THE TRAGEDIES OF THE MEDICI
BY EDGCUMBE STALEY
AUTHOR OF "THE GUILDS OF FLORENCE," "RAPHAEL," "FRA ANGELICO," ETC.
TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER THOMAS STALEY
When Alexandre Dumas wrote his Crimes of the Borgias—and other "Crimes"—he fully intended to compile a companion volume, treating of episodes in the great family of the Medici. With this project in view, he collected much material, and actually published, tentatively, two interesting brochures: Une Annee a Florence—in 1841, and Les Galeries de Florence—in 1842.
Nothing, however, came of his more ambitious "idea," and, until to-day, no one has taken in hand to write The Tragedies of the Medici. My attention was first directed to the omission during the preparation of my Guilds of Florence, published in 1906; and I determined to address myself to the forging of that lurid link in the catena of Florentine romance.
In the following pages my readers will see that I have entirely departed from the conventional conceits of the ordinary historian. I have sought to set out the whole truth—not a garbled version—whilst I have fearlessly added decorative features where facts were absent or were too prosaic.
The short "Introduction," dealing with the rise and progress of the house of Medici, will be useful to my public, and the "Chart of the Tragedies" will assist students and others in their appreciation of my enterprise—it is my own compilation and as complete as possible.
The "Bibliography" will help serious readers to a wider reading of my authorities, and the Illustrations—the best procurable—will fix in all my readers' minds something of the actual personalities of my "Tyrants" and my "Victims."
The Pazzi Conspiracy—Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico"—Giuliano, "Il Pensieroso".
The First Tyrannicide—Ippolito, "Il Cardinale"—Alessandro, "Il Negro"—Lorenzino, "Il Terribile".
A Father's Vengeance—Maria, Giovanni, and Garzia de' Medici—Malatesta de' Malatesti.
Three Murdered Princesses—Lucrezia, Duchess of Ferrara and Creole de' Contrari—Eleanora Garzia, wife of Piero de Medici, Alessandro Gaci, and Bernardino degl' Antinori—Isabella, Duchess of Bracciano—Troilo d'Orsini and Lelio Torello.
True and False Lovers—Francesco, "Il Virtuoso"—Bianca Cappello, "La Figlia di Venezia"—Pietro Buonaventuri—Cassandra de' Borghiani—Pellegrina Buonaventuri, wife of Ulisse Bentivoglio—Antonio Riario.
Pathetic Victims of Fateful Passion—Eleanora degli Albizzi and Sforza Almeni—Cammilla de' Martelli—Virginia de' Medici e d'Este—Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici.
CHART OF THE TRAGEDIES
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Bianca Cappello-Buonaventuri Giovanni d'Averardo de' Medici "Journey of the Magi" (Medici) "Adoration of the Magi" (Medici) Lucrezia de' Medici Lorenzo Il Magnifico Giuliano Il Pensieroso Ippolito—Cardinal Alessandro—First Duke of Florence Giovanni—"Delle Bande Nere" Eleanora de' Medici Maria Lucrezia de' Medici Giovanni—Cardinal Garzia de' Medici Lucrezia—Duchess of Ferrara Eleanora—Wife of Piero de' Medici Piero de' Medici Isabella—Duchess of Bracciano Francesco—Grand Duke of Tuscany Giovanna de' Medici Don Antonio "de' Medici" Pellegrina Buonaventuri-Bentivoglio Cosimo I—"Tyrant of Tyrants" Cammilla de' Medici Ferdinando de' Medici—Cardinal
The origin of the Medici family is lost in the mists of the Middle Ages, and, only here and there, can the historian gain glimpses of the lives of early forbears. Still, there is sufficient data, to be had for the digging, upon which to transcribe, inferentially at least, an interesting narrative.
Away towards the end of the twelfth century,—exact dates are wholly beside the mark—there dwelt, under the shadow of one of the rugged castles of the robber-captains of the Mugello in Tuscany, a hard-working and trustworthy bonds-man—one Chiarissimo—"Old Honesty," as we may call him. He was married to an excellent helpmeet, and was by his lord permitted to till a small piece of land and rear his family.
In addition to intelligence in agriculture, it would seem that he, or perhaps his wife, possessed some knowledge of the virtues of roots and herbs, for, in one corner of his podere, he had a garden of "simples." The few peaceable inhabitants of that warlike valley, and also many a wounded man-at-arms, sought "Old Honesty" and his wise mate for what we now call "kitchen remedies."
Those, indeed, were happy days with respect to suffering human nature. "Kill or Cure" might have been the character of the healing art, but certainly specialists had not invented our appendicitis and other fashionable twentieth-century physical fashions! A little medical knowledge sufficed, and decoctions, pillules, poultices, and bleedings made up the simple pharmacopoeia.
All the same, the satirical rhyme, which an old chronicler put into the mouths of many a despairing patient, in later days, may have been true also of "Old Honesty" and his nostrums:
"There's not a herb nor a root Nor any remedy to boot Which can stave death off by a foot!"
Of that good couple's family only one name has been preserved—Gianbuono, "Good John." Passerini says he was a priest—probably he means a hermit. Anyhow, he acquired more property in the Valle della Sieve and founded a church—Santa Maria dell' Assunta—possibly the enlargement of his cell—upon Monte Senario, between the valley of the Arno and that of the Sieve.
Ser Gianbuono—ecclesiastic or not—had two sons—Bonagiunto, "Lucky Lad," and Chiarissimo II. In those primitive times nobody troubled about surnames—idiosyncrasy of any kind was a sufficient indication of individuality. The brothers were enterprising fellows, and both made tracks for Florence, which—risen Phoenix-like from barbarian ashes—was thriving marvellously as a mart for art and craft.
Ser Bonagiunto, in the first decade of the thirteenth century, was living in the Sestiere di Porta del Duomo, and working busily in wood and stone, the stalwart parent of a vigorous progeny. It was his great-grandson, Ardingo—a famous athlete in the giostre and a soldier of renown—who first of his family attained the rank of Signore.
Ser Chiarissimo, between 1201-1210, owned a tower near San Tommaso, at the north-east angle of the Mercato Vecchio—later, the family church of the Medici—and under it a bottega, or canova, for the sale of his grandmother's recipes. Over the door he put up his sign—seven golden Pillole di Speziale—pills or balls, which were emblazoned upon the proud escutcheon of his descendants. He was called "il Medico"—"the doctor"—hence the family name "Medici."
These were the days when the foundations of the fortunes of many great Florentine families were laid. The loaning of money was the royal road to affluence, and everybody who, by chance, had a spare gold florin or two, became ipso facto a "Presto" or bank. Next, after lending to one another with a moderate profit—a dono di tempo or a merito—"quick returns," came the ambitious system of State loans, with the regulated interesso and the speculative dealings in Cambio—on 'Change—with boroccolo—"unexpected gain," and ritravgola—"sly advantage," or, as we say, "sharp practice."
Ser Filippo, or "Lippo"—the twin son, as the name implies, of Ser Chiarissimo II.—what happened to the other twin we do not know—was probably the first of his family of doctor-apothecaries to deliberately abandon his less lucrative profession and establish himself as a banker in the Mercato Nuovo. Anyhow, his two sons were born and baptised under the happy auspices of plenty of money!
The elder, the prosperous doctor-banker, was jubilantly called Averardo—"Blessed with good means," and the younger was christened Chiarissimo III., to mark quite sententiously that, whilst his bank-balance was considerable, it had been accumulated by honest dealing!
True to the variable law of vicissitude, this Averardo I. failed to make any very great name for himself, as might have been expected in a lad of so much promise. He was shadowed doubtless by his more strenuous parent. Still, he added to the family possessions by acquiring the lay-patronage of the churches of San Pietro a Sieve and San Bartolommeo di Petrone. Near the latter he built a castello, or fortress, which was then considered a title to nobility. He made also a prosperous marriage with Donna Benricevuta de' Sizi.
Messer Averardo's son, Averardo II., was, in the crisscross nature of things, a man of stronger grit than his father. He came to great honour as well as to great riches. Elected Prior in 1304, he was chosen as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia in 1314, and, between these dates, in 1311, Ser Teghia de' Sizi, his mother's brother, made him his heir, and gave him, besides full money-bags, much valuable property and ecclesiastical patronage. To his surname of Medici he added that of Sizi: he was the wealthiest citizen of his day in Florence. His wife, Donna Mandina di Filippo de' Arrigucci of Fiesole, gave him six sons—Giacopo, Giovenco, Francesco, Salvestro, Talento, and Conte. All of them rose to eminence in the State, but of one only can the story be told here—Salvestro.
Messer Salvestro de' Medici—who must not be confounded with his celebrated namesake and kinsman, the "Grand" Salvestro—married Donna Lisa de' Donati, of which union three sons were the issue—Talento, Giovenco, and Averardo III. Salvestro di Averardo II. bore another Christian name—Chiarissimo—the old-world cognomen of his family. Possibly his father thought it wise to stand well with the world and parade his honesty; for whatever ill-gotten gains other bankers acquired, he, at least, was an upright man, and his profits were just!
Anyhow, Messer Salvestro became popular for rectitude in his private life, and for his unselfish discharge of public duties. He was chosen to fill many responsible offices of State, and reached the goal of personal ambition as ambassador to Venice, in 1336. His youngest son, Averardo III., acquired the sobriquet of "Bicci"—the exact meaning of which is problematical—it may mean a "worthless fellow" or "one who lives in a castle!" Nothing indeed is related of him, but, perhaps, like Brer Fox, of a later epoch, he was content "to lie low" and enjoy, without much exertion, the good things his ancestors had provided for him.
