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CHAPTER THIRD.: FLORENCE. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 5 (Defence of the Constitutions Vols. II and III) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 5.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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The history of Segni, which was intended to record the transactions of the republic or popular state from 1527 to 1550, begins with the eighth book of Nerli, and contains a circumstantial relation of every particular. This same Segni has written the life of his uncle Niccolò Capponi. Varchi too, begins his history about the same time; so that this period is well described by a variety of historians.
“After the resolution taken by the Cardinal di Cortona, and the principal citizens in the government, to resign the authority of the balia, and to leave the state, by agreement, liberally in the hands of the people, the balia assembled on the sixteenth of May, 1527, and the provision by which liberty was restored to the people, and the government wholly conferred upon them, by the total annihilation of the balìa, was received with great joy. But that, in so great a revolution, they might proceed without scandal, and ordain a government, free, pacific, and quiet, as, perhaps, those citizens, who were the principal authors of the change, and had been so zealous for it, had flattered themselves they might, (although very different effects followed, as generally happens to those who place themselves at the head of the people, and are the instruments of changing a government,) they began by giving order and form to the government, that is, by taking the power into their own hands, instead of giving it up to the people. They gave authority to the signori, the colleges, and the council of seventy, and to the members of the balia, to make, as well as they could, a deputation of thirty citizens for each quarter, giving a convenient share to the minor arts, according to the classes at that time in the city; and they ordered that such deputation should be made by ballot, among the signori, council, magistrates; and the thirty for the quarters, who were thus ballotted for by the greatest popular favor, or, in other words, who had the most black votes, should be understood to be elected; to which number of one hundred and twenty citizens, together with the said magistrates and counsellors, should be given full authority to elect all officers, meaning such as had been usually made by the council of a hundred, until the twentieth of June. All other officers were to be drawn from the ordinary purses till the same day; after which, it was determined that the council of the people, called the greater* council, should commence its authority. This greater council was arranged to have the same authority, modes, orders, and forms, which it had before 1512, but with certain limitations and corrections. The new council of signori collegi were to be one hundred and twenty, the supernumeraries seventy, and the balia of twenty, to whom was given authority concerning the mode of making the new gonfalonier; and the council of eighty was revived in the same form as before 1512. Then, in the abundance of their gratitude to the Medici, for permitting the popular government to be revived, they passed an indemnity to them and all their agents, and forgave Hippolito, Alexander, and the duchess, daughter of Lorenzo, late Duke of Urbino.
“At last the old balia was annulled; but the new government had scarcely assembled, before fresh dissensions arose.† Some were against observing at all the laws made as now related, especially relative to the greater council; many, without waiting for the term prescribed, favored the assembling this council, and acting in it; and some were even for beginning tumultuously, and without waiting for any limitations or corrections, and without regarding this law in any degree. Many others were for removing the signori by force before the time, though by the law they were to continue the month of June; and because the provision or law made by the balia for peaceably restoring the state to the people was not observed, as indeed it was not, and because the concession and promise made by the Medici was not strictly regarded, it was given out that they were returning with force to recover the state which they had voluntarily quitted, and which was not taken from them by force, as many had endeavored in vain to do shortly before; and many false rumors were created, propagated, and exaggerated, to terrify and confound the contending parties. These at last divided themselves into two principal factions; the Strozzi, Soderini, &c. were the heads of one, and Niccolò Capponi of the other. They had a long struggle to make the gonfalonier resign, and get possession of the palace. The greater council was brought into being and action before the time, and many other alterations were made about the choice of magistrates; but a tumult in the palace, backed by all the persuasions of Capponi, was at last effective to prevail upon the gonfalonier to resign. A new gonfalonier was now to be chosen, and new regulations contrived for the election, and among a multitude of candidates, Niccolò Capponi was chosen.”
Niccolò Capponi had great qualities; but these alone were not the cause of his elevation; it was indeed the secret influence of the Medici interest which decided the election in his favor. This was a very memorable example of electioneering. It resembles in so many of its outlines all other elections, which enter into the essence of every government in one centre, that it is very interesting to every free citizen to consider it attentively. Sixty electors were drawn out of the purse of the grand council, each of whom was to nominate a citizen of fifty years of age; and among these sixty were to be balloted for, in the greater council, six candidates for the office of gonfalonier. The six who upon this occasion had the most votes, were Carducci, Soderini, A. Strozzi, Nero, Bartolini, and Niccolò Capponi. Each of these candidates had his distinct principles, system, and party. In favor of Carducci were all that part of the citizens who most dreaded and hated the Medici, who wished for a licentious government, through which they could be revenged, by beating down every citizen who, under the government of the Medici, had any reputation, influence, or power. In Strozzi concurred a part of the same citizens, for the same reasons; but their ardor for him was cooled by the recollection of the part he had formerly acted against Savonarola in 1498. In Soderini united all those citizens who loved a government both free and quiet, such as that which prevailed from 1502 to 1512, when Peter Soderini was gonfalonier for life. The party of Medici were united to a man against him; with all other parties he was upon tolerable terms. And this is not only natural, but it is universally found in experience, that the monarchical party is most averse, in such conjunctures, to the aristocratical, and generally coalesces with the democratical, as these did upon this occasion in the choice of Capponi. The partisans of Nero and Bartolini were those only who hated all men who had ever held any place in government, and wished for such as were entirely new. Amidst so many competitors and such a variety of parties and views, Capponi was elected, though he had held offices of high trust and confidence under the Medici. He had in the whole course of his life, public and private, been a wise, liberal, and irreproachable citizen; the reputation of his father and his ancestors had early rendered him illustrious; he had as much resolution as he had ambition, and had maintained the character of an honest man with all; that of a free republican with the popular party, and that of a man of honor and fidelity with the Medici themselves, who unanimously fell in with his views in the election.
“Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.”
The dominant party will, in general, in this manner prevail, though their leaders are in danishment, and even though excluded by law. Capponi had married a daughter of Philip Strozzi, and this union of their families, and even the diversity of their characters,* had contributed to increase the influence of the former. After the election of the gonfalonier, they proceeded to the choice of the signori for three months. Thus the party of Capponi carried their point, and accomplished all this weighty business by the first of June, against the regulation that the old signori should continue through the month.
“One of the first steps taken under the new government, was an appointment, by a plurality of votes in the greater council, of five citizens, under the title of syndics of the commons, to examine the accounts of all those who had handled the public money or other property from the year 1512. This was an invention of revenge and jealousy, to destroy all the friends and instruments of the Medici; and many other schemes of persecution against the party of Medici were contrived without the smallest discretion, and in spite of all the endeavors of Capponi and Philip Strozzi to prevent them. Among other schemes of persecution, the most tyrannical imaginable, which this dominant party now triumphant, practised against the minor party, was, at a time when a sum of money, (thirty thousand crowns,) was wanted by the public, to make a law that twenty citizens should be elected, who should be compelled to lend the public fifteen thousand crowns each.”
Such is the sense of liberty and the sacred regard to property in a government in one centre!
“This popular tyranny was carried to an excess so intolerable, that Philip Strozzi, the very father of the revolution, was obliged to fly to Naples, though his brother-in-law was gonfalonier; but returning some time after with Buondelmonti, they were both imprisoned for four years in the tower of Volterra, for making opposition to the new iniquitous taxes and the administration of the syndics. Acciaioli too, who was then returned from his embassy in France, was imprisoned for being in arrear for part of a subsidy which they had imposed upon him, not only without equity, but beyond his ability. The gonfalonier could make no resistance to this popular fury, which had now got the ascendant; the great council and their three months’ men, the signori, governed without control; and because they could not glut their vengeance upon the persons of the Medici, they took the images in wax of the popes Leo X. and Clement VII., and scourged and destroyed them; and the magistrates themselves were supposed to have excited the youths who were guilty of this outrage, so indecent in a catholic city; at least no measures were taken to suppress or to punish the rioters. An order was given by the magistrates, the eight of the balìa, that the arms and ensigns of the Medici should be taken down in every place in the city and country, public and private, even in the private houses of the family, even from the monuments over their tombs.”
