Friulian Revolt of 1511
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The revolt of the Cruel Thursday of abundance ('Crudel zobia grassa' in Tosco-Venetian used by Gregorio Amaseo, 'Crudel joibe grasse' in modern Friulan) was a revolt (or more properly a jacquerie) that broke out in 1511 in Friuli.
The discontent in Friuli near the beginning of the 16th century
After less than a century of Venetian occupation of the land of Friuli the discontent caused by heavy privileges practiced by the clergy and nobility started spreading out among the population; to worsen the situation the noble families were in constant war between themselves, which caused an increase of taxes, devastation of territory and a necessity to serve in the master's army.
The Venetian government had never considered Friuli as having the same status as the other domini di terra (the mainland domains or mainland state) but had an interest to preserve its supremacy for keeping Venice as far as possible from the Imperial Turkish army. That attitude was also reflected in the dominant political choices, characterized by the lack of measures to improve the condition of the population (mainly rural) for social and economical development. That caused an isolation of the region (even in cultural and linguistic terms) preventing the development of any advanced form of popular government (that rural communities were increasingly asking for) and therefore bringing to exasperation the type of feudal relations of subject (peasant) – master (nobleman) to which the Friulan peasants had been submitted to for centuries. These were very unstable relations due to the fact that the nobility, deprived of its former power by the government of Venice, tried to maintain its social status by exploiting their few remaining rights and the adequate services from the peasants.
The first popular uprisings
The first tumults began as early as 1509 when a crowd of armed peasants took possession of the castle in Sterpo, chased out the inhabitants and put it on fire. That was the last act of a clash that had been dragged on for some time now between the inhabitants of Virco, Flambro and Sivigliano against the noble Colloredo, the owners of the castle, accused of usurping the community's pastures and woods for their own advantage. It was the magi or event that raised the public opinion since for various years all the region was shaken by disputes and skirmishes stirred up by the peasants against the nobility, their families, soldiers, servants or their representatives (clashes occurred with Spilimbergo, Maniago, Valvasone, Portogruaro, Colloredo, Tarcento). In 1510 one group of Friulan noblemen was returning from Venice where they had asked greater measures for checking out the situation. They were intercepted and chased away by a group of armed peasants at the height of Zompicchia (the ambush of Malazumpicchia).
Coalitions on the eve of Tuesday of abundance 1511
The Savorgnan, a family of the Udinian nobility declared Filovenetian, took a ride on the discontent spreading the social conflict in order to take advantage of the situation for personal gain. Their politics was based on a patronage system sistema clientelare that tied them directly to the population. They granted within their jurisdictions rights to the peasants or conferred old customs of lands exploitation as such. In case of crop failure they opened their stores to the starving population, provided loans, listened to the neighborhood vicinie representatives' opinion. This protection system intentionally created a real clan, whose members became known as "zamberlani", who were identified with the charismatic figure of Antonio Savorgnan, so close the Venitian rulers as to be nominated general commander of the cernide, the armed peasants' militias (called up in case of war). This faction was opposed by the "strumieri" who took possession of a great part of the old Friulan nobility that couldn't tolerate the Serenissima members attempts to hold on the their powers; at the head of them were the members of della Torre family, sworn enemies of the Savorgnan family since 1339. The strumieri gained the support of the anti-Venetian Austrian Empire.
The break out of Thursday of abundance revolt
On the day of giovedì grasso (27 February 1511) Antonio Savorgnan staged an imperial attack on Udine (actually by using the cividalesi soldiers led by Alvise da Porto, his nephew), calling the people to defend the city. In the middle of the chaos created by the failing attack, the Savorgnan knits instigated the armed people to plunder the mentions to the della Torre family followed, on a wave of a lust for looting, a plunder of those of all the delle dimore udinian nobility (except for the Savorgnan palace, the real headquarters of the revolution).
