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SEVENTH BOOK. - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 1 (Life of Machiavelli, History of Florence) 
The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, tr. from the Italian, by Christian E. Detmold (Boston, J. R. Osgood and company, 1882). Vol. 1. History of Florence.
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1. It may perhaps seem to those who have read the preceding Book that, as a mere writer upon Florentine affairs, I have dilated too much upon the events that occurred in Lombardy and the kingdom of Naples. But as I have not in the past, so I shall not in the future avoid such digressions; for although I have never engaged to write the history of Italy, yet that does not seem to me a reason for omitting to mention all the important events that occurred within that country. For not to narrate them would make our own immediate history less understood and appreciated, especially as it was the actions of the other peoples and princes of Italy that were the most frequent causes of those wars in which the Florentines deemed it their duty to take part. Such was the case with the war between John of Anjou and King Ferdinand, which gave rise to the bitter enmity that sprung up between the latter and the Florentines, and especially between that prince and the Medici family. For King Ferdinand complained that in that war he had not only been unassisted, but that favors had actually been shown to his enemy; and the resentment which he felt in consequence became the cause of some of the greatest evils for Florence, as our narrative will show. Having written of external affairs up to the year 1463, it will be necessary for me to go back several years, so as to be able to relate the internal troubles that occurred in the mean time. But before that, I wish to say by way of argument, as is our wont, that those who believe in the possibility that union and harmony can be preserved in a republic deceive themselves much by this hope. Certainly it is true that some divisions injure a republic and others benefit it; especially are those injurious that engender factions and create partisans; and those are beneficial to a republic that are maintained without factions and partisans. A founder of a republic thus, being unable to prevent dissensions from arising in it, should at least provide against the danger of factions. And for this he must know that there are two ways in which citizens in a republic can achieve reputation and influence; namely, either by public or by private means. Publicly it is achieved either by gaining a battle, taking a town, performing a mission with zeal and discretion, or counselling the republic wisely and happily. By private ways it is acquired through rendering services to this or that citizen, such as defending him against the magistrates, aiding him with money, procuring for him unmerited honors, and by courting popular favor with largesses and public games and amusements. Such modes of proceeding give rise to factions and partisanship; and just as influence gained by these means is dangerous, so does the former way benefit a republic when unaccompanied by factions, — for then it is founded upon the public good, and not upon private interests. And although it is impossible to provide means for preventing bitter feuds from arising amongst citizens thus grown powerful, nevertheless, not having any partisans who follow them for their own private advantage, they cannot harm the republic, but rather contribute to its benefit. For to overcome their enemies they must devote themselves to the aggrandizement of the state; and above all must they watch each other, so that no one may transgress the limits of the law. The dissensions of Florence have always been accompanied by factions, and therefore they have ever been pernicious; nor did any successful faction ever remain united, except so long as the opposite faction remained active; but when that had been completely crushed, then the dominant faction, no longer fearing and being kept in check by it, and not being controlled within itself by any regulations, became divided in itself and fell to pieces. The party of Cosimo de’ Medici gained the ascendency in 1434; but the defeated party being large and comprising many most influential men, the former were for a time kept united and humble by fear, so that they neither committed any errors nor made themselves odious to the people by any wrong. Thus every time the government had need of the people to recover its authority, it always found them disposed to concede to its chiefs whatever Balia or power they desired; and thus in the period from 1434 to 1455 — that is, twenty-one years — the power of a Balia was six times conceded them by the councils.
2. There were in Florence, as we have already several times stated, two most powerful citizens, Cosimo de’ Medici and Neri Capponi. Of these Neri was one of those who had acquired his influence by public means, so that he had many friends and but few partisans. Cosimo, on the other hand, having made his way to his influential position by public as well as by private means, had plenty of both friends and partisans; and as these two men remained united so long as they lived, they always obtained without the least difficulty whatever they wanted from the people; for in all their acts grace was always mixed with the exercise of power. But in the year 1455, Neri having died, and the opposite party being crushed, the government experienced difficulty in resuming its authority. The cause of this was the very friends of Cosimo themselves who were most influential in the state; for they no longer feared the adverse party, which had been crushed, and sought to diminish the power of Cosimo. This disposition gave rise to the dissensions that occurred afterwards, in 1466; so that those who controlled the government proposed in the general councils, where matters of the public administration are openly discussed, that it would be well not to have the powers of the Balia renewed, and to close the election purses, and to have the magistrates drawn by lot from the old Squittini or poll lists. There were two ways for Cosimo to prevent the execution of this design; either to retake the government by force with the partisans and adherents he had, and to put all the others out; or to let things take their course and make his friends comprehend, in good time, that it was not he, but themselves, whom they had deprived of power and influence by the proposed measures. Of these two courses Cosimo chose the latter; for he knew full well that in that form of government he ran no risk, as the election purses were filled with the names of his friends, and he could therefore resume the government whenever he pleased. When the magistrates of Florence were thereupon again drawn by lot, it seemed to the mass of citizens as though they had recovered their liberties; and the magistrates gave their decisions, not according to the will of the most powerful, but according to their own judgment, so that now the friend of one influential citizen was defeated and now that of another; and thus the men who were accustomed to see their houses full of suitors and gifts, now saw them void of clients and of substance. They also saw those become their equals whom they had been in the habit of looking upon as greatly inferior; and those who had been their equals, they now saw their superiors. They found themselves no longer respected nor honored, but often rather jeered and derided; and the people spoke of them and of the republic openly on the streets and in the piazzas without any respect; so that they soon recognized the fact that they, and not Cosimo, had lost the government. Cosimo pretended not to notice these things, and whatever measures were proposed that favored the people he was always the first to support them. But what alarmed the higher classes most, and afforded Cosimo the greatest opportunity to make them repent of their conduct, was the re-establishment of the Catasto of 1427, according to which the amount of taxes to be laid was fixed by law, and not by the arbitrary will of men.
3. This law having been passed despite of their opposition, and the magistrates appointed for its execution, the nobles assembled and called upon Cosimo to beg him to rescue them and himself from the hands of the people, and to restore to the government that influence which had made him powerful and them respected. To which Cosimo replied that he was willing, but that he wished it done regularly and according to law, and with the consent of the people, and not by violence, of which he did not want to hear in any way. An attempt was accordingly made by them in the councils to have a law passed for the creation of a new Balia, but without success. Whereupon the noble citizens turned to Cosimo and entreated him in the most humble manner that he would agree to a parliament, which he refused altogether, desiring to see them brought to that point that they should become fully sensible of their error. And as Donati Cocchi, who was Gonfaloniere of Justice at the time, wanted to call a parliament without the consent of Cosimo, the latter had the attempt so ridiculed by the Signori that sat with him that Cocchi completely lost his reason and was obliged to be sent home. But as it is never well to let things go until they are wholly beyond the power of control, and Luca Pitti, who was a bold and audacious man, having become Gonfaloniere of Justice, it seemed to Cosimo best to leave the whole management of the matter to him; so that if the attempt should fail, and blame come of it, it might be charged to Luca and not to himself. Luca therefore, in the beginning of his magistracy, proposed several times to the people to appoint a new Balia; but as he could not obtain their consent, he threatened those who sat in the council with insolent and insulting words, to which he soon after added deeds of like character; for in the month of August, 1458, on the eve of San Lorenzo, having filled the palace with armed men, he called the people together in the Piazza and compelled them by force of arms to consent to that to which they had before refused their voluntary assent. And having thereupon resumed the government and created a Balia, and then appointed the chief magistrates according to the judgment and pleasure of a few, these by way of beginning with terror a government which had originated in force, banished Messer Girolamo Machiavelli and some others, and deprived many of the privilege of holding office. This same Messer Girolamo was afterwards declared a rebel for having transgressed the limits of his banishment; and whilst travelling about in Italy endeavoring to stir up the princes against his own country, he was captured at Lunigiana by the treachery of one of the Signori, and having been carried to Florence, he was imprisoned and there put to death.
4. This new government, during the eight years of its existence, was violent and insupportable; for as Cosimo, already old and wearied and enfeebled by ill health, could no longer personally take an active part in the affairs of government, the city became a prey to the cupidity of a few of its citizens. Luca Pitti, in reward for his services to the republic, was made a noble, and he in return, by way of not being less gracious to the citizens than they had been to him, ordered that those who were till then called the Priors of the Trades, should, by way of preserving at least the name of the substance which they had lost, be called the Priors of Liberty. He also ordered that the Gonfaloniere, who until then had his seat on the right above the Rectors, should henceforth be seated in the midst of the Priors. And to make it appear as though the Almighty himself had participated in these doings, he ordered public processions and solemn offices to be performed in gratitude to God for the honors restored to them. The Signoria and Cosimo bestowed rich presents upon Messer Luca Pitti, after which the whole city vied in making him similar donations; so that the amount of these gifts was estimated at not less than twenty thousand ducats. Whence his authority increased to that degree that it was no longer Cosimo, but Messer Luca Pitti, who governed Florence. This so filled him with confidence in his power that he commenced the construction of two palaces, one at Florence, and the other at Ruciano, a place about a mile distant from the city, which were both of royal magnificence; especially the one in the city, which was larger than any other that had ever been built by any private citizen. To complete these palaces, Messer Luca did not hesitate to resort to most extraordinary means; for not only the citizens and private persons made him gifts, and aided him with the material, &c. necessary for these buildings, but even the common people made contributions and lent him their help. Besides this, all the banished, and any one else that had committed murder, or theft, or any other crime that made him amenable to the penalties of the law, found a safe refuge in that palace, provided he would in some way contribute to its erection. The other citizens in the government, if they did not build palaces as Luca Pitti did, yet were neither less violent nor less rapacious than he was; so that if Florence was not impoverished by foreign wars, she was ruined by her own citizens. During this time, as we have said, occurred the wars of the kingdom of Naples, and some which the Pope carried on against the Malatesti in the Romagna, from whom he desired to take Rimini and Cesena, which they held. Pope Pius II. terminated his pontificate in the midst of these enterprises and the preparations for the expedition against the Turks.
