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The Eagle and the Viper: Lodovico Il Moro of Milan, A Renaissance Tyrant

The Italian prince who boasted that the Pope was his chaplain, and the Emperor his condottiere, ended his days in 1508, forgotten in a foreign prison

Lodovico Il Moro, fourth son of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, was “the most perfect type of the despot of that age.” If there was towards the close of the fifteenth century a prince who could claim the role of arbiter of Italy—the equal of Lorenzo the Magnificent in stature and intellect, though not in courage and statesmanship—it was the Duke of Milan. In writing about him, Jacob Burckhardt, carried away by profound admiration, professes that “he almost disarms our moral judgment.” He sees in Lodovico a natural product of the Renaissance, divinely unaware of the immorality of the means he innocently employed. The Moor was indeed a new kind of man, representative of a new age, who wanted to reap by ruse and diplomacy what the older generation of condottieri had won in battle. His court was the most brilliant in Europe, and in polish and intellect Lodovico far outshines his valiant father Francesco, whose household resembled a military camp. The Moor preferred his battles to be fought by the professional soldiers and mercenary armies of the day; he himself won no laurels in the field. In 1496 he boasted that Pope Alexander was his Chaplain, the Emperor Maximilian his Condottiere, Venice his Chamberlain and the King of France his Courier, who must come and go at his bidding. Ubiquitous in affairs and ceaselessly active in improving the state of his country, he lacked all personal heroism and broke down in defeat.

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