[winged lion -- the
symbol of Venice]

Venice: The Methodology of Evil -- Part II

by Donald Phau

Printed in The American Almanac, May 23, 1994.

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In the first part of this series, we introduced the reader to the Italian city-state of Venice, also called the Serenissima or ``most serene republic.'' This small city on the Adriatic Sea was, for over 600 years a major European empire. We learned how its methodology of evil, practiced by its ambassadors throughout the world, targeted, profiled, and corrupted the kings and the courts of Europe. We saw that an alliance of European nations with the Vatican wiped out Venice's empire between 1509-1513. Venice responded and rebuilt, by turning nation against nation through the perfected use of the art of ``divide and conquer.''

In this second part we hope to give the reader an understanding of how the Serenissima's methodology of evil sought to reach into and steal mankind's very soul. We will see how Venice instigated the religious wars of Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, killing millions and devastating nations.

As in Part I of this series, we will make extensive use of the contemporary reports written by the ambassadors of Venice, using their own words to illustrate one point: Venice's strategy was to never take sides, especially in the very battles they provoked. In the wars between Catholics and Protestants, Venice's goal was to turn the victims of both sides into a mindless, pagan mob. Such a mob could then be easily used as a battering ram against the institutions of Venice's enemies. Reflecting this knowledge are the words of one Venetian ambassador, who, commenting on the spread of Protestantism, said that ``as a result, doubts and uncertainties arise in men's minds; they don't know which is the true faith, and, not satisfied with any of them, they end up believing in none.''

Alarmed by Venice's near-annihilation by the League of Cambrai, a faction of the Venetian nobility decided to regroup, and to formulate a new war strategy. A network was formed, consisting of young nobles from the University of Padua, and another group which had decided to become Camaldolese monks, an order of the Benedictines. Together, these cultural warriors laid the ideological groundwork for radical Protestantism as the new weapon of religious warfare.

The Vatican and the Catholic Church, the one institution which could unite the Christian nations of Europe, was especially targeted by Venice. The strategy was twofold: to penetrate and corrupt the Church itself, while simultaneously creating a mass anti-Catholic movement to destroy the Church from the outside. Venice, of course, would be on both sides.

Venice's targeting of the Roman Catholic Church was on the level of epistemological warfare. Venice's real enemy was the concept that man is made in the image of God, and is therefore endowed by the Creator with a spark of divinity which separates men from the beasts. The Church's responsibility was to protect this spark given to man. Venice's strategy was to snuff out this spark forever or, like the Devil in Christopher Marlowe's play The Tragical Historie of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, to steal man's soul. Once this was accomplished, the Vatican would be just one more tool in Venice's policy of divide and conquer.

Enter the Devil...

Venice's key agent in its new strategy was the Venetian nobleman Gasparo Contarini. Let's take a quick trip back in time to learn more.

The year is 1501 and we are sitting in a gondola on one of Venice's canals. We watch, as Gasparo Contarini, his belongings packed, leaves his palace for the day's trip to Padua. Gasparo is 18 years old and he is going to complete his education at the University of Padua.

All the noble families of Venice had been sending their brightest sons to Padua for many years. Gasparo's brothers had entered business or were managing the family's extensive land holdings. But he was being prepared for other things. The family itself dated its ancestors to the Roman tribunes of the fifth century. Throughout Venice's history, the Contarinis would give the city of Venice eight doges and 22 bishops.

Venice by this time had grown from a city of 65,000 people a century earlier to an empire of millions. But as Gasparo took the road to Padua, Venice was on the decline and the power of Spain, England, and France was growing. The discovery of the trade route around the Cape of Good Hope of Africa in 1486, 15 years earlier, had already shifted trade centers to the northern cities of Europe. Venice's role as the crossroads between East and West was being eclipsed.

At Padua, Contarini threw himself into his studies, especially of Aristotle. Four years before his arrival, the Venetian Senate had voted up funding for the first chair dedicated to the study of Aristotle, and had secured a renowned Greek scholar for the position. Gasparo's intensive study of Aristotle prompted a friend to say that, ``hypothetically,'' if all of Aristotle's works were lost, Contarini knew them so well he would be able to write them down from memory.

