Firenze - The Art of War
last update: 27 June 2021
Reading through these webpages about Firenze one is tempted to think of the city and its population as being single minded in its support of the arts.
The House of Medici with their Palazzo Pitti, the Signoria, Florentine families such as Bardi, Strozzi, Tornabuoni, etc. constantly appear in the history books, but what role did they play, and were they really that important? And what of the Popes, or the cities Rome, Venice, Milan, Genoa, Naples, or the French, and what about the constant competition with Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and the other Tuscan city states?
This webpage will try to rapidly outline a little bit of the history of Firenze, at least with respect to the evolution of the Renaissance through to the appointment of Alessandro de’ Medici as hereditary monarch in 1532, which would be followed by the death of the Republic (1569). The reality is that the arts will almost certainly not be mentioned, except the art of war.
One of the biggest challenges in pulling together this webpage was the complex power structure that ruled Florence (someone called it the "institutional geometry" of the Florentine Republic). We have "Statuti cittadini, Statuti della comunità autonome e soggette, dai Capitoli, gli atti dei Consigli", then the "Signoria" and the "Balìe", and finally the more "recent" institutions of the "Dieci di balìa, Otto di pratica, Nove conservatori di ordinanza e milizia". Then you have the roles of different officials such as the "Podestà", "dei Priori", the magistrates, "rettori forestieri, vicari imperiali, i Consigli cittadini, il Consiglio del Capitano del Popolo, il Consiglio del Podestà, Consiglio del Popolo, Consiglio del Comune, del Priorato, Consigli Cittadini e Capitano del Popolo". And not forgetting the "Consiglio del Cento" which is there somewhere, as should be the "Camera delle Communità". And did I mention the "Capitani di Parte Guelfa", "Ufficiali di Torre", "Officiali dei Fiumi", or the "Signori delle Gabelle, dei Beni dei Ribelli, delle Mulina, del Mare, ponte e vie di Firenze"?
I will try to explain some of this "institutional geometry" as we discover Florence, but I've also included a description of some specific institutions at the end of this webpage.
Another major difficulty in following the "famous" people through several centuries of Florentine history is the problem of names. Taking just one outline of the genealogy of the Medici family (decidedly incomplete at that), there were 72 Francesco's, 19 Filippo's, 16 Averardo's, 23 Giuliano's, 27 Pietro's, 32 Lorenzo's, and 33 Cosimo's.
There is so much written on Florence, its institutions, its personalities, its battles with almost everyone else in Italy, etc. that it's impossible to add anything substantial to that story. This webpage is just my own way of pulling some of that information together, with a focus on the bits that I didn't know, and often ignoring the bits I already knew.
We have to start somewhere, so let's start with…
Count Francesco Sforza
In 1412 Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447), with the help of Beatrice Lascaris di Tenda (ca. 1372-1418), who provided him with territories, four thousand gold ducats and her hand, became Duke of Milan. It was Visconti's father, Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351-1402), that initiated the construction of the "Duomo di Milano" in 1386 (the original 83 room Himeji Castle in Japan had already been completed by then).
Filippo Maria married Beatrice despite the fact that she was twenty years his elder (he was 19 years old when his brother died). Maybe the dowry of nearly half a million florins and huge tracts of land had something to do with his decision. Over time Filippo Maria "grew averse" to Beatrice, possibly because she was an intelligent and powerful figure in her own right. As many had done before, Filippo Maria accused her of adultery. Under torture he obtained admissions of guilt from a troubadour called Michele Orombelli, and testimonies from two of the duchesses handmaidens, but not from Beatrice herself. The admissions were enough to condemn her, and she was beheaded in 1418 (along with Orombelli). The more "normal" treatment for a woman found guilty of adultery at that time was whipping, head shaving, and parading through the streets before her enclosure in a monastery. It must be said that by the 16th century the Italians had adopted the Spanish "point of honour" and a husband would have felt obliged to punish his wife's adultery with death.
You can already see the differences between different sources, one mentions half a million florins whereas another source mentions just four thousand gold ducats. Both contained the same quality of gold (3.5 grams), but ducats were from Venice and florins from Florence (see the florin below).
Filippo Maria governed during a perpetual war with the "Lega Antiviscontea" (Venice, Florence, Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Holy See), and demonstrated political skill and military wisdom. In 1431, when the Duke was already preparing for another war with Venice, he called on the help of the condottiero Count Francesco Sforza (1401-1466), promising him his illegitimate daughter Bianca Maria Visconti (1425-1468), born of Agnese del Maino (Francesco and Bianca are seen below).
The war with Venice was rekindled and would last until 1433, when through the intervention of Niccolò III d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara, a definitive peace followed. Filippo Maria was certainly a cunning and cruel tyrant, but he would make Milan the dominant power in Northern Italy. He worked to recover the Lombard portion of his farther's Duchy, however he was not able to reconquer all the lands in central Italy.
The first contract between Visconti and Sforza dates from 1425, and was for a duration of 16 months. The first problem was that Visconti already had in his pay the condottieri Niccolò Piccinino (1386-1444), Guido Torelli (1379-1449) and Angelo della Pergola (1375-1428), and to make it worse he then decided to nominate the condottiero Carlo I Malatesta (1368-1429) as supreme commander. Malatesta not only failed to command the four, he also failed to command their subordinates. The results were predicable, starting with the defeat at the Battle of Maclodio (1427), where 10,000 of Visconti's men were taken prisoner. Sforza fell out of favour and was confined to his quarters in Mortara. Fortunately he regained his status, and in 1431 was placed in command of the Milanese troops. Some texts mention that Sforza had regained his status with the "conquest of Lucca", but this appears an oversimplification. In 1429 it was Florence that besieged Lucca, and Sforza was sent when Lucca asked the Duchy of Milan for help. Sforza forced Florence to retreat, but was then bought off, so that Florence could once again besiege Lucca in 1430. This time the Lucchesi asked Milan again for help, but a treaty was in place between Milan and Florence, so Milan asked Genoa to help, and they sent 6,000 men under Niccolò Piccinino.
In 1431 the conflict Milan-Venice was re-lit and this time Sforza, and it was then that he was given the command of the Milanese troops. There was a certain condottiero called Francesco Bussone (ca. 1382-1432), dit Carmagnola. He had a very successful career with Visconti, was richly rewarded, and was made governor of Genoa. Carmagnola was not happy and turned to the Venetians, where he was made Captain-General in 1426. It was Carmagnola that had been successful at the Battle of Maclodio (1427). It would appear that Sforza had the better of him, and Visconti declared Sforza his adoptive son, granted him several fiefs, and promised him his natural daughter (who happened to be only 6 years old at the time). The marriage contract was decided, but then forgotten for 9 years. Later Sforza would find himself on the side of Florence and Venice (in that anti-Visconti league), when he was again offered the hand of Bianca Maria Visconti. A new marriage contract was prepared in 1438, and it allowed Sforza to continue with Florence, provided he did not fight against Milan. Despite all this, in 1439 Sforza then went ahead and accepted to head the anti-Visconti league. Trying the break up this alliance Visconti offered his daughter to each and everyone, including (again) Sforza. This time Sforza accepted (again), took Cremona and Pontremoli as dowery, and finally married the girl in October 1441. By 1444 they would find themselves under siege by Piccinino in Fermo, and Sforza would be pledging his wardrobe and Bianca Maria the silverware, to pay their soldiers. She would also give birth to the first of nine children, Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1444-1476), where Galeazzo was the name of her grandfather. Later we would find Visconti surrounded by enemies both beyond his walls, and by foreign ambassadors inside his court, all waiting for him to die. In the summer of 1447 he called back the feared Sforza and made him governor of the city provided he took over the defence of the state against the Serenissima. Sforza and his wife were back in Milan in August 1447, but missed Visconti's funeral.
In August 1447, with the death of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, the people rejected any hereditary succession and decided that Milan should become a Republic. Parts of the old Duchy decided against joining the Republic, with Lodi and Piacenza surrendering to the Venetians, and Pavia and Parma deciding to remain free. Sforza was asked to continue to command the forces of the new Milan Republic. Milan gave him Brescia, until he was able to recover Verona, whereupon he would then keep Verona and give Brescia back to Milan.
With the unexpected death of Filippo Visconti, who had no male heir, Milan was thrown into confusion by the speed with which claimants to his title acted. The day before his death he had bequeathed the Duchy to Alfonso V of Aragon (1396-1458). The Milanese population is said to have supported Alfonso and Francesco Sforza, the Duke's son-in-law by marriage to his illegitimate daughter, Bianca Maria Visconti. However some influential citizens, supported by the local learned bodies, painted the days of the old republic as a golden age. Merchants, seeing the prosperity of the Venetian Republic, supported the idea. The "Republicans" stirred the populace against Alfonso, and a republic was declared. In many texts it is called the Golden Ambrosian Republic, but in reality the documents of the time actually only mention "Libertas". The name Ambrosian came from Saint Ambrose, the much venerated 4th century Bishop of Milan.
The idea of a republic did not suit the powers in North Italy, who had been fighting Visconti for decades (Venice was still at war with Milan). For Milan the loss of Lodi, Piacenza, Pavia and Parma meant both a loss of defensive locations and a drop in revenue (new taxes had to be imposed to compensate for the loss). One problem was that the new republican legislature was superimposed onto the institutions already in place, and the tax registers had been burned which meant the republic had to start again with an increase in taxes. Because of all this, Venice sat back and did not accept an offer of peace. Finally the city offered the post of "supreme general of all troops, both on foot and on horse" to Francesco Sforza.
Before his death Visconti had been considering participating in a vast five-year peace treaty mediated by Pope Nicholas (1397-1455). Despite his death, Milan was inclined to accept the treaty, but Venice refused since they expected Milan to surrender to them. Florence could not help Milan because they were involved in a war in Tuscany against Alfonso I, King of Naples (1396-1458). In this particular battle King Alfonso had 15,000 men, and Florence had 5,000 horses and 2,000 men. The last thing Florence needed was a long war. It is mentioned that the Florentine army suffered from a lack of wine, which was not made in the region of the battle (it was hot and the water was bad). On the other hand King Alfonso was supplied by his fleet of ships, but was still not able to conclude a decisive action. He suggested that he would accept 50,000 florins and the possession of a town called Piombino. But Florence refused and took Piombino under its protection. King Alfonso finally withdrew leaving behind him 2,000 dead, and nothing won.
With the death of Filippo Visconti the Venetians and other sovereigns laid claim to the territories of the Duchy of Milan, e.g. France, Germany, Spain and indirectly, Switzerland and England, all made claims, and each tried to impose itself on the others. This period from 1447 through to the Treaty of Lodi in 1454, is often called the Milanese War of Succession (part of the protracted "Guerra di Lombardia" that ran from 1423 through to 1454). Venice, Florence, Milan, the Kingdom of Naples, the Duchy of Savoy, and the Papal States, would all be weaken by useless wars, but all remained strong enough to preserve their autonomy. In the end, they were prepared to live with a policy of equilibrium, an approach sponsored and idealised by Florence and Venice as the only possible salvation for all. Here below we have the boundaries after the Treaty of Lodi.
At the time Francesco Sforza did not miss the opportunity, first to rise to a position of prestige, then to eliminating his powerful rivals, and finally "to transform the sword into a sceptre". Pavia may have declared itself independent, but in September 1447 Sforza entered the city and received the keys. This conquest was important because the city held huge reserves of salt, wheat and food as well as a large store of weapons, and thus became an important base for the war. Francesco Sforza then recovered Piacenza, preventing it being "rescued" by the Venetians. Parma yielded to the Sforza without resistance, and Como, Alessandria and Novara joined the Ambrosian Republic.
There is an interesting analysis of the character of Francesco Sforza as seen through the eyes of The Prince written by Machiavelli. Sforza is seen as a private citizen who rose to be Duke of Milan, and who preserved his power through prowess. Machiavelli used Sforza as example of how to avoid a lose-lose situation when rulers hire mercenary troops. If the commanders are not skilled, then they simply lose battles at the ruler's expense. If mercenary commanders possess prowess, then they will look to overthrow the ruler and claim power for themselves. Rulers themselves must possess military prowess, for a ruler who does not protect his people cannot expect their loyalty in return. Machiavelli felt that rulers must always prepare for the inevitability of war, and in times of peace they should always prepare for war. Rulers fail because they do not guard against the unpredictability of fortune, they misguidedly place their hopes solely in their people, and they do not enhance their own prowess. To survive, a ruler must be agile and learn to carefully assess the "character of his era". Machiavelli clearly thought Sforza was an example of a ruler who was a skilled leader who made use of both fortune and prowess.
The first thing Sforza did was persuade Pavia's ruling condottiero to relinquish power, and Milan was forced to allow Sforza to keep the city along with the title of Count. Sforza promised the Pavesi no new taxes, respect for the old laws, payment of the officials he retained, and the repair of the city bridges and walls. The amazing thing is that he kept these promises. We should not forget that Pavia was almost a second capital to Milan, so it gave Sforza a strong seat of power. With Piacenza he used cannon to breach the walls, and then they took 50 days to completely sacked the city. On the other hand Milan lost to Venice both Tortona and their condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni. Winning Piacenza was much to the enjoyment of the Milanese, but they were just as happy to see Venice take Tortona, because many people feared Sforza as much as they feared Venice.
Enter the condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475), who initially was in the service of the Venetian Republic. With the peace of 1441 between Milan and Venice, Colleoni joined Milan. However he felt less than well treated, was in jail for a while, and returned to Venice, where he was asked to prepare a campaign against Milan. We will learn more about our condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni later on this webpage.
As was usual during these wars, the winter was quiet and spring would see the renewal of hostilities. Venice and Milan took to the field in 1448, with Milan wanting to take back Lodi and then make a treaty with Venice. As a first step Milan decided to attack Caravaggio, and Venice decided to attack Milan from all sides. Venice lost 11,000 horses and were left with less than 1,000 (Colleoni escaped). Milan then decided to attack Brescia, and Venice asked Florence for help. They sent 1,000 men and 2,000 horses, and this enabled the Venetians to treat for peace.
In Milan, as in all the central and northern Italian city-states of the time there were two dominant fractions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs supported the Pope in Rome and the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Empire. The Guelphs, in power at that time, did not like Sforza's growing power, and they looked for peace with Venice. But the Ghibellines agitated against this, the plans were dropped, and Sforza was given the go-ahead to continue the war against Venice. They instructed him to besiege Lodi, but at the same time the Venice fleet attacked Cremona, the fief of Sforza. Bianca Maria Visconti, his wife, was there and it is said she donned armour and defended the walls until Sforza arrived to relieve the city (someone said she was "nothing as a woman, but an excellent captain"). The Venetian fleet withdrew, and whilst waiting for the Venetian army, Sforza attacked, again using artillery, and destroyed or captures all seventy ships of the Venetian fleet. Milan celebrated, but the elders now feared Sforza even more, so they sent him back into the battlefield. Ultimately Sforza's Milanese forces and the Venetian army would met at Caravaggio. Sforza was again successful, so Milan sent him back to Lodi, however behind the scenes his enemies were plotting against him. They convinced Milan to work secretly against Sforza. Rumours were spread to the troops about not being paid. Sforza was ordered back from the siege of Brescia, the city he had been promised, and the citizens there were told to hold out until a treaty was signed. Sforza learned of this, and simply defected to the Venetians for 13,000 ducats and the promise of the Duchy of Milan. Despite the treaty being signed, public opinion in Milan was pro-Sforza. Mob violence ruled in the street, and fines and confiscations were used to try to solve Milan's financial problems. The idea of the Milan Republic was starting to crumbled. A Ghibelline conspiracy was discovered and the Guelphs massacred the leaders, putting their heads on pikes in the city centre.
