica Ambrosiana; 1447–1450) was a short-lived government founded in Milan by members of the University of Pavia with popular support. With the aid of Francesco Sforza they held out against the forces of Venice, but after a betrayal Sforza defected and captured Milan to become Duke himself, abolishing the Republic.
When Filippo Maria Visconti, Visconti Duke of Milan, died on 13 August 1447, the city was thrown into confusion by the unexpectedness of the Duke's expiration and the quick way in which the claimants to the title acted. Filippo Maria had no heir through male bloodlines, but the day before his death had written a will dedicating the Duchy to Alfonso V of Aragon. Among the other claimants were Charles, Duke of Orléans, nephew of Filippo Maria through his mother Valentina Visconti, Filippo's cousins Albert and Sigismund of the House of Habsburg, great-grandsons of Bernabò Visconti, and Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, who declared that the Duchy reverted to the Holy Roman Empire on the extinction of male heirs. But the two most prominent candidates supported by the Milanese population were Alfonso of Aragon and Francesco Sforza, the Duke's son-in-law by marrying Bianca Maria Visconti. The Bracceschi, supporters of the King of Aragon, seized the Castello on the night of the 13th, almost before Filippo Maria died, forcing the captains to swear allegiance to Alfonso.
Despite the general support for either Alfonso or Sforza, other influential citizens believed that the old republic could be restored. Learned bodies, such as the College of Jurisprudence in Pavia, painted the days of the old republic as a golden age. The merchants, seeing the prosperity of Republican Venice, were behind this idea. On the morning of the 14th, Republicans stirred the populace to rise against the Bracceschi, led by Antonio Trivulzio, Giorgio Lampugnano, Innocenzo Cotta, and Teodoro Bossi, members of the College of Jurisprudence. A Republic was declared behind the Palace of the Commune, and the captains abandoned their oaths to Alfonso but turned in favor of the Republic. The Bracceschi were driven from Milan, and the new republic was called the Golden Ambrosian Republic, named for St. Ambrose, the 4th century bishop of Milan, who was taken on as the Republic's patron. They took the old constitution and revised it that same day as suited their needs, electing twenty-four Capitani e difensori della libertà, or "Captains and Defenders of Liberty," to frame laws, elected regularly and later reduced to twelve.
The idea of a radical renovation of liberties in the cities did not suit the powers of North Italy, who had been in league against the Visconti territorial gains in a decades-long series of wars interrupted by truces, most recently the Peace of Cremona of 20 November 1441. Venice was already at war with Milan, and the Republic was struck a sore blow as previously Milanese cities including Pavia, Lodi, and Piacenza defected or declared their independence. Besides the loss of support and defensive locations, the drop in revenue also caused a brief financial crisis resolved by the imposition of new taxes. Venice, now occupying Lodi and Piacenza, refused to listen to Milan's pleas for peace. Milan turned to Francesco Sforza, the greatest military leader of his day, offering him the position of Captain-General and the city of Brescia. Although he wished to succeed Sforza, he decided to accept the position and promised rewards. A draft was declared in Milan on 13 September.
Sforza quickly captured independent Pavia when its commander offered to surrender to him, and the Republic grudgingly allowed him to keep it with the title of Count, fearing that the Pavians and their large arsenal might instead offer themselves to Venice if they refused. Sforza promised the Pavians no new taxes, respect for the old laws, payment for his hired officials, and to repair the city bridges and walls. He kept these promises faithfully and so won over the people of Pavia, establishing his rulership. Pavia was previously almost a second capital to Milan, and gave Sforza his own seat of power. The city was also in a strategic location on the Po River, situated where it could block the Venetians from coming to the relief of the beleaguered Piacenza via water. Returning to this siege and finding the city not likely to crumble by starvation, he resolved to storm it. Employing cannons in an almost unheard-of manner, he opened up a breach in the walls and sacked the city. The news of this sack was greeted by three days' rejoicing in Milan. Meanwhile, Milanese Captain Bartolomeo Colleoni captured Tortona which had previously proclaimed Sforza as its lord, stealing it from the now dangerously powerful Sforza. This caused further and even greater rejoicing, for the Milanese feared Sforza.