Messer Averardo married twice—Giovanna de' Cavallini and Giovanna de' Spini. By the first he became the father of one of the very greatest of the Medici—Giovanni, the parent of a still more famous son—Cosimo.
At this period Florence was ruled by Whalter von Brienne—the so-called Duke of Athens—sagacious, treacherous and depraved. He sought to make himself Lord of Florence by skilfully playing the various political parties one against the other. The Grandi he kept in check by the Popolo Minuto, but ignored the Popolo Grasso, to which the Medici belonged. Under Giovanni de' Medici, Guglielmo degli Altoviti, and Bernardo de' Rucellai, the middle class rose against the usurper; but their plans miscarried, and the leaders were imprisoned and fined.
A Giovanni de' Medici was beheaded in 1342—the first recorded "Tragedy of the Medici." As to who this unfortunate man was, it is difficult to say. He is called "the son of Bernardo de' Medici," but no such name appears in the early records of the family. He was probably a descendant of Bonagiunto, a son of Ardingo de' Medici, who was a violent enemy of the Ghibellines, and Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, in 1296 and 1307, and brother of Francesco, Captain of Pistoja in 1338, and one of the principal participants in the expulsion of the hated Duke.
The first of the "Grand" Medici was Salvestro, son of Alamanno, of the line of Chiarissimo III., called "The German," because of his alien Teutonic mother. Great-great-grandson of Ser Filippo, the last of the doctor-apothecaries, Salvestro does not appear to have gone in for the steady, unromantic life of a banker, but to have addressed his energies to the profession of arms. Nevertheless, he was chosen Prior in 1318, and contributed, during peace, to the advancement of his city's interest. Upon the outbreak of war with the Visconti of Milan, in 1351, he was appointed commander of the Florentine forces.
His sterling grit made itself apparent in the vigour with which at the head of no more than one hundred men he relieved the town and fortress of Scarperia, on the Mugello hills, besieged by the invaders. For his bravery he was knighted by the Signoria. Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici sided with the aristocratic party, and proclaimed himself a Ghibelline—consorting with the noble families of Albizzi, Ricci, and Strozzi. Their aim was to convert the Republic into an oligarchy under Piero degli Albizzi.
The Popolo Minuto, thoroughly alarmed at this menace of liberty and popular government, appointed leaders, who approached Cavaliere Salvestro, in 1370, when he held the supreme office of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, to safeguard the interests of the tradespeople and lower classes. He gave heed to their representations, for he cunningly perceived that he might ride into the undisputed leadership of the great popular party, the Guelphs, and so checkmate his other allies, the aristocrats! As head of a powerful branch of the rising family of Medici, members of the Popolo Grasso, or wealthy middle class, Cavaliere Salvestro became the champion of the people. All round his popularity was established, for people said, "He was born for the safety of the Republic." He was tactful enough to conceal the personal bent of his policy, and acted upon the maxim, which he was never tired of repeating: "Never make a show before the people!" As Gonfaloniere he summoned a Parliament of representatives of all parties and classes at the Palazzo Vecchio, with a view to the composition of differences and the maintenance of public order.
The Ghibellines would have none of his proposals, but privately they were divided amongst themselves, seeing which, the Cavaliere astutely announced the resignation of his office. This had the effect he expected—the Palazzo and the Piazza outside rang with the old cry—"Liberta!" "Liberta!" "Evviva il Popolo!" "Evviva il Gonfaloniere!" Salvestro de' Medici was master of the situation—the first of his family to attain the virtual, if not the real, control of the State.
The revolution spread through the city; the palaces of the Ghibelline nobles were sacked and burnt. A period of discord and disaster followed, but, with the firm hand of Salvestro de' Medici upon the helm of the ship of the Republic, matters settled. In 1376 he was unanimously chosen Capitano della Parte Guelfa—an office of still more personal influence than the Gonfaloniership. No one questioned his authority. He was, as the historian, Michaele Bruto, has recorded, "The first of his family to show his successors how that by conciliating the middle and lower classes they could make their way to sovereignty."
Another crisis in the history of Florence arose in 1378, during Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici's second Gonfaloniership, when the Ciompi—"Wooden Shoes" they were called in derision—the wool-workers—rose en masse, and besieged the Signoria sitting at the Palazzo Vecchio. They claimed to rule the city and to abolish the nobles, and a second time Salvestro was "the man of the hour!"
Acting upon his advice, terms were arranged with the revolutionaries, and Michaele Lando—a common woolcarder by trade, but a born leader of men—was elected Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, and a new government was set up. Upon Salvestro, "the Champion of the People," was again conferred by public acclamation the accolade of knighthood; moreover, as a further mark of popular estimation, to him were allocated the rents of the shops upon the Ponte Vecchio and other prerogatives.
The public spirit displayed by Cavaliere Salvestro gained for him not only personal distinction and reward, but obtained for his family recognition as the first in Florence. He married Donna Bartolommea, the daughter of Messer Oddo degli Altoviti, by whom he had many children. None of his sons seem to have added laurels to the family fame, but to have lived peacefully in the glamour of their father's renown. The Cavaliere retired into private life in 1380, and his death, which occurred in 1388, marked the establishment of Medicean domination in the affairs of Florence.
The second of the "Grand" Medici was Giovanni, the son of Averardo III.—called "Bicci"—and his first wife, Donna Giovanna de' Cavallini, born in 1360. He was just twenty-eight years of age when his popular relative, Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici, died. His young manhood found him in the very forefront of party strife, and from the first he held unswervingly with the Guelphs.
Married, in 1384, to Donna Piccarda, daughter of Messer Odoardo de' Bueri, he was the father of four sons—Antonio, Damiano, Cosimo, and Lorenzo—the two former died in childhood. The choice of names for two of the boys is significant of the value Messer Giovanni placed upon his family's origin—Saints Damiano and Cosimo, of course, were patrons of doctors and apothecaries. Hence he was not ashamed of the golden pillules of his armorial bearings!
Messer Giovanni developed extraordinary strength of character; he was a born ruler of men, and a passionate patriot. He gained the goodwill of his fellow-citizens by his unselfishness and generosity—truly not too common in the bearing of men of his time. He served the office of Prior in 1402, 1408, 1411; he was ambassador to Naples in 1406, and to Pope Alessandro V. in 1409; and, in 1407, he held the lucrative post of Podesta of Pistoja.
In 1421 Messer Giovanni de' Medici was elected Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, as the representative of the middle classes, and in opposition to Messeri Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Niccolo da Uzzano, the Ghibelline nominees. The Republic sighed for peace, the crafts for quietness; but the immense liabilities incurred by many costly military enterprises had to be met. Messer Giovanni proposed, in 1427, a tax which should not weigh too heavily upon anybody. Each citizen who was possessed of a capital of one hundred gold florins, or more, was mulcted in a payment to the State of half a gold florin (ten shillings circa). This tax, which was called "Il Catasto" was unanimously accepted—"it pleased the common people greatly." Messer Giovanni was taxed as heavily as anyone, namely, three hundred gold florins—indicative, incidentally, of his wealth and honesty.
Giovanni associated with himself another prominent man, Messer Agnolo de' Pandolfini, the leader of the "Peace-at-any-Price" party, who is remembered in the annals of Florence as "The Peaceful Citizen." The main points of their policy were:—(1) Peace abroad; (2) Prosperity at home; (3) Low taxation.
No combination of his opponents—and they were many and unscrupulous—was able to damage Messer Giovanni's reputation and power. He could, had he wished it, have proclaimed himself sole ruler of Florence and her territory; but self-control and prudence—which were so characteristic of the men of his family—never forsook him. He died universally regretted in 1429, and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo, which he, along with the Martelli, had restored and endowed. Giovanni di Averardo de' Medici was looked upon as the first banker in Italy, the controller of the credit of Florence and the prince of financiers. Cavalcanti, Macchiavelli, Ammirato, and almost all other historians, describe him as "Large-hearted, liberal-minded, courteous and charitable, dispensing munificent alms with delicate consideration of the feelings and wants of those whom he assisted. Never suing for honours, he gained them all. Hostile to public peculations he strove disinterestedly for the public good. He died rich in this world's goods, but richer still in the goodwill of his fellow citizens."
Many have sought, nevertheless, to belittle Messer Giovanni's reputation—attributing to him a motive for all his urbanity—that of the permanent domination of his house in the government of the Republic—not surely a fault. His old rival in the arena of politics, Niccolo da Uzzano, ever spoke of him after his death with unstinted praise and admiration.
Messer Giovanni shares with Cavaliere Salvestro the undying fame of having raised, upon the excellent foundation laid by their ancestors, the massive supporting walls of that superb edifice, of which his son, Cosimo, formed the cupola, and his great-grandson, Lorenzo—the lantern—"the Light of Italy."
The third and fourth "Grand" Medici were, of course, Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," and Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico." The stories of their lives and exploits are to be read in the stories, the literature and the arts of Florence. Of Cosimo, Niccolo Macchiavelli wrote as follows:
"He applied himself so strenuously to increase the political power of his house, that those who had rejoiced at Giovanni's death now regretted it, perceiving what manner of man Cosimo was. Of consummate prudence, staid yet agreeable presence, he was liberal and humane. He never worked against his own party, or against the State, and was prompt in giving aid to all. His liberality gained him many partisans among the citizens."