At Padua, Contarini embarked on a philosophic investigation which brought him in contact with the works of Pietro Pomponazzi. Pomponazzi's questioning of the immortality of the soul had caused a furor in the Catholic Church. A decade later, in 1514, the Lateran Council of the Church had declared such writings heretical. Nevertheless, two years later, in 1516, Pomponazzi would publish his famous work, On the Immortality of the Soul, dedicated to a member of the Contarini family. Gasparo and Pomponazzi would maintain an extensive correspondence, and jointly define the theological basis for the Enlightment and Protestantism.

Pomponazzi exerted tremendous influence over his student, Contarini. Pomponazzi's works were thoroughly based on Aristotle, but provided an up-to-date philosophical justification for Venice's empire-building as well as for its massive trade in human slaves. Pomponazzi's book, On the Immortality of the Soul, asserts that man is by nature an animal and is not capable of seeking higher ideals which, he says, is the province of the ``gods.'' Two hundred and fifty years later, Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, would pick up on the themes of Pomponazzi's work.

Pomponazzi writes:

``Nor ought a mortal to desire immortal happiness, since the immortal is not fitting for the mortal: just as immortal wrath is not fitting for mortal man, as Aristotle says in Rhetoric ii. Whence we first suppose that each thing a proportionate end is assigned. For if man will be moderate, he will not desire the impossible, nor does it suit him. For to have such happiness is proper to the gods, who are in no wise dependent on matter and change. The opposite of this occurs in the human race, which is a mean between the mortal and immortal'' (p. 357).

At Padua, Gasparo developed a circle of Venetian friends which included Sebastiano Zorzi, of the famous Zorzi family of which we will hear more later, and two nobles: Tammaso Giustinian and Vincenzo Querini who later became Camaldolese hermits. But Gasparo would never complete his studies in Padua; events outside the gates of the university would intervene.

Justification By Faith

In 1508, most of Europe's Christian nations and the Pope formed the League of Cambrai. The League's treaty states that it was dedicated to end ``the insatiable cupidity of the Venetians and their thirst of dominion.'' A year later, in 1509, the University of Padua was forced to shut down, and Contarini returned home. By 1513, the first cannons were fired on Venice.

By 1516, the Peace of Brussels was signed. Venice lost all her territories, and barely saved herself.

In one of the numerous letters that Contarini wrote from Padua to his Venetian friends, now Camaldese hermits, he outlines the anti-Christian principles which would, two decades later, split the Church. The letter is important, for it expresses a view of mankind which would later be adopted by radical Protestants. Contarini, however, is writing at least three years before Martin Luther goes through his famous Thurmerlebnis, or tower experience, the revelation which leads to his break with the Church.

Contarini writes:

``I began to think to myself what that happiness [salvation] might be and what our condition is. And I truly understood that if I performed all the penances possible, and even many more, even if they were all taken together, they would not be enough to make up for my past sins, to say nothing of meriting that felicity. And having seen that that infinite goodness, that love which always burns infinitely and loves us little worms so much that our intellect cannot fathom it, having only by its goodness made us out of nothing and exalted us to such a height.... We must attempt only to unite ourselves with our head [Christ] with faith, with hope, and with that small love of which we are capable. As regards satisfaction for sins committed, and into which human weakness falls, His passion is sufficient and more than sufficient. Through this thought I was changed from great fear and suffering to happiness. I began with my whole spirit to turn to this greatest good which I saw, for love of me, on the cross, with his arms open, and his breast opened up right to his heart. This I, the wretch who had not had enough courage for the atonement of my iniquities to leave the world and do penance, turned to him; and since I asked him to let me share in the satisfaction which he, without any sins of his own, had made for us, he was quick to accept me and to cause his Father completely to cancel the debt I had contracted, which I myself was incapable of satisfying.''
Contarini's letter contains the kernel of the conception that man's salvation lies through faith alone, a kernel which would later grow until it split the Church. Yet equally important is his view of mankind, which he calls ``us little worms.'' Contarini's mankind is devoid of love or of what the Bible calls charity--[agapë]--for his fellow man. To be a real Christian means to act out of love for one's fellow man, by acting in the image of the Creator--doing creative works. In doing so, man is fulfilling God's command in Genesis Chapter 1, verses 26-28.

