The second half of the fifteenth century exhibits, in the development of the Renaissance in Italy, the singular spectacle of a transformation of the modern world under the influence of ancient classical culture in conjunction with the opening out of a new intellectual horizon. In a state the importance of which cannot be measured by its circumference or material strength, we see a struggle between form and spirit among a community that had stood there alone from the Middle Ages. This struggle was the exciting cause of a new growth, of the production of fresh branches and new foliage on a tree that had become incurably rotten and hollow. The Christian world has only once taken up a position like this in the fruitful interpenetration and transmutation of real and ideal elements. It shows us a man, the product and consummation of these circumstances and conditions, at once the child and the pioneer of his age, an age which was filled with the most joyous and elevated existence both in material and spiritual things. A man like him could only be born and grow up under such circumstances, in the ferment and strife of events and of the moral forces of the time. Family and civic influence as well as the temper of the people and of the century contributed to this result. A justly popular life of Lorenzo [by Roscoe] was written when the knowledge of Italian history was limited and its sources confused and difficult of access. If a similar attempt is now made eighty years later, it is under altered circumstances and with expectations greatly enhanced. The supply of original materials, then very small, however skilfully arranged, has increased in our day to a degree almost beyond management. At that period the insight of the historian, not informed as to the internal politics of Florence, reached no great depth below the dazzling surface of Lorenzo’s magnificence. At the present day deep places are exposed to view which had been kept only too dark. A flood of light envelops the personality of the man who was distinguished by so many things that charm and attract. If the sum-total of his history conveys a graver impression and comes upon us with a feeling of pain, our interest in it is scarcely less keen because of the obstacles through which this brilliant spirit made its own way, or of the entanglements and dangers against which he had to struggle. Should I succeed in describing truthfully him and the surroundings from which he was never separated and without which it is difficult to imagine him, I shall have completed a thank-offering due for a past full of varied enjoyment and for many friendly aids, received during the preparation and composition of this book from the countrymen of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
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LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT
Volume I of II
by Alfred von Reumont
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
FLORENCE AND THE MEDICI TO THEDEATH OF COSIMO THE ELDER
THE HOUSE AND FAMILY OF THE MEDICI—DEVELOPMENT OF THE FLORENTINE DEMOCRACY.
At the entrance of the Via Larga in Florence there rises to view, at the corner of one of the cross streets leading to the church of San Lorenzo, one of the most magnificent palaces of that rich and beautiful city. The recent enlargement of the passage to the neighbouring cathedral square—the Via de’ Martelli—has exposed to view the southern aspect of the palace, and displays the harmony of its proportions on a side that formerly was not to be seen. The traditions of mediæval life are still manifest in the building, notwithstanding the modification introduced by the large windows on the ground-floor, and by the additional wing that prolongs the façade. Huge blocks of stone, rough-hewn, with deep incisions, lend to the basement of the edifice the appearance of a fortress. They recall to mind the fortified palaces of the ancient nobles who, when transplanted from the country to the town, found themselves associated, willingly or unwillingly, with the burghers, and before long under the control of men who vied with them in the erection of towers and strongholds that overawed their own. The great town-hall was as solid a structure as any castle, even at a time when milder manners had subdued, if not the violence of party spirit, at least the fury of street riots, and had proscribed the towers which once by hundreds dominated the narrow streets, with their heavy iron chains ready for a barricade. The progress of civic life may be traced in other parts of the building—in the bow windows of the upper stories, divided by slender pilasters, in the renaissance decoration, and in the Corinthian pillars which ornament the quadrangle of the courtyard. Inscriptions and antiques introduced at a later period adorn the walls of the portico of the courtyard; but the statue of David has disappeared from the centre, and although fountains still exist in the second court—once a garden—the figure of Alessandro de’ Medici, yet visible, indicates a century later. Though much altered in modern times, the original plan of the interior, which was regular and commodious, can be traced. Such a design was uncommon in days when the comparatively small area of the houses made a large suite of rooms a matter of rare occurrence, and when generally one story rose above another, with steep stairs and narrow passages into which a scanty supply of light was admitted from courtyards deep as wells.
The house was built by Michelozzo di Bartolommeo, then forty years old, for Cosimo de’ Medici, in the first half of the fifteenth century. Filippo Brunelleschi, the greatest architect of modern Italy, had made a design for the palace of the rich and art-loving citizen, who was one of his best friends. It was the plan of a vast building, unenclosed on all sides, and fronting towards the square of San Lorenzo, where stood the church, the restoration of which had been begun by the same artist for Cosimo’s father. But cautious, calculating Cosimo, fearing that a house on so magnificent a scale as that designed by Brunelleschi, even if not beyond his means, would exceed the ordinary dimensions of a citizen’s dwelling, and might excite popular jealousy, gave the preference to Michelozzo’s more limited design. Brunelleschi took offence at this neglect of himself, and destroyed his model. Yet Cosimo acted more prudently than did, at a later period, a countryman of his, who began to build from the design of the same master the largest edifice that perhaps a private citizen ever undertook, and who consequently lost much in public estimation and respect.
In the second half of the fourteenth century the Medici had removed into the neighbourhood of San Lorenzo’s church, where their residence occupied the ground adjoining Cosimo’s palace on the north, and remained in the possession of his brother Lorenzo, the founder of the subsequent ducal line. Their original dwelling-place was in the centre of the old town, on the market-place, inside the first wall. Many of the foremost families were once settled here, and even now the lover of history and antiquity will find among the damp stalls of the butcher, fishmonger, and dealer in vegetables, sparse remains of past and, so far as concerns this part of the town, better days. The little church of San Tommaso in this place was in the patronage of the Medici from time immemorial.