5. Whilst Florence continued agitated by her dissensions and troubles, they also broke out in the party of Cosimo in the year 1455, from causes already indicated, but which, as we have narrated, he was enabled to quiet for the time by his prudence. But with the year 1464 Cosimo’s illness became so aggravated as to cause his death. Both friends and enemies alike deplored this event; for those who from public reasons did not love him feared that after his decease they would be completely ruined and destroyed; for they had witnessed, even during his lifetime, the rapacity of those whose excesses had been somewhat restrained by their regard for him. Nor had they much confidence in his son Piero; for although he was a good man, yet they judged that, being also in feeble health, and a novice in the government, he might be obliged to have too much consideration for those who controlled the government, and whose rapacity, being now without any check, would in that case become still more excessive. The regret at Cosimo’s death was therefore very general. Of all citizens not of the profession of arms, Cosimo was the most illustrious and renowned, not only of Florence, but also of any other republic of which we have any record. For not only did he surpass all others in wealth and influence, but also in liberality and sagacity; and amongst all the other qualities on account of which he became, as it were, sovereign in his own country, was his exceeding generosity and munificence. His liberality became much more manifest after his death; for when his son Piero wished to ascertain his possessions, it was found that there was hardly a citizen who held any sort of position to whom Cosimo had not loaned heavy sums of money. And many times he relieved, unsolicited, the necessities of noblemen so soon as he became cognizant of them. His munificence is apparent from the number of public edifices built by him; for in Florence he erected the churches and convents of San Marco and San Lorenzo, and the monastery of Santa Verdiana; and on the hill of Fiesole, San Girolamo and the Badia; and in the Mugello he restored and supplied with new foundations a church of the Minorite Friars. Besides these, he erected in Santa Croce, in the Servi, in the Angioli, and in San Miniato the most splendid altars and chapels, which he supplied, moreover, with costly vestments and every other necessary for the establishment of divine service. Besides these sacred edifices must be mentioned his private palaces, of which there was one in the city, in all respects suitable to so great a citizen, and four without the city, namely, one at Careggi, one at Fiesole, one at Caffagiuolo, and one at Trebbio, each of which was more like a royal palace than the dwelling of a private citizen. And not satisfied that the magnificence of his edifices should be known in Italy only, he built also in Jerusalem an asylum for poor and infirm pilgrims, in the construction of which he expended a very large amount of money. And although these palaces and all his other works and acts were royal, and he was like a sovereign in Florence, yet he so tempered his magnificence with his prudence, that he never transcended the modesty of a civilian. For in his intercourse and conversation, in his servants, in his equipages, and in his whole mode of living, as also in the family alliances which he established, he was ever the same as any other modest citizen; for he knew that any extraordinary display on all occasions excites much more envy than what these things merit in reality, and that they should therefore be concealed with becoming modesty. And so, when he had to marry his sons, he did not seek alliances with princely houses, but he married John to Cornelia of the Alessandri family, and Piero to Lucrezia de’ Tornabuoni; and of the daughters of Piero, Bianco was married to Guglielmo de’ Pazzi, and Nannina to Bernardo Rucellai. None either of the princes or civil rulers of his time equalled him in intelligence; whence it came that in a city so liable to change, and a population so variable, he was able to hold the government for thirty-one years. His extreme prudence and sagacity enabled him to foresee evil from afar, and whilst there was still time, either to arrest its growth, or to prepare for it in such manner that in case it should grow it might produce no mischief. Thus he not only triumphed over the ambition of his rivals within the republic, but he overcame even that of many foreign princes so happily and with so much tact that he secured the alliance of all for the benefit of his country, and thus remained equal or superior to its enemies; and whoever opposed him lost both his time and his money, or his state. The Venetians are a striking proof of this, for in union with Cosimo they proved always superior to Duke Filippo; and when separated from him they were beaten and defeated, first by Filippo and then by Francesco; and when they combined with King Alfonso against the Florentine republic, Cosimo, by his credit, so deprived Naples and Venice of money that they were constrained to accept such terms of peace as the Florentines chose to accord them. The many internal and external troubles, then, which Cosimo had to encounter, always terminated gloriously for him and disastrously for his enemies; and thus his power and influence in the city were increased by civil discords within, and the foreign wars added to his power and reputation, so that he was enabled to add to the possessions of the republic the Borgo of San Sepolcro, Montedoglio, the Casentino, and the Val di Bagno. And thus by his virtue and good fortune he destroyed all his enemies and exalted his friends.
6. Cosimo was born in 1389, on the day of SS. Cosimo and Damiano. His early life was full of troubles, as proved by his exile, his imprisonment, and exposure to the danger of death; for, having accompanied Pope John XXIII. to the Council of Constance, he was obliged, after the deposition of the Pope, to fly in disguise to save his life. But after his fortieth year he lived most happily and prosperously; so that not only those who joined him in his public enterprises, but also those who administered his private wealth in various parts of Europe, participated in his prosperity, whence many families in Florence acquired great riches, as was the case with the Tornabuoni, the Benci, the Portinari, and the Sassetti; and besides these, all those who depended upon his counsel and fortune gained large wealth. Although he constantly spent large sums in the building of churches and in charities, yet he complained sometimes to his friends that he had never been enabled to spend as much in the honor of God but that he should be found a debtor in his books. Cosimo was of ordinary stature, olive complexion, and of venerable presence; he was without great erudition, but most eloquent and full of natural prudence; obliging to his friends, merciful to the poor, profitable in conversation, cautious in counsel, and prompt in execution; and in his sayings and replies he was subtle and grave. Messer Rinaldo degli Albizzi, in the early part of his exile, sent him word “that the hen was hatching”; to which Cosimo replied, “that she could hatch but ill, being away from her nest.” And when other exiles gave him to understand “that they did not sleep,” he said “that he believed it, for he had deprived them of sleep.” When Pope Pius II. was laboring to excite the princes of Italy to a crusade against the Turks, Cosimo said “that the Pope was an old man, and had undertaken an enterprise only fit for a young man.” To the Venetian ambassadors who came to Florence together with those of King Alfonso to complain of the republic, Cosimo uncovered his head, asking them the color of his hair, and when they answered “White,” he said, “It will not be long before your senators will have heads as white as mine.” A few hours before his death, when his wife asked him “why he kept his eyes closed,” he answered, “To accustom them to it.” After his return from exile some citizens said to him, “that the city was being desolated, and that it was an offence against God to drive so many good men out of it.” Cosimo replied, “that it was better a city should be desolated than destroyed; that two yards of red cloth would make a gentleman, but that states could not be governed with rosary in hand”; which expression gave his enemies opportunity to calumniate him, as being “a man who loved himself more than his country, and this world more than the next.” We might adduce many more of his sayings, but these will suffice.
Cosimo was also a great lover and patron of literary men; and this made him bring to Florence Argiropolo, a Greek by birth and the most learned man of his time, so that he might instruct the Florentine youth in the Greek language and other branches of learning. He supported in his own house Marsilio Ficino, the second father of the Platonian philosophy, to whom he was so much attached that he gave him a property near his own palace of Careggi, so that Marsilio might follow the pursuit of letters with more convenience, and that he himself might with greater facility enjoy his society. Thus his prudence, his wealth, his good fortune, and his whole way of life caused him to be feared and beloved by the people of Florence, and to be in the most extraordinary degree esteemed, not only by the princes of Italy, but of all Europe; thus leaving a foundation for his descendants which enabled them to equal him in virtue and greatly to surpass him in fortune. And the authority and consideration which Cosimo enjoyed in Florence he deserved to have equally throughout all Christendom. In the latter part of his life, however, he experienced great affliction; for of his two sons, Piero and Giovanni, the latter, in whom he had the most confidence, died, and the other was in such infirm health that he was unfit to attend to public or private business; so that, upon being carried through his palace after the death of Giovanni, Cosimo observed with a sigh, “This is too large a house for so small a family.” His great soul also suffered anguish at the thought of not having increased the Florentine dominions by some honorable conquest; and he regretted this the more as it seemed to him that he had been deceived by Francesco Sforza, who, before becoming Duke, had promised him that whenever he should become master of Milan he would undertake the conquest of Lucca for the Florentines, which promise he however never performed. For Count Francesco changed his mind with his change of fortune; and having become Duke of Milan, he wished to enjoy in peace what he had won by war, and would therefore not engage in any new enterprise either for Cosimo or any one else, and was even indisposed to engage in any more wars unless forced to it for his own defence. This was a source of the greatest annoyance to Cosimo, who felt that he had undergone much trouble and expense for the benefit of a faithless and ungrateful man. Besides this, he felt that the infirmity of his body would not permit him to devote himself with his former zeal to either public or private affairs, so that he thought he saw both going to ruin; for Florence was being destroyed by her own citizens, and his private fortune by his agents and his children. All these things caused him much disquietude in the latter part of his life. Nevertheless he died full of glory and great renown, and the city of Florence, as well as all Christian princes, condoled with his son Piero upon his loss. His funeral was attended by all the citizens with greatest pomp; and being interred in the church of San Lorenzo, there was, by public decree, inscribed over his tomb, “Father of his Country.”
If, in speaking of the acts of Cosimo, I have followed the example rather of those who write the biographies of princes, and not that of those who write general history, no one need wonder at it; for having been so rare a man in our republic, I felt compelled to speak of him with the extraordinary praises which he merited.
7. At this time, when Florence and Italy were in the abovedescribed condition, Louis, king of France, was involved in a most serious war, which his barons had begun against him, and in which they were aided by the Duke of Brittany, and by Charles, Duke of Burgundy. This war was of such magnitude that King Louis could not think of assisting Duke John of Anjou in his attempt upon Genoa and Naples; and, judging rather that he himself needed the help of others, he gave to Francesco, Duke of Milan, the town of Savona, which had remained in the possession of the French, giving him to understand, at the same time, that he would not oppose Francesco’s undertaking the conquest of Genoa, if he desired it. This offer was accepted by Francesco, who, by the influence thus derived from the king’s friendship, and the help afforded him by the Adorni, succeeded in making himself master of Genoa. And, not to appear ungrateful for the favors he had received at the hands of the king of France, he sent fifteen hundred horse to his assistance under the command of his eldest son, Galeazzo Sforza. Thus Ferdinand of Aragon and Francesco Sforza remained, the latter Duke of Lombardy and Prince of Genoa, and the former king of the entire kingdom of Naples. And a family alliance having been contracted between them, they considered how they could establish themselves firmly enough in their respective states to enable them to enjoy them in security during their lives, and dying bequeath them freely to their heirs. They deemed it necessary for this purpose that the king of Naples should make sure of the barons who had offended him in the war of John of Anjou, and that Duke Francesco should destroy the Braccescan party, who were the natural enemies of his family, and who had attained the highest reputation under Jacopo Piccinino; for this Piccinino was now the greatest general of Italy, and, having no state of his own, was to be feared by all who had any dominions, and most of all by the Duke Francesco, who, conscious of the example which he himself had set, seemed to think that he could neither enjoy his state quietly himself, nor leave it securely to his son, so long as Jacopo Piccinino lived. King Ferdinand therefore earnestly endeavored to come to terms with the barons, employing every art for that purpose. He happily succeeded; for the barons saw very clearly that they would be ruined if they continued at war with the king, and were doubtful even of their safety if they trusted and made terms with him; and as men always try to avoid certain evils, it follows that princes can easily deceive persons less powerful than themselves. The barons, seeing the manifest danger of war, put faith in the peace offered by the king; but, having placed themselves in his hands, were afterwards destroyed by him in various ways and under various pretexts. This example alarmed Jacopo Piccinino, who happened with his troops at Sulmona; and to deprive the king of Naples of the opportunity of crushing him, he opened negotiations with the Duke Francesco for a reconciliation through the mediation of some friends. And Sforza, having made him liberal offers, Jacopo resolved to place himself in his hands, and, accompanied by one hundred mounted men, he went to meet him at Milan.