January, 1448 came, and the terms of the previous Captains and Defenders ended, and in the following election the Guelphs rose to political prominence. Being especially adverse toward Sforza, they entered into negotiations for peace with Venice, which, also faced with Sforza's threat, was willing to come to terms, albeit dictated by herself. Two of the Ghibellines who helped to found the Republic, namely Lampugnano and Bossi, stirred the populace against them in a massive demonstration before the Court of Arengo. The Council of Nine Hundred was forced to abandon its plans for peace, and Sforza was given the go-ahead for his next campaign to seize the Adda River. Sforza schemes were voted down by the Republic in favor of more traditional tactics, namely besieging Lodi directly. While this happened, the Venetian fleet under Andrea Quirini assaulted the bridge of Cremona. However, Sforza's wife Bianca was there, and led the defense until he relieved the city. The Venetian fleet withdrew and entrenched while it waited for the arrival of the Venetian army. Sforza trapped the fleet behind its defenses and, with his unorthodox use of artillery, utterly destroyed or captured every one of the seventy ships. This victory was celebrated in Milan, but the leaders of the Republic still feared Sforza, and sent him off to occupy him with the Ghiarad'adda while Lodi and Caravaggio were besieged, hoping that their fall would end the war.
But ultimately the forces were brought together at Caravaggio, and both Sforza's Milanese and the Venetian army under Micheletto Attendolo gathered there. The siege remained unbroken throughout July and until 15 September, when Attendolo launched a surprise-attack on Sforza, so rapid that he did not even have time to buckle on his armor. What might have been a rout Sforza turned into a great victory as he set the example for his troops on the front line and utterly defeated the Venetian army, capturing three generals. Caravaggio fell, and despite rejoicing in Milan, little gratitude was given by the government to the architect of the victory, and the Republic sent him on to Lodi, determined to end the war. It was here, at the time when a satisfactory end to the war seemed evident, that the Milanese took a fatal misstep.
Sforza's defection and the Guelph-Ghibelline feud
In Milan, Sforza's enemies worked continually against him. The Piccinino brothers, sons of famous condottiere Niccolò Piccinino and Captains-General before being replaced as supreme military commanders by Sforza, convinced the suspicious Republic to work secretly against Sforza. Rumors were spread among the troops about not receiving payment at the end of the war if they remained with Sforza, and Sforza himself was ordered back from the siege of Brescia, the city promised him, while the citizens were secretly told to hold out until peace, already in the works, was signed. Sforza learned of this treachery and defected to the Venetians for 13,000 ducats and the Duchy of Milan in return for the Ghiaradadda, Crema, and his service. The treaty was signed on 18 October 1448, and Sforza now undid everything he had labored for over the past year. With such a powerful man on the Venetian side, it was the beginning of the end of the Golden Ambrosian Republic. Public opinion, despite the government's position, was generally pro-Sforza, and only an impassioned, patriotic speech from Giorgio Lampugnano subdued it at last. The Piccinino brothers became Captains-General once more, but were not as capable as the brilliant Sforza.
This was reinforced by the internal dissention that was prominent in Milan. Crime and mob violence were rampant, and the harsh but empty measures against it only served to further divide the populace. Members of the government were filled with suspicion against one another. In an attempt to resolve the situation, the podestà was given absolute power. Financial problems were also grave; fines, confiscations, and a state lottery were instituted to try to alleviate the deficit. Moreover, Guelphic aristocrats continued to be regularly elected over the Ghibellines, and began to make the Republic far less democratic. Carlo Gonzaga, Captain of the People, lived luxuriously as an autocrat with his will as law. He was supported by Giovanni Appiani and Giovanni Ossona, tradesmen-turned-politicians, who were prominent in government affairs. Gonzaga began replacing his officials with unambitious men in his favor, and the Ghibellines saw their ideal of the Republic crumbling before their eyes. Lampugnano and his Ghibelline friends conspired against Gonzaga and the Guelphic regime, but were exposed by a letter intercepted by Gonzaga from Lampugnano to his friend Bossi. Gonzaga kept this knowledge secret, knowing that Lampugnano and Bossi were two of the most influential citizens since the formation of the Republic, but with the support of the vengeful Guelphic Captains and Defenders conspired to have them slain. Lampugnano and Bossi were sent as envoys to Frederick III in February 1449, but on the road were caught and imprisoned. Lampugnano was beheaded without a trial, and Bossi was tortured until he gave the names of his fellow conspirators. Following the execution of the leaders there was a massacre of leading Ghibellines within the city, from which only a few, such as Vitaliano Borromeo, escaped to safety in Arona, Piedmont and elsewhere. The heads of the slain were placed upon pikes in the Piazza of the Broletto.
