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The history of the County of Gorizia is inextricably linked to the contrast with the Patriarchate of Aquileia, of which the Counts were the lawyers. The Patriarchs, dominating Friuli, represented an obstacle to the expansionist aims of the Counts towards the Po Valley. Wars, battles, assaults and conspiracies studded, often bloodyly, the history of the Friulian Middle Ages. It is an indisputable fact that the Counts of Gorizia often showed an unscrupulous behaviour, sometimes dictated by the difficulties to find a living space between more homogeneous administrative entities and also by an objective difficulty to recompose unitarily a very wide territory, as can be seen from all the geopolitical maps reconstructed by historians. To unify and connect vast territories within defined boundaries was the constant, with alternate fortunes, of the policy of the Counts of Gorizia.
One of the most dramatic moments of the dispute between the Counts and Patriarchs was recorded in 1150, when Count Enghelbert II, accused by Patriarch Pellegrino of robbery, took the prince of the Church prisoner: at that time the fact aroused immense scandal and sensation. The lords of Styria and Tyrol intervened, who freed the Patriarch and imposed a harsh compromise on the Goriška, but were not able to deprive him of his avocacy on Aquileia. A period of continuous clashes between Gorizia and the Patriarchs followed. In the framework of these conflicts, on January 21, 1202, in a small church near Cormòns, whose ruins are still visible today, the Treaty of San Quirino was stipulated, which officially sanctioned the recognition to the Mainardini of the full possession of the area of Gorizia, with all the annexed properties. With the same treaty, the Patriarchate of Aquileia obtained the jurisdiction between the Isonzo, Monfalcone and the sea, while the Counts were entitled, beyond the territory of Gorizia, several other castles, including Cormòns, Arispergo, Barbana and Tomaj. The Treaty of San Quirino did not, however, put an end to the disputes between the County of Gorizia and the Patriarchate, but compromised relations even more because it had officially recognized the existence of the feud of Gorizia. The Gorizians then worked to complete their scattered possessions and to unify them in very limited domains. They consolidated them with the building of castles, effectively separating the territory of Gorizia from the Patriarchate.
From 1200 the importance of the Counts of Gorizia in the Empire began to grow significantly. The Counts of Gorizia tried to consolidate their hereditary possession, continuing to put themselves in a good light towards the Emperor. In 1210 the city obtained the imperial concession to hold the market once a year, for seven days, on the occasion of the feast of St. John the Baptist. This was a measure that gave the city an acquired and important commercial role with respect to the surrounding areas. For the help denied to King Richard the Lionheart, Count Mainard II (1158-1231) had been defined "noster fidelis" (faithful vassal) by Emperor Henry VI. Mainardo II was also granted the great privilege of minting coins. Count Enghelbert II (1132-1191) had already accompanied Emperor Conrad III to the Holy Land and participated in the coming of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (shown below) to Italy.
Although they were mainly occupied in disputes with their neighbours, and in particular with the Patriarchate of Aquileia, the Counts of Gorizia began with Mainardo III (1221-1258) to actively participate in the public life of the Empire, and later became one of the most powerful families, under the rule of Mainardo IV (1258-1295), a close friend of the emperor Rudolf of Habsburg, to whose election he had contributed. In the same decades, the Counts began their expansion towards Istria. The first possessions on the peninsula grew after the marriage of Engelbert III and Matilda of Pazin, who brought a large part of inland Istria as a dowry. The Counts also became lawyers in the dioceses of Pula and Poreč. At the beginning of the 14th century, the counties, dominions and rights of the Gorizians extended from the upper valley of the Drava, and from the valleys of Moll and Gail, to the Carnic and Julian belt, in the Soča valley, to the plains of Gorizia and Vipacco, beyond Trieste and into Istria to the tip of Pula.