The victory at Caravaggio consolidated the position of Francesco Sforza, and he went on to take Lodi, occupy Bergamo and Brescia and, having crossed the Oglio river, he conquered a succession of castles and citadels in the plain. The Milanese regents, well aware of Sforza's aspirations for the Duchy, started to negotiate peace with Venice. Sforza, who was political shrewd, managed to prevent this by revealing his true intentions without delay, and he undertook secret negotiations with the Serenissima. The Venetians thought to play on the worries of the Milanese, and they decided to treat for peace with Sforza, offering him help to become Duke of Milan. In fact they hoped that the Milanese would not accept Sforza and would then become easy pray. So Venice agreed to give Sforza 4,000 horses and 3,000 men, plus 13,000 florins per month until he became Duke of Milan. He agreed to return to Venice the cities they had lost, i.e. the lands of Bergamo, Brescia and the cities of Crema and Fara Gera d'Adda.
The defence of Milan was entrusted to Carlo Gonzaga (died 1456), who also had plans of his own to take over the city. Sforza's troops occupy Abbiate Grasso and besieged Milan, and at the same time he sent ambassadors to Florence and Lionello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara, asking for cash aid. Alessandria, Novara and other cities of Piedmont (including Borgomanero) open their doors to Sforza.
This new contract with Venice had brought Bartolomeo Colleoni back to the side of Sforza. Colleoni was sent to Parma with 2,000 horses and 500 foot soldiers. The city already under siege decided to submit, accepting the Sforza lordship. Tortona and its territory followed the same fate. Monza was also besieged, but the intervention of Carlo Gonzaga thwarted the plan to conquer this city.
However, as this was happening, Maria di Savoia (1411-1469), widow of Filippo Maria Visconti, spoke with her brother Ludovico I, Duke of Savoy (1413-1465). The result was the first Savoyard expeditions against Francesco Sforza, the invasion of Lomellina and the attempt to conquer Novara. The army was commanded by a courtier who, although a favourite of Ludovico, has little familiarity with weapons, he was John of Compeys, Lord of Torrens. With a thousand horses he tried in vain to occupy Novara. The plan failed due to the strenuous defence organised by Guido d'Ascesi and Luca Schiavo, Sforza commanders who save the city with only two hundred men. The retreat of the Savoyards did not prevent them from plundering various cities which, out of fear, opened their doors to the army.
Naturally the Milanese were not happy to see Sforza now receiving support from the Venetians. So Sforza and Milan faced off for a battle. Clearly Sforza had the upper hand and therefore Milan asked Venice for help against him. The Venetians replied that they could not help because they had an engagement with Sforza, but they could see that Sforza's victory seemed certain. Given that they preferred a weak Milan Republic to a Sforza Duchy, they went behind Sforza's back and signed a peace treaty with Milan. They then declared their treaty with Milan, pulled out their forces from Sforza, and called them back to Venice. Sforza was left only Pavia, Cremona, and Piacenza. Milan rejoiced, and returned to their old way of life, despite the fact that Sforza was close the city. Sforza sent his ambassadors to Venice to discuss terms, made a truce with Milan for one month, but secretly he decided to continue his attack. And after reinforcing his peace with Savoy and conceding a few unimportant castles, he went on to defeat the Venetians, and continue his siege of Milan.
Around the capital Sforza controlled or destroyed all the bridges, diverted the canals, and offered the gallows to anyone infiltrating provisions into the city. The government of city proposed to accept an agreement with Venice, but they were run out of office and the city surrendered to Sforza. It was finally agreed that Sforza must reside in the city 8 months per year, and upon his death, the city must pass to his wife or direct heirs (see his triumphant entry above). They say that Sforza had conquered Milan "with a thousand worries", but he "kept it with little effort". Venice and Milan would finally conclude a peace with the Treaty of Lodi in April 1454, which, with a stroke of genius, would become the basis for the "Lega Italica" (August 1454), an international agreement between Venice, Milan, Florence, Naples, and the Papal States, which would last 40 years.
It would be a mistake to think of Count Francesco Sforza as just a condottiero, lucky or otherwise. He was an able negotiator, and good at creating consensus across a broad spectrum of political and social actors. Sforza adopted Filarete's book "Trattoto di Architecttonico" as a basis for his ideal city, Sforzinda. It was never built, but it shows that he understood the need for a conscious city plan to overcome the congestion and, of course, promote his own centralised power. However, at a more practical level his presence provided a sense of political and financial security that attracted artisans and workers back in to the city. Sforza continued the agricultural and productive transformation introduced by Visconti. He push the cultivation of the mulberry for the production of silk, and Milan rapidly became known for its velvets, silks, tapestries and brocades. The region was already known for working iron for military (shields, armour, harnesses, helmets, swords, etc.) and civil use (nails and needles). The system of channels was improved to better deliver raw materials to the presses, forges and machines, and carry away the merchandise. The region was rich in game and fish, in timber and cereals, and millet, rye, beans and wine were offered at very accessible prices, although salt remained heavily taxed. The city was also open to banks providing cash for small and medium-sized enterprises. Some have concluded that Sforza did much, but was quickly forgotten because he lacked, what would be called today, the art of self-promotion.
Let's just focus for a moment on one thing that Sforza left, and which has remained at the centre of our modern civilisation. In 1456 he founded the first great European hospital, the "Ospedale Maggiore", conceived as a place of care and not only as a hospice for the incurables. For the first time Sforza claimed as a state function the assistance and care hitherto completely delegated to religious institutions. Along with this hospital he also had created what was called the "Mortuorum Libri", the first daily registration of demographic data along with cause of death. This development was driven by the worry of recurrent plague epidemics. The idea was to rapidly detect suspicious cases of plague or violent death, to have information about the deceased's social ties, and to be able to quickly close affected homes and transfer the sick to a kind of "lazzaretto", a quarantine station. The registration worked for cause of death, and for specific sickness, without distinction of sex, class, or age, and included foreigners and travellers. An analysis showed that they really acquired accurate and meticulous personal data and information on social ties, so that they could follow the evolution of contagion. The Mortuorum Libri covered 450 years, and was all in manuscript, and normally was only accessible to health officers of the day.
This is a miniature attributed to Giovanni Pietro Birago, and it depicts Sforza shaking hands with Caesar and Hannibal, while flanked by Fabius, Scipio, and Pompey on the left and Epaminondas and Theristocles on the right (the ninth figure is unknown). This is considered to be a variation of the Nine Worthies motif, i.e. personifying the ideals of chivalry.
Whist this webpage has its focus on Florence, possible the most impressive single individual was Count Francesco Sforza (1401-1466), certain the equal of any individual member of the Medici clan. There is a substantial amount of information on the Web, so below I've just added a few less obvious references that a reader might wish to peruse at leisure:-
WM. Pollard Urquhart, "Life and Times of Francesco Sforza" dating from 1852, it includes also a sketch of the history of Italy
Francesca M. Vaglienti, "Milano e gli Sforza", a short but complete overview
Jan Black, "The emergence of the Duchy of Milan: language and the territorial state" on how a new territory was created
Maria Nadia Covini, "Le difficoltà politiche e finanziarie degli ultimi anni di dominio" on the political and institutional crisis around the death of Filippo Maria Visconti
Elia Biganzoli, et.al., "The Milano Sforza Registers" on the Mortorum Libri of Milan
Nadia Covini, "Tra cure domestiche, sentimenti e politica - La corrispondenza di Bianca Maria Visconti, Duchessa di Milano (1450-1468)" gives an insight into the domestic life of Francesco Sforza and his family
Juliana Hill Cotton, "Benedetto Reguardati of Nursia (1389-1469)" is about the life of a "miles et physicus" (military-medical) practitioner who treated Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria.
Sara Jocamien van Dijk, "Beauty Adorns Virtue - dress in portraits of women by Leonardo da Vinci" is a dissertation that focuses on dress as seen in Milanese portraits.
The life of the condottiero
Let us for a moment stop and follow the life of a condottiero, and our example will be Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475) as seen above. He was born in 1395, in Solza, a small village near Bergamo (although later it would appear that he claimed to have been born in 1400, a jubilee year or an "Anno Santo"). The family belonged to local nobility and they could trace their ancestors back to the 11th century. Already in the 12th century they were active in public office, well established with the church in Bergamo, and had acquired huge real estate assets. Acts of sale and exchange of land clearly show the family had a privileged relationship with the church, and equally in 1224 the family was granted a legal fief by Frederick II. The lands occupied a strategic position thus giving the family increased political importance. Bartolomeo's father was one of the group of brothers and cousins that seized the castle of Trezzo sull'Adda, making it a base for raids in the surrounding territories. For a number of years it operated like a small independent state facing off again Milan. It would appear that Bartolomeo's father might have been killed in a family feud. In any case the family lost the castle of Trezzo in 1417, but obtained honourable conditions and a considerable sum of money.
At the age of 14, Bartolomeo is said to have started his military career as a squire to condottiero Filippo Arcelli (1375-1421), Lord of Piacenza (there is an inconsistency because Arcelli only took Piacenza in 1414). In 1424 Bartolomeo is recorded as in command of 20 knights under the service of Jacopo Caldora (1369-1439), who had been a capitano di ventura and later a condottiero (the first being a free company of mercenaries whereas a condottiero was "under contract" to a Lord or city). At that time Caldora was condottiero to Giovanna II di Napoli (1371-1435) and in 1424 was nominated "gran connestabile" (captain of the royal guard). Bartolomeo fought with Caldora in the Guerra dell'Aquila (1423), and between 1428 and 1430, always under Caldora, he fought at the siege of Bologna on behalf of Pope Martin V (1369-1431). It must be said that Caldera was Duke of Bari, Marchese di …, Conte di …, Barone di … and Signore (Lord) of … (58 different towns and villages), besides still being gran connestabile of the Kingdom of Naples. In 1431 Bartolomeo was lieutenant to the condottiero Francesco Bussone (ca. 1382-1432), on the side of the Republic of Venice against Milan. Caldera was with the condottiero Guglielmo Cavalcabò in an unsuccessful attack on Cremona, and it was claimed that Bussone arrived late "because he wanted to arrive late". It cost Bussone his head but Bartolomeo Colleoni was praised, given the command of eighty additional soldiers, and granted the fiefdom of Bottanuco. Our Bartolomeo felt that he was not fully appreciated by the Venetian Senate, but also it must be said that he was not always on the side of the victorious in the battles between Milan and Venice. In 1433 during a period of calm he married Tisbe Martinengo, of a noble Bresciano family and daughter of the commander of the Venetian army. This was the alliance of two families, and the Martinengo's were both rich and politically powerful.
When the war resumed between Venice and Milan, Bartolomeo was under the command of Ginafrancesco I Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantova (1407-1444). Gonzaga would soon defect to Milan, but Bartolomeo would not be the one to benefit from this. Venice would then recruited the condottiero Erasmo Stafano da Narni (1370-1443), previous of Florence and the Holy See, as governor of the army. With the Peace of Cavriana in 1441, the contract of Bartolomeo Colleoni ended, and he decided to pass to Milan. He was offered a castle, the command of 1500 lancers and his wife also received a castle and jewellery. Bartolomeo now became deputy to Niccolò Piccinino (1386-1444), but their relationship was tumultuous. His period started badly when he was sent to collect taxes but was forced to withdraw after only three days. In 1446 he was accused of conniving with the enemy and imprisoned for one year. In 1447, with the death of Filippo Maria Visconti, Bartolomeo passed to the Ambrosian Republic under the orders of Francesco Sforza.
There followed three important victories, in 1447 Bosco Marengo against the French troops of the Charles, Duke of Orléans, and then in 1449 Romagnano Sesia and Borgomanero which lead to a truce between the Milan and the Duchy of Savoy. It was Bartolomeo Colleoni's forces that defeated the French at Bosco Marengo, killing 1500, capturing 300 French knights and 400 infantry, and above all capturing Renaud du Dresnay, who was later ransomed back. Bartolomeo also returned Tortona to Milan, which upset Sforza who considered it one of his fiefs. Bartolomeo quickly left Milan and passed into the service of Venice. Due to poor preparation Venice was severely defeated at Caravaggio in 1448. However Bartolomeo managed to escape, and later he would register several notable successes for Venice, and at the same time amass enormous wealth. However, due to the intrigues of Gentile da Leonessa (1408-1453), the governor of the Venetian army, Sforza was later forced to escape and take refuge back with Francesco Sforza. But his wife had always maintained contacts with Venice, so upon the death of Gentile da Leonessa he was able again to sign a new contract Venice. Naturally Milan spoke of ingratitude, for Bartolomeo had been stripped of everything by Venice, and Milan had "put him back on horseback". As you might expect Venice had to pay a high price to attract Bartolomeo back to them. It was 100,000 ducats, the promise of Como, Lodi and Fara Gera d'Adda, if captured, and the post of governor of the Venetian army when it became free. Bartolomeo Colleoni claimed that he always respected the letter of his contracts, but the accusations of treason were not totally unfounded.
And just at this moment there was the Treaty of Lodi (1454), which forced Bartolomeo into a period of rest. Francesco Sforza died in March 1466, but the succession to Galeazzo Sforza (1444-1476) was peaceful. At the time the succession of Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici (1389-1464) in Florence was not received positively by all. Anti-Medicean exiles were not happy with Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici (1472-1503) and turned to Bartolomeo Colleoni. He was enthusiastic, but Venice refused to commission such an action, and so the anti-Medicean's turned to Galeazzo Sforza in Milan and Ferdinando I of Naples (1423-1494).
Bartolomeo Colleoni, on behalf of Venice, was involved in the battle of Riccardina (1467), one of the most important battles of 15th century Italy. In 1467 Venice, Ferrara, Pesaro, with some renegade families from Florence, faced off against Florence, Milan, Bologna and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The conclusion was that neither side won, but more importantly for the first time Colleoni employed artillery and firearms. This caused a great scandal at the time because their use was considered barbarian and malignant. Pope Paul II concluded a peace between the parties in 1468.
We have to remember the first depiction of a cannon appeared in the West in 1326, the word "hand gun" appeared in European texts in 1373, and the Culverin was first mentioned in 1410. It was in 1431 that European cannon projectiles transitioned from stone to iron, and in 1453 two wheel gun carts known as limbers appeared. The Culverin was a very rudimentary type of cannon, which fired round shot projectiles through a smoothbore tube. There is also mention of a kind of large crossbow (balestra) used to throw large stones or "verrettone" (a kind of metal spike that started to replace the arrow). The innovation here was that possibly for the first time they were mobile. Generally they were moved on wagons and the unloading on to the ground, but here they were mounted on wheels.
It would be a mistake to consider the condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni a simple mercenary, since he was lord of 12 different towns and villages in and around Bergamo. Taken seriously, this required a considerable civil commitment. He founded an institution to provide gifts for the poor and for legitimate girls born in the region, so that they all could look forward to legitimate marriages. The institution received property, housing, water rights, as well as 2,000 ducats per year, and still exists today. He also initiated a water-management and irrigation program, initially on his lands and later on the Bergamo plain. He also restructured the thermal baths of Trescore Balneario, and in his village of choice he built a church and two convents.
When our Bartolomeo started to approach death, he disbanded his troops, in part because Venice had stopped paying them. His resignation was rejected and Venice gave him three supervisors to control his assets, which included substantial real estate and an enormous 300,000 ducats in cash. Once dead, Venice recovered all his feudal concessions. It is said that he represented the end of an era. Condottieri would become governors, and war was to be an occasional event. They would recruit troops, but no longer command them.
Battle of Borgomanero
Often in discussing the Ambrosian Republic, the Battle of Bosco Marengo (11 October 1447) and the Battle of Caravaggio (15 September 1448) are mentioned. In the first battle it was the condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni who, on behalf of Milan, defeated the forces of Charles I, Duke of Orléans. In the second battle it was Francesco Sforza who would defeat the Venetian army, before then joining them to conquer Milan and finally establish himself as Duke.
