Giovanni Cossa

- and his role in the story of the Michelino deck

As known by the letter of Marcello, a person with the name Giovanni Cossa became responsible for the transport of the parcel from Marcello to Isabella, queen de Lorraine. At first impression he might look as an unimportant servant, but he turned out to be (99 % security) the nephew of Baldassare Cossa alias Pope John XXIII. (1410 – 1415), one of 3 Popes at the same time before the council of Konstanz, where all 3 Popes lost their job and John, now Baldassare Cossa again, was accused and held in prison for some years in Heidelberg. Formerly, when still Pope John, Baldassare took charge in the interests of the Anjou against the residing king of Naples, Ladislaus (died 1414). During that time the condottieri Muzio Attendola (father of Francesco Sforza) changed sides from Pope to Ladislaus (the Pope didn’t pay), which the furious John alias Baldassare countered with puppets hanging head down from trees, with a signboard around their neck: “I’m Muzio Attendola, farmer of Cotignola …” (a common sign for treachery – it developed to be a Tarot card).
According to the foes of Pope John he descended of a family of pirates in Naples and was used to enormous sexual excesses. Another of these "told by the foes" stories assumes, that Baldassare Cossa poisoned Alexander V. (pope or anti-pope in 1409/1410 for 10 monthes, earlier called Peter of Candia), the friend of Giangaleazzo Visconti, to whom Uberto Decembrio was secretary for long time (compare Decembrio biography).

Gaspare, John’s brother and Giovanni’s father, was also engaged for the Anjou and had to leave Naples. When many years later in 1435 Queen Jeanne II. of Naples died, the old question of Anjou or Aragon araised again.

Giovanni Cossa himself was then on the side of the Anjou as his father and uncle, the pope, and he became a leading figure for the Anjou party in the city, defending the Anjou’s interest in Naples till the end in 1442, but he had to capitulate finally, when Alfonso d'Aragon took Naples. Together with Rene d'Anjou and some other companions (Ottino Caracciolo and Giorgio della Magna are mentioned) on 2 Genuese ships he left the city, taking refuge in Florence. He is pardoned in Naples 1/2 year later in Naples by Alfonso, but leaves the city finally in 1448 to Rene in France. There he became enlisted in the just builded Order of the Crescent as Nr. 3, probably it's true, that he helped to found the institution, perhaps it was even his idea or an idea born just by the meeting of Rene and Cossa.

Then he seems to have been often in secret diplomatic mission in Renes interests in Italy, probably working on the project to fight for Naples again. Major attempts were done later, in 1453 (together with Francesco Sforza) and 1459 - 1462, when Alfonso had died. Both actions failed.

In his biography it is noted, that he went to France from Italy in May 1448 and was back in Italy in May 1450, his residence in the meantime is unknown. As we do know from Marcellos letter he was in Monselice, Italia, November 1449, probably with the intention to have a highly conspirative talk with the Venetian general, ambassodor and spy Jacopo Antonio Marcello. A central theme was surely the political situation around Francesco Sforza, who was just cheated in his interests by Venetia, neither Cossa or Marcello could look in the future and were aware that Francesco was on his turn to become duke of Milan 3 monthes later (compare storia di Milano, Francesco's deciding actions started in late December). In Milan, one of the greatest cities in Europe ( have an impression here, a map from 16th century, a little later ), the situation seemed released for the moment, but actually soon some 1000 people were near to die for hunger (they died really, a little later). Venetia, which wished to see only a small Milanese influence in North Italia for the future, not a strong Milan under the capable general Sforza, had tried – to the later regret of Marcello - to cheat Sforza, whom Marcello, although himself a Venetian general, saw as a friend. The chances for Sforza to achieve his goal were considered to be small at this moment.
There were also other things to talk, when the parcel was send to Isabella, the world had greater themes than playing cards. Italy was at a great change of its history and nobody did know, how it would turn out.
Another source, the Italian language condottieri-site reports various interactions from Cossa with Francesco Sforza after 1450 and a friendly relationship, which made him a useful marriage agent for Francesco's daughter Ippolita Sforza to Ferrante, King of Naples in 1463. Probable Cossa was the major diplomatic link between Milan and Rene d'Anjou.

The year 1453 is full of interesting actions: At May 29, 1453 Constantinople falls. In the last phase (1447 - 1453) of the 100 years wars between England and France with a first great victory at Formigny in 1450 and a final victory at 17th of July in the battle of Castillon Rene d'Anjou was at the side of Charles VII, when he entered Rouen in 1449, at the battle of Formigny in 1450 and he took part in the campaign in Aquitaine in 1451. At 28th of February 1453 his wife Isabella died surprizingly and Rene is called disturbed by grief after this time. In Castillon he's missing. At 12th of August Francesco Sforza in Milan has a Trionfo, probably it is meant to be the "real Trionfo" against the spontaneous Trionfo from March 1450, the theme is a war of old Roman times, which serves as allgory to the recent siege of Milano by Francesco Sforza. In Oktober 1453 we see Rene d'Anjou - the French problems have reached a solution - in Milan, enjoying Milanese court life, before he's fulfilling his original plan to be active in the field of war, rather late in the year and not the ideal time to be on a battlefield.