The Medici did not belong to the historic families of the city on the Arno. The first trace of them is to be found about the end of the twelfth century in Giambuono, of whose extraction nothing is known. The coat of arms exhibits red balls in a gold field, whose number and arrangement were different at different times, until, under Cosimo’s son, the coat of arms assumed the form which it has ever since retained. From these balls (palle) the dependents of the family bore the name of Palleschi. From whence the Medici came, what was the meaning of the coat of arms, no one knew. Genealogical dreams have gone as far back as Perseus and the apples of the Hesperides, whilst modest historians have contented themselves with the time of Charlemagne, and the mountainous land north of Florence, known by the name of Mugello, where the family had always held important possessions, designated as their home.
The only dispute now is whether they descend from a knight who in days of yore received on his shield the blows of a giant’s iron flail, or from a physician who chose for his sign, in his small beginnings, three pills or cupping-glasses.
Giambuono’s son Chiarissimo sat in the Council of the Commune in 1201, when an alliance was formed with the town of Siena for the purpose of attacking the castle Semifonte in the Elsethal, which lay between the territories of the two towns, and was soon after destroyed. This was the first step towards the extension of territory and the overthrow of the landed aristocracy. The thirteenth century, at the beginning of which the Medici first stand forward in history, was the period in which the community of Florence, after many vicissitudes, received its definitive form. Just at the time of the first attempts of the Florentines to acquire an independent self-government do we meet with the first of that race which three centuries later strove successfully to transform what had become a powerful republic into a monarchy.
The province of Tuscany, divided into two duchies, in the time of the Longobards formed, first under dukes, then under margraves, a part of the Roman Teutonic kingdom, whose dependence on the later powerful emperors, and also on margraves ruling over wide stretches of land to the north of the Apennines, was more nominal than real, yet still existed according to right.
In the summer of 1115, after the death of the great Countess Mathilda—daughter and heiress to the last Margrave Bonifacius, who lived mostly in Lucca—first began the freer movement of the Tuscan Commune. At this time the men who afterwards attained to the lordship over the greater part of the country occupied anything but a prominent position. The great changes in the strength and extent of the imperial power in Italy as it was under the last of the Franconians, under Lothair of Saxony, and the two first Hohenstaufen, necessarily affected the position of these Communes. Their form of government under consuls changed just as their dependence or independence of the imperial authority was affected by the prevailing political condition of the empire. The landed nobility, of Germanic origin for the most part, were supported by Frederic Barbarossa against the Commune of Florence, with which several great families, headed by the Uberti, had engaged in a bloody and protracted feud on account of their claims to an authority which was not compatible with consular government. Henry VI. exercised his imperial rights and privileges in Tuscany still more vigorously than his father had done. His brother Philip, invested with this province as a dukedom, maintained a command such as, perhaps, no other vice-emperor had possessed. In a part of the country claimed by the Popes as the patrimony of Mathilda, Philip’s power overcame the Guelfic element which was so much opposed to the ‘Imperium,’ and which in most of the towns was the predominant principle.
Suddenly, however, all was changed, when the Emperor died in the prime of his manhood, leaving behind him an infant son, three years old, and a distracted kingdom, which never fully resumed its ancient greatness. In the Papal chair, on the other hand, sat one of the most aspiring and successful of the Pontiffs—Innocent III., who at once assumed that authority in the legations which Henry VI. had taken so much pains to put down. The Tuscans, however, were not more disposed to submit patiently to the Papal sovereignty than they had been to that of the Emperor, and this the Pope was not slow to perceive. But while he avoided all direct assertions of sovereign power over the towns, he made use of his influence to form a Tuscan Union, that should be closely allied with the ecclesiastical government at Rome, and firmly opposed to the Imperial authority. In 1198 a Union was formed at San Genesio, which lies at the foot of the hills in the lower valley of the Arno, and within sight of the venerable towers of San Miniato. The negotiators on this occasion were two Cardinals representing the Pope on one side, and on the other deputies elected by the several towns interested. Pisa, which was Ghibelline, alone of the great towns held aloof. The federation was intended to form a bulwark against Imperial encroachments, and all matters of internal administration and municipal government were left untouched. The supremacy of the Papacy was felt to be a lighter yoke than that of the Empire.
It is worthy of remark that this practical protest against Imperial domination should have its starting-point in a spot where the Guelfs, especially the Florentines, were reminded that their liberties depended on the pleasure of the Emperors. For the lofty towers that from the hill of San Miniato look down upon the Val d’Arno, and across the well-watered plain that stretches to the borders of Lucca, formed part of the palace of Barbarossa, and from it his high decrees were sent forth in the name of the Arch-chancellor of the Empire, the Archbishop of Cologne. Here tarried Henry VI. and Frederick II., and here the Vicar of the Empire, under Rudolf of Hapsburg, received the oath of allegiance. At a later period, in March 1355, Charles IV. revived the ancient dignity by stopping at San Miniato both before and after his coronation. The deputies of the place, called from these circumstances San Miniato the German (al Tedesco), had gone to Pisa to pay their obeisance to Charles.
Events like those enumerated above were favourable to the territorial extension of the Florentine Commune. Their progress would have been greater, had not an ancient feud among the nobles come to a bloody outbreak in the second decade of the thirteenth century. The effect of this factious contest, which was embittered by religious animosity and the quarrel of Frederic II. with the Pope, was to enfeeble the nobility, and react mischievously on the people. The murder of Messer Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti at the entrance of the old bridge in 1215 is celebrated in history and poetry as the presumed origin of the hostile factions of Guelf and Ghibelline. A stone cross in the small square, called, from the junction of three streets, the Trebbio, commemorates the victory of the orthodox citizens, led by Peter Martyr of Verona, against the Patarian heretics. About 1247 the most violent civil war raged. Although the Ghibelline faction had the upper hand at first, and Frederick of Antioch, the Emperor’s son and Imperial Vicar in Tuscany, drove out the Guelf nobility, the tables were turned when heavy losses overtook Frederick in Lombardy and were followed by his death. The year of Frederick’s death, 1250, marks the victory of the Guelfic cause in Florence, for although their adversaries had a momentary triumph they could not hold out, and the city so famous under the Salieri for its devotion to the Emperor, became the stronghold of the Guelfs. This decisive change, which brought constitutional changes with it, took place towards the end of October 1250, a little before the Emperor’s death.