8. (1465.) Jacopo Piccinino had served a long time under the father and with the brother of Duke Francesco, first for Duke Filippo and afterwards for the people of Milan; so that by long intercourse he had made many friends in Milan, and the general good-will of the people towards him had been increased by his present condition. For the fortunate prosperity and present power of the Sforzas had excited much envy against them, whilst adversity and long absence had created with the same people a warm sympathy for Jacopo, and the greatest desire to see him again. All of which became apparent on his arrival; for there were but few of the nobility who did not go to meet him, and the streets through which he had to pass were thronged with people eager to see him, and who shouted his name and that of his family everywhere. These honors hastened his ruin, for the Duke’s apprehensions increased his desire to destroy Jacopo; and to enable him to do so more covertly, he determined to celebrate the nuptials of Jacopo with his illegitimate daughter, Drusiana, to whom he had been for some time affianced. After this Jacopo agreed with the Duke to enter his service, with the title of captain of his forces, and one hundred thousand florins for his maintenance. Having concluded these arrangements, Jacopo went to Naples with his wife, Drusiana, and a ducal ambassador, where he was gladly and most honorably received, and for a succession of days entertained with all sorts of festivities. But having asked leave to go to Sulmona, where he had his troops, he was invited by the king to a banquet in the castle, after which he and his son were thrown into prison, where they were soon after put to death. And thus Italian princes, dreading in others the virtue of which they themselves were destitute, destroyed it; so that from the want of it the country soon after fell into that state of decadence which exposed it to such calamities and ruin.
9. Pope Pius II. had now settled the affairs of the Romagna, and this period of general peace seemed to him favorable for stirring up the Christians to move against the Turks. He adopted for this purpose proceedings similar to those of his predecessors. All the princes promised either money or men, and more particularly King Matthias of Hungary and Duke Charles of Burgundy, who promised to accompany him in person, and were therefore appointed by the Pope as chiefs of the whole enterprise. The Pope was so hopeful that he left Rome and went to Ancona, where he had ordered the whole host of crusaders to assemble, and where the Venetians had promised him vessels for transporting them across to Sclavonia. After the arrival of the pontiff in Ancona, there came together so many people in that city that in a few days all the provisions that were in the city, or that could be had from neighboring places, were consumed, so that all began to suffer from famine. Besides this, there was no money with which to purchase provisions or arms for those that needed them, and neither King Matthias nor Duke Charles made his appearance. The Venetians sent one of their captains with a few galleys, more for the purpose of making a show of compliance with their pledges than really to transport the army across into Sclavonia. In the midst of all these troubles and disorders, the Pope, who was already old and infirm, died, after which all returned to their homes. The death of Pius II. occurred in 1465, and Paul II., a Venetian by birth, was chosen his successor. It seemed about this time as though all the principalities of Italy were to change their rulers; for Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, also died in the following year, after having held the dukedom sixteen years. His son, Galeazzo, was proclaimed his successor.
10. The death of this prince caused an increase of the dissensions in Florence and accelerated their baneful effects. After the death of Cosimo, his son Piero, who fell heir to his father’s wealth and state, called to his assistance Diotisalvi Neroni, a man of great influence and highly esteemed by the other citizens, and in whom Cosimo had so much confidence that in dying he recommended to Piero to be guided by Neroni’s advice in all matters of state, as well as in the management of his private fortune. Piero therefore manifested towards Diotisalvi the same confidence that Cosimo had done; and as he desired to conform to the injunctions of his father after his death, the same as he had done during his lifetime, he requested Messer Diotisalvi to advise him in relation to his patrimony as well as the government of the city; and told him that, by way of making a beginning with his private business, he would have all the accounts of his assets and liabilities placed in his hands, so that he might judge of the condition of his affairs, and in how far they were well ordered or otherwise; and that then, after having acquainted himself with them, he might advise him in relation thereto according as his prudence might suggest. Messer Diotisalvi promised to use all diligence and good faith in every way. But when the accounts came and were examined by him, he found that matters generally were in great disorder, and impelled more by his ambition than by his love for Piero or by the benefits formerly bestowed upon him by Cosimo, he conceived the idea that it would be easy for him to rob Piero of the credit and state which he had inherited from his father. Messer Diotisalvi therefore advised Piero in a manner that seemed entirely reasonable and honest, but under which his ruin was concealed. He pointed out to him the disordered condition of his affairs, and how much money would be required to preserve his credit, and with it the reputation of his wealth and his state; and he suggested to Piero that there was no more honest means of re-establishing his disordered finances, than to call in all the moneys which his father had outstanding in the way of loans to so many strangers as well as citizens. For Cosimo, to secure himself partisans in Florence and friends elsewhere, had been most liberal in letting everybody participate in his fortune, so that he had become creditor to an amount neither small nor unimportant. Piero in his desire to restore order in his affairs received the suggestion as a good and honest one; but so soon as a demand for these outstanding loans was made by his order, the citizens resented it as though he wanted to rob them of their own, instead of asking merely for what was his; and they said everything that was ill of him, and calumniated him as an ingrate and a miser.
11. Messer Diotisalvi, seeing the general disfavor and unpopularity which Piero had drawn upon himself by having acted according to the advice which he himself had given him, combined with Messer Luca Pitti, Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli, and Niccolo Soderini to deprive Piero both of his credit and of the government. They were all actuated by different motives in this. Messer Luca desired to succeed to the government in place of Cosimo; for he had now become so powerful himself that he disdained being subjected to Piero. Messer Diotisalvi, knowing Messer Luca Pitti to be unfit for being at the head of the government, imagined as a matter of course that, when Piero should have lost his place and his influence, the government would undoubtedly in a short time fall into his hands. Niccolo Soderini wished the city to enjoy greater liberty, and that it should be governed solely by the will of the magistrates. Messer Agnolo had a special hatred of the Medici for the following reasons. His son Rafaelle had some time previously married Alessandra de’ Bardi, who brought him a very large dowry. Either from her own fault or that of others she had been maltreated by her husband and her father-in-law; whereupon Lorenzo d’ Ilarione, a relative of hers, touched by compassion for the young lady, went one night accompanied by a number of armed men and took her from the house of Messer Agnolo. The Acciaiuoli complained of the injury thus done them by the Bardi, and the case was referred to Cosimo, who decided that the Acciaiuoli should restore to Alessandra her dowry, and it should then be left to her option to return to her husband or not. Messer Agnolo seemed to think that Cosimo had not treated him as a friend in this matter; and as he could not revenge himself upon Cosimo, he resolved to do so upon his son. These conspirators, although each animated by a different private motive, yet gave out to the public that they had but one common object, and affirmed that all they wanted was that the city should be governed by the magistrates, and not merely by the arbitrary will of a few citizens. Besides this the odium of Piero and the reasons for attacking him were augmented by the failure of many merchants at that time, for which Piero was publicly censured, because he had so unexpectedly called in all his outstanding moneys, and had thereby caused these failures, which were a disgrace and injury to the city. To all this it was to be added that Piero was negotiating a marriage between his oldest son, Lorenzo, and the lady Clarice of the house of Orsini, which afforded additional opportunity for calumniating him. For, they said, since he disdains a Florentine alliance for his son, it is evident that he no longer regards himself a citizen of Florence and intends to make himself sovereign of it; for he who will not have his fellow-citizens for relatives must contemplate making them his slaves, and cannot therefore in reason expect that they will remain his friends. The chiefs of this conspiracy seemed to think that they held the victory in their hands, because the greater part of the citizens followed them, being deceived by the cry of Liberty, which the conspirators had taken for their watchword by way of justifying their attempt.
12. Whilst the city was kept agitated by these movements, some citizens who abhorred all civil discord thought it would be well, if possible, to put a stop to them by some novel public entertainments; inasmuch as idle people are apt to become an instrument in the hands of men disposed to sedition. To put an end to this idleness, and to divert people’s thoughts from matters of state and give them something else to occupy their minds, they concluded that the year of mourning after Cosimo’s death having elapsed, it would be well to offer some amusement to the people of the city; and therefore they ordered two most magnificent festivals, such as had not yet been seen in Florence. One was to be a representation of the nativity and the adoration of the three Magi who had come from the East guided by a star; which was gotten up with such pomp and magnificence that the preparation and performance of it occupied the whole city for many months. The other was a tournament (for such they call a spectacle that represents a contest between men on horseback), where the first youths of the city should contend with the most renowned cavaliers of Italy. And amongst the most distinguished Florentine youths was Lorenzo, eldest son of Piero de’ Medici, who by his own personal bravery, and not by any favoritism, carried off the first honors. After the conclusion of these festivities the citizens reverted to their former thoughts, and each pursued his own projects with more zeal than ever, which gave rise to great differences and troubles, that were much increased by two occurrences: the one was the want of the authority of the Balia, which had expired, and the other the death of Francesco, Duke of Milan. In consequence of the latter the new Duke Galeazzo had sent ambassadors to Florence to confirm the agreements which his father had made with the city; one of which amongst other things provided for the annual payment of a certain sum of money by the Florentines. The leaders of the party opposed to the Medici took occasion to object to this demand, and opposed it publicly in council on the ground that the alliance had been made, not with Galeazzo, but with Francesco, and was cancelled by the death of the latter, and that there was no occasion for its renewal, inasmuch as Galeazzo had not the same ability as Francesco, and therefore they could not expect the same advantages from him; that they had had but little benefit from the former, and would have still less from the latter; and if any citizen wished to employ Galeazzo for his own private purposes, it was contrary to the laws of the republic and to liberty. Piero, on the other hand, pointed out that it would not be wise to forego an alliance so very necessary to them from mere considerations of money, and that there was nothing so beneficial to the republic and to all Italy as their alliance with the Duke of Milan, so that the Venetians seeing them united might not attempt either by a feigned friendship or by open war to injure the duchy. For so soon as they should find that the Florentines were alienated from the Duke, they would take up arms against him; and profiting by his youth and inexperience in the government and want of allies, they could easily win him over either by fraud or by force, and in either case it would be seen that it would lead to the ruin of the republic.
