No sooner had Giuliano reached the entrance to the choir and was about to genuflect, than Francesco de' Pazzi, who had followed him closely, whipped out his sword, at the very moment of the Elevation, and ran the devout prince, through the back! At the same time Bandino leaped upon him and stabbed him repeatedly in the breast!
It was all the work of an instant, and Giuliano fell over upon his side, his crimson life's blood ebbing swiftly out of nineteen gaping wounds and dyeing his scarlet robe deep purple. Francesco's frenzy was diabolical, for he leaped upon the still quivering body of his victim, and stabbed him again and again—wounding his own thigh in his fury!
Bandino next attacked Francesco Nori, a chief agent or manager of the Medici bank, a man of renown and honour, who vainly threw himself forward to shield his unhappy young patron, and he cut him down to the ground. With a filthy execration, he raised the dripping weapon in the air, prepared for yet another victim.
Meanwhile the two perjured priests, who, by the mock grace of their Order were placed within the choir, had taken up positions immediately behind Lorenzo, as though to render him assistance in the divine service, suddenly attacked him with daggers, but unskilfully. Lorenzo scrambled to his feet, and, casting his heavy mantle of State over his shoulders, drew his sword in self-defence. Turning to see who his opponents were, he received a scratch in the neck from Stefano's steel. Then, from the raised dais, he descried the tumult at the choir gates, whilst cries of "Il Giuliano e morto" reached his ears!
Desperadoes were struggling with the clergy and the acolytes by the great lectern, and calling out his name for vengeance. One, more murderous than the rest, was scaling the low sanctuary wall, holding his gory dagger in the air, and making for the chairs of estate—it was Bernardo Bandino. Commending the Domina Clarice to the care of his uncle, Lorenzo passed hurriedly up the steps of the altar and gained the New Sacristy, followed closely by the two Cavalcanti, who were battling with the infuriated Bandino and his confederates—"Abbasso il Lorenzo," they yelled.
Escaping through the doorway, Luca della Robbia's great bronze gates were slammed to, by Angelo Poliziano, almost crushing Antonio Cavalcanti, who fell with a deep wound in his shoulder, and actually flinging to the ground, outside in the aisle, the raging, baffled Bandino. "Then arose," wrote Filippo Strozzi, in his family Ricordi—he was an eye-witness of the tragedy—"a great tumult in the church. Messer Bongiano and other knights, with whom I was conversing, were stupefied, one fled hither and another thither, loud shouts filled the building, and the hands of friends of the Pazzi and Salviati all held gleaming weapons.... The young Cardinal remained alone, crouching by the high altar, until he was led away by some priests into the Old Sacristy, whence he was escorted by two of the 'Eight,' with a strong bodyguard, to the Palazzo del Podesta."
Inside the New Sacristy it was discovered that Lorenzo's wound was serious enough to call for immediate treatment, and one of his devoted pages, young Antonio de' Ridolfi, sucked it for fear of poison. The great heavy metal doors were incessantly battered from without, but no one dared to open them, and Lorenzo remained where he was until the hubbub in the Duomo appeared to be abating. Then another page, Sismondo della Stufa, climbed up into the organ gallery, whence he could look into the church, and reported that none but friends of the Medici remained, and they were crying out for Lorenzo to accept their escort to the palace. So the Magnifico departed.
All the while the great bell of the Palazzo Vecchio was booming out its dread summons for the city trained bands and the armed members of the Guilds to assemble for the defence of the city and the maintenance of their liberties. Loud cries of "Liberta!" "Liberta!" rolled up the street, drowned by a great chorus of "Evviva le Palle!" "Abasso i Traditori!" The whole city was in an uproar and blood was being spilt on every side.
What had happened was tragically this. Whilst one half of the conspirators was told off to strike the fatal blow, the other half was directed to rally round Archbishop Salviati, who, by the way, made some excuse for not assisting ministerially at the Mass, but took up his station close to the north door of the Duomo. Directly they saw Giuliano struck to the ground, they made all haste to the Palazzo Vecchio, and demanded an interview with Messer Cesare de' Petrucci, the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, who had been detained by urgent matters in the Courts.
When Messer Petruccio enquired the nature of their business, the Archbishop replied: "We are come, all the family of Salviati, to pay our respects to the Gonfaloniere, as in duty bound." Messer Cesare was at lunch, but, rising from table, he welcomed the Archbishop, who entered the apartment alone. He asked him to be speedy, as he had to join the banquet to the Cardinal di San Giorgio almost immediately.
Salviati said he was the bearer of his family's greetings to the Gonfaloniere, and also of a private Brief to him from the Pope. His manner seemed so strange, and his errand so irregular, that Petruccio's suspicions were aroused, and raising the arras, he saw the passage was filled with armed men. At once he called the palace guard to arrest the intruders, and caused every door of exit to be locked.
The object, of course, of the Archbishop and those with him was to seize the person of the Gonfaloniere and possess themselves of the Banner of Justice—that they might rouse the citizens to fight in its defence.
On the contrary, the people were for the Medici, and "Palle!" "Palle!" prevailed. Noting that the Salviati did not leave the palace, and that the guards had been withdrawn from the gate and every door was bolted, the populace broke into the building, rescued the Gonfaloniere, and the Signori with him, and seized the persons of the intruders.
Without more ado they ran the miscreants, Francesco, Giacopo, and Giacopo di Giacopo de' Salviati, Giacopo de' Bracciolini, and Giovanni da Perugia, up to the lantern of the Campanile, and, thrusting their bodies through the machicolations, hung them head downwards! Others of the party and some of the Cardinal's servants, who had accompanied the Archbishop, were flung from the windows.
Cavaliere Giacopo de' Pazzi was neither at the Duomo, nor did he accompany the Archbishop to the Palazzo Vecchio. His part was to await news from Salviati that he had seized the Gonfaloniere and the palace, and then to ride fully armed with a retinue of mercenaries and Montesicco's bodyguard of the Cardinal to the Piazza della Signoria. Without awaiting the signal he advanced, raising the cry "Liberta!" "Liberta!" but none rallied to his side.
Instead, he and his escort were pelted with stones and, on arriving in the Piazza, he beheld the gruesome human decoration of the Campanile. Without a moment's hesitation, spurring his horse, he rode swiftly towards the Porta della Croce, and set off into the open country—a fugitive!
Francesco de' Pazzi, after the slaughter of Giuliano, escaped to his uncle's house, and stripping himself, received attention to his wound, which was of a very serious nature. He was not, however, left very long in peace, for the cry had gone forth in the streets—"Death to the traitors!" "Down with the Pazzi and the Salviati!" "Fire their houses!" The sword, still reeking red with the bluest blood of Florence, was swiftly crossed by the sword of retribution. Francesco was dragged forth, naked as he was from his bed, buffeted, pelted, and spat upon, they thrust him with staves, weapons, hands and feet, right through the Piazza della Signoria; up they forced him to the giddy gallery of the Campanile, and then, flinging his bleeding, battered body out among his bloodthirsty comrades, they left him to dangle and to die with them there! The Archbishop, still in his gorgeous vestments, turned in fury, as he hung head downwards in that ghastly company, and, seizing his fiendish confederate, fixed his teeth in his bare breast, and so the guilty pair expiated their hellish rage—unlovely in their lives, revolting in their deaths!
* * * * *
Poor Giuliano's corpse was left weltering in his blood, where he had been done to death, outside the choir screen of the Duomo. At length he was picked up tenderly by the good Misericordia. His terrible wounds were reverently washed and his godlike body prepared for sepulture. News of his assassination had been swiftly carried out to Careggi, and Domina Lucrezia, bracing herself for the afflicting sight, hastened to lay his fair head in her lap, a very real replica of "La Pieta"—Blessed Mary and her Son.
Ah! how she and the women who bore her company wept for the beloved dead. Ah! how with tender fingers they counted each gaping wound. Ah! how gently they cut off locks of his rich hair, as memorials of a sweet young life.
They buried Giuliano that same evening, with all the honours due to his rank, amid the tears of an immense concourse of people—stayed for a while from their savage man-hunt. To the Medici shrine of San Lorenzo they bore him—the yellow light of the wax candles revealing the tombs of Cosimo and Piero.
"There was not a citizen," says Macchiavelli, "who, armed or unarmed, did not go to the palace of Lorenzo in this time of trouble, to offer him his person and his property—such was the position and the affection that the Medici had acquired by their prudence and their liberality."
Lorenzo came out on the loggia, and addressed the people massed in the street. He thanked them for their devotion and assistance, but entreated them, for his dear, dead brother's sake, to abstain from further atrocities and to disperse to their homes in peace.
Nevertheless, all the Pazzi and Salviati were proclaimed "Ammoniti" and they were pursued from house to house, whilst the peasants took up the hue and cry in the contado. Bleeding heads and torn limbs were everywhere scattered in the streets; door-posts and curb-stones were dashed with gore; men and women and the children, too, were all relentless avengers of "Il bel Giulio's" blood. It is said that one hundred and eighty stark corpses were borne away by the merciful Misericordia and buried secretly!
Cavaliere Giacopo, who had escaped into the hilly country of the Falterona, near the source of the Arno, was recognised by a couple of countrymen, who were frequenters of the markets in Florence. They seized him and took him to the city gate, where they sold him for fifty gold florins. His shrift was short, for his purchasers, adherents of the Medici, hacked off his head in the street, and carried it upon a pole to the Ponte Vecchio! Buried at Santa Croce, in the chapel of the Pazzi, his mutilated body was not left long in its grave. It was pulled up, denuded of the shroud, and, with a rope tied round the feet, dragged by men and women and even children to the Lung' Arno, and pitched, like a load of refuse, into the dusky river!
Several of the arch-conspirators hid for a while in various places, mostly in convents, but their time came for punishment. The two priests, Antonio and Stefano, were, two days after the tragedy in the Duomo, brought out of the cellars of the Badia of the Benedictines at Santa Firenze, and killed, not swiftly and mercifully, but tortured and mutilated to the satisfaction of the rabble.
