The disgrace of the Pazzi family was not permitted to end with their execution. Their names and their coat-of-arms were ordered to be suppressed in perpetuity by a public decree of the Signoria; their property was confiscated; their palace was given another name, as were all other places in Florence which formerly had borne it; orders were given for their family symbol – the dolphin – to be cut down or blotted out wherever it was to be found. No man who married a Pazzi was ever to be allowed to hold office in the Republic. All customs associated with the family were abolished, including the ancient ceremony of carrying the sacred flint to their palace on Easter Eve.4 Representations of the Pazzi traitors, together with those of the other conspirators, were painted by Botticelli – for a fee of forty florins for each figure – on the wall of the Bargello as Florentine custom dictated. They were portrayed with ropes round their necks, representing the manner of their death, except in the case of Napoleone Francesi who was painted hanging by his ankle to indicate that he had escaped. Beneath each portrait was inscribed a suitable epitaph in verse composed by Lorenzo.
In contrast to these insulting representations, so Giorgio Vasari recorded,
Lorenzo’s friends and relations ordered that, in thanksgiving to God for his preservation, images of him should be set up throughout the city. So [a skilled craftsman in wax] with the help and advice of Verrocchio, made three life-size wax figures with a wooden framework and a covering of waxed cloth, folded and arranged so well that the result was wonderfully attractive and lifelike. He then made the heads, hands and feet, using a coating of thicker wax, copying the features from life, and painting them in oils with the hair and other adornments. The results of this skilful work were so natural that the wax figures seemed real and alive, as can be seen today from the three figures themselves. One of them is in the church of the nuns of Chiarito, in Via di San Gallo, in front of the miraculous crucifix. This statue is dressed exactly as Lorenzo was when, bandaged and wounded at the throat, he stood at the windows of his house and showed himself to the people…The second of the statues, dressed in the citizen’s gown worn in Florence, is in the church of Santissima Annunziata above the lower door by the table where the candles are sold. And the third was sent to Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi and set up in front of the Madonna.
THE SAVIOUR OF FLORENCE
‘That son of iniquity and foster-child of perdition’
ON ASCENSION Day 1478 Giuliano de’ Medici was buried in the old sacristy of San Lorenzo in the porphyry sarcophagus which he and his brother had had made in memory of their father and uncle. Twenty-five at the time of his murder, he had never been married; but earlier that year his young mistress, Fioretta Gorini, had borne him a son who was christened Giulio.1 This boy, whose mother soon afterwards died, was adopted by Lorenzo who treated him as though he were his own child.
Of his own three sons, Lorenzo once said that the eldest was foolish, the next clever, and the youngest good; but he loved them all as he loved his daughters, and he delighted in playing games with them, a habit upon which Machiavelli afterwards commented with a hint of surprised reproach. Lorenzo wrote a little play for them, San Giovanni e San Paolo, giving them each a part and reserving one for himself. And he made it clear to them that however busy he was with affairs of State and however busy they were with their lessons – in which he took the deepest interest – he would always find time to talk to them. ‘If the wild beasts love their young,’ he wrote, ‘how much greater should be our indulgence towards our children.’
When he was parted from them he missed their company as much as they missed him. ‘When will Lorenzo come?’ they often asked their tutors or their mother. ‘When will Lorenzo come?’ In the uncertain times following the Pazzi conspiracy, all the children were sent away with their mother – and with Poliziano as tutor for the elder boys – to stay with their friends, the Panciaticchi, at Pistoia. Poliziano clearly did not enjoy his exile from Florence, though his letters to Lorenzo from Pistoia were uncomplaining. He gave him news of the children’s activities, assured him that Andrea Panciaticchi had received them all with ‘much kindness’, that Clarice was very well but took little pleasure in anything except the scraps of good news that came occasionally from Florence. ‘She rarely goes out. We want for nothing. Presents we refuse, save salad, figs, and a few flasks of wine, some beccafichi or things of that sort. These citizens would bring us water in their ears…We keep good watch and have begun to put a guard at the gates. When you have time come and see your family who expect you with open arms.’
Lorenzo’s family remained at Pistoia throughout the summer of 1478; but as winter approached they were moved to the greater security of the fortified villa at Cafaggiolo; and here, as the hard, cold weather set in, Poliziano became more and more miserable and unutterably bored. He continued to write to Lorenzo without complaining unduly about his situation; but to Lorenzo’s mother, Lucrezia, he did not disguise his misery. It was so fearfully cold he had to spend most of his time sitting over the fire in his slippers and overcoat; it rained so constantly that the children could not go out and he had to invent games for them to play indoors. To make these games more interesting he had made the losers forfeit a course of their next meal, but this had not proved a good idea since, more often than not, the results were greeted with tears. It was all made far worse by the fact that he did not get on at all well with Clarice.
She, in her unimaginative, old-fashioned Roman way, was appalled to discover that little Giovanni was being taught to read Latin from classical texts instead of from the psalter. He, knowing that Lorenzo would approve his method of instruction, declined to alter it. Quarrels about this led to quarrels about other things until Clarice dismissed Poliziano from the villa. Lorenzo was obliged to condone his friend’s dismissal, but in appointing in his place the less abrasive Martino da Comedia he let his wife know that he did not approve of her conduct. Clarice, in turn, upbraided him for allowing the objectionable Poliziano to live in Lorenzo’s rooms at Fiesole, for making her a laughing-stock by so publicly displaying his forgiveness of a man she had had to send packing from her house. Lorenzo was then driven to write a sharp letter reproving her conduct. He reminded her that she had not sent on Poliziano’s books as he had asked her to do, and demanded that they should be dispatched that very day.
Heated as it became, it was the one serious quarrel that Lorenzo and Clarice seem ever to have had. She was far from being an ideal wife for him. Despite that shyness and modesty, that willingness to please that his mother had noted in her as a young girl in Rome, Clarice had not been able to adapt herself to Florentine ways. She had remained a Roman at heart, a rather haughty, petulant creature, excessively proud of her ancient lineage, deeply troubled by her husband’s quarrel with the Pope, ill at ease with his clever, witty, sardonic friends whose conversation she found it so difficult to understand.
Lorenzo was almost certainly not faithful to her. She may not have minded that too much, perhaps. After all, husbands were not given to fidelity then; and Lorenzo’s affairs were not indiscreet. His attachment to Lucrezia Donati had been purely romantic. He had known her since she was a little girl; and though he wore her device in tournaments and wrote sonnets praising the beauty of her eyes and hands and the ever-changing expression of her lovely face, Clarice knew enough of Florentine society and of Lorenzo himself to be sure he would never disgrace the Medici by taking for a mistress the treasured daughter of such a family as the Donati. Besides, Clarice liked Lucrezia, who was already married when she met her, and was pleased for her to become godmother to her eldest son. Lorenzo’s affairs with other women seem to have caused Clarice as little concern. Francesco Guicciardini said that when he was forty Lorenzo, who ‘was licentious and very amorous’, fell desperately in love with Bartolommea dei Nasi, the wife of Donato Benci, and spent night after night with her at her villa, returning to Florence just before dawn. But if this were so, the affair was either concealed from Clarice, meant
little to her, or, perhaps, it did not begin until after her death. Certainly Lorenzo’s relations with other women never seem to have disturbed his affection for his wife, nor her affection for him. That they were fond of each other cannot be doubted. She could share few of his interests; she knew little of art or literature, less of politics and philosophy. When she wrote letters to him she could think of nothing to relate other than the recommendation of some preacher whose sermon she had heard in church or an account of the health of the children. But she was affectionate in her way; and so was he. ‘I have arrived safe and well,’ he assured her in one characteristic letter.
This I think will please you better than any other news save that of my return, judging by my own longing for you and for home. Be good company to Piero, Mona Contessina [his ancient grandmother, who in accordance with the custom of the time lived in the family palace until her death in 1473] and Mona Lucrezia [who also lived with the family until she died in 1482]. Pray to God for me, and if you want anything from here [Milan] before I leave, let me know. Your Lorenzo.
