Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Monarch Profile: Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany
Grand Duke Ferdinand I brought about something of a revival in Tuscany. He and Grand Duchess Christina had five children over the years; two boys and three girls, and he worked to detach Tuscany from the influence of Spain and the empire. This made him very popular as the public had previously been taxed heavily to pay for contributions to the empire and their own laws had often been superseded by foreign statutes. Grand Duke Ferdinand reestablished the traditional justice system, took a great interest in the well being of his people and enacted many changes that boosted economic development. He established freedom of religion in Tuscany which caused many Jews and Protestants to flock to Livorno in particular and their industry was also a boost to the economy. Harbor improvements helped promote trade, irrigation projects improved agriculture and Florence became a center of banking with branches all across Europe. He took a similarly broad-minded approach to foreign policy but, in that area, was less successful.
Unlike some, Grand Duke Ferdinand was not willing to ally with non-Catholic powers against those of his own faith. Despite his unwillingness to be ruled by Spain or the empire he still supported the Spanish in their war in Algeria, led by King Felipe III, against the Moors and he supported Hapsburg Emperor in his ongoing conflict with the Turks in eastern Europe. In fact, the war galleys of Tuscany won several crucial victories against the Muslim Barbary Pirates operating out of North Africa during his reign, though this commitment to the defense of Christendom did not come without cost and necessitated the raising of taxes, something the Grand Duke had not wanted to do. Nevertheless, he was always a man of vision who favored big ideas, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. His first thought was to follow up the victory of his fleet with the establishment of a domain for Tuscany in North Africa, however, this did not work out. Still, he remained eager to embrace other possibilities. Toward the end of his reign he commissioned the one and only official effort by an Italian state to colonize the Americas. In 1608 Grand Duke Ferdinand commissioned the English Captain Robert Thornton to lead an expedition to the coast of South America, around northern Brazil.