February 14th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1548, Francesco Burlamacchi lost his head … for a united Italy?
A humanist patrician with a soft spot for Plutarch, Burlamacchi had orchestrated a bid to break away an independent federation of Tuscan cities — Florence, Pisa, and his own city of Lucca.
The dream of the Republic and liberty lived long after Rome’s legions had ceased to tromp. It’s just that said dream got reliably tromped over whenever it threatened to materialize in reality.
These prospectively-liberated cities existed with formal independence under the aegis of the allied Holy Roman Emperor Charles V — and were locally bullied by the Medici Duke Cosmo. That made two Caesars who would not be keen on fragmented city-states coalescing into Burlamacchi’s Republic of Tourist Hotspots; for good measure, Burlamacchi threw in some religious reform and anti-clericalism that would be sure to go down poorly with the church. (Lucca was notorious in the Vatican’s eyes as a center of heterodoxy.)
Against this likely formidable opposition, our plotter counterpoised an astonishing rolling-putsch plan.
His scheme was to march a militia, under cover of “training,” out to the environs of Pisa where he would appeal to the Pisans to throw off their Florentine shackles, then march the resulting larger troop to Florence and appeal to the Florentines to kick out the Medici. Revolution accomplished, the neighboring cities — Siena, Arezzo, Lucca itself — would naturally adhere to this new confederation.* He meant, he later told his judges, to “free all of Tuscany.”
Pretty ambitious. Or optimistic. Or … bonkers.
Once the impossible dream plot was betrayed from the inside, Duke Cosmo, as the most direct target of the intended march, wanted Burlamacchi delivered to his own hands for interrogation and punishment; the elders of Lucca could not do this without making an impolitic show of submission to their neighbor.** Charles V resolved the impasse by taking Burlamacchi to the imperial seat of northern Italy, Milan, and cutting his head off there.
During Italy’s 19th century risorgimento, the Italian writer Carlo Minutoli rediscovered Burlamacchi and popularized him as a forerunner of the new Italian nationalists. (Burlamacchi had long been forgotten as an embarrassment in the intervening centuries.)
Accordingly, with the (proto-)unification of Italy, Tuscan sculptor Ulisse Cambi was commissioned to produce a monumental statue of Francesco Burlamacchi. This would-be Aratus still keeps watch on Lucca’s Piazza San Michele.
(cc) image from alphaorionis. Note that, according to The Renaissance in the Streets, Schools, and Studies (whose chapter “Fortune’s Fool” by Mary Hewlett was invaluable to this post), the historical Burlamacchi actually never carried a sword and hated bloodshed.
* The confederated city-states model was really big in the family. Burlamacchi’s teenage — at the time of the execution — son Michele later emigrated to Geneva, in the Swiss Confederation, and converted to Calvinism.
** Lucca was declining as a power at this time, and all the more insistent about jealously guarding a maximal appearance of sovereignty. The city-state’s major project in the 16th century was throwing up city-girding defensive walls meant to preserve her independence.
Also on this date
- 2004: Yang Xinhai, Monster Killer
- 1845: John Gordon, the last hanged in Rhode Island
- 1554: David van der Leyen and Levina Ghyselius, Anabaptist martyrs
- 1994: Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov
- 1530: Tangaxuan II, the last Tarasco ruler
- 270: St. Valentine
Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Florence,Habsburg Realm,History,Italy,Lucca,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason