“A badly mauled, indebted and humiliated Venice survived the War of the League of Cambrai … At the deepest level, some patricians realized that the lagoon city could now be crushed like an egg-shell, and was not a suitable base for world domination. As after 1200 there had been talk of moving the capital, perhaps to Constantinople, so now plans began to hatch that would facilitate a metastasis of the Venetian cancer towards the Atlantic world.”
—Webster Griffin Tarpley,
“The Role of the Venetian Oligarchy in Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment, and the Thirty Years’ War,” Against Oligarchy, pp. 2–3.
“To the towns of the United Provinces, Amsterdam stood in the same position as did Venice to those of the Terraferma. Indeed Amsterdam bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Venice, with the same water everywhere, dividing the city up into islands, islets and canals, surrounding it on all sides with marshes; Amsterdam had her vaterschepen, the little boats which ferried in fresh water, just as the boats on the Brenta did for Venice. Both cities were after all ringed round with salt water.”
VENICE WAS FAMOUS, or better put, infamous, for its sudden, short, sharp applications of military force to bring errant colonies and bases to heel, and in the enforcement of its policies. It is, not surprisingly, a technique that became yet another component of the oligarchical playbook, for we see it in evidence again in the Dutch trading empire, based in Amsterdam, with its ships-of-the-line and grenadiers enforcing its will. The pattern is of course even more in evidence with the British Empire, and updated with the latest technological gadgets—in this case, pilotless drones and stealth bombers—for the American Empire.
In this, one could certainly argue that there was at least a continuity of method from one mercantilist empire to the next. But the real question that needs to be answered, even if only in the cursory form of “suggestive indications,” is the question implied by researcher Webster Griffin Tarpley in the epigraph that began this section:
A badly mauled, indebted and humiliated Venice survived the War of the League of Cambrai … At the deepest level, some patricians realized that the lagoon city could now be crushed like an egg-shell, and was not a suitable base for world domination. As after 1200 there had been talk of moving the capital, perhaps to Constantinople, so now plans began to hatch that would facilitate a metastasis of the Venetian cancer towards the Atlantic world.2
The fact that the Dutch city of Amsterdam was founded in a similar swamp, and that so many of its cultural institutions seem so peculiarly similar to Venice itself, only adds fuel to the fire for some theorists.
The question implied by such views is this: is there any connection between these mercantilist empires beyond mere resemblance of method? Are there any indicators of actual personal, or familial, overlap from the oligarchy of one to the next? Can one indeed maintain at least a prima faciecase that the rise of the mercantilist empires was not merely the accident of the discovery of the New World and the resulting inevitable eclipse of the northern Italian city-states, and that, at least in part, some of these families simply picked up and moved shop, so to speak?
There are, indeed, indicators that this is the case, and again, they are openly hidden in the history of the period. Let us take one example.
Venice, as noted in previous chapters, dominated the world bullion trade and was indeed the European center of a global bullion exchange market. And as also previously noted, Venice managed to acquire the dominant position in the European production of silver via its close association with the German families mining this commodity. The economic historian Fernand Braudel, whom we just cited, observed that Venice required German commodities traders to come directly to Venice to buy and sell, bringing with them, of course, the silver with which they did so. At the same time, Venice prohibited her own merchants from buying and selling directly in Germany.3 “That this was conscious policy on Venice’s part,” Braudel observes, “can hardly be doubted, since she forced it upon all the cities more or less dependent upon her.” All trade was obliged to pass through Venice, and consequently, “Venice had quite deliberately ensnared all the surrounding subject economies, including the German economy, for her own profit: she drew her living from them, preventing them from acting freely and according to their own lights.”4
The agents of Venice in this enterprise were yet another famous Renaissance banking and merchant family dynasty, the German family of the Fuggers, who, like the Medici, learned their trade quite literally by being schooled in Venice’s markets.5 The mercantilist arrangements thus connected the Venetian oligarchs, whose power depended so closely upon their ability to control and manipulate the gold-to-silver bullion ratio so vital to their East-West trade, to the northern and central European economy quite directly. Thus, in this context, Tarpley’s observations begin to make sense, for any Venetian oligarchical consideration of the deliberate transference of their base of operations would bear this consideration in mind. Equally, they would have to consider the geopolitical realities: the key to future survival, and expansion of their wealth and power, would require a base of operations with direct access to the Atlantic ocean, and this narrowed the possibilities considerably, since Spain and Portugal were already well-established Atlantic trading powers, as was France. This left two relatively less powerful areas open for consideration: the Netherlands and England. So from the standpoint of geopolitical and economic calculation, once again, Tarpley’s observations make a great deal of sense. If the oligarchy moved at all, it would have to move north, and west, or perish altogether.
So what sorts of things would one look for to confirm that indeed there was a deliberate policy of such transference occurring?
There are two things: one rather obvious, and the other, not so obvious. Let us begin with the not so obvious one, since the obvious one, once known, is rather stunning.
As we have discovered through the previous chapters, the Most Serene Republic of Venice was indeed an oligarchy, that is to say, the institutions of public government, and private enterprise, were all firmly in the hands of the Venetian nobility, to such an extent that, like the Grain Office, the boundaries between public and private institutions and agencies begins to blur. After the dissolution of the Grain Office, the private banks of the Rialto began to issue and hold the public debt of the Venetian government directly. To use a modern analogy, there was no one private central bank, there were several, and each, of course, was directly tied to some family or faction within the Venetian oligarchy. Mueller notes that ca. 1470–1500, the size of the Republic’s indebtedness to these banks was probably somewhere around five million ducats,6 an astronomical figure for that day, even for governments with much larger territories, much less for one city-state.
Consequently, if there was to be such a transference by any portion of that oligarchy northward, any holdings of public debt of the Venetian state would have to be sold and converted to liquid capital, and the family fortune transferred northward. This is, at least in some cases, exactly what happened. Tarpley observes that
Under the impact of the War of the League of Cambrai, the Venetian oligarchy realized the futility of attempting a policy of world domination from the tiny base of a city-state among the lagoons of the northern Adriatic.
In other words, Tarpley is expressing the geopolitical reasoning we have outlined in more detail above. He continues:
As was first suggested by the present writer in 1981, the Venetian oligarchy (especially its “giovani” faction around Paolo Sarpi) responded by transferring its family fortunes (fondi), philosophical outlook, and political methods into such states as England, France, and the Netherlands. Soon the Venetians had decided that England (and Scotland) was the most suitable site for the New Venice, the future center of a new, world-wide Roman Empire based on maritime supremacy.7
This represents, for Tarpley, and as we have also suggested in the previous pages, a continuation of a very ancient practice:
The oligarchical system of Great Britain is not an autochthonous product of English or British history. It represents rather the tradition of the Babylonians, Romans, Byzantines, and Venetians which has been transplanted into the British Isles through a series of upheavals. The status of Britain as the nation foutué of modern history is due in particular to the sixteenth and seventeenth century metastasis into England and Scotland of the Venetian oligarchy along with its philosophy, political forms, family fortunes, and imperial geopolitics.8
However, this transference did not occur directly, but via a “middle” step or stopover in Amsterdam.9
Note Tarpley’s statement that there is a direct family connection, via their family “fund,” in this transference. After liquidating the public debt, which could easily be done through inflation via the mint, which the nobility controlled, important questions arise:
Who are some of the families involved in this operation, and are there real indicators of a transfer northward?
Indeed there are. Let us take just one example, perhaps paradoxically the one most well-known, and yet paradoxically least well-known for its Italian and Venetian connection.
Earlier in this book I noted that one of the d’Este family—a famous Italian noble house and definitely a member of “the oligarchy”—had significant deposits, and hence influence, in the Venetian grain office. This family subsequently split into two branches, with the older branch known as the Welf-Este, or simply, the House of Welf, from the Germanized version of the Italian Guelph.10 The name Welf-Este was the family name of the Dukes of Bavaria. This family’s younger branch produced influential rulers of the city-state of Ferrara in northern Italy, and by 1405, when the whole region fell to Venice, the house became a virtual Venetian satrapy. The origins of the house date to the early ninth century, as far as can be traced, when its first member established himself at Este near Padua.11 These two branches of the family were reunited, and eventually produced the Electors, and later, the Kings, of Hanover, who, of course, produced the Hanoverian monarchs of Great Britain.