However we will use the "minor" Battle of Borgomanero as an example of a conflict of the period. Borgomanero lies in the centre of the province of Novara, between two rivers, the Sesia and the Ticino. It had almost always been a "frontier province" between Milan and Turin, but at the time it was almost certainly part of the Ambrosian Republic. In 1449 Borgomanero would be the site of a battle between the forces of Francesco Sforza (led by Bartolomeo Colleoni) against the forces of Ludovico I, Duke of Savoy (1413-1465).
Borgomanero represented the ideal stronghold, enabling forces to entrench themselves and await the onslaught of the enemy. The location was strategic, and Bartolomeo Colleoni wanted the battle to take place there. As far as I can tell its strategic value was in the fact that Borgomanero was surrounded by a plain that was defined by hilly offshoots of the local mountain chains. Between the hills flowed the Agogna stream that ran past the wall of the town. The nearby hills provided small strongholds and observation points over the plain, and the rich vegetation and vineyards offered shelter for ambush.
Above we have a section of an engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger of a so-called "push of pike", when two opposing columns of pikemen (particularly Swiss mercenaries or German Landsknechte) lock positions. This situation occurred a number of times during the Italian Wars.
We are still in an era where militias and mercenaries had their origins in the Crusades (militias were civilians called to fight, whereas mercenaries were full-time and paid to fight). At the time mercenaries were often well trained, disciplined, experienced in fighting, and well equipped. They employed pole weapons up to about six meters long such as halberds, pikes, partisans, spears and short weapons such as maces, axes and swords of various lengths, as well as spikes and daggers. By this time the first artillery (ca. 1437), hand cannon (ca. 1338) and hand bombard (ca. 1390) had appeared.
As an independent mercenary force, they were called "compagnie di ventura" (companies of fortune), and they used tactics designed to give them an advantage without excessive bloodshed. Infantry adopted the phalanx which gave rise to the "compagnie", i.e. squares of twenty men on each side, which when brought together formed a regiment. These units were organised as squares or rectangles, with light infantry on the sides, and with cavalry usually in tight spear-like formations.
The Italian military leaders, the condottieri, greatly modify this technique. The "Scuola Braccesca" were smaller groups, more manoeuvrable and agile. On the contrary, the "Sforza School", prescribed compact, invulnerable but rigid moves.
At Borgomanero Francesco Sforza's army numbered about two thousand five hundred men, including infantry and knights, with the backbone formed by the men of Bartolomeo Colleoni. By then this company were fewer in number, but battle hardened.
The Savoyard troops were led by Jacques de Challand who had as his commanders Gaspare de Varax, the Lord of Montillers, and the Lord of Lornay. Their forces were made up of about six thousand men, with two thousand five hundred knights. They were almost exclusively "hommes d'armes", so men on horseback with heavy armour, according to the old custom.
The Savoyard army had already lost against Bartolomeo Colleoni, and it is claimed that they were out to "suck Bartholomew's blood". They had reorganised themselves, received reinforcements, and now, under the command of Jacques de Challand, marched on Milan. The next step was to conquer Borgomanero, which they hoped would provoke a general uprising of the Guelph parties.
The Savoyard army, stopped on the right bank of the Sesia to briefly organise its forces before preparing the attack on Borgomanero (they were about 10-15 kilometres away). Bartolomeo Colleoni, with most of the men, was engaged in the siege of Carpignano Sesia, on the left bank of the Sesia (and about 23 km from Borgomanero). Once informed of the presence of the Savoyard army Bartolomeo ordered his infantry and wagons to Borgomanero, and with his men he crosses the river and arrived at Gattinara at night (about 15 kilometres from Borgomanero).
Interestingly Gattinara, also sitting next to the Sesia, was on the boarder line between Vercelli and Novara, and it is for this reason that Vercelli decided to build a strong castle there between 1185 and 1187. In 1242 a new village initially called Borgo della Pieve was built, but it then became Gattinara when the old village was transferred there. It then lost its feudal ties and being a free village gave itself an independent government with statutes approved by Vercelli, and later confirmed when it became part of the Duchy of Savoy. In 1242 it was the Podestà of Vercelli who was charged with the city's new town projects. These projects were largely in reply to the founding of new towns by Novara. In fact Borgomanero was founded between 1193-94 by the Podestà Giacomo Maineri.
The deception was in place. Abandoning the siege of Carpignano suggested that Bartolomeo Colleoni wanted to save his troops from an unequal confrontation. He left observers on his route, experts soldiers who artfully let themselves be captured in order to provide false news. Jacques de Challand fell into the trap, thinking that Bartolomeo was on the run. Even the brief stop at Gattinara was made to suggest that he was trying to reunite with the Sforza's army. Jacques de Challand planned to stop Colleoni, and was comforted in his plan by the prisoners he has taken. He was certain that Colleoni would follow a route along a narrow road flanked by hills, so he left a squadron of crossbowmen, well hidden among the vegetation, with the task of surprising the enemy avant-gardes.
Bartolomeo Colleoni cavalry and infantry arrive at Borgomanero. He closed the gates, sets out his battle plan, and informed the local population of his plans. Units were placed in an arc around the Borgomanero basin. He then sent five squadrons of crossbowmen to a hill overlooking the river, with the task of surprising the French at the critical moment of crossing the river. The news provided by the explorers who retreated under the pressure of the enemy's advance, allowed Colleoni to assess the situation and make predictions about the start of the attack.
The French avant-gardes (a battalion of cavalrymen and three infantry companies) made contact with Colleoni's crossbowmen stationed to defend the river. The first problem emerge, the French were numerous, slow, but as a continuous flow, and Colleoni's crossbowmen killed many but could not stop the forces of Jacques de Challand taking the road to Borgomanero. A counter-attack by Colleoni's reserve forces also failed. Now Colleoni launched a pincer attack with his main forces on the French that had forded the river. The French formed a defensive formation, building palisades with the supports taken from the local vines (author - excellent local wines in Gattinara and Ghemme). The attack worked, the French suffered heavy losses and were pinned down. The palisades were attacked from one side by lancers and on the other by infantry and crossbow men.
The French decide to retreat across the river, but they were attacked by Colleoni's cavalry. However the reaction of the French archers was just as effective, and it resulted in violent hand-to-hand fighting. Closing into defence instead of facing the fight in the open field was perhaps the decisive mistake committed by the Savoyard leader. Some of Colleoni's men started to get under the fence and began to unhinge it with clubs and poles, opening gaps. At the most critical moment of the action on the palisades, a cry from the opposite side was heard to lift the spirits of the fighters, «Sforza!». This was the signal for the charge led by Colleoni's cavalry. This cry was echoed by that of «Colleoni» which arose spontaneously in everyone, while the commander without delay threw himself into the fray.
The melee now involved thousands of fighters and Colleoni emerged victorious.
The French were on the run. Some headed towards the hills, and, thanks to the vineyards and the incipient darkness, managed to disappear. Others, exhausted by the struggle, were captured. Among the prisoners were the principle leaders.
There are conflicting versions concerning the extent of the losses suffered by the French and Colleoni's troops. The French claimed that they lost twelve dead, many wounded, more than two hundred taken prisoner and two hundred horses lost, against sixty dead and many wounded on side of Sforza. Other authors reported a thousand prisoners among the Savoyards, two thousand French deaths, and much lower Italian losses.
The victory at Borgomanero was so impressive that it extinguished forever any desire for conquest by the Duke of Savoy and attracted to Francesco Sforza many of those still loyal to the Ambrosian Republic. In fact Ludovico signed a truce which was converted into a definitive peace, leaving the borders between the Duchy of Milan and the Duchy of Savoy unchanged on the River Sesia. The borders remained in place until the 18th century, although crossed by various foreign armies during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Francesco Sforza continued his relentless siege against Milan until he forced the citizens to surrender and recognise him as their Lord (25 February, 1450). Thus started the Lordship of the Sforza family.
According to various historians, it was the Battle of Borgomanero that made the name of Bartolomeo Colleoni da Bergamo famous throughout Italy and Europe for it was his third victory over the French soldiers, and he was consecrated as a resolute and terrible leader according to European war customs. In fact shortly after the victory, on May 20, 1449, the Venetian Republic confirmed Bartolomeo Colleoni as its captain and, after the peace of Lodi, supreme commander of the Venetian army, thus he reached the apex of his career.
We have mentioned here Bosco Marengo (1447), Caravaggio (1448), and Borgomanero (1449), which were part of the Milanese War of Succession, but we tend to forget that around the world there were numerous on-going wars. Albania was at war with both Turkey (Albanian-Turkish Wars between 1432-1479) and Venice (Albanian-Venetian War between 1447-1448). The Portuguese (1449) were having their own war of succession, and the Spanish were looking forward to recovering Granada, and bringing to a successful conclusion the Reconquista. The Hundred Years' War was just coming to an end in 1453, and the English were getting ready to embark on the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487).
And what of Florence?
Florence had more or less sat on the sidelines during the conflicts between Milan and Francesco Sforza (1401-1466), but now Sforza asked his friend (see above) Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici (1389-1464) for help. Cosimo supported the Count, but key people in Florence thought that a peace which kept Milan and Sforza separate would be best. They did not want to see Sforza as head of a powerful state, and they did not want Milan to fall into the hand of the Venetians. It was finally decided to help Sforza if it looked like he could become Duke of Milan. But Sforza did not wait and advanced to Milan at the end of the truce. In fact the Milanese had been in a really poor situation (famine, deaths, public disturbances) and were hoping for relief from the Venetians. The Venetians were camped nearby but kept Milan in necessity hoping that the city would finally have to submit to them. After a major public revolt in the city it was finally decided to invite Sforza to take ownership of Milan in 1450.
Florence had already sent envoys, so they were able to immediately discuss an alliance. Florence had problems with Aragon (Alfonso I, King of Naples) and Venice, so we see Milan and Florence verses Venice and Alfonso I. Tricky, since Florence and Venice already had a treaty, and Florence and King Alfonso I also had a peace treaty. The Signoria (more on those in a while) appointed Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici to talk with the Venetian ambassador. War was almost inevitable.
Florence became the “birthplace” of the Renaissance
Let us first look at how Florence became the “birthplace” of the Renaissance and the “cradle” of modern Western Civilisation. When we look beyond the idealised portraits of elegant figures in the paintings they commissioned, we find a world not of order, proportion, and moderation, but one replete with conflicts. Conflicts both within the elite class and between them and “il popolo”. Early on the popolo were the artisans and labouring classes, whose exertions and skills produced the material culture that ranged from prized textiles to the polished stone found in rich men’s homes. The artisans created the guild-republic and challenged the elite to justify its power within a normative framework of law and political ethics. And equally it was the artisans who challenged the popolo to allow the guild-republic to grow and prosper. In the course of their tense interactions, all three classes underwent major transformations, but none more so than the great families who experienced several metamorphoses over four centuries. Florence’s history and culture evolved through these conflicts and class antagonisms, through what Machiavelli called (in the preface to his Florentine Histories) the “divisioni” that he believed common to all republics but which he saw as especially complex in Florence.
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We will encounter the word "popolo" often, so it best to have a decent definition readily available, "The popolo was a diverse coalition of urban Italians organised by neighbourhood, profession and parish that arose during the 13th and 14th centuries to challenge an older, military elite for access to political power, to contain elite violence in the cities, and to develop public power extensively and intensively". In many ways the "popolo" was a pressure group instituted to protect the interests of the commoners, who were actually wealthy merchants and businessmen, against the nobility or elite who up to then had exclusive control of comune governments. The "popolo" was organised either on a territorial basis (by quartiers or districts), or on a corporative basis by guilds, and in Florence both option coexisted. The "popolo" gradually developed its own officials, who paralleled those of the elite in the comune. In the mid-13th century the office of "Capitano del Popolo" (Captain of the People) became prominent. This official was charged with leading the military forces of the "popolo" and ensuring justice to injured members. The equivalent officer of the comune was the Podestà, who was usually from a different city. The effective leaders of the "popolo" were the local representatives, the "anziani" or "elders", sometime known as "priori" (priors). In Florence, between 1250 and 1260, the "popolo" controlled the government, in a regime known as "il Primo Popolo", and later after seizing power again in 1282, it became firmly established. By the beginning of the 14th century, its "priors", chosen from among guild members, formed the supreme executive of the comune. Writers of the time called the wealthy middle class merchants and businessmen "popolo grasso" (fat people), the "popolo minuto" (small or common people) were the lower-middle class of small merchants and owners of small shops, who were denied directly participation in government. The definition could also include the wage-earning proletariat, who were the most economically deprived group.
The word "popolo" certain would have included the rural non-elites as well, and the word "popolani" just meant working population. "Contado" meant rural territory or countryside, so you could find expressions such as "popolani del contado".
In numerous texts the "elite" is often defined as "magnates" so as to include landowners and warlords, such as counts, earls, dukes, etc. I have tended to keep the word elite for simplicity reasons. In addition, we will often encounter the word "Signoria" which has two senses. Firstly "signorie" were early-modern lordships, and second the "Signoria" means government by those lordships, with "signoria" often used to mean "lordly power" in opposition to the "commune" or city republic. In Florence the "Signoria" was the highest executive body, and at times was also known as the "Priori".
From the perspective of divisions and conflicts, Florence was not unique, other Italian city-republics from Padua and Bologna to Siena, Perugia, and even Rome experienced similar problems. Florence thus shared with the rest of communal Italy a development that had no precedent in European history. In the 13th century cities of northern and central Italy, the popolo, organised themselves in guilds and neighbourhood military associations. They were imbued with notions of citizenship and the common good absorbed from ancient Rome, and they launched the first politically effective and ideologically sustained challenge to the elite. A challenge that succeeded, not in displacing the elite, but in transforming it. In Florence this challenge lasted longer and had a deeper effect than elsewhere. Indeed, for the first time, a European “nobility” radically revised its politics, culture, and social attitudes in response to constant pressure from another class. Their dialogue of power shaped Florence’s republican experience, and chroniclers, humanists, poets, and political theorists wrote endlessly about politics, competition for power, and the role of government. What was important was that they tried to develop an approach to politics from two different perspectives. Firstly, through an understanding of collective interests and antagonisms involving economic and fiscal issues, public order, and the law. And secondly, through an intense awareness of family solidarities, factional loyalties, ties of clientage and patronage, and marriage alliances. All these different aspects impacted the emergence of an autonomous republic with its internal political conflicts and growing territorial dominions. The wars and crises of the early 16th century would result in a new principate under imperial tutelage, that in turn would again refashion Florentine society and culture.
In the early 13th century great families dominated the city centre as a warrior class with their towers and fortified enclaves, but the popolo was already constructing the associations that would later produced the guild-republic. By the 14th century, Florence was a triangular struggle between an elite that had discovered a new identity as international merchants and bankers, the guild-based popolo, and the working classes, mainly in the huge textile industry. It was the Ciompi Revolt (1378–1382) that frighten the popolo into cooperating in regimes led by an elite that styled itself as a civic and patriarchal aristocracy. For the next century, elite regimes, including the unofficial rule of the Medici family, dominated Florentine politics and culture. The Medici increasingly represented the kind of princely order (some said “tyranny”) that had ended communal government in other Italian cities. In fact the Medici eventually alienated much of the very elite from which they emerged, and finally they were exiled and replaced by a broadly based republic in 1494. For the next forty tumultuous years, Florence was again the scene of a triangular conflict, this time among popular republicans, elite families with their own brand of aristocratic republicanism, and the Medici. The last and most radically popular of all Florentine republics, that of 1527–30, frightened the elite in much the same way as the participation of the working classes in government had frightened the popolo 150 years earlier. Finally Florence abandoned the republic and accepted, however reluctantly, the Medici principate they had resisted for decades. Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537) was the first Duke of the Florence Republic from 1532, and the second Duke, Cosimo I de' Medici (1519-1574), also became the first Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1537.
