Foscari, Francesco (1373-1457)

His career strikingly illustrates the control a Venetian doge could have over policy in spite of the constitutional and procedural devices for keeping him powerless. When in 1423 Doge Tommaso Mocenigo lay dying, Venice had already won the greater part of its terraferma empire, from the Veronese to Friuli. In a fervent speech Mocenigo pleaded that he should be succeeded by a man of peace. Of Foscari, one of the likely candidates, he warned 'if you make him doge, which God forbid, you will shortly be at war; and whoever has 10,000 ducats, will find himself with only 1000.' Though at 49 he was almost uniquely young to be considered, Foscari was elected.

War in 1425-28 gave Venice Bergamo and Brescia, but further wars resulted against the Visconti (143I-33 and 1435-41) which cost so much that the Republic's defences were neglected at a time of increasing Turkish expansion. When the Turks defeated a Hungarian army at Varna in 1444 Venice, having alienated the Italian states through the persistence of its aggressive policy in Italy, was disturbingly vulnerable throughout the whole length of its sea empire. This realization, plus the heavy cost of war taxation, at last slowed the momentum of Foscari's militarism. His last years were harried by outspoken criticism and darkened by the repeatedly criminous actions of his son Jacopo (the chief theme in Byron's tragedy of 1820, 'The two Foscari'. Such was the extent of his physical and mental decline that he was formally deposed. His death followed shortly after this unprecedented action. During the period of gloom that followed the loss of the terraferma 50 years later in 1509, the cause of the disaster was seen as the man who, neglecting the sage advice of Mocenigo, had forced his countrymen to exalt the land above the sea: Foscari.


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