Yet another famous house with Venetian oligarchical roots is the well-known, and very wealthy, German noble family of Von Thurn-und-Taxis. As Tarpley notes, this family’s roots stem from Venetian territory, where the Thurn-Valsassina family was known as the della Torre e Tassos.12
Intermarriage was, of course, one of the standard techniques of the nobility throughout the ages utilized to cement alliances and maintain power. Thus, in a certain sense, it is to be expected that networks of familial relationships can be traced between the Italian nobility of the city-states in general, and of Venice in particular, to northern Europe, to the Hanoverian House, the House of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands, and of both to Great Britain. But with all such marriages, there is always a movement of money, and power. Here, we have only sketched the threadbare outlines of a vast and complex story that began in the swampy lagoon of Venice, and perhaps much longer ago than that, and ended in the secretive halls and chambers of the Bank of England. Epilogue …
… is prologue.
As for Venice, with her persecution of Bruno, with his possible role as a Venetian agent until he disclosed to Mocenigo his intentions to found a secret society, with her vast wealth in bullion and from the slave trade, and with the deep currents of the Metaphor running beneath the surface throughout, it is perhaps worth closing with an observation from Roger Crowley. In the year 1500, the Venetian artist Jacopo de’ Barbari produced an enormous woodcut of the city of Venice, almost three meters long, portraying the city from almost a thousand feet in the air, and doing so with extraordinary accuracy.13
In the midst of it all, at the top of the woodcut map, Venice’s titular god, Mercury, the God of Trade and Commerce, presides over it all. In the lagoon itself, Neptune, or Poseidon, is prominent, his trident raised to the heavens.14
Mercury, and Neptune. Apollo, and Poseidon, the God of Atlantis. Mercury, the element of alchemical transformation, Mercury, god of trade and commerce, like the Egyptian Hermes.
For those willing to read the hermetic symbolism writ large in de’ Barbari’s woodcut, the message is subtle, and clear: Atlantis, ancient high knowledge, trade, commerce, and a deeply rooted Metaphor turned into money, with all its associations to the temple of religion, debt, and oligarchical power …
Small wonder that Bruno, as least as far as Venice was concerned, had to die.
1Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism: 15th–18th Century: Volume III: The Perspective of the World, trans from the French by Siân Reynolds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 182.
2Tarpley, “The Role of the Venetian Oligarchy in Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment, and the Thirty Years’ War,” Against Oligarchy, http://tarpley.net/online-books/against-oligarchy/the-venetian-conspiracy. pp. 2–3.
3Braudel, Perspective of the World, p. 125.
4Ibid., p. 125.
5Mueller, Reinhold C. Venetian Money Market: Banks, Panics, and the Public Debt 1200–1500, Vol. II of Money and Banking in Medieval and Renaissance Venice. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 277.
6Ibid., pp. 429–430.
7Tarpley, “How the Venetian System was Transplanted into England,” Against Oligarchy, www.tarpley.net/online-books/against-oligarchy, p. 3.
8Ibid., p. 1.
9Tarpley, “Venice’s War Against Western Civilization,” Against Oligarchy, www.tarpley.net/online-books/against-oligarchy, p. 4.
10The informed reader will have noted that throughout this book we have steered clear of the complex story of the Guelph-Ghibelline controversy and its role in imperial, papal, and northern Italian politics.
11Italian Noble Houses: House of Hohenstaufen, House of Della Rovere, House of Este, House of Candia, Vendramin, House of Bourbon-Parma (Books LLC, 2010), pp. 55–56.
12Tarpley, “The Role of the Venetian Oligarchy in Reformation, Counter-Reformation, Enlightenment, and the Thirty Years’ War,” p. 16.
13Crowley, City of Fortune, p. 275.
14Ibid., p. 277.