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XV century: the decadence and the last count of the Gonzagas

In 1394, when he came of age, Henry IV, son of Mainard VII, began a very long reign, which would last until 1454. Despite some temporary affirmations of Henry (the reconquest on Avvocazia on Aquileia, previously lost in favour of the Hapsburgs, the Captaincy of Carniola and the Maresciallato del Friuli attributed by Venice), in those years the County of Gorizia had to witness the clashes for the redefinition of the borders. The clashes involved the Cilli and the Ortenburg to the East, the Lordship of Venice to the West and the Habsburgs to the North. After the initial alliance of the Gorizians with the Habsburgs, which had proved to be completely useless against the Venetian claims, the Counts turned to the Cilli-Luxembourg party, especially since Count Henry IV, by marrying Elizabeth of Cilli, had become related to King Sigismund of Hungary.

Following the numerous affirmations of the Cilli in Friuli as a reward, the Gorizians managed to obtain the honorary right to invest the patriarch Ludovico di Tech, in the name of the King, in imperial feuds. Shortly afterwards, to this privilege, King Sigismondo, worried about a possible reversal of the Gorizian allies, added the position of captain conferred to Enrico, with full jurisdiction over Feltre, Belluno and Serravalle: a sphere of dominion that the Counts managed to preserve for some years. Thus, in 1415, in Constance, Count Enrico received from King Sigismondo the solemn investiture of his imperial fiefdoms, duly listed in the document: the County of Gorizia with all its annexes, the Palatine County in Carinthia, the Court of Flambro in Friuli and the County of Heunburg with all its annexes. It was in the full interest of the Cilli to endorse the dominion of the Counts, to oppose the Venetian advance. Soon, however, the wars of Bohemia engaged King Sigismund elsewhere, and Venice had free rein in Friuli. In 1420 the Serenissima conquered Udine and definitively bent the almost millenary Patriarchate of Aquileia, extending its possessions in and near the Isonzo. 

In 1424, Henry IV his brother had to appear in Venice, as heirs of the Friulian feuds of Gorizia, and therefore obedient to the Serenissima. This act became for Venice a reason of claim on the possessions of Gorizia and on Gorizia itself: it was too much also for the Emperor, who considered the Mainardini among his Princes, and therefore not subject to any other power than his own. After the death of his brother, the Count of Gorizia Henry IV remained alone in power: he had three sons by his wife Catherine Garay. It was Gray herself who exhausted her husband, to put her son Giovanni in the government of the County first, and then, at his death (1462), the last Count of the dynasty, the other son Leonardo. At the death of Count Enrico di Cilli in 1456, the struggle for succession had begun, with twenty-four aspiring heirs, including the Counts of Gorizia. 

The claims of the Mainardini were rejected by the Emperor, and Counts Giovanni and Leonardo, secretly supported by Venice, occupied the Ortenburg castles in the Drau Valley, then went beyond Villaco to Landskron. Convinced to partially withdraw from those territories, the people of Gorizia had to deal with the Emperor's turnabout, who was against Giovanni and Leonardo's promised economic compensation and even against the justified claims on the ancient family property of Hasberg and the Kirchheim avocacy. The struggle then resumed very hard, but at the moment of the decisive clash, the Gorizians were abandoned by the lords of Upper Carinthia, who preferred to follow the Emperor. Count Giovanni, faced with the evident inferiority of forces, renounced the armed clash. On January 25, 1460, the Pustarnitz armistice was signed, which imposed very harsh conditions on the Gorizians: the most significant loss concerned the county capital, Lienz, which was recovered two years later.

At the same time, the premises were laid for a long and bitter enmity of the Mainardini against the Emperor. The resentment grew also among the people who recognized the ancient tradition of the County of Gorizia: the farmers, the miners and the woodcutters of Lienz repelled the emperors from the valley. Giovanni was succeeded by his brother Leonardo, who in 1462 concluded with Duke Sigismondo of Tyrol a territorial peace that restored peace in Val Pusteria, consolidating the regained borders. In the following decades, Leonardo's policy was oriented towards an alliance with the Hapsburg house: in this direction, on the other hand, the inheritance treaty concluded with the Tyrol in 1462 was also finalised.