Contarini's beliefs are anti-Christian because without love or charity man is reduced to a creature whose sensual gratification becomes the central purpose of his existence and whose reason, or as Contarini says, intellect, plays no role. Indeed, Contarini's model of man is the lowest of the beasts, a mere worm, which can hardly be expected to act on love through creative works; instead the Venetian substitutes an empty construct of ``faith alone.''

The Venetian oligarchy was acutely aware that the success in defeating their enemies lies on this level of epistemology and that the battle was for the minds of the population.

Religious Warfare

In the latter half of the sixteenth century, Venice's two main foes were Spain, led by the Holy Roman Emperor Philip II, and France, the most populous nation in Europe. In his 1573 final report, Leonardo Dona, the Venetian ambassador to Spain, writes of the devastating power that Venice had developed 50 years earlier and that the city-state now hoped to use against Spain.

Dona writes:

``Spain might be quick to rebel if there were a leader courageous enough to direct a revolt.... There would be a special danger if the rebels used religion as a battle standard, since religious faith lends itself very well to subverting and destroying monarchies. Spain would be particularly susceptible because there are so many there who are Moors at heart, many others who secretly remain Jews, and even some heretics'' [emphasis added].
Eight years later, in 1581, the Venetian ambassador to Spain, Gianfrancesco Morosini, was even more blunt about Venice's plans to use religious strife:
``Once an idea takes root in a Spaniard's mind it is very hard to remove it. If some misfortune allowed religious dissension to spread, some claim that present circumstances would make stamping it out a very dangerous process. The peasants might prove especially susceptible to this disease, because the tithe of all income which is paid to the churches is a particularly heavy burden for them....''
In France, in 1562, Venetian ambassador Michele Suriano was also reporting on the power of the Protestant movement to subvert nations, while maintaining Venice's public guise as defender of the Catholic faith. Suriano lays the blame on Martin Luther, whom he calls that ``insignificant man.''

Suriano reports:

``There is a great deal of truth in the old saying that you must look sharp at the beginning of things because when an evil is small no one considers it dangerous, and when it becomes great there is nothing to be done about it....

``Everyone knows that the first to revive old heresies and introduce the new sects of our own times was a single insignificant man, and yet the disease spread to many parts of the world in a few years, and changed the religion of not only Germany but also Denmark, Sweden ... and all the northern countries.''

But did the discussions of the young Contarini and his hermit friends ever get from Venice to Luther in Germany? Was Venice really behind the rise of Protestantism? In a speech at the Sept. 16, 1992 conference of the Schiller Institute, historian Webster Tarpley traces a pathway that Contarini's Venetian network could have used to spread their anti-Christian doctrine into Germany where it was then adopted by Martin Luther.

Key players in this transmission belt were the Venetian Aldus Manutius and the German Georg Burckhardt, also known as Spalatinus. Aldus directed one of the largest publishing houses in Europe from his headquarters in Venice. Aldus's extraordinary influence in publishing and distribution of books was one of Venice's key weapons of cultural warfare; his publishing house handled not only the Protestant authors, but leaders of the Erasmian faction of reformers, including Erasmus himself.

Aldus was also an admirer of Spalatinus. In 1501, both Spalatinus and Martin Luther resided in an Augustinian monastery. Later, Spalatinus became the personal secretary to the future protector and defender of Luther, Frederick the Wise, the Elector of Saxony.

Spalatinus was also in charge of the library of the University of Wittenburg, where he was responsible for ordering books from Aldus's publishing house in Venice. By 1514, Spalatinus and Luther were in regular correspondence. According to one historian, Spalatinus ``influenced Luther very strongly in the direction of clarity.''

The first written expression of Luther's doctrine of salvation through faith alone was in an Oct. 19, 1516 letter to Spalatinus. Later, in 1518, when Luther was ordered to Rome to face charges of heresy, it was Spalatinus who interceded with Frederick, the Elector of Saxony, to prevent his going. This incident incited a faction of German princes to later break from Rome.

Ambassador Contarini

While many of Contarini's friends entered into the service of the Church, Contarini himself embarked on a different path--the diplomatic service of Venice. At age 39, Contarini was appointed ambassador to the court of Venice's most feared enemy, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. The appointment to such an important ambassadorship, is indicative of the degree of trust Venice already had in him.

Contarini spent 52 months at Charles V's court, starting in 1521. His instructions from the Serenissima were to keep ``an indissoluble league'' between Charles V and Venice's ally Francis I of France and also maintain England as an ally. Even more important, he was to keep Charles out of Italy and away from Venetian interests.