13. Piero’s arguments had no effect and were not accepted, and soon the animosities began to show themselves openly. The two parties met nightly at different places, the friends of the Medici in the Crocetta, and their adversaries in the Pieta. Anxious for Piero’s ruin, the latter had induced many citizens to sign their names to a list as being favorable to the enterprise. At one of their nightly meetings they discussed particularly the mode of proceeding; for all were agreed that the power of the Medici must be abated, but they differed as to the best way of effecting it. One portion, which was the most moderate, wanted, since Piero’s power under the Balia was at an end, that they should watch and oppose his resumption of it; and that being done, all agreed that the government of the city should be left entirely to the councils and the magistrates, and that thus Piero’s authority would in a brief period be destroyed; and that it would then be seen that with the loss of his authority and state he would also lose his commercial credit, for his affairs were at that point that, if they were careful not to allow him the use of the public funds, it would inevitably cause his financial ruin; after which he would be no longer dangerous, for a man who falls by his own fault is not sustained by his fellow-men like one who is thrust down by others. Besides, they argued, if no extraordinary attempt were made against him, he would have no grounds for arming himself or to call upon his friends for assistance; and if nevertheless he should do so, it would only injure his cause the more, and would excite such general mistrust of him that it would make his ruin all the easier, and would afford the others better opportunity for crushing him completely. Many others of those assembled were not favorable to this slow mode of proceeding, affirming that time would only benefit Piero, and not them; for it now they were to content themselves with ordinary proceedings, Piero would be in no danger whatsoever, whilst they would be exposed to many; for those magistrates who were his enemies would have to leave him the control of the city, whilst his friends would make him sovereign and ruin them, as happened in 1458; — and if the first suggestion had been made by good men, the present advice was that of wise ones; and therefore it would be best to agree to crush him now, whilst the minds of men were excited against him; — and that the way to accomplish it was to arm themselves within the city and to employ the Marquis of Ferrara, so as not to be without an army; so that if a Signoria should be drawn that was favorable to them, they might be prepared to avail of it and act decisively. It was resolved thereupon to await the drawing of the new Signoria, and to govern themselves accordingly. Amongst the conspirators was Niccolo Fedini, who had acted as their chancellor, but who, attracted by certain hopes, disclosed all the projects of his enemies to Piero, and gave him a list of the conspirators and of those who had subscribed their names. Piero was alarmed at seeing the number and character of the citizens opposed to him; and having counselled with his friends, he resolved also to prepare a list, and to obtain the signatures of those who were favorable to him. And having put the matter in the hands of some of his most trusted friends, he was surprised to find the minds of the citizens so variable and unstable, that many who had signed the list against him now signed that in his favor.
14. Whilst matters were pending in this state of uncertainty, the time came for the renewal of the supreme magistracy, on which occasion Niccolo Soderini became Gonfaloniere of Justice. It was marvellous to see the crowd, not only of distinguished citizens, but even of the people, who accompanied him to the palace. On his way thither an olive wreath was placed upon his head, to signify that the country depended upon him for her security and liberty. This instance, as well as many others, proves how undesirable it is to accept an important magistracy or principality with extraordinary expectations on the part of the people; for being unable by your efforts to fulfil them, (men ever desiring more than you are able to perform,) you will in the end reap contempt and dishonor. Messer Tommaso and Niccolo Soderini were brothers; Niccolo was the more spirited and enterprising of the two, and Tommaso the more sagacious. The latter being a great friend of Piero de’ Medici, and knowing at the same time his brother’s disposition, and that he had no other object but the liberty of the city and to establish the government firmly and without injustice to any one, advised him to have no ballotings made, so that the election purses might be filled with the names of citizens devoted to their free institutions; which being done, he would see the government established and confirmed without disturbance or harm to any one. Niccolo readily adopted his brother’s advice, and thus wasted the period of his magistracy in vain efforts, which his friends the conspirators allowed him to do from jealousy, being unwilling that the reform of the government should be effected through the authority of Niccolo, and in the belief that they would yet be in time under another Gonfaloniere. When Niccolo’s magistracy came to an end, it became apparent that he had begun many things, but accomplished none; and thus he left his office with much less honor than he had entered upon it.
15. This result strengthened the party of Piero; it confirmed his friends in their hopes, and converted those hitherto neutral into decided adherents. The parties being thus equalized, many months elapsed without any further disturbances. Piero’s party, however, steadily grew in power, which aroused his enemies, who conspired together and planned to do by force what they had been incapable or unwilling to do by means of the magistrates when it would have been easy. They resolved therefore to have Piero, who was lying ill at Careggi, assassinated; and for that purpose they caused the Marquis of Ferrara to draw near the city with his troops, so that after Piero’s death they might come armed into the Piazza and cause the Signoria to establish a government according to their will. For they hoped that, even if the whole of the Signoria were not favorable to them, yet that those who were opposed to them would be induced to yield from fear. Messer Diotisalvi, the better to conceal his real intentions, often visited Piero, argued with him about the restoration of harmony in the city, and counselled him to effect it. But all these machinations had been revealed to Piero; and, moreover, Messer Domenico Martelli had given him to understand that Francesco Neroni, brother of Messer Diotisalvi, had solicited him to join them, showing him that success was certain and their object all but accomplished. Piero therefore resolved to be the first to take up arms, and availed himself for that purpose of the intrigues of his adversaries with the Marquis of Ferrara. He feigned having received a letter from Messer Giovanni Bentivogli, Prince of Bologna, making known to him that the Marquis of Ferrara was on the other side of the river Albo with troops; and that it was publicly said that he intended marching upon Florence. And thus upon this pretended information Piero took up arms and came to Florence followed by a crowd of armed men. Whereupon all who belonged to his party armed themselves also, and the opposite party did the same, but with less order than the others, who had been prepared for it, whilst Piero’s enemies were not yet ready for it according to their plans. Messer Diotisalvi, whose dwelling was next to Piero’s, did not feel himself secure there, but went alternately to the palace to counsel the Signori to compel Piero to disarm, and to Messer Luca Pitti to keep him firm to their party. But the one who showed himself more active than all the others was Messer Niccolo Soderini, who took up arms, and was followed by nearly the entire population of his quarter, and went to the house of Messer Luca Pitti, begging him to mount his horse and come into the Piazza to support the Signoria, which was with them, and that this would beyond all doubt assure them the victory. He urged him at the same time not to remain in his house, unless he wished either to be basely crushed by his armed enemies, or shamefully deceived by his unarmed ones, and that presently he would repent not having acted up to his advice, when it however would be too late. And that if he wished the destruction of Piero by war, he could easily accomplish it; and if he wanted peace, it was better to be in a position to dictate the terms than to be obliged to accept such as might be offered. But all these arguments had no effect upon Messer Luca, whose resentment against Piero had been calmed; having been beguiled by Piero with promises of fresh alliances and other advantages, for he had already married one of his nieces to Giovanni Tornabuoni. Luca therefore advised Niccolo to lay down his arms and return home, for it ought to satisfy him to see the city governed by the magistrates, as would be the case; and that both sides ought to disarm, and that the Signoria, the majority of whom were favorable to their party, should be the judges of their differences. Niccolo, being unable to influence Messer Luca Pitti in any way, returned home, having however first said to Luca: “I alone cannot secure the welfare of my city, but I can foretell the ills that will befall it. The course which you are taking will cause our country the loss of liberty, and to you the loss of your power and your substance, and to me and others the loss of our country.”
16. During these disturbances the Signoria caused the palace to be closed, having shut themselves up in it together with the magistrates; and showing favor neither to one nor the other party. The citizens, and especially the adherents of the party of Messer Luca Pitti, seeing Piero armed, and his adversaries not, began to consider, not how they should injure Piero, but rather how they should manage to become his friends. Thereupon the principal citizens, chiefs of the factions, met in the palace in the presence of the Signoria, where all matters relating to the condition of the city and the reconciliation of the parties were discussed by them. And as Piero in consequence of his feeble condition could not be personally present, they all resolved to go to him in his palace, with the single exception of Niccolo Soderini, who, after placing his sons and his affairs in the charge of his brother Tommaso, went away to his villa, there to await the end of the matter, which he regarded as unfortunate for himself and pernicious to his country. When the other citizens had arrived at Piero’s, one of them, who had been commissioned to speak for them, complained of the disturbances that had occurred in the city, throwing the blame mainly upon him who had first taken up arms; and, not knowing that this had been Piero, said that they had come to know his wishes, and that if they accorded with the good of the city they were ready to follow him. To which Piero replied: “That it was not he who had first taken up arms that was to blame for the disturbances, but those who had first given occasion for arming, and that they would be less surprised at what he had done for his own safety, if they were to think more of what their conduct had been towards him; for then they would see that their mighty conclaves, the signing of lists, and the negotiations for taking from him the government of the city and of his very life, had caused him to arm. And that the fact that his armed followers had not left his palace was manifest proof of his having armed only for his own defence, and not for the purpose of assailing others; and that he wanted nothing else, and desired nothing so much as quiet and security for himself, and had never shown the slightest inclination or desire for anything else. For the authority of the Balia having ceased, he had never thought of any extraordinary means of re-establishing it; and that he was entirely satisfied to let the magistrates govern the city if that would content them. And that they ought to remember that Cosimo and his sons had known how to live and make themselves honored in Florence with or without the Balia; and that it was not the house of Medici, but they themselves, who had re-enacted the Balia in 1458, and if they did not want it now, no more did he; but that this did not satisfy them, for he had seen that they believed that they could not exist in Florence so long as he remained there, — a thing that he never could have believed or thought possible, that his friends and those of his father should imagine that they could not live in Florence with him, for he had never shown himself other than a quiet and peace-loving man.” And then addressing himself to Messer Diotisalvi and his brother, who were present, he reproached them in words full of gravity and indignation with the benefits which they had received at the hands of Cosimo, with the confidence which he himself had reposed in them, and with their monstrous ingratitude. And such was the force of his words that some of those present would have laid violent hands on the Neroni if he had not restrained them. Piero finally concluded by saying that he was ready to approve all that they and the Signoria might resolve upon, and that for himself he asked nothing but to live in peace and security. Many other matters were discussed, but nothing definite resolved upon, except in a general way that it was necessary to reform the city and reorganize the government.