All this was done, and many other invasions of their private property committed, in direct contempt of the capitulation made with Cardinal Cortona and the Magnificent Hippolito, when they resigned the authority of their balìa, and voluntarily left the state to the people. It is astonishing that the people themselves should not have recollected that this courage had come into their hearts only from the present calamity of the pope, which might soon be at an end, and themselves made to feel the consequences of their present folly; but in such a tumult of popular passions there is never any reflection, prudence, or foresight. All these things happened in the first months of the new government, while the pope was in the power of the imperialists, a prisoner in the castle of St. Angelo. The plague was now in Florence, and it was difficult to assemble the councils, especially the greater council; a law was therefore made, that for the creation of officers and the expedition of private petitions, the number of the greater council necessary to be present should be only four hundred; but for the creation of the signori, the colleges, the ten of war, and the eight of the balìa, the number of eight hundred must be full, as well as at the passing of new laws and the imposition of new taxes.
“In December, the pope accommodated his affairs with the emperor, obtained his liberty, and retired to Orvieto for his greater security. This event increased the number of opponents to the present government in Florence, and again brought into reputation those who had enjoyed it under the Medici. Two factions now broke out in the city. The rivals of Capponi began to raise their heads, and endeavored to render unpopular not only the friends of the Medici, but Capponi and all those who had endeavored to unite all parties for the general tranquillity. Carducci, A. Strozzi, and Soderini, now formed a triumvirate, at the head of one faction, against Capponi and his adherents; and the young men and more active partisans of each side armed themselves, both under the pretence of defending the palace. This guard, thus composed of two parties, could not be united, and gave much trouble to the gonfalonier. The pope at this time made Hippolito a cardinal. A satirical libel was composed, printed at Siena, and scattered all over Florence, in which a picture was drawn of such a gonfalonier as would be suitable to the present conjuncture; but it was in all things opposite to the character of Capponi, and very much resembled Carducci. This device excited much licentious conversation in the city against Capponi, and many projects of a new gonfalonier at the approaching election.
“These canvassings drove Capponi to a curious expedient to obtain his election. He had always maintained a good character with the friends of Savonarola the Prophet, and in this time of the plague all men were seriously inclined, and the superstitious began again to be frantic. Niccolò took an opportunity, in the greater council, to make an oration upon the times, in which, by the aid of a retentive memory, he repeated, almost word for word, one of the most terrible sermons of Savonarola, which predicted so many scourges to Italy and to Florence, and, after so much destruction, such felicity to the Florentine people; and endeavored to show that the times thus predicted were arrived. In the course of his harangue he wrought himself up to a fervor of enthusiasm, fell upon his knees before the whole assembly, and cried with a loud voice to God Almighty for mercy. His enthusiasm spread like a contagion, and the whole assembly fell upon their knees after his example, and cried out, with a voice like thunder, ‘Misericordia!’ as they had been used sometimes to do when attending some of the most dreadful of Savonarola’s lectures; and to complete his artifice, or his frenzy, he persuaded the people, in commemoration of the tribulations, chastisements, and judgments of God, and the better to secure the felicity promised by Savonarola, that they ought to elect, for the peculiar king of the people of Florence, Jesus the Redeemer; and, as Savonarola had said in some of his sermons, that they ought to bear the ensigns of Christ, and the glorious name of Jesus, over the gates of the palace. The proposition was made in council, as soon as the gonfalonier had finished his oration, that Christ should be their king, because, according to St. Paul, God had constituted him heir of all things; and Nerli, who says he was present among so many hundreds of citizens, declares, that there were not more than twenty* white beans, or votes, against the proposition, when it was determined by ballot. Capponi, by this proceeding, made such an impression upon all orders, and gained so many partisans, that, notwithstanding all the combinations of the families of his competitors, he carried his election in June, 1528.
“In this year the pope’s profound projects,* hitherto concealed with great art, began to be discovered. An ardent desire of restoring to his family their grandeur in Florence was deeply rankling in his mind; yet, by an hypocrisy too natural to that, as well as every other kind of ambition, he endeavored, by public declarations, in the most unequivocal terms, to persuade the Florentines that nothing was further from his thoughts; that he only desired the republic to acknowledge him as pontiff, as all other princes and sovereigns had done, and that they would not persecute his connections in their private affairs, nor take away the ensigns and ornaments which belonged to his family. With a commission to this purpose, he had sent a Florentine prelate as his ambassador to Florence; but as he had not obtained an audience, he solicited, through the medium of the King of France, that they would send an embassy to him, earnestly endeavoring to remove all their suspicions, and, by all appearances of candor, frankness, and familiarity in his dealings with them, to dispose them to fall in with his insidious designs. As all these devices proved unsuccessful, he exerted himself to persuade Lautrec, that as those who governed in Siena were dependents on the emperor, it would be useful to his affairs to restore Fabio Petrucci to that city; but Lautrec, from the opposition of the Florentines, would not engage in it. Failing in this way, he labored in secret with Pirro, who complained of grievances against the Sienese, that with eight hundred men, and some exiles from Chiusi, he should seize upon that territory, and endeavor by that means to govern Siena; but the Florentines insinuating to the French ambassador, the Viscount de Turenne, that the pope aimed at nothing but disturbing Florence by the means of Siena, the ambassador persuaded him to give up the movement to Chiusi.
“Capponi, the gonfalonier, held at this time† a correspondence with the pope by means of Jacopo Salviati, by which the pope intended, in time and with patience, to overcome all difficulties, and obtain the restoration of his family; but the gonfalonier intended only to amuse the pope, and prevent him from undertaking any enterprise against the city with force. Thus both parties hoped to gain the advantage of time. Capponi gave hopes to the pope that the city might be disposed to agree with him, as they had been used to do with other pontiffs, provided his holiness would content himself to leave it in the quiet enjoyment of its liberty. This correspondence, though conducted with secrecy, to avoid suspicion, was communicated, however, to several of the first citizens in the government. Jacopo Alamanni, though he knew the correspondence was conducted with the privity of the government and for the good of the state, was excited by the competitors of the gonfalonier to seize with violence Serragli, who had been sent by Salviati upon the business, and a great clamor was excited against the gonfalonier; fresh libels were published, and old ones reprinted; the young men were again excited tumultuously to demand arms, ensigns, and officers to be elected by themselves; and the triumvirate prevailed so far as to have a new ordinance for the militia, by which an imborsation should be made of the young soldiers, and a number drawn from time to time, to keep the guard of the palace.
“This was no better than making the government prisoners to the opposition. Alamanni at length proceeded to such violence, tumult, and outrage against the gonfalonier, that the signori, who were authorized by the greater council to defend the palace, were obliged, in order to suppress this armed sedition, to order him to be seized. He attempted to fly, but was made prisoner, condemned, and beheaded. This punishment excited fresh clamors against the gonfalonier, especially among the young soldiers, who now reproached their own leaders, the triumvirate, although they had secretly stimulated the offence, for having concurred in the sentence. Perhaps to remove Carducci and Strozzi out of the way of giving farther disturbance to the government, the first was appointed ambassador to France, and the second to Venice. Both declined the employment; as the laws would not permit any citizen to renounce an embassy without alleging just impediments, to be approved by the signori and colleges, they applied to be excused; but their reasons were not admitted, and they fell under the punishment of admonition and other heavy penalties. Their arguments before the signori and colleges only served still more to divide and distract the public councils. At last Carducci went to France, much against his will, but Strozzi was condemned and admonished; and this again alienated many friends from the gonfalonier, and still further weakened his party.
But many grew weary of the endless confusions and anxieties arising from this government in one centre, and that centre the nation. Those who had been in reputation in the time of the Medici began to recover credit, and the faction of the triumvirate lost ground. “The young men, too, were divided, some warmly attached to the gonfalonier, and others as zealous against him, especially those who resented the punishment of Alamanni. The gonfalonier, trusting to a good conscience and upright intentions, proceeded in his negotiations with the pope, with the participation of his principal colleagues in government; and this he thought the more necessary, since the ruin of the French army near Naples made him suspect that the pope would reconcile himself with the emperor; and indeed the pope at this time,* under a countenance of exquisite dissimulation, had all his thoughts taken up with the recovery of the government of Florence, still amusing the French ambassadors and the other confederates with various negotiations, and specious hopes of his adhering to the league. Nevertheless, moved partly by the dread of the grandeur of the emperor, and the success of his enterprises, and partly by the hopes of inducing him more easily than he could the King of France to assist him in the restoration of his family to Florence, he had a stronger inclination to the emperor than to the king. To facilitate this design, he moreover most earnestly desired to draw to his devotion the state of Perugia; to which end he was believed to have stimulated Braccio Baglioni, who constantly attempted new disturbances in that neighborhood.