Bernard Bandino, after picking himself up at the New Sacristy doors, immediately realised the failure of the conspiracy, and, wise man that he was, put his own safety before all other considerations. He worked his way through the struggling crowd in the Cathedral and got out by the south portal. Luckily enough, the Cardinal's horse had been left tethered by its affrighted groom hard by, so without awaiting news from the Archbishop, he vaulted into the saddle and made off at a hand gallop to the Porta Santa Croce.
With more cunning than Giacopo had shown, he made, not to the Tuscan hills, but to the Tuscan sea, and reached Corneto just in time to board a ship bound for the East, and at the point of weighing anchor. At Galata he went ashore and communicated with Sixtus, who sent him a goodly sum of money and sundry Papal safeguards, with his blessing!
There he lay hid for many weeks, but, as luck would have it, one day he came out of his lair in a Turkish divan, and encountered an agent of the Medici, who recognised him, followed him, and charged him before the Pasha. Put in irons by the Sultan's command, communication was made with Lorenzo. An envoy was despatched to Constantinople, to whom the wretch was handed, and, two months after his crimes in Santa Maria del Fiore, his living body was added to the string of stinking corpses, upon the side of the Campanile, which still dangled in their iron chains, betwixt earth and heaven, rained on and withered by the elements, and fed upon by carrion!
All the seven sons of Piero de' Pazzi were banished for life. They seem to have had no very intimate knowledge of the conspiracy; indeed, they were all away from Florence, except the fourth, Renato, and he was beheaded "for not having revealed the plot, he being privy to the treachery of his uncle Giacopo and his cousin Francesco."
Renato, indeed, tried to escape, knowing that he was implicated, although not engaged in the plot, but the garrison of Radicofani discovered him and his hiding-place, and he was despatched under guard to Florence. Giovanni de' Pazzi, Francesco's brother, who had married Beatrice Buonromeo, hid, for a time, in the monastery of Degli Angeli, and then, with his wife, was banished to the castle of Volterra, where he died in 1481. It does not appear that he took any active part in the plot, although his wronging by Lorenzo was the spark which fired the whole conspiracy.
Guglielmo de' Pazzi, the husband of Bianca de' Medici, Lorenzo and Giuliano's sister, was protected by Il Magnifico, and allowed to reside in a villa twelve miles outside Florence.
Napoleone de' Franzesi, alone of all the conspirators, effected his escape, but Piero de' Vespucci, father-in-law to "La bella Simonetta"—"Il bel Giulio's" innamorata,—who assisted him, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in the Stinche, with a heavy fine.
Giovanni Battista da Montesicco's fate was, perhaps, the only one which excited commiseration, even from the point of view of the Medici. A soldier of fortune, his weapon was at your command, did you but fill his pouch with ducats of Rome or florins of Florence. To him it mattered not whether the adventure partook of romance and espionage, or of intrigue and murder. Unlike many of his profession, he was a religious man, and just. He drew back from his bargain as soon as he had experience of Lorenzo's character, and he refused point-blank to slay him in a spot "where Christ could see him," as he said. It does not appear that he was inside the Cathedral that dread April morning, but remained on watch to see what transpired. On the defeat of the conspiracy he fled, with many more, right out of Tuscany. Agents of the Medici, however, pursued him and, having captured him, dragged him back to Florence. Before the Lords of the Signoria he made confession of what he knew of the conspiracy and of his own part therein. On 4th May, just seven days after the tragedy, he paid the penalty of his misplaced devotion, and he was hanged within the Palace of the Podesta.
Two arch-conspirators are still to be accounted for, Pope Sixtus IV. and Count Girolamo de' Riari! The former never expressed the least regret or concern at the tragic occurrences in Florence, but openly deplored the failure of his scheme to replace Lorenzo by Girolamo. Furthermore, he issued a "Bull," which began: "Iniquitatis filius et perditionis alumnus," and ended by anathema of Lorenzo, whereby he was excommunicated, and all Florence placed under an Interdict!
Moreover, he laid violent hands upon Donato Acciaiuolo, the Florentine ambassador, and, but for the prompt intervention of the envoys of Venice and Milan, would have cast him, uncharged, into the dungeons of the castle of Sant Angelo. The majority of the Florentine merchants in Rome were arrested, their property confiscated, and, to add insult to injury, Sixtus demanded from the Signoria the immediate banishment of Lorenzo. He expressed his keen sorrow for the deaths of the Pazzi and Salviati, his "devoted sons and trusty counsellors." He spoke of the execution of the Archbishop as "a foul murder caused by the tyranny of the Medici," and he put a price upon the head of Cesare de' Petrucci, the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia!
As for Count Girolamo, who had, coward-like, kept in the background—he was probably little more than a complacent tool in the hands of the pontiff—he was permitted to leave Florence in the train of the young Cardinal, immediately before the reception of the Interdict. He returned to Rome and abandoned himself to a life of profligacy; his palace became a brothel and a gambling hell, and there he lived for ten years, dishonoured and diseased. His retributive death was by the hand of an assassin in 1488.
The failure of the plot, whilst it added tremendously to the popularity of the Medici and strengthened still more Lorenzo's position, threw the Pope frantically into the arms of the King of Naples. He persuaded him to join in a combined and powerful invasion of Tuscany. At Ironto the Neapolitan troops crossed the frontier and encamped, whilst the Papal forces moved on from Perugia and Siena.
Lorenzo at once called a Parliament to consider the position, and to take steps for the protection of the city and the defence of the State. He addressed the assembly as follows: "I know not, Most Excellent Lords and Most Worshipful Citizens, whether to mourn or to rejoice with you over what has happened. When I think of the treachery and hatred wherewith I have been attacked, and my brother slain, I cannot but grieve; but when I reflect with what eagerness and zeal, with what love and unanimity, on the part of the whole city, my brother has been avenged and myself defended, I am moved not merely to rejoice, but even to glory in what has transpired. For, if I have found that I have more enemies in Florence than I had thought I had, I have at the same time discovered that I have warmer and more devoted friends than I knew.... It lies with you, my Most Excellent Lords, to support me still, or to throw me over.... You are my fathers and protectors, and what you wish me to do, I shall do only too willingly...."
All the hearers were deeply affected by Lorenzo's oration, some indeed shed tears, but all vowed to support him in resisting the enemy at the gate. "Take courage," they cried, "it behoves thee, Lorenzo, to live and die for the Republic!"
At the same time they enrolled a bodyguard of twelve soldiers, whose duty it should be to accompany Lorenzo whenever he went abroad, and to protect him in his palace or at his villas. Doubtless they thought the Pope might resort to further secret measures for the slaughter of his enemy.
Thus ended the terrible "Conspiracy of the Pazzi."
The First Tyrannicide
"Go at once, ye base-born bastards, or I will be the first to thrust you out—Begone!"
These were the passionate words of the proudest and most ambitious princess that ever bore the great name of Medici—Clarice, daughter of Piero di Lorenzo—"Il Magnifico," and wife of Filippo di Filippo degli Strozzi—"Il Primo Gentiluomo del Secolo."
They were spoken on 16th May 1527, in the Long Gallery of the Palazzo Medici in Florence, and were addressed to two youths—sixteen and thirteen years old respectively, who shrank with terror at the aspect and the vehemence of their contemner. Clarice was a virago, both in the Florentine sense of man's equal in ability and action, and in the sense of the present day—a woman with a mighty will and endowed with physical strength to enforce it.
The two "bastards" were Ippolito, the natural son of Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, and Alessandro, the so-called illegitimate son of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, the virtual ruler of Florence. The lads were not alone in their exposure to the wrath of Madonna Clarice, for, sitting in his chair of estate, was Silvio Passerini, Cardinal of Cortona, their Governor, and Pope Clement VII.'s Regent of the Republic.
"Begone"! Well had it been if the Cardinal had taken his charges right away from Florence never to return.
* * * * *
"The splendour, not of Tuscany only, but of the whole of Italy has disappeared!" wrote Benedetto Dei, in his Cronica. "The Burial Confraternity of the Magi laid his body in the sacristy of San Lorenzo, and the next day the funeral obsequies were held without pomp—as is the custom of the Signori—but quite simply. Truly it may be said that however gorgeous the ceremonies might have been, they would have proved altogether too mean for so great a man."
This relates to the death of Lorenzo il Magnifico, which occurred on 8th April 1492. That year is one of the most memorable in modern history: Columbus discovered America; Roderigo Borgia was elected Pope; Charles VIII. became the most prominent political figure in Europe; and the power of Florence had reached its zenith.
She was not only the Head of the Tuscan League and the chief Republic in Europe, but also the first of modern states. If the spirit of the Greeks inspired the physical prowess of the Romans, the enlightenment of the Florentines brought forth the renascence of the arts and crafts of Italy and of the world.
Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," laid the foundation-stone of Medici renown in the iron grip of his powerful personality, and Piero, his son, maintained unimpaired its eminence by his urbanity and good sense. To Lorenzo, however, was reserved the distinction of placing upon that mighty column its magnificent copestone, and he adorned it with the sevenfold balls of his escutcheon, whilst on the summit he held unfurled the great Red Cross Oriflamme of Florence.
Lorenzo left three sons and three daughters to uphold that ensign and to exhibit the glory of their house. To the first-born, Piero, came the great inheritance of his father's place and power, and no man ever entered into a greater possession,—a possession, so firm, so unquestioned and so portentous, that nothing seemed likely to disturb its equilibrium or to sully its triumph.
But, "the son of his father is not always his father's son," and this quaint saying is perfectly true of Piero de' Medici—a youth of twenty-one years of age—the exact age of his father on his succession to the Headship of the State. Physically the young prince was well favoured, he was cultured and, like his unfortunate uncle Giuliano, he was an adept in all gentlemanly exercises.
Alas, he took not the slightest interest in politics, nor in the business affairs of his house, and the proverbial urbanity and pushfulness of the Medici were alike absent. Whilst he lightly handed over to Piero Dorizzi di Bibbiena, his Chancellor, the conduct of public affairs, he listened to the proud persuasions of his mother, to whom anything like commercial pursuits were abhorrent. Clarice d'Orsini's forbears had all been soldiers, Lorenzo's merchants, that made all the difference in Rome's degenerate days.