17. The office of Gonfaloniere of Justice was held at that time by Bernardo Lotti, a man who had not the confidence of Piero, who in consequence did not deem it proper to attempt anything so long as Bernardo held that office; which Piero however deemed of little importance, knowing that Bernardo’s magistracy was nearly at an end. But when the election came for Signori who were to sit for the months of September and October in the year 1466, Ruberto Leoni was chosen to the highest magistracy. So soon as he had taken office, all other things being prepared, he called the people together in the Piazza and created a new Balia, composed entirely of adherents of Piero, which soon after appointed the magistracies wholly in accordance with the wishes of the new government. All this alarmed the chiefs of the adverse faction, so that Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli fled to Naples, and Messer Diotisalvi Neroni and Niccolo Soderini to Venice. Messer Luca Pitti remained in Florence, trusting in the promises made to him by Piero, and in his new relationship with him. Those who had fled were declared rebels, and all the Neroni family were dispersed; Messer Giovanni di Nerone, Archbishop of Florence, to avoid a worse fate, became a voluntary exile to Rome; and many other citizens who suddenly departed were banished to various places. Nor was all this deemed sufficient, but a procession was ordered for the purpose of rendering thanks to God for the preservation of the republic and the restoration of union in the city. During this solemnity some citizens were seized and put to the torture; a part of them were afterwards killed, and the others banished. But in all this great vicissitude of things the most notable example was that of Messer Luca Pitti, who quickly learned the difference between victory and defeat, and between honor and disgrace. His palace, which previously had been visited by the greatest number of citizens, became a perfect solitude. His friends and relatives not only no longer accompanied him in the streets, but actually feared to salute him; for a portion had been deprived of their dignities and others of their property, and all were equally menaced. The superb edifices which he had commenced were abandoned by the builders, the benefits that were formerly showered upon him became changed into reproaches, and the honors heretofore bestowed upon him into infamy. Whereupon many, who for some favor had presented him with costly gifts, now demanded them back as having been mere loans; and others who had been in the habit of lauding him to the skies now blamed him as an ingrate and a man of violence; so that he repented — but too late — not having followed the advice of Messer Niccolo Soderini, rather to die honorably with arms in hand, than to live dishonored amongst his victorious enemies.
18. Those who found themselves expatriated began to think of various means for recovering that country in which they had not known how to maintain themselves. Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli however, being at Naples, before attempting any active movement, wanted to ascertain the disposition of Piero, as to whether there was any hope of a reconciliation with him, and therefore wrote him a letter to the following effect: “I smile at the freaks of Fortune, and how in turn she converts friends into enemies and enemies into friends. You may remember how, during your father’s exile, I, thinking more of that act of injustice than of my own danger, was subjected to the same wrong, and even came near losing my life. Nor have I ever, whilst Cosimo was living, failed to honor and support your house; neither have I since his death ever had the slightest intention of offending you. It is true that your feeble constitution, and the tender years of your sons, in a measure alarmed me; so that I judged it necessary to give such form to the government that, after your death, our country might not be exposed to ruin. This gave rise to the proceedings which were not intended against you, but for the good of my country, and which, if erroneous, deserve nevertheless to be forgiven on account of my good intentions and my past good conduct. Nor can I believe that, inasmuch as your house during so long a time has ever found me faithful, I shall not now find you merciful, or that all my former merits shall be cancelled by a single fault.”
Upon receipt of this letter Piero replied thus: “Your smiling where you are is the reason why I do not weep; for were you to be smiling in Florence, I should be crying in Naples. I confess that you have been well disposed towards my father, but you must admit that you have received much in return for it; so that your obligations to us were as much greater than ours to you, as deeds are of greater value than words. Having thus been well rewarded for the good you have done, you must not be surprised now at the just retribution for your evil doings. Nor will your love of country excuse you; for no one will ever believe that Florence was less loved and its interests less promoted by the Medici than by the Acciaiuoli. Live, therefore, in dishonor where you are, since you have not known how to live here in honor.”
19. Messer Agnolo, despairing therefore of obtaining pardon, went to Rome, and united with the Archbishop of Florence and the other banished Florentines to do all they could to destroy the credit of the Medici in Rome, in connection with their commercial operations. Piero contended against this with difficulty; still, by the aid of his friends, he thwarted their designs. Messer Diotisalvi and Niccolo Soderini, on the other hand, made every effort to stir up the Venetian Senate against their country, judging that, if the Florentines were involved in fresh wars, they would not be able to sustain their government, which was still new and was detested. There happened to be at this time at Ferrara Messer Giovan Francesco, son of Messer Palla Strozzi, who, together with his father, had been driven from Florence during the troubles of 1434. He enjoyed very high credit amongst the other merchants, and was reputed exceedingly rich. The new rebels demonstrated to Giovan Francesco the great facility with which they could recover their country if the Venetians were to declare war against Florence, which they supposed the former would readily do, provided a share of the expenses were contributed by themselves, but which otherwise would be doubtful. Giovan Francesco, eager to revenge himself for the old injuries, gave ready ear to their suggestions, and promised to aid such an attempt with all the means in his power. Thereupon they went to the Doge, and complained of their exile, which, they said, “they had to suffer for no other fault than the desire to have their country governed by equal laws and by the magistrates, and to prevent a few private citizens from usurping the authority of the government. They added that Piero de’ Medici and his partisans, who were accustomed to the ways of tyrants, had treacherously taken up arms, and by deceit induced them to lay down theirs; and then by fraud and violence had driven them from their country. And not content with this, they had availed of the Almighty himself as a means of crushing many others, who, relying upon the pledges given them, had remained in the city, and been seized during solemn and sacred ceremonies and supplications, and imprisoned or put to death; thus making the Almighty himself a participant in their treason, which was an impious and nefarious example. The exiles added that, to avenge these wrongs, they knew not where more effectually to look for assistance than to the Senate of that state, which, having always enjoyed liberty themselves, ought to have compassion upon those who had lost theirs. And therefore they appealed to freemen against tyrants, and to the pious against the impious; and exhorted the Senate to remember that it was the family of the Medici who had robbed them of Lombardy, when Cosimo, contrary to the will of other citizens, had favored and assisted Francesco Sforza. So that, if they were not moved by the justice of their cause, the just hatred and desire for vengeance ought to make them accede to their request.”
20. The whole Senate was greatly moved by these last words, and it was resolved that their captain, Bartolommeo Colione, should attack the Florentine dominions. The army was got together as soon as practicable (1467), and was joined by Ercole da Este, who had been sent by Borso, Marquis of Ferrara. The Florentines being still unprepared, the enemy in the first attack burnt the Borgo of Dovadole, and did some damage to the surrounding country. But after the expulsion of the party adverse to Piero, the Florentines had formed a new league with Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, and with Ferdinand, king of Naples, and had employed Frederick, Count of Urbino, as captain of their forces. So that, having now re-established their relations with their friends, they cared less for their enemies. Ferdinand sent his oldest son, Alfonso, and Galeazzo came in person, each with a suitable force. They all made head at Castrocaro, a castle belonging to the Florentines, and situated at the foot of the mountains that slope from Tuscany into the Romagna. The enemy meantime withdrew towards Imola. According to the custom of the times, a few slight skirmishes took place, but neither party fairly attacked the other, or laid siege to any place. Neither afforded the other an opportunity for coming to a general engagement, but both, remaining in their tents, acted with extraordinary cowardice. This conduct displeased the Florentines, who found themselves involved in a war that cost much and promised little. The magistrates complained of it to those citizens who had been deputed as commissaries for the conduct of the war. These replied that it was altogether the fault of the Duke Galeazzo, who, having great authority and but little experience, was incapable of devising measures of utility himself and unwilling to listen to those who were able; and that, so long as he remained with the army, it would be impossible to achieve any act of gallantry or movement of advantage. The Florentines, therefore, gave the Duke to understand that they esteemed it of great benefit and advantage to them that he had come personally to their aid; for such a reputation as his was of itself sufficient to alarm their enemies. Nevertheless, they considered his health and the safety of his state of more importance than their own convenience; for with the safety of the former they could hope that all else would prosper, but if that should suffer they would have reason to apprehend all sorts of calamities. They did not, therefore, deem it very safe for him to remain absent too long from Milan, being yet new in the government, and having powerful enemies that were not to be trusted, and who might easily take advantage of his absence to set some plot afoot against him. And therefore they advised him to return to his own state, and to leave a portion of his troops for the defence of theirs. Galeazzo was pleased at this proposition, and returned without further thought to Milan. The Florentine captains who remained in command, being now without any interference, and desirous of proving that they had assigned the true reason for their slow progress, now moved close up to the enemy, so as to bring on a regular engagement, which lasted half a day without either party yielding. Nor were any men killed; only a few horses were wounded and some prisoners taken on both sides. Winter having now set in, when it was customary for all armies to go into quarters, Messer Bartolommeo Colione retired towards Ravenna, the Florentine troops went into Tuscany, and the troops of the king of Naples and the Duke of Milan returned to their respective countries. But as after this attack upon the Florentine state no disturbances had broken out in the city, as had been promised by the Florentine rebels, and as the pay of the hired troops was in arrears, propositions were made for peace, which, after much negotiation, was concluded (1468). The Florentine rebels, therefore, being bereft of all hope, dispersed to various places. Messer Diotisalvi went to Ferrara, where he was received and supported by the Marquis Borso. Niccolo Soderini went to Ravenna, where he lived upon a small pension from the Venetians, and died at an old age. He was esteemed as a just and courageous man, but slow and doubting in his resolves, which caused him to lose the opportunity of victory as Gonfaloniere of Justice, which he strove in vain afterwards to recover as a private citizen.
21. After the conclusion of peace, those citizens who remained masters in Florence seemed to think their victory incomplete unless they overwhelmed, not only their enemies, but all who were suspect to their party, with every kind of injury. They induced Bardo Altoviti, who was Gonfaloniere of Justice at that time, anew to deprive many citizens of their offices, and to banish many others, which increased the power of their party and struck terror into the other. They exercised this power without any consideration, and altogether governed in such wise that it actually seemed as if God and fortune had given the city up to them as a prey. Piero de’ Medici knew little of these things, and could not even remedy that little, being borne down by his infirmities; for he was so drawn together that he was unable to use any of his faculties except that of speech; so that all he could do was to beg and exhort them to conduct themselves according to the laws, and to enjoy the safety of their country rather than its ruin. And by way of diverting the citizens of Florence he resolved to celebrate the nuptials of his son Lorenzo with Clarice d’ Orsini, in a most sumptuous manner; and this was done with all the pomp and splendor becoming so great a citizen. Accordingly, many days were spent in a variety of festivities, balls, and representations from antiquity; and for the purpose of displaying still more the greatness of the house of Medici and that of the state, there were added two grand military spectacles, the one representing an open field battle by men on horseback, and the other a siege and the storming of a town; all of which were executed with the greatest order and skill.