“In this conjuncture, a fresh altercation happened in Florence, to the great misfortune of the government,† excited against Capponi, at the end of the second year of his magistracy, principally by the envy of some of the principal citizens, who availed themselves of the jealousies and ignorance of the multitude. The gonfalonier, in all his administration, as well as in his correspondence, had two principal points in view; to defend against fresh attacks of envy or resentment those who had been placed in honor by the Medici, and even to communicate to them, in common with the other citizens, the honors and councils of the public; and, in things of no moment to liberty, not to exasperate the spirit of the pope. These points were both of great utility to the republic; because many of those who had been persecuted as enemies of the government, finding themselves in safety, would have joined heartily with the others to defend it; and because the pontiff, though he eagerly desired the return of his family, would, if no fresh provocations were given him, have less incitements to precipitation, and less grounds for those complaints he was continually making to other princes. But the ambition of many was opposed to this policy, who, knowing that they should be farther from a share in the government, or have less influence in it, if the friends of the Medici, men undoubtedly of more experience and merit, were in it, minded no other business than that of filling the multitude with suspicions of the pope and his party, and calumniating the gonfalonier, as not having a sufficient hatred against the Medici, that he might not obtain the prolongation of his magistracy for the third year. Capponi, unmoved at these slanders, and thinking it very necessary that the pope should not be provoked, entertained him with letters and private messages, as before related; a practice which was begun and continued with the knowledge and approbation of the principal citizens in administration, and with no other end than to divert the pope from taking some violent measures.
“As fortune would have it, having dropped by accident and incautiously in the council-chamber a letter from Rome, in which were some words capable of exciting suspicion in such as were uninformed of the original and foundation of the correspondence, it fell into the hands of Jacopo Gherardi, one of those who had seats in the supreme council, and were most bitter against the gonfalonier; certain seditious young men rose in arms and seized the palace, retaining the gonfalonier in custody, and calling together the magistrates and a multitude of citizens, tumultuously deliberated and resolved that he should be deprived of his office;* which decision was confirmed by the larger council. Capponi was rendered incapable; and it was ordained that the gonfalonier should be for the future but for one year, and that his salary should be reduced one half. The opposition of the triumvirate had so turned the brains of the people by their intrigues, that a great change was made in the government, and Francesco Carducci, a man proved by his past life, by his condition, and his depraved views, to be unworthy of so great an honor, was chosen in his place. Capponi was brought to his trial, and defended himself with such eloquence and ability, and showed so clearly that his conduct, instead of being criminal, had been dictated by the principal persons in government, and merely for the public good, that he was acquitted with honor, and accompanied home to his palace by almost all the nobility.
“Upon the privation of Capponi, the pope no longer entertaining any hopes but from force, sent the Archbishop of Capua in great haste to the emperor, and, as Capponi had foreseen, agreed to almost any terms that were demanded of him, in consideration of having his family restored to Florence, and a natural daughter of the emperor given in marriage to his nephew Alexander de’ Medici, the son of Lorenzo, late Duke of Urbino. Him the pope intended to invest with the secular grandeur of his house, because, some time before, when he was sick and in danger of death, he had made Hippolito, the son of Giuliano, a cardinal. The emperor stipulated to give twenty thousand ducats a year with his daughter, and to reinstate the pope in the possession of Cervia, Ravenna, Modena, Reggio, and Rubiera. And thus, by their continual factions and divisions, the citizens of Florence found they had disgusted both the King of France and the emperor. Thus it usually happens, when small republics and petty princes intermeddle in the wars of great monarchs; the one in alliance thinks himself ill served, while the other, who is in enmity, is most grievously offended, and vows revenge.”*
The particulars of the negotiations at Cambray; the contradictory representations of their two ambassadors, Carducci and Cavalcanti, who were of different parties; the propositions of an accommodation with the emperor, made by the Prince Doria through Louis Alamanni, and the rejection of them by the influence of Francesco Carducci, the new gonfalonier, and those citizens who were most jealous of the Medici and their party, are too tedious to relate, though they were rejected, and consequently the republic ruined, by the confused method of treating of foreign affairs in a numerous and mixed assembly, according to the new constitution.
“The emperor now arrived in person from Spain, and all the states of Italy sent ambassadors to pay him their respects, except Florence. The triumvirate, with their new gonfalonier, were afraid that either some of the old friends of the Medici, or some of the friends of Capponi, who was at the head of the middle or neutral party, as it was called, would be sent, and by this means come again into reputation; to prevent which they not only risked the emperor’s resentment, but deprived themselves of the means of obtaining intelligence of any intrigue that might be begun between the pope and him. They set on foot, however, in order, as it was pretended, to unite the citizens, a subscription and an oath, to maintain the present popular government. But although the subscription was publicly opened in a book in the greater council, many respectable citizens would not subscribe, as they knew it to be impossible to unite the citizens cordially in such a plan. The animosities of party grew warmer, and Pazzi, a friend of Capponi, of a very respectable character, was accused of uttering seditious words. The prosecution occasioned great heat. Pazzi was tried and acquitted, and Rinieri would have been imprisoned for his false accusation, if the gonfalonier and his party had not screened him from justice. In this manner did the gonfalonier, to increase his authority, and to make himself feared, seek every opportunity, and employ every means, to depress his adversaries; and if he had succeeded against Pazzi, he intended to have pursued others with still greater animosity.
“About the middle of August, the emperor arrived in Genoa, and all the rest of Italy sending him ambassadors, a fresh effort was made in Florence; and, as it could not now be prevented, the gonfalonier conceived another device to defeat it. He prevailed to have the powers and instructions so confined, especially against agreeing with the pope, that they could obtain no other answer from the emperor than, ‘First accommodate your affairs with his holiness.’ But this was not all the evil. In such governments nothing can be done with any degree of satisfaction to the public, but by gratifying every party; if one clamorous faction is left to excite a cry, all is confusion. Upon this occasion four ambassadors had been appointed, Strozzi, Capponi, Soderini, and Girolami, who could no more agree among themselves than with the emperor or the pope. They could never agree in writing their despatches. Soderini and Girolami, to maintain their city in the French interest and in its obstinacy not to agree with the pope in any manner, would not concur with Strozzi and Capponi in writing clearly and plainly what the emperor had said to them.
“In September, the united armies of the pope and the emperor resolved on taking possession of Perugia, and the pope gave notice to Malatesta Baglioni to depart from that city. Malatesta demanded of Florence men and money to defend it. In order to give the most pointed offence to the pope, and to make their defiance the more conspicuous, they affected to extend it not only to his person, but to the pontifical see. They resolved to send three thousand men to the aid of Malatesta, to prevent the church from recovering one of its principal territories. But, with all this assistance, Malatesta was driven out of Perugia, and marched to Florence, in consequence of an order from the gonfalonier, without the knowledge of the signori or council of ten, and against their judgments as well as the general sense of the citizens, who almost unanimously desired an accommodation with the pope. A clamor now arose against the gonfalonier and his friends, which obliged them to call to council many citizens of the other parties, whom they had long neglected, who carried a resolution to send other ambassadors to the pope, with more ample powers of accommodation. But the gonfalonier, by delaying the commission, had subtlety enough to defeat this resolution, although it had been taken with very general satisfaction; and he proceeded to take measures for the defence of the city against the confederated army. Many of the principal citizens, alarmed at these delays, harangued freely in council in favor of an accommodation; but these were insulted in the street by the youth of the gonfalonier’s party, for their freedom of speech in council. This occasioned a public complaint and so much general indignation that the gonfalonier was obliged to give way and despatch the ambassadors with full powers; but he had still the art to delay the deliberations in council upon the terms of accommodation. The ambassadors met with some difficulty to find the pope, and could not agree among themselves. Soderini went to Lucca; Strozzi to Venice; Capponi resolved to return to Florence, and labor openly and decidedly to persuade his fellow-citizens into an accommodation, and Girolami returned to oppose him.* Capponi was taken sick, and died at Garfagnana;1 Girolami therefore had a larger field opened to his† ambition to be gonfalonier, to which end he accommodated his discourse variously to different parties of the citizens; from those whom he knew to be desirous of peace, he disguised his sentiments, and concealed his late conduct; to the neutral party he proposed that the city should stand upon its defence and make the best preparations for it, but be ready to receive, or even to propose, any reasonable terms of accommodation on the first favorable opportunity; but with the faction of the gonfalonier, knowing their resolution to be fixed to see the city perish rather than yield to any accommodation, he opened himself in private without reserve, and declared himself devoted to their system.”
