Although relatively short in length the One Day War of 1524 has gained a reputation among students of history as confusing. But while it is true that the tangled web of powerful families and interlocking alliances that dominated Renaissance Italy can seem daunting to the layman the truth is that the conflict was, as we shall see, a relatively simple one.
Although traditionally seen as beginning at around 10:30 A.M. many historians now date the conflict’s origins to the early hours of the morning when it was discovered that the aging Doge of Lucca, Ludovico Communi, had died in his sleep. This was initially a great relief to all concerned as the previous Doge, Giacomo Foderico, had died in someone else’s sleep, causing great confusion and an investigation by the Vatican’s crack team of witch hunters. However as was typical for Italian City States during this period, a labyrinthine succession crisis soon resulted and threatened to engulf the whole of Italy.1
According to the Salic law of inheritance Ludovico’s crown should have passed to his brother’s adopted nephew, Diego Communi. However the Communi’s traditional rivals, the powerful Della Lambrini banking clan, quickly claimed that Ludovico had promised the crown to their allies, the Ferense of Naples, in return for the loan of 17,000 florins and a set of erotic engravings by Titian. The Communi, caught off-guard, were forced to admit that the loan had taken place but claimed that the deal had been invalidated when Paolo Ferense had been excommunicated for spitting on the Pope’s bruschetta. Both sides quickly armed themselves and conflict would have been inevitable had it not been for the intervention of the heretical cleric Verdonicci of Mantua, who claimed that God had declared the luthier Gondini the rightful heir. This outraged the Bennavutto merchant family, who had feuded with Gondini over the grazing rights to two acres of silage on the outskirts of the city and Verdonicci was subsequently assassinated by the Capetian smuggling brotherhood, on whose turf he had been trying to muscle in.
Matters were further complicated by the presence in Lucca of a young Vincenzo Montella, who had arrived the day before to invest in a local bordello. Thinking on his feet he sent word by fast horse to his Uncle, the Duke of Milan, urging him to take advantage of the power-vacuum to attack his brother-in-law, Rudolpho of Pisa. This he did but his forces were bloodily repulsed by Rudolpho’s famous roller-skating cavalry, who had been reinforced by the English condottiere Jonas Smedley and his roving band of snipers.2
What neither Montella or the Duke realized was that their message had been intercepted en route by Catherine of Siena, who quickly summoned her militia and marched on Lucca with the intention of putting her grandson, Lomdardo di Cambiasso on the throne. Catherine also sent requests for aid to her allies the Gnocchi of Florence and the Fibonacci of Cremona. Yet unbeknownst to her Florence had been thrown into great confusion by a strangely northern outbreak of the Sicilian Vespers and could spare no men while her messenger to Cremona had been abducted by the hill-people of Umbria, who forced him to dance and recite scurrilous poetry for their amusement.
Alarmed by this turn of events the Communi and Della Lambrini agreed to set aside their differences and crown the simpleton Rodrigo the Daft as Doge in the hopes that he would prove easily manipulated. However their plans to defend the city against Catherine were complicated by the actions of the Portuguese sailor “Juvenal the Cossack” who had taken advantage of the confusion to plunder the treasury and elope with the former Doge’s nubile young widows. The loss of the treasury left the Communi unable to pay their Hungarian mercenaries, who were threatening to burn down the city unless they were given their back pay and allowed to stop sleeping in the sewers. Order was only restored by the Silanese river pirates, who agreed to fund the war effort in return for the Tyrrhenian islands (which islands exactly were included in this deal was the proximate cause of the 19-years war between Genoa and the Nizam of Hyderabad).
There was still room for one last twist, however, as at the banquet to celebrate his coronation Rodrigo revealed his stupidity to have been an elaborate ruse designed to lull his enemies into believing him harmless and that he had allied with the ambitious Chef’s Guild to poison the guest’s roast capon. Lucca’s most powerful families were wiped out in a stroke- with the sole exception of the di Rembrandis, who would eat no meat in penance for the pledge their ancestors had broken to the Byzantines. Showing the political acumen and cunning that would become his trademark Antonio di Rembrandi quickly bashed in Rodrigo’s head with a serving platter and hurled him from the nearest window. Rodrigo survived but was left a simpleton and Antonio took the crown for himself, thereby ushering in a century of prosperity for the city.3
Meanwhile Catherine of Siena’s forces reached the banks of the Serchio but were struck by a sudden outbreak of pleurisy and forced to turn back. On the way they encountered “Juvenal the Cossack” who Catherine instantly recognized as her long-lost nephew Gabriele, stolen by Norwegians when he was just a baby, and accordingly had him garroted.
1- Walpurgis Smythe, Things That Threatened To Engulf The Whole Of Italy, Vol 13 (Ulundi: Drax Publishing, 1877), 31-44.
2-Rudolpho of Pisa, The Truthful True Story of my True Life and Reign (New Orleans, The New Orleans Automatic Writing and Clairvoyance Co., 1984), 78.
4- Salvador Trelawney, Meat is Murder: How A Vegetarian Diet Can Lead You To Power (Ho Chi Minh City: Drax Publishing, 1969), 132.