Of course there was no Florentine girl good enough to be the bride of young Piero de' Medici—at least, Domina Clarice, his mother, decided so. She was the proudest of the proud, and as ignorant and prejudiced as she was haughty. Her son could only wed a Roman princess, and, by preference, a daughter of the Orsini; consequently Alfonsina, daughter of Roberto d'Orsini, Clarice's cousin, entered Florence in state on 22nd May 1488, for her magnificent nuptials with the young Capo della Repubblica.
The same year the Domina died. Her influence had not been for good, and her want of tact and her unpopularity caused Lorenzo much anxiety. Perhaps, however, a prince of his conspicuous and, in many ways, unique ability, was better mated with an unsympathetic spouse than with a woman who could, from parity of gifts, enter into his feelings and aspirations. He lived for the magnanimous renown of Florence—she for the selfish prominence of her family.
Francesco de' Guicciardini wrote of Piero de' Medici thus: "He was born of a foreign mother, whereby Florentine blood got mixed, and he acquired foreign manners and bearing, too haughty for our habits of life." The prince gave up most of his time to pleasure and amusement with the young nobles of his court, and encouraged the aims and ambitions of the self-seeking scions of his mother's family. At a single bound the immense personal popularity of Lorenzo, his father, disappeared. Florentines took the young ruler's measure, and he was found wanting.
The imprisonment and threatened execution of his cousins, Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici, was a flagrant mistake. The three had quarrelled about Lorenzo il Magnifico's pretty daughter, Luigia, but it was a baseless rumour that she had been poisoned. Bad blood was made always in Florence by such romances and such interference.
In September 1494, Charles VIII. crossed the Alps, and, whilst Savonarola fanatically hailed his coming to Florence as "God's Captain of Chastisement," politicians of all parties looked to Piero to show a bold front and resist the French invader as commander-in-chief of a united Italian army.
Piero made no sign, but went on playing pallone in the Piazza Santa Croce. The enemy seized the Florentine fortresses of Sargana, Sarzanello and Pietra Santa. The news sobered the headstrong, self-indulgent prince for the moment, and then craven fear seized his undisciplined mind. In a panic he mounted his horse and, attended only by two officers of the city guard, he galloped off to King Charles' camp.
In the royal tent Piero fell upon his knees, craved forgiveness for Florence's opposition, and pleaded for generous terms for himself and his fellow-countrymen. Charles demanded the cession absolutely of the three fortresses, with the cities of Pisa and Livorno, and with them the "loan" of 200,000 gold florins! Piero's report was listened to in solemn silence by the Signoria, but when its tenor was conveyed to the concourse of citizens, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, cries of "Liberta!" "Liberta!" rent the air.
When Piero rode out of the Piazza, accompanied by an armed escort, he was met by an exasperated mob who assailed him with missiles and stones. The big bell, up in the Campanile, began to speak its ominous summons, and, in reply to faint cries of "Palle!" "Palle!" renewed shouts of "Liberta!" "Liberta!" proclaimed the abdication of the Medici.
A Parliament was convened and five ambassadors were appointed to treat with Charles and revoke Piero's surrender. One of them, speaking for the rest, denounced him as "No longer fit to rule the State"—it was Piero de' Capponi. The Signoria passed a sentence of expulsion upon Piero and his brothers, and placed a reward of two thousand gold florins upon his head, and five thousand more, if he and Giovanni, his Cardinal brother, were captured together.
Needless to say, before the decree was promulgated Piero and Giovanni flew precipitately through the Porta San Gallo, upon their way to Bologna, at the head of a few mercenaries, and with them went Piero's chancellor.
An enraged mob of citizens rushed pell-mell into the Via Larga, sacked the Palazzo Medici, and scattered the treasures which Piero and Lorenzo had gathered together. The streets were strewn with costly furniture, carpets and tapestry, and priceless works of art were either burnt or broken in pieces. It was not a question of looting but of destruction, and for eighteen years the building was a mark for obscenities and imprecations.
The French army marched through the humiliated city, and terror filled the hearts of the people. Charles occupied a portion of the palace, which the Signoria hastily put into some sort of order, borrowing or buying furniture and other articles for his use.
On their knees, an entirely new experience for the proud Florentines, the Signoria besought the Emperor's clemency. He took a high hand with them, demanding a huge indemnity and threatening to command his trumpets to sound for pillage. One man alone asserted his liberty, a man who throughout Piero's short government had voiced the public discontent—Piero de' Capponi—the most capable soldier Florence possessed. Boldly and alone he faced the Conqueror and denounced his demands. He tore in pieces the fatal document of Piero's capitulation, flung the pieces in Charles' face, and defied him, saying, "If you sound your trumpets we shall ring our bells!"
Charles was cowed, he signed a treaty of peace with honourable terms for Florence, and left the city, after a stormy scene with Savonarola. "Take heed," the latter said, "not to bring ruin on this city and upon thyself the curse of God!"
Piero outlived his cowardly surrender and shameful flight three years—an outcast from his country and a disgrace to his family. He found an asylum in the house of his wife Alfonsina's father, Roberto d'Orsini, Count of Tagliacozzo and Alba. In 1502 he entered the service of the King of France, the enemy of his country, against the Spanish conquerors of the kingdom of Naples. The French were worsted and took to their ships at Gaeta. Piero escaped, but his death followed shortly, for the boat in which he was crossing the River Garigliano, or Liri, near the famous stronghold of that name, was swamped by the fire of the Spanish artillery and he was drowned. Cambi, who relates the history, sententiously winds up his narrative with the apposite words, "Thanks be to God!"
After Savonarola's death in 1498, Piero de' Soderini was placed at the head of the Government as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, whilst Piero's brother, Cardinal Giovanni, took up the leadership of his discredited party. The terrible sack of Prato in 1512 was an opportunity for the Medici, which they did not neglect to use to their advantage. In terror the Florentine Government paid 140,000 gold florins to the Spanish Viceroy and commander, who made it a condition of his evacuation of Tuscany, that the Medici should be recalled as private citizens, and be granted permission to purchase back their forfeited property. On 12th September of the same year, Giuliano, the third son of Lorenzo il Magnifico, with his young nephew, Lorenzo, Piero's son, entered Florence, attended by a small following. He was one of the noblest of his race, but he was wholly lacking in initiative and energy. He made no claim to political eminence, and his self-abnegation led to the return to Florence of his more pushful brother, the Cardinal, who was accompanied by Giulio de' Medici, the bastard son of the murdered Giuliano. They installed themselves in the restored palace, assumed much of the wonted state of their family in bygone days, and were accorded public recognition and honour.
The following year Cardinal Giovanni was elected Pope as Leo X., and, at the same time, Giuliano was created Duke of Nemours—a dignity bestowed by Francis I. of France—and Lorenzo became Duke of Urbino. The conferring of these titles stirred the rancour of a considerable number of ambitious Signori, and intrigue and plots to upset the rising fortunes of the Medici were rife. The very next day after the death of Pope Julius II., Bernardo de' Capponi and Pietro Papolo de' Boscoli were condemned to be hung within the Palace of the Podesta, for an attempt upon the lives of Giuliano, Lorenzo, and Giulio de' Medici. Eighteen accomplices were tortured and many others banished: Niccolo Macchiavelli was implicated in the conspiracy, but he appears to have escaped punishment.
Quietly but persistently the power of the great family was recovered. "The Pope and his Medici" became a proverb throughout Italy: all men noted their rising fortunes and their bids for power. Giulio was preconised Cardinal, Giuliano appointed Gonfaloniere of the Papal army, and Lorenzo became the virtual Head of the Florentine Republic. Giuliano died in 1516, Lorenzo in 1519, and Pope Leo X. in 1521. The first left no legitimate offspring, and the second only one daughter, Caterina, besides a natural son, Alessandro.
* * * * *
Upon the death of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici hastened to Florence, where he was permitted to assume almost autocratic control of State affairs. Possibly he was regarded in the light of Regent for Lorenzo's only legitimate child, Caterina. He had undoubtedly personal fitness for the post of Chief of the Republic. During the brief period, barely five months, of his administration, he did very much to place public interests upon a firm and practical basis.
Very adroitly he played off the "Ottimati," under Pietro de' Ridolfi, against the "Frateschi," led by Giacopo de' Salviati, without identifying himself with either party. Recalled to Rome on the death of Leo X., he left Cardinal Silvio Passerini of Cortona his deputy: a man useful as a tool but of no ability or judgment. Adrian VI., who succeeded to the Papacy, was a weak pontiff, and Rome became a hot-bed of intrigue and villainy.
A plot to assassinate Cardinal de' Medici failed, and, in 1523, he was, after many weeks of wrangling, elected Pope, with the title of Clement VII. In the Vatican, that "refuge for bastards and foundlings," room was found for two boys, cousins, each the offspring of a Medici father, but illegitimate. They were brought up under the immediate eye of the Pope, indeed one of them, the younger, was said to be the son of Clement.
Ippolito, just fourteen years old, was the bastard son of Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours. His mother was a noble lady of Urbino, Pacifica Brandini, but she permitted her child to be exposed in the streets, in a basket, where he was rescued, and taken into the foundling ward of the Confraternity of Santa Maria di Piano d'Urbino. There the kindly Religious gave him the name of "Pasqualino," indicative of the Church season of Easter, when he entered surreptitiously upon the world's stage.
When the child was less than two years old the nuns of Santa Maria were removed to Rome, and they took with them, along with other unfortunates, little Pasqualino. Upon a visit, which Pope Leo paid to the convent, he noticed the young boy, and as he smiled and tried to get at his Holiness, Leo was struck with his good looks and made enquiries about his origin. In the end, Leo undertook the little fellow's education and maintained his interest in him, and, moreover, ordered his name to be changed to Ippolito.
Alessandro—the younger boy—twelve years old, was the son of Lorenzo de' Medici, created Duke of Urbino in 1536, when the Pope annexed that principality to the pontifical estates, upon the excommunication of the rightful sovereign. His mother was a woman of colour, a Tartar slave-girl, who passed for the wife of a vetterale or courier, in the pay of the Duke. He was a native of Colle Vecchio, near Riete, in Umbria, and went by the name of Bizio da Collo, whilst the girl was simply called Anna. Alessandro, later on, was made to feel the baseness of his origin, for he was greeted contemptuously as "Alessandro da Colle Vecchio!" His supposed father, Bizio, died in 1519, but Cardinal Giulio de' Medici adopted him.
