Dino Compagni, translated by Daniel E. Bornstein, Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1986, 113 pages.
One of the earliest historical accounts of the commune of Florence was that of Dino Compagni, whose late thirteenth/early fourteenth century Chronicle of Florence provided a thirty-year snapshot of Florentine business and politics. He attributed the emergence of the Guelph and Ghibelline factions to the murder of a young nobleman named Buonodelmonte dé Buonodelmonti.
The murder itself, Compagni explained, was a vendetta arranged by the father of a spurned fiancé with whom Buonodelmonte had been engaged to marry. Florentines began to divide among those who supported the family of the dead nobleman and those who supported the avenging father. The bitter feuding between the two factions, according to Compagni, was the source of “many fights and murders and civil battles” that ultimately led to an agreement to let the pope act as mediator. Compagni’s writing gave a unique snapshot into the processes by which Florentines adapted to a changing social hierarchy in the emerging proto-capitalism of the late medieval period, and helps modern scholars understand the ways in which individuals shaped their identities in response to social instability.
The terms Guelph and Ghibelline, however, date much earlier than Compagni’s account, and reflect factionalism between supporters of the papacy and those of the Holy Roman Emperor. Compagni may have chosen the death of Buonodelmonte as a convenient point with which to denote the beginnings of the feuding. At any rate, the rise of factions in Florence added yet another factor into the mix of turbulent conditions that were changing the traditional social structures of this late medieval commune, and individuals found that the social positionality of their families was ever more directly tied to the political faction to which they belonged. The example of the Florentine Uberti family demonstrated the cost of making the wrong decision in political self-identification in late medieval Florence.
Left: Dino Compagni, artwork courtesy of Liberliber.it
In 1260 Farinata degli Uberti, leader of the outlawed Ghibellines, defeated the Florentine army and ousted the Guelphs from power. The Uberti and the Ghibellines also disbanded the republican government of Florence, ruling until the return to power by the Guelphs in 1267 with the assistance of the troops of Charles of Anjou. The civil war between the two factions officially drew to a close after papal intervention. The short-lived truce, known as Cardinal Latini’s Peace, saw the return in 1280 of all exiles to Florence, and the appointment of a slightly-imbalanced council (eight Guelphs and six Ghibellines). Part of the deal, however, involved sending the wealthy Uberti family into exile:
[Latini] ordered that the proud and powerful family of the Uberti remain in exile for a while, along with others of their party, though wherever they were they might enjoy their family possessions like the rest…[they also] received from the Commune a daily stipend for their support…The Guelphs, however, used their political dominance to undermine the terms of the peace treaty, according to Compagni:
…the Guelphs, who were more powerful, began to gradually contravene the peace pacts. First they took the stipends away from the exiles; then they filled the offices irregularly; they declared the exiles to be rebels…they stripped all the public offices and benefits from the Ghibellines, and discord grew between them.Political self-identification for the Uberti was a costly decision, and the family suffered both economic harm and a loss of social prestige for their alliance with the Ghibellines.
Compagni’s narrative works as both primary source and historiography; he himself mentioned that the events of his time were “notable,” and that “no one truly saw them in their origins as I did.” Compagni, at times, took a providential view of history, as illustrated in his claim that “[t]he Enemy, who never sleeps but always sows and reaps, set discord in the hearts of the nobles of Cremona so they would rebel.” However, the value of the text is in Compagni’s ability to remain focused on his message: the intense factionalism that divided Florence at the end of the thirteenth century. The author wove this theme throughout the text, and depicted in a harrowing manner Florence as a city of bitter strife.