Meanwhile, the previous claimants to the Duchy began to see that Sforza would be a threat greater than the Ambrosian Republic. Louis of Savoy invaded in spring of 1449, and Sforza sent Colleoni (who had earlier defected) to defeat him at Borgomanero, leading to an uneasy peace. Sforza also faced treachery within his own ranks, added with the fact that he rashly accepted the defection of his great enemies the Piccinino brothers, who, upon gaining access to Monza, promptly returned it to Milan.
Lampugnano, unfortunately for the Guelphs, was considered a martyr for the Republic. This was made worse by the fact that the Guelphs in leadership refused to run elections in April, until in June they were forced by the populace. Ghibelline families took the reins of Milan in this election, and the Guelphs were defeated. However, the reprisals against the Guelphs, including the imprisonment of Appiani and Ossona who had been blamed (probably unjustly) for the massacre, led the populace to violently depose the Ghibellines and reinstall the extremist Guelphs. Gonzaga, however, whose friend Galeotto Toscano was a fatal casualty of the uprising, departed Milan to Crema, hoping to make peace with Sforza.
End of the Republic
Sforza was coming close to Milan itself in his conquests, and decided that since it was too powerful to be taken by force, he would surround it and starve the populace into surrender. With the loss of the outer cities by conquest or defection, Milan underwent famine. Gonzaga offered Crema to Sforza, hoping he would be tempted to take it himself and betray the Venetians. But Sforza remained staunch, and instead offered Gonzaga the city of Tortona if he would abandon Crema. This was accepted, and Crema, without support, quickly capitulated.
To the Milanese, Sforza's victory now seemed certain, but he found his Venetian allies beginning to have doubts about their Captain-General. They decided that a Milan run by Sforza would be far more dangerous and detrimental to their interests than if it were run by a weak Republic. The last of the territory claimed by Venice, namely Crema, was now captured. Venice went behind Sforza's back and signed a peace treaty with the Republic. They conceded conquered land to the Republic in return for peace, and let Sforza keep only Pavia, Cremona, Piacenza, and a narrow strip of land. They ordered him to accept the treaty or find Venice his enemy. The Republic rejoiced, and the citizens were confident the war was over and their future was secured. But Sforza could not accept the conditions of the treaty, and decided to persevere in the struggle. He was already very powerful, and moreover was close to Milan. The Milanese in their assurance of peace had nearly exhausted their resources to plant crops and return to the old way of life. He was confident that Milan would quickly fall to him. After reinforcing his peace with Savoy with the concession of a few unimportant castles, he defeated the Venetians under his rival Sigismondo Malatesta and continued the siege.
Sforza chose for his headquarters the Borromeo castle of Peschiera, south-east of the city. Starvation and suffering were rampant in Milan. At last Gaspare da Vimercate engineered a coup on 24 February 1450. The next day the citizens met, but the suggestions and opinions were of great variety, save that all condemned Venice for its apparent apathy. Da Vimercate convinced the people to surrender to Sforza. Sforza had made himself very popular for his generosity while on fighting for Milan. He had abstained from ravaging the countryside as was so common among commanders of his day, and after some debate the public was convinced. The following day terms were offered to Sforza, who accepted them. Sforza earned the devotion of the people by distributing food to the starving people. On 22 March 1450, he had himself declared capitano del popolo, and by right of his wife, the Duke of Milan. He secured his popular support by letting many office-holders keep their positions and being very lenient in his reprisals. The leaders were briefly imprisoned or relegated to their estates, but were generally pardoned soon after, even knighting some of his old enemies at his coronation. Ghibellines were allowed to return in safety and were restored to favor.