To her children, especially to her daughter, Maddalena, Clarice was devoted. She had ten in all, three of whom died in infancy; and it was the death of the eleven-year-old Luigia that hastened her own. She was already ill with tuberculosis and had been so for some time. When she seemed a little better, Lorenzo, ill himself, left her to take a cure of the medicinal waters at Filetta. Nine days after his departure, Clarice died. Her husband heard the news with the utmost grief. ‘The limit is passed,’ he wrote. ‘I can find no comfort or rest for my deep sorrow. I pray the Lord God to give me peace, and trust that in His goodness, He will spare me any more such trials as have visited me lately.’
Three days later the Ferrarese ambassador in Florence wrote home to tell the Duke that Clarice de’ Medici was dead. He had not bothered to send the news before, he said, because he did not think it of much importance.
As Lorenzo had feared, the failure of the Pazzi conspiracy and the Florentines’ fierce reprisals against those who had been involved in it aroused the utmost fury in Rome. Followed by three hundred halberdiers, Girolamo Riario stormed off to the house of the Florentine ambassador, Donato Acciaiuoli, arrested him and would have thrown him into the dungeons of Sant’ Angelo had not the Venetian and Milanese ambassadors strongly protested against this outrage of diplomatic immunity. Deprived of that chosen victim, Riario vehemently urged his uncle to use all the means at his disposal to avenge himself upon the Florentines in general and upon the Medici family in particular. The Pope, as angry as his nephew, needed little persuasion. He ordered the arrest of all the principal Florentine bankers and merchants in Rome, though he was compelled to release them when reminded that Cardinal Raffaele Riario was still held in Florence. He sequestrated the assets of the Medici bank and all Medici property he could lay his hands on; he repudiated the debts of the Apostolic Chamber to the bank; he dispatched a nuncio from Rome to demand that Lorenzo should be handed over to papal justice, and issued an enormously lengthy Bull of Excommunication against ‘that son of iniquity and foster-child of perdition, Lorenzo dei Medici, and those other citizens of Florence, his accomplices and abettors’. These accomplices were deemed to include the Gonfaloniere and the entire Signoria, all the members of which were ‘pronounced culpable, sacrilegious, excommunicate, anathematised, infamous, unworthy of trust and incapable of making a will’. ‘All their property is to revert to the Church,’ the document continued; ‘their houses are to be levelled to the ground, their habitations made desolate so that none may dwell therein. Let everlasting ruin witness their everlasting disgrace.’ If these sentences and punishments were not carried out within two months, the whole city of Florence was to be laid under interdict together with all its dependencies. Not content with this, the Pope declared war upon Florence and had no difficulty in persuading King Ferrante of Naples to do the same.
Eager to extend the dominion of the House of Aragon over Tuscany, King Ferrante’s son, Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, promptly marched across the frontier and, having taken possession of the territory round Montepulciano, sent an envoy to Florence with grim warnings of the city’s imminent destruction together with another fierce message from the Pope couched in even more virulent terms than the Bull of Excommunication.
To these and subsequent threats the Signoria issued defiant replies:
You say that Lorenzo is a tyrant and command us to expel him. But most Florentines call him their defender…Remember your high office as the Vicar of Christ. Remember that the Keys of St Peter were not given to you to abuse in such a way…Florence will resolutely defend her liberties, trusting in Christ who knows the justice of her cause, and who does not desert those who believe in Him; trusting in her allies who regard her cause as their own; especially trusting in the most Christian King, Louis of France, who has ever been the patron and protector of the Florentine State.
Despite these protestations of trust, the Florentines had little cause to hope for much help from their allies. Admittedly, the French King had written a friendly letter of sympathy to Lorenzo and a protest to the Pope against his treatment of him; he had made vague threats of another General Council and of a renewal of Angevin claims to Naples; he had sent Philippe de Commines as a special envoy to Italy. But as Commines himself said, the citizens were, in fact, offered little more than sympathy: ‘Louis’s favourable inclination towards the Florentines was in some measure useful to them, but not so much as I wished, for I had no army with which to support them beyond my own retinue.’
