International Affairs

Venice had a fickle foreign policy, but “Venice was the natural ally of every anti-Habsburg government […] Her ecclesiastical policy, too, brought Venice into conflict with the counter-Reformation tendencies of the Habsburg and the Curia”[i] and so it was almost always an ally or neutral with England and northern Europe. At the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) the Habsburgs controlled Spain, Austria, the Holy Roman Empire, and parts of Italy, the latter of which probably made the Venetians uncomfortable, because of their proximity. The conflict with the Habsburgs arose in 1494; the Treaty of Lodi in 1454 had weakly bonded the principle Italian cities of Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and Naples. However, the Milanese despot Ludovico II abruptly switched allegiance to the Habsburg powers and so warring over territory within Italy began,[ii] a natural enmity was bred. Then, once the Florentine Republic fell the Habsburgs exercised control of the territory with the Peace of Bologna of 1529,[iii] leading to the crumbling of a peace between the two great Italian provinces. From 1463-1479 and then from 1499-1503 Venice was officially at war with Turkey over disputed territories; the Habsburgs engaged in battles with Venice, although they did not officially go to war at this time, and discreetly funded Turkey[iv] to wear down Venice’s resources. Soon after, in 1508 the League of Cambray was formed against Venice, allying the major Catholic powers together in a Holy Alliance. The only time Venice was at peace during the Reformation with both the Habsburgs and Rome was at the Diet of Baden in 1512, a peace agreement to be sustained for at least three years[v]. However, at the apex of political tension Venice sided with Rome over the Habsburgs with the 1526 League of Cognac which led to the sacking of Rome. This loose alliance bound France, Florence, Venice, Milan, England, and Rome against the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.[vi] While this was a conflict of interest for Venice, Venice would ally itself with the German provinces and the newly Protestant England, indicating a stronger alliance with the Protestant countries than with Rome, despite its predominately Catholic denomination.

When considering Venice’s role in international affairs at the time the motivation for printing internationally becomes obvious: it’s based on a commercial need. Venice was considered the doorway between Europe and the Middle East for trading goods and was thus a competitor of the Habsburg’s empire. The feuding between them may have sprung from political affairs but the root of their conflict was in fiscal and territorial competition on the Italian mainland. Venice had suffered a recession in the second half of the fifteenth century with the dawn of Portuguese exploration. With new trade routes to the Orient, the Portuguese expanded their trade base and drained Venice of some of its primary source of income. While Venice suffered economically due to the Portuguese expanding their trade routes, as this created more competition for trade and profit, Spanish exploration brought gold from the new world to the coffers of the Habsburgs. At the same time, perhaps because of the First Turkish War (1423-1430), the spice trade dropped 25% and by the turn of the century Venetian banks were closing. By the sixteenth century, at the start of the Thirty Years War, the economy rebounded due to renewed population growth,[vii] and in 1535 the ship building industry boomed.[viii] This economic expansion in Venice was due to “the freer […] atmosphere, oligarchal [sic] and commercial rather than aristocratic, scholarly, martial and priest-ridden”[ix] that the other European powers based their economy on. The Venetians did not boycott Turkey, pagans, Germans, Englishman or the Dutch at any point due to religious disagreement, nor did they to accord with Rome. Usury was legal, even for Christians, so long as rates were kept low and charitable.[x] While primarily an oligarchy, Venice was a mercantilist state by the Cinquecento and thus had a high exportation rate. The Venetians engaged in textile making, glass-blowing, ship building, hunting and fishing, and any form of production that would turn profit, which is just what the printing press was for Venice; a source of pride and a way to rebel against Rome, but it also made a great profit to print what was in demand.


[i] S.H. Steinberg, The Thirty Years War, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1966, page 12.

[ii] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550, New Haven: Yale University Press,

1980, page 185.

[iii] William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1968, page 102.

[iv] William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1968, page 97.

[v] B.J. Kidd, editor, Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation, Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1967.

[vi] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550, New Haven: Yale University Press,

1980, page 255.

[vii] William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1968, page 96.

[viii] William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty, Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1968, page 104.

[ix] James Cleugh, The Divine Aretino, New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1966, page 109.

[x] Andrew Dickson White, Seven Great Statesman, New York: The Century, Co., 1915, page 11.

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