Born in 1389, he early evinced mercantile proclivities, and when a lad of no more than seventeen Messer Giovanni, his father, placed him in charge successively of several of the foreign agencies of the Medici bank. Young Cosimo used his opportunities so well that he was looked upon as a successful financier, and came to be called "The Great Merchant of Florence!"
He was jokingly wont to say: "Two yards of scarlet cloth are enough to make a citizen!" Nevertheless he had a deep regard for the opinions and privileges of his fellow Florentines. One of his constant sayings was: "One must always consult the will of the people"—and "the people" replied by acclaiming him "Il Padre della Patria."
Cosimo has been called "a great merchant and a grand party-leader: the first of Florentines by birth and the first of Italians by culture." He died in 1464. His father left in cash a fortune of nearly 180,000 gold florins, but Cosimo's estate totalled upwards of 230,000—circa L100,000—a vast amount in those days!
After the strong personality of Cosimo and his masterful manipulation of commercial and political affairs, perhaps the unambitious rule of his son Piero was a necessary and healthful corollary. Piero de' Medici maintained the ground his father had made his own, and gave away nothing of the predominance of his family, and he made way, after a brief exercise of authority, for his brilliant son, Lorenzo.
Piero's character and career again prove the truth of the adage: "Ability rarely runs in two successive generations." All the same, he died in 1409, leaving his sons the heirs to nearly 300,000 gold florins!
Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico," was the first of the "Grand" Medici to give up entirely all connection with commercial pursuits and banking interests. His tenure of office, by a curious paradox, marks the termination of the financial liberties of Florence! He was an all-round genius—there was nothing he could not do—and do well! "Whatever is worth doing at all," he was wont to say, "is worth doing well."
With his death, in 1492, as Benedetto Dei said, "The Splendour, not of Tuscany only, but of all Italy, disappeared."
With the beginning of the sixteenth century dawned a new era. Preliminary signs had appeared in the growth of wealth, in enfranchisement from primitive methods, and in the evolution of individualism. Love of country and the ties of family life were loosened by the universal craving for self-indulgence and personal distinction. Idleness, sensuality, and scepticism—three baneful sisters—gained the mastery, weakening the fabric of society, and leading on to the evil courses of tyrannicide.
"The gradual extinction of public spirit; the general deterioration of private character, and the exercise of unbridled lust and passion, are the livid hues which tinge with the purple of melancholy and the scarlet of tragedy the later pages of Florentine story."
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The direct line of Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," the elder surviving son of Messer Giovanni di Averardo "Bicci" de' Medici, ended with Caterina, Queen of France, the only legitimate child of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and last Capo della Repubblica of Florence; and Alessandro the Bastard, first Duke of Florence, the illegitimate son of Pope Clement VII.
The sovereignty of the Medici was maintained in the person of Cosimo, the only son of Condottiere Giovanni, "delle Bande Nere," the great-grandson of Lorenzo, the younger of the two surviving sons of Messer Giovanni di Averardo "Bicci" de' Medici. The rule of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany was carried on from Cosimo I. to Gian Gastone, seventh Grand Duke and last of his line, who died in 1737.
The Grand Duchy then passed to the house of Lorraine, and with a Napoleonic usurpation of eighteen years (1796-1814), it continued in the Lorraine family, as represented by the collateral Hapsburgs, till the year 1859. In that year, King Vittorio Emmanuele of Piedmont and Sardinia, entered Florence, which, with all Italy, was united under the Royal Crown of the House of Savoy.
THE TRAGEDIES OF THE MEDICI
Such was the stirring cry which resounded through the lofty Council Chamber of the famous Palazzo Vecchio that dull December day in the year 1469.
Never had such a title been accorded to any one in Florence, where every man was as good as, if not better than, his neighbour. Foreign sovereigns, and their lieutenants, who, from time to time, visited the city and claimed toll and fealty from the citizens, had never been addressed as "Signori"—"Lords and Masters." The "Spirito del Campanile" as it was called, was nowhere more rampant than in the "City of the Lion and Lily," where everybody at all times seemed only too ready to disparage his fellow.
The cry was as astounding as it was unanimous—"Signori!" "Signori!" "Evviva i due Signori de' Medici!" "Signori!" "Signori!" "Evviva i due figli della Domina Lucrezia." Thus it gathered strength—its importance was emphatic—it was epoch-marking.
"Signori!" "Signori!" was the acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Medici, made quite freely and spontaneously by the dignified Lords of the Signory, in the name of the whole population of Florence and Tuscany.
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Piero de' Medici died on 3rd December 1469, and his interment, which was conducted with marked simplicity, in accordance with his will, was completed that same evening. He had, during his short exercise of power as Capo della Repubblica, given a pageant—"The Triumph of Death," he called it, by way of being his own funeral obsequies—a grim anticipation of the future indeed!
At midnight a secret meeting of citizens was convened, by the officials of the Signoria, within the Monastery of Sant' Antonio by the old Porta Faenza, to debate the question of filling the vacant Headship of the State. Why such a remote locality was chosen is not stated, but it was in conformity with Florentine usage, which, for general and personal security, required secrecy in such gatherings.
More than six hundred—"the flower of the city" as Macchiavelli called them—attended, and upon the proposition of Ridolfo de' Pandolfini, Messer Tommaso Soderini, by reason of seniority of years and priority of importance, was called upon to preside. "Being one of the first citizens and much superior to the others, his prudence and authority were recognised not only in Florence, but by all the rulers of Italy."
The Soderini had, for three hundred years, held a leading position in the affairs of Florence; but they were rivals and enemies of the Medici. Indeed Messer Tommaso's uncle—Ser Francesco—was one of the principal opponents in the city counsels of Cosimo—"il Padre della Patria." Messer Niccolo, his brother, carried on the feud, and was, with Diotisalvi Neroni, Agnolo Acciaiuolo, and others, banished in 1455, for their complicity in the abortive attempt to assassinate Piero de' Medici.
Messer Tommaso, more prescient and prudent, threw in his lot with the Medici, and was chosen by Piero, not only as his own chief counsellor and intimate friend, but as the principal adviser of his two young sons—Lorenzo and Giuliano. He had, moreover, allied himself to the Medici by his marriage with Dianora de' Tornabuoni, sister of Domina Lucrezia, Piero's wife.
All the same, he kept his own counsel and took up a perfectly independent line of action, being quite remarkable for his display of that most pronounced characteristic of all good Florentines—the placing of Florence first—"Firenze la prima!"
At the meeting, at Sant' Antonio, his rising to speak was the signal for general applause. In a few generous words he eulogised the gentle virtues of Piero and bemoaned his premature death. In a longer and more serious oration, on the conditions politically and socially of Florence and of the whole State, he put before his hearers two uncontrovertible considerations, to guide them in the exercise of the selection of a new Capo della Repubblica,—first. The maintenance of unity and tranquillity; and second. The preservation of the status quo.
Many and friendly were the interruptions of the oration, and over and over again shouts were raised for "Tommaso Soderini il Capo!" Gracefully he bowed his acknowledgment, but, with much feeling, declined the rare honour offered him. Then he went on to say that as the supreme office had been worthily served by Cosimo and Piero de' Medici, it was but fitting that it should be continued in that illustrious family.
He expatiated upon the advantages which had accrued to Florence under the Headship of the Medici; and he urged upon the assembly to offer their allegiance to Piero's sons, and to give them the authority that their father and grandfather had possessed.
Keen debate followed Messer Tommaso's speech: some wished that he would reconsider his decision, others were in favour of trying a new man and of another family—Niccolo Soderini's name was freely mentioned, but gradually the meeting came to accept the proposal. It gained at all events the adhesion of such pronounced ante-Mediceans as Gianozzo de' Pitti and Domenico de' Martelli, and led to a fusion, there and then, of the two parties, "del Poggio" and "del Piano." Unanimity was the more readily reached when those who demurred perceived that Messer Tommaso would be the virtual ruler of the State in the personal direction of his two young nephews. A deputation was accordingly chosen to convey to Domina Lucrezia and her sons the condolences of the city, and to offer to Lorenzo the coveted Headship of the State.
At noon on the following day the deputation was honourably received at the Medici Palace. "The principal men of the State and of the City," wrote Lorenzo in his Ricordi, "came to our house to condole with us in our bereavement, and to offer me the direction of the Government in succession to my grandfather and father. I hesitated to accept the high honour on account of my youth and because of the danger and responsibility I should incur; and I only consented in order to safeguard our friends and our property."
A plenary Parliament was summoned by Tommaso Soderini and those associated with him in the conduct of public affairs during the interregnum. It was held in the great Council Chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio, and was attended by a full concourse of senators and other prominent citizens, deputations from the Guilds, and representatives of the Minor Orders. In the Piazza della Signoria and the adjoining streets, was assembled an immense crowd of people, the greater part being supporters of the Medici.
Inside the Chamber again Messer Tommaso Soderini was unanimously elected president, and forthwith proceeded to report the result of the deputation. His speech was repeatedly interrupted by cries that he should reconsider his decision and accept then and there the Headship of the State. He again emphatically declined the honour his fellow-citizens desired to confer upon him, and proclaimed Lorenzo de' Medici Capo della Repubblica Fiorentina.
