Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/140

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In the latter half of the fifteenth century Italy presented the appearance of comparative calm. Frederick III, in spite of the motto attributed to him, "Alles Erdreich ist Oesterreich untertan," took no step to assert imperial claims in Italy. Conciliar storms had blown over. The condottieri had been tamed; secure for the most part in their little tyrannies they drew the pay of some neighbouring State, and spent it on luxury, literature, and art. If war was on foot, its bitterness was mitigated, at any rate to the soldier, by every courteous device. The clash of party strife was seldom heard, for most cities had bought internal peace at the price of liberty.

Italy possessed her own State system, her own great powers, intent on preserving a balance of forces, her own alliances, triple or dual. At first the north Italian powers had their own league; later the alliance of Milan, Florence, and Naples, promoted and sustained by Lorenzo de' Medici, kept in check the vigilant ambition of Venice, still almost at the height of her power and pride. The smaller powers, Mantua, Ferrara, and the tyrants of the Papal States, in constant dread of their covetous neighbours, leant for support on one or other of the great powers, and did what in them lay to preserve the balance. After the brilliant raid of John, the Angevin duke of Calabria, Ferrante, the bastard of Aragon, ruled Naples in comparative peace. The revolt of his barons was stamped out, without regard for faith or mercy, as befitted a man of that age. The seizure of Otranto by the Turks in 1480 was a warning of external danger that may have assisted to preserve the peace, although all projects of united and offensive resistance to the advancing Mohammadans came to nothing. The equilibrium was unstable, but on the whole it was preserved.

The death of Lorenzo del Medici in 1492, soon followed by that of Innocent VIII, marks a turning-point in the history of Italy. It is easy to attach too much importance to such casual incidents, but they may at least delay or hasten the inevitable course of events. And in Lorenzo was removed the conscious guardian of the peace of Italy,