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Authors: Mary Shelley

Valperga

Valperga
Mary Shelley

PREFACE

THE accounts of the Life of Castruccio known in England, are
generally taken from Macchiavelli's romance concerning this
chief. The reader may find a detail of his real adventures in
Sismondi's delightful publication, Histoire des Republiques
Italiennes de L'Age Moyen. In addition to this work, I have
consulted Tegrino's Life of Castruccio, and Giovanni
Villani's Florentine Annals.

The following is a translation from the article respecting him
in Moreri.

"Castruccio Castracani, one of the most celebrated captains
of his time, lived in the fourteenth century. He was of the family
of the Antelminelli of Lucca; and, having at a very early age borne
arms in favour of the Ghibelines, he was exiled by the Guelphs. He
served not long after in the armies of Philip king of France, who
made war on the Flemings. In the sequel he repassed the Alps; and,
having joined Uguccione Faggiuola, chief of the Ghibelines of
Tuscany, he reduced Lucca, Pistoia, and several other towns. He
became the ally of the emperor Louis of Bavaria, against pope John
XXII, Robert king of Naples, and the Florentines. Louis of Bavaria
gave him the investiture of Lucca under the denomination of Duke,
together with the title of Senator of Rome. Nothing seemed able to
oppose his courage and good fortune, when he was taken off by a
premature death in 1330, in the forty-seventh year of his
age."

The dates here given are somewhat different from those adopted
in the following narrative.

CHAPTER I

THE other nations of Europe were yet immersed in barbarism, when
Italy, where the light of civilization had never been wholly
eclipsed, began to emerge from the darkness of the ruin of the
Western Empire, and to catch from the East the returning rays of
literature and science. At the beginning of the fourteenth century
Dante had already given a permanent form to the language which was
the offspring of this revolution; he was personally engaged in
those political struggles, in which the elements of the good and
evil that have since assumed a more permanent form were contending;
his disappointment and exile gave him leisure to meditate, and
produced his Divina Comedia.

Lombardy and Tuscany, the most civilized districts of Italy,
exhibited astonishing specimens of human genius; but at the same
time they were torn to pieces by domestic faction, and almost
destroyed by the fury of civil wars. The ancient quarrels of the
Guelphs and the Ghibelines were started with renovated zeal, under
the new distinctions of Bianchi and Neri. The Ghibelines and the
Bianchi were the friends of the emperor, asserting the supremacy
and universality of his sway over all other dominion,
ecclesiastical or civil: the Guelphs and the Neri were the
partizans of liberty. Florence was at the head of the Guelphs, and
employed, as they were employed by it in their turn, the Papal
power as a pretext and an instrument.

The distinctions of Bianchi and Neri took their rise in Pistoia,
a town of some moment between Florence and Lucca. The Neri being
expelled from Pistoia, the exiles fixed their residence in Lucca;
where they so fortified and augmented their party, as to be able in
the year 1301 to expel the Bianchi, among whom was Castruccio
Castracani dei Antelminelli.

The family of the Antelminelli was one of the most distinguished
in Lucca. They had followed the emperors in their Italian wars, and
had received in recompense titles and reward. The father of
Castruccio was the chief of his house; he had been a follower of
the unfortunate Manfred, king of Naples, and his party feelings as
a Ghibeline derived new fervour from the adoration with which he
regarded his noble master. Manfred was the natural son of the last
emperor of the house of Swabia; before the age of twenty he had
performed the most brilliant exploits, and undergone the most
romantic vicissitudes, in all of which the father of Castruccio had
been his faithful page and companion. The unrelenting animosity
with which the successive Popes pursued his royal master, gave rise
in his bosom to a hatred, that was heightened by the contempt with
which he regarded their cowardly and artful policy.

When therefore the quarrels of the Guelphs and Ghibelines were
revived in Lucca under the names of Bianchi and Neri, Ruggieri dei
Antelminelli was the chief opponent and principal victim of the
machinations of the Papal party. Castruccio was then only eleven
years of age; but his young imagination was deeply impressed by the
scenes that passed around him. When the citizens of Lucca had
assembled on the appointed day to choose their Podestà, or
principal magistrate, the two parties dividing on the Piazza glared
defiance at each other: the Guelphs had the majority in numbers;
but the Ghibelines wishing, like Brennus, to throw the sword into
the ascending scale, assailed the stronger party with arms in their
hands. They were repulsed; and, flying before their enemies, the
Guelphs remained in possession of the field, where, under the
guidance of their chiefs, they voted the perpetual banishment of
the Ghibelines; and the summons was read by a herald, which
commanded all the districts of Lucca to range themselves the next
morning under their respective banners, that they might attack and
expel by force those of the contrary party who should refuse to
obey the decree.

Ruggieri returned from the Piazza of the Podestà, accompanied by
several of his principal friends. His wife, Madonna Dianora, was
anxiously waiting his return; while the young Castruccio stood at
the casement, and, divining by his mother's countenance the
cause of her inquietude, looked eagerly down the street that he
might watch the approach of his father: he clapped his hands with
joy, as he exclaimed, "They come!" Ruggieri entered; his
wife observed him inquiringly and tenderly, but forbore to speak;
yet her cheek became pale, when she heard her husband issue orders,
that the palace should be barricadoed, and none permitted to enter,
except those who brought the word which shewed that they belonged
to the same party.

"Are we in danger?"--asked Madonna Dianora in a low
voice of one of their most intimate friends. Her husband overheard
her, and replied: "Keep up your courage, my best girl; trust
me, as you have ever trusted. I would that I dared send you to a
place of safety, but it were not well that you traversed the
streets of Lucca; so you must share my fortunes, Dianora."