At a preconcerted signal the arras over the doorway leading to the private audience chamber was lifted, and there advanced Piero's widow with her two sons, clothed in the dark habiliments of mourning. Domina Lucrezia threw back her thick black veil, revealing upon her kindly face a sorrowful expression and her eyes suffused with tears. Making a lowly curtsey she drew herself up—a queenly figure—and holding the hands of Lorenzo and Giuliano, on either side, made her way to where Messer Tommaso Soderini was standing.
All eyes were bent upon the pathetic little group, and a sympathetic murmur moved the whole audience. Every man of them had for years regarded the Domina as the model of what a woman and a wife, a mother and a queen, should be. She had no rivals and no detractors. Hers had been the wise power behind the throne, for her tactful counsels had guided the actions of her husband unerringly.
Florence was greatly beholden to Domina Lucrezia—a debt which nothing could repay. Her influence for good upon the Court, her munificence in charity, and her unsparing unselfishness had not been without powerful effect upon every one of those hard-headed, hard-hearted citizens. They called to mind that well-known saying of the "Father of his Country"—"the great merchant"—Cosimo: "Why, Lucrezia is the best man among us!"
They reflected, too, upon the auspicious example set at the Palazzo Medici, where the mother's part was conspicuous in the wise training of her family and in the loving deference she received from her sons. And as they gazed upon Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici—"the hope of Florence"—they recognised in the former a statesman, already a ruler in the making. Young though he was, he had widely gained a reputation for shrewdness and energy, for Piero had taken his eldest son early into his confidence, and had entrusted to him much important State business. He had sent him with embassies to Rome, Venice, and Naples; he had despatched him upon a round of ceremonious visits to foreign courts; and had encouraged him to make himself acquainted with all Tuscany and the Tuscans.
Lorenzo's accomplishments in the school of letters were known to all. He was a scholar and a gentleman, and these points had great weight in Florentine opinion. In figure and physiognomy he very greatly resembled his grandfather. His dignified bearing greatly impressed the assembly, whilst his unaffected modesty, pleasant courtesy, and graceful oratory, gratified them all.
In Giuliano they had a typical young courtier, handsome, athletic, accomplished, and enthusiastic. His physical charms appealed to every one, for most Florentines were Greeks of the Greeks. A precocious boy of sixteen years of age, he had the promise of a brilliant young manhood and a splendid maturity.
The personal equation is always a prominent factor in human ambitions, and nowhere was it more emphatically dominant than in the mutual jealousies of the men of Florence. The "x+y" sign of absolute assurance had its match and equal in the "x-y" sign of restrictive deference. If one Messer arrived at some degree of prominence, then the best way for him to attain his end was to pit himself against another of his class nearest to him in influence. If he was not to gain the guerdon, then his rival should not have it!
This was the spirit which permeated the raison d'etre of each noble lord in that great assembly. After the first wave of enthusiasm had passed, each man began to reflect that the best way, after all, for settling the contentious question of the Headship of the Republic, was to rule every one of the "magnificent six hundred" out of the running; and by taking the line of least resistance plump for the unassuming youths before them—Medici although they were.
"Signori!" "Signori!" again ran through the lofty chamber, "I Signori di Firenze!" Some cried out "Lorenzo," and some "Giuliano," and others "I tutte due"—but shouts for Lorenzo waxed the loudest. Thus by general acclamation was the new Capo della Repubblica elected.
Abashed by the vociferations of their elders and yet encouraged by the unanimity of the assembly, the two young men stood gravely bowing their acknowledgments, the heightened colour of their faces and the nervous tension of their frames indicating the fervency of their emotions. In a few well-chosen sentences Lorenzo expressed his pleasure and Giuliano's, and the gratitude of their mother at this signal mark of confidence; and promised to uphold the traditions of the City and the State, as his forbears had done, craving from the noble lords their united sympathy and support.
Gently leading the now smiling Domina Lucrezia by the hand, the two brothers returned to the private Hall of Audience, while the great bell of the Palazzo boomed forth the news to the waiting crowd outside. The wool-workers had ceased their toil, the artists had left their botteghe, the markets were deserted, and all Florence forgathered in the Piazza to welcome "I Signori di Firenze!"
Loud plaudits greeted the noble matron and her sons—not the battle-cry "Palle! Palle!" indeed—but "Evviva i Medici!" "Lorenzo!" "Giuliano!" "La buona Domina Magnifica!" ... Their progress was a triumph, they could scarcely make their way, short as it was, to the Via Larga, for everybody pressed forward to kiss and stroke their hands. Never had there been anything like so popular an election in Florence; men and women shed tears as they uttered rapturously their names; for were not "Lorenzo" and "Giuliano" the "pets of the people," and was not the Domina Lucrezia beloved by everyone!
The plenary Parliament, having completed its labours, broke up immediately, and the excellent lords and worthy citizens hied them to their palaces, their banks, and their offices, more or less pleased with the morning's work. Not a few reflected, rather grimly, that they had placed two young lives between themselves and the seat of supreme authority. Their sons might live to rule Florence, but their own chances had vanished for ever!
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Lorenzo was not backward in gripping, with a firm hand, the reins of power. Young as he was, he had already formed his ideals and laid out his plans as to the best government of the State. The yearly symposia in the Casentino had been productive of much good in the training of the youthful ruler. The direction of his opinions was signified in that saying of his: "He who would live in Florence must know how to govern!"
The repetition of this phrase was perhaps indiscreet, and it caused searchings of heart, as the meaning of it was borne in upon the comprehensions of the least friendly of the citizens. Lorenzo was clearly set upon the aggrandisement of his house and the dependence of all others. Allowance was made for a lad's impetuosity, but at the same time many a leader kept his hands tightly pressed upon the machinery of government.
Everyone perceived that the young Capo della Repubblica was in full possession of the solid grit of his pushful grandfather. He had not studied the careers of his famous ancestors, Salvestro, Giovanni, and Cosimo, for nothing. Indeed Piero, his father, in writing to his sons at Cafaggiuolo to acquaint them with the death of Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," in 1463, had pointedly said: "Your mother and I offer the character and example of your grandfather to our sons."
Besides these strong characteristics he had inherited, in a superlative degree, the shrewd common-sense of Piero, and his mother's passionate love of Florence, with all her enthusiasm for what was pure, cultured, philanthropic, and religious. Niccolo Macchiavelli, somewhat unwillingly, admitted that—"Lorenzo has all the high-mindedness and liberality which anybody could expect in one occupying such an exalted station."
Giuliano tacitly and contentedly accepted a less ambitious and responsible role. Whilst Lorenzo took the first place and occupied himself in questions of State policy and in the affairs of the family, Giuliano drew to himself all the younger men in physical exploit and mental effort. From boyhood addicted to sports and pastimes, he became facile princeps in all manly exercises.
"Il bel Giulio!" as he was called generally, was moreover the leader of fashion and the organiser of all the pageants and jousts with which Lorenzo and he delighted the citizens. Whilst devoting most of his time to fun and frolic, the young prince was acknowledged as one of the chief litterati, and a conspicuous ornament of the Platonic Academy.
The serious side to his character and his, studious disposition gained for him the gentle title of "Il Pensieroso." His mother's fond hope was that he should be named a Cardinal, not merely a Papal princeling, nor of course a religious reprobate—as, alas, most of the Cardinals were—but a devout wearer of the scarlet hat, and that one day he might even assume the triple tiara!
Anyhow Giuliano's youth was as spotless as it might be amid unchaste surroundings. His passion for the bewitching Simonetta, "The Star of Genoa," seems to have been the only serious romance of his life, and therein he never aroused Marco de' Vespucci's jealousy by his attentions to his young wife. Indeed the loves of "Il bel Giulio" and "La bella Simonetta" were the talk and the admiration of the whole city:—the Apollo or the Mercury of the New Athens with his Venus—Venus de' Medici!
The magnificent Giostra, or Tournament, which Lorenzo celebrated a year before his accession to the Headship of the Republic was but the prelude to the exhibition of lavish hospitality such as Florentines, and the strangers within their gates, had never witnessed. Banquets, ballets and pageants succeeded one another in rapid succession. Church and national festivals gained splendour and circumstance unrivalled in any other city. Indeed the citizens, from the highest to the meanest, lived in a whirl of festivities—and they liked it well!
The visits of friendly princes and other distinguished personages were hailed with enthusiasm. Apparently there was no bottom to the Medici purse; but actually the Capo della Repubblica was playing rather fast and loose with his opulent patrimony. There came a day when the strain grew excessive, and Lorenzo was unable, had he been willing, to make advances to princely suitors, and he lived to repent his prodigality.
The first notable visitors were Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan and his Duchess Bona, Princess of Savoy. The retinue which accompanied the sovereigns was gorgeous, and filled the people of Florence with amazement; but their wonder was tenfold greater when Lorenzo displayed still greater magnificence in their reception. Macchiavelli has attributed the vast increase in the luxurious habits of the citizens to this splendid hospitality.
