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Friday, November 19, 2010

The Venice of Red Spies, Black Spies and Ruthless Doges

Venice - by Edward A. Goodall
The climax of our novel takes place in the Doge's Palace in the heart of Venice. Our research surprised us: we had not realized how powerful Venice was for so many centuries, nor did we know that the Venetians were very tough defenders of their unique democracy.
The Tough Venetians

They were tough on their powerful families, tough on their Doges, tough on their citizens, and tough on their enemies. They elected Doges using white balls and black balls, as well as a child, and they used spies to keep their citizens – including their leaders - under tight control.

The Council of Ten
Way back in 1310 the powerful Council of Ten was created. There was a conspiracy by a member of one of the families which ruled Venice - the Tiepolo conspiracy - against the Doge, but he fought it off and razed the palaces of the conspirators to the ground; then the Venetians decided to give the Council the job of protecting the Republic against crimes against the state.
Starting in the 1500s, three of its members served as State Inquisitors, known as the Supreme Tribunal. They had a secret police, and a network of spies all over the Republic.
Spying was institutionalized in Venice from a very early time. 

The Spy system of Venice

The Big Three spies from the Council of Ten had the power to try and convict Venetians for treason. They built a huge network of spies inside Venice and in other countries.
One of the three State Inquisitors was known as the 'red one' because he was chosen from the Dogal Councillors, who wore robes of scarlet. The other two were chose from the Council of Ten, and were known as the 'black ones'. It did not matter what color their robes were; they were all powerful, ruthless, and believers in swift justice. They could torture anyone, or give amnesties to anyone. You never saw the face of your judge, when they hauled you in.
Council of Ten Chamber in Doge's Palace in Venice
The Doges were usually old men when they were chosen as the supreme leader of the republic of Venice, and they could not leave Venice unless at least two members of the Council of Ten accompanied them. The Republic was held together by the glue of suspicion.

Crackdown on a Doge
The Council of Ten would not tolerate even a Doge getting out of hand.
There's the case of Doge Fosari, back in 1423. He started taking too much power into his hands and the Council decided to teach him a lesson in humility.
They targeted his son, and accused him of treason. The charge was false, but that did not matter.
They exiled the son, then allowed him back into Venice. Then they tortured him and exiled him again.
The Doge, who had been appointed for life, tried to save his son from further mistreatment by offering to resign but the Council refused his request. Only when they had made their point about where the power lay very clear to every citizen of Venice did they let him resign, and stop mistreating his son.

Black balls and white balls and a child
Another measure of the suspicions that governed the republic of Venice is the check and balance built into their complicated way of choosing the Doge, using black and white balls and even a little child.
All the electors were given a little black ball of wax, and thirty of these had the word Lector inside it, on a small piece of paper.
Gondola in Venice
They each broke the ball, and those with the piece of paper inside went into another room. There the thirty men made balls of black wax, and inside nine of them was inserted another piece of paper, also with the word Lector in it. They then chose balls randomly, and the nine with the paper inside stayed behind in the room, while the others left.
Those nine then chose forty Venetians.
These forty then gathered and made yet a third set of black was balls, and inside twelve of them they placed a piece of paper with the word Lector written on it.
Then they put all forty balls inside a hat, and a child was brought in, and handed out the balls to each of the forty men.
These men broke open the balls, and the twelve with the paper inside then chose another group of men, and this process of black wax balls and selections continued for several more times, with the final group of men choosing the Doge.
This was a tough system  for any person who wished to become the Doge to game.
Click here and here for our posts on Venice.

Venice Carnival - masked woman and gondolas
St. Mark's Square in Venice - two masked Carnival revellers
Venice at night




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