The Devil's Broker: Seeking Gold, God, and Glory in Fourteenth-Century Italy

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9780060777296: The Devil's Broker: Seeking Gold, God, and Glory in Fourteenth-Century Italy

"There were good ways to die,
and there were bad ways to die."

So begins this effervescent history of an Italy about to shake itself free of the medieval age and move confidently into the Renaissance. First, though, there was an ordeal to pass through, one worthy of the imagination of Dante.

Unleashed by a pause in the cataclysmic Hundred Years' War, hordes of soldiers with an appetite for pillage swooped down on the opulent city-states of Italy -- bloated with gold from trade and the birth of the modern banking industry -- and commenced to unburden them of their wealth. The greatest of all the mercenary captains was Sir John Hawkwood, an English expatriate and military genius who formed his own army and cleverly pitted ancient rivals against one another: Florence against Siena, Milan against the papacy -- collecting tribute from them all, holding the Pope for ransom, and setting blood running in the streets.

The Devil's Broker is more than a riveting account of fortunes gained and lost by treachery and the sword: it is a lavish portrait of the fourteenth century, which Barbara Tuchman called "calamitous"; the Black Plague that struck down the mighty and the abject with equal ferocity; the violent schism in the Catholic Church that sent the Pope scurrying to Avignon for safety; the religious mania offset by a gargantuan appetite for spectacle, luxury, and self-indulgence. Among the other titans moving through Frances Stonor Saunders's magnificent narrative are the anorexic and power-hungry St. Catherine of Siena, an ill-tempered and comfort-loving Petrarch, and a curious and amused diplomat-spy named Geoffrey Chaucer, who would draw on Hawkwood's career for his own "Knight's Tale."

The meticulous archiving and record-keeping of medieval Italian notaries means that this history has passed to us through the intimate words of its most vital actors; Frances Stonor Saunders has combed tirelessly through original documents to produce a history seemingly as immediate and relevant as events of yesterday. She is a prodigious talent.

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Product Description:

The second son of a minor English landowner, John Hawkwood chose to head south in 1360 after serving as a captain in the Black Prince’s wars against France. He and other freebooters besieged the pope at Avignon, and when they were paid to desist at Avignon and go to Italy, they discovered that the threat of force could be very profitable indeed. The Italian city states – Florence, Milan, Siena, and Pisa – offered the richest pickings in Europe. By alternately besieging and protecting them, Hawkwood became the most wily, reliable, and successful mercenary leader of his time, leading the Italians to conclude that “the Devil is an Englishman.”

This is the story of an age when everything came to have a price, when the mercenary companies werevastly rich corporations with their own accountants, lawyers, and orators. It was also a time of cultural greatness, creating the ferment that would give birth to the Renaissance. In The Devil’s Broker, Stonor Saunders creates a glittering and hard-edged evocation of an era peopled by characters ranging from the great poets Chaucer, Petrarch, and Boccaccio to St. Catherine of Siena, a succession of corrupt, incompetent, and venal popes, and the tyrannical Visconti family of Milan. Brilliant and drivingly readable, The Devil’s Broker vividly recreates a complex man and a fascinating era.

Product Description:

This is the bold story of Sir John Hawkwood, English knight turned mercenary general, who alternately besieged and protected Italy’s richest city states in the late fourteenth century, leading the Italians to conclude that “the Devil is an Englishman.” Brilliant and drivingly readable, The Devil’s Broker recreates a complex man and a fascinating era.

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