Mantua under Gianfrancesco Gonzaga (1407-1444) : war, politics and diplomacy in a Lombard buffer state
This thesis aims to assess the importance of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga and his state in early quattrocento politics. The central geographical position of Mantua placed it in the forefront of the conflict between Venice and Milan which dominated Gianfrancesco's life. It was a conflict during which both protagonists tried to exploit Mantua to further their own expansionist aims. Such a clash of interests naturally placed immense pressures upon Gianfrancesco. As always, his primary aim was to maintain the existence of his state and this meant that he had to manoeuvre himself between the two rivals. He was to place the strategic advantages of Mantua and his own talents as a military commander first of all at the disposal of Venice, the traditional ally and protector of the Mantuan state, and subsequently, in 1438, when he became suspicious of Venetian motives, at the disposal of Filippo Maria Visconti. The central portion of the thesis investigates Gianfrancesco's relations with these two very different masters and attempts to clarify the issues and motives which prompted his change of loyalty in 1438. In many respects, the role which Gianfrancesco was called upon to play was an unenviable one. While it is true that he himself obtained a considerable degree of prestige as Commander of the Venetian army as well as the 'kudos' of an Imperial title, the dual role of ruler and soldier of fortune which had been thrust upon him bristled with problems, and these are also investigated in this study. The period of Gianfranceso's rule provides us with an excellent opportunity to observe the problems and decisions which confronted a small state like Mantua at a time of political crisis. The part which Gianfrancesco and Mantua played in that crisis has been underestimated and this thesis attempts to redress the balance.