Chapter 3 - The Giovanni Revolution
modern European civilization unleashed by the Fifteenth-Century
"golden" Renaissance, had
brought the modern sovereign form of republic, also known as a system of commonwealths, into
being. Sarpi's view was that this new enemy, the commonwealth, could not be defeated if the
financier-oligarchical interest typified by medieval Venetian usury, refused to adapt to reforms in
favor of some limited use of the new ideas of practice associated with the scientific revolution which
had been launched, largely, by Venice's chosen chief enemy, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa.”
Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., The End of Our Delusion
In 1613, at the request of the Venetian Senate, the monk Paolo Sarpi, wrote The History of the Inquisition. This was followed three years later by Sarpi's most famous work, The History of the Council of Trent. With these two writings, issued at a time when he was the chief counselor to the Venetian government, Sarpi officially announced to the world that the Venetian-Spanish-Vatican alliance was dead. However, these works only proclaimed what everyone already knew. Earlier, in 1606 , Sarpi had led the Venetian government into an open confrontation with Rome over Papal insistence of ecclesiastical rights in Venice. At the height of the ensuing crisis, Pope Paul V issued a Papal Bull, excommunicating the Venetian Doge, the Senate and every inhabitant of Venice. Shortly thereafter he issued a separate Bull personally excommunicating Sarpi a second time. In addition, he declared a Papal Interdict against the entire state of Venice which remained in effect until 1609. When Venice refused to back down, Rome deployed paid assassins to Venice, where they attacked Sarpi, stabbing him repeatedly in the neck and head and leaving him for dead. Sarpi recovered from his wounds, and from then on Venice never strayed from its new course.
Who were the Giovani?
In the late 1570s, a faction emerged in Venice, determined to move Venice in a new direction. They were named the party of the Giovani (the “youthful”), and in 1582 they broke the power of the Council of 10, and forced the Venetian oligarchy to return political control to the Senate, which the Giovani controlled. These were not downtrodden sans-culotte revolutionaries. They came from some of the most powerful oligarchical families in Venice, and their ranks included several future Doges, including Leonardo Donato, who protected Sarpi during the Interdict crisis, and Nicolo Contarini, who was perhaps Sarpi's closest ally among the Venetian nobility.
By the 1590s, it was Sarpi who was the acknowledged intellectual leader of the Giovani faction, and it was Sarpi's views which would determine the strategic policies of Venice until years after his death. Despite the fact that Sarpi and his allies would ultimately move Venice into an open strategic and military alliance with the Protestant north, the actions of the Giovani had nothing to do with religion. Theirs was a shared goal to save the system of Empire which Venice had epitomized for more than four centuries.
The Venetian collaborators of Sarpi were grouped around a series of ridotti (salons), but it was the ridotto of Andrea Morosini, whose family had contributed numerous Doges to Venice over the centuries, which became the epicenter of Sarpi's inner circle. Participants – other than Sarpi himself – included Giovanni Francesco Sagredo (later to be Sarpi's hands-on controller of Galileo, two of his grandsons would also become Doges), Nicolo Contarini (future Doge and the protector of Monteverdi), Andrea Morosini, Leonardo Donato (another future Doge), Marc Tevisiano, Ottavio Buono, Domenico Molino (he served as Sarpi's go-between in a correspondence with Francis Bacon), Antonio Quirini (one of several members of the Venetian Senate active in the Ridotto Morosini, Quirini would publish pamphlets in defense of Sarpi that were placed on the Papal Index), Marini Zane, Leonardo Mocenigo (later the Bishop of Ceneda), Jacopo Morosini, and others.
There were other ridotti for other purposes; some were centers of discussions in mathematics, or physiology, such as the Ridotto Nave d’Oro, where Galileo spent much of his time when he was not at Morosini's Ridotto. Other ridotti, like the Paduan home of the Genoese Gian Vincenzo Pinella, were places where Sarpi could make contact with his foreign, particularly Protestant, allies, such as the French Huguenot DuPlessis-Mornay.
Much like the later notorious activities of Madame de Staal, these salons were not either simply social clubs, nor artistic literary groups. On the one hand, Sarpi was the unquestioned leader of the network, and from these ridotti, he would launch the creation of his new “science” of empiricism. At the same time, these meeting-places represented the headquarters for a political effort to remake Venice, and to change the entire geopolitical map of Europe.