The two boys grew up together at the Vatican, alike in one respect only, their mutual hatred of each other. They were, indeed, as unlike as two boys could be. Ippolito, as the child of gentle parents, had an aristocratic bearing. He was a clever lad and excelled especially in classical learning, in music and poetry. In appearance he became remarkably handsome, with polished manners and a fondness for spending money and for ostentation.
Alessandro, on the other hand, exhibited the attributes of his low-born mother. Physically well-made, he was dark of skin, with dark, curly hair, thick lips, and close-set Eastern eyes. His tastes were unrefined. He had none of Ippolito's gentleness and attractiveness, but in disposition he was morose, passionate, and cruel. His manners were marked by abruptness and vulgarity. He was no genius, and refused to receive the lessons of his masters, and set at defiance all who claimed authority. Alessandro was a shrewd lad all the same, and became Clement's inseparable companion—no doubt he was his son!
Everybody noticed the mutual affection between "uncle" and "nephew," which gave clear indication of a nearer relationship. Clement's word was Alessandro's law, and, when the cousins fell out, as they did many times a day, the interference of their uncle brought peace, but for Ippolito dissatisfaction, as he was usually ruled to be in the wrong. This boyish rivalry led to more considerable emulation and the proprieties of the Papal palace were rudely shaken by the quarrels and the struggles of the cousins.
They were parted and removed each to a remote portion of the palace, with separate suites of attendants, and their only meetings took place in the private apartments of the Pope, and rarely. Thus Ippolito and Alessandro entered upon their teens with no judicious, kindly, or formative influences around them. It was said that each boy threw in the other's face the fact of his illegitimacy, which fawning dependants had revealed to them. Their environment and associates were most undesirable, and nothing was done to instil and encourage sentiments of honour, self-control, truthfulness, and charity. Their initiation into the hypocrisies of spiritual life and ecclesiastical duty produced distaste and contempt for religious exercises.
There was yet another protegee of Clement's left upon the world of mutability and chance—an orphan child, the only issue of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino and his wife Maddalena, daughter of Jean de la Tour d'Auvergne et de Bourbon. Married in 1518, the delicate young mother died in childbirth the following year, leaving her sweet little baby girl, Caterina, to the care of her broken-hearted husband.
The future Queen of France was placed with the foundling nuns of the convent of Santa Lucia in the Via San Gallo. Thence she was removed to the convent of Santa Caterina di Siena, back to the nuns of Santa Lucia once more, and then handed over to the charge of the noble convent of S. Annunziata delle Murate until 1525, when her aunt, Madonna Clarice de' Medici, wife of Messer Filippo negli Strozzi, was constituted her guardian and instructress.
Right well the new governante carried out the instructions of Clement, and she only relinquished her charge when the Pope commanded the young girl, just eleven years old, to Rome. Apartments were provided for her and her suite in the Palazzo Medici, where Madonna Lucrezia, Lorenzo il Magnifico's daughter, and wife of Giacomo de' Salviati, was appointed her protectress.
Without a mother's care, and tossed about here and there, Caterina grew up devoid of high principles, and became the toy of every passing pleasure and indulgence. All the eligible princes of Europe were, in turn, supposed to be her admirers, and rivals for her hand and fortune. And truly the last legitimate descendant, as she was, of the great Cosimo, was a prize in the matrimonial market—if not for her beauty and her virtues, at all events for her wealth and rank. Indeed, there was a project, seriously entertained, seeing that the elder line of the Medici had failed to produce a male heir, of acknowledging Caterina as "Domina di Firenze," with a strong council of Regency to carry on the government in her name.
This proposal did not gain any favour outside the Papal cabinet: in Florence it was scouted with derision. Two violent politicians, if not more, lost their heads over the young girl's destiny—Battista Cei, for proposing that she should be placed in the lions' den, and Bernardo Castiglione, for demanding that she should be put upon the streets of Florence, wearing the yellow badge of woman's shame!
In Rome Caterina conceived at once an invincible repugnance for Alessandro—her father's son. His appearance, his manner, his language appalled her; probably she was not long before she knew the story of his birth. On no account would she speak to him, and, if he entered an apartment where she happened to be, she rushed out, crying, "Negrello—Bastardo!"
With Ippolito, on the contrary, she was the best of friends. She admired the good-looking boy, his talents for music, and his skill in gentlemanly exercises. The Venetian ambassador at the Vatican remarked, in a letter to his Government: "We have here a little Medici princess, Caterina, the only child of the late Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino. She and Don Ippolito, the bastard son of Duke Giuliano, are inseparable companions. The boy is very fond of his young cousin, whilst she is devoted to him. She has confidence in nobody else, and she asks him only for everything she wants." Ultimately, of course, Caterina de' Medici became Queen of France, as the consort of Henry II.
The trend of affairs in Florence gave Pope Clement grave anxiety, for, of course, his own personal control became less and less effective upon his elevation to the Papacy. Accredited representatives of the family were required to be in residence there for the maintenance of Medici supremacy. Alas, legitimate male heirs of the senior branch from Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," were non-existent, and Giovanni delle Bande Nere and his family would not, had he been chosen as Capo della Repubblica, consent to be dependent upon Rome.
Clement took counsel with the Florentine ambassadors, who had been sent to congratulate him upon his elevation. Very adroitly he placed by his chair of state the two youths, who passed for Medici, and who were "as dear to him as sons"—Ippolito and Alessandro. In compliment to the Pope, and certainly not from conviction, the fourteen envoys agreed in asking him to send the two boys to Florence, under the charge of a worthy administrator, who should hold the reins of government in Clement's name.
Delighted with the success of his stratagem, Clement chose the Cardinal of Cortona, one of his most obedient and faithful creatures, to accompany Ippolito, nearly sixteen years old, to Florence as quasi-Regent for the lad. With them went, as Ippolito's chamberlains, four Florentine youths of good birth who were favourites of the Pope, Alessandro de' Pucci, Pietro de' Ridolfi, Luigi della Stufa, and Palla de' Rucellai. The cortege was received in Florence without demonstrations of any kind; but certainly Ippolito made a very favourable impression by his good looks and gaiety. The Cardinal and his companions drew rein first at the Church of the SS. Annunziata, where they heard Mass, and they then rode on to the renovated Palazzo Medici. A meeting of the Signoria was convened, and by a narrow majority Ippolito was declared eligible for the offices of State.
The appointment of Passerini was unfortunate. "He was," writes Benedetto Varchi, "like most prelates, extremely avaricious; he had neither the intellect to understand the Florentine character nor the judgment to manage it, had he understood it." Ippolito assumed at once the style of "Il Magnifico," and began to display a lust for power and a taste for extravagance quite unusual in so young a lad. The Cardinal yielded to every whim, and very soon a goodly number of courtiers rallied round the handsome youth.
Having launched one of his proteges successfully upon the troubled sea of Florentine politics, Clement despatched Alessandro, under the care of Rosso de' Ridolfi, one of his most trustworthy attendants, with little Caterina de' Medici. They were instructed to report themselves to Cardinal Passerini, and then without delay to proceed to the Villa Poggio a Caiano.
This was a very wise arrangement on the part of Clement, in view of the strenuous rivalry and emphatic dislike the two lads had for each other. The two were kept apart as they had been at the Vatican, but this led naturally to the creation of rival parties and rival courts, each of which acclaimed their respective young leaders as Il Capo della Repubblica and "Il Signore di Firenze." Better far as matters turned out, had it been deemed sufficient to advance Ippolito alone. His splendid talents—although linked to fickleness and inconsistency—and his liberality, appealed to the Florentines, and he might have proved a second Lorenzo il Magnifico.
The sack of Rome in 1527 and the imprisonment of Clement VII. in the fortress of Sant Angelo, raised the spirits of the Republicans of Florence. Niccolo de' Soderini, Francesco de' Guicciardini and Pietro de' Salviati took up a strong position as leaders of a popular party, and once more the cry of "Liberta!" "Liberta!" was raised. Cardinal Passerini was advised to leave Florence and to take the two lads with him.
Among those who escaped from Rome were Filippo negli Strozzi and his wife Clarice. They posted off to Florence, and whilst Filippo temporised with the Cardinal and with the party of reform on either hand, Clarice declared openly for the opponents of her own family.
She attended a specially convened meeting of the anti-Medicean party, and placed her services at their disposal. It was arranged that she should visit the Cardinal the following day. Dressed superbly, wearing the family jewels, and conveyed in a State sedan-chair, she proceeded to the Palazzo Medici—the house of her fathers. Ippolito and Alessandro, with their tutors and attendants, met her upon the grand staircase, and conducted her to the presence of the Cardinal.
Standing in the Long Gallery, she poured forth a torrent of scornful words upon the base-born scions of her family. "My Lord," she cried, "my Lord, to what a pass has my family sunk. Do you think that any of my great ancestors would have borne you so long. Alas! that my race has none but female legitimate offspring." Then turning to the astonished lads she continued: "You had better both look out for yourselves and go away before the Cardinal here destroys you and Florence!"
Some of the suite tried to interfere and to pacify the enraged woman, but to no avail, she went on vehemently to denounce the intrusion of the two bastards.
"Begone, you who are not of the blood of the Medici, both of you, from a house and from a city to which neither of you, nor your patron, Clement—wrongfully Pope and now justly a prisoner in Sant Angelo—have any legitimate claim, by reason of birth or of merit. Go at once, ye base-born bastards, or I will be the first to thrust you out!"
Her hearers quailed under her invective, and Passerini humbly promised to quit the palace, but when Clarice had gone, he sent for Filippo negli Strozzi and expostulated with him. Filippo's apology was as quaint as it was effective. "Had she not been," said he, "a woman and a Medici, he would have administered to her such a public chastisement as would have gone bad with her!" He, nevertheless, strongly advised the Cardinal to depart, and he conveyed the intelligence that the lives of the two lads were by no means secure, and that should anything happen to them, the Pope would demand them at his hands.
