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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Ugolino Della Gherardesca

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UGOLINO DELLA GHERARDESCA ( c. 1220-1289), count of Donoratico, was the head of the powerful family of Gherardesca, the chief Ghibelline house of Pisa. His alliance with the Visconti, the leaders of the Guelph faction, through the marriage of his sister with Giovanni Visconti, judge of Gallura, aroused the suspicions of his party, and the Ghibellines being then predominant in Pisa, the disorders in the city caused by Ugolino and Visconti in1271-1274led to the arrest of the former and the banishment of the latter. Visconti died soon afterwards, and Ugolino, no longer regarded as dangerous, was liberated and banished. But he immediately began to intrigue with the Guelph towns opposed to Pisa, and with the help of Charles I. of Anjou attacked his native city and forced it to make peace on humiliating terms, pardoning him and all the other Guelph exiles. He lived quietly in Pisa for some years, although working all the time to extend his influence. War having broken out between Pisa and Genoa in 1284, Count Ugolino was given the command of a division of the Pisan fleet. It was by his flight - usually attributed to treachery - that the fortunes of the day were decided and the Pisans totally defeated at La Meloria (October 1284). But the political ability which he afterwards displayed led to his being appointed podestd for a year and capitano del popolo for ten years. Florence and Lucca took advantage of the Pisan defeat to attack the republic, but Ugolino succeeded in pacifying them by ceding certain castles. He was however less anxious to make peace with Genoa, for the return of the Pisan prisoners, including most of the leading Ghibellines, would have diminished his power. He was now the most influential man in Pisa, and was preparing to establish his absolute sovereignty, when for some reason not clearly understood he was forced to share his power with his nephew Nino Visconti, son of Giovanni. The duumvirate did not last, and the count and Nino soon quarrelled. Then Ugolino tried to consolidate his position by entering into negotiations with the archbishop, Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, the leader of the Ghibellines. But that party having revived once more, the archbishop obliged both Nino and Ugolino to leave the city, and had himself elected podestd and capitano del popolo. However, he allowed Ugolino to return soon afterwards, and was even ready to divide the government of the city with him, although he refused to admit his armed followers. The count, determined to be sole master, attempted to get his followers into the city by way of the Arno, and Ruggieri, realizing the danger, aroused the citizens, accusing Ugolino of treachery for having ceded the castles, and after a day's street fighting (July 1, 1288), Gherardesca was captured and immured together with his sons Gaddo and Uguccione, and his grandsons Nino (surnamed it Brigata ) and Anselmuccio, in the Muda, a tower belonging to the Gualandi family; here they were detained for nine months, and then starved to death.

The historic details of the episode are still involved in some obscurity, and although mentioned by Villani and other writers, it owes its fame entirely to Dante, who placed Ugolino and Ruggieri in the second ring (Antenora ) of the lowest circle of the Inferno (canto xxxii. 124-140 and xxxiii. 1-90). This terrible but magnificent passage, which includes "thirty lines unequalled by any other thirty lines in the whole dominion of poetry" (Landor), has been paraphrased by Chaucer in the "Monk's Tale" and more recently by Shelley. But the reason why Dante placed Ugolino among the traitors is not by any means clear, as the flight from La Meloria was not regarded as treachery by any writer earlier than the r6th century, although G. del Noce, in Il Conte U. della Gherardesca (Citta di Castello, 1894), states that that was the only motive; Bartoli, in vol. vi. of his Storia della Letteratura italiana, suggests Ugolino's alliance with the Ghibellines as the motive. The cession of the castles was not treachery but an act of necessity, owing to the desperate conditions of Pisa.


Besides the above-quoted works see P. Tronci, Annali Pisani (2 vols., Pisa, 1868-1871); S. de Sismondi, Histoire des republiques italiennes (Brussels, 1838); also the various annotated editions of Dante, especially W. W. Vernon's Readings from the Inferno, vol. ii. (2nd ed., London, 1905). (L. V.*)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Ugolino Della Gherardesca'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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