From at least the early 13th century Florence’s history was dominated by an intense and longer-lasting competition between two distinct but overlapping political cultures and classes. On one side, an elite of powerful, wealthy families of international bankers, traders, and landowners organised as agnatic lineages, i.e. determined by the lineage of the farther. On the other side, a larger community of economically more modest local merchants, artisans, and professional groups organised in trading guilds ("arti") and called the popolo. The early commune was an association of self-selected citizens from mostly elite families, but in the early and mid-13th century, the popolo began to challenge the elite and recast the commune in its own image.
Florentines typically called the powerful families the “grandi,” which did not mean “great”, was not really a “nobility” or an “aristocracy”, but was a kind of “elite”. A better title was "delle torri" meaning the noble families that owned towers. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote at the height of Florentine economic power and demographic expansion, and in the aftermath of one of the greatest explosions of violence perpetrated by elite factions. He fashioning the myth of an earlier, simpler, more tranquil Florence in order to highlight the corruption and devastation that great wealth and political rivalries had inflicted on the city. The reality was that the once great families of the mid-12th century, in less than a century, had been consigned to oblivion by economic growth and political turbulence.
Florence the economic giant of Europe
The new elite, formed in the middle of the 13th century, made Florence the economic giant of Europe and dominated the life of the republic for more than two centuries. The 13th century was thus a crucial time of consolidation for these emerging families and for the institutions and practices that made them resilient and durable. Above all this meant following the agnatic lineages, or patrilineal descent groups, that allowed wealthy families to preserve and share material resources and thus encouraged cooperation among kin. Agnatic lineages were communities of kinsmen descended from a common paternal ancestor. In practice they were also limited to the males of the patriline, i.e. the sons, nephews, grandsons, great-grandsons and so on of an ancestor recognised as having established the family’s wealth and status. In the city they did not live together, but they might live near one another, sometimes in contiguous houses. Nor were lineages associations with legal standing or a formal constitution. The most direct manifestation of the concept of family represented by the agnatic lineage was inheritance, normally limited to male heirs in the male line. Cognatic kin (blood relatives on one’s mother’s side) and affinal kin (relatives through marriage) were excluded from inheritance. Women were considered members of their fathers’ lineages and were not legally barred from inheriting, in fact there were men without sons who bequeathed property to daughters. But most elite Florentines feared that property left to daughters would eventually find its way into the patrimonies of the families into which these daughters married, most obviously through their sons who belonged to their fathers’ lineages. In lieu of a share of inheritance, daughters were instead provided with often quite substantial dowries that were essential to negotiating a prestigious marriage. Although entrusted to a woman’s husband for the lifetime of the marriage, the dowry remained her property and could be reclaimed when her husband died.
On the point of dowries, one problem was that dowry amounts soared in the 1400's, and many girls of elite lineage never married. In some cases elite families were simply not able to afford the dowries need to ensure good marriages for multiple daughters. Other fathers avoided paying ruinous amounts to dower a daughter who had a spiritual calling or little chance of making a good marriage for one reason or another. In Florence there were an increasing number of convents, and families could arrange to settle a daughter in a convent with a small monastic dowry and make subsequent payments over time for her support. This avoided many forms of social embarrassment for the families, and becoming virginal nuns praying for their city became an "honourable" alternative.
Some of the convents took young girls, even daughters of prostitutes, and taught them to read, write, weave, sew, and embroider. After they finished the days work for the convent, they were allowed to embroider items for outside customers, and even accumulate a modest dowry to help them later find a husband. In some cities the girls were allowed to participate in an occasional procession so that they might be seen by unmarried men.
A second feature of elite inheritance practices was partible inheritance. Primogeniture was not practiced in Florence, and fathers divided their estates in equal shares among all sons (except those who joined the church). In the case of the large urban residences ("palazzi") and towers that every elite family possessed, and which were crucial to its prestige and political presence, the equally inherited shares also remained undivided joint property, which meant that no one was allowed to alienate his share without a collective decision of the co-owners. These customs reveal the central purpose of the agnatic lineage, to accumulate resources, manage them jointly, and prevent the fragmentation and dispersal of property. Pooling resources within the lineage also made upper-class families more visible to friends, neighbours, and rivals, and it forced the family to be more conscious of their collective interests, ambitions, and memories.
Not all inherited wealth was necessarily constituted by fractions of jointly owned property, but for palaces and towers it was a common arrangement meant to enhance the status of kinsmen who otherwise would each have had less power than they all enjoyed as members of the lineage. Elite families began to use surnames as a sign of status. Some evolved from the given name of the lineage’s founder, others from the localities in the surrounding countryside (the contado) from which families typically emerged. For example, in the 14th century 62 families owned more than 73 buildings and towers in the centre of Florence, including the Bardi, Buondelmonti, Frescobaldi, Medici, Pazzi, Pitti, Strozzi, Uberti, etc. But by the mid-14th century some families had so many branches that they could not continue the original strategy of accumulating joint property. In the 13th century surnames distinguished the elite from the non-elite. However by 1342 there were 116 adults sharing the name Bardi, even if the banking group was owned and controlled by a much small group. By the 15th century there were 1,200 different family names in Florence. Oddly, the elite maintained a deep interest in their origins and ancestors, but often there were few or no records dating back to before 1244, and everything depended upon records built from memory. The reality was that many families wanted to appear old, but many were of fairly recent origin.
In earlier days the elite prided themselves on their physical strength and prowess in combat, i.e. "combattitore" meant something. By the mid-1300's the great Florentine families were no longer a warrior aristocracy, and their pride in military deeds was entirely a matter of nostalgia. But many of the families liked to trace their origins back to the 12th century, and they counted in their ranks many knights. It was a formal title, originally bestowed by imperial authority, but also created by city-states who would have expected military service from their knights. At that time, knights were trained in mounted combat, provided their own horses and armour, and formed a cavalry in the communal army. By the 14th century, knights would hire replacements. In fact the Florentine elite were never a professional warrior class, since it was incompatible with the more prosaic business careers as merchants or bankers. However, they remained dedicated to the visible military symbolism, since it was a way to put a cultural and ritual distance between themselves and the popolo. We have to remember that over time the elite and the popolo both became merchants and in many cases members of the same guilds, so they needed their visible military symbolism to mark the distinction between classes. On top of that it fostered a certain courtly ethos that linked the elites of both the North and the Neapolitan kingdom of the South.
The elite's preoccupation with knighthood and courtly rituals was viewed with suspicion and hostility by the popolo. The earliest extant version of the murder in 1216 of Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonti is an example. It has a distinct anti-aristocratic perspective on the elite's predilection for courtly rituals and violence. The story starts with all the city's knightly aristocracy being invited to a celebration outside Florence. There was a buffoon, who, as buffoons do, snatched up the plate of a certain Uberti degli Infangati, who became intensely angry. Oddo Arrighi dei Fifanti berated Infangati for his anger, who then called Arrighi a liar. Arrighi picked up a plate of food and shoved it in Infangati's face, so not what was expected of the "best people". The entire celebration started to fight, weapons appeared, as would normally happened with "loutish peasants". Buondelmonte de' Buondelmonti, who had no part in the original argument, wounded Oddo Arrighi in the arm.
Remember that elite families were allied to other elite families through marriage alliances. And marriage was also the preferred solution to resolve many types of conflicts, including this one. So it was decide that Buondelmonte would marry Arrighi's niece (naturally the niece was not consulted). However, the wife of another elite family played on the proud Buondelmonte's insecurity, called him a "shamed knight" for being obliged to enter into the marriage. She told Buondelmonte that he has brought shame on himself by agreeing to marry out of fear of the Uberti and Fifanti. She urges him to renounce and marry instead her own daughter. Buondelmonte agreed without thinking and without discussing it with the elders (so with the devil's connivance they said). He broke the cardinal sin of elite lineage, he did not get advice and support from his family. The next day at the wedding he did not turn up, and instead went to pledge his engagement to the Donati woman. The insult to the Oddo Arrighi was like a declaration of war. He called his elders, and advice varied from a beating to a wounding on the face, but some suggested that Buondelmonte must be killed. It was thought that his family would not react because they too had been angered and insulted by Buondelmonte when he acted unilaterally. Some weeks later, on the day of his planned engagement, Buondelmonte was knocked from his horse by Schiatta degli Uberti and killed by Oddo Arrighi himself.
Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amidei
This is the mythical account that ignited the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines, the conflict that dominated Florence and Italian history for the entire 13th century (and more). The account is part parody and part exaggeration of everything that Florence and its elite represented, each act aimed to contain the violence and resolve the conflict, only led to more violent conflict.
Far less mythical was the Battle of Montaperti fought in 1260 between Florence and Siena as part of the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. It is said to have been the bloodiest battle fought in medieval Italy, with more than 10,000 fatalities. It started when the Guelph league of 30,000 men camped a short distance from Siena. After an attack by German-Sienese knights, Florence decamped and turned its attention to two traditional allies of Siena, Montalcino and Montepulciano. A few months later Florence turned up again in front of Siena with 30,000 infantry and 3,000 horsemen. Siena knew that the Ghibellines had infiltrated the ranks of the Guelphs. They decided to double the pay of the German knights, and they came out to battle with 18,000 infantry and 1,800 horsemen. The Ghibelline army was four division, and one division of 3,800 men and 200 knights circumvented the Guelphs, and a division of about 4,000 men and 200 knights sat in reserve. The attack of the two remaining divisions of Ghibellines was unsuccessful. Late afternoon a small attack was again made on the Guelphs, thin time accompanied by shouting "San Giorgio". This was a signal to the Ghibellines who had infiltrated the ranks of the Guelphs. Bocca degli Abati launched forward and cut off the hand of the Florentine standard bearer. Banners were of fundamental importance because they showed where the commanders were, and helped distinguish between allies and enemies (often dressed in the same colours). Hundreds of Florentine Ghibellines attacked their fellow citizens at the same time as the Sienese attacked again. The Florentine captain was killed, which marked the beginning of the rout of the Florentine Guelphs. Legend has it that the Guelph camp was sacked and 9,000 horses were taken along with 9,000 oxen and pack animals. It was said that 10,000 Guelphs were killed, 15,000 taken prisoner, against 600 dead and 400 wounded on the side of the Ghibellines.
As a result everyone in Siena was excommunicated, and many Guelphs then refused to pay their debts contracted with Sienese merchants. By 1269 the Guelphs would regain the region, as Siena and the Ghibellines suffered defeat after defeat.
The truth is that in the Florentine context, the terms Guelph and Ghibelline appeared respectively in 1239 and 1242, in the anonymous Annales Fiorentini (probably written between 1242 and 1244) to designate the Florentine and Tuscan parties in conflict. Outside Florence, the first mentions of the two names are found in Arezzo and Borgo Santo Sepolcro (1249). Whilst the expression "Guelph and Ghibelline" is found very regularly in modern-day texts, the reality is that it was rarely used in the Middle Ages.
According to Wikipedia, the Guelphs and Ghibellines were the two opposing factions in Italian politics from the 12th century until the birth of the Signoria in the 14th century. The origins of the names date back to the struggle for the imperial crown after the death of Emperor Henry V (1081-1125). It was a struggle between the Bavarian and Saxon families of the Welfen (pronounced velfen, hence the word Guelph) and the Swabian family of the Hohenstaufen, lords of the castle of Waiblingen (formerly Wibeling, hence the word Ghibelline). Subsequently, since the Swabian family, with Frederick I Hohenstaufen, tried to consolidate its power in the Kingdom of Italy, this political struggle came to designate those who supported the empire (Ghibellines) and those who opposed it and supported the Papacy (Guelphs). There is no evidence that names Ghibellines and Guelphs were used by the Bavarian and Saxon families, so they are purely Italian expressions to define those who sided with the Pope, and those who didn't. It would appear that only after the Battle of Benevento in 1266 that the two terms started to be used outside Tuscany.
I did find a more convincing description of the conflict that emerged between those supporting the Pope and those supporting the Holy Roman Empire. The reality was that Italy witnessed mounting opposition between Emperors and Popes during the whole of the 12th and 13th centuries. The northern states banded together in the Lombard League (1167-1250), and the focus switched to the South after the “Sicilian Vespers” uprising (1282). The Guelphs and the Ghibellines, were nothing more than the names for two fluctuating alliances, who fought these wars.
Neatly resolving some political and institutional issues, the creation of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was a masterstroke. However, this new union invited power struggles, and tensions were quick to show. The Hohenstaufen dynasty in Germany came to power in 1138 with the Emperor Conrad III (1094-1152) determined to avoid a repeat of the humiliations visited on his predecessor, Henry IV (1050-1106). In 1155 Pope Adrian IV (ca. 1100-1159) made Frederick I (“Barbarossa”) Emperor (1122-1190). After several incursions into northern Italy, he chose representatives from the region for an assembly, the Diet of Roncaglia (1158).
In Italy prominent cities like Piacenza, Milan, Padua, Venice, and Bologna were trying to extract themselves from the intrusive local bishops. They found an ally in the Pope, since the bishops were appointed by the Emperor, not by Rome. Frederick I served notice of the callous way with which he intended to rule when he launched an invasion, seizing Crema in 1159 and Milan in 1162. When Frederick’s men played football with severed heads at Crema, the people responded by slaying captured soldiers. Pope Alexander III (1100-1181) was outraged, and sent out the army of the Commune of Rome, but it was severely mauled at the Battle of Monte Porzio in 1167. Thwarted, the Pope gave his support to the cities when they formed a defensive alliance, the Lombard League. In 1174 Frederick’s forces swept over the Alps again, besieging Alessandria. It's people fought frantically, and even when the imperial sappers dug their way beneath the city walls, they were beaten back. The siege finally ended and the Lombard League was victorious.
Peace negotiations began but broke down in 1176, so battle was joined again at Legnano. Frederick’s army had more than 4,000 armoured knights, whilst that of the Lombard League comprised mainly infantrymen. Their 1,000 or so knights were outnumbered, so when the imperial cavalry charged, they fled. However, the infantry had dug in behind the defences, forming a phalanx around the "carroccio" (a four-wheeled ox wagon around which militia would gather and fight). They presented long spears like pikes and stood firm, whilst behind, crossbowmen and archers wore down the enemy. The Lombard cavalry now regrouped, before charging back to defeat the Emperor.
Frederick I had to endure the humiliation of signing the Peace of Venice (1177), a treaty with the Lombard League that had been brokered by the Pope, but tension between the two sides continued. The situation was made worse by the fact that some Italian people supported the Holy Roman Empire. The cities and landowners in central Italy were more worried about the Papacy’s interference in their affairs than about any encroachments by the Emperor from the North. This group came together as the “Ghibellines”, whilst the papal party christened themselves the “Guelphs” (from the Hohenstaufen opposition). Conflict between the two factions continued for the rest of the 12th century and well into the 13th.
Between the end of the 12th century and the middle of the 13th century, two parties formed in almost all the municipalities which, while acknowledging the original Germanic dynastic disputes, modelled themselves on the Italian and municipal reality. Now, in Italy, since the Pope sided with the Guelph families, this became the party of the Pope, likewise, the Ghibellines, having lost the contrary dynastic colouring, simply became the Imperial party. Nor is that a full explanation, because of the complex articulation of the factions within the municipalities it ended up generating political formations in each city that were often linked to multi-family and patronage factions, rather than an religious dispute.