22. Whilst these events were taking place in Florence, peace prevailed throughout the rest of Italy, though accompanied with much apprehension of the Turk, who in his wars upon the Christians had taken Negropont, greatly to the discredit and injury of the Christian name. At this time Borso, Marquis of Ferrara, died, and was succeeded by his brother Ercole. Gismondo da Rimini also died: he had been the persistent enemy of the Church, and left his state as a heritage to his son Ruberto, who afterwards became one of the ablest captains in the wars of Italy. Death also carried off Pope Paul; and his successor was Sixtus IV., who had previously borne the name of Francesco da Savona, a man of the lowest origin, but who by his talents had become General of the Order of St. Francis, and afterwards Cardinal. This pontiff was the first to show the extent of the papal powers, and how much of what were afterwards called errors could be concealed under the pontifical authority. Amongst his family were Piero and Girolamo, who were generally believed to be his sons, though he concealed the fact by calling them by names less compromising to his character. Piero, who was a brother of a religious order, was raised by him to the dignity of Cardinal, with the title of San Sisto. To Girolamo he gave the town of Furli, which he had taken from Antonio Ordelaffi, whose ancestors had for a long time been princes of that state. This ambitious mode of proceeding made Sixtus the more influential with the princes of Italy, who all sought to gain his friendship. The Duke of Milan gave his natural daughter Catherine as wife to Girolamo, with the city of Imola for her dower, which he had taken from Taddeo degli Alidosi. Another alliance was contracted between this Duke and King Ferdinand of Naples, by the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Alfonso, the king’s oldest son, with Giovan Galeazzo, oldest son of the Duke of Milan.
23. Italy meantime remained pretty tranquil, the chief care of her princes being to observe each other, and by marriages, fresh alliances, and other bonds to secure themselves against one another. Nevertheless during this general peace Florence was greatly afflicted by her own citizens, whose ambition Piero was unable to check, owing to his bodily infirmity. By way of relieving his conscience, however, and to see whether he could influence them by shame, he called all the leaders to his palace, and addressed them as follows: —
“I could not have believed that the time would ever come when the conduct of my friends would have made me love and wish for my enemies, and that victory might have been defeat. For I thought that I was associated with men whose cupidity had some measure or bounds, and that they would have been satisfied with living securely and honored in their country, after having been avenged upon most of their enemies. But I see now how greatly I have deceived myself for so long a time; and how little I understood the natural ambition of men in general, and still less yours. For it seems that you are not content with being the chiefs in so great a city, and grasping for your small number all the honors, dignities, and emoluments that were formerly shared by many citizens. Nor does it suffice you to have distributed amongst yourselves the possessions of your enemies, or to load them with all the public burdens, whilst you are exempt from them, and enjoy all the public benefits; but you must also oppress them with every kind of injury. You despoil your neighbors of their goods, you sell justice, disregarding yourselves all civil judgments; you oppress the peaceful and exalt the insolent; and I do not believe that there are in all Italy so many examples of violence and avarice as are to be found in this city. Has our city then given us life for no other purpose but to destroy hers? Has she honored us so that we may bring dishonor upon her? Has she made us victorious so that we may the more effectually work her ruin? I protest to you by all that should be most sacred amongst good men, that, if you continue to conduct yourselves in such a manner that I shall have occasion to regret our victory, I will act in such a manner that you shall have occasion to repent having misused it.”
Piero thereupon sent secretly for Messer Agnolo Acciaiuoli to come to Caffagiuolo, and there talked with him at length about the condition of the city; and there is no doubt that, had not death interposed, Piero would have recalled all the banished to Florence, so as to check the rapine of those within the city. But death prevented the execution of his best intentions; for, borne down with the infirmities of the body and anxiety of the mind, he died in the fifty-third year of his age. His goodness and virtues never could be entirely known to his country, having been almost to the end of his life under the direction of his father, Cosimo de’ Medici; and the few years that he survived him were consumed almost wholly by civil contentions, and by his bodily infirmity. Piero was buried in the church of San Lorenzo, near his father, and his obsequies were conducted with all the pomp due to so illustrious a citizen. He left two sons, Lorenzo and Giuliano; and although they inspired every one with the hope of their becoming most useful to the republic, yet their youth caused general misgivings.
24. Amongst the first citizens in the government of Florence, and by far superior to all the others, was Messer Tommaso Soderini, whose sagacity and influence were known not only in Florence, but to almost all the princes of Italy. After the death of Piero de’ Medici, Messer Tommaso was looked up to by the whole city, and many citizens called to pay their homage to him at his house, as though he were chief of the state, and many princes addressed him as such by letters. But he was prudent, and knew perfectly well his position and that of the Medici; he made no reply to the letters of the princes, and advised the citizens that they ought to call upon the Medici at their palace, and not upon him. And to show by deed what he had advised in words, he called together the heads of the noble families in the convent of San Antonio, where he also caused Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici to come; and in a grave and lengthy address he spoke of the condition of Italy, of the character and disposition of her princes, and concluded by saying that, “if they wished to live in union and peace in Florence, secure from internal dissensions and foreign wars, they must look to these youths, and maintain the renown of their house; for,” said he, “men never complain of that to which they are accustomed, and although prompt in adopting anything new, yet they tire of it very quickly. And it has ever been easier to maintain a government which by length of time has exhausted envy, than to set up a new one, which, for a multitude of reasons, may easily be destroyed.”
After Messer Tommaso had concluded, Lorenzo arose to speak; and although he was still very young, yet he expressed himself with so much gravity and modesty that he inspired every one with the hope that he would be what indeed he afterwards became. And before the meeting separated, the citizens swore that they would be as fathers to these youths; and they in return pledged themselves to act as sons. Having come to this conclusion Lorenzo and Giuliano were honored as princes of the state, and they continued to act under the advice of Messer Tommaso Soderini.
25. Whilst complete tranquillity, both internal and external, thus prevailed in Florence, there being no war to disturb the general quiet, an unexpected trouble occurred, which was as it were the presage of future calamities. Amongst the families that were involved in the ruin of the party of Messer Luca Pitti was that of the Nardi; for Salvestro and his brothers, who were the chiefs of that family, were first exiled, and afterwards, in consequence of the war against Florence under Bartolommeo Colione, declared rebels. Amongst these was Bernardo, one of the brothers of Salvestro, a young man of ardent and courageous temper. Poverty made his exile unendurable to him; and seeing that, in consequence of the establishment of peace, there was no chance of his returning to Florence, he resolved to do something by which to provoke a fresh war. For small beginnings often produce great results, especially as men are ever more ready to follow in any movement set on foot by others than to originate one themselves. Bernardo had an extensive acquaintance in Prato, and still more so in the district of Pistoja, and was particularly intimate with the Palandras, who, although tillers of the soil, yet counted amongst them many men who, like the Pistojans in general, were used to arms and bloodshed. Bernardo knew that they were malcontents, having been ill treated by the Florentine magistrates in some of their quarrels; he moreover knew the disposition of the men of Prato, and their general resentment against the government, which they deemed overbearing and grasping. All this encouraged him in the hope of being able to light a conflagration in Tuscany by making the men of Prato revolt, who would immediately have such large accessions that it would not be in the power of the government to extinguish it. He communicated his project to Messer Diotisalvi, and asked him, in case he should succeed in seizing Prato, what help he might obtain through his intervention from the other princes. Messer Diotisalvi considered the undertaking most perilous, and almost impossible of success. Seeing, however, that at the risk of others he might have another chance at fortune, he advised Bernardo to make the attempt, promising him most certain help from Bologna and Ferrara if he managed to hold Prato for at least two weeks. This promise filled Bernardo with the most sanguine hopes, and he went secretly to Prato (1470), and, on communicating his scheme to some of his friends, he found them most favorably disposed. He met the same readiness and disposition in the Palandras; and, after having agreed upon the time and manner of proceeding, he communicated the whole to Messer Diotisalvi.
26. Cesare Petrucci was at this time Podesta (or governor) of Prato for the people of Florence. It was the custom of the governors of this sort of places to keep the keys of the gates near them; and whenever, especially in periods of tranquillity, any one of the place asked for them, either to go out or to come in, they were readily given him. Bernardo, who knew this habit, presented himself about daybreak, with the Palandras and about a hundred armed men, at the gate leading to Pistoja; and his confederates within, who were cognizant of his movements, had also armed themselves. One of these asked the Podesta for the keys, pretending that one of the inhabitants wished to come in. The Podesta, who had not the least suspicion, sent one of his servants with the keys; and when he was sufficiently far from the palace, they were taken from him by the conspirators, the gate was opened, and Bernardo with his followers admitted. Having been joined by his confederates, they divided into two bodies. The one led by Salvestro of Prato seized the citadel, and the other, under Bernardo, took the palace, and Cesare Petrucci, with all his family, were put under guard. They then raised the alarm, and went through the place shouting the cry of “Liberty.” It was now daylight, and many of the people, hearing this cry, rushed to the Piazza, and, learning that the citadel was taken and the Podesta and his family prisoners, they were astounded and perplexed to know how this could have taken place. The eight citizens who held the supreme authority of the place assembled in their palace to confer as to what was to be done. Bernardo, having gone through the town with his men, and finding that the people did not follow him, upon learning that the Eight were assembled, went to them and explained that the object of his attempt was to liberate them and his country from servitude, pointing out to them how great would be the glory of those who took arms in favor of this cause, and who joined him in this glorious attempt, which would assure them perpetual peace and eternal fame. He reminded them of their ancient liberties and of their present condition, and assured them of certain assistance if they would only hold out for a few days against whatever forces the Florentines might get together. He averred that he had friends in Florence who would rise so soon as they should hear that this place had resolved to sustain his enterprise.
The Eight, however, were not moved by these words, and replied: “That they knew not whether the people of Florence were free or enslaved, being a matter that did not concern them; but they knew that, as regarded themselves, they wanted no further liberty than to obey the magistrates that governed Florence, and at whose hands they had never received any wrong that would warrant their taking up arms against them. And therefore they advised him to restore the Podesta to liberty, and to leave the place with his men, and speedily to withdraw from the danger in which he had so rashly placed himself.” Bernardo, however, was not alarmed by these words, but resolved to see whether he could not influence the people of Prato by fear, since arguments had failed to do so. And by way of terrifying them, he resolved to put the Podesta Petruccio to death, and ordered him to be hung at the window of the palace. Cesare was already near the window, with a halter around his neck, and when he saw Bernardo, who was urging his death, he turned to him and said: “Bernardo, you cause my being put to death, in the belief that the people of Prato will afterwards follow you; but the result will be just the contrary, for the reverence which the people of Prato have for the rectors who were sent here by the people of Florence is such that, when they shall see the wrong you have done me, it will excite them to such hatred of you as will assuredly cause your ruin. It is not my death, therefore, but rather my life, that can contribute to your success; for were I to command that which you desire, they would much more readily obey me than you; and if they were to see me follow your orders, you would quickly attain the end you have in view.”
Bernardo, who seemed at a loss what course to take, deemed this advice good, and therefore ordered Cesare to go upon the balcony that overlooked the Piazza, and to command the people to obey him. Having done this, Cesare was led back to prison.
