Friulian revolt of 1511

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Antonio Savorgnan outside Udine, on February 27, 1511 (eighteenth century drawing).

The revolt of the Cruel Fat Thursday ('Crudel zobia grassa' in Venetian used by Gregorio Amaseo, 'Crudel joibe grasse' in modern Friulan) was a revolt (or more properly a jacquerie) that broke out on Fat Thursday in 1511 in Friuli.


The discontent in Friuli near the beginning of the 16th century[edit]

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.

By the 16th-century, the Venetian Republic had never granted Friuli the same status as the other mainland domains (domini di terra), but considered the territory important as a buffer against the Ottoman armies. The second class status of the region was reflected in a paucity of investments in the mainly rural region for social and economical development.

That led to an isolation of the region in cultural and linguistic terms from Venice, and the absence of any communal governance structures. This exasperated the discontent of the peasant communities in this still mainly feudal rural area. To this situation, the local nobility, deprived of its former power by the government of Venice, tried to maintain its social status by exploiting their remaining rights and demanding services from the peasants.

The first popular uprisings[edit]

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 set 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 aristocratic Colloredo family, the owners of the castle, accused of usurping the community's pastures and woods for their own advantage.

It was the 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, a group of Friulan noblemen was returning from Venice where they had asked greater protection against the disorders. 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 Fat Thursday 1511[edit]

The Savorgnan, an aristocratic family of Udine, who had been declared Filovenetian, took advantage of the disorders 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 Venetian 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 could not tolerate the Serenissima members attempts to hold on to 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 Fat Thursday revolt[edit]

On 27 February 1511, on "Fat Thursday", Antonio Savorgnan staged an imperial attack on Udine, using the cividalesi soldiers led by his nephew Alvise da Porto, and calling the people to defend the city. In the midst of the chaos caused by the failing attack, the Savorgnan instigated the plunder the property of the della Torre properties. Followed by 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, or 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, Antonio Savorgnan's plan concluded, and while he remained officially unlinked to the riots, it had succeeded in eliminating many of his rival family leaders. To avoid a betrayal he murdered two of his armed men who knew of his implications and dumped the bodies, together with that of a third witness in the Well of St John.

Revolt suppressed[edit]

Only a 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 over the territories bordering 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 of 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' defeated their enemies. 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 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.


Piazza Venerio and the church of San Francesco. Ill lit marble indicates the planimetry of the Antonio Savorgnan palace, demolished in 1549

The Venetian government established a special tribunal that condemned to death the main exponents of the revolt, but failed to adjudicate the real author, Antonio Savorgnan who, given the overall negative outcome, paradoxically found 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 27 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 "Venerio square", after Udinese metereologist Gerolamo Venerio).

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.


  • La «Crudel zobia grassa». Rivolte contadine e faide nobiliari in Friuli tra '400 e '500 , Furio Bianco
  • Mad blood stirring, Edward Muir
  • Diarii Udinesi dall'anno 1508 al 1541, Gregorio Amaseo