On 29th May 1527, Cardinal Passerini, with Ippolito and Alessandro and their suite, accompanied by Filippo, rode out to Poggio a Caiano, amid the execrations of the populace. Thence they departed for Rome, where the young men lived more or less quietly for two years in Clement's private apartments at the Vatican.
* * * * *
In spite of Ippolito's superiority of appearance, manners and attainments, the Pope made no concealment of his preference for Alessandro. He created him Duke of Citta di Penna—a fief within the Papal States—and decided that the riches and greatness of the House of Medici should be continued in Alessandro and not in Ippolito.
"Ippolito," wrote Varillas, "was seized with incredible grief and indignation, and it seemed to him, that being older, a nearer relation to the Pope, and better endowed by nature, so rich an inheritance should rather be his ... either not knowing or not believing the rumours that Alessandro was Clement's son."
Goaded by what he conceived to be a legitimate ambition, Ippolito posted off to Florence with the idea of seizing the executive power. Clement despatched Baccio Valori after him, with entreaties and promises, and finding that he had no welcome among the Florentines, Ippolito returned quietly to Rome.
The Pope immediately, and without consulting him, preconised him Cardinal—greatly to his disgust. He had no wish for ecclesiastical preferment, he was a soldier at heart, and meant to be ruler of Florence. Clement noted the young man's partialities—he was only just twenty years of age, and he encouraged him in his extravagant tastes by liberally endowing his Cardinalate. A Brief "In commendam" was bestowed upon him, whereby the revenue of all vacant benefices and Papal dignities, for six months, were transferred to his account. Moreover, in 1529, he was appointed Archbishop of Avignon, Legate of Perugia, and Administrator of the See of Casale. These fat endowments very considerably affected Ippolito's position. In Rome he had a Court of three hundred notable personages of all nations; his most intimate friends were soldiers and statesmen of renown, and writers and artists of the highest abilities and fame.
Clement having placated Ippolito, set to work to carry out his plans for Alessandro. He wrote on his behalf to the Emperor Charles V. to invite him on his way from Flanders, whither he had travelled to avoid disputes with Ippolito, to visit the Imperial Court. Charles received Alessandro with great honour, and expressed his pleasure at greeting the near relative of the Pope.
A treaty was subsequently signed at Barcelona between Charles and Clement, whereby it was agreed that Alessandro should espouse Margaret, Charles' illegitimate daughter, and that Clement should create Florence a Dukedom in favour of Alessandro. At the same time the Emperor was asked to intercede between the rival cousins but he naively replied, "Neither wants liberty but aggrandisement! Let them be."
Alessandro entered Florence on 5th July 1531 accompanied by Giovanni Antonio Muscettola, envoy and chancellor of the Emperor. He proceeded to the Palazzo Vecchio, there he read aloud the injunction of Clement, countersigned by Charles, which established him as Duke of Florence. The office of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia was abolished, and the Signoria restricted in their powers as merely consultative authorities. At the same time the Republic was superseded and the citizens allowed to exercise the franchise only in the election of civil magistrates.
The coup d'etat was complete and meekly enough the Signoria declared that—"Considering the excellent qualities, life and habits of the most illustrious Duke Alessandro de' Medici, son of the late Magnificent Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino; and in recognition of the many and great benefits received, both spiritual and temporal, from the House of Medici, he was eligible for all the offices of State."
Alessandro at once began to follow the bent of his base inclinations. As supreme Head of the State he ruled autocratically, and set justice and decency at defiance. The Florentines abashed by the pass in which they found themselves, seemed powerless to oppose the Duke's aggression upon their liberties. That had come to pass against which they had striven for hundreds of years—Florence was subject to Il governo d'un solo.
Significantly enough, Alessandro took as his motto "Un solo Signore, una sola Legge," and this he stuck up all over Tuscany. He applied it quite autocratically by disarming the citizens, building fortresses, banishing the disaffected nobles, and confiscating all properties he coveted. These were but the beginnings of troubles.
Taxes were doubled, every office at court was held by a creature and toady of the Duke, bribery and corruption of all kinds ruled the State, and there appeared to be no limit to his lust and rapacity, and no barrier against the chicanery of his adherents.
Added to all this was the dislocation of public order. Florence became a hot-bed of immorality and a sink of iniquity. Women were openly ravished in the streets, the inmates of convents were not spared, men were wronged and removed suspiciously, the eyes and ears of the children were assailed by unblushing depravity. The oubliettes of the Bigallo had their fill of victims.
"Tyrant of Florence" was the designation which best fitted the new ruler. He destroyed the fabric of society and polluted the sanctity of family life. Dismay and revenge alternated in the feelings of the people. Those who dared, began to flock to Ippolito, who, with grim satisfaction, received at his palace in Rome all disaffected refugees. Meetings were held at Filippo negli Strozzi's house, and a movement was set on foot for the overthrow of Alessandro and his dissolute government. A deputation was sent to the Emperor Charles to complain of the tyranny of the Duke and to expose his immoral life. This sealed Ippolito's fate, for Alessandro at once took steps, not only to checkmate the action of the deputation, but to circumvent the destruction of his rival.
Clement had of course full knowledge of the condition of affairs in Florence, and of the increase of hostility between the cousins, but both he and Paul III., who succeeded him as Pope in 1534, kept Ippolito engaged in military and diplomatic duties away from Italy. Knowing his predilection for soldiering, he was despatched, at the head of eight thousand horsemen, to the assistance of the Emperor against the Turks who had invaded Hungary under the Sultan Soliman. His valour and ability were remarkable; and the dash with which he marched, later on, to the defence of Rome, marked him as a commander of rare distinction.
Returning once more to Rome, he abandoned himself to a career of debauchery and extravagance. Catillo, his castle-villa at Tivoli, became the resort of immoral and disreputable persons. The Pope sought to redress the disorder: he owed much to Ippolito at the time of his election to the Papacy, which was in a great measure achieved by his keen advocacy, so he sent him on embassies to the Emperor at Barcelona, and to the King of Naples, under promise of rich revenues.
At the castle of Fondi, near the little town of Itri in the Neapolitan province of Terra di Lavoro, eight miles from the fortress of Gaeta, and overlooking the high road from Rome to Naples, was living, in strict retirement, a girl greatly beloved by the Cardinal. Giulia Gonzaga, such was her name, was the attractive and clever daughter of Messer Vespasiano Colonna, whose brother, Cavaliere Stefano, had taken a prominent and honourable part in the defence of Florence during the memorable siege of 1529-1530.
Giulia was certainly only one of the many eligible maidens proposed at various times as a wife for the young ecclesiastic; but, in her case, the betrothal was all but effected, and with the approval of Pope Clement, whose conscience smote him when he saw that his handsome and gay young nephew was anything but disposed to observe the conventions of his Order.
Nevertheless, the lovers were parted, and Giulia was confined in the conventual fortress, and carefully guarded. Pope Paul, it appears, did not relax the imprisonment of the unfortunate girl, as he surely ought to have done, in recognition of the Cardinal's successful advocacy of his own advancement.
Naturally, poor Giulia pined and pined for her lover with whom, she was of course forbidden to correspond. At length her health gave way, and she appealed to her father to obtain just one interview with Ippolito before she died. Reluctantly permission was given by the Pope, and Ippolito, after the completion of his diplomatic duties in Naples, sought the neighbourhood of his innamorata; ostensibly upon the plea that his health needed the rest and change which the invigorating air of the Foresteria, a sanatorium at Itri, offered.
Among Giulia's attendants was an old retainer of Alessandro de' Medici, still devoted to his service, and mindful of youthful escapades together at the Vatican. Him Alessandro persuaded, by means of a heavy bribe and the promise of efficient protection, to undertake the removal of Ippolito. Whilst dallying with his former mistress, the Cardinal fell ill of malarial fever, common in the swampy plain of Garigliano, where he had gone shooting snipe.
Giovanni Andrea da Borgo San Sepolcro, the accomplice of his master, prepared some chicken broth, which he persuaded Ippolito to take. In spite of its bitter taste he partook largely, but during the night he was attacked with immoderate sickness. Before morning dawn the brilliant career of Ippolito, Cardinal de' Medici, ended, and the harvest sun of 10th August 1535 rose upon his rigid corpse in Giulia's chamber!
The poisoner fled to Florence, and was lodged safely in the Palazzo Medici, under the Duke's special protection. Alessandro received the news of Ippolito's death with the utmost satisfaction. "Now," said he, "the vile wasp is crushed at last!" The dead body of his victim was buried hurriedly at Itri, but, by Pope Paul's direction, it was exhumed and given honourable burial within the church of San Lorenzo-e-Damaso in Rome. Paul lamented the tragedy which had removed his friend so cruelly, and he boldly accused Alessandro of having brought it about.
No one died more regretted. All Rome was in deepest mourning, and great and small thronged to his burial. He had played the part of Lord Bountiful ungrudgingly and with indiscriminating liberality. Very fittingly it was remarked that he bore as his motto "Inter omnes." He had all the making of a great man, but fickleness, inconsistency, impatience, and self-indulgence, belittled his reputation. Nevertheless, his character shone resplendently when contrasted with that of his rival Alessandro.
Ippolito de' Medici left a son by his mistress, Asdrubale, who became a soldier and a knight of Malta.
Neither Pope nor Emperor made any very energetic protests to Alessandro, but were busy with anxious personal enterprises—and self-interests usually exclude any other. True, Charles wrote to the Duke and questioned him about the death of Ippolito, and required that all the facts of the case should be laid before him, but the matter ended there. Alessandro made no reply!
In six months the sensation had blown over, and the Emperor visited Florence in gorgeous State on 24th April. He was royally entertained by Alessandro, but he made no friends among the nobles, and departed without bestowing the usual honours. The Medici Palace had been redecorated, and it witnessed a revival of the lavish hospitality of Lorenzo il Magnifico.
Margaret of Austria entered the city for her marriage with Alessandro on 19th July 1536. She came from Naples accompanied by the Vice-Queen and Cardinals Santi Quattro and Cibo. The nuptial Mass was sung at San Lorenzo, and then the whole city was given over to feasting and debauchery. "The young Duchess was serenely happy, for the Duke paid her great court, and she knew not that he paid as much to other women of all grades!" Banquets, masked balls, street pageants, Giostre, and musical comedies crowded one upon another.