Up to that time, from the beginning of the twelfth century, the city had been governed by a magistracy consisting of first four and then six consuls, assisted by a council of one hundred good men (Buonuomini). From 1207 the administration was entrusted to a foreign knight, learned in the law, and called the Podestà. After the fashion of the Lombard cities, he was elected for six months, then for twelve, and had the assistance of a general council. Encouraged by the factiousness and weakness of the nobility, who had till then been supreme in the place, the citizen class banded together in an organised insurrection, and initiated great political reforms. The town was divided into sixths, (Sestieri), each sixth into twenty militia companies (thenumber being subject to change, under different standard-bearers, or gonfaloniers, each of whom had a distinguishing mark). At the head of all, in place of the Ghibelline Podestà, who was done away with, was a captain of the people (Capitano del Popolo), assisted by a council of twelve elders, two for every sixth, and six and thirty corporals. At a later period these institutions developed into the small and the great councils. The standard of the people, put into the hands of the captain, was half red, half white, and was subsequently replaced by one bearing a red cross on a white ground. The banner of the Commune, displayed by the Podestà, bore first a white lily on a field of red, then a red lily on white ground. The civic militia were called to arms by the tolling of a bell from the Lion’s Tower, which has long disappeared, but stood probably near the palace of the Capitano, on the site of which the palace of the Signoria, now the Palazzo Vecchio, was erected in the sixteenth century. The country districts also received a military organisation. To the Capitano was attributed authority over both the civil and criminal administration, with the co-operation of the elders, but the Podestà subsequently resumed his criminal jurisdiction. The latter also occupied the palace, built originally in 1255 as a council-chamber for the Capitano and his assessors, but much enlarged in the following century. It is still called after the Podestà, and, restored after long neglect to somewhat of its ancient dignity, now looks down in lofty grandeur upon the bustle of modern life going on around its walls.
Though not free from factious disturbance the city continued to prosper for years after the revolt against the nobility. Its commerce was extended and its influence over neighbouring communes strengthened either by treaty or by force of arms. No better witness of this prosperity can be cited than the number of buildings erected for the public good about this time. Besides this, many religious houses arose at the time when the order called the Humiliates were manifesting extraordinary activity. In the year 1252 also was coined the golden florin which, exercising a patent influence on the currency of mediæval and modern times, contributed largely to the influence of Florence among men of commerce, and shadowed forth her subsequent supremacy. As yet the two hostile factions of the city, though coming frequently into jealous collision, dwelt near together. In the summer of 1258 an attempt was made to overthrow the Constitution as settled by the Guelfs, and bind Florence to the Imperial interests, to which Pisa and Siena were already attached. The promoters of this revolution were the family of the Uberti, champions of the Ghibelline cause, in alliance with King Manfred, the Emperor Frederick’s son.
It was plain that the triumph of the Imperialists in the South of Italy would be incomplete without the acquisition of Tuscany. The attempt miscarried and the natural consequences ensued. All the great Ghibelline families were sent into exile, and they took refuge for the most part in Siena. The refusal on the part of the conquerors to respect any obligations that had been previously entered into with the banished families led to a war in 1260. On September 4 in that year the Tuscan Guelfs suffered a severe defeat at Montaperti on the Arbia, in view of the walls of Siena, whose inhabitants, assisted by the horsemen of Manfred, were the victors. The effect in Florence was instantaneous. Without waiting for the return of their enemies, the principal Guelf families, patrician and plebeian, at once quitted the city and sought shelter in Lucca. The Guelfs of the dependent towns soon followed this example, and in three days the Ghibellines were installed in Florence, with Giordano of Anglona, a captain of Manfred’s, at their head, as the king’s vicegerent. Guido Novello, of the race of the Palsgrave of Tuscany, assumed the office of Podestà. The Guelfs were compelled to abandon Lucca and retire to Bologna, leaving the Ghibellines masters of the whole of Tuscany. Affairs continued in this state for six years, when King Manfredoverthrew at Benevento the army of Charles of Anjou, Count of Provence, who had been called in by the Pope, and who was assisted by many Tuscan Guelfs.
An attempt at compromise between the two factions and a settlement of the differences of the nobility and the burghers was made by appointing two Knights of the Order of the Virgin Mary to the joint exercise of the office of Podestà. With these fratres gaudentes was associated a Council of thirty, selected from the trading classes. The arrangement was made with the consent of Pope Clement IV., and accepted by the threatened Ghibellines as an expedient. It was soon discovered, however, that a real reconciliation was impossible, and that the Pope was pursuing extensive political schemes that were agreeable to no party.
On November 11, nearly nine months after the battle of Benevento, an insurrection against a tax, forced the Ghibellines and Germans to evacuate Florence. The Knights of Mary were replaced by two knights from Orvieto, who were respectively appointed Podestà and Capitano. Again efforts were made at a reconciliation by the recall of the more moderate among the exiles, and by offers of family alliances, but without success.
Charles of Anjou, now King of Sicily and Naples, was striving, like Manfred, to strengthen his influence in Tuscany, and being secretly incited by Guelf leaders he sent a troop of 800 armed men to Florence, under Guy de Montfort, in 1267. The Ghibellines proved irreconcileable, and left the city on the night of Good Friday in that year. Further endeavours at pacification were alike unavailing. The party spirit was too strong, and resisted the authority of Pope Gregory X. in the spring of 1273, as steadily as that of Cardinal Latino Malabranca (a nephew of Pope Nicholas III.), in February 1279. Nor was the influence of the two holders of supreme power of much avail even after the accession of Rudolf of Hapsburg to the throne of Germany had altered the relations between Church and State.