Contarini put a great deal of effort into profiling Charles's chancellor, Gattinara. A blunt example of the Venetian art of psychological manipulation is described in a dispatch Contarini sent to Venice on Aug. 16, 1524. After a meeting with Gattinara, Contarini reported:

``I urged the chancellor strongly to maintain the friendship with England, and made use of many arguments which the chancellor admitted, so I believe him now to be better disposed than he was formerly. It is requisite above all to sustain the fancies of the chancellor, and then adroitly to dispel them, because he is a man of very small brains, and when he once takes an impression he becomes obstinate....''
Contarini, according to his biographer Elisabeth Gleason, had a more difficult time in dealings with Gattinara's boss, the Emperor Charles V himself. Gleason reports that Contarini ``praised the Hapsburg ruler's seriousness, habits, and willingness to work long hours,'' and ``gave him credit for his devotion to the Catholic religion,'' but then cited a trait the Venetian is less than happy about. Contarini had made use of Charles's own confessor, who had informed him that the emperor had ``an inability to forgive injuries readily.'' For Venice, this trait was dangerous, especially since the Venetians were known to knife one in the back--and then ask forgiveness.

Contarini left Charles V's court in 1525. As we shall see, they were to meet again 15 years later in Regensburg, Germany.

Contarini's next assignment was as Venetian ambassador to the Vatican. It was here that Contarini honed his skills in the art of deception, while profiling the curia, and especially Pope Clement VII.

Contarini's appointment in 1528 came at a time when Venetian forces were occupying the papal cities of Ravenna and Cervia. The cities provided Venice with lucrative tax revenues which it did not want to lose. Venice had occupied the cities a year earlier when France, England, Milan, Venice, and the pope had joined forces against Charles V. Charles's Protestant mercenary forces had sacked Rome and captured the pope that year.

The pope was freed; nevertheless, Venice continued to occupy the papal cities of Ravenna and Cervia. Contarini's job as ambassador was to use his ``skill and pleasant manners'' to keep the pope focused on Charles V as the cause of all his sufferings, and to keep the papal cities in the possession of Venice.

With typical Venetian duplicity, Contarini tried to convince the pope, whom in his dispatches he called ``timid and cowardly,'' that it was Venice which had saved the papal cities. Contarini told the pope:

``In the past, we have been the Church's frontline defense against the Turks. So we are still.... Now the Lutheran Germans ... are greater enemies of the Holy See than the Turks!''
Contarini reports that despite his ulterior motives, he won the pope's confidence.
``I continually seek to placate the mind of His Holiness by various means. Therefore I sometimes try to be in his presence, seeing that I am not displeasing him. In this way I can always drop some word or make some courteous and appropriate gesture, which certainly does no harm. In my judgment, it is necessary to proceed step by step in this business, and to use all possible skill.''
In dispatches between 1528-1530, the doge continually exhorted Contarini, in Gleason's words, ``to draw Clement VII into firmly supporting anti-Hapsburg forces.''

Contarini reported that the pope had told him,

``I trust you to such an extent, that if you were not the Venetian ambassador, and a nobleman of that city, I would place all my disagreements in your hands.''
Despite this expression of confidence, Contarini's efforts failed. Pope Clement reached an accord with Charles V in 1529. The following year, Venice was forced to return Ravenna and Cervia to the Vatican.

Contarini spent three years in the halls of the Vatican, profiling, spying, and reporting back to Venice. In September 1530, he returned to Venice, where he was appointed to the government's ruling body, the Council of Ten. Shortly afterward, Contarini became part of the group that commanded life-and-death power over all of Venice and sometimes beyond, the dreaded Council of Three.

There is little known about Contarini's activities for the following five years when he served on the ``Three.'' As we noted in the first part of this series, the ``Three's'' operations were secret. What we do know, is that during Contarini's tenure, laws were passed which reinforced the Venetian oligarchy's top-down dictatorship. One law restricted even the nobility, making it a crime for more than eight members of the nobility, unless related, to meet in a private house. Another law placed the power of the Council of Ten above all state prosecutors and attorneys. Also, the ``Ten'' concluded a peace treaty with the Turk, without the knowledge of the Venetian Senate.