Italian history is full of bitter disputes between nominally Guelph (the former) and Ghibelline (the latter) factions, e.g. in Florence (1216) between Fifanti and Uberti and between Buomdelmonti and Amidei. In Pisa between Bergolini and Raspanti, in Genova (1241) between Rampini and Mascherati, in Modena between Aigoni and Gualandelli (1188), in Bologna between Geremei and Lambertazzi, and in Verona between Cappelletti and Montecchi. However, the reality was that these nominal Guelph and Ghibelline affiliations alone cannot really explain the family feuds. In fact most of these families counted more than 100 family affiliations. Thus it happened that adherents to the same party were still divided by opposing family feuds, and this greatly complicated the civil and political life of most cities. At any given time one or other group of families were expelled from their cities. They sought hospitality and support in other cities and looked to take revenge in arms against the other side. The affiliation to one or other party could be bent or distorted to justify the choices of a ruling party and give them an ideological veneer. But at the same time the affiliations could be ignored in constructing alliances motivated by any number of specific needs. There's plenty of evidence that even within the same family, joining one side or the other was not definitive, but it was more about using a particular affiliation to justify a particular action. One recently analysis simply noted that by the 14th century being a Guelph or Ghibelline was nothing more than a tradition and meant nothing in terms of ideology.
"Il Buon Tempo Antico"
Firstly we must understand that the Republic of Florence originated in 1115. Local tradition is that Florence was just a few huts serving as a shelter and resting-place for the Etruscan traders from the hill-town of Fiesole, who destined for markets further south crossed the Arno where a bridge existed from time immemorial. However, the earliest medieval annals of Florence celebrated its (alleged) founding by Julius Caesar. It was said that from a Roman fortress it had grown into a market town, before been destroyed by the Ostrogoths, and then later rebuilt by Charlemagne. Florence was privileged because of it location on the Via Cassia from Northern Italy to Rome. Under the Carolingian dynasty (founded 613) Tuscany became a margraviate and was later ruled by Matilda of Tuscany (ca. 1046-1115). Already she was at the forefront of the conflict between secular and spiritual power, and she would become an important pillar of the Reform Church. Later her remains were taken to Rome where she was the first woman to be buried in Saint Peter's Basilica. After her death, the so-called "boni homines" (good men) continued to rule and administer the judiciary, but in the name of the people. This is thought to have been the embryo of the "commune" and the beginning of the Republic of Florence as a state entity. These early accounts all emphasised the victories of Florence over its neighbours. The successes were attributed to Florence's "nobility and greatness", and her failures to "God's judgements" on her sins. The dark side of Florence's successes was it prevalence for civic dissension and fractional war.
As one story goes, there once existed in Lombardy a religious order called Humiliati (Umilianti) who were banished to Germany by Henry II (973-1024) in 1014 (or alternatively taken prisoner by Henry V). In any case they learned the local art of weaving wool, which was an improvement over methods found in Italy. In Germany they formed a lay community, and returned to Italy, specifically Milan. Around 1140 they formed a religious order, and in 1201 it was sanctioned by Pope Innocent III (1161-1216). The lay-brothers worked in the production of wool, and the priests directed the activity, under the control of a Mercatore, who worked to improve the quality. Branches of the Order were scattered over different regions of Italy, always doing the same work. They became recognised for their quality and professionally, and some became important figures in the local communes, whilst others became reputed for the supplies they delivered to the armies during combat. The Florentine Republic invited them to settle and establish a training school for their activity. It is said that they arrived in 1239, to find a local wool industry already well organised. There are documents from as early as 1197 mentioning a "Arte della Lana" (Guild of Wool), and it is suggested that the "Arte di Calimala" or "Arte dei Mercatanti" already existed as a Guild of Foreign Cloth.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) would look back with longing at this earlier period, "the citizens of Florence lived soberly and ate coarse food, and spent little, and had many coarse customs and gallantries, and dressed themselves and their ladies with coarse cloth, and many wore skins without a cloth covering, and caps on their heads, and all had leather boots on their feet, and the Florentine women wore boots without ornaments, and the greatest were content with one very close-fitting skirt of coarse scarlet cloth of Ypres or Caen, fastened with an old-fashioned leather belt, and with a hooded cloak lined with miniver, having a hood above, which was worn on the head. And ordinary women dressed themselves with coarse green cambric in similar fashion, and 100 lire was the normal dowry for a wife, and 200 or 300 lire was in those times considered splendid, and most girls were twenty or more years old before they were married. Of such dress and rough manners were then the Florentines, but they were loyal and faithful amongst themselves and to the commune, and with their rude life and poverty they did greater and more virtuous deeds than are performed in our own time with greater riches and more refinement’.
On the left we have Roman Florence 124 AD superimposed on today city, along with a stone bridge over the Arno. On the right we have Florence with the walls built in 1078. We can see the "Quartieri" with their official Latin names, and we can see the Carolingian bridge and the watchtower that guarded the approach to the city. It is said that as conflicts between noble fractions and between "delle torri" (nobles) and the "popolo" increased it was decided to govern the city by "Quartieri" and with annually elected citizens, the “anziani”. In 1138 the city were ruled by "Consoli" (Consul), two from each of the twelve districts were elected by the "delle torri", and they were advised by 100 "boni homines", in which the guilds ("arti") dominated. In 1152 Frederick I (“Barbarossa”) appointed a "Podestà", a kind of governor, who represented the Emperor and exercised authority over the "contado" (surrounding countryside), which immediately caused confusion with the "Consoli" in the city.
The "Quartieri" became complete entities with their own administration, judiciary, military and religious buildings. Citizens of each "Quartieri" had more rights and responsibilities in their own district than in the others. There was an interest by both the nobles and the commoners to develop further this approach, but they were at odds with the growing power of the guilds of the wealthy merchant middle class. The guilds prevailed and their preferences were enshrined in a new constitution, with the "Quartieri" retuned to their simple administrative role.
We have already mentioned the Battle of Montaperti in which Florence with its Tuscan allies (Bologna, Prato, Lucca, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Miniato, Volterra, and Colle Val d'Elsa) lost against the Sienese helped by the Holy Roman states of Pisa and Cortona, and German mercenary heavy cavalry provided by King Manfred of Sicily (1232-1266).
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) later denounced Florence's main faults. He called the florin, the gold coin introduced in 1252 and used almost universally, a "cursed flower", and he thought the move of Florence into the "contado" (the countryside around the city) was at the "the origin of evil in the city". He referred to the legend that Florence was built "under the sign of Mars", and this was the reason for Florentine factionalism. He noted the murder of Buondelmonte took place at the foot of the statue of Mars near the Ponte Vecchio. The statue was first in a pagan temple dedicated to Mars (incorrectly believed at the time to have been the Baptistery), and then moved outside when the city became Christian. In 1300 the statue was moved because the bridge was being renovated. Initially it had looked towards the East, but in its new position it faced North, and despite being a Christian city, many worried that doing this might bring great changes to the city. We don't know what this statue looked like because it was washed into the Arno in the floods of 1333. Dante made this statue the sinister symbol for the whole of Florentine history, and he preferred the austerity and modest life ("buon tempo antico") of Florence's earlier customs.
Sometime between 1338 and 1339 a certain Ambrogio Lorenzetti (ca. 1290-1348) painted four fresco scenes called The Allegory of Good and Bad Government in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico (pictured above). The logic was to "remind the Nine [magistrates] of just how much was at stake as they made their decisions". Two panels compare good and bad government, and two panels are landscapes of Siena with the effects of their respective works. The two main panels are populated by allegorical characters easily identifiable thanks to the captions. The message is simple, good government means people live in order and harmony, whereas the effect of not doing so is the city in ruins.
In the Allegory of the Good Government, Justice, dressed in purple and gold, is seated on the throne, and is looking up at the winged figure of Wisdom above her. Wisdom is holding scales with on one side a white angel who is giving units of measure and rules to those who bank and enterprise, whilst on the other side a red angel is punishing an offender and crowning a knight. Sitting below Justice is Concordia, who is usually associated with peace and stable society, and she has in her lap a carpenters plane, reminding us that to achieve peace you need to "smooth the edges". She is holding together in her left hand two cords, one each attached to the two pans of the scales held by Justice. The two cords are twisted together and are passed to 24 citizens who freely bind themselves to Justice through Concordia. The other end of the rope leads to a lord or king dressed in the colours of Siena (black and white), and surrounded by symbols representing Siena (the she-wolf with the two twins). Over his head we can see the three theological virtues, Faith (Fede), Hope (Speranza) and Charity (Carità). At the kings side sits Prudence (Prudenza), Justice (Giustizia), Temperance (Temperanza), Fortitude (Fortezza), Magnanimity (Magnanimità) and Peace (Pace). At the bottom on the right, outside the city walls, there are a series of prisoners tied together and escorted by guards on horseback.
There is also a city-scape showing all the signs of good government. The building works show that the city is growing, there are signs of work and study, commerce is active meaning that the economy is growing, and there is a marriage meaning that the population grows. There is pleasure in the city with children talking, adults playing, and women dancing. In the countryside the fields are tidy, plowed, and we can see them bearing fruit. Along the pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, you see that trade and commerce are flourishing. And in the sky flies a beautiful winged figure holding a scroll mentioning the ideal of life we all inspire to, "Securitas" (to be safe and secure).
But what happens when life is not virtuous, man puts his interest before the common good, and puts greed before caring for others? There is less beauty in life, and the city becomes the kingdom of a tyrant. The city and countryside are abandoned and no longer flourish. The condition of the frescos is not so good (is that a sign?), but we can see the tyrant siting in the centre, with fangs, horns, cross-eyed and with clawed feet. Above fly Avarice (Avarizia), Pride (Superbia) and Vainglory (Vanagloria). At the time being cross-eyed meant being stupid or inept, suggesting that the tyrant had only one narrow view of the world. Next to him sits his bestial court with Fury (Furore), Division (Divisione), War (Guerra), Fraud (Frode), Betrayal (Tradimento) and Cruelty (Crudeltà). The interesting one is Division because its black and white dress is in opposition to the black and white of Siena's dress. The figure carries a saw to create Division as opposed to the carpenters plane which smooths things out. Below our tyrant we find Justice subjugated, stripped of its cloak and crown, and with its hands tied. At its side sits overturned the scales of justice, the rope now held by one individual rather than the entire community.
In the city-scape of bad government, there is rubble everywhere because its citizens destroy rather than build. Killings take place, but the innocents are arrested. One can see economic activity in decline. The countryside is on fire and armies march towards the city walls. In the sky Fear soars above an abandoned and uncultivated countryside.
Guelph, Ghibellini and Popolo
In 1279 Pope Niccolò III (ca. 1225-1280) sent Cardinal Latino Malabranca Orsini (?-1294) to Florence at the invitation of the Florentines themselves, to try to negotiate a general peace among the citizens. The Cardinal found that the Guelphs owned the "Comune" (Municipality) and persecuted the exiled Ghibellines, yet they were also divided among themselves. The Cardinal worked until April of 1280, to pacify the different political groups, forcing enemies to shake hands, blessing the obedient and excommunicating the protests, reforming the constitution of the Municipality, and distributing offices equally among the various parties. He left Florence in apparent tranquility, one that would not last two years. The reality was that Guelphs and Ghibellines didn't care about the Empire or the Pope, the only thing they wanted was to dominate the Municipality, and exclude the other party from power. Florentine Guelphs and Ghibellines were useful when the Emperor and the Pope were at war, and Guelphs and Ghibellines looked to their respective "leaders" when they needed help. But when either the Emperor or the Pope tried to impose their sovereignty on the city and push aside the Guilds, then immediately their so-called allies resisted, rebelled, and even made alliances with the opposing party to force Emperor or Pope to backdown. Ghibellines would resist Emperors and Guelphs the Pope, in order to safeguard their own interests.
In addition it was certainly not true that initially the Guelphs represented il popolo (remembering that il popolo was essentially the merchant middle-class). At that time, the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines was a struggle between nobles. If "the people" manage to force a path in the city's political life and conquer the Municipality, they did so on their own and not under the banner of Guelphism. For example, in 1250 il popolo demolished the towers and fortress-palaces of both Guelphs and Ghibellines nobles, clearly indicating that there was no connection between either and the "partito popular". During the Primo Popolo (1250-1260), of the 176 anziani who ruled the Comune only two were magnati (magnates), and only one of them was a recognised Guelph. Of the remaining 174 anziani 21 were recognised as Guelphs and 18 as Ghibellines, meaning that 135 were popolani. So throughout the 12th century both Guelphs and Ghibellines were nobles and in opposition to il popolo. It is true that in the middle of the 12th century il popolo appeared more favourable to Guelphs than Ghibellines, but it was the defeat of Montaperti in 1260 that made il popolo the irreconcilable enemy of the Ghibellines. With the victory of Ghibellines they took back Florence, exiled Guelphs, confiscating their property and destroying their houses. But when it was proposed in 1264 to raze the city, as Frederick I had done with Milan a century earlier, only the hard opposition of the Ghibelline leader Farinata degli Uberti (1212-1264) saved Florence. Despite the success of Uberti, from that moment the Florentine popolani became Guelphs. So it would be a mistake to assume that all Guelphs were commoners and that all the nobles were Ghibellines. There were both Guelph and Ghibelline nobles, and it was only when Ghibelline nobles became overbearing that il popolo approached the Guelphs.
The news that Manfredi, King of Sicily had been defeated in the Battle of Benevento (1266) was enough for the people of Florence to rise up against the Ghibellines, who were definitively expelled. A pro-Guelph government was established (although the il popolo and the Guelph Party were still distinct entities), sealed by the appointment as Podestà of Charles I of Anjou (ca. 1226-1285) in 1267. In 1280, thanks to a peace mediated by Cardinal Latino Malabranca Orsini (?-1294), many Ghibellines were able to return to their homeland. But soon the fates in Italy seemed to smile again on the Ghibellines (the rise to power of the new Emperor Rudolf I of Habsburg (1218-1291), the stabilisation of the Ghibelline power in Romagna with Guido I da Montefeltro (1223-1298) and the Sicilian Vespers (1282) against Charles of Anjou in Sicily), rekindling the tensions between the factions.
With the peace a continuous battle that had lasted since 1257, almost without interruption, came to an end. Il popolo found themselves free to resume their work to regain the lost Municipality. From now on in the history of the Florentine Comune the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines ended, and a new struggle began. The struggle between Nobility, it didn't matter if Guelph or Ghibelline, and il popolo. Guelphs and Ghibellines formed a single party, they were all magnati (magnates or the aristocracy) and were now seen as the enemy.
Between 1282 and 1284 Il popolo took advantage of this moment to obtained institutional changes without serious opposition. They established the "Collegio dei Sei Priori delle Arte" (College of the Six Priors of the Guilds) (one per sestiere). A Gonfaloniere was chosen by the Guilds, and their representative entered the "Consiglio del Podestà" (Council of the Podestà). The voice of the professional guild organisations was thus further strengthened, not without the support of some Guelph families, entrepreneurs and bankers.
The Battle of Campaldino in 1289 was not only the definitive defeat of the Ghibellines, but more importantly it was also a way of the "magnati" (magnates or the aristocracy) to underline their importance thanks to the use they had of arms, compared to the "popolana" represented by the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie.
After the victory of Campaldino, the popular pressure increased on "il popolo" to obtain a sort of independence from the "magnati" (magnates). In December 1292 a government close to popular ideologies began work on the creation of what would become the most important political document in the history of Florence, the "Ordinamenti di Giustizia". They were promulgated in January 1293 and represented a real watershed. They attempted to stop the interference of powerful families, which were defined by the legal systems as "magnati" (magnates or the aristocracy). The document defined a class of "magnati" (magnates), comprising about forty noble families of the time (it was later increased to about 70), and ordered their complete exclusion from all political offices. This included the "Consolato delle Arte", and all its subdivisions into "arte maggiore e minori" (major and minor Guilds). It also stipulated that anyone who intended to hold a political office must be enrolled in one of Guilds. It created the "Gonfaloniere di Giustizia" elected by the "Consuli delle Arti", and charged him with leading a civic guard of 1,000 men.