The history of the Mainardina dynasty in the second half of the 15th century is dominated by the figure of Leonardo and his wife Paola Gonzaga. In some ways, the very marriage of Leonardo with a noble and cultured but deformed and sick dune girl, took away the dynasty's chance of survival in history. At the time of the marriage, in 1478, Paola Gonzaga was about fifteen years old, and Leonardo was thirty-seven. The two spouses were very different: endowed with a deep humanity and raised in the Renaissance court of her father (hopefully Andrea Mantegna), the young Gonzaga married the rude Leonardo, heir to a history and a territorial entity that he still considered worthy of great prospects. The son of a Count - as Enea Silvio Piccolomini described him - an abbot and alcohol addict, Leonardo had a quarrelsome and overbearing mother, the already mentioned Caterina Garay, who had even imprisoned her husband. Precisely for this reason the young Leonardo was entrusted to the care of his uncle Enrico di Cilli.

The marriage with Paola Gonzaga (perhaps following the first and infectious wedding with the daughter of Nicola, the nominal King of Bosnia) had a long gestation, to fully define all matters of interest. The first act took place by proxy, in 1476, and only a year later the Count went to Mantua to take his wife. Just then, however, the city was struck by an excommunication, and Leonardo had to hurry back to defend his county from the invasion of the Turks. The marriage was no longer spoken of for some time, perhaps also because of the hereditary deformity of the young woman, which had become more pronounced with age. Finally, thanks to pressure from the Gonzaga family, the wedding was celebrated in Bolzano, and the couple moved to the residence of Lienz, in Pusteria (in the picture above, the castle of Bruck, in Lienz). Also thanks to the furnishings and the wedding trousseau of Paola, with four chests designed by Mantegna (in the photo below, the one preserved in Spittal, Austria) of rare beauty, the Italian Renaissance crossed the borders of the Alps.

Paola's ailments were worsening: the young Countess suffered from heart problems, which undoubtedly accelerated her premature death, which occurred between the end of 1496 and the beginning of 1497. A fresco in the castle of Bruck shows the existence of a daughter, born from the marriage between Paola and Leonardo: a little girl who died at an early age. And as the historian Cusin observes, "Count Leonardo, only when his marriage to Paola Gonzaga had proved to be infectious, was he able to resign himself to seeing his state fall into the hands of others".

On Paola's death, the remaining part of the dowry of eight thousand ducats was donated, together with two ivory carved chests, to the religious order of St. George of Millstatt, as a "pious institution" in memory of the deceased. In the meantime the Turkish danger had manifested itself again in 1476, when the invading army had occupied the Drava valley, forcing the Gorizians to barricade themselves behind the lock of Lienz, and it worsened in 1478, when the news arrived that the Turks were six miles from the city. Count Leonardo then organized the territorial defence in the whole Gorizia's Pusteria, taking care also to bring weapons and war material in the southern part of the County, in order to defend Gorizia.

And yet, some time later, Leonardo showed a certain sympathy for the Turks, lined up on the front line against the Venetian troops. Just with the pretext of setting up a defensive outpost, Venice had occupied the territory of Gradisca, building the "Cittadella", a fortress that would have represented a real thorn in the side for the unity and solidity of the County of Gorizia. The harassment of the Serenissima, which had thus settled within the borders of the city, pushed Leonardo towards the Emperor Maximilian of Austria, who captivated his cousin from Gorizia by entrusting him with the County of Ortenburg, for which Leonardo had fought needlessly in his youth. As a further seal of solidarity with the House of Habsburg, Leonardo decided to exchange with Maximilian the comitual territories of Cormòns, Belgrade, Castelnuovo Codroipo and Latisana, in exchange for territories located on the northern borders, thus far from the claims of Venice. On April 12, 1500, Count Leonardo di Gorizia - Tyrol died in Bruck Castle near Lienz. To the historical rivals the Patriarchs of Aquileia, the Counts of Gorizia managed to survive eighty years.