Cardinal Contarini

In 1535, Contarini moved to his last and final assignment: He was named by Pope Paul III to the College of Cardinals. Like a termite which gnaws away at the foundation of an edifice until it collapses, Contarini used his position as cardinal to advance Venice's operations against Rome.

As cardinal, Contarini resumed his correspondence with Pomponazzi. Though he would publicly refute Pomponazzi, the two were in total agreement on fundamentals. Both men denied the possibility that man's faith in God could be based on his reason; instead, they asserted, true faith could only come through ``revelation'' and the ``non-rational.''

Though now a cardinal, Contarini's writings take a noticeable turn toward the Satanic. In today's terms, his philosophy could be summed up as ``doing your own thing,'' where there is no difference between good and evil, right or wrong, the Good being whatever one wants it to be.

In a letter to his friend Gabriele he writes, ``everyone should choose the good which is most appropriate and in accordance with his own nature, his condition, and his time.'' These same ideas would later be taken up again by the British, including ideologues such as Jeremy Bentham, and be the basis for a modern Satanic movement.

As cardinal, Contarini immediately began work to dismantle the Church from within. He joined what could be called today a ``Project Democracy''-type movement, a commission to ``reform'' the Church. Contarini's ``reforms'' would later be echoed by the Protestants. He attacked the absolute power of the pope over matters of Church doctrine and criticized the adoration of the saints, which, he said, took away from the worship of God. He also called for a halt to the visual portrayal of the saints through paintings by such contemporary artists as Michelangelo and Raphael. Labeling this great art irreligious, he struck out at the Italian Renaissance and its celebration of the power of human creativity. Such attacks would, a century later, be taken up by the English Puritans, and reified as religious doctrine.

Contarini's ``reform'' commission became the center of operations within the church called the ``spirituali.'' It included the English Cardinal Reginald de la Pole who, as potential heir to the throne of England, would play a major role in destabilizing the English monarchy after its break from the church. Another member, Cardinal Morone, would in 1557 be imprisoned by the Inquisition.

The reform commission, through its Consilium, attacked the pope for his ``worldly'' concerns, insisting that he remain solely a ``spiritual'' father. Contarini, in a letter to the pope, proposed that the Church stop granting benefices and charging fees for services. If his proposals had been accepted, which they weren't, fully half the income of the Church would have been cut and subsequently its operations drastically reduced. Contarini's reforms were later taken up by the Protestants, who accused the pope of practicing simony.

Despite rejecting his reforms, Paul III next asked Contarini to draft ``a formula to be used for preaching everywhere in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere....'' Contarini submitted a draft unabashedly reflecting Venice's contempt for man's ability to develop his reason. His draft urges priests to keep their ``sheep'' ``ignorant.''

Contarini writes:

``We must definitely avoid discussing these deep questions before the ignorant people. Let the pious and prudent preacher therefore descend to the [level of] knowledge and capacity of the people, and treat of the divine things in such a way as to be understood by the people and be able to instruct the sheep of Christ in clarity.''


No history of Cardinal Contarini would be complete without including a discussion of his role in the 1541 Diet of Regensburg. The Diet was possibly the last chance to reconcile the split within the Church between Catholics and Protestants. Venice made sure the reconciliation would never happen.

The Diet was initiated by Charles V in an attempt to ally the German princes, split along religious lines. The Catholic principalities were in the south of Germany and the Protestant ones to the North. Luther himself was directly under the protection of the Elector of Saxony. Charles needed the support and money of the German princes to aid his brother Ferdinand, who was fighting to stop the Turks' advance into Hungary. The Turk had taken Buda, on the west side of the Danube, but Ferdinand's army was holding Pest on the east side. Raising the reinforcements was dependent on Charles's success at Regensburg.

Charles appointed six leading theologians, three Protestant and three Catholic, to come to Regensburg to work out an agreement to reunite the Church. Though the Vatican did not officially participate, it did send a legate--none other than Cardinal Contarini. On hearing the news that Contarini had been appointed papal legate to Regensburg, Florence's representative to Rome commented, ``May God grant that Contarini achieves something good ... since he is a blood brother of Lucifer.''

Venice saw the Diet of Regensburg as an opportunity to discredit both Charles V and the Vatican. Contarini performed the role at which he was a master: He played both sides. At first, he sided with the Protestants, only to abruptly turn against them. In the end, failure was ensured.