The next fifteen years had a fundamental impact on Florentine history. The struggle between the "I Grandi" and "le Arte Maggiori" (Major Guilds) reaches its peak. "Il Popolo Grasso" (the fat people) conquered the Municipality and affirmed their supremacy over the "magnati" (magnates, nobles or elite). Behind "il popolo grasso" the "popolo minuto" (small people) entered the government for the first time. The "constituzione comunale" (municipal constitution) assumed its definitive form and the "Priorato" (Priory), the "Ordinamenti di Giustizia" (Ordinances of Justice), and the post of "Gonfalouiere della Giustizia" were born. These institutions became part of the life of the Florentine Municipality (Comune), as well as becoming symbols of change. It was not an easy transition, and there are many books written on the topic of the "Magnati" against the "Popolani", e.g. lords against commoners, nobles against artisans, the powerful against the weak, elite against the people, rich agains poor.
The nobles were a feudal class, held political power and distinguished themselves from inferiors through their knightly dignity. Over time the nobles became indebted, sold their castles and lands, which were often bought by rich "gl'ignobili" (ignobles). So over time there was a shift from the ancient authentic feudal nobility to a new bourgeois pseudo-nobility, which clearly might confuse the idea of "magnati", but no. In fact in most the documents of the time they mention "great" or "powerful" nobles, clearly showing that this was not a question of blood but of power. But even "great" and "powerful" were too generic, so they focussed on the word "magnati". But even that was difficult to define, so finally they defined exactly who were "magnati" by listing "famiglie magnatizie" (magnate family names). The list grouped together a mixture of the old aristocracy and a newer plutocracy, but the final arbiter was public opinion. "Il Popolo" picked about 140 families as being "magnati", about half from the city and half from the "contado" (countryside), both Guelphs and Ghibellines, both pure feudal blood and rich merchants and bankers, all on top of the "social ladder". More specifically the list include rich landowners, those who own large houses and towers in the city, and about a third of those on the list were wool merchants or bankers (so many of the most important and richest Florentine families).
We must be careful, because "il Popolo" also had its definition, which turned out to be even more complex than defining "magnati". First and foremost, it was those who formed a political organisation that opposed the "magnati". "Il Popolo" were those that had political rights, and as such it excluded all those who did not have political rights, only duties, i.e. the so-called "plebe cittadina" and the "contadina" (urban plebs or commoners, and country peasants).
You had nobles, and three other classes of people. Servants were at the bottom, divided into serfs and personal servants. They "belonged" to the owners and did not figure with the Municipality. Some people had contracts that meant that they gave up their freedom for the right to cultivate an area of land. And finally there were independent farmers subject directly to the city. In fact overtime the Municipalities looked to subject inhabitants of the countryside to their own jurisdiction. Starting in the 11th century there was much competition for agricultural produce and servants who were not content would flee. Common law forbade masters from gathering runaway serfs, so they could leave and go to someone else or set themselves up on free land. It's been suggested that by abolishing servitude it essentially had the (desired) effect of drying up the source of feudal power. Fugitives could find shelter with the Municipalities who brought them into the city. By subject inhabitants of the countryside to the Municipalities jurisdiction they increased the tax base, and could include those people when building armies for war, including against the "magnati". In addition when moving against "magnati" or rural nobles, the Municipalities were always careful to get the local peasants on their side. However, the reality was that the peasant freed himself from the rural lord, only to fall under the impersonal servitude of the whole municipality. Their work was regulated by law, wages were fixed, agricultural contract forces peasants to work for a living and forbade them from emigrating. The Municipalities had recreated serfdom to their own advantage. At the end of the day any form political independence was forbidden in the countryside. So the entire rural population was exclude from "il Popolo".
In the city you had an artisan population composed of teachers, associates and disciples, all members of the guilds. Much was written about this impressive group of people, and equally very little was rite about the anthill of people swarming in the Municipalities who were deprived of any political right and had also limited the civil identity. In the Statutes of the Guilds these people were called They are (inolli, that the Statutes of the Arts, called "laboratores, laborantes, pactoales, subpositi, operarii", and who were clearly distinguished from the disciples, apprentices, etc. They earned a real wage, but were subject to the jurisdiction of the partners. They could not even associate for religious purposes and therefore had no way to fight for a rise in wages, a wage established by the masters of the guild. In the Guilds the working methods and techniques were fixed down to the smallest detail , and workers had to give a guarantee to work well and honestly. They had reimburse all the damages to the Master's goods. They could not work for anyone else, could not take leave of the Master without his permission, and the Masters oath was considered proof. They were not servants for any individual, but they were servants for Guilds, and as such were completely excluded from public life, and were not part of "il Popolo".
The guilds are a vital part of Florentine and Italian history, because the Renaissance was born out of industrial crises, strikes, and demands for the right of association on the part of workmen. Most sources mention that the Guilds gradually emerged in the mid-12th century, however there is mention in a legal document of "Consoles Mercatorum".
The "popolo grasso" (fat people) were the well-to-do middle class in Florence, and in the 13th century they were grouped in seven associations known as the "Sette Arti Maggiori" (Seven Great Guilds). The first of the seven great guilds was the "Arte dei Mercatanti" otherwise known as the "Arte di Calimala". By the 1300's there were seven cooperatives, namely "Arte dei Giudici e Notai" (Judges and Notaries), "Arte del Cambio" (Money Exchange, Local and Foreign Credit, and Precious Stones and Metals), "Arte della Lana" (Wool), "Arte della Seta" (Silk), "Arte del Medici e Speziali" (Doctors and Apothecaries), and "Arte dei Vaiai e Pellicciai" (Furriers and Fur Pelt Dealers).
Each "arte" had its own statutes, membership requirements, coat of arms, its own buildings, etc. Above we have the arms of "Arte della Seta" on the left and the arms of the "Arte del Medici e Speziali" on the right.
In addition there were 14 “Arti Minori”, namely Beccai (butchers and including fish farmers, inn and tavern managers), Calzolai (shoemaker, clogmaker, belt maker, tile maker), Fabbri (blacksmiths, farriers, bucklers (shields), swordsmen, cutlers and "maestri delle cervelliere" or helmet makers), Maestri di Pietra e Legname (stonemasons, woodcarvers, and sculptors), Linaioli e Rigattieri (spinning, weaving and working linen cloth, and resellers of used clothes), Vinattieri (wine bars), Albergatori (hoteliers), Oliandoli e Pizzicagnoli (originally "salt sellers", they sold oil and cheese), Cuoiai e Galigai (leather and saddlers), Corazzai e Spadai (armour, swords, and metal object for the military), Correggiai (belts, shields, crossbows and all leather parts for the military), Legnaioli (wooden furniture), Chiavaioli (locks, bolts and keys, and including clocks and scales), Fornai (bakers).
"In Naples they will not work, and busy themselves neither with their own estates nor with trade and commerce, which they hold to be discreditable, so they either loiter at home or ride about on horseback. The Roman nobility also despise trade, but farm their own property. The cultivation of land even opens the way to a title, however it is a respectable but boorish nobility. In Lombardy the nobles live upon the rent of their inherited estates, and descent and abstinence from any regular calling constitute nobility. In Venice the ‘nobili’, the ruling caste, were all merchants. Similarly in Genoa the nobles and non-nobles were alike merchants and sailors, and only separated by their birth. Some few of the former, it is true, still lurked as brigands in their mountain castles. In Florence a part of the old nobility had devoted themselves to trade, another, and certainly by far the smaller part, enjoyed the satisfaction of their titles, and spent their time, either in nothing at all, or else in hunting and hawking”.
Indeed in Florence, after the disturbances of the noble factions in the 13th century, the possession of a title or nobility was a bar to public office. The evidence of the surviving seals shows clearly that in the second half of the 13th century, in Florence, Lucca, and Siena the practice of commerce was no bar to the bearing of arms. Above we have the arms of the "Sette Arti Maggiori" and several of the "Arti Minori". One hidden pleasure in visiting Florence is to look for the arm of noble families and of the arti which can be found on the walls and in the interior decorations of many buildings.
Already in Rome in 940 the civic military was organised into twelve regiments corresponding to the twelve 'regions' of Rome, and commanded by "banderesi" or standard-bearers. One can guess that the standards bore different designs. There is evidence already in 1171 that a staff tipped by a cross was carried by civilians returning from battle, and Milan still today has a Red Cross on its heraldic shield. By the 13th century most of the communes in northern Italy had acquired several coats of arms to be used for different purposes. Before 1251 Florence had a silver fleur de lis, but with the victory of the Guelphs they made the field white and the lily red. It was in 1266 that the Arti Maggiori were assigned arms, and the example was later followed by the Arti Minori in 1282. It is not clear when family arms appeared in Florence, but during the 13th century armorial seals appeared, and there is a family arms in the Vatican Archives that dates from 1290. There are examples of armorial devices for merchants in both Siena and Florence that dates from 1263. In the closing years of the 13th century everyone started to add crowns, crests, tiaras, etc. with the idea to indicate the rank of the bearer. "Supporters" at each side of the shield were also introduced in the 13th century, and with no limitation on their use (the earliest known example dates from 1267).
It's important to remember that the arti (guilds) were formed by "magistri", owners of the shops and businesses, and not by simple artisans, employees or apprentices. It was not easy to join a guild, you had to pay a tax, prove your craftsmanship, and be the son of an existing member. They held exams to ensure that candidates were skilled in the profession, but also that they knew the rules imposed by the cooperative. And those rules concerned the quality and price of products, wages of workers, etc. Masters were those who owned shops or titles, "apprendisti" were apprentices, and "garzoni" could mean an errand boy, or helper, or eventually also a young apprentice. The corporation supervised the quality of the work of its members, it established working hours and holidays, and looked after the contracts for staff and servants. It also protected the members by controlling the market, and it established a court to settle cases of conflict between members, or with other guilds, and later the arti would establish city guards to repress fraud, run markets and fairs, and protect the streets at night. Each arte had its "rettori" (or Consoli) and its own Consiglio (Council). The Consoli (Consuls) judged internal disputes and sat on the city Councils. Overtime they became real courts and led to the creation of the "Tribunale della Mercanzia" (Court of Merchandise), which also judged the causes relating to the failures of merchants. At the end of the 12th century the Florentine elite were the Consuls who ruled the Florentine, and they lead the municipal army in to battle on horseback. Everyone else were "i pedites" (foot-soldiers), including members of the arti (with a few exceptions). At the beginning of the 13th century the consular regime was replaced by a new institution centred on the figure of il Podestà (a foreign magistrate) endowed with substantial powers and assisted by two councils. The representatives of the arti participated in these assemblies where laws of the Municipality were discussed and approved, and so started the rise of "il Popolo".
Over time the arti also took on the task to protect public monuments, for example, the Arte delle Lana protected the Cathedral. Broadly speaking, members of Arti Maggiori were bankers, entrepreneurs, exporters of finished goods, importers of raw materials, traders or professionals such a judges and doctors. Members of the Arti Minori were masters and their workers who worked with iron, leather, wood, and in the food sector. The truly odd one were artist painters who never were accepted as a separate guild, and who were left with the Arte del Medici e Speziali.
For example, the manufacturing and marketing of all luxury clothing produced in Florence was organised, regulated and policed by the guilds. Already in the 1400's there were more than 2,500 shoemakers in the city, working alongside hosiers, belt and purse makers, through to velveteeners and embroiderers. In 1427 Florence was home to 866 clothiers (cloth merchants), and there were 909 households working within the Arte della Lana. An inventory in the 1470's counted 353 wholesale wool and silk concerns, 44 jewellers, 33 gold and silver shops, and 32 drapers. Wholesale and retail shops sat side-by-side, along with numerous shops selling used clothing, bed linen, remnants, etc. but certain areas of the city were more specialised (i.e. used clothes around San Giovanni, goldsmiths around Santo Spirito, leather workers around Santa Croce). Four of the seven Arti Maggiori were involved with clothing and accessories (i.e. silk, wool, furriers, and doctors). In fact looking through the list of "arti" from 1415, there were certain surprises. For example the Arte della Seta included buttons, studs, metal-ornaments, sock makers, and goldsmiths. The Arte del Medici e Speziali also included "merciai", which grouped together drapers, artist painters, hairdressers, broach makers, veil and purse makers, booksellers and stationers, mask and lantern makers, glove makers, cap and bonnet makers, and even perfumers. They also included everything metallic for military wear, including swords, lances, breastplates, horse covers, etc. And just to complete the topic of clothing, there were another three minor guilds, the Arte dei Calzolai (shoemakers, cobblers, etc.), the Arte dei Rigattieri e Linaiuoli e Sarti (doublet-makers, retail linen, tailors, and used clothes), and Arte dei Correggiai (leather purses, belts, pouches, shoe uppers, and sole makers).
Local government was dominated by the rich bankers and the textile manufacturers. The "Arte di Calimala" was one of these great guilds, and was the oldest, going back to 1182. We know that the workshops occupied part of a north-south street generally lined with shops and vendors, and called "Calle Maia", a main street following the route of the city's ancient "cardo maximus" and leading to somewhere near "Mercato Vecchio". There were "fóndachi" (warehouses) for the wool from France, England and the Iberian Peninsula. They also imported French fabrics ("panni Franceschi"), in particular from the Champagne fairs and for this reason the warehouses were called "Calimala Francesca". The rolls of cloth would be marked and a local "Officiali di Drapperia" would arrange transport by mule and shipment to Florence. The fabrics would be folded, rolled and tied, making up a "torsello", marked with country of origin and price paid, and then shipped from Marseille to Genoa or Pisa, and finally transported by mule to Florence (the torsello would always have the guild's coat of arms visible). The same merchants would also buy other local goods to resell in Florence.
It was well know that the wool from Flanders was superior to that in Italy, and the northern regions had a tradition of wool weaving, as did the Germans for flax-weaving. However the cloth was coarsely worked, notwithstanding the quality of the wool. It would come to market unsheared, unrefined, and dyed in fading colours of "the worst possible taste". Here the Florentines saw an opportunity. They would take the raw wool cloth and refine it, with carding, topping, dyeing, stretching, fulling, calendering and finishing, ready for sale in markets and fairs around Italy, around Europe, as well as in the East. What this meant was often dyeing the white cloth, reinforcing the tint of the coloured ones, and making the wool softer by combing it, each step increased its value. They would also remove the exterior roughness or outside layer, leaving a finer wool cloth than anything they could produce locally. This new wool cloth could take a far more delicate dye. Dyers were called "vagellai", from the "vagello", the special boiler used during the dyeing process, and they had to work exclusively for the Arte di Calimala, and could be fined for stains and imperfections. The red, which was used for the "lucco", the dress of the magistrates, was also the most popular colour. The "new' cloth when stretched, calendared, and rolled before being repackaged could be sold at a much higher price.
The fabric was sold by the "Calimala cane" a metal rod four Florentine arms long, or the equivalent of 233 centimetres (a "braccio" was 58.36 centimetres). Sales were always supervised, with the fabric being unrolled, not pulled or touched by hand, the edges had to be clearly visible and the "cane" used to determine the cut, which was to be without "excess". Those of this arte were real entrepreneurs, in what today would be called import-export. As a merchants art it was so well respected that half the people employed to supervise the minting of coins came from the Arte di Calimala (the other half came from the "Arte del Cambio", another of the Sette Arti Maggiori). It is said that the Strozzi, Pitti, Pucci, Uguccioni, Albizzi, etc. were all enrolled in the Arte di Calimala. There was a report that for the period 1336-1338 the 20 fóndachi of the arte imported 10,000 pieces worth about 360,000 florins. It is also reported that two representatives of Florence in France were appointed just for the Arte di Calimala, which practically gave them control of the entire Florentine trade at the Champagne fairs. The arte also sent, at its own expense, ambassadors to defend all merchants of Florence who complained about wrongdoing. However, by the 1350's the arte was in decline, the Champagne fairs were less important and the drapery industry from north of the Alps proved to be highly competitive.