Another remarkable demonstration was that which was made in 1471 upon the occasion of the succession of Cardinal Francesco delle Rovere to the Papal throne as Sixtus IV. Lorenzo, in person, headed the special embassy which was despatched from Florence to congratulate the new pontiff. The other principal members were Domenico de' Martelli, Agnolo della Stufa, Bongianio de' Gianfigliazzi, and Donato de' Acciaiuolo. Whilst the mission and its wealth of offerings were received graciously by the Roman Court, Sixtus by no means extended a cordial welcome to Lorenzo. The request which he made for the bestowal of a Cardinal's hat upon his brother, Giuliano, was refused somewhat brusquely, although, to be sure, the Pope did agree to the transfer of the custody of the finances of the Curia to the Medici bank, through the intervention of Messer Giovanni de' Tornabuoni—Lorenzo's uncle, a resident in Rome.
Lorenzo appears to have made, however, rather a favourable impression upon Sixtus, for he entered into negotiations concerning the sale of the costly jewels which had been collected by Pope Paul II. In the end Lorenzo purchased the cabinet and its contents, and made thereby a very excellent bargain.
During his sojourn in the Eternal City, Lorenzo acquired a number of precious antiques, rare manuscripts, and valuable works of art. Sixtus, noting his artistic tastes, sent him many handsome gifts, and promised, at his solicitation, to prevent the destruction of ancient buildings and monuments. They parted apparently excellent friends.
Giuliano's Giostra was even more brilliant than that of Lorenzo, six years before. It was celebrated in honour of "La bella Simonetta," with whom the impressionable young prince became daily more and more madly in love. Whether his infatuation went at all beyond the bounds of Platonic affection is doubtful. His lovely innamorata was the wife of his best friend, and his honour went for much in the loyal estimation of Giuliano. Besides this, his good mother's influence in the cause of virtue and modesty was all-powerful with both her sons.
Strange to say, this romantic attachment stirred the jealousy of a very prominent citizen, no less a personage than Messer Francesco de' Pazzi. He and his brothers declined the invitation to the Giostra, and abstained from participation in the general festivities. It was a case of race rivalry and of personal jealousy, but it meant much in the relations of the two families.
The efforts which Lorenzo continually made "to gain a firm footing in Florence"—as Francesco de' Guicciardini has recorded—quite naturally were productive of opposition and animosity. The men who had placed him in power were again in two camps—those who were content with the status quo, and those who were not. The latter made less and less effort to conceal their real sentiments, and at length set about to question Lorenzo's motives, and defeat his projects. He was a beau-ideal citizen, for, with all his love of show and circumstance, even in the fulness of his dignity and dominion, he knew how to retain and exhibit certain homely and simple traits, which were quite after the Florentine manner.
He met criticisms and oppositions with the very characteristic statement: "I will," said he, "allow no man to put his foot on my throat!" This threat—for so it was accounted by those who wished to discredit him—was like a red gauntlet thrown down, and, later on, a hand—if not a foot—and a dagger, were at Lorenzo's throat!
The overstrain of desire, the feverishness of acquisitiveness, and the lust for power, often in their intensity defeat the purpose sought. The personality of Lorenzo waxed greater and mightier day by day in the nervously articulated constitution of Florence. The greatest genius of his age, he was not only the master of the Government, but the acknowledged chief of the Platonic Academy, the first of living poets, a most distinguished classical scholar, and the greatest benefactor the city had ever known. Everything was within his grasp and everyone had to bow to his will; his aim was to be autocratic Prince of Tuscany.
It was the mark of a "perfect gentleman" to unbend to plainer folk, and to mingle with them in moments of relaxation. As a youth he had, with Giuliano, frequented the village fairs in the Mugello, for amusement and good fellowship: indeed they brought him inspiration and popularity as well. When in residence in the Medici Palace he was wont to take his walks abroad quite freely, and to sit and chat with the habitues of the osterie by the Porta San Gallo, and other similar taverns.
Florentine of the Florentines, he loved tricks and jokes, and was never tired of making fun at the expense of others: be it said, too, he knew how to take as well as give. An amusing story is told of him: being at Pisa, he chanced to see among the students of the University—which, by the way, he was instrumental in re-establishing and re-endowing—a youth who squinted. He remarked with a laugh: "That lad should easily be the head of his class!" When questioned as to his meaning, he replied jocosely: "Because he will read at the same time both pages of his book, and so will learn double!"
Entering thus unostentatiously into the lives and habits of his fellow-citizens, it was perfectly natural that he should gain their esteem, friendship, and loyal support. He soon became out and away the most popular man in Florence, notwithstanding the unworthy sneer of that ill-conditioned and self-opinionated monk, Girolamo Savonarola. "Lorenzo," he muttered, "occupies the people with feasts and shows in order that they may think more of their own amusement than of his ambitions."
Lorenzo was under no delusion with respect to the permanence, in a more or less subjective degree, of the spirit of revolt which had rendered his father's succession to the Headship of the Republic difficult. The very men who had, for their own ends, misguided Piero, of course were no longer powerful—such at least of them as were still alive were in banishment; but their sons and their adjoints were ready enough to question his authority.
Swiftly enough, Lorenzo took the measures of these men, and prepared to counteract their opposition. Naturally he sought the counsel of Domina Lucrezia, than whom nobody understood better the men of Florence, their manners and their moods. Long and serious were the deliberations of mother and son. With her pregnant assistance he roughed out a scheme, so warily conceived and so faithfully elaborated, that, on its presentation to the Lords of the Signory, it was accepted almost unanimously.
This measure touched citizens in their tenderest spot,—pride and love of display,—for it proclaimed the appointment of the leading Signori as ambassadors to foreign courts and communes. The one great absorbing ambition of all prominent Florentines was, through all their history, to head a foreign mission, with all its honours and emoluments.
With infinite grace and persuasiveness Lorenzo put before the Council the advisability of the despatch of envoys, incidentally to announce his succession to the Headship of the State, but principally to proclaim the grandeur, the wealth, and the power, of the great Tuscan Republic. It was a master-stroke thus to appeal to the patriotism, no less than to the egotism, of their Excellencies, and, at the same time, to confirm his own supremacy!
The bait, dangled before avaricious eyes, was eagerly snapped up, and when Lorenzo backed up his proposition by munificently mounting each embassy, and by the promise of knighthood upon the return of the ambassadors, scarcely a man of those nominated held back. The scheme worked splendidly, and Lorenzo had the supreme satisfaction of bidding courteous and thankful farewells to his most prominent rivals.
Among them were such distinguished leaders of public opinion as Bernardo de' Buongirolami, Cesare de' Petrucci, Bernardo del Nero, Agnolo de' Niccolini, and Piero Filippo de' Pandolfini. Their departure was the signal for the advancement of many less known men,—friends and proteges of the two brothers or of Domina Lucrezia. In this way Lorenzo greatly strengthened his hold upon the supreme power.
Two very prominent men, however, rejected the proposal—at once the most popular and most dangerous—Tommaso de' Soderini and Francesco de' Pazzi.
Tommaso de' Soderini added immensely to his popularity by his noble exhibition of self-abnegation. His prudence and ability had for long pointed him out as the most trustworthy and experienced of his peers. His whole-hearted loyalty to the cause of the Medici, and the consistency with which he maintained the position he had taken up, at the plenary Parliament in 1469, and subsequently, made him, by the contrariety of circumstances, the most redoubtable rival of the ambitious and impulsive Capo della Repubblica.
The trusty pilot, who had so effectively steered the ship of State through the troubled waters of the interregnum, was, quite unintentionally and unwillingly, the greatest obstacle in the way of the young captain! Everybody who had a grievance—real or imaginary—against the government of Lorenzo, sought Messer Tommaso's advice and sympathy, so that the situation became charged with difficulties and embarrassments. The very merest change in the whim of a fickle people might upset the Medici, and then the Soderini would be called upon to fill the vacancy. Messer Tommaso's presence in Florence was both a source of strength to Lorenzo and his house, and a menace.
When the subject of the embassy to Rome—the chief diplomatic appointment of the Republic—was broached, Messer Tommaso, with the utmost sincerity, expressed his fervent wish to meet Lorenzo's views in every respect, but he expressed, quite emphatically, his disinclination to undertake such an arduous duty. Not only did he plead the infirmities of age, but declared that his wife, Madonna Dianora, would never leave Florence. Her love of her own city and its people equalled that of her sister, the Domina Magnifica Lucrezia—their social, charitable and literary interests were alike and equal.
Here was a condition of affairs which called for the exercise of the greatest tact and ingenuity, and Lorenzo committed the task of overcoming the scruples of his uncle and aunt to his mother. Her efforts were entirely successful, and Lorenzo, with a deep sigh of relief, handed Messer Tommaso his credentials, and personally conducted him and his suite to the Porta Romano, and thence speeded him upon his journey.
* * * * *
Francesco de' Pazzi was cast in a very different sort of mould—the very antithesis in character, demeanour, and aspiration to Tommaso de Soderini—he has very appropriately been called "the Cataline of Florence." Possessed of immense wealth, much of which had come to him from his father, Messer Antonio, he rapidly dissipated it by selfish extravagance: no man surpassed him in the virtue or the vice—which you will—of self-seeking.
In the bitterness of an overweening and mortified ambition he rejected, with the utmost discourtesy, Lorenzo's overtures, at the same time remorselessly exposing his intentions, and vowing that no Pazzo should "go round the corner" for a Medico! Messer Francesco displayed unreservedly the true character of his family: he was in truth the "Mirror of his race"—"L'implacabile Pazzi."