Among the wedding guests was Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, who held the Lordship of Piombino, the lineal descendant and heir of Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria's" brother Lorenzo. His father died when he was an infant, but his mother, Maria de' Soderini—a woman possessed of all the prudence and culture of her family—devoted herself to his rearing and education. Just twenty-three years old, he was small of stature and slightly built, dark complexioned, and of a melancholy aspect. His health was indifferent, and he was liable to uncontrollable fits of passion: he was restless and dissatisfied, and the associate of low and evil companions.
In Rome—where he had lived in the Medici "happy family" of the Pope—he acquired the reputation of a coward and a provoker of disturbances. He was fond of defacing and mutilating ancient monuments, and became liable to pains and penalties from which Cardinal Ippolito rescued him. By his depraved and foolish habits he greatly incensed Clement, who at length dismissed him in disgrace. Lorenzo retired to Florence, where he was welcomed and entertained by Alessandro. In return for favours Lorenzo, nicknamed in Florence "Lorenzino," "Lorenzo the Little," became useful to the Duke and appointed himself spy-in-chief of the Florentine exiles. His studious character and his literary talent endowed him with another and a worthier sobriquet "Filosofo," and he carried out the role by dressing as a Greek and living as a sybarite. Devoted to the study of the classics and encouraged by his sensuous tutor, Giovanni Francesco Zeffi, when not engaged in vulgar orgies, he translated Plato and other writers, and even composed a comedy, which he called L'Aridosio.
Lorenzino entered fully into the Duke's life of profligacy and became his inseparable companion. Both of them admired physical charms and indulged in all physical passions: they set a base fashion in Florence, which degraded her men and women. They habitually made lewd jokes of everything human and divine, and were noted for their cruelty to animals. If Alessandro became execrated as "The Tyrant and Ravisher of Florence," Lorenzino was scouted as "A monster and a miracle," and his depreciative nickname underwent a new spelling—"Lorenzaccio,"— "Lorenzo the Terrible!"
* * * * *
Satiety of excesses produced a revulsion of feeling between the two debauchees. Alessandro began to show irritation at his companion's freedom. The latter refused to be corrected, and into his mind came once more the inspiration of classical heroes of liberty and foes of oppression. Why should he not be a Florentine "Brutus," and have his name engraved upon the pinnacle of fame as the "Saviour of his Country!" Lorenzino studied and studied well the part he now set himself to play.
Not a word did he breathe to man or woman of what was paramount in his mind, and he made not the slightest difference in his intercourse with Alessandro—indeed, he drew himself to him more intimately than ever. The Carnival of 1536 saw the maddest of all mad scenes, and everything and everybody ran wild riot. Disguised as country minstrels and mounted upon broken-down donkeys, the two comrades rode about the city, paying visits to their various mistresses and flatterers, and playing practical jokes upon the respectable citizens they encountered.
Returning one evening, weary with their follies, they supped together at the Palazzo Medici, and then Lorenzino inquired how they were to spend the night.
"I shall go to bed," replied Alessandro, "for I am worn out."
"Caterina?" whispered Lorenzino.
Alessandro rose abruptly and said, "Lead on, Lorenzo, I will follow."
Seeing his valet and confidant, Giustiniano da Sesena, he said: "We are going to Signore Lorenzino's, but what shall I put on?" Giustiniano handed him a crimson silk dressing-gown, and asked him whether he would wear his sword and steel gauntlets, or whether his cane and his scented kid gloves would not be more suitable.
"Yes," the Duke replied, "toss me over my lovers' gloves, for I am about to see my lady!"
Snatching a cloak, lined with fur, and grasping a light sword in his hand, Alessandro left the palace by the garden wicket, followed by his valet and two secret guards, Giomo da Carpi, and an Hungarian wrestler nicknamed "Bobo."
Meanwhile Lorenzino had sought the street, and at the corner he found his usual attendant, Michaele del Tovallaccino, a soldier possessed of a splendid physique, combining the soft contour of Apollo and the brute force of Hercules. His comrades called him "Scoronconcolo," on account of his wild, lustful nature. "He could kiss and bite," they said, "at the same time!"
"Michaele," said Lorenzino, "I want you to kill the man who is my greatest enemy."
"My lord," replied the ruffian, "I am at your service. Tell me the name of the fellow who has wronged you and I will kill him right off. I would kill Jesus Christ himself if he hated you!"
"Stay at your post and I will return for you presently," said Lorenzino, going on to his own house across the way.
In the Piazza San Marco he overtook Alessandro, who dismissed his attendants, and went on alone with his cousin. In Lorenzino's chamber was a good fire, and Alessandro, complaining of the heat, loosened his attire and removed his sword, handing it to Lorenzino, who deftly entangled the sash and belt in the hilt and placed it upon the bed.
"Where is Caterina?" inquired the Duke. "Why is she not here?"
"She is quite ready," was the reply, "and only awaits me to conduct her hither."
"Go at once and delay not!" cried Alessandro.
Locking the door from without, and putting the key in his pocket, Lorenzino hastened to Michaele.
This "Caterina" was Caterina Ginori, Lorenzino's mother's sister. Forced by her father, Paolo d'Antonio de' Soderini, to renounce her lover, Luigi degli Alamanni, and to marry Leonardo de' Ginori—a disreputable spendthrift and gambler, who fled to Naples to escape his creditors—she attracted the notice of Duke Alessandro. She was as accomplished as she was beautiful and very commanding in appearance, the mother of Bartolommeo, the giant manhood model of Giovanni da Bologna for his famous "Youth, Manhood, and Age," miscalled "The Rape of the Sabines," in the Loggia de' Lanzi.
At the rendezvous Lorenzino slapped Michaele upon the shoulder. "Brother," he said, "the moment has arrived. I have locked my enemy in my room. Come on, now is your opportunity." "March!" was the ruffian's terse reply.
"Don't fear to strike," said Lorenzino, as they strode on side by side. "Strike hard, and if the man should seek to defend himself, strike still harder. I trust you."
"Never you fear, my lord, were the man to swear he was the Duke or the Devil, it matters not. Strike I will, and hard."
Mounting the stairs quietly, Lorenzino opened the door of his apartment softly, and there lay Alessandro, fast asleep upon the bed, with his face to the wall. Coward, as he was wont to call himself, he no longer feared to slay the "Tyrant of his People," but whipping out his sword, not waiting for Michaele's attack, he thrust it right through the Duke's back!
With a frantic yell Alessandro stumbled upon the floor. "Traitor! assassin!" he screamed. Then, turning his eyes full upon Lorenzino, he faintly added: "This from thee—my lover!"
Alessandro made as though to defend himself, and with the red blood gushing from his back, he threw himself upon his murderer and they struggled on the floor.
Michaele was powerless to strike: his weapon might have slashed his master. Alessandro, with dying energy, seized the hand of Lorenzino and bit two of his fingers to the bone, so that the miscreant yelled with agony. Then they parted—Lorenzino to bind up his broken bones and Alessandro to staunch his wound. "At him," cried the madman, and Michaele struck at him with his sword, cutting off his right cheek and his nose, and then he got his dagger at his throat, and turned it round in the gaping wound, until he nearly decapitated his unhappy victim. Again Lorenzino heaved at him with his reeking weapon and fell upon him, covering himself with blood, and bit his face in savage rage! Alessandro fell away and lay, breathing heavily in a fearsome heap. Then Lorenzino, chuckling with fiendish glee, roared out, "See, Michaele, my brother, the wretch is dead!"
Raising the body of the still breathing Duke, his murderers threw it upon the bed and covered it with the sheets. Then Lorenzino opened a window and looked out upon the Via Larga, to see if anybody was about. Not a soul was there. It was early morning, and by the new light of day he tore off a piece of paper and scribbled upon it, with Alessandro's blood, "Vincit amor patriae laudumque immensa cupido," and pinned it over Alessandro's heart!
Both he and Michaele washed their hands and their swords—their clothes they could not cleanse—and Lorenzino, having filled his pouch with the money and jewels he possessed, they picked up their cloaks and hats, and, locking the door behind them, departed. In the basement they encountered Fiaccio, Lorenzino's faithful body-servant, groom and valet combined, and he was bidden to follow his master.
The three made their way with haste to the residence of Bishop Angelo Marzi, the chief custodian of the City Gates, of whom Lorenzino demanded post-horses, showing to the servant Alessandro's signet-ring, which he had pulled off his victim's finger. The Bishop made no demur, being well accustomed to the erratic ways of the cousins. They took the road to Bologna, where Lorenzino had the two broken fingers removed, and his hand dressed, and then on they posted without further halt.
Lorenzino made at once for the house of Filippo negli Strozzi, the leader of the exiled Florentines in that city, and rousing him from his slumbers, embraced him with emotion, and said: "See, this is the key of the chamber where lies the body of Alessandro. I have slain him. Look at my clothes, this blood is his, no more shall Florence suffer at his hands. Revenge is sweet, but freedom is sweeter!"
Filippo could scarcely believe the glad tidings, and surveyed his visitor from head to foot. Lorenzino, noting his hesitation, called Michaele into the room crying, "Here is Scoronconcolo the Assassin, and I am Lorenzaccio the Terrible!"
"Thou art our Brutus, my Lord Lorenzino!" exclaimed Filippo, with tears running down his cheeks. "Tarry awhile, till I can summon our chief allies, and rest yourselves. Bravo! Bravissimo!"
Next day alarm spread through the Medici Palace when the Duke failed to make his appearance, especially as at noon he had summoned a meeting of his new Grand Council of Two Hundred. No one knew where he had gone. Lorenzino was gone too, at least he did not make his usual early morning call. All the houses of their mistresses and other boon-companions were searched in vain, but apparently no one dreamt of calling at Lorenzino's, across the way. Probably, it was thought, the two had gone off to Cafogginolo—their favourite haunt.