27. The weakness of the conspirators was, however, soon discovered. A number of Florentines living in Prato came together, and amongst them Messer Giorgio Ginori, a Knight of Rhodes, who was the first to take up arms against Bernardo, who was running about the Piazza entreating the people to follow him, and threatening them if they refused. Being attacked by Messer Giorgio and his followers, Bernardo was wounded and taken prisoner. This done, it was an easy matter to liberate the Podesta, and to overpower the other conspirators, who, having divided into several small parties, were nearly all captured and put to death. Meantime the report of this affair reached Florence, and being greatly exaggerated, the people were told that Prato was taken and the Podesta with all his family killed, and the place filled with enemies; that Pistoja was in arms, and many of her citizens implicated in the conspiracy. The palace became quickly filled with citizens, who had come together for the purpose of conferring with the Signoria. Ruberto da San Severino, a captain of high repute, happening to be in Florence at that juncture, it was resolved to send him to Prato with what troops they were able to collect. He was commissioned to approach the place and take particular notice of everything, and to adopt such measures as his prudence might suggest. Ruberto had but just passed the castle of Campi when he was met by a messenger from Cesare Petrucci, who informed him that Bernardo was prisoner and his followers dispersed and killed, and all troubles ended. He therefore returned to Florence, where Bernardo was brought soon after; and, when questioned by the magistrates as to the truth of the affair, which seemed to them most feeble, he said that he had made this attempt because he had resolved rather to die in Florence than to live in exile, and that he wanted his death to be marked by some noteworthy fact.
28. This disturbance having been crushed almost as soon as begun, the citizens returned to their accustomed mode of life, hoping to enjoy without further apprehensions that authority which they had established and confirmed for themselves. This gave rise to those evils in the city which are most apt to be generated in times of peace; for the young men became more dissolute than usual, and beyond measure extravagant in dress, carousings, and all other licentiousness; and being idle they spent their time in gaming, and with women, their chief study being to appear splendidly attired and to be esteemed shrewd and witty in speech, and he who could say the sharpest things to the others was esteemed the cleverest. These evil habits were carried still further through the example of the courtiers of the Duke of Milan, who came with his lady and all his court to Florence, in fulfilment of a vow (1471), and was received with all the pomp and magnificence suitable to so powerful a prince and an ally of the republic. Then was seen a thing which in our day had never yet been witnessed; for it being Lent, when the Church commands us to fast and eat no flesh, this court, regardless of the ordinances of the Church and of God, feasted daily upon meat. Many spectacles were gotten up in honor of the Duke, amongst them one in the church of San Spirito, where was represented the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles; and in consequence of the many lights on that occasion the entire church was burnt, which was regarded by many as a manifestation of the wrath of the Almighty in his indignation against us for our misconduct. And if the Duke of Milan found in Florence abundance of courtly pleasures and extravagant customs, he left there many more than he found; so that the good citizens deemed it necessary to restrain and put bounds to them by sumptuary laws against extravagance in dress, feastings, and funerals.
29. In the midst of this general tranquillity an unexpected disturbance occurred in Tuscany. Some citizens of Volterra had discovered an alum mine in that territory; and knowing its value, and desiring to find parties who would contribute money for its development and could protect it with their authority, they applied to some Florentine citizens, and gave them an interest in the profits to be derived from it. This matter, as is frequently the case with new enterprises, was at first but lightly esteemed by the citizens of Volterra; but in time they recognized its value, and then, when too late, they wanted to recover the lost profits, which in the beginning they might easily have secured. They began to agitate the matter in their councils, claiming that it was not proper that a mine found upon public property should be worked for private profit. Thereupon they sent ambassadors to Florence (1472), and the matter was referred to certain citizens, who being either bribed by the parties, or because they judged it to be right, decided that it would be unjust on the part of the people of Volterra to deprive their citizens of the fruit of their labor and industry; and that the alum pits in question belonged of right to those individuals who had developed them, but that it would be proper that these should pay a certain yearly sum to the city of Volterra in acknowledgment of her sovereign rights. This decision, instead of diminishing, rather increased the excitement and ill feeling of the people of Volterra, causing much agitation in their councils, as well as throughout the whole city. The people demanded the restoration of what they considered had been taken from them, and the proprietors insisted upon keeping what in the first instance they had purchased, and the enjoyment of which had afterwards been confirmed to them by the decision of the Florentines. In the disputes resulting from this, a respectable citizen of Volterra, called “Il Pecorino,” together with many others that had sided with him, were killed, and their houses sacked and burned. And it was with difficulty that the fury of the populace was restrained from putting the Florentine rectors to death.
30. After this first outrage the people of Volterra resolved before anything else to send ambassadors to Florence, who were to give the Signoria to understand that, if they would maintain the ancient privileges of Volterra, they would in return continue their ancient allegiance. The reply to be made to this was discussed at great length. Messer Tommaso Soderini advised “that the Volterrans should be received in any way they were disposed to return; it seeming to him most inopportune to light a conflagration so near them that the flames of it would set their own house on fire; for he feared the character of the Pope and the power of the king of Naples, and had no confidence in the alliance of the Venetians, nor in that of the Duke of Milan, not knowing how much reliance could be placed upon the good faith of the one or the valor of the other, and remembering the trite adage, that a lean peace is better than a fat victory.” On the other hand, Lorenzo de’ Medici, thinking the opportunity favorable for displaying the value of his counsel and prudence, and being mainly urged to it by those who were jealous of the authority of Messer Tommaso, maintained that the arrogance of the Volterrans ought to be punished by force of arms; and affirmed that, if they were not corrected in some exemplary manner, it would encourage others to act in a similar manner, regardless of all fear or respect for the Florentine authority. This course was resolved upon, and the answer given to the Volterrans was: “That they must not expect the continuation of those privileges which they themselves had destroyed, and that therefore they must submit to the decision of the Signoria or expect war.”
The ambassadors having returned with this answer, the Volterrans prepared for defence; they fortified their town, and called upon all the other Italian princes for assistance. But a few only paid any attention to their call, and none but the Siennese and the lord of Piombino gave them any hope of succor. The Florentines, on the other hand, deeming a prompt victory most important, assembled ten thousand infantry and two thousand horse, who under the command of Frederick, lord of Urbino, at once entered the Volterran territory and quickly occupied the whole of it. They then laid siege to the town, which, being situated upon a high and isolated eminence, could only be assailed from the side of the church of San Alessandro. The Volterrans had hired about a thousand soldiers for their defence, who, seeing the bold attack made by the Florentines, lost confidence in their own ability to resist, and were as slow in their defence as they were prompt in daily offending the inhabitants of Volterra by insults. The unfortunate citizens, being thus attacked by their enemies from without, and oppressed by their friends within, despaired of their safety and began to think of making terms. And seeing no better way, they placed themselves in the hands of the commissaries, who at once had the gates opened, and admitted the larger part of the Florentine troops, and then went to the palace where the priors were assembled and ordered them to return to their homes. On their way there one of the priors was in derision stripped by one of the soldiers; and so much more ready are men for evil than for good, that this beginning led to the destruction of the city, which was sacked and pillaged an entire day by the soldiers. Neither women nor sacred edifices were spared, and those who had so illy defended as well as those who assailed her alike despoiled the city of her substance. The news of this victory was received with great joy by the people of Florence; and as this undertaking had originated entirely with Lorenzo, his reputation quickly rose to the highest point. But when Messer Tommaso Soderini was taunted by one of his most intimate friends for the advice which he had given, saying to him, “What say you now since Volterra has been conquered?” Messer Tommaso replied, “To me the place seems rather lost than won; for if you had received Volterra back by agreement, that city would have proved a source of profit and of security to you; but having to hold it by force, it will prove a source of weakness and anxiety to you in time of trouble, and of injury and expense in time of peace.”
31. At this time the Pope, eager to keep the states of the Church to their allegiance, caused Spoleto to be sacked because her internal factions and dissensions had led her to revolt; afterwards he besieged Citta di Castello for having been guilty of a like contumacy. The lord of the latter place was Niccolo Vitelli, who, being on terms of intimate friendship with Lorenzo de’ Medici, obtained assistance from him, which, though inadequate for Niccolo’s defence, yet was quite sufficient to sow the first seeds of enmity between Sixtus IV. and the Medici, which soon after produced the most unhappy fruits; and these would not even have been so long in showing themselves had it not been for the death of Fra Piero, Cardinal of San Sisto. For that cardinal had travelled through all Italy, and had visited Venice and Milan, on pretence of witnessing the marriage of Ercole, Marquis of Ferrara, and had sounded the minds of those princes to ascertain how they were disposed towards the Florentines. But upon his return to Rome he died, and not without suspicion of having been poisoned by the Venetians, who feared the power of Sixtus whenever he should choose to avail of the talents and services of Fra Piero. For although of low origin, yet so soon as he became cardinal Piero exhibited such pride and ambition that neither the cardinalate nor even the pontificate seemed sufficient for him; for he did not hesitate to give a feast in Rome that would have been deemed extraordinary even for a king, and for which he expended more than twenty thousand florins. Pope Sixtus IV. being thus by death deprived of this minister, pursued his designs more slowly. But as the Florentines, the Duke of Milan, and the Venetians had renewed their league (1474), and had left it open to the Pope and the king to join it also, Sixtus and the king of Naples also formed an alliance between themselves, leaving it open for the other princes also to become parties to it. And thus was Italy divided into two hostile factions; and every day circumstances occurred that engendered hatred between them, as was the case with regard to the island of Cyprus, which was coveted by the king of Naples, but was seized by the Venetians. This caused the bands of union between the Pope and the king to be drawn still closer together.
At this period Frederick, Prince of Urbino, was looked upon as the most distinguished captain of Italy, and had repeatedly commanded the Florentine forces in their wars. The Pope and the king of Naples, for the purpose of depriving the hostile league of this commander, resolved to win Frederick over to their side. The Pope advised and the king begged him to come and see him at Naples. Frederick complied, greatly to the surprise and displeasure of the Florentines, who believed that he would experience the same fate as Niccolo Piccinino; but the reverse of this happened, for Frederick returned from Rome and Naples laden with honors, and with the appointment as general of that league. Nor did the Pope and the king omit to sound the disposition of the lords of the Romagna and of Sienna for the purpose of securing their alliance, so as to be able by their help the more effectually to damage the Florentines. When the latter became aware of this, they prepared by all available means to provide against the ambitious designs of this league; and having lost Frederick of Urbino, they engaged Ruberto da Rimini as their commander. They renewed their league with Perugia, and formed an alliance with the lord of Faenza. The Pope and the king of Naples alleged as the cause of their enmity against the Florentines, that these wished to detach them from the Venetians, and then form an alliance with these themselves; for the Pope judged that the Church would not be able to maintain her influence, nor the Count Girolamo the states of the Romagna if the Florentines and Venetians were united. On the other hand the Florentines apprehended that the king and the Pope desired to embroil them with the Venetians, not for the sake of securing their alliance themselves, but to be able the more easily to injure the Florentines. Thus two years were passed in these mutual suspicions and jealousies before any actual outbreak took place; and the first that occurred was in Tuscany, though of but slight importance.
