In the Mediterranean world of the late Middle Ages, Andrea Doria (1466-1560) was both famous as an adventurer and feared as a ruler. His seafaring skills made him one of the principal maritime commanders of his day, and his alliances with popes and a succession of kings helped make him rich.
"Doria's accomplishments illustrate some of the main themes of Genoese history," noted Steven A. Epstein in Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528. History has not always treated Doria kindly, however, and a reputation as somewhat of a despot remains as a result of his firm control over the city of Genoa during the later years of his career. Yet Genoa was a warring, fractious city-state where democratic ideals often yielded chaos. A member of one of the city of Genoa's oldest aristocratic families, Doria was born in 1466 in Oneglia, in the Duchy of Milan (now Italy). The Dorias were a prominent and powerful force in the Republic of Genoa, in what is present-day Liguria and stretching several hundred miles along the Mediterranean coast from Monaco to the Italian city of Lerici. Its strategic importance on the Mediterranean coast, wedged between territories held by the rival powers of France and Spain, made it a much-coveted ally.
The seaport city of Genoa itself had been a free commune since the tenth century, and during the intervening centuries had become one of Europe's major urban hubs. It was an important trade center, and rivaled Venice as a maritime power on the seas. The Genoa of Doria's day was a winding, medieval city organized by neighborhoods and ruled by a strong internal political culture. It was a city with an extremely stratified social structure, including a large class of laborers and artisans, and at times its various quarters had even battled one another for political power.
The Genoese themselves, however, were anything but insular: their dialect contained elements of the Portuguese language, and a colony on the Black Sea had been established and at times governed by members of the Doria family. Several famous explorers, including Christopher Columbus, were Genoese by birth; the Vivaldis navigated the West African coast and still others ventured out into the Atlantic to discover the Azores and Canary islands. But the Genoese also enjoyed a reputation as tyrants as well: their ships brought back Muslims from the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, who were then purchased by Genoa's noble families as slaves, and there was a law stipulating that Jewish people could remain no more than three days in the city. They also held the island of Corsica for over 500 years.
Andrea Doria's ancestors had been political leaders in Genoa as far back as 1134. In 1270, Oberto Doria had established a two-family system of government for Genoa with a member of another influential family, the Spinolas. Other Doria forebears were celebrated sailors or statesmen; the cartographer Domenico Doria served as the Mongols' ambassador to Europe in the late thirteenth century. There were also some Dorias who achieved fame through less than admirable methods: one ancestor, Branca Doria, had allegedly murdered his father-in-law, which earned him mention as a resident of hell in Dante's Inferno. The political power of the Dorias lessened for a time after a series of late fourteenth-century popular revolts which effectively ended the dominance of the noble families. A political system with an elected magistrate known as a doge, as in Venice, replaced it from 1384 to 1515. The Dorias, however, continued to achieve renown in sea battles against rival Venice.
Andrea Doria was orphaned as a child, and journeyed to Rome as a teenager to serve in the papal army of Pope Innocent VIII, a fellow Genoese, who battled the Turks until his death in 1492. Doria made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem in 1495, which was a somewhat rare feat at the time, for it involved an arduous and even perilous trek. As he entered adulthood, he became a mercenary, or soldier-for-hire. He fought for King Ferdinand I, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as for Genoa's powerful Casa San Georgia, a private financial collective that held great power. He also assisted Domenico Doria, his uncle, in subduing an anti-Italian revolt on the island of Corsica in 1506.
Through his thirties and forties, Doria accumulated much of his wealth by battling corsairs, or pirate ships, along the coast of North Africa, and fighting Turks; both were standard ways by which Genoese nobles earned distinction. These men were known as condottieres, or commanders-for-hire, and sailed the Mediterranean in manned galleys. In 1519 Doria won a decisive victory over a Turkish force at Pianosa, which further enhanced his reputation. Back home, however, trouble brewed, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V seized Genoa in 1522. The city was mercilessly sacked, and its pro-French rulers were ousted. In response, Doria entered the service of French regent Francis I, Charles V's foe. Francis I gave Doria command of the French fleet on the Mediterranean, and with it Doria scored a decisive victory at Marseilles in 1524. The following year, however, the French were vanquished, and Francis I was seized and put in prison.