Many members of the della Torre, Colloredo, della Frattina, Soldonieri, Gorgo, Bertolini families and others were murdered, their bodies were stripped and abandoned in the streets of the downtown, if not left as food for the dogs and dragged through the mud and then thrown in the near cemeteries. Then the rebels put on the nobles' clothes staging a macabre masquerade and imitating the ways of the original owners actually embodying the spirit of "inversion of roles" typical of a carnival. The noblemen who escaped retreated to their castles, or way beyond Tagliamento, in the western Friuli.
At that point Savorgnan Antonio plan was concluded who, remained officially unrelated to the riots, had actually eliminated himself a great part of his politically rival noblemen. In an attempt to avoid a betrayal he murdered two of his armed men who knew of his implications and had to lay the bodies, together with that of a third witness in the Well of St. John.
Evolution of the clash
Only few days later an armed contingent from Gradisca arrived and managed to restore the public order, but it didn't stop the carnival procession focused on mocking the murdered nobility. In the meanwhile the trail of violence spread a stain of oil over the territories bordered with Udine and gradually all over the region. The villages' inhabitants, most of them peasants, armed as if for a war, besieged the castles inhabited by the nobility: Those of Spilimbergo, Valvasone, Cusano, Salvarolo e Zoppola were taken by force.
The 'strumieri' troops reorganized close to the castle di Giulio di Porcia, gaining the support of the men of Venetian ruler di Pordenone, of some Sacilians and of about 800 inhabitants of the Concordia Sagittaria zone. The decisive clash took place close to the river Cellina, were the cavalry (circa 70 horsemen) and the best trained 'strumieri' had the better of their enemies, causing them a total defeat. As a warning, Giulio hanged one of the rebels' leaders close to the Castle of Zoppola, forcing prisoners to help with the scene.
In the 26 March of the same year, a violent earthquake devastated Udine and the entire region causing a few thousands of casualties. Later on the same territories were scourged by the plague: These tragic events were interpreted by contemporaries as a tangible sign of divine justice.
The Venetian government established a special tribunal that condemned to death the main exponents of the revolt, yet without blaming the real author, Antonio Savorgnan who, given the overall negative outcome, decides paradoxically to find shelter among the imperialists' ranks which he had so long opposed to, in Villaco, on an Austrian territory. Yet the revenge was not late to come since a strumieri conspiracy organized his assassination that happened on 27th of March 1512 at the exit from the Villaco cathedral by Spilimbergo's and Colloredo's noblemen's hand. The governor of Venice confiscated his assets in 1549 and destroyed the Savorgnan palace in Udine leaving its ruins as a warning in what was called plazze de rovine (or "piazza della rovina", "square of the ruin" in friulan language, now "the Venus square").
Yet Savorgnan death didn't put an end to both the revenge and the retaliation triggered by the Thursday of abundance's events that lost by now the revolt's collective dimension and acquired the feudalism and the settlement of personal accounts' character. The last duel connected to these events happened in 1567 between a nobleman of Arcano and one of Savorgnan.
The great mass of peasants who had participated in the revolt returned to their work in the fields in the same conditions as before, but the governor of Serenissima decided to anticipate possible new revolts made some efforts towards the zamberlans' requests and therefore setting a peasantry organization, compounded of peasants' representatives who could put veto on the proposals of the Parliament.
- Library of the picture La «Crudel zobia grassa». Rivolte contadine e faide nobiliari in Friuli tra '400 e '500 , Furio Bianco
- Pro Loco of the community of Zoppola Quaderni zoppolani, Pordenone 2003–2009.
- zamberlani Diaries Udinesi from 1508 till 1541, with Leonardo Amaseo and Giovanni Antonio Azio, cod. Ambrosianus D 185 inf, editi da A. Ceruti, Venezia 1884, Gregorio Amaseo
- History of the crudel zobia grassa and other vicious actions and horrid calamity occurred in the city of Udine and the land of Friuli in 1511, in «Diaries ... », Venezia 1884, Gregorio Amaseo