32. Braccio da Perugia, whom we have repeatedly mentioned as one of the most distinguished soldiers of Italy, had left two sons, Oddo and Carlo. The latter was still of very tender years at the time of his father’s death, and the former had been killed by the people of the Val di Lamona, as we have elsewhere related. But when Carlo afterwards came to a suitable age for military service he was engaged by the Venetians as one of their Condottieri, — partly out of regard for the father’s memory, and partly because of the hopes which they had conceived of the young man’s abilities. About this time his engagement expired, and Carlo was unwilling to renew it without first trying whether his name and his father’s reputation would not enable him to return to Perugia in some suitable capacity. The Venetians readily assented to this, for they knew from experience that every change generally contributed to the increase of their power. Carlo therefore went to Tuscany, and finding the affairs of Perugia complicated by their league with the Florentines, and being desirous that his movements should result in something memorable, he attacked the Siennese (1476), alleging that they were indebted to him for services rendered by his father to their republic, which claims he wanted satisfied. His attack was so impetuous that he came near overturning their whole state. The citizens, seeing themselves assailed in this manner, and being always ready to credit everything bad to the Florentines, persuaded themselves that it had been done with their connivance, and made great complaints of them to the Pope and the king of Naples. They also sent ambassadors to Florence, who complained of the great wrong done to their city, and demonstrated ingeniously that without assistance Carlo would not have been able to inflict such injury upon them with such entire security to himself. The Florentines protested against this accusation, and declared themselves ready to do everything in their power to induce Carlo to desist from doing the Siennese further harm, and that the ambassadors might use any means they pleased to induce Carlo to discontinue his attack. Carlo complained of this, and pointed out to the Florentines that by failing to support him they had deprived themselves of an important acquisition and himself of great glory; for he promised to give them possession of the place in a short time, seeing the wretched cowardice of the people of Sienna and the insufficiency of their means of defence. Carlo therefore departed and returned to his former employment in the service of the Venetians, and the Siennese, although relieved from this serious danger through the mediation of the Florentines, yet remained full of indignation against them, considering themselves under no obligations to those who had rid them of an evil of which they had themselves been the original cause.
33. Whilst matters between the king of Naples and the Pope and in Tuscany were in the condition related above, an event occurred in Lombardy that was of the greatest importance, and was a presage of the greatest calamities. There was in Milan a certain Cola Montano, a man of great learning and ambition, who taught the Latin language to some of the youths of the first families there. Either from hatred of the evil habits and mode of life of the Duke Galeazzo Sforza, or from some other cause, Cola expressed in all his teachings his detestation of being obliged to live under such a prince; calling those happy to whom fortune had granted the privilege of having been born and living under a republic, and pointing out how all the most celebrated men had been nurtured in republics, and not under princes, inasmuch as the former cherish men of merit, whilst despots try to crush them; for republics profit by the virtue of others, whilst tyrants fear it. The young men whom he had taken most into his intimacy were Giovanni Andrea Lampognano, Carlo Visconti, and Girolamo Olgiato. He often discussed with them the vile nature of the Duke Galeazzo, and the misfortune of those who were subjected to his government, and so won the hearts and confidence of these young men that he made them take an oath that, when they should have attained a suitable age, they would deliver their country from the misrule of this tyrant. The youths, filled with this desire, which grew with their years, were hastened to the execution of their design by the habits and mode of life of the Duke, and by the personal injuries which they had received at his hands. Galeazzo was licentious and cruel, and the frequent display of these vices had made him most odious; for, not content with debauching noble ladies, he took pleasure in making it publicly known, and the mere putting to death of men did not satisfy him unless he could accompany it with some special cruelty. He was charged even with the infamous crime of having caused the death of his own mother; for seeming to feel in her presence that he was not absolutely master, he bore himself towards her in such manner that she resolved to withdraw to her estates near Cremona, which she had received as her dower. But on her way there she was seized with a sudden violent illness, and died, which gave rise to the general belief that Galeazzo had caused her death. The Duke had dishonored Carlo and Girolamo in the persons of their ladies, and had refused to concede to Giovan Andrea the possession of the abbey of Miramondo, which had been granted by the Pope to one of his near relatives. These private injuries increased the determination of these young men to revenge themselves, and to free their country from so many ills. They thought that, whenever they should succeed in killing the Duke, they would be supported, not only by many of the nobles, but also by the entire people. Resolved therefore to make the attempt, they had frequent meetings, which however excited no attention, as their ancient intimacy was well known. The killing of the Duke was the constant subject of their discussions; and by way of training themselves to the act, they practised striking each other in the breast and sides with the sheaths of the poignards which they intended using in reality. They also talked over the time and place most suitable for success, and concluded that to attempt it in the castle would not be safe; to do it during the chase seemed uncertain and hazardous, and during the Duke’s walks through the city difficult and impracticable. They determined, therefore, to kill him at some public show or festival, where they were sure he would come, and where, under various pretences, they might have their friends together. They concluded also, that, in case some of them should for some reason be detained at court, the others should nevertheless proceed to kill the Duke with their weapons and with the aid of some of his armed enemies.
34. The year 1476 was drawing to its close, and the feast of the nativity of Christ was approaching; and, as the Duke was in the habit of going on St. Stephen’s day with great pomp to the church of that martyr, the conspirators thought that time and that place would be the best for the execution of their design. On the morning of St. Stephen’s, therefore, they made some of their most faithful friends and servants arm themselves, pretending to be going to the aid of Giovan Andrea, who was about to bring water into his grounds by means of an aqueduct, which was being opposed by some of his jealous neighbors. Followed by these armed men, they went to the church, alleging that, before departing, they wanted to obtain the permission of the Duke. They had also caused, under various other pretexts, a number of their friends and fellow-conspirators to meet them at the church, hoping that when the deed was done all these would stand by them and support them in the further carrying out of their enterprise. For it was their intention, after having slain the Duke, to go with these armed followers to that part of the city where they believed it would be easiest to induce the people to rise, and to make them take up arms against the Duchess and the chiefs of the state, judging that the people would be the more ready to follow them on account of the scarcity of provisions, from which they were suffering at the time. For it was a part of their plan to give up to pillage the houses of Cecco Simonetta, Giovanni Botti, and Francesco Lucani, all chiefs of the government, and thereby to secure the support of the people and to restore liberty to them. Having agreed upon the time and place, and steeled their hearts to the execution of their design, Giovan Andrea turned towards a statue of San Ambrosio, saying, “O patron of this our city, thou knowest our intentions, and the object for which we are ready to incur such great danger; favor our enterprise, and show thereby that injustice is hateful to you.” The Duke, on the other hand, before coming to the church, had many forebodings as to his approaching fate. For in the morning he put on a cuirass, as he was often in the habit of doing, and almost immediately took it off again, as though it inconvenienced him, or its appearance displeased him. He wanted to hear mass in the castle, but found that his chaplain had already gone with all the vestments to the church of St. Stephen. Then he wanted the Bishop of Como to celebrate mass instead; but this prelate alleged certain reasonable objections, so that the Duke was, as it were, forced to go to the church. But before doing so, he had his sons, Giovan Galeazzo and Ermes, brought to him, and embraced and kissed them many times, seeming scarcely able to tear himself away from them. But finally he resolved to go, and left the castle, placing himself between the ambassadors of Ferrara and Mantua, and went to the church. The conspirators meantime, by way of exciting less suspicion, as well as to escape from the cold, which was very intense, withdrew to a room belonging to the head priest of the church, who was a friend of theirs. Upon hearing that the Duke was coming, they entered the church, and Giovan Andrea and Girolamo took their position to the right of the church door, and Carlo to the left. Those who preceded the Duke had already come in, when Galeazzo entered, surrounded by a crowd of followers suitable to the ducal dignity on the occasion of so great a solemnity.
The first to move were Lampognano and Girolamo. On pretence of wishing to clear the way for the Duke, they approached him closely, and suddenly drawing their sharp daggers, which they had concealed in their sleeves, they attacked the Duke, Lampognano giving him two wounds, one in the stomach and the other in the throat; Girolamo also struck him in the throat and breast. Carlo Visconti, who had been placed nearer the door, and the Duke having passed ahead of him, could not strike him from the front, and therefore struck him two blows from behind, one piercing the spine and the other the shoulder. These wounds were inflicted upon the Duke so suddenly and quickly that the Duke was down upon the ground before any one was aware of the fact; nor could he do or say anything, except in falling to call once upon Our Good Lady for help. When the Duke was seen stretched upon the ground, a great tumult took place, and many swords were drawn; and, as generally happens on such unforeseen occasions, some fled from the church, and some rushed to the scene of the tumult, without any distinct knowledge as to the cause of it. But those who were near the Duke, and had seen him struck, and had recognized the assassins, pursued them. And of the conspirators, Giovan Andrea, in attempting to escape from the church, got amongst the women, who were there in great numbers, and, as usual, seated upon the ground, so that, becoming entangled in their dresses, he was overtaken by a negro, one of the Duke’s grooms, and killed. Carlo was also killed by the bystanders; but Girolamo Olgiato, having got out from amongst the people and the priests, and seeing his associates slain, and not knowing whither to fly, went home to his house, where, however, neither his father nor his brothers would receive him; but his mother, having compassion upon her son, recommended him to a priest, an old friend of their family, who, having disguised Girolamo in his own garments, took him to his own house, where he remained two days, not without hope that some disturbance would take place in Milan that would afford him a chance for escape. But deceived in this hope, and fearing to be discovered in his place of concealment, he attempted to fly in disguise; but being recognized, he fell into the hands of justice, and then confessed the whole organization of the conspiracy. Girolamo was but twenty-three years old, and displayed no less courage in death than he had done by his conduct in this enterprise; for when stripped and standing before the executioner, who, with sword in hand, was ready to strike him, he said the following words in Latin, in which language he was well versed: “Mors acerba, fama perpetua, stabit vetus memoria facti,”—“Death is bitter, but fame eternal, and the memory of this exploit will live forever.” The attempt of these unhappy young men was planned with secrecy and executed with great intrepidity; they failed only because those upon whom they relied to aid and defend them did neither the one nor the other. Let this example, therefore, teach princes so to live and so to make themselves respected and beloved that no one may hope for success in any attempt to assassinate them; and let conspirators remember that it is a vain hope to expect the people, however discontented, to follow them or share their dangers.
This event startled all Italy; but those which occurred soon after in Florence caused even greater consternation, for they broke that peace which had endured for twelve years, as we shall show in the following Book, which will have as sad and tearful a conclusion as its beginning will be bloody and horrible.