R is for Republics

Genoese ships in the Black Sea, photo from memorients.com.

Via della Seta. That, Google Translate tells me, is the Italian expression for “Silk Road.”

The city-states, for Italy was nowhere near being Italy back in 1100, were duking it out for supremacy. Although Rome was sucking wind, trying to recover and build St. Peter’s, and Florence was still finding itself, the big tunas in medieval Italy were the coastal cities. So the Via della Seta was not about carts rumbling down the road to markets but ships sailing across the big Mediterranean Sea to the little seas… the Red Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Aegean, Adriatic, Ligurian, Ionian–the Black Sea.

The sea dogs were traders and carriers of cargo and ships and horses. Knights in armor especially in 1099. The Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were trumpeting up a holy war to push back the Saracens and Ottomans who were all over the place, suggesting there might be a competitor to the one true religion. The Republics answered the call by carrying men in heavy armor from France, England, and Germany in their ships down the coast. Some of them even joined the fight.

Medieval map of Pisa @1200s. Wikipedia.
Continue reading “R is for Republics”

Z is for Zweihänder

Zweihänder swords, photo from blackfencer.com.

What shall we choose for the Renaissance “Z”? Zacco, the King of Cyprus (James II) who controlled the sugar industry until the Venetians took it? Bartelomeo Zorzi, a Venetian alum merchant, who negotiated with the pope over the mines discovered at Tolfa? (Alum was a key ingredient in textile dying.) Both of those are economic stories, about controlling resources, which was an underlying motivation for many of the skirmishes of the age.

But there were wars for control of territory, belief systems, and ruling classes. So how about ending a month of Renaissance history by looking forward to the next wave. The Reformation and the rise of the Hapsburg dynasty. We go to Germany.

The Landsknechte warriors, etched by Daniel Hofer 1530. Photo from wikipedia
Continue reading “Z is for Zweihänder”

Y is for York

Queen Elizabeth of York, painter unknown, which is typical. Photo from wikimedia.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious by this summer sun of York…

Opening of Shakespeare’s Richard III

Meanwhile in the north… not all of the Renaissance happened in Italy.

Elizabeth of York was glorious summer, indeed. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to kings–and queens. As Alison Weir says, in her fabulous biography of this fascinating linchpin of history:

Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age, it would, by right, have been more so.

Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World

In other words, if she’d been more of Penthesilea type, a bit more Eleanor of the Aquitaine and a bit less Jane Bennett, then maybe she’d have been Queen Elizabeth I. Or, maybe she’d have been thrown in the tower with her brothers. Hard to say.

Continue reading “Y is for York”