Madonna Maria, Messer Jacopo de' Salviati's daughter, the widow of Giovanni de' Medici, "delle Bande Nere," who resided near Lorenzino, certainly heard loud cries which terrified her, but it was not an unusual occurrence. Lorenzino had, in his villainous scheme, devised a cunning decoy to accustom neighbours and passers-by to noisy behaviour. He had repeatedly gathered in his house groups of young men with swords, whom he instructed to cross their weapons as in serious self-defence, and to cry out "Murder!" "Help!" and such like.
The first intimation of the tragedy was furnished by Lorenzino's porter, who kept his keys—that of the bedchamber was missing and the door was locked! The man sought an interview with Cardinal Cibo, then in Florence, and his former master, and told him his fears. The door was, by his order, forced and then, of course, the terrible truth was made clear.
Under the pain of losing their heads, the Cardinal commanded absolute secrecy on the part of the domestics and guards who had looked upon that gruesome corpse. At the same time he ordered the game of "Saracino" to be played in the Piazza close by, to remove the fears of a fast gathering crowd of citizens. When asked if he knew where the Duke was, he replied quite casually: "Oh, don't worry about the Duke, he's in bed of course, sleeping off the effects of last night's conviviality. He'll appear when he thinks fit. Go away and mind your own affairs."
Somehow or another at last the news leaked out that Alessandro was dead, and that Lorenzino had killed him. Cardinal Cibo convened the Council of Forty-eight to discuss the situation. To him full powers were accorded to administer the government for three days, until a settlement was reached. This decision was most unpopular with the citizens, who began to rise in opposition.
Just when another bloody revolution seemed imminent, Cosimo de' Medici, the young son of Giovanni "delle Bande Nere," rode into the city, accompanied by a few of his friends. Everywhere he was hailed with enthusiastic cries—"Evviva il Giovanni e il Cosimo."
The young Duchess Margaret fled precipitately from the Via Larga to the fortress of San Giovanni, which Alessandro had only just built and fortified. With her went three young children—not her own indeed, for she had proved to be barren,—but children she found in her husband's house. By Florentine law they were recognised as belonging to the family, and no one troubled about their precise origin.
These little ones were probably the issue of the Duke by a handsome contadina employed in the palace, who went by the name of Anna da Massa. Francesco Guicciardini, however, says she was the Marchesa da Massa, a noble lady, one of Alessandro's chief favourites. Giulio, some five years old, became a soldier, and died Prior of the new military Order of St Stephen of Pisa; Porczia died an enclosed nun in Rome; and Giulia married Francesco de' Barthelemmi.
Margaret herself married Ottavio Farnese, Prince of Nepi and Camerino, a lad of sixteen years of age, and, a second time, being left a widow, she espoused the Duke of Parma, and died in 1586—fifty years after her ill-starred marriage with Alessandro de' Medici.
It was reputed that shortly before his assassination, a Greek soothsayer one day stopped the Duke's cortege in the street, and cried out, so that all might hear: "Alessandro, Duke of Florence, thou shall be slain by a relative, a thin man, small of stature, and dark of countenance. He will have one accomplice. Beware!"
As for Lorenzino, whilst no action was taken publicly in Florence against him—for, secretly all men, and openly the majority, praised his act—there was a party whose members were sworn to avenge Alessandro's blood. They enlisted a service of irreconcilables to track the murderer to his death.
For eleven long years Lorenzino traversed land and sea, pursued, not only by relentless foes, but tormented by an accusing conscience. He was no Brutus to himself, but relapsed once more into a craven, stalking coward. At length retribution overtook him, for two soldiers, devoted to Alessandro's memory, hunted him down in the waterways of Venice, to which he had returned. One day, in May 1548, Bedo da Volterra and Cecchino da Bibonna caught him by the Rialto, unattended and unarmed, and their daggers did the work as effectively for him as did his sword for Duke Alessandro!
What became of Lorenzino's body nobody knew and nobody cared, probably it was tossed by his assassins into the Grand Canal, and being washed out into the sea, will await that day when the deep shall yield up all that is therein.
Some authorities state that a reward of ten thousand gold florins was offered for his head, that his effigy was burnt with every mark of opprobrium in the Piazza della Signoria, and that the rabble pulled his house down and burnt out the site.
MARIA, GIOVANNI, AND GARZIA.
A Father's Vengeance
"I will have no Cain in my family!" roared out Cosimo de' Medici—"Il Giovane," Duke of Florence, in the forest of Rosignano.
"A Medico of the Medici," prompt in action and suave in repose, his hand flew to his sword hilt, and the cruel, cold steel of a father's wrath flashed in the face of Heaven! Duchess Eleanora made one swift step forward, intent upon shielding her child, but she stood there transfixed with horror—her arms and hands outstretched to the wide horizon in silent supplication, her tongue paralysed!
The kneeling boy grasped his father's knees, weeping piteously, and crying aloud in vain for mercy. Thrusting him from him, and spurning him with his heavy hunting-boot, he plunged furiously his gleaming blade into his son's breast, until the point came out between his shoulderblades!
With one expiring yell of agony and terror, Garzia de' Medici yielded up his fair young life, the victim of inexorable fate. It was high moon, and the watchful stars, of course, could not behold the gruesome deed, but over the autumn sun was drawn a grey purple mist, and gloom settled upon the Maremma. And as the elements paled and were silent, a hush overspread wild nature, not a beast in the thicket, not a bird on the bough, stirred. Sighs siffled through the bracken and the heather, and the roar of the distant sea died away in moaning at the bar.
With a suffocating sob, as though stabbed to death herself, the Duchess swooned upon the ground, and, whilst the courtiers in the company hastened to her assistance, the huntsmen reverently covered the still quivering body of the young prince with their embroidered livery cloaks.
Not much more than a mile away another corpse was being gently borne by tender loving hands—it was Giovanni's, Garzia's elder brother, the young Cardinal.
Giovanni de' Medici was dead—Garzia was dead; and two virgin souls were winging their flight to join their murdered sister Maria in the Paradise of Peace.
* * * * *
Cosimo, Duke of Florence, was the son of Giovanni de' Medici—called "delle Bande Nere" and Maria de' Salviati. Born in 1498, at Forli, Giovanni—also known as "Giovannino" to distinguish him from his father Giovanni, "Il Popolano"—was destined from his cradle to a military career. With such a mother as Caterina, the natural daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, he was bound to acquire with her milk the instincts of a pushful personality.
Pope Leo X., who was a Florentine of the Florentines, extended his zealous patronage to the rearing and the training of his youthful relative. If not a caster of horoscopes, he was a reader of character, and, son as he was of Lorenzo "Il Magnifico," he foresaw a future for "Giovannino" fraught with immense importance to his family and his native city.
After receiving his early training as a soldier in Rome, attached to the staff of one or other of the Condottieri, young Giovanni was appointed to a military command with the Papal army in Lombardy, when he was little more than out of his teens. His splendid physique and his prowess in friendly encounter, revealed the lion that was in him. The leader in all boyish pranks and rivalries, he displayed intrepid courage and unfailing resourcefulness when called upon to prove his metal. To strike quickly and to strike hard, he knew very well meant the battle half won—hence there was added to his sobriquet two significant appellations—"L'Invincible" and "Il Gran Diabolo!"
The troops under his command were, as was the rule in the Papal armies, composed of motley companies of alien mercenaries and forced levies, but, in addition, very many soldiers of fortune, attracted by his fame, rallied to his banner. Very soon the "Bande Nere," as Giovanni's force was called, gave evidence that they had no equals in equipment and efficiency. Their leader took as his models the infantry of Spain and the cavalry of Germany. Each man wore a black silk ribbon badge, and each lance bore its black pennon—hence the "Bande Nere."
It has been said of Mars, the God of War, that he was susceptible to the wiles of Venus, even when intent on deeds of daring, so, too, was it true of Condottiere Giovanni de' Medici. Although born outside the "City of the Lily," and the child of a non-Florentine mother, he and his were always on terms of good relationship with the gentle Duke Lorenzo. His associations with Florence were of the closest nature, and "Giovannino" was quite content to look for his bride among the marriageable maidens there.
With an ever open eye to a goodly marriage portion, Messer Giovanni "Il Popolano" viewed the daughters of the Salviati with approval. That house was famous for its financial prominence—rivalling that of his own, and Messer Giacopo's three girls were noted for good looks and clever brains. Whether love, or money, was the magnet, or whether the two ran together in double harness, young "Giovannino" took tight hold upon the reins, and he and Maria Salviati were betrothed in the autumn of 1517.
To be sure there was a difficulty about the new marital habitation, for a soldier upon active service has no settled home. Love, however, knows obstacles only to overcome them, and so, somehow or another, the young Madonna brought into the world, one wintry day in February—it was the nineteenth—1519, her first-born, a son. Cosimo they christened him, perhaps after his great ancestor Cosimo "Padre della Patria"— "Cosimonino." When mother and child could be moved Giovanni sent them, for safety, into Florence, where they were lovingly welcomed by her parents, Messer Giacopo de' Salviati and his wife Lucrezia, daughter of Lorenzo il Magnifico.
Pope Leo X., who had in his heart ambitious desires for the predominance of his House, not alone in Tuscany but throughout Italy, regarded the young soldier as one of his most trusty lieutenants. Designing, as he did, to create Giuliano,—later Duke of Nemours,—King of Naples and Southern Italy, and Lorenzo,—Duke of Urbino,—King of Lombardy and Northern Italy, he made Giovanni "delle Bande Nere" Commandant of the Papal armies.
Leo spent much time in Florence, having the Condottiere by his side, and using him as an envoy,—first to the King of France, and, then to the Emperor, in matrimonial negotiations which concerned Giuliano and Lorenzo. The imbroglio about the Duchy of Milan found him at the head of the Papal contingent of the Imperial army, but his success as commander was checked by a disastrous peace concluded by the Pope. The early years of young Cosimo's life were critical in the affairs of Tuscany; a fierce struggle for the suzerainty of all Italy was being fought out between Francis I. and Charles V. The Pope, Clement VII.—Cardinal Giulio de' Medici—who had succeeded Adrian VI. in 1523, sided with either party as suited his ambitions best. When favourable to the French, he handed over one division of the Papal army to the king, who confirmed Condottiere Giovanni de' Medici in his command.
