The Case of Andrea Doria

  By Maharbbal

The Entrepreneurs of violence and their employers in 16th century Italy     


Andrea Doria painted as Neptune
The starting point of this essay is the definition of "the state" given by Frederic Lane, who defines it as a violence-producing enterprise. The residual rights, or ownership, over this firm is held by a given entity that was, during the early modern period, a king or a larger group of aristocrats. As any rent-seeking organisation the pre-democratic state aimed at creating profit for its owners. However the state wasn’t always able to provide satisfactory protection for subjects, despite tax payments. The case of Habsburg’s Spain clearly illustrates this problem. As a territorial power facing sudden naval threats, it resorted to renting the services of other violence-producing organizations. Modern academics define these organizations as entrepreneurs of violence.
Andrea Doria was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of violence. He was a Genoese admiral born in 1466, who served as a mercenary for Rome, Naples, Genoa, France and Spain during his 76 years long career. He joined the service of Emperor Charles V as Captain of the Sea (meaning head of all the fleets in the Mediterranean) in 1528 and instantly became the backbone of his employer in the defence against the French, the Ottomans and the Barbary pirates. He rented up to twenty- two galleys to the Habsburgs and created a real industry in Genoa and around the Mediterranean of warship renting. In January 1548, in his so- called political testament the Emperador told his son how important the Genoese private galley-owners were for the mere survival of their realms and how serious was the threat of them swapping their alliance and falling under French control.
Yet, a decade latter, in December 1560, the scenario had changed. Andrea Doria died November leaving his grand nephew Giovanni Andrea Doria as his heir. Philip II had taken his father’s place in January 1556 and the Dorias’ now openly acknowledged their dependency on the king’s will. How did the employer/employee relationship change so dramatically in 10 years?

To fully appreciate this evolution a brief outline of the relationship between Andrea Doria and the Spanish crown in the early 1550’s must be drawn. The nature of the exchange evokes a market system, because supply and demand varied. Private entrepreneurs of violence, nobles and lesser organizations such as the Spanish military order of Saint James or the dukes of Savoy and Florence, as well as the Republic of Genoa itself were competing to rent out their fleets to different clients. The clients were mainly the king of Spain and his French counterpart but also smaller states such as Rome, Tunis or Malta or even privately owned organizations such as The House of Saint George (the Genoese joint stock company administrating Corsica) or the Genoese silk or coral industries, which needed to secure their convoys shipment of raw material. However, the exchange system of available goods was not a market. Primarily because the exchange of two goods of equal value (namely violence for money) was not the logic on which this system was based. The structure of the relationship was a servicio-merced (service-gift) circle. The absolute devotion of the Genoese admiral was to be rewarded by the infinite contentment of the Emperor materialized by presents (including a large and fixed sum of money but not only).
In this context Andrea Doria clearly dominated both his competitors and his employer. Indeed, his offer was recognized as being the best available. Not only was he providing the largest number of galleys, and the most feared by the enemy, but he also had a unique role in bargaining the resources of Genoa to the benefit of Spain. This was made possible by the fact that Andrea Doria was as well the uncrowned prince of Genoa since July 1528. So he granted Charles V access, not only to the city’s military facilities (arsenal, sailors, soldiers) but also to all kinds of services essential to the Emperor, mainly the credit-system of Genoese bankers and the city’s strategic position as a crossroad between Naples, Barcelona and the Northern realms of the Habsburg (Milan, the Holly Roman Empire and the Netherlands).
As an imperial “minister”, Andrea Doria was critical to the ruling of decentralized Italia Hispanica. His personal credit and his sizeable military power –along with the trust placed in him by Charles– often put Andrea Doria in the position of a real viceroy able to make extremely significant choices single-handedly.
The galley rental was settled by a contract, in Spanish asiento. This type of agreement over the commercial exchange was fairly incomplete and ambiguous, leading either to the autonomy of the asientista (the entrepreneur) or a strongly hierarchical relationship. Among the many interesting aspects of the asiento, the most important one is the enforcement matter. Neither of the contractors had any legal means to prevent or punish an opportunistic move by the other player. Thus, reputation and trust were central in this type of deal. Yet, the asientistas were so mighty that they didn’t feel the need to create any type of institution to enforce their claims against the Spanish king. Charles was fully aware of his need to respect the contract with the asientistas. To prevent any betrayal, he simply integrated the asientista into the Spanish nobility. Strategically Andrea Doria was made prince of Melfi and knight of the Golden Flee, reinforcing his bond with his “lord”.
But this equilibrium came to an end in the tempestuous 1550’s. During this decade, Andrea Doria suffered a dramatic loss of power. Insidious “path dependency”, the growing autonomy of Genoa from the will of the Dorias, and several naval defeats led to a steep decline of the admiral’s organization. This global failure was crystallized when Andrea’s heir and lieutenant, Giovanni Andrea Doria, failed to name his successor as Captain of the Sea. Regularly summoned to fight for the Catholic King, the nature of the organization changed deeply. From a seasonal activity for the population of Liguria, it became a full-time work for professional sailors or fighters, which increased even more the cost of the fleet.

