Four months with two Florentine ambassadors in the mid-1400s

Alberto Gatti 2021

 

I do not know about you, but I have always imagined ambassadors as people wearing long and luxurious robes, who wrote letters and drank wine with other ambassadors and influential people inside luxurious houses; quite an easy and carefree life, especially compared to the image of other people of that time, like soldiers, peasants and so on.

This could not be further from the truth.

Ambassadors had to know how to read and write, but they also needed other important qualities: patience, adaptability, great perseverance and a whole lot of trust in their lords. In this article, I would like to tell you the story of two ambassadors sent by Florence’s Signoria to the court of Alfonso V, King of Aragon, known as the Magnanimous, in Naples.

Let’s begin by establishing some historical context about the time in which our two ambassadors worked; in 1442 Pope Eugene IV created the “Holy League” to get rid of Francesco Sforza, who had already conquered a majority of his domains in central Italy a year earlier. This alliance formed by Alfonso V of Aragon and Sforza’s father-in-law Filippo Maria Visconti, lord of Milan, was facing Florence’s Signoria and the Serenissima Republic of Venice; these two had clear economic and political reasons to support Sforza.

Then, 1446 became the year Sforza lost all his domains in central Italy and the Pope took revenge on Florence by allowing Alfonso to attack it. Giannotto Pandolfini and Francesco Sacchetti, the names of the two ambassadors, arrived in Naples on April 11th, 1450 to negotiate a peace treaty.

“Giugnemo qui a salvamento per la gratia di Dio adì XI. Trovamo la maiestà del re averci ordinata la stança et che tucti i baroni et signori ci vinisseno incontro et così feciono”.
The basis for a good negotiation was there and the lord was open to discussion. So, the ambassadors were ready to meet the king, but had to wait because in spring and summer he used to stay in Torre del Greco where his beloved Lucrezia d’Alagno lived.
The day after they arrived, they met the monarch, who asked them to sit during the hearing, which was a very unusual custom at the time, reserved only for very important people.
“Ricevecteci con una grandissima humanità et volle parlassimo a sedere, il quale acto secondo sentimo rade volte o non mai ha usato di fare ad alcuni ambasciadori, faccendoci una risposta tanto grata che secondo il parere di questi signori mai più ad alcuno ambasciadore d’alcuna signoria gle l’ànno udito far tale”.
On April 18th, a letter arrived from the king inviting them to join his hunting party in the surrounding area of Naples and describing the power and splendour the king wanted to show to everyone at the court.

“Succedecte che la mactina seguente, cioè adi' XVI, volle la sua maestà andassimo a vedere una chaccia la quale fece fare con tucte le solempnita' et magnificentie possibili, dove aparechio' suoi padiglioni, argentiere, instrumenti, cantori et altre cose, in modo fu una maraviglia”.

But apparently this was just an act as the king did not decrease his demands and the ambassadors were in a tight spot as they were forced to comply with all of his requests and follow him and his hunting party as they wandered through the kingdom.
“Mentre che andavamo alla sua  maestàtrovamo per la via ci mandava a donare uno cinghiale, nella chaccia del quale el duca di Calavria suo figluolo s’aveva facto grande male a una spalla perchè gl’era caduto il cavallo addosso; pure si spera starà bene”.

On May 9th, the two of them were still in Aversa where things went from bad to worse as two more people tried to insert themselves into the peace treaty: Sigismondo Malatesta, lord of Rimini, and Astorre Manfredi, lord of Faenza, two other lords from Romagna that betrayed Alfonso to join Florence.
“Venimo all’altre parti contenute né capitoli, né quali si comprende per la domanda vi sia pure alcuna difficultà, maxime dove dice non possiamo difendere o dare per raccomandati alcuni che gli dovessino alcuna cosa, et questo s’intende dica per lo signor Sigismondo Malatesti et il signor Astore o altri simili”

Two more months passed as the ambassadors followed the king to Molise and Abruzzo, but he seemed more focused on the hunt than on anything else.
“Trovamo la maestà del re a chaccia con molti signori et di sua mano in sulla giunta nostra havevaamaçato uno orso”
It began to seem like the possibility of a peace treaty was drifting further and further away, especially after the Pope’s intermission as he tried to negotiate for the Count of Piombino (the king wanted him to pay reparations for events that occurred in prior years).
On June 4th they wrote a letter from Isernia complaining that they struggled to keep up with the king as he wandered without reaching any kind of conclusion and asked for permission to return to Florence
“Noi, magnifici signori, siamo qui con grandissimi disagii et non potremo seguitare la maestà del re. Racomandianci a quella pregandola humilmente, voglia horamai possiamo ripatriare, che di circa due mesi et meço che di costì partimo ne siamo stati due mesi continui a cavallo",
A few days later, on June 13th, they sent a letter from Castel di Sangro saying that they were in dire conditions due to a strong snowfall.
“Siamo di giugno et più tosto dire di gennaio, perchè ci nevica intorno et non ci possiamo partire dal fuoco. Le stance dove siamo allogiatisarebbono più acte a strolaghi che a imbasciadori, perchè si possono bene cognoscere i corsi dei pianeti sanza andare fuori”.
Luckily, after struggling for months, Pandolfini and Sacchetti managed to reach an agreement with King Alfonso and on June 24th they wrote from Castel di Sangrodi that they agreed on a peace treaty and that they hoped to be able to send the documents as soon as possible.
“Magnifici ecpotentes domini domininostrilsingularissimietc Adì XXI a hore XXIII per Giovanni di Bologna corriere advisamo la vostra signoria come decto dì a hore XX havamo col nome di Dio conclusa pace colla maestà del re et come speravamo presto mandare la nota de capitoli”.
In the same letter, they also communicated that they were out of money.
“Tucto, come decto è, si ricorda con fede alla vostra signoria, alla quale ci racomandiamo anche noi de nostri bisogni, che siamo, come per altradicemo, sança dinari et in luogo che, volendo achatare, non si può”
On June 8th, the king publicly proclaimed the peace treaty signed with Florence and Venice, and after the Mass he summoned the two ambassadors and, surprisingly, as a sign of respect, he knighted Pandolfini and asked Sacchetti what kind of gift he would like, as he was too old to be a knight.

Dipoi adì X la mactina, avendo udito la messa insieme colla sua maestà, ci chiamò alla sua presentia et quivi disse ch’egl’amava tanto la vostra città et la vostra signori ache desiderava non solamente in genere ma in spetiehonorarla et magnificarla di qualunche dignità, et che intendendo la virtù et fama di meserGiannoçoPandolfini lo richiedeva et voleva che ad perpetua memoria di questa pace éfussecontent che gli l’adornasse di segno militare. A Franco non diceva così perchè intendeva le sue qualità et condictioni non essere per Aventuraydonee come si richiederebbe a tale degnità, ma che bene si offereva in qualunche altra cosa a llui possibile gratificarlo. Il perchè, factosi per me Giannoço essendo sprovedutorisistentia, infine constrecto dal disiderio della maestà del re, diliberaiacceptare, et così nella presentia di tucti quegli signori fui facto per le sue mani cavaliere”.
This is a fitting end for a beautiful story from the 1400s.

Sources:
"Dispacci sforzesche da Napoli I”
Istituto Italiano per gli studi filosofici (Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies)
Fonti per la storia di Napoli Aragonese (Sources on the history of the Aragonese Naples)

Translation
Centro Linguistico Cesena - https://centrolinguecesena.com/