The descent of the Pazzi was one of the most ancient among the noble families of Tuscany. The senior branch claimed Greek descent, and its members were early denizens of the hill-country about Fiesole. Leaders of men, they became adherents of the aristocratic party—the Ghibellines—and were consistent and energetic in their allegiance to the Emperor. The junior branch of the Pazzi were dwellers in the Vale of Arno—men of peaceful predilections in agriculture and commerce, throwing in their lot with the Guelphs—the democratic party of the Pope.
Giano della Bella's "Ordinamenti di Giustizia," in 1293, led to the disqualification of the Pazzi and many other notable families from the exercise of the franchise, and, as a consequence, they were deprived of all share in the Government.
They recognised, even in those early days of the formation of the first of modern states, that the Medici were rivals and opponents not only in domestic and commercial enterprise, but also in political advancement, and no love was lost between the two families. Nevertheless, the Pazzi were beholden to their rivals for the restoration of their civil rights.
On the return of Cosimo de' Medici from exile in 1434, they were reinstated, and thenceforward maintained their position. Messer Andrea, next after Cosimo the most influential citizen of Florence, was elected to the Priorate in 1435, and in 1439 he was called upon to entertain no less a personage than King Rene of France. In 1441 he was Gonfaloniere di Giustizia.
Messer Andrea left three sons—Piero, Giacopo and Antonio. Piero served the supreme office of Gonfaloniere in 1462. He was the father of a numerous family—some historians say he had nineteen children by his wife, Madonna Fiammetta de' Guigni! None of them, however, made their mark in the life and history of the city, except the fourth son, Belforte Renato, who was a prominent man but suffered for the ill-doings of his relations.
If Piero and his sons were unassuming citizens, Messer Andrea's second son, Giacopo, was of a very different disposition. A man of far greater ability and more vaulting ambition than his brother, he was looked upon as the head of the family. In appearance he was prematurely old and withered up, with a pallid face and palsied frame, with great restless, staring eyes. He perpetually tossed his head about from side to side, as though afflicted with St Vitus' dance. Giacopo was unmarried, a libertine, notorious as a gambler and a blasphemer, a spendthrift, and jealous—beyond bounds—of the popularity and pre-eminence of Piero and Lorenzo de' Medici. He was pointed at as the most immoral man in Florence. In the year of Lorenzo's succession to the place of Capo della Repubblica, he obtained by bribery the high office of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia as a set-off, but, by an inconsistency as unexpected as it was transparent, he accepted, on vacating office, a knighthood at the hands of his rival.
Cavaliere Giacopo's relations with Lorenzo were fairly cordial, outwardly at least, for as late as 1474, when at Avignon, he wrote several letters to him, full of grateful expressions for favours received and of wishes for a continuance of a good understanding. None of Cavaliere Giacopo's illegitimate children arrived at maturity, and, on account of the failure of his elder brother's sons to achieve distinction, the proud banner of the family was clutched by the hands of the four boys of the youngest of Messer Andrea's sons—Guglielmo, Antonio, Giovanni, and Francesco. Their mother was Cosa degli Alessandri, a granddaughter of Alessandro degli Albizzi, who first adopted the new surname.
The brothers were very wealthy, they had amassed large fortunes in commerce, and their houses extended for a considerable distance along that most fashionable of streets—the Borgo degli Albizzi. The Palazzo de' Pazzi doubtless was commenced by their grandfather, whose emblem—a ship—is among the architectural enrichments. The building was finished by their uncle, Giacopo—it is in the Via del Proconsolo.
As bankers, the Pazzi were noted for their enterprise generally, and for their competition with the Medici in particular. They had agencies in all the chief cities of Europe and the East, but their reputation for avarice and sharp dealing was proverbial. Perhaps no family was quite so unpopular in Florence. Their traditions were aristocratic, whilst the Medici were champions of the people.
This distinction was referred to by Madonna Alessandra Macinghi di Matteo degli Strozzi, in one of her letters to her son Filippo, at Naples. "I must bid you remember," she wrote, "that those who are upon the side of the Medici have always done well, whilst those who belong to the Pazzi, the contrary. So I pray you be on your guard."
The growing importance of the Pazzi gave Piero and Lucrezia de' Medici much uneasiness, and it is quite certain that the marriage of their eldest daughter, Bianca—"Piero's tall daughter" as she was called—to the eldest of the three brothers, was a stroke of domestic policy by way of controlling the race for wealth and power.
Lorenzo, very soon after his accession to the Headship of the State, "took the bull by the horns" and excluded the Pazzi from participation in public office. It was an extreme measure and not in accordance with his usual tact and circumspection, and of course it produced the greatest ill-will and resentment against him and his administration in every member of the proscribed family.
The situation became greatly embittered when, in 1477, Lorenzo interfered in a law-suit which concerned the marriage dower and inheritance of Beatrice, the daughter of Giovanni Buonromeo. By Florentine law the daughter should have inherited the fortune without demur, under the express will of her father, who died intestate; but, at Lorenzo's command, the estate was passed on to Beatrice's cousin, Carlo Buonromeo, who was the winner of the second prize in Lorenzo's Giostra of 1468. This decision was in direct opposition to Giuliano de' Medici's opinion, and he did all he could to reassure Giovanni de' Pazzi, Guglielmo's brother, and Beatrice's husband, of friendship and confidence.
These were not the only incidents which followed one another at the parting of the ways of the two families, but the affair of Giovanni and Beatrice was resented with peculiar bitterness by all the Pazzi. "Hence arose," as Francesco de' Guicciardini has testified, "the wronging of the Pazzi!"
In Francesco, the youngest of the brethren, was exhibited the most violent animosity and hatred. Blessed with superabundant self-conceit, which went so far as to cause him to spend hours a day having his unusually light-coloured hair dressed at the barber's and his face salved and puffed at the apothecary's to conceal his muddy complexion, he was reckoned, in the Mercato Nuovo, as little better than an ill-conditioned braggadoccio! His shortness of stature he sought to atone for by his accentuation of the Florentine pout and the Tuscan strut—he was well known, too, for his contemptuous jokes at the expense of others.
Francesco denounced Lorenzo and his Government with unmeasured scorn, and, careless of restraint, threatened that "he would be even with him, even though it cost him his life." Macchiavelli says: "He was the most unscrupulous of his family." "A man of blood," Agnolo Poliziano called him, "who, when he meditated any design, went straight to his goal, regardless of morality, religion, reputation and consequences."
Early in March he quitted Florence suddenly, giving out that his presence was required at Rome in connection with the affairs of the Pazzi bank. To say that his departure was a relief to Lorenzo is but half the truth, for he was greatly perturbed with respect to the influence which such a passionate and reckless rival would have upon his relations with the Holy See. Francesco was the subject of watchfulness upon the part of the Medici agents in Rome, where Giovanni de' Tornabuoni set himself to thwart any hostile movement which might be made.
Among prominent men with whom Francesco de' Pazzi was thrown into contact were Archbishop Francesco de' Salviati and Count Girolamo de' Riari. The Archbishop and Francesco were no strangers to one another; their families had risen to affluence and power side by side in Florence, actuated by like sentiments and engaged in like activities—hatred of the Medici was mutual.
Sixtus had proposed, in 1474, to bestow upon Francesco de' Salviati the Archbishopric of Florence, but the Signoria, instigated by Lorenzo, refused to confirm his appointment and declined to grant him the temporalities of the See. The Pope yielded very ungraciously to the representations of the Florentine Government and named Rinaldo d'Orsini, Lorenzo's brother-in-law, to the vacancy. This intervention was adduced by Sixtus afterwards as insubordination worthy of punishment, and he did not forget to take his revenge.
The following year Francesco de' Salviati was chosen as Archbishop-designate of Pisa, and again the Florentines objected—being joined by the Pisans, who conspired to prevent him taking possession. The Archbishop was, according to Agnolo Poliziano—the devoted historian and poet-laureate of Lorenzo il Magnifico—"An ignorant man, a contemner of all law—human and divine—a man steeped in crime, and a disgrace to his family and the whole State."
Count Girolamo de' Riari, accounted a nephew of Sixtus, was, like his elder brother Piero and Caterina his sister, a natural child of the Pope. The three were treated with parental affection by the pontiff, and had their home in his private apartments, being waited upon by their unrecognised mother in the guise of nurse and guardian.
Piero de' Riari was created a Cardinal when a spoilt boy, and became, as a man, infamous for his debauchery and villainy. Sixtus had the effrontery to select him as successor to Archbishop Orsini in Florence, but his action was prompted by a motive, which was firmly fixed in his heart. This was nothing less than the supplanting of Lorenzo de' Medici by Piero or Girolamo! So far, however, as Cardinal de' Riari was concerned, Sixtus' ambitions were wholly disappointed by his sudden death, due to violent excesses of all kinds.
Like his brother, Count Girolamo, the offspring of illicit lust, and brought up in the depraved atmosphere of the Papal court, was a reprobate; but Sixtus' vaulting ambition stopped not at character and reputation. He was bent upon the permanent aggrandisement of all the branches of the Delle Rovere family. Casting about for territorial dignity, the Pope set his heart upon the Lordship of Imola, where Taddeo Manfredi of Faenza, being in financial difficulties, had surrendered the fief to the Duke of Milan.