Meanwhile two changes occurred in the internal government of the city of great, if unequal, importance. The first was the vice-regency of foreign princes, who now held in the Commune the position formerly belonging to the chief of the empire, with this difference, that the Commune awarded the dignity to foreign princes on certain conditions, and for a certain number of years. The supremacy of King Manfred was followed in 1267 by that of Charles of Anjou, which the city bore for ten years. The authority of these princes and their representatives was limited. A committee of twelve good men selected from the municipal nobility sat as assessors to the viceroy. Besides this there were both the council-boards already named, to which was now added a third body, the secret council of the Guelf burghers, making together a general or common council. The statutes introduced by the viceroy were sent to the united councils as to a court of general jurisdiction, before they were definitively accepted by the Council of Three Hundred. The limits of the viceroy’s authority were not easily fixed. In the first half of the ensuing century, when the city was unable to hold out against the arms of the Ghibellines without the aid of Charles of Anjou, this part of the Constitution was remodelled more than once. The Anjou viceroyalty, in concert with the Guelfs, thoroughly rooted out the suspected Ghibellines. In 1268-69 some three thousand were banished, many of whom went to the south of France. Their goods were sold, and the profits devoted to the interests of the victorious party. A special Commission was appointed to manage the ‘capitani di parte Guelfa,’ and was assisted by a committee of the Council, composed of nobles and burghers. In the course of years this body acquired almost dictatorial power in the State.
The second fact alluded to above was of far more importance in its social and political bearing than the position of the vice-kings of Tuscany. It was the enfranchisement of the lower class of Florentine citizens. The population of the city was divided into three classes: 1, the feudal nobility; 2, the municipal nobility, or wealthy burgher families; 3, the common people. The influence of the first, who were never very numerous, was based on their landed possessions in the provinces; that of the second on their wealth in money and their trade; while the third class were held in no consideration, and up to the middle of the thirteenth century had no share in the government of the State. When Frederic II. died a democratic spirit manifested itself in union with the Guelfic feeling of opposition to the Imperial authority, and made rapid progress. The old and new nobility united to resist the popular movement; but the people, who had increased in numbers and in substance by the free exercise of their skill in arts, manufactures, and commerce, aspired to a share in the civil government, and made an effort to attain it. The discords of the nobility and the confusion of the government in 1250 gave the people an opportunity of forming an independent body, half political, half military. While the Podestà remained at the head of the administration of justice, the ‘Capitano del Popolo’ was military chief of the third or lower class, who, set on securing their own rights, paid little attention to the quarrels of the factions. After the overthrow of King Manfred and the Ghibelline party the third class advanced a step forward by the definite formation of guilds. The object of the organisation of 1250 was mainly military; the end now in view was to give a more solid form and more popular character to the civil relations. An excellent means for the attainment of this was at hand in the corporations, already large, to which the richest and most respectable members of the third class already belonged.
The industrial and commercial societies, the origin of which is traceable to Roman times, kept pace in development with the Commune of the twelfth century. We shall presently see how, at the end of this century, their influence extended abroad, and at the beginning of the next was felt through their delegates in matters of state. They gave themselves statutes and exercised influence before they assumed that form which erelong enabled them to take the chief share in the executive as well as in the legislative power. They consisted principally of professional men, traders, and the higher class of artisans, and these represented the whole class of lower citizens. There were seven guilds: the lawyers, merchants, money-changers, weavers, silkworkers, doctors and apothecaries, and the furriers. These were the grand guilds which always retained exceptional privileges. Each one had a first and a second delegate or consul elected every four months, and representing severally two quarters of the town. There was a syndic and other officers with jurisdiction over all the members of the guild. They bore arms and banners, and were commanded by a gonfalonier or captain, thus forming a complete society, having its own residence or guild-hall. Supreme over all the seven guilds was a proconsul, whose place was among the highest officers of the Commune, and who was chosen from the first, or lawyer’s guild. He superintended the general interests of these incorporated societies, decided questions of competency and the like. The presidents and officers formed a council, called the ‘Consiglio delle Capitudini delli Maggiore,’ to which were referred the enactments which had previously been laid before the ‘Consiglio del Popolo.’ There is still in Florence much that wears the stamp of the power of these city liveries of the Middle Ages. The architecture of the guildhalls bears witness to the greatness of the institution which, soon exceeding its original purpose, was blended with the powers of the State. Coats of arms and names of streets and other things give similar testimony. In the course of sixteen years fourteen guilds—called the smaller—were added to the original seven; and, with slight modifications, the same number has been preserved in the same relative position.
It is natural that an institution like this should grow stronger with the increasing strength of the people and the decay of the nobility. In 1279, when Cardinal Latino first extinguished the strife of the leading Guelfs, tormented by continual intestine discords, and then reconciled them to the Ghibellines, a supreme magistracy of fourteen Buonuomini was instituted, consisting of eight Guelfs and six Ghibellines, both nobles and citizens. This harmony lasted but a short time. In 1282, the Sicilian Vespers having given a heavy blow to the house of Anjou, the Ghibelline party raised its head once more, but was again defeated. Hereupon the guilds resolved to take the government into their own hands, and that they were able to do so without serious opposition shows to what a height their power had risen. The new administration was styled ‘The Priors of the Guilds,’ the chief being the Captain of the People, who was called ‘Defender of the Guilds.’ At first three, then six priors were elected from the Grand Guilds—being one for every sestieri, or sixth part of the city. The term of office was two months, except for those of the Lawyer Guild, who took part in the administration in any other way. Subsequent changes made the number of priors eight, two for each quarter of the city. The magnates, or grandi, as they were called, might belong to the administration if they became members of a guild. This gave a powerful check to the popular tendencies which were already so far advanced. The nobility made no difficulty of entering the guilds; and before long two jealous classes stood face to face and threatened the destruction of the government, by corporations which the people had set up as a defence against the aristocracy.