At Borgoforte he was shot in the knee, and again at Pavia, where Francis was routed and taken prisoner. The campaign continued and Giovanni was always in the front rank of battle until, outside Mantua, he was mortally wounded and died within the fortress, on 30th November, 1526, at the early age of twenty-nine.
An interesting little story concerns the first anniversary of Cosimo's birth. His father dreamed, on the eve of that day, that he saw his son asleep in his cradle, and over his head he beheld a royal crown! In the morning he did not tell Madonna Maria what he had seen in the night-watches, but something prompted him to test the will of Providence. Accordingly he told his wife to take the precious little babe up to the balcony on the second floor of the Palazzo Salviati, in the Via del Corso.
"Throw down the child," he cried from the street below. The Madonna refused, and rated her husband for his madness, but he insisted, and threatened so vehemently, that at last, in abject terror, she let go her hold of her babe. The boy leaped from her arms into the air, and, whilst the distracted mother uttered a wail of anguish, Giovanni deftly caught his little son in his arms. The child chortled merrily, as if enjoying his weird experience, and, inasmuch as he never so much as uttered the slightest cry of fear, the intrepid Condottiere felt perfectly reassured as to the auspicious presage of his dream.
"That's all right," he exclaimed, "my vision was no fantastic picture—my bonnie boy will live to be a prince—Prince of Florence!"
Madonna Maria, left so young a widow—she was only twenty-five—consecrated her life to the care of her young son—just eight years old—and, under her parental roof in the Via del Corso, she engaged some of the best teachers of the day to undertake his education. Cosimonino's aptitude for military affairs and his taste for chemical studies soon made themselves apparent.
But the doting mother had a secret enemy, her child's enemy indeed, an enemy so powerful, and by all accounts so relentless, that her life became a burden in her efforts to shield her boy from peril. That enemy was no less a person than the Pope!
Clement, of course, knew very well of the existence of Giovanni delle Bande Nere's son and heir, and whilst he hailed the death of the father as a gain for his personal ambition, he feared the life of his child would peril his hopes for Alessandro, his own illegitimate son. Cosimo, Giovanni's boy, must be kept out of the way at all hazards, and Maria the widow was very soon well aware of the Pope's aims.
By every means in his power, Clement strove to obtain possession of little Cosimo, but his mother was as watchful as she was prudent, and, till her boy reached his twelfth year, she never let him go out of her sight and keeping. She took him away to remote parts of Italy with trusty attendants, that the Pope might not discover their whereabouts. Then she chose a faithful friend of her family, Maestro Pierfrancesco Riccio da Prato, to superintend his further education. If not the wisest of teachers, he was admirable for the exact discharge of his duties and inculcated the best traditions of the Medici.
Together tutor and pupil visited many parts of Central Italy and spent some time at Venice, the chief subject of their studies being the heroic doings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. This was the usual curriculum for growing boys, and doubtless its observance induced that admiration of tyrannicide which marked the character of so many young Florentines.
In 1523, when Clement so artfully persuaded the Florentine ambassadors to request the despatch of the two bastards, Ippolito and Alessandro, to Florence, the only man who maintained his opposition was Messer Giacopo de' Salviati, and he again protested in person both to Clement in Rome and before the Signoria in Florence, against the creation of Alessandro as Head of the Republic. Once more this "loyal citizen" withstood the bastard Duke, when he put his hand to the building of the fortress of San Giovanni. Naturally, Messer Giacopo's opposition excited the animosity of Alessandro, who, if he did not actually inspire his assassination, was, at all events, privy to it.
But in spite of all, Cosimo grew and flourished, displaying his father's courage and his mother's prudence. At fifteen, his character appeared to be already formed. He was grave of aspect and severe in manner, very backward in forming friendships, and intolerant of familiarities.
In 1536, the Emperor Charles and his court were in residence at Bologna, and, hearing that young Cosimo de' Medici was also in the city, the monarch sent for him and received him with marked cordiality. Observing the young man's bearing and evident force of character, Charles took him by the arm and, placing his hand upon the lad's shoulder, said to him: "You are fortunate, young man, to have had for your father a soldier who made both France and Spain tremble!"
Between fifteen and eighteen we have few records of Cosimo's life and no hint as to where he was during the terrible years of tyranny and debauchery in Florence. Anyhow, Duke Alessandro owed him no kindness, nor did he enter into any relations with him. What dealings he had with Lorenzino and Giuliano, his cousins, are unknown. They were nearer the succession to the ducal throne than himself—indeed, the former was regarded as next heir to Alessandro. In all probability the young man lived with his mother at the villa at Castello which had belonged to his father, and kept himself very much out of sight.
* * * * *
The news of Duke Alessandro's assassination very soon got about, and groups of citizens gathered in the Via Larga and also in the Piazza del Signoria. Although considerable excitement pervaded those assemblages, the people remained quiet and self-controlled. "Everybody," as Benedetto Varchi has recorded, "spoke out quite fully, as though no one doubted but that the Greater Council of the city would at once be summoned. They debated as to who would be chosen Gonfaloniere, and whether for life or not. Meanwhile the Council of Forty-eight had assembled at the Medici Palace at the call of the Cardinal (Cibo), and were in conference in the long gallery upstairs."
Cardinal Cibo was the son of Maddalena de' Medici, Lorenzo il Magnifico's eldest daughter. He with Francesco de' Guicciardini and Francesco de' Vettori had constituted themselves, in a sort of way, mentors and advisers to the murdered Duke, who was only too glad to free himself of some of the distasteful duties of State, and confide them to anyone who would relieve him of them.
As for a successor to Alessandro, the Cardinal at first suggested Giulio, the Duke's bastard son, a child of eight years of age. The Council scouted the idea of another regency, and intimated plainly their intention to seek an adult Head of the Government. Full powers were given to the triumvirate to carry on State business during the interregnum—a decision which greatly displeased the populace. On dispersing from the conference the councillors were greeted with derisive cries—"If you cannot make up your minds, we must do it for you!"
During the adjournment the Cardinal and his two successors took counsel with the Strozzi and other influential men in and beyond Florence, and called to their aid the four Florentine Cardinals, Salviati, Gaddi, Pucci, and Ridolfi. Paul III.—naturally anxious to have a finger in the pie—despatched Roberto negli Strozzi with fifteen hundred mounted men to hold Montepulciano, and at the same time directed the Cardinals to join him there. The Papal nominee was Giuliano, younger brother of Lorenzino, the Duke's murderer—an entirely impossible choice.
Madonna Maria de' Medici was at her father's villa at Trebbio, but at once she despatched couriers to hasten her son's return from Bologna, whither he had gone for study and for pleasure. She invited Cibo and Guicciardini to meet him, and to take counsel with her concerning his claims on Florence. Instructed by his astute mother, the young man paid great court to the two visitors, and charmed them exceedingly. The Cardinal was at once converted to the Madonna's views. Both he and Messer Guicciardini were struck by Cosimo's appearance—tall, well-made, and good-looking, he had a manly carriage, and his assured yet courteous manner left nothing to be desired.
On the three councillors' return to Florence, they were met by Senor Ferrante de Silva, Conte de Cifuentes, the Spanish ambassador, who was commanded by his master to support the candidature of Cosimo de' Medici.
The Emperor, Charles V., moreover, sent Bernardino da Rieti as special envoy, to enforce his views upon the "Forty-eight," and with him went a force of two thousand Spanish troops from Lerici—where they were in garrison, partly with a view to overawe the Council, and partly for the protection of the widowed Duchess Margaret. It was concurrently reported that the Emperor had another project in view, namely to marry his daughter to young Cosimo. At any rate, Margaret was directed to remain in Florence and at the Medici Palace.
Conferences were held daily, both in the Medici Palace and in the Palazzo Vecchio. To Francesco de' Guicciardini was committed the duty of formally proposing Cosimo—commonly called "Cosimonino"—as Head of the State. At once Palla de' Rucellai rose in opposition, but his party in the Council was in the minority. The deliberations were disturbed by the entrance of the French ambassador, who came to press upon their lordships' attention the claims of little Duchess Caterina, Duke Lorenzo's only legitimate child. The proposition met with unanimous disapprobation, and fell to the ground.
Outside, in the Piazza, was a shouting, struggling crowd of citizens, something unusual was going on, and the cries of the people penetrated the windows of the Council Chamber—"Evviva il figlio di Giovanni delle Bande Nere!" "Evviva il Cosimonino!" "Evviva Cosimo il Duca di Firenze!"
The Council rose at once, without coming to a decision, but each member of it understood the import of that cry, and each was quite ready to accept the popular verdict. As they regained the street they saw a youthful cavalier, with a small mounted retinue, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of citizens. They had ridden fast from the Mugello and were covered with dust.
"Signor Cosimo," wrote Benedetto Varchi, "arrived in Florence with but a few followers. As the son of Signor Giovanni, of fair aspect and having always displayed a kindly disposition and a good understanding, he was liked greatly by the populace, and they hailed him as heir to Duke Alessandro, with marked affection. Affecting neither grief nor joy, he rode on with an air of serene importance, showing rather his merit for the throne than his wish for it. Dismounting at the palace, he visited Cardinal Cibo, and expressing his regret at the Duke's sanguinary death, went on to say that like a good son of Florence he had come to place not only his fortunes but his life at the service of his country."
Cosimo was named Head of the State, not Duke, on four conditions:—
1. To render justice indifferently to rich and poor.
2. Never to disagree with the policy of the Emperor.
3. To avenge the death of Duke Alessandro.
4. To treat his three illegitimate children with kindness.
Those who come to the front through their own genius or their destiny, upon the first step of the throne accept the conditions of their appointment, but, upon the last step, they commonly impose their own upon their makers. Consequently, although but a youth of nineteen years of age at the time of his opportune arrival in Florence, Cosimo at once showed his intention of assuming personally and untrammelled the government of the State. Cardinal Cibo and Francesco de' Guicciardini, who had been the first to recognise not only his claim but his fitness to rule, were very tactfully set aside, and others, who might be expected to assert powers of direction and supervision, were quietly assigned to positions where they could not interfere with his freedom of action.