Guelphs and Ghibellines
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were factions supporting, respectively, the
Papacyand the Holy Roman Empirein central and northern Italyduring the 12th and 13th centuries. The struggle for power between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire had arisen with the Investiture Conflictof the 11th century.
"Guelph" (often spelled "Guelf"; in Italian "Guelfo", plural "Guelfi") is most probably an Italian form of
Welf, the family of the dukes of Bavaria(including the namesake Welf, as well as Henry the Lion). The Welfs were said to have used the name as a rallying cry during the Battle of Weinsbergin 1140, in which the rival Hohenstaufens of Swabia(led by Conrad III) used Waiblingen, the name of a castle, as their cry. Waiblingen, at the time pronounced and spelled somewhat like "Wibellingen", became subsequently "Ghibellino" in Italian. The names were likely introduced to Italyduring the reign of Frederick Barbarossa. When Frederick campaigned in Italy to expand imperial power there, his supporters became known as Ghibellines ("Ghibellini"). The Lombard Leagueand its allies, defending the liberties of the urban communes against the Emperor's encroachments, became known as Guelphs. The Lombard League defeated Frederick at the Battle of Legnanoin 1176. Frederick recognized the full autonomy of the cities of the Lombard league under his nominal suzerainty.
The division between two distinct "Guelph" and "Ghibelline" parties became defined during Frederick Barbarossa's reign (
12th century). Ghibellines were the imperial party, while the Guelphs supported the Pope. Broadly speaking, Guelphs tended to come from wealthy mercantile families, whereas Ghibellines were predominantly those whose wealth was based on agricultural estates. Guelf cities, of course, tended to be in areas where the Emperor was more a threat to local interests than the Pope, and Ghibelline cities tended to be in areas where the enlargement of the Papal Stateswas the more immediate threat. Smaller cities tended to be Ghibelline if the larger city nearby was Guelf, as Guelf Florenceand Ghibelline Sienafaced off at the Battle of Montaperti, 1260. Pisamaintained a staunch Ghibelline stance in contraposition to her fiercest rival, the Guelph Genoa. Adhesion to one party or another could be therefore motivated by local or regional political reasons. Within cities factions broke down guildby guild, " rione" by "rione", and a city could easily change party after internal upheaval. Moreover, sometimes traditionally Ghibelline cities allied with the Papacy, while Guelph cities were even punished with Papal interdict.
It must be noticed that contemporaries did not use the terms Guelph and Ghibellines much until about 1250, and then only in Tuscany (where they originated), with the names "church party" and "imperial party" preferred in some areas.
At the beginning of the 13th century,
Philip of Swabia, a Hohenstaufen, and Otto of Brunswick, a Welf, were rivals for the imperial throne. Philip was supported by the Ghibellines as a relative of Frederick I, while Otto was supported by the Guelphs. Philip’s heir, Frederick II, was an enemy of both Otto and the Papacy, and during Frederick’s reign the Guelphs became more strictly associated with the Papacy while the Ghibellines became supporters of the Empire, and of Frederick in particular. Frederick II also introduced this division to the Crusader States in Syriaduring the Sixth Crusade.
After the death of Frederick II in
1250the Ghibellines were supported by Conrad IVand later Manfred, while the Guelphs were supported by Charles of Anjou. The SieneseGhibellines inflicted a noteworthy defeat on Florentine Guelphs at the battle of Montaperti( 1260). After the Hohenstaufen line went extinct when Charles of Anjouexecuted Conradinin 1268, the Guelphs and Ghibellines became associated with individual families and cities, rather than the struggle between empire and papacy. In that period the stronghold of Italian Ghibellines was the city of Forlì, in Romagna. That city remained with the Ghibelline factions, partly as a means of preserving its independence, rather than out of loyalty to the temporal power of the papacy, as Forlìwas nominally in the Papal States. Over the centuries, popes many times tried to resume the control of Forlì, sometimes by violence or by allurements.