It is the general opinion of historians, as well as of Segni, “that the divisions of the citizens into parties under the triumvirate, and afterwards of those persons of middle rank, who, by means of their discord, came after them into power, as Carducci, Castiglione, and others, were the true cause of the loss of their liberties; for these persons, though few in number, among a people jealous of their liberties, and full of parties and various humors, found it easy to agitate their fellow-citizens in so violent a manner, as to make them resolve upon sustaining a siege, and to render the defence glorious. And although it is not denied that the pope gave a provocation to this, and would have tried every method to recover Florence, yet the difficulties were so great, that it is not doubted he would have been contented with reasonable conditions, rather than venture on so atrocious and so impious a war.”
We pass over all the marches of armies, and intrigues of negotiation between the King of France, the emperor, the pope, the Venetians, &c., which occurred before the fifth of October, 1529, when the Prince of Orange advanced before Florence, and laid siege to the city, which was now well fortified, and contained a strong garrison.
“Valori was sent by the pope as his commissary to the army, and with him went a large number of Florentine exiles, (of whom there was always a multitude scattered and wandering about all Italy, and waiting for the motion of troubled waters) who now joined the united army of the pope and emperor. As these had relations and connections in the city, an alarm was excited; and to intimidate every one from the thoughts of an accommodation, the signori resolved that five-and-twenty citizens should be declared suspected of disaffection to the popular government, and confined in the palace under a strong guard; and, to complete their plan of terror against any one who might speak of an accommodation, they cut off the head of Carlo Cocchi, for saying that it would be better to restore the Medici than to hazard the war, and for talking of a parliament.”*
There is not in the whole history a fact more curious than this, as it lets us into the true character of this government. It was always called the popular government, but it was really an aristocracy; and the members of it dreaded an assembly or convention of the people, which they called a parliament, as much as they did the Medici; and soon after, the same sentence and execution was passed upon Francesco Rigogolo, for daring to speak of an accommodation.† And by these arts and means did this aristocratical tyrant, the gonfalonier, spread such a terror among the citizens, that no man dared oppose his will; and he obtained and exercised more power than the magistrates, the cabal, (pratiche,) the ordinary council, or the laws; and he used it accordingly in the most arbitrary manner, in raising money by various illegal measures, by discarding magistrates and dissolving councils at his pleasure, and in doing all other things that an unbridled despot could do. It would be tedious, and it is unnecessary to relate all the particulars of his arbitrary conduct; of the assaults and sallies, in one of which the Prince of Orange was killed; the hopes, fears, deliberations, distresses, and famine of a siege, which does infinite dishonor to this pope, who had no right to subject the city; and of a defence which was made by the obstinacy of an aristocratical junto, for purposes of ambition equally reprehensible, though colored with a pretence of a popular government, but which was by no means conducted by the spirit of liberty, or upon any principle of a free people. On the contrary, it was conducted, from first to last, without regard to any law or constitution, and against the sense of a great majority of the people.
“The defence was sustained from October to August, on the ninth day of which month, 1530, four ambassadors were deputed to treat with Don Fernando da Gonzaga, who, since the death of Orange, had the chief command of the army, and the next day a convention was concluded. The principal articles were, that the city should pay eight thousand ducats for removing the army; that the pope and the city should give authority to the emperor to declare, within three months, what should be the form of government, ‘salva nondimeno la libertà,’* with a reservation of liberty; that a pardon should be understood, for every one, of all injuries done to the pope, his friends, and servants; and that Malatesta should remain with two thousand foot, for the guard of the city, until the emperor’s declaration should arrive.”
It is made a question, whether the general who commanded in Florence was, or was not, a traitor to his cause. Varchi is very sanguine in the affirmative, and produces letters in evidence; but the citizens and garrison were reduced to such extremities for provisions, that they could not have held out three days longer. The pope, on his part, was not very anxious to fulfil his treaty. While the money was getting ready to pay off the army, Valori, the apostolic commissary, in concert with Malatesta, having called together the people in the piazza, according to the ancient custom of the city, to make a parliament, the magistrates and others, conniving at it through fear, instituted a new government contrary to the treaty, giving authority by this parliament to twelve citizens, who adhered to the Medici, to ordain, in their own manner, the constitution of the city, who reduced it to that form which prevailed before the year 1527. The army received their money; the Italian officers defrauded their soldiers, whom they dismissed to seek their fortunes without their pay; the Spaniards and Germans marched into Siena to new-model the government of that city; and Malatesta returned to Perugia without any further declaration from the emperor, and left the city of Florence at the arbitrary disposition of the pontiff.
Now began the punishments of the citizens; “for those in whose hands the government was left, partly for the security of the state, and partly by the hatred conceived against the authors of so great calamities, and the resentment of private injuries, but principally because such was the intention of the pope, brought the principal citizens concerned in the late government to a trial, and they were sentenced to death and executed. Others were confined, without much regret, sympathy, or pity, from any party; for the friends of Capponi, and all the real friends of liberty, regarded them as the cause of preventing an accommodation, and the ruin of their country, while the Medici considered them as their bitterest enemies. The pope sent the Archbishop of Capua to take care of the government, who, by the pope’s orders, and to give more general satisfaction to the citizens, caused the balìa to be increased in number to one hundred and thirty-six, made a general scrutiny for offices, regulated commerce, made a new imborsation of the six magistrates, renewed the purses, and disposed all other things according to his inclinations. A quarrel arose between the Cardinal Hippolito de’ Medici and the Duke Alexander, and a contention for the sovereignty of Florence; but the pope and the emperor determined it in favor of Alexander.”
In 1531, the ordinance of the emperor arrived, and was formally accepted. Many of the best citizens, some of whom had been always friends of the Medici, with great reluctance gave up the idea of a free government; they still solicited the pope not to reduce the republic to an absolute principality, but they could not agree among themselves. Some were for a dukedom, limited only by councils; others for restoring the state to the form it was formerly in under the Medici; and others for a more rational distribution of power. But the pope was determined, if he could, to make his family and friends secure.
In 1532, the pope’s intentions were made known, and twelve citizens were appointed to reform the state; the signori and the gonfalonier were abolished; a council of two hundred was created, and a senate of forty-eight. The senate of forty-eight was to have the whole legislative and executive power, and the council of two hundred were merely to consider private petitions and such things as should be referred to them by the senate. Four persons, members of the senate, were to be high counsellors of the duke, and Alexander and his heirs were made dukes and heads of the state. Guicciardini’s account is,* that the pope interpreted the article in the treaty which had stipulated pardon, not according to the sense, but the letter; not to comprehend crimes committed against the state, but only injuries to the pope and his friends. Six of the principal delinquents were adjudged by the magistrates to be beheaded, others to be imprisoned, and a great number banished. By these proceedings the city was weakened, and those who had been concerned in the late troubles reduced to great necessities, and the power of the Medici became more free, more absolute, and almost monarchical in Florence, which remained exhausted of money by so long and grievous a war, deprived within and without of many of its inhabitants, its houses and property destroyed abroad, and more than ever divided within itself. And this poverty was rendered yet more distressing, by the necessity of procuring, for several years, provisions from foreign countries, since there had been no harvests nor seeds sown.
“The emperor, in declaring the form of government, neglecting the salvo of liberty, pronounced, according to the very instructions the pope had sent him, that the city should be governed by the same magistrates as in the times when the Medici ruled it, and that Alexander, who was the pope’s nephew, and his own son-in-law, should be the head of the government, and be succeeded by the children, descendants, and nearest relations of the same family. He restored to the city all the privileges granted by himself or his predecessors, but on condition to be forfeited whenever the citizens should make any attempt against the grandeur of the family of Medici; inserting, throughout the decree, words which showed it to be founded not only in the power conceded to him by the people and the parties, but also on the imperial dignity and authority.”
The spirit of families, and the ambition peculiar to it, is, when once thoroughly enkindled, a raging flame, extinguishable only by death. Every new gratification of it is only a fresh addition of fuel to the burnings. The passion of Hercules, Cæsar, and Mahomet, had now full possession of Clement VII.; and the domination so perfidiously acquired over that noble city, where his ancestors had laid the foundation of their power in a popularity among the basest dregs of a mob, was not sufficient to satiate it.