In earlier years Florence might have expected military help from Milan; but ever since the murder of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the feud between the widowed Duchess, guardian of their young son, Gian Galeazzo, and her brothers-in-law, his uncles, had prevented Milan from playing any effective part in Italian politics. A Milanese force under Gian Giacomo Trivulzio was eventually sent to Florence’s help, but it was not large enough to be effective. Nor were the mercenary forces dispatched by the Medici’s Orsini relatives in Rome; nor yet was the Bolognese force which was provided by Giovanni Bentivoglio, whom Lorenzo had visited years before as his father’s representative and with whom he had ever since remained on terms of the closest friendship. Indeed, when all these disparate troops were placed under the overall command of Ercole d’Este, the tall, handsome, cunning and cautious Duke of Ferrara, there were few people – and the Duke himself was evidently not one of them – who believed that the Florentines could possibly withstand the onslaught which the Neapolitan army, advancing up the Chiana valley, was threatening to launch against them.
The Duke of Calabria’s troops were not the only threat to Florence. By now, the Pope had induced Siena and Lucca to join forces with him and had entrusted the command of his own army to that formidable soldier, Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino. Philippe de Commines, having seen the troops in the papal camp and compared them with the motley array that their enemies had so far assembled, was forced to conclude that the independence of the Florentine Republic was soon to be ended.
The Florentines themselves, far more optimistic than Commines, continued to reject all the demands the Pope made of them. The Tuscan bishops, reacting defiantly to the Bull of Excommunication, had unanimously decided at a meeting in the Cathedral in Florence that the actions which the Signoria had so far taken were completely justified. And, in accordance with this decision, they issued their own decree excommunicating the Pope. Copies of the excommunication were printed on the press set up in Florence the year before by Bernardo Cennini, and distributed throughout Europe under the imposing title, Contrascommunica del clero Fiorentino fulminate contro il summo Pontifice Sisto IV. Their attitude was wholeheartedly supported by their clergy, by their congregations and by Lorenzo himself.
By this time Lorenzo had established himself as the undisputed leader of the Florentine cause. He had called a meeting of the leading citizens and in his high-pitched, nasal voice had dramatically assured them that as he was himself the cau
se of the Pope’s campaign against Florence he was willing to sacrifice himself and even his family if they thought that the exile or death of the Medici would prove the salvation of the city. Replying on their behalf, Jacopo dei Alessandri told him that it was their unanimous determination to stand by him to the end. They appointed a guard of twelve men to be responsible for his personal safety and elected him one of the Ten of War, the emergency committee set up to direct the campaign for the city’s defence.
That this campaign did not end in the disaster for Florence which Commines expected was due far more to good fortune and to the peculiar traditions of fifteenth-century Italian warfare than to any notable competence in either the Florentine army or in its commander, the Duke of Ferrara, who appeared unwilling to test his strength against the Duke of Calabria, a skilful soldier who also happened to be his brother-in-law. Always careful to keep a good two days’ march away from the enemy, the Duke of Ferrara took three weeks to cover the fifty miles between Pisa and Sarzana. When urged by the Florentines to move his men more quickly, he ridiculed such exhortation from ‘mere mechanics who [knew] nothing of war’. ‘The system of our Italian soldiers is this,’ commented the Florentine apothecary, Luca Landucci. ‘You turn your attention to plundering in that direction, and we will do the same in this. Getting too near each other is not our game.’ By November 1478, no decisive battle having yet been fought, both armies retreated to their winter quarters.
The next year was less favourable for Florence. First of all, the uncles of the young Duke Gian Galleazo Sforza, worsted in their efforts to gain power in Milan, had gone to Naples where King Ferrante incited them to go back north with an army and seize the Duchy by force. The return of her brothers-in-law to Lombardy so alarmed the Duchess that she recalled the Milanese contingent from the defence of Florence to help defend her own government in Milan.
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