1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Foscari, Francesco
FOSCARI, FRANCESCO (1373–1457), doge of Venice, belonged to a noble Venetian family, and held many of the highest offices of the republic—ambassador, president of the Forty, member of the Council of Ten, inquisitor, procurator of St Mark, avvogadore di comun, &c. His first wife was Maria Priuli and his second Maria Nani; of his many children all save one son (Jacopo) died young. But although a capable administrator he was ambitious and adventurous, and the reigning doge Tommaso Mocenigo, when speaking on his deathbed of the various candidates for the succession, warned the council against electing Foscari, who, he said, would perpetually plunge the republic into disastrous and costly wars. Nevertheless Foscari was elected (1423) and reigned for thirty-four years. In proclaiming the new doge the customary formula which recognized the people’s share in the appointment and asked for their approval—the last vestige of popular government—was finally dropped.
Foscari’s reign bore out Mocenigo’s warning and was full of wars on the terra ferma, and through the doge’s influence Venice joined the Florentines in their campaign against Milan, which was carried on with varying success for eight years. In 1430 an attempt was made on Foscari’s life by a noble to whom he had refused an appointment; and three years later a conspiracy of young bloods to secure the various offices for themselves by illicit intrigues was discovered. These events, as well as the long and expensive wars and the unsatisfactory state of Venetian finances, induced Foscari to ask permission to abdicate, which was, however, refused. In 1444 began that long domestic tragedy by which the name of Foscari has become famous. The doge’s son Jacopo, a cultivated and intelligent but frivolous and irresponsible youth, was in that year accused of the serious crime of having accepted presents from various citizens and foreign princes who either desired government appointments or wished to influence the policy of the republic. Jacopo escaped, but was tried in contumacy before the Council of Ten and condemned to be exiled to Napoli di Romania (Nauplia) and to have his property confiscated. But the execution of the sentence was delayed, as he was lying ill at Trieste, and eventually the penalty was commuted to banishment at Treviso (1446). Four years later Ermolao Donato, a distinguished official who had been a member of the Ten at the time of the trial, was assassinated and Jacopo Foscari was suspected of complicity in the deed. After a long inquiry he was brought to trial for the second time, and although all the evidence clearly pointed to his guilt the judges could not obtain a confession from the accused, and so merely banished him to Candia for the rest of his life, with a pension of two hundred ducats a year. In 1456 the council received information from the rector (governor) of Candia to the effect that Jacopo Foscari had been in treasonable correspondence with the duke of Milan and the sultan of Turkey. He was summoned to Venice, tried and condemned to a year’s imprisonment, to be followed by a return to his place of exile. His aged father was allowed to see him while in prison, and to Jacopo’s entreaties that he should obtain a full pardon for him, he replied advising him to bear his punishment without protest. When the year was up Jacopo returned to Candia, where he died in January 1457. The doge was overwhelmed with grief at this bereavement and became quite incapable of attending to business. Consequently the council decided to ask him to abdicate; at first he refused, but was finally obliged to conform to their wishes and retired on a yearly pension of 1500 ducats. Within a week Pasquale Malipiero was elected in his place and two days later (1st of November 1457) Francesco Foscari was dead.
The story is a very sad and pathetic one, but legend has added many picturesque though quite apocryphal details, most of them tending to show the iniquity and harshness of Jacopo’s judges and accusers, whereas, as we have shown, he was treated with exceptional leniency. The most accurate account is contained in S. Romanin’s Storia documentata di Venezia, lib. x. cap. iv. vii. and x. (Venice, 1855); where the original authorities are quoted; see also Berlan, I due Foscari (Turin, 1852). Among the poetical works on the subject Byron’s tragedy is the most famous (1821), and Roger’s poem Italy (1821); Giuseppe Verdi composed an opera on the subject entitled I due Foscari. (L. V.*)