“The pontiff had fixed in his heart an ardent appetite for an alliance with France; his ambition and thirst for this kind of glory, which, instead of being a virtue, is a detestable vice, stimulated him the more, that, he being only of a private family, he had obtained for one natural son a natural daughter of so powerful an emperor; he now hoped to procure for his legitimate niece a legitimate son of a king of France; and he was not discouraged from this pretension by the jealousy that the King of France might form claims for his son and daughter-in-law on the state of Florence. By various negotiations he at length accomplished an interview with the King of France at Marseilles. The pontiff exerted his usual dissimulation to persuade all the world that he went to this interview chiefly to finish the peace, to treat of an enterprise against the infidels, to reduce Henry VIII., King of England, to his duty; in short, with a single view to the public good. But he could not conceal his real motive, when he sent his niece on board the galleys which the King of France had ordered, with the Duke of Albany, her uncle, to Nizza. These galleys, after having conducted the lady to Nizza, returned to Pisa, and on the fourth of October, 1532, took the pope, with many of his cardinals, and landed them in a few days at Marseilles. He made his entry in form; the king did the same. They lodged in the same palace, and made mutual demonstrations of uncommon affection. The king, desirous of gaining the pope’s heart, requested him to send for his niece to Marseilles, which the pope, though he pretended to treat first of public affairs, most cordially desired.* As soon as Catherine de’ Medici arrived, the marriage was celebrated with Henry, the son of the King of France, and consummated immediately, to the infinite joy of the pope, who, negotiating with the king in person, completely gained his confidence and affection.
“The pope returned from Marseilles, and soon after, in 1534, he died. Alexander had taken effectual measures to disarm all the citizens of Florence, friends as well as enemies, and thought himself now secure. Philip Strozzi, however, was highly disgusted and provoked, both with the duke and the pope, because he had not been able to procure one of his sons to be made a cardinal, as his lady Clarissa had often promised him; and because two of his sons had been taken up, with some other young gentlemen, in the license of a masquerade, and committed to prison by the lieutenant of the police; and because of some quarrel that had arisen between Peter, his eldest son, and Salviati, a favorite of Alexander; in this disgust he went with his sons, as soon as he could obtain their liberty, to France. After the death of the pope, animosities increased between the Duke Alexander and the Cardinal Hippolito, and Philip Strozzi went from France to Rome; and as great divisions arose in Florence, on account of the difference between the duke and the cardinal, and their negotiations with the emperor, as had existed under the former government. Hippolito, on a journey to meet the emperor, though in high health and strength, was taken violently ill on the road, and died, not without strong suspicions of poison. The death of the cardinal relieved the duke from all apprehensions of his intrigues; but Philip Strozzi and the exiles from Florence began to think of negotiating with the emperor, and went to Naples to meet him. Alexander too went to Naples; and great disputes arose before the emperor about the form of government, Strozzi and the exiles endeavoring to obtain a restoration of that kind of freedom which had been enjoyed formerly under the Medici. But Alexander married the Duchess Marguerita, the emperor’s daughter, and returned to Florence, leaving Strozzi and the exiles disappointed.*
“Lorenzo di Pierfranco de’ Medici had accompanied Alexander to this interview with the emperor at Naples, and there had entered into intimate friendship with Peter Strozzi† and the other Florentine exiles, and conceived that design of assassinating his friend and patron, which he afterwards executed with so many circumstances of cool deliberation, insidious malice, and execrable villany. He was a young nobleman, in greater favor with the duke than any other. To him, after their return from Naples to Florence, were communicated all the duke’s private amours, as well as all the most important councils of the state; and, the more effectually to secure his confidence, Lorenzo had acted the part of so active an instrument, as to have drawn upon himself a universal odium among all parties in Florence, but particularly among the grandees and nobles. At the same time he held secret intrigues and intelligence with Philip Strozzi‡ and all the exiles abroad; and at home so artfully affected an aversion to arms and public affairs, and to be so wholly devoted to his studies and his pleasures, that the duke and his courtiers called him ‘The Philosopher.’§
Varchi informs us∥ that he received his information of this horrid action from the only persons who could be capable of relating the whole truth, because they were the only witnesses of it, and agents in it; from Lorenzo himself, in the city of Paluello, eight miles from Padua, and from Scoronconcolo, his confidant, in the house of the Strozzi in Venice.
“Lorenzo was born in Florence, the twenty-third of March, 1514, the son of Pierfrancesco di Lorenzo de’ Medici, grandnephew of Lorenzo, brother of Cosimo, and of Maria, the daughter of Tommaso di Paolantonio Soderini, a lady of uncommon prudence and benevolence, by whom, his father dying early, he was educated with the utmost diligence and care; but he had no sooner acquired the knowledge of the classics, in which his genius enabled him to make a rapid progress, than he was taken from the care of his mother and his tutor, and began to discover a restless and insatiable disposition to plunge himself into vice; and soon afterwards, in imitation of Philip Strozzi, he began to laugh at every thing divine and human, and to associate himself with persons of base condition and character, rather than with his equals. These, by continual flatteries, and fomenting his passions, led him into vice and folly of every kind, particularly into all the extravagances of brutal appetite in his amours, respecting neither sex, age, condition, nor secrecy. While he sought an intercourse with all, he affected to esteem none; yet he had an equally extravagant passion for glory, and left no empirical artifice unattempted, in his words or actions, by which he thought he could acquire a name, either of a gallant man or a shrewd one. He was nimble and active, rather thin than otherwise, and for this reason he affected to call himself Lorenzino; he never laughed; at most he only smiled. His air and action were more remarkable for grace than elegance, and his countenance was dark and melancholy. In the flower of his youth, although he was beloved beyond measure by the pope, Clement VII., he had formed in his mind a project, as he said himself, after he had killed the Duke Alexander, to assassinate his holiness. He corrupted Francesco di Rafaello de’ Medici, the rival of the pope, a youth of excellent erudition and the most promising hopes, to such a degree of profligacy, that he seemed to be in a manner out of his wits; so that, having become the derision of the whole court of Rome, to avoid a greater disgrace, he was sent back as a madman to Florence.
“At this time Lorenzo fell into disgrace with the pope, and gave universal disgust to the Roman people, for another reason. One morning, in the arch of Constantine, and in other places of Rome, many ancient statues were found without their heads. The pope was so exasperated, that, not thinking of Lorenzo, he gave orders that whoever had done the mischief, excepting only the Cardinal de’ Medici, should, without process, trial, or delay, be hanged up by the neck. The cardinal was obliged to go to the pope and intercede for Lorenzo, as a young man, and passionately fond, like all their ancestors, of such antiquities; but it was with difficulty he could appease the indignation of the pope, who called him the infamy and reproach of the house of Medici. Lorenzo, however, was obliged to depart from Rome, with two public proclamations after him, one forbidding him to remain any longer in that city, and the other promising not only impunity, but rewards, to any one who would kill him; and Francesco Molza, a man of great eloquence, and celebrated for his knowledge of the Grecian, Roman, and Tuscan literature, made a public oration against him in the Roman academy, in which he covered him with all the reproaches possible. With all this infamy he returned to Florence, and began to make his court to the Duke Alexander. He understood so well the arts of hypocrisy and flattery, and counterfeited so perfectly an absolute submission to him in all things, that he made him believe he was a faithful spy upon the exiles abroad, laying at the same time, under this simulation, secret plots with these fugitives, and every day showing him letters received from one or another of them. To remove every suspicion of daring enterprise, he affected the character of a coward, and would neither exercise in arms nor wear them about him, so that the duke took a pleasure in rallying him upon his pusillanimity. He affected to be wholly devoted to books and studies, walked much alone, and appeared to have no ambition for honors, or desire of property, in so remarkable a manner, that they called him ‘The Philosopher.’ He complied with the inclinations of the duke in all things, and aided him in all occasions of need, especially against Signor Cosimo, his second cousin, against whom he bore an unbounded hatred, either because they were of different or rather contrary characters by nature, or by reason of a lawsuit of very great importance, which Cosimo had instituted against him for the inheritance of their ancestors. By all these artifices the duke was deluded into a confidence in Lorenzo, so perfectly secure, that, not contented with employing him as a pimp in his amours with all sorts of women, religious as well as secular, virgins, wives, or widows, noble or ignoble, young or old, he now demanded of him to procure a sister of his own mother on her father’s side, a young lady of admirable beauty and equal modesty, the wife of Lionardo Ginori, who lived not far from the rear entrance of the palace of the Medici.