It was precisely the conflicts with the Patriarchate that led to the union of a number of lines that would determine the common destiny of the Alpine countries: the Gorizians were joined by the Tyroleans, since the political situation along the course of the Adige river was very similar to the Friulian context. Also because of this objective commonality of interests, the first matrimonial union between the Tyroleans and Gorizians took place, with the marriage of Mainardo III and Adelaide, in 1253, the counties of Gorizia and Tyrol were consolidated and merged. Mainardo III of Gorizia is also Mainardo I of Tyrol From this moment on, the main axis of the interests of the Gorizia family moved to the new Austrian possessions: the town of Lienz became a sort of second county capital. The Counts of Gorizia often reside in Bruck Castle, which is still well preserved today and whose appearance probably recalls the original castle of Gorizia. After receiving, by imperial assignation, the Counts turned their gaze towards the weakened Carinthian lands, which in those very years were facing the emerging powers, such as Salzburg, Bamberg and Ortenburg.
In 1252 the alliance Gorizia-Tirolo measured itself against the Spanheim family, which dominated Carniola in the thirteenth century. The attempt was sensationally wrecked, with the escape of Mainardo III and the imprisonment of the old Count Alberto of Tyrol. The peace negotiations imposed heavy conditions on the defeated, forced to leave the sons of Mainardo III, Mainardo and Alberto, as hostages.
The young Counts remained isolated for a long time because of their imprisonment in Salzburg, without any connection to the lands of their father's branch. Until, in February 1259, in the bishop's palace of Trento, Bishop Egno d'Appiano solemnly transferred the avocacy and privileges of the Tridentine church to Count Mainardo II of Tyrol (who had managed to escape from Salzburg imprisonment by bribing a custodian) and to his absent brother Albert II of Gorizia. The long imprisonment considerably influenced the character of the young Counts, and in particular that of Mainardo, who always opposed the ecclesiastical institutions. His brother Albert II, who in 1267 took the Patriarch Gregory prisoner and exposed him to the shame of the people. In 1259 Mainardo married Elisabeth of Bavaria, ten years older than him, who was the first wife of the Roman-Germanic king Conrad IV. The Count thus became the stepfather of the Emperor Corradino, born from the previous marriage of Elisabeth, and supported him in the Italian expeditions, until the defeat against Charles of Anjou, which Corradino paid with his death.
With the official division of the Tyrolean and Gorizian possessions in 1271, Count Albert of Gorizia-Tyrol found himself exercising his dominion in a very varied territory, which from Pusteria, through today's East Tyrol and Upper Carinthia ("anterior" county with capital Lienz), reached the southern side of the Alps, all the way to Istria. A vast, but not homogeneous territory. Obstructed by the Patriarchate of Aquileia, Gorizia had difficulties to grow in importance as much as the Counts would have wanted. Between the 13th and 14th centuries, however, the County of Gorizia consolidated the authority and power acquired in Friuli and Istria: already in 1295, the town of Venzone, the nodal point of northern Friuli, had been ceded to Mainardo del Tirolo, brother of Count Albert II; in the same year, Albert took possession of the Istrian towns of Labin, Fianona and Buzet, occupying suddenly also Tolmino. The Counts consolidated their hegemony in Friuli by taking advantage of the continuous feuds between the feudal lords of Friuli and the Patriarchate, first Albert and then his son Henry II managed to become the true lords of the region, extending their dominion over Tolmezzo, Sacile (a coveted prey in medieval times), Caneva, Tricesimo and other lands, as well as over Tolmino, in the upper Soča valley, and Monfalcone.
From this moment the Counts imposed their own officers within the patriarchal hierarchies. Even Gemona opened the doors to the Goriziani, while the Patriarchate barely managed to keep the city of Udine under its dominion. In the meantime, also in Istria the Patriarchate lost ground, giving city after city to the rising power of Venice, which was able to subject the population more with economic pressure and with the municipal self-government than with the force of arms. Porec in 1267, Umag in 1269, Novigrad in 1270, Koper in 1279 opened their ports and walls in Venice. In 1283 the same danger was run also from Trieste. In this juncture, however, there was a "historical" episode: Goriziani and Tirolesi made a common front with the patriarchal troops and sent an armed corps that freed Trieste from the Venetian siege. With their fleet, the Triestini counterattacked Venice, going as far as Caorle and Malamocco, which were looted. In the following years, however, the Venetians reacted and forced Trieste to surrender.