On June 14, 1310 the very fabric of the Venetian political institution reached a ripping point. Rome had excommunicated her, leaving her far-flung merchants with no rights or protections, at the mercy of villains. The new aristocracy, risen from the middle class, had maneuvered to close entry to Great Council to all save those who had previously served, ending the tradition of the common citizens of Venice holding seats and therefore having a voice in their own governance.
Proud people that they are, the common Venetians had not gone quietly into political exile. Marco Bocconio organized an attempt to regain this voice. With his followers, he sought entry to the Hall of the Great Council, requesting the opportunity to cast their ballot for a seat. Bocconio and ten of the leaders were permitted entry. Where they were then captured…and slaughtered. Historians estimate that the Council executed between five and six hundred sympathizers shortly thereafter.
The voice of the people effectively silenced.
Or not. Despite the demoralizing fear, the closing of the Great Council proved too great an affront to the old aristocracy and the populace alike. A nobleman, great-nephew of the Emperor of Constantinople and King of Jerusalem, great-grandson to the King of Seriva, and grandson of Venice’s own Doge Lorenzo Tiepolo found himself recruited to lead the cause by his wife’s father. A darling of the populace, Bajamonte Tiepolo, also known as the Grand Cavalier, organized a secret three-pronged attack on Doge’s Palace to assassinate the doge and retake the palace.
Not a polite knock on the door.
That fateful night, that June 14th, the dark eve of St. Vito’s Day, a storm blew in to match the anger of the displaced. Tiepolo led his third of the advance down the Merceria toward the Palace, while the second—which marched with his father-in-law, Marco Querini—approached from Ponte de Dai. The third, under Badoero Badoer was to gather supporters from Padua and approach by sea.
They were betrayed.
Querini arrived too soon and alone faced the Square already filled with the Doge’s men. He and his sons quickly fell to those ready blades. As for the Grand Cavalier Tiepolo, it became increasingly clear that general populace would not be joining under his banner as expected. Whether it was the violence of the storm that muted their call to arms or simply their failure to rekindle the fighting spirit of the common Venetians after the crushing of their own uprising, Tiepolo found few to grow his numbers as he marched to join his father-in-law in battle.
Then fell the mortar.
An old woman, roused by the noise of the storm or the rattle of the rebels as they neared her apartment built over the narrow street, leaned out the window to witness the commotion. Her gesture overturned her mortar and pestle seated on the sill. In the thunder and the driving rain, the stone tool fell. It struck the head of Tiepolo’s standard bearer.
And he fell, dead.
Tiepolo’s followers panicked. They fled back to the other side of the Rialto, burned down the bridges and the boats, waiting for the reinforcements from the sea. But Badoer never came. The Doge had been thorough. Badoer and his contingent were captured after running their boats aground in the storm.
Thus was the final rebellion against the political silencing crushed…by a mortar.
So Spake Me…
Every time I sat down to work on this story, I always ended up getting in a good laugh. Not because the story is necessarily a light-hearted one. Tiepolo spent his remaining years dodging the Doge, and the Council of Ten—Venice’s shadowy KGB-style overlords—arose from the Doge’s constant pursuit of and defense against the Grand Cavalier.
I got a good laugh, because flipping back and forth between the old histories was rather like playing 700 years worth of telephone. In one source the woman throws a flower pot, in another she bumps a kitchen tool off the ledge. In another source the old woman is named Maria de Oltise, in another she is definitely Lucia Rosso. In one source, Tiepolo’s rebellion was the valiant last stand of democracy against the evil oligarchy, in another he was just another despot grasping after power.
Tiepolo as a hero of the people…who assuaged his rebels’ impatience by letting them ransack businesses while they waited for the weather to clear up. Hmmm. Oh, and never forget the rebellion’s stamp on history: the people were brutally silenced, but that brutal grip allowed Venice’s empire to survive an especially turbulent time in history.
And I get it. Nothing is ever black-and-white and 700 years is a particularly long lens to be viewing the picture through. But when you are researching a piece on a kitchen implement wiping out an entire rebellion, you can’t really help but have an eye out for the improbable and the absurd.
Happy cooking! Hey, watch it with that spatula….
The Story of Place