Sforza remained at war with Venice for years after the downfall of the Ambrosian Republic. Venice allied herself with the kingdom of Naples, previously a contender for the succession of Milan. Sforza, however, allied himself with Medici Florence and his friend Cosimo de' Medici against Venice and Aragonese Naples. The continued war was finally closed by the peace of Lodi in 1454 with the House of Sforza as the established rulers of the Duchy of Milan
During its three-year existence, the Ambrosian Republic won two major battles. The Lombards defeated the French at the Battle of Bosco Marengo in 1447  and the Venetians at the Battle of Caravaggio in 1448. It was those victories that ensured the Republic all the territory of the former Duchy.
Of the Republic, Niccolò Machiavelli remarked "In order to create a Republic in Milan it would be necessary to exterminate all the nobility. . . . For there are, among the nobles, so many exalted personages that the laws do not suffice to repress them, and they must needs be kept under by a living voice and a royal power."
First capitani e defensori
The leading magistrates of the city, the capitani e defensori ("Captains and Defenders"), were in charge of the government, elected every six months beginning in August 1447. They were originally numbered twenty-four but were eventually reduced to twelve.
- Giovanni Marliani
- Giovanni Moresini
- Rolando or Oldrado Lampugnani
- Giovanni Olgiati
- Bartolomeo Visconti
- Giovanni Omodei
- Giacomello Trivulzio
- Antonio Visconti, perhaps Antonio Trivulzi
- Giorgio Piatti
- Giovanni Crotti
- Ambrogio Lomazzo
- Giovanni Caimi
- Vitaliano Borromeo
- Guarnerio Castiglione
- Giacomo Coiro
- Simone Meraviglia
- Giacomo Dugnani
- Giorgio Lampugnani
- Luisino or Luigi Bossi
- Francesco Casati
- Bartolomeo Morone
- Pietro Cotta
- Dionigi Biglia
- Galeotto Toscani
- Ady 1907, pp. 36–37
- Ady 1907, pp. 35–36
- Ady 1907, p. 36
- Ady 1907, p. 37
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for 14 August 1447
- Flag Recorded in: A. Ziggioto, "Della bandiera crociata", 1997 - "La provincia di Milano e i suoi Comuni. Gli stemmi e la storia, 2003"
- Ady 1907, p. 38
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for 18 August 1447
- Ady 1907, pp. 38–39
- Ady 1907, p. 39
- Ady 1907, p. 40
- Ady 1907, p. 41
- Ady 1907, p. 42
- Ady 1907, p. 43
- Ady 1907, p. 44
- Ady 1907, pp. 44–45
- Ady 1907, p. 45
- Ady 1907, p. 46
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for 15 September 1448
- Ady 1907, pp. 46–47
- Ady 1907, p. 47
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for 18 October 1448
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for 14 November 1448
- Ady 1907, p. 49
- Ady 1907, p. 50
- Ady 1907, p. 51
- Storia di Milano 2008, entry for January, 1449
- Ady 1907, pp. 53–54
- Ady 1907, pp. 54–55
- Ady 1907, p. 52
- Ady 1907, p. 53
- Ady 1907, p. 55
- Ady 1907, pp. 55–56
- Ady 1907, p. 56
- Ady 1907, pp. 56–57
- Ady 1907, p. 57
- (Italian) Comune di Peschiera Borromeo (Community website. See under Il Castello at lower right, then L'interno del Castello). Retrieved 11 June 2008.
- Ady 1907, p. 58
- Ady 1907, p. 59
- Ady 1907, p. 60
- Ady 1907, p. 65
- Ady 1907, p. 65, note Ghibelline families mentioned
- Veneto.org Venice Republic: Renaissance. Retrieved 11 June 2008.
- A. Mary F. Robinson: The English Historical Review, Vol. 3, No. 9
- Machiavelli, Discorso sulla riforma dello stato di Firenze
- (Italian) Scipione Barbuò Soncino, Summario delle Vite degli Sforzeschi. Retrieved 11 June 2008.