The proposal to bestow the Lordship upon Count Girolamo de' Riari by purchase was warmly resented by the Florentines. Sixtus approached the question in a most underhand and suspicious manner. He knew perfectly well that negotiations were on foot for the acquisition of the property and title by Lorenzo, on behalf of the Florentine Government. Nevertheless he sent a secret mission to Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, offering the handsome sum of fifty thousand gold ducats, with a proviso, that the Duke should bestow the hand of his illegitimate daughter Caterina upon Girolamo.
By way of adding insult to injury, Sixtus impudently sought a loan from the Medici bank, with which to pay the Duke: this greatly offended Lorenzo and all the leading men in Florence. What made the Pope's conduct more despicable, was the knowledge that he regarded this matter as the first step in a line of policy which aimed at supersession of the Medici by the Riari in the direction of Tuscan affairs—himself being Over-Lord.
The Pope's demand was refused indignantly by Lorenzo, who, in the name of the Signoria, administered to his Holiness a severe rebuke for his interference in the affairs of Florence. The relations between the two Governments became strained, but Sixtus was perfectly indifferent to opposition where personal interests were concerned.
His next move was the withdrawal of the Duke of Urbino, his relative, from the military service of the Republic, and his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Papal forces. This manoeuvre was regarded with alarm by all the Italian States, and a league was formed by Florence, Venice, and Milan, to check Papal encroachments.
Sixtus made overtures to the Duke of Milan to detach him from the alliance, but, apparently, they failed of their object. The Duke was friendly with Lorenzo and had no wish to become embroiled with Florence.
All these plots and counterplots were exactly to the liking of Francesco de' Pazzi, and he laid himself out to make capital out of them. Not only did he encourage the Pope in his inimical policy, but he placed at his command the sum of money which had been refused by the Medici bank. Sixtus was delighted with his new and wealthy adherent, and forthwith gave the presidents of the Medici bank in Rome notice that they no longer retained his confidence as Papal bankers, and that, accordingly, he had transferred the accounts of the Curia to the care of the rival Pazzi house. Upon Francesco de' Pazzi he conferred the accolade of knighthood. This hostile action of course further estranged Lorenzo and the Government of Florence, and, quite naturally, a system of quarrelsome incidents was set up, with a very complete equipment of spies.
Sixtus never concealed his desire for the overthrow of Lorenzo and the subversion of the Florentine Government, and his hostility found a whole-hearted response in the persons of Count Girolamo de' Riari, Archbishop Francesco de' Salviati, and Cavaliere Francesco de' Pazzi. The Pope exulted openly in what capital he could make out of tales and gossip about Lorenzo and his entourage. Two prominent Florentines fomented this factious spirit. Giovanni Neroni—the Archbishop of Florence in succession to Archbishop d'Orsini, brother of the notorious Diotisalvi, who was banished in 1466—and Agnolo Acciaiuolo—also banished the same year, who resided in Rome and was an especial favourite at the Vatican.
Charges of opposition to the policy of the Pope were freely thrown in the teeth of Lorenzo, and some of them were true, for the actions of the Pope led all observant men to the conclusion that he proposed to assume the role of arbiter in the affairs of all the Italian States. On the other hand, Lorenzo's policy was peaceful, his aim being the consolidation of Medicean domination in the affairs of the Republic.
Causes such as these brought about the initiation of the dastardly plot known in history as "The Pazzi Conspiracy." The name is somewhat open to criticism, for, although the Pazzi were the chief instruments employed, and exceeded all others in detestation of the Medici, the "forefront and head of the offending" was no less a personage than Pope Sixtus IV.
"His Holiness hates Lorenzo," said Count Girolamo de' Riari; this was the cue to all that followed. Doubtless the Pope was much in the power of sycophants and adventurers—all immoral rulers are. Each knew his man and held him in the palm of his left hand; and none were backward in impressing this knowledge upon him.
"We can always make our lord the Pope do as we please," was Archbishop Salviati's very apposite declaration! It was re-echoed by Francesco de' Pazzi, who added significantly, "and we mean to rid Florence of the Medici."
* * * * *
All through the year 1477 the three arch-conspirators were elaborating their plan of action. Possibly Sixtus—and we may give the miscreant the favour of the doubt—at first merely wished to upset the Government of Florence and banish Lorenzo and Giuliano by direct means. When, however, it was borne in upon him that the immense popularity of the Medici would, in the event of their supersession, only lead to their triumphant recall, he agreed that there was nothing for it but the removal of the two brothers in a more summary manner.
This association of Giuliano with Lorenzo was a miserable exhibition of personal spite. He had refused him the Cardinalate simply because he foresaw the succession of a Medici to the Papal throne, whilst he purposed handing over the triple tiara to his son, Cardinal Piero de' Riari. Nevertheless, there was some idea in the mind of Sixtus, which he conveyed to his fellow-conspirators, of making an agreement with Giuliano, that if he would condone the exile of his brother, then his should be the reversion of the Popedom after Cardinal de' Riari!
Some authorities say Giuliano lent a not unwilling ear to those overtures, but a saner view is that expressed by Agnolo Poliziano in an epigram:—
"Lorenzo—Giuliano—one spirit, love, and aim Animate you both—this, truly, I, your friend, proclaim."
Giuliano's love for Lorenzo was, like that of David and Jonathan, "a love surpassing that of women." He consistently submitted his own ambitions to the exaltation of his brother's magnificence.
The cogitations of the leaders of the conspiracy were disturbed by the fact that, however excellent their schemes might be, there was absolute necessity for the co-operation of other influences. Rome unaided could not cope with Florence, backed as she was by France, Venice, Milan, Ferrara, and Mantua. Sixtus consequently broached the subject of the suppression of the Medici to the King of Naples and to the Duke of Urbino—the support of Siena was always assured in any attack on her great rival.
The king had a personal quarrel with Lorenzo, because he had married Clarice d'Orsini in preference to his daughter, whose hand he had, in a way, offered to the young prince. He at once acceded to the Pope's invitation, and, as good as his word, he despatched his son, the Duke of Calabria, at the head of an armed force, professedly to demand prompt payment by the Republic of arrears due to him for service rendered to Florence.
At the solicitation of Sixtus these troops were retained in Tuscany on the pretext that the Papal fief of Imola required protection. Of course the real purpose was a menace to Lorenzo: the force being at hand to strike a swift blow when necessary.
Duke Federigo of Urbino was made more or less conversant with the Papal policy, and with the special question of Lorenzo's removal. He at once rejected the proposition that resort should be had to violent or secret measures, and in disgust at Sixtus's conduct, he threw up his appointment as Commander of the Papal forces.
Whilst Sixtus was making all these military preparations for the furtherance of his intentions, his co-conspirators removed the scene of their activities to the neighbourhood of Florence, where the Pazzi and Salviati were at one in their readiness to lay down their lives for the undoing of the Medici. They first of all took into their confidence one of the Papal Condottieri, a man of undoubted courage and ability—Giovanni Battista da Montesicco, a native of the Roman Campagna—who was under heavy obligation to Count Girolamo de' Riari. Of course he was perfectly willing, as became his calling, to sell his sword for good payment: he further undertook to enlist his lieutenant, Hieronimo Comiti, in the cause.
The Condottiere was sent off to Florence to communicate to Cavaliere Giacopo de' Pazzi the "idea" of the three chief plotters, to test his feelings, and, if possible, secure his adherence. At first the old man was "as cold as ice"—so Montesicco said in his confession later on—and declined to take any part in the conspiracy. After hearing all that was put before him, he enquired whether Sixtus approved the scheme.
"Why, his Holiness," replied the Condottiere, "has sent me straight to your Honour to ask your support.... I speak for the Pope."
"Then," said Giacopo, "I am with you."
A few days later Archbishop Salviati and Francesco de' Pazzi joined Montesicco at Giacopo's country villa, at Montughi, just beyond the Porta Rosso, on the high road to Bologna. Consultations between the heads of the two families, Pazzi and Salviati—were held there, with the concurrence of a certain number of influential citizens inimical to the Medici.
These meetings were given out as hunting-parties and, to blind their eyes, overtures were made to both Lorenzo and Giuliano to honour the sport with their presence. Needless to say, Francesco de' Pazzi's return to Florence, in company with the unfriendly Archbishop, aroused Lorenzo's suspicions, but he does not appear to have taken any action.
Montesicco was instructed to make himself and his lieutenant familiar with the stage upon which he was destined to play his part of the plot, and especially to observe the persons and the habits of the two Medici princes. Furthermore, he was directed to seek a personal interview with Lorenzo, on the pretence of submitting suggestions, propounded by Count Girolamo, with respect to the acquisition of some poderi near Faenza.
Lorenzo received his visitor with his usual courtesy and hospitality, and, whilst he wondered why Riario should depute such a redoubtable warrior to deal with peaceful matters, he never dreamt that foul play was intended. Montesicco was greatly impressed by the Magnifico's ingenuousness and nobility of character, and still more by the evident esteem and affection in which he was held by all classes of the population. He earnestly reconsidered the bargain he had made: "I resolved," he said in his confession, "that my sword should not slay that just man."
The counsels at Montughi were divergent and acrimonious. At length a resolution was agreed to, as offering a suitable and secure locality for the perpetration of the deed in contemplation, namely, to invite Lorenzo to Rome in the name of Sixtus. Such a step would be regarded as a proof that the Pope no longer opposed Lorenzo's government, but that a modus vivendi had been reached, agreeable to all parties. Giuliano was to be included in the invitation as well. Of course the hope was entertained that a favourable opportunity would be afforded, during the Papal hospitalities, for the murder of the two brothers.