The reform of 1293, when Guelfism was in the ascendant, was carried by Prior Giano della Bella, a respected popular tribune, who, with the consent of his colleagues, and of the higher magistracy, did the work very thoroughly. It was declared essential to everyone who desired to take part in the administration that he must really practice the art or craft of the guild he belonged to. This declaration was tantamount to an exclusion of the nobles, so tenacious of their dignity, from all civil offices. Stringent orders, called ‘Orders of Justice,’ were issued against the noble class, the execution of which was entrusted to a newly made officer, called the gonfalonier of justice, who, at his pleasure, could summon to his banner, the red cross on the white field, 1,000 or 2,000 of the popular militia. The office of gonfalonier, who, in conjunction with the priors, formed the Signoria, afterwards became the highest in the community. In 1306 the special application of the penal laws against the aristocrats was committed to the ‘esecutore degli ordini di giustizia,’ whose attributes resembled those of a Roman tribune. This new addition to the number of upper magistrates increased the evils arising from a conflict of jurisdiction, and, like the number and frequent changes of the larger council-boards, became a source of confusion and weakness in the State. The age of the gonfalonier was to be not less than forty-five, that of the prior thirty, the term of office two months. The elections to the new Signory were originally left to the retiring members, the president of the guilds, and a number of deputies, summoned from different parts of the town by the priors. But electoral practices were subject to change according to the pleasure of the ruling faction. At the time when the fortune of the family which deprived the city of its freedom was at the highest the whole business of the elections was a mere pretext, as only the names of supporters found their way into the bag, while the drawing by lot depended on commissaries chosen from among the adherents of the actual chief of the State. The Signory held its sittings in the beginning, and for some time after, in the convent (Badia) opposite the palace of the Podestà. Later on, a magnificent palace was erected, worthy of the first magistracy of a large community, and with its prominent tower indicative of a stormy period replete with heroic deeds.
There was vested in the Signory the highest deliberative, legislative, and executive power, spite of many modifications and changes more or less illusory. In connexion with the Signory under the name of Colleges were the gonfaloniers of the militia companies, now sixteen in number, with the Captain of the People, and after 1312 a magistracy of twelve Buonuomini, without whom nothing of importance was decided. The projects of law finally went to the General Council. The exercise of authority thus came into the hands of the people who formed the great guilds—the fat people, as they were called—popolo grasso. In course of time, it is true, the latter had to share political power with the smaller guilds; but the nobility was shut out, as well as the common people who paid no taxes nor belonged to any guild. Citizens pronounced guilty of any civil or political offence (ammoniti) were excluded from the franchise and from office for life or for a certain period, as were also persons marked in the register as negligent in the payment of dues. This ostracism was a weapon of great power in the hands of the factions during the fourteenth century, by which they kept the road to office clear for their own followers. The Balia was another and effective means to the same end. When a signory or party dreaded any hostile influence they called the people together by means of a great bell. Assembled in the square in front of the palace, the signory came out to them on the tribune, or ringhiera and asked them if they would like to grant power to a certain number of citizens to change the laws and constitution. The square being surrounded by armed men a refusal of this request was not to be expected. The select few, invested thus with discretionary power, nominated a second group to the task of naming citizens eligible for office. The privileges of these accoppiatori, as they were called, sometimes lasted for years, so that freedom of election to the magistracy and other offices became illusory in respect to many citizens who were eligible. It will presently be seen what resulted, in the second half of the fourteenth century, from the abuse of the Ammonire and the Balia. When the citizens of Florence reformed their constitution they had a twofold object in view. They wanted first to have the chief power in their own hands, and secondly to prevent internal dissensions by a wide distribution of places among the citizens, which was to be effected by short terms of office and frequent changes. The first of these objects was attained, but the endeavour to accomplish the second was not successful. The rigour of the suspensive laws augmented the opposition of the class who suffered by them, and the Guelf faction shook the city to its very foundations. The quarrel of the Neri and Bianchi, made famous by the greatest poet of the Middle Ages, induced consequences that were fatal to the Liberal and popular party, and restored for a time the nobles to power. But again the lapse of a few years was sufficient to show their weakness. This brought disorder and violence into the town, and led to the recovery of political power by the citizen class at the very moment when the efforts of the Imperialists to reconquer their old position in Italy more than ever demanded strength in the popular element of the governing power.
THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY—RULE OF THE ALBIZZI—GIOVANNO D’AVERARDO DE’ MEDICI.
The sanguinary conflict of Campaldino was fought, in 1289, in the plain on the Arno which is overlooked by Poppi, the principal place in the Tuscan valley of the Casentino, where stood the stronghold of those Counts Guidi, who were the protectors of the Guelf cause when brought to its lowest ebb by the war of the Vespers. Two years after the battle, in 1291, Ardingo de’ Medici first sat among the Priors of Florence, and in 1296, when the office was still a new one, he was appointed Gonfalonier, as also was his brother Guccio three years later. Of the last-named there exists a memento, the oldest relating to the family, in the sarcophagus that once held his bones and was immured in the outer wall of the Baptistery. This antique, which is carved in relief with a representation of the chase in Calydon, was placed in the courtyard of the Medici palace, and bears on its modern cover the arms of the family, as well as those of the Guild of Woolstaplers, to which the Medici belonged. Thus, at the end of the thirteenth century we see members of the family in a position of respectable burghers in the enjoyment of civic honours.
Nothing remarkable is heard of them until the middle of the fourteenth century. They formed part, in their numerous branches, of the large family of the people who were increasing more and more their trade and manufactures, and shared on an equal footing in the government of their city.
In the second half of the century two of them became remarkable in different ways, Averardo, called Bicci, son of Salvestro, called Chiarissimo, and Salvestro, son of Alamanno, two cousins in the fourth degree. Of the first we shall speak presently. Salvestro played the chief part in a transaction that shed a lurid light on the history of Florence of that period, but which was the beginning of that influence which ended in the sole supremacy of the Medici.
