15th Century


The Palace




Paolo Guinigi's Palace

Paolo Guinigi continued the work of acquiring the complex of buildings around the present Cortile degli Svizzeri. In 1404, for this purpose, he bought the last part of the building where the chapel was situated and which was still partly owned by Guglielmo dal Portico. Paolo did not undertake any radical architectural alterations to the complex but probably did no more than extend, adapt and embellish the existing buildings. From descriptions it seems that the Lord’s Palazzo was little altered and still had its fourteenth-century structure of a series of buildings with different functions linked together. There was the large Palazzo on three floors and an attic, with the ground floor covered with vaults, and the little courtyard with its well along the north and east sides, and the courtyard and houses on the south side occupied by soldiers, officials and members of the court. From the inventories of furniture, china, cloth, books and gold items prepared at the time of requisition, it would seem that the Palazzo was sumptuously fitted out. The cabinet inlaid with different kinds of precious wood where Paolo kept his documents and most valuable objects was made by the brothers Alduino and Alberto of Bologna and must have been particularly fine. Following Castruccio Castracani’s example, Paolo built a small fortress, not as part of the Palazzo complex, however, but on the west side of the Walls. In 1430, after his fall, the magistrates of the Republic returned once more to the Palazzo and ordered the fortress to be demolished. Because of economic difficulties and as an insult to the “tyrant”, the government got rid of his valuable objects and most of the books in his library. The wonderful desk was sold to Lionello d’Este, duke of Ferrara.





The City



Paolo Guinigi’s Government 

When Paolo Guinigi came to power in 1400 he was only 24 but already an enlightened, responsible ruler. He set about restoring peace to the city by encouraging exiles to return, reviving the economy and reforming the tax system. In foreign policy, however, he was not decisive. The formation of regional states in fifteenth-century Italy tended to simplify the political map of the peninsula. Lucca was greatly expanded within the context of Tuscany and tried to stay aloof from the events that were causing the turmoil and bloodshed in Italy. Paolo Guinigi chose not to take sides during the Western Schism and did not fail to pay his respects to the two rival popes. Florence with its desire for access to the sea was the main danger. In his foreign policy, Paolo Guinigi had no alternative but to take advantage of the fact that Florence and the Viscontis in Milan were in conflict. Because he was too cautious, however, he suffered a severe setback when he failed to send troops to help the Viscontis who were holding Pisa and the result was that Pisa fell into the hands of Florence in 1406. Lucca was therefore almost surrounded by the State of Florence. In 1413, Emperor Sigismondo granted Paolo the title of Imperial Vicar which removed the shame of being a usurper.



The Viscontis and the War against Florence

More serious problems emerged when Filippo Maria Visconti became Duke of Milan (1412-1447). Venice formed an alliance with Florence. Lucca, and the Guinigis in particular, with their extremely close business ties with the Venetian Republic, found themselves in difficulties. The worst humiliation came in 1418. At the instigation of Florence, the mercenary leader Braccio Fortebraccio da Montone suddenly invaded the undefended State of Lucca, sacked it and left only after obtaining 25,000 gold florins and 10,000 florins’ worth of silk cloth. Paolo’s standing was damaged in the eyes of his citizens and allies. In 1425, he was still involved in the war between Venice and Florence on the one side and the Duke of Milan on the other, and sent troops to Filippo Maria Visconti without gaining any advantage. The allies were irritated by Paolo’s habitual indecisiveness and Lucca played no part when the Peace of Ferrara was negotiated, a fact that left the way open for Florence to attempt another invasion. Lucca was besieged in 1429 but saved by Francesco Sforza’s troops, sent secretly by the Viscontis.



The Return of the Republic

During the night of the 14th and 15th of August 1430, Paolo Guinigi was deposed by a conspiracy planned by Pietro Cenami and Lorenzo Buonvisi. He and his sons were handed over to Sforza and he died a prisoner in the castle in Pavia in 1432. The republic was reinstated with few amendments to the 1372 statute. Lucca continued to be at war with Florence and its policy of alliance with the Viscontis was unchanged. With the indispensable help of the duke of Milan, they fought tenaciously and peace with Florence was gained in 1438. Lucca’s territory was very much reduced, the Garfagnana being invaded by the rulers of Ferrara, Barga by the Florentines and Pietrasanta by Genoa. Relationships between the principal Italian states stabilised after the Peace of Lodi in 1454. The people of Lucca, however, continued to hope that the territories unjustly taken from them would be returned, working endlessly through diplomatic channels and quickly taking advantage of any opportunity that arose. As Charles VIII of France marched through Italy with his army against Naples, Lucca openly renewed its anti-Florence policy, supporting the Pisa revolt and hoping to regain Pietrasanta and Motrone from the French.