(c) Gregory D. Mele, 2014
Fiore dei Liberi’s homeland of Friuli was not spared the constant military engagements that plagued Italy in the last decades of the 14th century, and the civil war that tore the region apart during the 1390s also provides us with some of the more interesting data-points we have regarding the Furlan master-at-arms life and career.
Friuli is a unique region, originally founded by Celtic tribes, during progressive invasions of Romans and Lombards. It grew into a unique culture, whose people speak a unique language to this day, which is related to, but distinct from, Italian. The region was first centered around the ancient Celtic-Roman city of Aquileia, and later Cividale, a city that traced its founding to Julius Caesar himself. By the 14th century, the Patriarchate of Aquileia had become a duchy that included Trieste, Istria, Carinthia, Styria and Cadore, making it one of the largest Italian states of its time, and placing it at the center of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, essentially an area of religious and political administration that became the largest diocese in the middle ages.
The Patriarchate was an ancient bishopric, founded by St. Mark, which had a perpetually uneasy relationship with Rome, and the Patriarchs had played Pope and Emperor against each-other for centuries, with the latter granting them ducal authority in the 1077. However, the power of the Patriarchs began to wane in the 12th century and repeated earthquakes and disasters reduced Aquileia to a few hundred residents by the early 14th century. The bishop’s seat was relocated to Udine, and found itself under increasing attempts to be “brought to heel” by the Papacy.
The final move came in 1381, when Pope Urban VI appointed Philip of Avençon, second son of King Charles II of France and former Archbishop of Rouen, as Patriarch and gave rise to what is known as the War of Succession for the Patriarchate of Aquileia (1381-1388). The two main factions were Udine, which was backed by the powerful city of Venice, and Fiore’s native town of Cividale, which had the support of both the new patriarch as well as of the kingdom of Hungary.
Although Cividale and most of the rural villages ultimately decided to submit to the papal decision, the city of Udine resisted. For over a century the people of Udine had had a number of special privileges, including if not self-determination, then a great influence over the election of the Patriarch. The city refused to acknowledge the Pope’s election of Philip. Rebellion began to brew, and many of the Friulian nobility began to join with Udine in defying the Pope’s authority to appoint the Patriarch without their consent. The city became the rallying point and began organizing an army to be lead by a local hero, Federigo da Savorgnan.
Fiore dei Liberi arrived in Udine six months after the trouble began, and approached the council to offer his services. We should not be surprised that he militated for Udine against his hometown of Cividale, as the decisions of a town’s civic administrators often ran afoul of an individual’s political passions, as Dante’s love-hate relationship with his home of Florence reminds us. The city records of 3 August 1383 state that a “Maestro Fiore de Cividale, dimicator” (“fencer”) was petitioning for citizenship. This petition was granted by da Savorgnan. ((Municipal Archive of Udine, Deliber. Consilii Civit. Utini, v. VII, c.208: 1383. Die lune tertio Augusti. Utini in consilio. Magister Flor de Civitate dimicator ieceptus fuit in vicinum Terre, cum capitulis alias observatis et D. Federigus de Savorgnano fuit fideiussor. « 1383, Tueseday August 3, Udine)) A month later, da Savorgnan and the city council placed him in charge of its ballista crews and tasked “Magister Fiore” (by which we know he was already a Master of some reputation while he was in or around his thirties) to “inspect and repair all the weapons of the town’s armory,” specifically, “the large crossbows ((Balestre grosse: these weapons were roughly twice the size of a regular hand-held crossbow, and because of their bulk, they had to be fired from a rest. They were used primarily for the defense of fortifications, and had a useful range close to 200 yards.)) and other arrow-launching weapons [sagitamenta].” ((Municipal Archive of Udine, Deliber. Consilii Civit. Utini, v. VII, c.239: 1383. Die 30 Septembris in Consilio Terre Utini deliberatum fuit supra balistris grossis et sagitamentis magister Flor, qui fuit de Civitate Austria (sic), qui examinet et ponat ad ordinem omnia existentia in camera Comunis et eciam que habent Fraternitates.))
Although the details of the fighting that followed are scant, dei Liberi must have played some notable role in its defense, as to this day there is a street in Udine named for him. An Udinese archival document dated 1384, tells us that he was assigned to a military company as an explorator (a sort of reconnaissance position). The last mention of Magister Flor, dimicator comes from a document in 1384 that states he was one of 354 citizens appointed to serve as peace-keepers throughout Friuli, and was assigned to the city of Gemona. ((Municipal Archive of Udine, Annales, vol. VII, c. 78: Anno 1384, ind. VII. Infrascripti sunt qui iuraverunt astare dominio Capitaneo pro bono et tranquillo statu Terre quod contra quoscumque delinquentes et excessores fiat iusticia criminalis secundum laudabiles consuetudines Terre Utini et deliberationes consiliarias maioris Consilii et Consilii Secreti: omissis: In Burgo Glemone: Magister Florius scarmitor.)) In this role he was tasked “to assist the lord Captain towards the good and peaceable state of the land, so that criminal justice may be enforced against any offender or transgressor.” After this, there is no record of his returning to Udine.
Shortly after this document’s date, Francesco di Carrara, the governor of Padua, was brought in to adjudicate a truce between Udine and her Patriarch. Udine, threatened with the great military strength of Padua, agreed to submit, so dei Liberi may have believed his work (and opportunities) to be finished, and took to the road to seek advancement elsewhere. If so, the irony is that the truce quickly collapsed, and the Friulian civil war did not end until 1390, ending only with the utter exhaustion of the region, and the dissolution of Patriarchate itself.