The heroic age of Florence terminated with the first decade of the fourteenth century. The city, at the head of the Tuscan league, which bound together the Anjous and the Guelfs of Rome and Upper Italy, had manfully resisted Henry of Luxemburg, but succumbed to Louis of Bavaria and the Ghibellines, spite of the aid of foreign auxiliaries. At the same time the rulers from Naples, as well as the foreigners who were appointed to enforce established ordinances, were in a certain measure above the law, and in the exercise of arbitrary power. Fortune smiled on none of their undertakings, nor was the State guided to any better state of things by what the poet of the ‘Divine Comedy’ called ‘the new people and the sudden gains.’ Strength in arms began to decline, and an undue preponderance of material interests to prevail. No period of Florentine history is so poor in men distinguished by arms or policy as that which followed the repulse of Henry VII. Material interests even were not adequately protected. For although the springs of gain had yielded copiously, and still continued partially to flow, the cost of war and the taxes pressed with proportionate weight; and in the third decade of the century began the failures of the great banking houses, from which they did not recover for a long time, if they ever did completely. To this must be added distressing losses occasioned by inundations and epidemics. Confusion in the government, due on the one hand to the resentment of the aristocracy, on the other to the ill-feeling of the lower classes, brought matters at length to a crisis in 1342. A foreign adventurer, closely connected with the house of Anjou, Walter de Brienne, Count of Lecce and Duke of Athens, was enabled by the assistance of the lowest class of artisans, and some adherents of the nobler families, to make himself for a short time absolute master of Florence. The tyranny, indeed, was overthrown in the following year by a union of the upper and lower classes, who were not, however, long in falling out again, to the great detriment of the nobility. On the pretext of purging the Guelf party the system of Ammonirism—i.e. exclusion from public offices—was put in practice. It was directed against the decaying nobility on the one hand, and on the other against certain suspected persons in the lower classes. In this way, some thirty years after the expulsion of the Duke, the supreme power was vested in an oligarchy, at the head of which was the Captain of the Guelf faction. They had the whole machinery of government under their control, and were mainly supported by a few families of the wealthier burghers. Among these were the Albizzi, who, originally from Arezzo, having acquired great riches and a high position, stood first in the city of Florence.
Salvestro de’ Medici, who in 1370 had held the office of Gonfalonier, sought to put an end to the tyranny of party when he was again appointed Gonfalonier in the spring of 1378. The reigning faction, though mistrusting him, dared not oppose him, for fear of the multitude, who were in his favour. His attempt to diminish the authority of the Capitano and re-open the way to office to the excluded ones (Ammoniti) brought on a violent insurrection of the common people. This ‘tumulto dei ciompi,’ as it was called, placed Florence for a time under mob-rule, and would have degenerated into the wildest anarchy but for the energy of one poor man, Michele di Lando, the woolcomber, whom the infuriated populace had raised to the chief magistracy, and who, with remarkable instinct, steered the State safely through the storm which threatened its ruin. This state of things lasted three years, during which the all-powerful mob became the tool of designing men, who wreaked their vengeance on the party that had so lately been supreme. The latter, however, in their turn seized the opportunity when the better sort among the populace were disgusted with the tyranny of their fellows, and overthrew the mobocracy, setting up in its place a conservative government, formed of the Optimates, or better citizens, under the lead of the Albizzi. Salvestro de’ Medici, the original author of the revolt, contributed nothing to its suppression. It was, perhaps, beyond his power to do anything. He died in 1388, and the name of the Medici became identical with that of representatives of the interests of the people. Five years later, when the oppressions of the Albizzi had excited general discontent, an armed body of the people marched to the house of Vieri de’ Medici, and asked him to be their leader. He was of the same branch of the family as Salvestro, but he prudently declined the proposed honour, and appeased the revolters.
Averardo, styled Bicci, was the founder of the line that came to be talked of in the world. Little more is known of him than that in 1357 he was employed on behalf of the Republic in the Mugello. His grandfather, of the same name, was Gonfalonier in 1314, when Florence, to escape from the pressure of the Ghibellines, submitted to the Anjous. He was, it is said, the first of the family that amassed wealth by trade, and laid the basis of that prosperity which was a potent factor in the political transactions of his successors. The real splendour of the family, however, began with his son Giovanni d’Averardo, commonly called Giovanni di Bicci, who was born in 1360, and was in the bloom of manhood when the Albizzi held undisputed sway over Florence. The position of the Medici was a difficult one, for the favour they enjoyed among the people exposed them to the suspicion and dislike of the upper class. An attempt made in 1397 to restrict the power of Maso degli Albizzi, head of his family and of the State, ended in the exile and execution of the ringleaders, among whom were found some of the Medici. The prudence and foresight which Giovanni exhibited not only preserved his authority among his friends, but extorted respect from his opponents.
There were stirring times in Giovanni’s maturer years. The government of the conservative party was burdensome on the people and their friends, who were heavily taxed, but it was a successful government in the conduct of foreign affairs, and in the production of public works at home. Florence increased in political importance. The war against the Visconti of Milan, who were extending their power, and aiming at the establishment of a kingdom in Italy, was very costly and not always fortunate to the Guelf republic. Among the vicissitudes undergone by the latter was the defeat of their German champion, King Ruprecht of the Palatinate, whom they had summoned across the Alps. Nevertheless, the ultimate issue was favourable to Florence, which at this time enjoyed a brilliant and comparatively quiet existence. The death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, in 1402, relieved her of an enemy who had already set foot in Tuscany, and in 1406 she took possession of Pisa, which, weakened by centuries of war and internal commotion, surrendered after an heroic resistance. With varying fortune, Florence made war against Ladislaus, King of Naples, with whom expired in 1414 the male branch of that house of Anjou with whom she had once been so closely allied. She also extended her political influence to Umbria, took Cortona in 1411, and, ten years later, Livorno. With all this her trade and manufactures expanded and matured, increasing her resources and preparing her for other emergencies. The republic which had been the most steadfast friend of the Holy See, was in bitter dispute with it during the later period of the Avignon Papacy. Actively desirous for the restoration of ecclesiastical unity, Florence, in the midst of the great schism, witnessed in her newly acquired territory of Pisa an attempt to reunite the adherents of both Popes, the one at Avignon and the one at Rome. The attempt was a failure, and only added to the confusion by setting up a third Pope, but it gave occasion to the next General Council of Constance, which brought the rupture to a close in 1417.