The new banking paradigm
Five years after the 1582 Giovanni takeover, the first “public” bank in Venice was established, the justly famous Banco della Piazza di Rialto, sometimes simply called the Bank of Venice. This was followed, in 1619, by a second bank, the Banco Giro, which gradually absorbed the former.
This banking revolution was the Giovani's answer to the Renaissance threat of the sovereign Commonwealth. Under this new banking system, all of the the pre-1400 usurious practices of the Lombard bankers were retained, but, essentially, rather than have private family banks loan money to the state, the innovation was to have the financial oligarchy simply take over the state, i.e., to eradicate any principle of national sovereignty, to eliminate the idea of the Common Good, and to make the state itself an arm of the financial oligarchy. That, in essence, is the Anglo-Dutch financial system.
A recent, interesting, if flawed, paper by the historians Fratianni and Spinelli, which examines both the Venetian banking revolution, as well as the related creation of the Casa di San Giorgio in Genoa, provides useful insights into these developments.1 The mistake Fratianni and Spinelli make is that, in comparing the so-called “public” vs. “private” nature of the banks in Venice and Genoa, they fail to see that the founding of both banks represented an expansion of the power of the financial oligarchy over the civil state, and they try too hard to prove a difference between the Genoese and Venetian experiences. The Bank of Venice and the Casa di San Giorgio were merely first steps towards a new banking paradigm, and their later emulators in Amsterdam and London would go much further in creating an entirely new form of financial empire.
The Bank of Venice became the direct inspiration for the 1609 Bank of Amsterdam, and together, these two banks were the model for the Bank of England in 1694. People, writing at that time, were very aware, and very explicit, that the new financial model was derived from Venice. Thus, in the years pre-ceding the 1688 “Glorious Revolution” in England, we find the 1651 proposal by Sir Balthazer Gerbier for the creation of a “bank of payment in London after the style of either the bank of Amsterdam, or that of Venice;” the 1678 book by Dr. Mark Lewis, Proposals to the King and Parliament, where he calls for the creation of a national “bank of issuance,” based on the design of the Bank of Venice, which he praises as "the perfect credit bank;" and the 1690 call by Nicholas Barbon for the creation of a national public bank, modeled on those “in Venice and Amsterdam.” It is therefore, no exaggeration to say that the 1582 Giovani Revolution was the point of origin for the Anglo-Dutch System.
The banking changes in Venice might appear at first as merely a few changes in financial structures and practices, but the axiomatic change was profound. First off, both the Banco della Piazza di Rialto, and the subsequent Banco Giro were granted a monopoly by the Venetian government on the issuance of bank notes and bills of credit. The notes of these banks were declared legal tender by the Venetian government, and they circulated publicly as the legal equivalent of money. Although, both the Venice bank, as well as the San Giorgio in Genoa, also functioned as deposit banks, taking in deposits, making loans, and conducting specie transactions, it was this change in their relation to the state which was key.
This was the new paradigm, from which everything later developed. As a consequence of the massive new financial resources at its disposal, during this period Venice made the shift from a commercial economy to primarily a rentier and speculative economy. By 1620, Venice had become the foremost European center as a clearinghouse for Bills of Exchange.
For the oligarchical fondi, it is not the individual Venetian, Spanish, Dutch or British empires which are important. Nations are obstacles to the oligarchy. For the fondi it is the System of Empire that is fundamental. With the creation of the Banco della Piazza di Rialto, and its later imitators in Amsterdam and London, the oligarchy had invented, not national banks, but the beginnings of what we would call today private central banking. The institutions of the state were made subservient, or more accurately, were fused to the private banking system. This, of course, is the essential idea behind the 20th century's “corporativism” of the Mussolini regime, as well as the ideological descendants of Mussolini, like Felix Rohatyn, today. The Commonwealth was to be eliminated, to be supplanted by a world run by the fondi.
Moving the Empire to the north
After the assassination of the Dutch leader William the Silent in 1584, the potential for a commonwealth transformation of the Netherlands2 was eliminated. The Spanish army's destruction of Antwerp in 1585, and the closure of the Antwerp Bourse (stock exchange), then led to the "great exodus" from the southern provinces of the Netherlands to the north, with more than 19,000 merchants, bankers, and Bourse speculators fleeing Antwerp, and most settling in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, the earlier speculative practices of the Bourse would be wedded with the new Venetian banking model, to produce a new financial capital for the Empire. The early fruits of this effort came quickly, with with the founding of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the Amsterdam Exchange (the New Bourse) in 1608, and the Bank of Amsterdam in 1609. That same year the Giovani-controlled Venetian Senate became the first government in Europe to officially recognize Dutch independence from Spain, and to exchange ambassadors.
