Lucca in the Signoria of Paolo Guinigi, 1400-1430
By Ken Johnson
PhD Dissertation, University of North Texas, 2002
Abstract: This study analyzes the once great medieval Tuscan capital of Lucca’s struggle for survival at the beginning of the fifteenth century. This was the age of the rise of regional states in Italy, and the expansionistic aims of Milan, Florence and others were a constant challenge to city-states such as Lucca which desired a political and cultural status quo. Yet, it was a challenge that was successfully met; unlike Pisa, Siena, Perugia, and various other major Tuscan cities, Lucca did not succumb to Milanese or Florentine aggression in the early Quattrocento. Why it did not is a major topic of discussion here.
One of the means in which the Lucchese faced the new political and military realities of the time was the establishment of a monarchial system of government in the signoria of Paolo Guinigi (r. 1400-1430). The Guinigi Signoria was not characterized by the use of intimidation and violence, but rather by clientage, kinship and neighborhood bonds, marriage alliances, and the general consent of the people. Paolo garnered the consent of the people at first because his wealth allowed him to protect Lucca and its contado to a greater extent than would have been possible otherwise, and because of his family’s long ties with the powerful Visconti of Milan; he held it later because he provided the city-state with capable leadership.
This study extends the evidence of recent scholars that every Italian Renaissance city was unique based on its particular geography, alliances, civic wealth, and a number of other factors. Lucca in the period of Paolo Guinigi, a monarchy in the setting of one of the traditionally most republican cities of Italy, provides a most interesting example. “Civic humanism,” for example, has a decidedly different slant in Lucca than elsewhere, and is best exemplified in the figure of Giovanni Sercambi. This study also provides new perspectives from which to view Florence and Milan during the period of “crisis” at the beginning of the fifteenth century, and thus contributes to the mass of scholarship concerning the Baron thesis.