"Have I not ever shared them?" replied his wife. His
friends had retired to an adjoining hall, and she
continued;--"There can be no dearer fate to me than to live or
perish with you, Ruggieri; but cannot we save our son?"

Castruccio was sitting at the feet of his parents, and gazing on
them with his soft, yet bright eyes. He had looked at his mother as
she spoke; now he turned eagerly towards his father while he
listened to his reply:--"We have been driven from the Piazza
of the Podestà, and we can no longer entertain any hope of
overcoming our enemies. The mildest fate that we may expect is
confiscation and banishment; if they decree our death, the stones
of this palace alone divide us from our fate. And
Castruccio,--could any of our friends convey him hence, I should
feel redoubled courage--but it is too much to risk."

"Father," said the boy, "I am only a child, and
can do no good; but I pray you do not send me away from you:
indeed, dear, dearest mother, I will not leave you."

The trampling of horses was heard in the streets: Ruggieri
started up; one of his friends entered:--"It is the guard
going to the gates," said he; "the assembly of the people
is broken up."

"And what is decreed?"

"No one ventures near to inquire out that; but courage, my
noble lord."

"That word to me, Ricciardo?--but it is well; my wife and
child make a very woman of me."

"Ave Maria is now ringing," replied his companion;
"soon night will set in, and, if you will trust me, I will
endeavour to convey Madonna Dianora to some place of
concealment."

"Many thanks, my good Ricciardo," answered the lady;
"my safest post is at the side of Ruggieri. But our boy--save
him, and a mother's blessing, her warm, heartfelt thanks: all
the treasure that I can give, shall be yours. You know
Valperga?"

"Yes, the castle of Valperga. Is the Countess there
now?"

"She is,--and she is our friend; if my Castruccio were once
within the walls of that castle, I were happy."

While Madonna Dianora conversed thus with Ricciardo, Ruggieri
held a consultation with his friends. The comfortable daylight had
faded away, and night brought danger and double fear along with it.
The companions of Ruggieri sat in the banqueting hall of his
palace, debating their future conduct: they spoke in whispers, for
they feared that a louder tone might overpower any sound in the
streets; and they listened to every footfall, as if it were the
tread of their coming destiny. Ricciardo joined them; and Madonna
Dianora was left alone with her son: they were silent. Dianora
wept, and held the hand of her child; while he tried to comfort
her, and to shew that fortitude he had often heard his father
praise; but his little bosom swelled in despite of his mastery,
until, the big tears rolling down his cheeks, he threw himself into
his mother's arms, and sobbed aloud. At this moment some one
knocked violently at the palace-gate. The assembled Ghibelines
started up, and drew their swords as they rushed towards the
staircase; and they stood in fearful silence, while they listened
to the answers which the stranger gave to him who guarded the
door.

Ruggieri had embraced his wife he feared for the last time. She
did not then weep; her high wrought feelings were fixed on one
object alone, the safety of her child.--"If you escape,"
she cried, "Valperga is your refuge; you well know the road
that leads to it."

The boy did not answer for a while; and then he whispered, while
he clung round her neck,--"You, dear mother, shall shew it to
me."

The voice of the man who had disturbed them by his knocking, had
reassured the imprisoned Ghibelines, and he was admitted. It was
Marco, the servant of Messer Antonio dei Adimari. A Florentine by
birth, and a Guelph, Antonio had retired from his native city while
it continued under the jurisdiction of the opposite party, and had
lived at the castle of Valperga, of which his wife was Countess and
Castellana. He was bound to Ruggieri by the strongest ties of
private friendship; and he now exerted himself to save his friend.
Marco brought intelligence of the decree of the assembly of the
people. "Our lives are then in safety,"--cried Dianora,
with a wild look of joy,-- "and all the rest is as the seared
leaves of autumn; they fall off lightly, and make no
noise."

"The night wears apace," said Marco, "and before
sunrise you must depart; will you accompany me to
Valperga?"

"Not so," replied Ruggieri; "we may be beggars,
but we will not burthen our friends. Thank your lord for his many
kindnesses towards me. I leave it to him to save what he can for me
from the ruins of my fortune. If his interest stand high enough
with our rulers, intreat him to exert it to preserve the
unoffending walls of this palace: it was the dwelling of my
forefathers, my inheritance; I lived here during my boyish days;
and once its hall was graced by the presence of Manfred. My boy may
one day return; and I would not that he should find the palace of
his father a ruin. We cannot remain near Lucca, but shall retire to
some town which adheres to our party, and there wait for better
days."

Dianora made speedy preparations for their departure; the horses
were brought to the door; and the stars were fading in the light of
dawn, as the cavalcade proceeded through the high and narrow
streets of Lucca. Their progress was unimpeded at the gates;
Ruggieri felt a load taken from his heart, when he found himself,
with his wife and child, safe in the open country. Yet the feeling
of joy was repressed by the remembrance, that life was all that
remained to them, and that poverty and obscurity were to be the
hard-visaged nurses of their declining years, the harsh tutors of
the young and aspiring Castruccio.

The exiles pursued their way slowly to Florence.

Florence was then in a frightful state of civil discord. The
Ghibelines had the preponderance; but not a day passed without
brawls and bloodshed. Our exiles found many of their townsmen on
the same road, on the same sad errand of seeking protection from a
foreign state. Little Castruccio saw many of his dearest friends
among them; and his young heart, moved by their tears and
complaints, became inflamed with rage and desire of vengeance. It
was by scenes such as these, that party spirit was generated, and
became so strong in Italy. Children, while they were yet too young
to feel their own disgrace, saw the misery of their parents, and
took early vows of implacable hatred against their persecutors:
these were remembered in after times; the wounds were never seared,
but the fresh blood ever streaming kept alive the feelings of
passion and anger which had given rise to the first blow.

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