Within a few years the financial revolution in Amsterdam would be mimicked in several other locations, including the founding of the Banks of Hamburg and Sweden, and similar events in other northern maritime cities that were previously associated with the Hanseatic League.
Venice's next step in making this shift to the north irreversible, was to pull the Netherlands tighter into the Venetian orbit, while simultaneously initiating a similar transformation in England. The key to this operation was the Venetian confrontation with Rome during the Interdict crisis, and the subsequent role of Venice in provoking the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648.
Sarpi's public leadership during the Interdict, and the failed effort to assassinate him, had the effect of making him, a Roman Catholic monk, the hero of the Protestant world. Sarpi was lionized among political, religious, and intellectual circles in Geneva, Paris, London, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. As news of the Interdict spread through Europe, the first government to officially defend Venice was the Dutch Estates General which offered military aid. The Dutch Stadholder Maurice of Nassau personally tendered his services to Venice. From 1610 to 1618 there existed a state of undeclared war between Venice and Hapsburg Spain, during which Venice and the Netherlands were in an unofficial military alliance. Later, in the 1615-1617 war between Venice and Hapsburg Austria, 5,000 Dutch troops were sent to serve in Venice, and 12 Dutch warships blockaded the Adriatic to prevent Spanish aid to Austria.
Henry Wotton, the English Ambassador to Venice and a Sarpi sycophant, worked tirelessly during this period, attempting to recruit the English King James I into a military alliance with Venice. He also arranged for the 1618 publication in London of the first English translation of Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent. Sarpi's plan was to draw the Dutch, James I of England, and the German Protestant princes into a war against Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Papacy. The ensuing chaos could then be spun back into France, rekindling her religious wars after the 1610 assassination of King Henry IV. In the process, the heritage of Louis XI’s and Henry VII’s commonwealths would be eradicated, and new clones of Venice would be consolidated in London and Amsterdam.
The role of Sarpi and his agents in manipulating events leading up to the outbreak of war in 1618 is well documented in several locations.3 For example, it was Sarpi, personally, who advised Christian, the Prince of Anhalt, and his advisor Christoph von Dohna, to induce Frederick V, the Elector of Palatine, to accept the throne of Bohemia, the event which actually triggered the outbreak of hostilities. Meanwhile, the Venetian ally Maurice of Nassau, from his court in The Hague, encouraged both the Bohemians and the same Elector of Palatine into open revolt against the Hapsburgs, and he provided financial aide (100,000 guilders per month), as well as weapons and ammunition, which were shipped from the United Provinces to Frederick's army in Bohemia.
At the same time, Sarpi dispatched his personal assistant Fulgenzio Micanzio to London to plead with King James to intervene militarily, and Sarpi's agent, the English Ambassador Henry Wotton, went to Vienna, where he conducted secret communications with Elizabeth, the wife of the Elector of Palatine. Elizabeth also happened to be the daughter of James I, and Sarpi and Wotton hoped that King James could be induced to enter the war in defense of his daughter.
The foolish Elector Frederick took Sarpi’s bait. He accepted the Bohemian throne, thus setting off the war which Sarpi wanted. Frederick (known as the "Winter King") was quickly defeated by the Austrian army, and lost not only Bohemia but the Palatine as well, ending his days as a political refugee at the Orange Court in The Hague.
But the war produced exactly the effect Venice desired. The old Rome-Hapsburg domination of Europe, a domination which Venice had done so much to create, was broken. The Venetian-Calvinist alliance gave Venice an entry-point to spread its influence and methods northward; the power of the Venetian Party in London, grouped around Robert Cecil, Francis Bacon, and the Cavendish family was greatly enhanced; and the Netherlands were firmly within Venice's grip.
In 1618, acting as the official Consultore of the Venetian government, Sarpi personally directed the signing of the Dutch-Venetian alliance. It included a mutual defense pack against the Hapsburgs, and when the Dutch resumed direct war against the Spanish in 1621, the Venetians supplied the Dutch government at The Hague with more than 1 million ducats towards the war effort.
1 Did Genoa and Venice Kick a Financial Revolution in the Quattrocento, by Michele Fratianni & Franco Spinelli, Oesterreichische
2 See The History of the Revolt of the Netherlands, by Friedrich Schiller
3 See, for example, The Role of the Venetian Oligarchy in the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment and the Thirty Years' War, by Webster Tarpley, New Federalist, March 22, 1993