Doria then went into the service of Francis I's ally, the Medici Pope Clement VII, who was taken prisoner himself in 1527, the same year Francis was freed. Doria again led a French incursion, and helped retake Genoa from the Holy Roman Empire. Because of France's new policies governing Genoa, Doria became discontented with Francis I, and switched allegiances. In the service of Charles V, he recaptured Genoa for the Empire in September of 1528, and reentered the city greeted by cheering masses of his fellow Genoese. Historians note that Doria's decision to side with the Empire was a savvy one, since in the end it allowed Genoa to maintain some sovereignty instead of being subsumed by France; it also gained the Republic the protection of powerful Spanish kings.
Led Genoa for Three Decades
Doria was now the de facto ruler of the Republic of Genoa, and held the tittle of Grand Admiral of the fleet of the Holy Roman Empire, which Charles V bestowed upon him because of his services to the Empire. He was also granted the princedom of Melfi. His position allowed him the exclusive rights to supply both Charles V and Spain's Philip II with ships, which tied Doria to sailing fortunes then being made across the Atlantic Ocean. Genoa's new ruler was known as a shrewd businessman-preferring, for example, to hire slaves as oarers on his ships: one free oarer cost 13 scudi annually, but a slave could be purchased for 40 scudi and worked for a decade.
As the leader of the city of Genoa, Doria displayed a comparable astuteness. First, he imposed laws that rid the city of its fractious political rivalries, and instituted an oligarchic form of government that returned political power to the aristocrats. Under the terms of a constitution that went into effect under Doria (and lasted until 1797), Genoa was ruled by its four main families, granted a certain number of commoners noble status every year, and was headed by a doge with little actual power. Genoa's political decisions were instead made in two council chambers, the Maggiore Consiglio and the Minore Consiglio. The latter elected the city officials, the doge, and appointed its financial and legal ministers. Supervising this structure were five syndics, of whom Doria was "perpetual prior." His rule, which began in 1528 and endured over thirty years, has been considered a virtual dictatorship; hints of political opposition were sometimes ruthlessly extinguished.
Doria, now a wealthy, powerful, but older man, built a Palazzo del Principe for himself at Fassolo, situated just west of the city walls. He shared it with his wife, the Princess Peretta Uso di Mare. The structure was designed so that he could see every ship entering and departing Genoa's port. Inside, the lavish paintings and frescoes depicted him as a heroic figure from classical mythology, and celebrated him as the one who brought peace. Indeed, Doria did not rest on his laurels in his palace: he still led several naval battles against the Turks well into his sixtieth decade, including a victorious one at Tunis in 1535. Yet his power in Genoa had also earned him enemies, and pro-French families tried to undermine his rule by carrying out a plot that resulted in the murder of his nephew Giannettino Doria in 1547. An investigation uncovered the culprit, and Doria extracted harsh retribution.
At the age of 84 Doria was still sailing in anti-pirate expeditions on the Mediterranean. When war broke out between France and Spain, Doria allied with the Spaniards and captured Corsica from the French. He retired in 1555 from his admiral duties, passing on his post to another a grandnephew, Giovanni Andrea Doria. He died on November 25, 1560, just a few days before his 94th birthday; he outlived many of the great names of his era. Perhaps because of the looting of the city by Holy Roman Empire armies in 1522, the portrait of Doria that hangs in one of the city's museums, attributed to Jan Massys, is the first depiction of any of Genoa's rulers. In the twentieth century, a luxury liner was named after him. Unfortunately, the ship bearing his name collided with another ship off the coast of Massachusetts in 1956, resulting in the loss of 44 lives.
Further Reading on Andrea Doria
Epstein, Steven A. Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528, University of North Carolina Press, 1996.