Giangaleazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan

Civil war was always the bane of the Italian city-states. E.R. Chamberlain describes how, at the end of the fourteenth century, it seemed that the whole peninsula might soon be re-united under a single man's control.

Some four hundred years before the birth of Garibaldi, the dream of Italian unity seemed on the point of becoming reality. Throughout the strife-torn peninsula, the city-states looked towards Milan, some in hope, some in hatred and fear. Poets talked again of “un solo re,” the King above race and party, who would bring back the Roman peace and turn the cities from their path of fratricidal war; patriots feared the engulfing of those cities within the belly of the Viper.

The hopes and fears were centred upon one man, Giangaleazzo Visconti, Count of Virtue and first Duke of Milan, the greatest of a family that had been climbing to the position of supreme power in Lombardy for over a hundred years. It was said that the Duke had taken the Iron Crown from its safe-keeping and was preparing his coronation robes. At that high moment, when only the weakened republic of Florence disputed the banner of the Viper and the State of Milan ran from the Alps to beyond the Appennines, Giangaleazzo fell sick of the plague.

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