“Lorenzo, who waited only for a similar opportunity, represented to him that the intrigue would be attended with difficulty, though not from himself, for, in one word, all women were alike; and upon this occasion the prospect was the better, because the husband was at Naples, where he had spent much of his fortune in dissipation. Although he had never dared to speak to the lady on the subject, he affirmed to the duke that he had, and that he had found her very obstinate; but he promised that he would never cease to seduce her, by bribes, flatteries, and every species of corruption, until he brought her to condescend in all things to their will. In the mean while he was engaging, not less by actions than with words, one Michele del Tovalaccino, nicknamed Scoronconcolo, for whom he had procured a pardon for a murder he had committed, though a reward had by proclamation been set upon his head. To this ruffian he often complained of a certain intriguing personage at court, who, without the smallest provocation, had bantered, slandered, and insulted him with his jokes upon all his words and actions, but that, in the name of God—; at which words Scoronconcolo, rousing to resentment, suddenly cried, ‘Name him only, and let me alone to manage him; he shall never give you another ill word or look.’ Here the conversation ended for the present; but Scoronconcolo, who found himself every day more and more caressed and loaded with favors by Lorenzo, at length pressed him earnestly to name his enemy, and not to doubt of his being soon put out of his way. Lorenzo answered, ‘Alas, no; the person, be he who it may, is a great favorite of the duke.’ Scoronconcolo replied, in the language of a bully, ‘I will assassinate him, if he were Christ himself.’ Lorenzo then perceived that his design had succeeded; having invited him one day to dinner, as he often did, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his mother and the reproaches of the world, he said to him, ‘Courage! courage! in that affair, which you promised me so bravely, I am sure you will not fail me; as I will never fail you, at any time, in any thing in my power. I am satisfied and resolved, but in order that we may do the business with security, I will see to getting him to a place where there may be no danger to you, and I have no doubt I shall succeed.’
“The same night appeared to him to be the most proper time, because Signor Alexander Vitelli was absent upon an excursion to the city of Castello; and he took the opportunity, after supper, to whisper in the ear of the duke, and to say to him, that at last, by the promise of money, he had disposed his aunt to comply, and therefore he must watch his opportunity to come alone, and very cautiously, into his chamber, taking particular care, for the honor of the lady, that no one should see him either enter or go out, and that he himself would go immediately for her. Certain it is, that the duke, having put on a robe of satin lined with fur, according to the Neapolitan fashion, went out to walk with four of his courtiers, whom he soon dismissed, saying, he wished to be alone; shortly after he went to the chamber of Lorenzo, where he found a good fire, ungirded his sword, and threw himself down on the couch. Lorenzo suddenly seized his sword, and winding hastily the belt round the hilt, so that it might not be casily unsheathed, laid it at the head of the duke, behind his pillow, and advised him to repose himself; he secured the door, that no one might come in, and went away to find Scoronconcolo; having done this, he said to him, in a transport of joy, ‘My dear brother, now is the moment! I have shut up in my chamber that enemy of mine, and he is fast asleep.’ ‘Let us go thither,’ said Scoronconcolo. When they were on the landing-place of the stairs to the chamber, Lorenzo turned about and said, ‘Don’t mind whether it be a friend of the duke or not, only mind you to secure his hands.’ ‘I will do it,’ replied his friend, ‘even though it were the duke himself.’ ‘Every thing is so prepared,’ said Lorenzo, with a joyful countenance, ‘that he cannot escape from our hands; let us make haste.’ ‘Let us go,’ said Scoronconcolo. Lorenzo lifted up the latch and let it fall again. At the second attempt he entered, and cried out, ‘Signor, are you asleep?’ The uttering these words and running him through and through with a short sword was the work of the same moment. This stroke alone had been mortal, for, passing through the reins, he had perforated the diaphragm which divides the upper ventricle, where are the heart and the other vital members, from the lower, where are the liver and the other members of nutrition and of generation. The duke, who either was asleep, or remained with his eyes shut, as if he had slept, receiving such a blow, leaped up on the bed, and threw himself backwards to fly towards the door, making use of a stool which he had seized on for a shield. But Scoronconcolo, seizing an opportunity, gave him a stroke with a knife upon the visage, which laid open one of his temples, and clove the greatest part of his left cheek. Lorenzo, having dragged him upon the bed, held him down upon his back, and bore upon him with the whole weight of his body; and, that he might not cry out, he attempted to stop his mouth with his fingers, saying, ‘Signor, fear not.’ Then the duke, assisting himself as well as he could, seized the thumb between his teeth, and bit it with such rage, that Lorenzo, fallen on his back, and not able to handle his sword, was obliged to call out for help to Scoronconcolo, who ran to his aid, and taking his aim, sometimes on one side and then on the other, could not strike Alexander without first or at the same time striking Lorenzo, clasped tightly in his arms. He then attempted to thrust at him with the point of his sword between the legs of Lorenzo; but making no other impression than to bore the bed, he laid his hand on a knife, which he had by accident about him, and stuck it in the throat of the duke, turning it like a wimble. He was already, however, very near dead from the effects of the first blow, by which he had lost so much blood as to have flooded almost the whole chamber.
“It ought not to be forgotten, that through the whole of this tragical scene, while Lorenzo held him under, and he saw Scoronconcolo fumbling about him with his sword and knife to murder him, he never once complained, or begged for mercy, or let go his hold of that thumb, which he held firmly between his teeth. The duke, as soon as he was dead, slid off the bed upon the floor; but they took him up, besmeared all over with blood, placed him again upon the bed, and covered him with the same pavilion with which he had concealed himself before he first fell asleep, or made a show of being asleep; which, in the opinion of some, he designedly did, because, knowing himself unskilful in the ceremonies of politeness, and the lady whom he expected, a mistress in elegant conversation, he wished in this manner to avoid the necessity of exchanging fine speeches with her. Lorenzo, after he had disposed of the duke, not so much to see whether they had been heard, as to restore himself and recover his spirits, much exhausted by fatigue, placed himself at one of the windows which overlooked the broad street. Some persons in the house, particularly Madam Maria, the mother of Cosimo, had heard a noise, and a trampling of feet; but no one had stirred, because Lorenzo, with this view, had, for some time before, been used to bring into this chamber companies of his comrades, drinking, rioting, and making a show of quarrelling, crying out, ‘Murder! treason! you have killed me!’ and other exclamations of that kind.
“When Lorenzo had restored himself, he made Scoronconcolo call one of his footmen, named Freccia, and show him the dead body, which he recognized with such astonishment and horror, that he was with difficulty restrained from crying out. To what purpose he did this he neither explained to the historian, nor was he able to conjecture, unless it was upon the same principle, that nothing which Lorenzo did, from the moment of the death of Alexander to the time of his own death many years afterwards in Venice, ever succeeded, or appeared to be well judged. He took from Francis Zeffi, his maître d’hotel, a small sum of money, all that he had by him in cash; and taking with him the key of the chamber, he left the house with Scoronconcolo and Freccia, and having previously obtained from the Bishop of Marzi a license for post-horses, under color of going to his country seat of Cafaggiuolo, to see Giuliano, his younger brother, who, as he pretended, had written to him that he was at the point of death with the cholic, went directly to Bologna, where he dressed his thumb, which was found marked for life, and there related to Silvester Aldobrandini, the judge, the whole transaction. But the judge, thinking it a romantic fiction, would not believe, and very imprudently neglected to take any notice of it, until the arrival of the Chevalier Marsili, who, with some others, went in pursuit of Lorenzo.
“The latter, in great haste and fatigue, arrived at Venice on the Monday night, and with much ado convinced Philip Strozzi that under that key, which he held out to him, he had locked up the Duke Alexander, with his throat cut, and dead of many wounds. Philip, at last believing him, embraced him, called him their Brutus, and promised him that he would marry his two sons, Peter and Robert, to his two sisters. Lorenzo excused himself for not having assembled the people after the death of the duke, for three reasons. One was, that he had been to the houses of several of the popular citizens; but some had not heard and others had not believed him. Another was, that he had left it in commission with Zeffo to open the chamber early in the morning, and go in quest of Giuliano Capponi, and other citizens, lovers of liberty, and tell them what he had found there. Thirdly, that Scoronconcolo had not ceased to stimulate him to depart, saying to him every minute, ‘Let us save ourselves; we have done but too much.’ But thus much is certain: that as no conspiracy was ever so deliberately meditated, nor more completely executed before, so none was ever so stupidly and vilely conducted after the fact; nor was there ever any one from whence resulted effects more contrary or more hurtful to the perpetrator, and more prosperous and profitable to his enemies, the first of whom, without all controversy, was the Signor Cosimo.
