The Palazzo Ducale was constructed from 1309-1424, in the Gothic style, as the residence for the Doge, or, rather, his prison, since the Doge was rarely allowed to leave once elected.

The Doge was the highest ranking elder in Venice and served in his position for life. In 1172, the selection of the Doge became entrusted to a committee of 40 (the Forty), whose members were chosen by the Venetian Great Council.

Venice liked to think of itself as a Republic, meaning that the people could participate in the government. When the Doge took office he was introduced to the people with the words: "This is the Doge, if it please you." In fact, members of the Great Council were appointed by the forty, which in turn chose the Forty. See the problem there?

Candidates for the Great Council were selected from a microscopic pool containing only noble families and although the Doge could nominate anyone to the Council, the Forty and the Council itself had to approve the nomination. Because the general population was largely uneducated, the election rules were purposefully complicated, and the Council controlled the guards, Venice followed the historical norm: the people got screwed.

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