By Diana Gilliland Wright
EJOS, Vol.9:2 (2006)
Introduction: In December 1496, Sanudo went to Ca’ Pasqualin to see the newest celebrity. Zorzi Cernovich, “lord of several places and mountains in the vicinity of Kotor,” had escaped from Montengro just ahead of the Turks and come to Venice with his wife, Isabetha. The young Cernovich couple were marvelously exotic for a winter’s day and Alvise Pasqualin exhibited them as new acquisitions in front of his collection of paintings and tapestries: she wearing jewels and cloth-of-gold, and he, tall and handsome, ‘dressed in gold like a Greek.”
The Cernovich family had ruled Montenegro with Venice as overlord since 1451/2. In the Venetian-Ottoman peace agreement of 1478 ending fourteen years of war, Venice surrendered most of Montengro and the fortress of Scutari, although she retained control over a coastal strip. After failing to obtain Venetian aid in recapturing the whole country, Zorzi’s father, Ivan, signed an agreement with Bayezid II in early 1482 which recognized him as head of the small principality, owing homage to the Turks, and requiring him to give his son Stanisa as security. After further frustrations, Ivan left his capital of Zabljak on Lake Scutari and led his followers into the barren highlands where he founded a new capital at Cetinje. He then handed over the rule to Zorzi while he went to Italy to look for aid against the Turks. At Ivan’s death in 1490, Zorzi formally succeeded to the throne. In the mid-90s, Zorzi sought to expand his options be seizing “saline” (salt pans) under Venetian control on the border of the Cataro territory (Kotor), and guarenteeing perpetual confusion as to overlorad and loyalties. In late 1496, Ottoman pressure was such that he found it practicable to leave the country; his brother Stefan took over the rule.
If the Cernovici had thought that their introduction to Venice as royalty would help their future, they were over-optimistic, even naive, considering she was a Venetian and he had lived in Venice for several years. Both should have been aware of the Venetian ethos that cultivated an antipathy to personality. Despite their apparent glamour, what happened next was a singular story of frustration, a sequence of political events which demonstrated Venetian rule at its most petty and cynical: ultimately it was a completely insignificant story, except to Zorzi and Isabetha, with perhaps the only tangible result a testament that is, being neither Venetian nor a love-letter, apparently the earliest known dated Venetian love-letter and a remarkable political diary. This paper explores the more personal side of the Cernovich drama, but it was a drama played our against their personal background of constant political haggling, private messages, deals and betrayals, within a larger context of more important rulers and a major war.
We thank Diana Gilliland Wright for providing us with this article. See more of her writings at http://surprisedbytime.blogspot.com/