“I will not dispute,” says Varchi, “whether this act was cruel or compassionate, commendable or blameworthy, since no man can resolve that question, and give a true answer to it, who does not know for what reason, and to what end, Lorenzo was induced to commit it. If he was urged to so great an enterprise, not simply at the hazard of the government of Florence, which, upon the death of the duke without legitimate descendants, would have fallen to him, but also of his own life, in order purely to deliver his country from a tyrant and restore her liberty, as he affirmed, I should think that no praises that could be given him would be high enough, and no rewards could be bestowed upon him which would not be below his merit.”
Is it not astonishing that such a historian should admit of a doubt, whether the motives of Lorenzo could be good ones? Is it possible to read his own history, and not see that this struggle was merely between different branches of the same family of Medici for the sovereignty, and that there was not a ray of public virtue or love of liberty left in any of them? Strozzi, the rival family of Medici, had married a Medici, and could not bear that Alexander should rule. His character was too vile to be redeemed from infamy by his hypocritical affectation of republican simplicity, and his renouncing all titles but that of Philip; but he had great family connections, and was countenanced by France, and therefore might possibly recover his influence and power in Florence. This made it dangerous for the historian to mark the conduct of Lorenzo with that decided indignation which it merited.
“Some were of opinion that he was moved to this action merely by the malice of his nature, and the depravity of his own heart; others thought that he ventured on this danger to cancel the ignominy of the two Roman proclamations, and the oration made against him by Molza; others thought him agitated solely by desire to make his name immortal, an ardent passion, that with all his crimes and vices, had always incredibly tormented him.”
The right of a nation to depose a tyrant, and to destroy him if he cannot be otherwise deposed, is as clear as any of our ideas of right or wrong. In the Roman republic it was made an early and a fundamental law, by the aristocratics however, that it should be not only lawful, but meritorious and glorious, to kill a tyrant; and Brutus therefore acted the exalted part of the best citizen. But if the right of single citizens, when good and virtuous, and intending only the public good, to kill a tyrant was as clear as that of treading on the head of an adder, or hunting down a devouring wolf, it would by no means follow that one tyrant might claim a right to destroy another, merely to take his place.
The people of Florence were now so totally devoted to the Medici family, that there was no party among them but what was headed by some branch of it; the blood of the Medici must in all events govern them; and the difference between them was worth very little. Strozzi and Lorenzo were worse than Alexander; and the only tolerably good man among them was Cosimo, whom they all hated, but whom Providence was pleased to call to the government in this awful manner. The silly tales of prognostics, the enthusiasm of the disciples of Savonarola, and the confusions and terrors among the principal people upon the first suspicion and final discovery of the duke’s destiny, are not worth repeating.
“The council of forty-eight were assembled, but were not agreed in opinion. Canigiani proposed, that in place of the deceased duke, Giulio, his natural son, should succeed; but there was no other person present, who did not either smile at his folly or express indignation; for besides that the child was not five years old, this was known to be the inclination and secret motion of Cardinal Cibo, Lorenzo’s brother, who wished to be the tutor, and therefore governor of the city. After him, the Signor Cosimo de’ Medici was proposed, who, knowing nothing of what had happened, was at Mugello, fifteen miles from Florence, at his country-seat of Trebbio. At this nomination all appeared to be struck, and looking at one another, seemed ready to accept it, every one knowing that Cosimo was the next heir after Lorenzo, according to the declaration of the emperor; but Palla Rucellai, without doubt in favor of Philip Strozzi, to whom he was attached, warmly opposed this proposition, and said, that so many citizens, and of such consequence, were abroad, that nothing of importance, especially so great an affair, ought to be determined on; and notwithstanding all that was urged by Francesco Guicciardini, and Francesco Vettori, he persisted obstinately in his objections, and occasioned some confusion in council. At another day, however, Cosimo was elected head of the commonwealth, accepted the trust, and behaved in it with so much wisdom, that those who, from his moderate and composed behavior before, believed him to be possessed of but mean abilities, were constrained to confess, that God had granted him discretion with the dukedom.”
Intelligence was scattered throughout all Italy, with incredible celerity, of the death of Alexander; and, by all the Florentine exiles, the name of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici was exalted in praises to the skies, not only as the parallel of Brutus, but greatly surpassing him. Varchi wonders that so many citizens of great prudence, and especially Guicciardini, who conducted the whole of this election, should have suffered themselves to be so far blinded and transported by their ambition or avarice, or both, as not to see what they were about. Indeed, no man is ever to be praised, perhaps never to be justified, in consenting to the surrender of a free government; and Guicciardini appears much to blame for not endeavoring to new-model the commonwealth upon this occasion. But most probably he knew what Varchi himself confesses,* that the Florentines were at this time all either avaricious or ambitious, and the major part of them proud, envious, and malicious; and therefore that none of them could be trusted by him or by each other. He probably believed that delay, or any attempt to restore liberty or reform the constitution, would only give an opportunity to Strozzi, Lorenzo, and the exiles, to assume the dukedom in reality, under the alliance of France; he moreover probably thought it impossible, among an ignorant people and so many corrupt factions, to amend the constitution, and that a sovereignty in one was preferable to their old fluctuating aristocracy, disguised under the name only of a popular state.
The exiles were still restless, and endeavored to excite fresh wars against their country; but Cosimo, by his abilities, address, and activity, defended his authority, and was afterwards confirmed, not only as head of the state, but as duke and sovereign. And here ended the shadow of a free government.
Let the reader now run over again in his own mind this whole story of Florence, and ask himself whether it does not appear like a satire, written with the express and only purpose of exposing to contempt, ridicule, and indignation, the idea of “a government in one centre,” and the “right constitution of a commonwealth?” If he suspect that this mean sketch is in any degree varied by prejudice from the truth, let him read over any historian of Florence, as Machiavel, Guicciardini, Nerli, Nardi, Varchi, Villani, or Ammirato, and then say, whether it is not a libel upon Turgot and Nedham. From the beginning to the end, it is one continued struggle between monarchy and aristocracy; a continued succession of combinations of two or three parties of noble, rich, or conspicuous families, to depress the people on the one hand, and prevent an oligarchy or a monarchy from arising up among themselves on the other. Neither the first family, nor any of the others their rivals, made any account of the people, excepting now and then for a moment, for the purposes of violence, sedition, and rebellion.
Instead of devising any regular method for calling the people together, with a reasonable notification beforehand of the time, place, and subject of deliberation, a little junto of principal citizens concert a plan in secret among themselves, give notice previously to such as they please, their own dependents and partisans, order the bells to be rung, and a little flock of their own creatures assemble in the piazza. There the junto nominate a dozen or a score of persons for a balìa, to reform the state at their pleasure; no reasonable method of voting for them, no instructions given them; the people huzza, and all is over. What ideas are here of the rights of mankind? what equality is here among the citizens? what principle of national liberty is here respected? what method is this to obtain the national sense, the public voice? Can this be called the voice of God?
When the balìa is appointed, what is the question before them? Is there any inquiry how the government can be made a fair, equal, and constant representation of the nation, and a sure instrument for collecting the public wisdom? The imborsations are made, and eight hundred names are put in the purses. These alone are citizens; all the rest are to have no vote. These appoint the signori, a small council, for the ordinary administration, and the gonfalonier, who has no more power than a doge of Venice, nor so much dignity. The great council is the centre in which all authority is collected, and he who had most influence in it governed in reality, whoever were the signori or the gonfalonier; consequently, the council and signori too were always divided into parties, at the head of whom were always two of the most noted families; and the only question really was, which should be first. As the waves and winds determined, sometimes one and sometimes another prevailed, and took vengeance of their opponents by banishments and confiscations. The executive power was sometimes managed by the signori, and sometimes by the grand council; the judicial power was always the tool of the prevailing faction. Was there one year, one moment, in the whole history, when the citizens could be truly said to enjoy the blessings of liberty, equality, safety, and good order?
If you fix your eye upon any period, from the beginning to the end of the republic, and suppose the gonfalonier possessed of the whole executive power, with a negative upon the legislature, the signori and grand council made separate and independent branches of the legislature, though elected periodically by the people, and the judges made during good behavior, would not those terrible disorders have been prevented? The negative to the gonfalonier is not proposed, because he is a wiser or a better man than others, but merely as a constitutional instrument of self-defence; without it, he cannot defend the legal authority which the constitution has given him, but the executive power will be pared away, or wrested out of his hands, by the encroaching disposition of human nature in the two houses. If he wantonly uses his negative for other purposes, a case that can rarely happen, a new gonfalonier must be appointed; but if his ministers are made responsible for the advice they give him, the two houses will always have a remedy. An honest representative of the commons will always have another remedy, by withholding supplies.