The guild was initially made up of smallish "compagniae" that included one or more owners or partners, a bookkeeper, and a handful of workers. Profit margins were fixed in the statute of the arti, and were 10-12%, which was accepted as a "just price" by the Church. Members of this arti were the elite of Florence, and because they bought and sold, they naturally also turned to banking to compliment their activities as merchants. They might be active in buying wool in England, having it woven in Flanders, before bringing it to Florence, and then exporting it to Paris for sale.
The Arti di Calimala had its own offices (the building still exists), would meet regularly to discuss and regulate their exclusive activity, and they had their own council to decide on any business contentions. The guild supported its members, backing their credit in the city and abroad, provided an annuity to aged members and those of long standing, and cared for their widows and children. At their own expense they maintained an armed night guard protecting their shops and warehouses. They also arranged lodging of their foreign clients, a service that kept these "stranieri" under their watchful eye.
It is said that the Arte di Calimala started as an importer of raw wooled cloths woven in Flanders, but soon moved to bringing freshly shorn wool into the city, and so was born the Arte della Lana. As you can imagine there was a risk of conflict of interest between the Arte di Calimala and Arte della Lana, and to avoid those conflicts they agreed to divide the various branches of the textile trade. Arte di Calimala maintained it dominance of foreign trade (i.e. as the Guild of Merchants in Foreign Cloth), and Arte della Lana looked after the domestic market, including local raw materials. I'm not sure when, but I think it was the Arte di Calimala that introduced the "stamp of the arte", with "Firenze" sewn on every Florentine product, to fight against any counterfeiting.
The Arte della Lana quickly became the most important arte, both numerically and economically (although the Arte di Calimala probably remained the most important arte politically). As opposed to the Arte di Calimala the Arte della Lana performed all the steps in producing bolts of wool, from the shearing in the countryside around Florence through to the sale of the finished product. This art, born in 1317, reached another degree of splendour and grandeur and became perhaps the main source of the wealth of the city. So the Arte della Lana was responsible for collecting the "fiocco di lana" (the staple or lock of wool fibres), and for sorting it into different qualities, mostly based upon the diameter of the fibre (which is a function of the age, health and nutrition of the sheep). This work was performed by a wool-stapler, who in some markets would then sell onto mills, e.g. as with English wool sold in Calais for the Flemish mills. My understanding is that "collecting" also involved wool classing, selecting the wool in its raw state as a fleece, and grading it according to its strength, colour, and ease for spinning, etc. I've read that the local Florentine wool was not of the highest quality.
Many of the task of the Arte di Calimala and the Arte della Lana were identical, both involved dyeing, stretching, fulling, calendering and finishing, but the Arte della Lana also included the exclusive art of hand spinning and weaving.
In 1339 workshops that finished foreign cloth and the shops that treated wool for the local market kept busy some 30,000 people, or about ¼ of the entire population of Florence. Of those 30,000 only about 200 were the popolani grassi (masters or padroni), and everyone else were the "popolo minuto" (lower class). The lower class had no rights, just obligations. They had to obey the arti, who fixed the rate of pay, and they were not allowed to form associations or even to hold unauthorised assemblies. The argument of the State was that associations had to be sanctioned by the public authorities because "under the pretence of lawfulness they could commit unlawfulness". Other arti would go one step further and consider confederations of workmen contrary to brotherly love and Christian charity. The Arte de Lana also prohibited religious assemblies. Penalties could include fines, corporal punishment (including thrashing until death), and even sacking (a form of exile since no one in a guild would give them work). A worker promoting worker rights could be hanged. The reality was that skilled labour for dyeing and finishing was at a premium, so fines were the most common penalty. In the statue of the "Arti della Seta" it was clearly stated that faith was always to be placed in the oath of a master, and witnesses were called only in lawsuits about 10 lira.
Work was the privilege of the arti, who through their members controlled production, and thus the privilege of giving work. This was not an agreement between two parties, the arti decided everything, from the product to the price for the work. The "lanaiuoli" (workers of wool) had offered in the 11th and 12th centuries work for fugitives from other countries, but had treated them no better than slaves. Over time they had become citizen workmen, but the lanaiuoli still thought of themselves as an elite that gave work to the lower classes. By the middle of the 14th century the nature of the work had changed and so had the mentality of the workers (but not that of the popolani grassi). The workers were no longer slaves in a field, but were skilled workers in the workshops. The native wool of the region was not the best quality, so the workers had developed the technical ability and the artistic taste (in the absence of machinery) to transform coarse wool into a product valued for its softness and bright colours. Those of the Arti di Calimala and the Arte della Lana required both technical ability and a developed artistic taste, for they were expected to turn raw materials into prized examples of style and rich colours. These skilled workers clearly saw that the masters of the "Sette Arti" were masters because they were in an association, and one that gave them political predominance and the rule over the workers. Creating an association would naturally appeal to the workers as the best way to obtain improvements in working conditions, wages, etc., and all the more so because it was forbidden. This was a typical example of one law for the rich and no law for the poor.
In 1342 the Florentine ruling class of wealthy merchants called upon the French nobleman Walter VI of Brienne (ca. 1304-1356) to rule the city. The expectation was that it would be temporary, but the lower classes, who had seen the ineptitude of the predecessors, proclaimed him signore for life. Others suggest that he exploited the antagonism between the various groups in Florence and carried out a coup d'etat. Our good Walter was a despot who ignored the interests of those who had invited him (he even classed them as enemies). He listened to a petition from the "dyers" and "soap makers" who depended upon the wool merchants. They complained that the lanaiuoli postponed payments for up to five years, fixed the prices they wanted to pay, and dyers were obliged to pay one soldo on each lira for the material sold to them by the arti. The new Duke agreed they could form an association. However, by 1343 he and his French supporters were being stoned by almost everyone in the city, and they were finally hunted out. Now our popolani grassi through it might be a good moment to get rid of the nobles in the city. They could count on the help of the burghers and even the poor. At the same time they wished to destroy the rights given to the workers by the Duke. They suppressed the arti of dyers and soapmakers, and reinstated the old penal weapons against the association of workmen. Through 1343 to 1345 anyone "inciting rebellion" to "rob and overturn the quiet Florentine State" was executed. One particular case involved the arrest of a wool-carder. The entire group of wool-combers and wool-cards stopped work (one of the first strikes in the city), asked for the wool-carders' release, and at the same time asked to be better payed. The said wool-carder was immediately hanged. This produced a riot, and nine of the rioters were also tried and condemned.
The Plague of 1348 reduced the population of Florence from 120,000 to 30,000 (figures vary because they are all estimates based upon a variety of different markers). By 1351 the population had risen to 50,000 because they had suspended the laws concerning foreign workers. Consumption increased but workmen were scarce, so wages rose. The new popolo minuto were inexpert and inexperienced, but wanted more and more pay. The rich were complaining about labourers forming associations, and the poor were complaining about prices. Even the city trumpeters said they couldn't live on 20 lira a year. Florence's principle clients, France and England, were racked by war, pestilence and famine. When they started to recover, they introduced protective economic policies. In 1378 there were the riots of the Ciompi (see the next section). The Ciompi were the carders, beaters and porters, I.e. the lowest workmen of the wool trade. Many groups joined the riots, but once satisfied, they withdrew from the struggle, leaving the workers on their own. They asked for the recognition of associations, the abolition of laws that punished by cutting off a hand, the removal of fines that could never be paid, stopping creditors arresting insolvent debtors, and they wanted an association specifically for workmen, the "Casa del Popolo".
Three new guilds were formed, that of the "Tintori" (dyers), "Farsettai" (doublet-makers) and finally a guild for the "popolo minuto". It interesting to see who was included in which of the new arti. The Arte dei Tintori included six groups, including dyers (tintori), carders, soap-boilers, wool-combers, weavers, repairers, bleachers, etc. The Arte dei Farsettai included tailors (sarti), hatters (cappellai), flag-makers (banderai), and oddly, barbers (barbitonsori). The third arti, that of the popolo minuto included wool-workers (lanini), spinners (istamaiuoli), apprentices (garzoni), weavers (tessitori), etc., and it is said grouped more than 9,000 people. These three arti were called collectively the "Arti del Popolo di Dio" (the Guild of the People of God).
So Florence had the Sette Arti Maggiori (the seven greater guilds), the Quattordici Arti Mediani (the fourteen middle guilds), and the three guilds of the "Popolo di Dio". One problem was that they formed collectively the "Ottanta della Libertà" (Eighty of Liberty), which was dominated by the Arti Mediani. And they found lots of pretexts to delay suggestions from the popolo minuto. Another problem was that the popolo minuto wanted both more work and higher wages. But the answer of the masters was to simply to close the factories. So the popolo minuto formed their own committee "Otto della Balia del Popolo di Dio". They went to pertition the Ottanta but were attacked by one of their own representatives, Michele di Lando. The bell was sounded, and the other arti immediately armed themselves and came to expel the Ciompi. A rumour was spread that the Ciompi wanted to make a certain Bartolomei Sineducci Lord of Florence. In any case they were arrested and condemned. Michele di Lando, who had led the initial protest of the popolo minuto, then fought with the arti and had the popolo minuto disbanded. Naturally some experts say that it required great courage for Michele di Lando to defy popularity and fight against his own companions, and there is a statue of him in Florence to prove he did the right thing. On the other had there is also information that points to some disconcerting facts. Firstly, it was known that the popolo grasso had been looking to sow discord in the three new arti, in particular suggesting that the popolo minuto was an inferior arti. Secondly, our Michele di Lando actually joined one of the arti mediani a few days before the fighting. Thirdly, as a wool-carder di Lando, would in 1378 have earned about two florins a month, but in 1381 he gave a dowry of 600 golden florins to his daughter. In the same year he obtained the title "Nobile uomo", and was nominate Podestà of Volterra. It was also in 1381 that the Arti dei Tintori and the Arti dei Farsettai were also suppressed by a commune that again was formed only by proprietors and masters.
The Ciompi Revolt
In the previous section we only touched on a particular moment in Florentine history, the Ciompi revolt (1378-1382), but now is the moment to correct that apparent oversight. The Ciompi were wool-carder, but more generally the word is associated with labourers in the wool industry. Carding is just the disentangling, cleaning and intermixing of fibres ready for further processing, and wool-carders were the labourers who used hand cards to tease out the strands and then to align them in more or less the same direction. The strands then would be peeled off and would go to the next phase.
The origin of the revolt was an inequality that could be traced back to the successes of the original popolo, the people of the medieval commune who sought to curtain noble influence by uniting as wealthy middle class merchants and guildsmen, in the mid-late 13th century. Much of the traditional medieval nobility were disenfranchised when the popolo government issues the "Ordinances of Justice" in 1293, a set of laws which labeled certain noble families as "magnates". Possessing the status of magnate frequently prevented an individual from obtaining political office or even guild membership, and it required his family to pay a large sum of money to the government if the magnate committed what the Ordinances defined as "improper behaviour". Having lent their influence towards the passage of the Ordinances, the popolo gradually transformed in to the "popolo grasso", Florence's rising "middle class" of bankers, merchants, lawyers, and major guildsmen, whose wealth held great influence over government. They became an increasingly exclusive group, changing citizenship requirements to include "membership of a guild" and "property qualifications or minimum tax assessments", while membership in the guilds themselves was changed to include residence and taxation requirements as well as high entry fees. Members of the popolo grasso easily obtained guild membership and, because virtually all political offices required guild membership of their holders, they came to dominate the councils, juries, and Signoria of Florence government. With the passing of the 1293 Ordinances, they largely removed the old nobility from the power equation of urban politics, leaving them only the urban masses to content with.
Those masses are referred to as the popolo minuto, the segment of society that encompassed labourers, paupers, and all those who held no guild membership, but who frequently worked for those who did hold guild membership. This included the group that would become known as the Ciompi, which largely originated from the labourers of the Lana, the major guild of the wool manufactures in Florence. Skilled artisans and lesser guildsmen still occupied a sort of middle rank between grasso and minuto classes, but they often associated themselves with the minuto because they felt underrepresented.
Debt and taxes routinely put great economic pressure on the members of those lower classes, with more than 80% of textile worker households reporting debts equal to more than 50% of their assets, implying that much of what they earned was used to repay debts. And more that 30% of all households in Florence reported that their debts exceeds their asserts.
So the popolo grasso where themselves the "new men" of Florence when they began to take over from the government of nobles a little over a century before. But by then their sympathies towards other "new men" had completely evaporated. The treatment and above all the resentment toward the Ciompi and the peasants who had migrated to Florence to find work after the Black Death revealed how callous and detached they had become.
In the 1340's the discord between economic groups in Florence was characterised by the conflict within the guild community. This was between the merchants, bankers and industrialist of the seven great guilds, and the artisans and small shopkeepers in the fourteen lower guilds. In 1343 the artisans forced their way into the communal government, and agitated for political reform. In particular workers in the cloth industry wanted the right to reform their own guild, and although the movement was suppressed at the time, the Ciompi revolt gave them a new opportunity to free themselves from the domination of cloth manufacturers. The argument goes that cloth manufacturing had moved from the small "bottega" to the larger factory model and working conditions had suffered. In addition during Florence's war with the Papacy (1375-78) it was said that unemployment had soared and the tax burden had increased. Different players in the industry had different views, with the wage labourers suffering the most and wanting the biggest changes. Others working in the factories had more limited objectives, such as guild autonomy and a say in the political system of the day.
The reality was that the cloth industry was made up of smallish factories and "botteghe", producing between three and 220 pieces annually. In addition most of the steps were made by small craftsmen operating their own shops for dying, stretching, washing, mending, etc. They were not guild members, and were treated like manual labourers by the wool guild. Yet they were just as well organised as one or other of the lower guilds. They paid their taxes, rents and their workers, and were even investors in public debt. They were not rich, but at the same time they were not poor workers who did not own enough to pay taxes. Manual workers in the cloth industry were paid subsistence wages, were often in debt, with collectors sequestering their tools, clothes and even beds. Equally the small craftsmen also suffered, and looked to create their own guild so they could negotiate with the manufacturers. But they also employed many manual workers, and as such were faced with the same problems as manufacturers. The data also shows that even during the wars production did not falter, and shops were open and busy. It is true that the tax burden on the poorer folk did increase, and wages and working conditions were not good.
The three ingredients, willingness to commit violence, political debate across all classes, and conspiracy among bourgeois, artisans and labourers, combined to produce a revolt in 21-22 July 1378. Some leaders (patrician conspirators) jumped on the revolt, perhaps hoping to gain politically, or perhaps for fear of losing what they had. Interestingly Tommaso Strozzi, Benedetto Alberti and Salvestro de' Medici, all of well known families, were active patricians associated with popular factions in local politics. Another interesting point was that many of the Ciompi leaders had military experience and had served during the Papal war. Data is poor, but it is clear that the revolt was not just of unskilled workers in the cloth industry, everyone had grievances, and all hoped that reform would improve their daily lives.