Notwithstanding so large a military expenditure the wealth of the republic continued to flourish. There was a discrepancy, indeed, in the account of private wealth and public revenue. Two hundred thousand gold guilders were promised for Pisa, sixty thousand were paid to King Ladislaus for Cortona, and a hundred thousand to the Genoese for Livorno. In this way the balance of income and revenue was seriously disturbed. An attempt was made in 1411 to avoid the risks of large grants of money by increasing the number of courts that had to consider the projects of law laid before the Signory. In the fourteenth century was manifested the canker in the finances of Florence that was never quite eradicated. It is true the income of 1328 amounted to more than 300,000 gold guilders, while the regular expenditure was only 40,000, showing a surplus of more than 260,000. The sum was raised in great part by the excise or other indirect taxes, detailed statistical accounts of which still exist. This surplus was so far inadequate to meet the oppressive military expenditure, the pay of the Anjou and other leaders hired by the republic, the cost of fortifications, the purchase of new territory, and the outlay on public works, that by degrees a considerable State debt was contracted, which we hear of under the name of Monte Comune. The growth of this debt is made intelligible by the fact that in the twenty-nine years from 1377 to 1406, eleven and a half million guilders were spent in war, whilethe sojourn of Duke Charles of Calabria in the city, cost 900,000, and that of the Duke of Athens 400,000. In the wealth of families great changes had taken place. The fourteenth century exhibited remarkable peculiarities in the matter of private property. Shortly before the middle of the century, the insolvency of England had brought to the ground most of the Florentine bankers, some of them for ever. Immediately after that, famine and the Black Death produced a change, which was intensified by the measures taken against the families of those nobles and the ruling party who were hated or suspected. Most of the old families became poor, while a crowd of small folks grew into importance; and the haste to grow rich, infinitely greater than it was in the time of the author of the ‘Divine Comedy,’ whose admonishing voice we have heard, augmented the recklessness and corruption which greatly contributed to the great revolution of 1378. In spite of considerable fluctuation an aristocracy of wealth was formed consisting chiefly of members of the seven great guilds, in whose hands, after the close of the thirteenth century, lay the government of the State. The guilds of the money-changers and of the woolstaplers were the principal, for the first gave the law to all foreign banks, the last, to which smaller societies were subject, governed all foreign markets.
Giovanni di Bicci was one of those who knew how to avail himself skilfully of the favourable opportunities offered by the conclusion of peace at the beginning of the fifteenth century. At the time of the Council of Constance, which agitated the world to an unusual degree, all the great monetary affairs in which Italy was concerned passed through Giovanni’s hands. He is said to have gained enormous sums of money, which were increased when the acquisition of Livorno afforded an advantageous outlet to the commerce of Florence. The advantage would have been lasting, but for the war with Milan, which broke out a few years later, and caused grave troubles. If Giovanni gained much, he was generous with his gains. Where need was, he showed no stint, and for public works his contribution was always ready. Having promised a chapel and sacristy for San Lorenzo, when the enlargement of the whole church was taken in hand (1419) he prompted Filippo Brunelleschi to design a grand plan for its entire reconstruction, which was begun in 1421, and in which the Medici and seven other families took an especial interest. Giovanni, though he did not seek offices in the State, never refused any to which he was called. He conducted negotiations with Ladislaus, King of Naples, went to congratulate Alexander V. on his election as Pope by the Council of Pisa, and accompanied Martin V. when the latter, on his return from Constance, passed through Florence to Rome. Giovanni was elected to the office of Podestà in Pistoja, and in 1421 was chosen Gonfalonier in Florence. The choice was not quite agreeable to the ruling party, for popular traditions were associated with the name of Medici, and Giovanni stood so high in the favour of the multitude that he could, if he had wished, easily have stirred up an insurrection against the oligarchy. Niccolo Uzzano, a prudent and moderate man, who, after Maso degli Albizzi’s death in 1417, shared with Rinaldo the leadership of the conservative party, opposed the election of Giovanni, but did not push his opposition to extremes, for he saw there was a struggle coming on. Giovanni, on his side, made no attempt during his term of office at anything that would disturb the peace.
Ere long external causes placed the party in danger. The antagonism between Florence and Milan could not be removed by mere treaties of peace. Gian Galeazzo’s only remaining son, Filippo Maria, was treading in his father’s steps. He had not only recovered the dominion which, at his father’s death, fell to pieces, but had added Genoa to it. He now stretched out his hand to the Romagna, where he came into collision with the interests of Florence, for the small gentry of that province, hitherto in connection with the republic, were in danger of being subjected to the will of a powerful and ambitious neighbour. Out of this arose the war of 1423, which was far from being successful. As in earlier times, the Florentine forces in 1424 were unable to cope with the Milanese, whom they encountered, first in the Romagna and afterwards in their own territory. The fault lay not so much in the men and their officers as in the absurd system of directing the movement of troops by a committee of civilians, called the Board of War, seated at home. Rinaldo degli Albizzi succeeded in calming the agitation of the people after the severe defeat of Zagonara on July 24th, but the damage done to his party only increased the ascendancy of Giovanni di Bicci. At the beginning of the war he had advised that the Duke of Milan should not be followed into the Romagna, but should be waited for on this side of the Apennines, but his advice was overruled.