When the six theologians first sat down to work out the articles of agreement, the talks went surprisingly well. Each morning and each night, however, Contarini met privately with the Catholic delegation.

When it came to the critical discussion of how a human being may be redeemed, a compromise was made. Called ``Article V,'' the compromise was actually an endorsement of the Protestant belief that man is justified by faith alone, without the necessity for good works.

Contarini's stand on the key issue addressed by Article V is pure Venetian obfuscation. In his commentary supporting the article, he wrote,

``Those who say that we are justified through works are right; and those who say that we are not justified through works but through faith are also right.''
At the beginning of the Diet, Charles V had ordered that all negotiations be conducted in secret, but word of Article V leaked out. Let us look in on John Calvin as he sits with the Protestant members of the Strasburg delegation at Regensburg. On reading Article V, he exclaims,
``You will marvel when you read the copy [of the article on justification] ... that our adversaries have conceded so much. For they have committed themselves to the essentials of what is our true teaching. Nothing is to be found in it which does not stand in our writings.''
Despite the compromise, Luther opposed the Regensburg program, as did a number of the German princes. Some of the Catholic princes wanted to lead a war against the Protestants and get rid of Charles.

On June 8, 1541, the very day the princes had agreed to meet to review all the Articles, everything came to a halt.

The Vatican had sent a dispatch to Contarini charging that he or someone in his household had leaked the content of the discussions at Regensburg. Copies of Article V and letters detailing the talks were being published in Venice and circulated throughout Italy. The dispatch called Article V ``ambiguous,'' and Contarini was ordered not to approve any resolution either as the papal legate or privately. He was ordered to submit everything to the Apostolic See for approval.

At this point, the Diet broke down and Contarini made a total policy reversal. Charles had wanted to grant the Protestants limited toleration, allowing them back into the Church. Contarini rejected this completely.

Contarini now told the Catholic princes that he rejected any agreement ``in toto.'' He then urged the Pope to call a council immediately. Four years later, Contarini's call would be joined by others, and the Council of Trent, considered the founding council of the Counter-Reformation, would be convened.

Soon some of the German princes left Regensburg. Charles V commanded the theologians to remain to complete the agreements.

On July 10, Contarini was called before the emperor. Charles angrily told him that he neither got a religious agreement or money for stopping the Turk. He accused Venice and France of allying with the pope against him. Two weeks later, there was a bare outline of an agreement after all-day sessions at Charles's quarters. The Diet was declared over and Charles left Regensburg.

After the Diet, Contarini sent a letter to Venice in which he wrote that the failure of the discussions at Regensburg was ``the greatest good fortune.'' He wrote,

``Now concord is entirely out of the question.... I now see clearly that the greatest good fortune which I had in the course of this legation was that no concord was achieved, because I would certainly have been stoned by various groups, and some would have even become heretics in order to make me appear to be one.... Be of good cheer, more are with us, than with them'' [emphasis added].
The reader should take note of Contarini's concluding sentence. Clearly, when he writes ``more are with us,'' he is speaking not as a Catholic or a Protestant, but as a Venetian.

After Regensburg, Contarini maintained a lively correspondence with the ``spirituali'' network within the Church. In his letters to Cardinal Pole, he addresses him ``as a friend who, like myself, accepts justification by faith....'' Contarini continued to play both sides, writing to Pole,

``The foundation of the Lutheran edifice is most true and we must not contradict it in any way, but must accept it as true and catholic, indeed as the basis of the Christian religion.''

Religious Wars in France

The seeds of evil that Venice germinated in the discussions between Contarini, Pomponazzi, and the Camaldolese monks in the second decade of the sixteenth century had, by the century's end, led to 300,000 deaths in religious wars. The seventeenth century would be far worse. To conclude this section we'll examine what happened in France as a case study and as recorded through the eyes of Venice's ambassadors.

Between the years 1562-1598, France was wracked by eight different wars of religion. Next to Spain, Venice considered France the power most to be feared. Despite her small territory, France's population of 16 million was twice that of Spain's. Militarily, France's armies, when united, were capable of defeating any enemy.