The division between Guelphs and Ghibellines was especially important in
Florence, although the two sides frequently rebelled against each other and took power in many of the other northern Italian cities as well. Essentially the two sides were now fighting either against German influence (in the case of the Guelphs), or against the temporal power of the Pope (in the case of the Ghibellines). In Florence and elsewhere the Guelphs usually included merchants and burghers, while the Ghibellines tended to be noblemen. They also adopted peculiar customs such as wearing a feather on a particular side of their hats, or cutting fruit a particular way, according to their affiliation.
After the Guelphs finally defeated the Ghibellines in
1289at Campaldino and Caprona, they began to fight among themselves. By 1300Florence was divided into the Black Guelphs and the White Guelphs. The Blacks continued to support the Papacy, while the Whites were opposed to Papal influence, specifically the influence of Pope Boniface VIII. Dante was among the supporters of the White Guelphs, and in 1302was exiled when the Black Guelphs took control of Florence. Those who were not connected to either side, or who had no connections to either Guelphs or Ghibellines, considered both factions unworthy of support but were still affected by the change of power in their respective cities. Emperor Henry VII was disgusted by supporters of both sides when he visited Italy in 1310, and in 1334 Pope Benedict XIIthreatened excommunicationto anyone who used either name.
Milan, the Guelphs and Ghibellines cooperated in the creation of the Ambrosian Republicin 1447, but over the next few years engaged in some intense disputes. After the initial leadership of the Ghibellines, the Guelphs seized power at the election of the Captains and Defenders of the Liberty of Milan. The Guelphic government became increasingly autocratic, leading to a Ghibelline conspiracy led by Giorgio Lampugnino and Teodoro Bossi. It failed, and many Ghibellines were massacred, while others fled, including prominent Ghibelline Vitaliano Borromeo, who sheltered in his countship of Arona. Public opinion turned against the Guelphs, and in the next elections the Ghibellines were briefly victorious, but deposed after imprisoning Guelph leaders Giovanni Appiani and Giovanni Ossona. ["A History of Milan under the Sforza." Cecilia M. Ady, Edward Armstrong; Methuen & Co., 1907.] After Francesco Sforzacaptured Milan in 1450, many Ghibellines who had fled such as Filippo Borromeo and Luisino Bossi were restored to positions of prominence in Milan. ["Storia di Milano." [http://www.storiadimilano.it/cron/dal1426al1450.htm] ]
15th centurythe Guelphs supported Charles VIII of Franceduring his invasion of Italy, while the Ghibellines were supporters of emperor Maximilian I. Cities and families used the names until Emperor Charles V firmly established imperial power in Italy in 1529.
Allegiance of the main Italian cities
*Participants in the conflict feature prominently in Dante's "Inferno",
Mosca dei Lambertibeing the character suffering in hell for the schism he was held responsible for.
*In the notes to the 1579 poem "
The Shepheardes Calendar", English poet Edmund Spenser's annotator E.K. claimed (incorrectly) that the words "Elfs" and "Goblins" derive etymologically from Guelphs and Ghibellines.
Christ Stopped at Eboli", Carlo Levicompares the peasants and gentry of Aglianoto the Guelphs and Ghibellines, respectively, with the Fascist government as the Holy Roman Empire and the desire to be left alone for local rule as the Papacy.
*In the "
Quentaris Chronicles" series, there are two feuding families based on the Guelphs and Ghibellines: the Duelphs and the Nibhellines.
Royal Guelphic Order
* [http://www.san-miniato.com/guelphs.htm Guelphs and Ghibellines]
* [http://www.worldofdante.org/ World of Dante] Multimedia website that offers Italian text of Divine Comedy, Allen Mandelbaum's translation, gallery, interactive maps, timeline, musical recordings, and searchable database for students and teachers. Database allows search for Guelfs and Ghibellines in the poem.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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