In the beginning of 1426 Florence succeeded in forming an alliance with Venice, which, though a rival in mercantile interests, was as sensitive about the encroachments of Milan in the north as was the sister republic about his encroachments in the centre of the peninsula. The lords of Ferrara, Mantua, and others joined the alliance. The disasters of the war and increase of expenditure gave rise to much dissatisfaction, more loudly expressed among the higher than by the lower classes, the fear of whom led the administration to press their fiscal measures most heavily on the richer citizens. Rinaldo degli Albizzi thought to effect a change by weakening the democratic element in the Council. At a meeting of the heads of his party in the Church of Sto. Stefano, near the old bridge, he proposed that the number of lesser guilds should be reduced one half, and the votes of the smaller citizens diminished correspondingly. Changes in the relative numbers of the guilds had always been the means employed by either party for securing political preponderance; for the relative position of the parties was not strong enough to make manœuvres of this kind superfluous. Besides the twenty-one guilds, there was a number of smaller corporations representing branches of the different trades. No less than twenty-five such societies were the offspring of the largest of the guilds, that of the woolstaplers. They had their delegates too, but were dependent on the greater guilds, who represented them in the State. On one occasion, in 1300, the representatives of seventy-two companies, were gathered together in council. The Duke of Athens, who relied on the lower classes, made the smaller companies independent, and put their consuls on a level with the others, but this did not last. The same thing happened at the insurrection of 1378, but the members of the small companies were again unable to keep their independence long. The diminution of the small companies, proposed by Rinaldo degli Albizzi, was at this time a question of some delicacy. Nicolò da Uzzano remarked that before anything was proposed against the people it would be advisable to come to an understanding with their friends. On this Rinaldo conferred with Giovanni di Bicci, whom, of course, he found opposed to the innovation. Had he wished to see a new insurrection he might have agreed to the project, but his native prudence had increased with years. Anyhow, he reaped this advantage, that, as the matter could not remain secret, to him would be ascribed the merit of thwarting a scheme intended for the oppression of the lower classes. Ere long they had to face another great undertaking.
The distribution of the public burdens among individual contributors was for a long time connected with serious evils, that were the more conspicuous in proportion to the severity of the taxation. The scale was furnished by the estimo or assessment of real and personal property, which was in use as early as the eleventh century, and resembled the colletta that prevailed in the Two Sicilies after the time of King Roger. The tax-system of Florence, where Neapolitan rulers had often exercised power, bore the mark of Southern Italy. At the time of its fullest application, when the Anjou Viceroys were supreme the estimo attached to land, capital and personal income. It extended from the city to the country, where its operation was regulated in districts. The framework underwent frequent revisions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, particularly in the latter, when the example of Naples increased the rigour of the fiscal authorities and gave rise to frequent complaints and petitions for a reform of the taxation. The arbitrium was often called into play before 1346, when the Government of the Duke of Athens ordered a register of all estates. The estimo was the standard on which the public loans were based. These, with the excise and other indirect taxes—which, in the palmy days of commerce, were very productive—served to cover the public expenditure. Loans were made in the first half of the thirteenth century, and before its close the taille was introduced by the Viceroy of Anjou for the maintenance of the French and other mercenaries. There were two methods of raising a loan. By the first, the treasurers of the commune made an agreement with one or more of the great banking-houses, who, on an assignment of the custom duties to them, advanced the money and distributed the loan among their customers and friends. By the second method, the government itself announced the loan and allotted it to the citizens according to their income, as recorded on the estimo, the security being in this case also the customs duties for a certain definite period. Instead of a percentage the contributors received a monopoly of salt, with the privilege of selling it to the retail dealers at an enhanced price.
As the necessities of the State increased, other sources of revenue were looked for. In 1343 the hearth or fire tax was adopted (fumanti or focatico). Before that attempts had been made to tax the clergy. In the war against Mastino della Scala, Lord of Verona, which ended in 1339, the loans amounted to 350,000 gold guilders, and exceeded the annual revenue from the excise by 50,000 guilders. The accumulation of the debt after the expulsion of the Duke of Athens necessitated the continuance of the monte comune, already mentioned, for the administration of the public debt. In the previous century, when payment of the debt due to the citizens became impossible, a ‘great book’ was opened, which in the course of forty years was superseded. During the war of 1325, against Castruccio Castracane, resort was had to similar means for raising money, and the Republic, being unable to pay the debt without borrowing again, established the monte comune. The interest paid was at the rate of five per cent., though at other times it reached as high as twenty-five.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century the taxation was continually rising, and in the war with King Ladislaus the whole of the income registered on the estimo was charged with a tax of five per cent. for three years. Nonpayment of the tax was punished by exclusion from office. The defaulter’s name was entered in a register called the ‘looking-glass’ (specchio), whence the expression netto di specchio applied to a man eligible for office. According to a regulation of 1421 no man was so eligible unless he, his father, or grandfather, had been regular in paying his taxes for thirty years.
Of course there were manifold murmurs at these extraordinary proceedings. The real evil, however, and cause of discontent was not only the high rate of taxation, but its arbitrary and partial distribution. When the partition of the burdens was made an arm of offence against which the citizens rose to defend themselves by violence it was necessary to find some other basis, if the State economy were to be preserved from ruin. The regulation of the cadastre in 1427 had a twofold object in view, namely, first to raise the public income by putting together the property tax, the income tax, and the interest on the national debt (paghe or luoghi di monte); secondly, to make the distribution of the imposts independent of personal and political opinions. This financial reform, which changed nothing in the nature of the tax, but only established a better partition of it, was not a new thing. At bottom it was but a complement of theestimo, and the expression catasto for census, from accatastare, to pile together, was used in Florence a century earlier. That it was brought forward with a view to adjust more equally the incidence of taxation may be gathered from the preamble of the ordinance of May 22, 1427: ‘It is hard to express in speech or writing how much the citizens have suffered in their goods and their liberty by the inequality of the public burdens. They have been robbed and driven to desperation. How many, who would gladly have returned to their homes, have been kept back in doubt and uncertainty, exposed to all the ills that flow therefrom.’
A commission of ten members was appointed to make within the year a register of property. Arranged methodically, it was to specify the various families in each quarter of the town, the name and age of the several members of the family, the estimated value of each one’s property, real and personal, in town and country, and in foreign parts. In the estimate were reckoned the domestic animals of value, merchandise, ready cash, money in the funds, and all good debts. The rent of houses was specified, and in the case of land cultivated by the owner the average crop was taken. The mezzeria, or lands let out to farm, were valued according
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