The Old Seats of Power
The beginning of Castruccio Castracani’s reign was signalled by a clear change in the seats of power within the city. The old government buildings of the Commune in Piazza San Michele in Foro lost their importance in the city at the same time as the magistrates that represented it lost theirs. These were the Church of San Michele in Foro, where the 550 members of the Greater Council of the Commune of Lucca met, and the Commune buildings attached to the church where the Chief Magistrate of the city, the Elders and the Gonfaloniere stayed.
The Beginnings of the Palazzo and the Augusta Fortress
Castruccio chose his residence to the south, in the Porta San Pietro area. In 1316 he rented two neighbouring houses in the San Dalmazio district from the dal Portico family and these were to form the first nucleus of the future Palazzo Ducale. In 1322 he created an enormous walled enclosure around it to protect himself from conspiracies and uprisings. This was the Augusta Fortress occupying a fifth of the area of the whole city. It was built very quickly and was protected by twenty-nine towers and four gates, its rectangular layout attached on one side to the city walls. On the west side it ran along Piazza della Magione, on the north along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, and on the east along Piazza XX Settembre as far as the area of the Giglio Theatre. In 1324 Castruccio bought the whole of the first rented building and part of the second from the brothers Giano and Guido dal Portico. Both buildings were on three floors, the first floor with vaulted ceilings and several porticoes. The first building also had a little internal courtyard with a well while the second had Castruccio’s private chapel on the top floor. These two buildings were on the north-east corner of what is now the Cortile degli Svizzeri and at the side where the Ammannati Loggia is today. Between 1322 and 1325, Castruccio bought more five private houses along the south side of the main courtyard and built a new building on the north side of his Palazzo. The plan to create a single complex around the courtyard came to a halt with the premature death of the Duke of Lucca in 1328.
1370 The City takes possession of the Palazzo
The Augusta Fortress and Duke’s Palazzo formed a symbol of foreign oppression of Lucca from 1328 to 1369. Their symbolic significance as the centre of power in the city was clear when Emperor Charles IV of Bohemia took possession of the Palazzo and restored independence to Lucca. Just two days after the departure of the emperor’s last representative, the Council of Elders and the Gonfaloniere moved into the Palazzo, thus demonstrating to the citizens that they had full power once more. On the 3rd of April 1370 the decision was taken to demolish the Augusta Fortress. On the 31st of July 1370, the General Council established that the city would be governed by the people and on the 1st of August, all the citizens gathered for the first time in the Palazzo courtyard to swear loyalty and approve the new constitution, thus retaking control of their institutions and the Palazzo which had been a symbol of tyranny for more than fifty years. Numerous alterations were carried out in the new Palazzo of the Elders in order to make it suitable for the new public offices and, in the years around 1390, restoration work was still going on in the houses along the south side of the courtyard where numerous officials lived. The east access gate and internal stairs were repaired and when the Palazzo Tower was restored, new bells were hung.
The End of the Guelph Commune 1300-1316
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Lucca, with Florence, was the most important Guelph Commune in Tuscany. The Lucchesi, however, were deeply divided into hostile factions. On the one hand, there were the few remaining Ghibellines and the White Guelphs, the oldest aristocratic families, and on the other, the Black Guelphs, the new emerging class, with strong ties with the lower classes. The crisis in the Commune’s institutions lasted only a few years. Its new statute was imposed by the Black party in 1308 and excluded the nobility from power, but the invasion of Tuscany by Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg and his army in 1310, followed by his sudden death in 1313, destabilised the situation. The Guelph cities in Tuscany accepted the direct rule of the Angevins. Pisa surrendered to Uguccione della Faggiola who organised a surprise attack with Castruccio Castracani and other Ghibellines from Lucca. On 14 June 1314, with 11,000 Pisan and German soldiers, he forced his way into Lucca, sacked the city ferociously, and took possession of papal treasure that had been deposited in San Frediano en route for Avignon. Lucca passed into Ghibelline hands.
Castruccio Castracani’s Rule 1316-1328
Uguccione della Faggiola’s tyrannical reign was overthrown by a rebellion in 1316. Taking advantage of the weakness in the commune’s institutions, Castruccio Castracani had himself elected supreme head of the army and Captain General and Defender of the city. As Lord of Lucca, Castruccio initiated an expansionist policy against neighbouring cities and those ruled by Florence. In 1322 he built the Augusta Fortress in which he installed his army. He became Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian’s most important ally in Italy and obtained full legitimisation of his military conquests with the title of Duke of Lucca, Pistoia, Luni and Volterra as well as that of Imperial Vicar of Pisa. In 1328 he accompanied the Emperor to Rome for his coronation but died suddenly on the 3rd of September 1328 of malarial fever. His son Enrico was unable to maintain mastery of the situation.
Foreign Domination 1329-1369
Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian’s mercenaries, left unpaid in Tuscany, occupied Lucca and its surrounding land and offered it for sale to the highest bidder. It was bought by Gherardo Spinola for 60,000 florins and then sold to John of Luxemburg, King of Bohemia, and son of Emperor Henry VII. Since he was unable to defend it, he sold it in 1333 for 35,000 florins to the brothers Marsilio, Pietro and Rolando of the Rossi family in Parma. In 1335 it became part of the dominions of Mastino II della Scala, Lord of Verona, who sold it to the Commune of Florence for 100,000 florins. After a siege lasting eleven months, Lucca came under the rule of Pisa on the 2nd of July 1342. Castruccio’s Augusta Fortress in the hands of foreigners formed a fearsome deterrent against any attempt at revolt. The plague in 1348, famine in the countryside caused by the wars, and an exodus from the city weakened the economy.
Liberty Regained 1369-1400
Having decided to restore political stability in Tuscany, Emperor Charles of Bohemia liberated Lucca in 1369. The magistrates of the Commune occupied the Augusta Fortress and ordered it to be demolished in 1370. Lucca reconstituted itself as a republic with new statutes in 1372. Legislative power was given to the 180 members of the General Council and executive powers to the Council of Elders presided over by the Gonfaloniere, head of government of the city.
Within a few years, however, internal squabbles began to put the city’s freedom at risk once again, encouraging interference from external powers. The Forteguerra family battled for power with the Guinigi family. Serious political crimes were committed, including the murder of GonfaloniereBartolomeo Forteguerra in 1392. In 1400 Lazzaro Guinigi, head of the faction that controlled the Republic at that time, was struck down by two conspirators. In November of that year, GonfaloniereGiovanni Sercambi, with a clever coup de main, brought about the election of Paolo Guinigi, son of Lazzaro, as absolute Lord of Lucca, by promoting his role as peacemaker and defender of the city’s anti-Florence policy. The republican constitution was suspended.