The weakening of Doria’s position led to a partial absorption of the organization by the Spanish administration. The fleet suffered many losses during that time and, although unwilling, Andrea Doria had to allow Spanish troops on his galleys, he was increasingly dependent on Philip II’s resources to keep his firm working. Most importantly the necessary slave rowers were coming from the jails of the Peninsula. Informally, Philip now owned a part of the fleet. During the years between 1555 and 1559, the Spanish crown faced huge financial difficulties and seldom paid the admiral. Tied to his relationship with Spain, Andrea Doria had no other choice but to keep serving his unreliable master. This unofficial appropriation gave Philip the control over the governance of Dorias’ firm and partially over the benefits. The forced sale of half of Giovanni Andrea’s galleys the year following his grand uncle’s death reflects the aggressive Spanish control over the once private fleet. The role of Philip in this change is clear, having opposed his father in many aspects, he refused the burden of the symbolic debt to Andrea Doria and exploited the power his hierarchical position as client/employer and as lord gave him.
The firm was definitively removed from the market system by its integration in the Spanish administration, as it eliminated any other potential client. The mayhem of the 1550’s changed the nature of the relationship. Indeed, the servicio-merced logic was replaced by an exchange of goods equal in value. The lack of payments often forced the Dorias to implore for money, and somewhat exceptionally specifying their precise needs. Unlike his predecessor Giovanni Andrea Doria admitted he was, as any merchants, seeking a fair benefit for his services and not only a symbolic reward in the form of honour. This capitalistic spirit allied with the partial absorption of the firm, meant the relationship evolved from an ambiguous aristocratic partnership to a proper subcontracting system, but an ill-defined one.
Ultimately these developments point to the superior power of the state as a violence-producing organization in an Early Modern context. Territorially larger and economically stronger, the state can more easily endure greater losses. Europe was impressed by Philip’s alacrity to recover from all the defeats and shipwrecks that took place in the early years of his kingship, while in similar conditions the Dorias begged for help. The Barcelona arsenal, sided with the ones of Naples, Sicily and Andalusia, becoming the most important in the Western Mediterranean, still not as impressive as Venice’s Arsenal or the Golden Horn shipbuilding facilities, but very effective. Spain’s military efficiency was enhanced by the rising patriotic feelings of its population that gave a somehow easier access to man and money supplies. All this led to the creation of a mighty royal fleet. By 1562, Philip had discarded all rented galleys except Doria’s. Proving that Giovanni Andrea’s services and power were still valuable in the mind of the Prudent King.

This event can be interpreted as one step towards the monopolisation of violence by the state. But the outcome was not set from the beginning. Had some factors been different, the state could have remained highly dependent on market forces to produce violence. The result was unpredictable, since the absorption of Andrea Doria’s firm by the Spanish administration appears to be a real “trick of the reason of state”.