The Archbishop took the lead in all these deliberations—he and Giacopo de' Pazzi were boon companions. "They made no profession of any virtue," wrote Ser Varillas, in his Secret History of the Medici, "either moral or Christian; they played perpetually at dice, swore confoundedly, and showed no respect for religion."
Confident in the general support of all the members of his family, in any demonstration against the hated Medici, he took into his personal confidence his brother, Giacopo de' Salviati—"an obscure, sordid man"—and his nephew, Giacopo—"a wastrel and a fanatical anti-Medicean."
Among the trustworthy Florentine confederates the Archbishop enrolled Giacopo, son of the famous scholar, Poggio Gucchio de' Bracciolini, originally a protege of Lorenzo, but "dismissed his service for insolence and rapacity"; Giovanni Perugino, of San Gimignano, a physician attached to Cavaliere Giacopo's household; Giovanni Domenico, a bridle-maker and athlete, but "an idle sort of fellow"; and Napoleone de' Franzesi, a friend of Guglielmo de' Pazzi, Lorenzo's brother-in-law. Another adherent was Messer Giovanni da Pisa, a notary, but "a factious and bad man."
Before leaving Rome, Francesco de' Pazzi and the Archbishop had agreed with Count Girolamo de' Riari to engage the services of two desperadoes in the pay of the Pope—Bernardo Bandino of the Florentine family of Baroncelli, "a reckless and a brutal man and a bankrupt to boot," and Amerigo de' Corsi, "the renegade son of a worthy father,"—Messer Bernardo de' Corsi of the ancient Florentine house of that ilk. Two ill-living priests were also added to the roll of the conspirators —Frate Antonio, son of Gherardo de' Maffei of Volterra, and Frate Stefano, son of Niccolo Piovano da Bagnore. The former was exasperated against Lorenzo for the reckless sack of Volterra, and because he had taken possession of a valuable alum-pit belonging to his family. The latter was Vicario of Monte Murlo, an upstart Papal precis-writer, whose family was plebeian and employed upon Pazzi property in that locality; he was "a man steeped in crime and a creature of Cavaliere Giacopo de' Pazzi."
So many having been admitted into the secret of the conspiracy, it became a matter of urgent importance that no delay should arise in the fulfilment of the design; the fear of espionage and leakage was ever present to the minds of the leaders. But what to do, and where, and how, baffled all their ingenuity. At last a lead came, quite unexpectedly from Sixtus himself.
At Pisa was a youth, studying law and philosophy—Raffaelle Sansoni—the son of Count Girolamo's only sister, just sixteen years of age, and "very tender in the heart of the Pope." Early in 1478 Sixtus had preconised him Cardinal of San Giorgio, and added the honour of Legate for Archbishop Salviati's induction to that See—the richest, by the way, in all Italy.
The boy Cardinal, in April, was directed, by Sixtus, to make a progress to Imola on a visit to his uncle and aunt, and to take Florence on his way, for the purpose of paying his respects to Lorenzo. There was, of course, much more in this apparently innocent proceeding than appeared at first view. Francesco de' Pazzi at once obtained Cavaliere Giacopo's permission to offer the hospitality of his villa to his youthful eminence and his suite.
Montesicco was ordered to furnish an escort of cavalry in the name of the Pope—"men who were perfectly trustworthy and prepared to carry out whatever commands they received."
After the cavalcade had set forth, Francesco sent a message to Lorenzo de' Medici, suggesting that it might be agreeable to all parties if he could see his way to entertain the Cardinal. Both he and the Archbishop, who was in the company of the Cardinal, knew very well that the proposition would be cordially entertained by the hospitable Magnifico.
As they had anticipated, no sooner had the news reached Florence that the distinguished visitors were approaching the city, than a dignified deputation of Signori set out to meet them, conveying a courteous invitation to be Lorenzo's guests at Fiesole.
A splendid reception was followed by a noble entertainment, whereat all the more notable dignitaries of the city and the principal members of the Platonic Academy assisted. Among the guests of honour were Archbishop Francesco de' Salviati, with the Ambassadors—Giovanni Morino, representing Ferrante, King of Naples; Filippo Sagramoro, the Duke of Milan; and Ercole di Bendio, the Duke of Ferrara. In special attendance upon Lorenzo, and of ambassadorial rank, were the Cavalieri Agnolo della Stufa, Luigi de' Guicciardini, Bernardo de' Buongirolami, and Buongiano de' Gianfigliazzi, and others.
The conspirators were in a state of the highest expectation that Montesicco and his lieutenant would have no difficulty in finding opportunities to effect their dastardly purpose during the festivities. They were doomed to disappointment, for at the last moment, and when the banquet was in progress, it was remarked that Giuliano was absent—he was indisposed and unable to attend the function!
* * * * *
The Sunday following, 26th April, happened to be the name-day of the Cardinal, and he expressed a wish to hear High Mass in Santa Maria del Fiore. Lorenzo announced his intention of personally conducting his eminence to the Duomo, and requested him to honour the Domina Clarice and himself by attending a State dinner at the Medici Palace, in the Via Larga, at the conclusion of the ceremony.
This was much to the mind of the confederates, for, surely, there would be a favourable opportunity for the execution of the plot. In secret session it was arranged that, at the moment of the Elevation of the Host, Giovanni Battista da' Montesicco should stab Lorenzo, whilst Francesco de' Pazzi and Bernardo Bandino should fall upon Giuliano.
The Condottiere, however, firmly refused to commit the double crime of sacrilege and murder, and, point-blank, declined all further share in the conspiracy. Here was an entirely unlooked-for situation, and an alternative plan was not easy to arrange. Francesco de' Pazzi seemed inclined to step into the breach, but detestation of Lorenzo checked his ardour—he would not soil his hands with the blood of such a contemptible tyrant, a menial should administer the blow! There was no lack of volunteers ready to take Montesicco's place, but excessive caution was requisite that no prominent Florentine conspirator should be chosen, lest suspicion should be aroused.
Finally the two clerical members of the conspiracy, Frati Antonio and Stefano, were entrusted with the grim duty. The appointment was quite the best that could be made, because, at the Cathedral, Lorenzo and his immediate entourage would be placed with the clergy, within the choir, whereas to the Pazzi and the other confederates places would be assigned outside the screen, among the unofficial congregation.
Everything was in order, the great bell of the Duomo was sounding its invitation, and the sacred building was packed with worshippers and spectators. In full state Lorenzo, accompanied by Domina Clarice and their Court, led Cardinal Sansoni to his chair of estate by the high altar.
If, as he himself affirmed, Lorenzo was deprived of the pleasure of smell, he had compensation in the greater acuteness of the other four senses, and it must have struck his keen eyes, as he passed to his place, that there seemed to be an unusually large muster of adherents of the Pazzi and Salviati. Probably he reflected that they were there armed in honour of the Cardinal, who was the guest of Cavaliere Giacopo and under the guidance of Archbishop Francesco, as deputy of his Holiness the Pope.
In the vast congregation everybody of importance in Florence was assembled, with two notable exceptions—the mother and the only brother of Lorenzo il Magnifico. The Domina Lucrezia, who had suddenly retired from the prominent position she held at the Court of her son, remained at Careggi with the venerable Madonna Contessina, Cosimo's widow, upon whom she waited with the utmost devotion.
The other absentee was, once more, Giuliano! Consternation seized upon the conspirators, for the slaughter would not be complete without the shedding of his blood.
The preliminary anthems were being sung as the procession of the celebrant of the Mass, with his sacred ministers moved from the New Sacristy, and every head was bowed before the symbol of the cross. Hesitation on the part of the confederates meant ruin, and, perhaps, death: this no one knew better than Francesco de' Pazzi. Beckoning to Bernardo Bandino, he led the way to the north door of the Cathedral, and hurried off with him to the Medici Palace, not many yards away.
Asking to see the Lord Giuliano, the porter led them into the courtyard, and presently the groom of the chamber conducted them into the young prince's apartment. Giuliano was nearly dressed, and his valet was giving some final touches to his abundant brown hair and to his robes.
"Hasten, my lord, the Mass is in saying, or you will be too late," exclaimed Francesco, "we have come to conduct you to the Duomo." Giuliano was in a gleeful mood, and joked his visitors upon their unexpected attentions. At length he cried out: "Lead on, Pazzo—Medico will follow!"
Taking him in his humour, Francesco slipped his arm round Giuliano's waist—apparently as a mark of good-fellowship, but really for the purpose of feeling whether he was wearing armour under his blue velvet tunic. With Bandino on the other side, the three made the rest of their way through the dense crowd in the Via Larga, being greeted respectfully by old and young, though many wondered at "Il bel Giulio's" unwonted companions.
Entering the Duomo, the three stood a moment whilst a clear course was made for Giuliano to the centre of the congregation. Lorenzo and the clergy and dignitaries within the choir were already upon their knees, ready to prostrate themselves as the celebrant held aloft the Sacred Host. Near Lorenzo were Giovanni de' Tornabuoni, his uncle,—famous for his wealth, influence at Rome, and his probity,—Antonio and Lorenzo de' Cavalcanti, Lorenzo de' Tornabuoni, Marco de' Vespucci, and Filippo degli Strozzi, Chamberlains of Honour, and other distinguished Florentines and the foreign ambassadors.