1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pietro Della Vigna

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PIETRO DELLA VIGNA, or Pier Delle Vigne [Petrus de Vineas or de Vineis] (c. 1190-1249), chancellor and secretary to the emperor Frederick II, was born at Capua in humble circumstances. He studied law at Padua, and through his classical education, his ability to speak Latin and his poetic gifts, he gained the favour of Frederick II., who made him his secretary, and afterwards judex magnae curiae, councillor, governor of Apulia, pro tho notary and chancellor. The emperor, “of whose heart he held the keys,” as Dante says, sent him to Rome in 1232 and 1237 to negotiate with the pope, to Padua in 1239 to induce the citizens to accept imperial protection, to England in 1234-1235 to arrange a marriage between Frederick and Isabella, sister of King Henry III. He proved a skilful and trustworthy diplomat, and he persistently defended the emperor against his traducers and against the pope's menaces. But at the Council of Lyons, which had been summoned by Pope Innocent IV., Pietro della Vigna entrusted the defence of his master to the celebrated jurist Taddeo of Suessa, who failed to prevent his condemnation. Frederick, whose suspicions had been awakened by the slanders of the envious, had him imprisoned and blinded without giving him a chance to rebut his accusers. Unable to bear his disgrace, he committed suicide in his prison at Pisa in 1249. The exact date, place and manner of his death are, however, subject to controversy, and Flaminio del Borgo states that it occurred in the church of S. Andrea, at Pisa, in 1256. The tragic fate of this man gave rise to many legends. The Guelphic tradition accuses Pietro della Vigna, as well as the emperor and the court, of heresy, it was even stated, probably without any foundation, that they were the authors of the famous work, De tribus impostoribus, wherein Moses, Christ and Mahomet are blasphemed.

Pietro della Vigna was a man of great culture; he encouraged science and the fine arts, and contributed much to the welfare of Italy by wise legislative reforms. He was the author of some delicate verse in the vernacular tongue, of which two Canzoni and a sonnet are still extant. His letters, mostly written in the name of the emperor and published by Iselin (Epistolarum libri vi., 2 vols., Basel, 1740), contain much valuable information on the history and culture of the 13th century. A collection of the laws of Sicily, a Tractatus de pot estate imperiali, and another treatise, “On Consolation,” in the style of Boethius, are also attributed to him.

See Huillard-Bréholles, Vie et correspondence de Pierre de la Vigne (Paris, 1864); Presta, Pier delle Vigne (Milan, 1880); Capasso and Ianelli, Pier dette Vigne (Caserta, 1882); also Frederick II.