In his 1562 final report to Venice, Ambassador to France Michele Suriano writes that France is the ``eldest daughter of the Church,'' having accepted Christianity in the fifth century. He describes how France has more people, arms, and wealth than any other nation in Europe but then adds,

``yesterday her power and smiling fortunes made her a bulwark to her friends and the terror of her enemies, but the truth is today that great engine rests on weak supports.''
The king was also in debt for 15 million ducats in gold.

His report, that France ``rests on weak supports,'' must have been for Venice a signal, much like blood in the water is a signal to a pack of sharks.

By the time of Suriano's report, the Calvinism of the Huguenots had spread throughout France. By 1572, one-sixth of the French nobility had converted. The Huguenots had originally come from Germany and Switzerland to be recruited into the French army.

The worst of the French wars of religion had occurred under the reigns of King Charles IX and Henry III. Both were little boys when they became king, and both were under the regency of their mother, Queen Catherine de Medici. The queen, a Florentine, was a primary target for Venetian profiling and manipulation. Ambassador Suriano reveals just how effective Venice had been when he writes:

``I don't know her Majesty's personal religious opinions, I can say that I noticed definite signs that she is not happy about the disorders in the kingdom. If she has not been that energetic about suppressing them as we would like to see, this is because she is afraid that if she uses force this will lead inevitably to civil war. I also know that she has always been glad to hear urgings of others on the matter, especially what the signory of Venice has had to say, and has been so receptive to them that they were by no means ineffective.''

Ten years after Suriano's report, France would suffer one of the most brutal religious holocausts in history, the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The Venetians would report, ``the whole thing was the work of the Queen.'' The massacre began late on a Saturday night and led to the wholesale slaughtering of tens of thousands of French Huguenots by Catholics. The ghastly events are described by Suriano's successor, Giovanni Michiel, in his 1572 final report. He wrote:

``The massacre showed how powerfully religion can affect men's minds. On every street one could see the barbarous sight of men cold-bloodedly outraging others of their own people, and not just men who had never done them any harm but in most cases people they know to be their neighbors and even relatives. They had no feeling, no mercy on anyone, even those who kneeled before them and humbly begged for their lives. If one man hated another because of some argument or lawsuit all he had to do was say, `This man is a Huguenot' and he was immediately killed. (That happened to many Catholics.) If their victims threw themselves in the river as a last resort and tried to swim to safety, as many did, they chased them in boats and then drowned them....

``The killing spread to all the provinces and most of the major cities and was just as frenzied there if not more so.''

The massacre began with the failed assassination of the military and Huguenot leader Admiral de Coligny. It brought to an end a period of religious peace in France. The ``explanation'' for the massacre was that the Catholics attacked out of fear of a suspected retaliation by the Huguenots for the assassination attempt.

Venice's Michiel placed the entire responsibility for the massacre on Catherine, claiming that Catherine was jealous of the admiral's influence over the young king. He wrote:

``Serene Prince, there are different opinions as to whether the death of the admiral and what was done to the Huguenots was spontaneous or planned. I think I should tell your Serenity what I have managed to learn from some very important people who are in on the secrets of the government. I can state to your Serenity that from start to finish the whole thing was the work of the queen. She conceived it, plotted it, and put it into execution.''

Since the ambassador's final reports were semi-public, Michiel made no mention of Venice's own part in the massacre. The whole matter was placed on Catherine's shoulders. But the reader should recall the ``urgings'' by the previous Venetian ambassador ten years earlier. The Venetian Senate did vote to send congratulations to France afterward, and King Philip of Spain wrote Catherine that ``to hear of it was the best and most cheerful news which at present could come to me.''

The nation of France suffered from the loss of Admiral Coligny, who was stabbed to death in the holocaust. The admiral had acted as a unifying force between the religious factions and was in the process of rebuilding France's divided army, an army which was the terror of Europe and especially Venice. The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre ended that immediate threat and soon led to the fourth war of religion followed by the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth.

Finally, in 1598, a new King of France, Henry IV, issued the Edict of Nantes and reconciled the Huguenots to his rule. Henry united France once again, but on his death, Europe would be devastated by religious turmoil. This time the Thirty Years' War, accompanied by the plague, would bring on the death of millions.

In England, Venice would consolidate its grip over the monarchy that had begun with the divorce of Henry VIII. By the end of the seventeenth century, Venice permanently established its base of operations in London. This story will be told in the next and last part of this series.

To be continued. See "Venice Moves North -- The Metamorphosis of England" for Part III.

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