As this account of Florence was introduced by some reflections of a modern author, it cannot be concluded with more propriety than by some others from the same able and liberal writer. In his Parallel of the Italian Republics of the Middle Ages with those of Ancient Italy, he says,* “Whoever shall read in the Annals of the Cities of Lombardy and in the Chronicles of Tuscany, how the people passed so frequently, both in external wars and in civil factions, from battles to peace, and from domestic life to arms and hostilities, and that perpetual succession of accords, rebellions, and tumults, will be apt to believe that he sees, copied under different names, the wars of the Romans with the Latins and the Volsci, the continual quarrels of the plebeians with the patricians, and the animosities of the senate against the tribunes; and sometimes it will happen to him, that in reading, for example, the Florentine History of Scipione Ammirato, he will think he has in his hand a translation into his own language of Livy. The manner of proclaiming and prosecuting war, and of concluding peace, which was practised by the ancient Italians in the time of Camillus and of Pyrrhus, is not very different from that which we observe in the age of Frederic II. and the Manfreds; and, in the internal concerns of the cities, both in the one and the other period, the cruelty and the pride of the nobles towards the plebeians, and the injustice of the people in their demands, as soon as they had discovered their own strength, and had begun to lay their hands on the government, were equal. The one and the other were animated with the same spirit, agitated by the same humors, and subject to the same revolutions. That supreme love of their country, which, on occasions of public danger, silenced and appeased their private quarrels and enmities, reigned equally at all times in both; the same simplicity of manners, the same severity of life, the same patience of poverty and fatigue. To this is to be added, the use and exercise of arms, by which every little nation, if it cannot make extensive conquests, at least may preserve its own liberty. Finally, he will observe with pleasure, how, after the ancient Italians, and those people who in the middle ages arose from the ruins of the kingdom of the Lombards and of the second western empire, the cities which appear to have had the narrowest territory and the most modern original, not only maintained their freedom for a long time, but increased in power and dominion; whereas the most able and the most ancient passed more easily under the yoke, either of tyrants of their own, or of foreign powers. We shall see, in like manner, a great resemblance in the fortune of the tyrants of the ancient Italian cities and those of the republics of Tuscany and Lombardy, in the age of Frederic II. and the following; and may very well find reasons to compare Ezzelino of Romagna with Tarquin the Proud; the Marquis Oberto Pelavicino, Buoso-da-Doara, and Martino della Torre, with Porsenna, King of Chiusi, and with other like princes or supreme magistrates of the ancient Tuscans, Latins, Campanians, and Samnites. From which we have shown that the free and independent cities passed sometimes under the yoke of some powerful citizen, who made himself the master, or under the dominion of a tyrant of some other neighboring city; so that a signor of Padua, of Milan, or of Verona, obtained the government of many other cities of Lombardy, equally free and independent.”
[* ]Consiglio maggiore.
[† ]Dopo questi ordini cosi dati, cominciarono molti cittadini a dividersi in molti modi, e si scopersero molte varie sette, et molte varie seditioni. Nerli, lib. viii. p. 155.
[* ]L’integrità della vita, la temperanza, la severità, la parsimonia in allevar la famiglia ferono resplendere Niccolò sopra d’ogn’ altro per dignità, e per un vivo esempio di virtù: quando in Filippo un modo di vivere sciolto, l’incontinenza, la piacevolezza, la grazia, la destrezza nel trattenere gli uomini, la liberalità, la licenza, la concessione di se stesso fatta ora alla virtù, ora al vizio, ebbe forza di farlo amar sempre dalla gioventù, riverire dalla nobiltà, e accarezzare dal popolo, di tal maniera, che sebbene viveva in privata fortuna, era nondimeno come un principe. Varchi, lib. iii. p. 63; Segni, Storie, lib. i. p. 12; Vita di Niccolo Capponi, p. 2.
[* ]Ultimamente fece passare una provisione nel consiglio grande, sopra di tutte l’altre notabilissima in questo genere di pietà, per la quale fu eletto Gesù Cristo Signor nostro per Re della città nostra, con tutti i suffragi di quel popolo, eccetto che di 26, che tal decreto non approvarono. Era ’l titolo di questa legge scritto sopra la porta del palazzo de’ signori, in lettere d’ oro, che dicevano YHS XPS Rex populi Flor. SPQF consensu declaratus, anno, mense, die. Varchi, p. 122. Segni, Vita di Capponi, p. 10.
[* ]Guicciardini, lib. xix. Nerli, lib. viii. p. 172.
[† ]Nerli, p. 173.
[* ]Guicciardini, lib. xix. p. 170, edit. Venet. 1574. Nerli, p. 170.
[† ]Guicciardini, lib. xix. Nerli, p. 179.
[* ]Guicciardini, lib. xix. Nerli, p. 180.
[* ]Nerli, p. 184.
[* ]Segni, Vita di Niccolo Capponi, p. 42.
[1 ]His last words are said to have referred to the divisions by which the state was convulsed:—“Oimè, oimè, dove abbiam noi indotta la patria nostra!” Segni.
[† ]Infra le cagioni atte a rovinare la repubblica, una, e non la manco sono i cittadini, che favoriti, e fattisi capi del popolo, mentrechè ora per ritenere quella grandezza, e ora per racquistarla, cercano di fare ogni cosa, che piace alla moltitudine, nè s’ avveggono, che distruggono quella libertà; e questo è confermato con molti esempi dell’ antiche repubbliche della Grecia, e più modernamente con quelli della Romana, dove si vede, a chi considera quelle storie con buono giudizio, i cittadini popolari essere stati più cagione della sua rovina, che quegli, che favorivano l’ autorità del senato. Sienmi di ciò testimonio in prima i Gracchi, di poi Mario, e Cesare ultimamente, i quali sebbene con oneste cagioni di sollevare il popolo grasso, cercarono di compiacergli, ebbono nondimanco sotto questo pretesto medesimo nascosto il veleno, che estinse appoco appoco quella republica. Non è dubbio, che, leggendo questa storia, si potrà conchiudere questo medesimo, che i capi del popolo, Soderini, Strozzi, Carducci, mentrechè opponendosi a Niccolò Capponi per farsi più grandi, e venire in più grazia, indebolirono assai quel governo. Segni, Storie, lib. iv. p. 102.
[* ]E per dare più spavento, e per mettere più terrore, a chi pur ancora volesse ragionare d’ accordo, presero certa occasione contro a Carlo Cocchi sopra una querela, par la quale era Carlo accusato, ch’ egli avesse detto, quando si ragionava largamente, e molto liberamente nell’ universale dell accordo, che fusse piutosto da voler rimettere i Medici, che aspettare la guerra, e conteneva la querela, che Carlo in un certo modo avesse in quel suo parlare mescolato anche il nome tanto odioso al governo popolare del parlamento. Nerli, lib. ix. p. 199.
[† ]Onde messono tale spavento, e tanto terrore nell’ universale per cagione de’ cittadini sostenuti, e per quelle esecutioni, che s’ erano fatte, che più non era rimaso in Firenze chi pure ardisse non solo parlare dell’ accordo, o della guerra, ma non era anche chi avesse in animo a contrairsi a quelli della setta del gonfaloniere in cosa alcuna. Nerli, p. 199.
[* ]In primis, che la forma del governo abbia da ordinarsi, e stabilirsi dalla Maestà Cesarea infra quattro mesi prossimi avvenire, intendendosi sempre conservata la libertà. Nerli, lib. xi. p. 144. Intendendosi sempre, che sia conservata la libertà. Varchi, lib. xi. p. 429. Che la città rimanesse libera nel modo ch’ ell’ era, rimettendo solamente i Medici, e tutti gli altri cittadini fatti ribelli da quel governo. Segni, p. 125. Nardi, lib. ix. p. 382. Muratori, Annal. tom. x. p. 213, anno 1530. Laugier, Hist. de Venise, lib. xxxv. tom. ix. p. 385. Guicciardini, lib. xix.
[* ]Guicciardini, lib. xx. p. 546.
[* ]Nerli, p. 270.
[* ]Nerli, p. 286. Segni, lib. vii. p. 199. Adriani, Hist. di suoi Tempi, p. 9.
[† ]Varchi, p. 547.
[‡ ]Segni, p. 199.
[§ ]Segni, p. 200.
[∥ ]Varchi, lib. xv. p. 587.
[* ]Varchi, p. 621.
[* ]Danina, Rivoluzioni d’ Italia, lib. xii. cap. v. vol. ii. p. 241.