Giovanni Cossa was a person between two cultures, Italy and France. As he in Italy often worked in secret mission for the interests of Rene d'Anjou, his life runs there in the background, he is important, but not mentioned. But, if we hear, that the poet Boiardo took French sources housed at the d'Este court, as the base of his Orlando Innamorato, one may ask the question, how the d'Este court came into possession of these manuscripts. Surely by a traveller between French and Italy.
In Italy in his later years only something between secret agent, traveller and diplomat, in France Giovanni Cossa became to Jean de Cossa, comte de Troye, baron de Grimaud, etc., grand-sénéchal sous le roi René, a person of highest political ranking. He died 1476. Short before his death he did win his probable greatest diplomatic battle: Commynes, another great diplomat of the time, reports (in his memoires ):

King René of Sicily was arranging to make the duke of Burgundy his heir and to deliver Provence to him. My lord of Châteauguion,7 who is now in Piedmont, and others were to take possession of the country for the duke of Burgundy. They were to raise troops and had at least twenty thousand crowns in cash. Immediately the news was known it was only with the greatest difficulty that they were able to avoid being captured and my lord of Bresse, who was in that region, seized the money. The duchess of Savoy, as soon as she had news of the battle, informed King René, explaining it away and reassuring him over the losses. The mesengers, who were Provençals, were captured, and by this means the agreement between the king of Sicily and the duke of Burgundy was discovered.

The King straight away stationed men-at-arms close to Provence and dispatched ambassadors to the king of Sicily to ask him to appear. He assured him of a good welcome; otherwise the King threatened to use force. The king of Sicily was so easily persuaded that he came to meet the King at Lyon. He was treated with very great honour and given fine hospitality.

I was present when they exchanged greetings on his arrival. Jean de Cossa, seneschal of Provence, a wealthy man of good family from the kingdom of Naples, acted as spokesman, saying, 'Sire, do not be astounded that my master, the king, your uncle, offered to make the duke of Burgundy his heir, since was counselled to do so by his advisers, especially by me, because you, his sister's son and his own nephew, have done him great injury by taking away from him the castles of Angers and Bar and by treating him so badly over all his other affairs. We wanted to press ahead with this agreement with the duke so that you would hear news of it which would make you give us justice and remember that the king, my master, is your uncle. But we never intended to bring the negotiations to a conclusion.' The King took the words which Jean de Cossa spoke very well and wisely, knowing they were true because Cossa had been in charge of negotiations. A few days later the differences between them were settled; the king of Sicily received a sum of money, as did all his men, and the King feasted him with the ladies, had him entertained and humoured him in everything according to his tastes as best he could. They became good friends and no more was heard of the duke of Burgundy, abandoned by King René and rejected everywhere else. This was yet another misfortune springing from this setback.

Probably this development took decisive influence on the destiny of Charles of Burgund, who were at that time engaged to become King of Burgund. His death on a militaric campaign in 1477 ended his dream and left on long run two eminent heirs: Habsburg and France, often united in a conflict which went through the centuries till Napoleons victory in 1806, which resulted in the end of the old Empire and created a new Emperor, Napoleon I., an episode of shorter length.
A second very important result of European dimensions of the above commmunication was, that the Anjou rights on Naples were now given to the French king. This caused the effect, that the son of Louis XI., Charles VIII. took the opportunity in 1494 to invade Italy with a 90.000-men-army and occupied Naples. Although this operation proved as quite unsuccessfully already one year later, it opened the French way to Italy and in late 1499 the new French king Louis XII claimed personal rights of the house of Orleans on Milan and succeeded after short attack - he also was driven out again after 12 years, but his and his followers actions caused a periode of 25 years of war and destruction to the North Italian cities and finally a two centuries reignment by the Spanish Habsburger in Milan.

In his very late years Cossa had influence on the city of Marseille. It was the time, when playing card manufacturing started to become concentrated in France, however, the main production location of 15th century was Lyon, reaching its climax in 1490 - 1510, not Marseille. In Lyon were many Italians, especially caused by good relationships between Louis XI. and the city of Florence. Lyon became in late 15th century the "new" capital of France - Louis XI. favoured the city.

Giovanni Cossa is the first known importeur of Tarocchi (Trionfi) cards to France. We cannot say, if this was an act ion with consequences on French playing card production, however, it seems clear, that the next development of Trionfi cards in Milano (and probably also in Ferrara) in the 50ies didn't stay hidden to Giovanni Cossa's eyes. He's variously a noted guest in Milano and seems to have been also a known person in Ferrara.


Triumphal arch of Alfonso d'Aragon in Naples
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- related to the Michelino Deck

1424/1425 - Michelino Deck 1447 / ca. 1470 - Decembrio Manuscript 1449 - Marcello's letter Great Condottieri (1424) Great Foes (1424) Filippo Maria's wifes The French Side, the great Context