In response to the revolt, a Balìa (in this case a special commission) was created to enact legislation, and the Signoria was there to issue orders. Unfortunately the Balìa did not fully represent the true labouring class, and it instinct was conservative, not radical. Interestingly Strozzi, Alberti and de' Medici were able through their contacts to moderate any radical impulses in the "Balìa". The new Ciompi government of the city attacked the problems with energy and intelligence, and were also quite successful. It suppressed disorder and created a potent security force, it maintained the essential traditions whilst transforming the obligations of the office-holding class. They only condemned two protestor leaders to death, but they did not despoil the property of the exiled cloth manufacturers. The problems of tax reforms and unemployment were not easy to solve, so problems of ecumenic disagreement and even hunger remained. The Signoria cancelled tax on milling grain, cut the price of salt by half, and even distributed grain to the poor. But unemployment meant that the poor could not even buy bread. Local shops were opened, but the wool guild did nothing to increase employment and instead kept the cloth factories closed. The reality was that the entrepreneurs had left the city, and had also sent their good to nearby towns. The new régime's response was too cautious, and the treasury was in a very poor state (increased debt due the past war with the Papacy, and reduced revenues due to a drop in imports). The new civic militia was costly, as was the purchase of grain supplies. The Balìa did act, but it was more focussed on improving future revenues and not solving the immediate problem of an empty treasury. What annoyed people was that the promised reforms did not materialise. The régime did manage to remain solvent, but it alienated the Ciompi who felt that they had been betrayed by the leaders of the revolt. The exodus of many patricians meant that the unemployed turned their hostility on to small property owners or petty merchants. The burnt shells of the palaces were still there, as was unemployment and hunger. The spark that lit the next fire was the decision of the Balìa to defend themselves against aggression by arming themselves as a brotherhood. And then it became know that those on the Balìa were drawing stipends, This might be considered perfectly legitimate compensation for their political labours, but the rank and file saw this differently, and they petitioned to exclude Balìa members from office, and revoke their privileges. Delaying tactics were introduced, along with a secret campaign to discredit the Ciompi rebels. It did not help the Ciompi cause that they oscillated between action and passive inertia, and the irrational and unpredictable actions of the rebels did not inspire confidence. Finally the régime confronted the rebels, and they were "beaten and crushed without leadership and without spirit, for they had been betrayed by their own". It was a battle between the have's and have not's, and in many ways the Ciompi leaders were innately over-conservative, and still respected the guild associations which had become outdated in the Florentine economy. Initially they wanted to improve the economic conditions of the worker, then they focussed on rewards, benefits and punishments, and finally they simply wanted to expel the leaders from office. Many concluded that it was a characteristic Florentine "imbroglio" neither very bloody nor very destructive, but in the collective minds of the state it was seen as a harrowing experience provoked by the evil character of depraved workers.
Florentine and International Capitalism
Florence became a leading centre in Europe for the production and distribution of first woollen and then silk textiles. But perhaps even more importantly Florentines are considered to have dominated international finance in all major European banking centres between roughly 1250 through to 1500. When today we think of international capitalism we think of impersonal competition for customers (usually someone else's) driven purely by the price and quality of the goods being traded. However, we have seen with the guilds, Florence did not really allow competition for customers, but focussed more on merchants cooperating and trusting each other. This "fiducia" could best be seen in the practice of widespread credit and loans. But this was not a naive ideal based upon handshakes, it was based upon precise accounting and tracking the accountability of each other. At the time one ex-wool merchant wrote to his sons "Test your friend a hundred times and don't let him mislead you. Moreover, he who demonstrates with his words that he is loyal and wise, trust him all the less, and in no way should you trust someone who offers himself to you". For one must remember that Florence was the city of Machiavelli.
Business partnerships were usually contracted for a period of three years, and rarely lasted more than 5 years. Florentine bankers actually only stayed in the business for about 8 years, before moving on to politics, diplomacy or farming. To some experts the secret was the concept of "economic credit", the ability to do business without money, just using paper, pen and ink. This was their "competitive advantage". Florentine archives are overwhelmed with account books, business letters and person dairies, despite the fact that probably the vast majority have been lost. But behind the figures and the calculation there resided a tight network of social relations of family, friends and neighbours (parenti, amici, vicini).
Florentine merchants adopted double-entry bookkeeping from 1380's, which gave great visibility to the current account. In particular, for the same person or company, credits on one side of the book were set against debts on the other side. An opening credit would be followed by a temporal series of transactions, with money flowing in and out, all neatly and precisely registered in parallel columns. In one sense double-entry bookkeeping described not transactions but a relationship, and the current balance measured that relationship.
But how did it work at the international level, where difference currencies were involved? Each side of an economic relationship maintained "our" and "your" accounts (nostro/vostro), which were like bins in which credits and debts would enter on an ongoing basis. This provided a kind of open-ended credit between legally separate branches but linked through common partners, or so-called "correspondenti". It could be actioned by a simple letter asking for credit, or it could be through an exchange of letters that would see money credited and debited across different offices in different countries, but without any movement of actual cash. As an example, a Florentine merchant might tell his bank to transfer all his money held in Avignon to Venice though a letter of exchange to his agent there, because he intended to invest in cotton. More impressive was the ability of correspondenti to act on behalf of clients to take advantage of a local opportunity without explicit case-by-case approval. What did this mean? A correspondent A would take discretionary action on behalf of correspondent B, and would charge B's account in A's book. So it would be B's financial commitment made with A's disposable cash. Later B might do the same for A, thus paying back the "loan" with a reciprocal gesture. What we see is more than just a profit/loss, but mutual deposits and gifts based upon honour and reputation. In this sense a credit was just an (as yet) unreciprocated gift. In one open-ended authorisation letter an agent told his correspondent not to lend money to ..., nor money of the company to …, or to others that might bring business from … However, they were permitted to do "as you wish and as if it were for yourself" with other parties in Paris, London, Barcelona, Lucca and Venice to the Medici, and to "continue in this way if no one instructs you otherwise". And as a parting remark he warned them not to get themselves too indebted with anyone, "and especially with those of Diamante degli Alberti & Co.". Clearly our agent had his "black list" but otherwise he trusted his correspondent to act discretionary in his interest, even though they were two different companies.
Interestingly in Florentine correspondence of the time "to lend" was to "credere" or "to believe in", so to offer credit typically meant having confidence in them, not just financially but also morally. It would appear that with correspondents and branch partners, linked through current accounts, there was an enormous amount of friendship (amicizia) and kinship expressed in the business letters. And almost all the letters would terminate with a statement of loyalty to each other, and even in disputes there was every attempt made to settle "as is done between friends". And even when things finally went wrong people would write "And despite what he has done to me, I will never forget the love and brotherhood that was between him and me". The word "honour" would be the measure of how things were to go wrong, the more the word was written the more the problem was growing, and naturally complimenting someone on their honour was but a veiled threat about the potential loss of honour that might occur.
For Florentines the idea of friendship and helping someone, was to make money. And the purpose of making money was to make friends, through the generosity of gifts. This was not a veneer of friendship, because they would often create fictive kinships to convey a sense of real loyalty. Agents would address correspondents as "your are like a brother" or "his is like a son to me". They might suggest a name as if the person "was like my wife's brother". One key difference is that in English friendship usually has connotations of being between equals, whereas "amicizia" could express a friendship, even love, and also across generations such as with a father and son.
As a final point on the nature of correspondence, in many cases they would include an enormous amount of information on local exchange rates, material shortages, transportation routes, wars and diplomacy not necessarily linked to the business at hand. In addition gossip might be included how one or other might be doing business or who might or might not have lost in a translation. They rarely used "fama" or reputation, which most saw as a commodity, and they preferred "onore" (honour) which was more representative of their true character. So gossip was not gratuitous, it was seen as a gift, a warning to a friend.
The above description looks a bit "soft", and it may be difficult to see how it generated wealth. Florentines were obliged to register item by item credits and debts so that they could not create an artificial debt and get a tax break. Tax was paid on net wealth, assets minus liabilities. An analysis of a particular year, 1427, showed that banking were leveraged at 5:1 on their capital, so potentially very profitable but associated with higher risk. The leverage on cloth production, wool and silk was 1:1, so reasonably profitable but low risk. The leverage on cloth retail and dyeing was 2:1. The sense of leverage is limited because in many cases the money was "borrowed" from trading and exchange partners, and the bigger the bank the more it was leveraged. One report noted that the 80 banks operating in Florence in the early 15th century had an income higher than the whole of England at the time. Another estimate put the wealth of the Medici bank at its peak in today's money at $130 billion.
An interesting comparison was made between 1427 and 2011, which showed that the same family surnames were still the top earners and taxpayers today. As an aside more than one-third of Italy's richest people inherited their fortunes, as opposed to "just" 29% in the US, although in Germany it's as high as 65%.
The Florentine Army
A city states or city-republics had civic militia made up of male citizens called to defend the city. The argument goes that in the 14th century the "citizen militia" could not compete with the serious organisation and technique of the mercenary companies. To pay for the mercenaries, higher revenues for the state were needed, and the Signoria became the principle instrument to achieve that. The need to create greater wealth and increase the circulation of money meant that the citizen lost the practice of arms. Authors suggest that this loss resulted in a decline in the "proud spirit" of resistance seen in the past. The bourgeoisie had become "absorbed in industry and trade" and were no longer able to muster a citizen infantry.
In the period through to the mid-13th century accounts are untrustworthy, but there is evidence that a city's cavalry and infantry fought many short campaigns to capture neighbouring fortified towns and castles. The suggestion is that a city's military service might stretch up to a maximum of one month "on the road". Florence is known to have fought against Siena in 1207-08 and again in 1229-34, but as annual forays or destructive raids rather than a full clash or arms. It is true that in 1233 and 1234 Florence camped under the walls of Siena for 54 and 53 days respectively, but that was an exception. We don't know what the 12th century Florentine army looked like, but it's certain they fought on horseback and on foot, accompanied by the symbolic waggon ("carroccio"), emblem of civic patriotism. They could certainly put a substantial number of people in the field if necessary. For example, in 1201 Florence promised Siena help with 100 cavalry and 1,000 foot soldiers, including archers.
A new wall for Florence 1173-75
Here we have Florence with the wall constructed in 1173-75. The city was divided into "Sesti" or "Sestieri", meaning sixths. There was still only one bridge. The population grew to about 30,000 people, and with the new wall the administrative districts were increased from four to six. A separate report suggests that the city area grew from about 24 hectares in roman time to 75 hectares, and that there could still have been 35,000 to 40,000 people living outside the walls. In fact the "contado" beyond the walls was also reorganised into six administrative units. Each "Sestieri" was responsible for defending its portion of the walls. The Consuls, the supreme officers of the state at that time, were elected annually two for each "Sesto", and they were usually popular "delle torri" (nobles). The there was the "Council of One Hundred" which also elected annually, and usually from the guilds. The "Sestieri" were divided into twenty "Gonfaloni" or standards, and each was represented by a standard-bearer or "Gonfaloniere". There are reports of a second bridge started in 1225.
Each "Sestieri" had its own representative symbol, here are just three, from the left, Oltrarno, San Piero Scheraggio, and Borgo or Santa Trinita.
We know the city militia were almost certainly paid, because already in 1184 Florence was paying 3 soldi a day to Lucchese cavalry and 1 soldo a day to the infantry. And it looks as if Florence was employing mercenaries by 1208, when they paid some Umbrian knights for serving against Siena. It's almost certain that mercenaries were used much earlier, and already in 1124 Volterra actually forbid its citizens from serving in the army of any other city. In the wars with Florence in 1229 and 1231 we know Siena employed hundreds of mercenaries, also from as far away as France and Germany. The fact that they sent out recruiters would suggest that organised bands of mercenaries with recognised commanders still did not exist. We also know that Florence did not employ a substantial number of mercenaries at that time, yet only with their city militia they were able to force Siena to accept unfavourable peace-terms.
Florence quickly became a powerful city, dominated the region, but was still constantly afflicted by the divisions of her citizens. This evolution was dominated by the Guelphs, and so started a constant battle between the parties of nobles with one or other becoming dominate, expelling the other, before having to invite them back to create a temporary peace. The weaker of the two forces, would join with their friends in the region and assemble a new stronger force, kill some of the opposing nobles, and continue until they were invited back. The presence of Frederick I (“Barbarossa”) helped reduce the powers of the old clans, and some administrative and military posts explicitly excluded nobles. The reality was that there was no true long-term political stability, yet the city built an amazing trading network. Each of the seven "arti maggiore" was organised as a small state, with its own council, statutes, assemblies, magistrates, etc. and they could also muster a citizen militia when needed. It was the solidity of these guilds that kept the city going despite changes in government and an almost constant civil war.
In 1250 the citizens elected 36 "caporali di popolo" with a "Capitano del Popolo" (Captain of the People), which represented the citizens independently of the nobility, and formed the basis for what was termed the "Primo Popolo" (meaning "popolo vecchio"). The city was effectively split into two almost autonomous republics, the "comune" led by the "Podestà" (a kind of chief magistrate) and the popolo led by the Capitano. A central authority was formed by twelve elders ("anziani"), also sometimes knows as "priori" and who would later become the basis for the "Signoria". The Podestà commanded the army, represented the city to foreign powers and signed treaties. He was supported by a 90-person "consiglio speciale" and a 300-strong "consiglio generale", made up of nobles. The Capitano had two committees made up of citizens, the guilds, the "gonfalonieri", etc. (the gonfalonieri were standard-bearers of the different communes in the city). The Capitano was responsible for the popolo's 1000-strong troop who were there to maintain domestic order, and could be employed against the nobles, but were not used in military conflicts. In 1252 they created the "Palazzo del Popolo", the seat of civic authority.
The Sesti's were the basis of the city's military, and fought under the command of the Podestà, together with twelve Captains (two from each Sesto). The number of Sesti called upon on each occasion depended on the nature of the campaign. Each Sesto has its own cavalry force, and individuals or families had to maintain a horse or horses on behalf of the city. They could provide a younger relative as rider or pay for a "suitable rider", and they would receive compensation for injury or death. At the time, more than half of the horses in the city were held jointly, often joint heirs to someone on whom the obligation had been placed. It did mean that at any time, every horse had a rider. A Sesto's infantry was also dived into specialist groups. There were crossbowmen and archers, each with their own standard-bearers, as were infantrymen equipped only with hoes and stakes. The "pavesarii" (shield-men) were under three standard-bearers, each responsible for two Sesti. This was also true for sappers ("guastatores") and those ensuring the provision-train. There was a special bodyguard and commander for the carroccio, and even a captain for the camp-followers.
We have more extensive information concerning the defeat of Florence at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260 (which we have already mentioned). Details are sketchy, but better than for any other battle of the time. Florence's army was made up of paid Florentines, possible as many as 1,400 on horse ("cavallata") including numerous "knights of the contado" (from outside the city). The guard of the carroccio included 48 horsemen, and 153 infantry. There were at least 200 cavalry mercenaries, and more infantry. The guess is that there were about 4,000 infantry in total, and in addition a force of about 1,000 crossbowmen and possibly the same number of archers. There were 3,000 sappers from the contado and possibly as many as 5,000 general infantry also from the contado. So in total about 16,100 men, of whom 1,650 were mounted.
In 1252 Florence introduced of the florin. Initially it was more a money of account, and was chosen to equal the value of one "lira" (i.e. the nominal silver of 20 "soldi" or 240 "dinari"). Soldiers were paid in lira (l), soldi (s), and dinari (d). Cavalry were paid 6l. 15s. a month, and the mercenary cavalry were paid the equivalent of 8 florins a month. Crossbowmen were paid 3s. a day, archers 2s. 8d., and "pavesarii" 2s. 6d. Infantry, including the guard of the carroccio were paid 2s. a day, and sappers 1s. a day. It looks like this army would have cost around 35,000 lira a month. It is thought that Siena would have paid about 7,000 lira a month to its army and another 20,000 lira to the German mercenary. Interestingly, some of the costs were recovered in fines levied on the many absentees or defaulters. Cavalry absentees were fined 10 lira, and infantry 5 lira. If you didn't have the right equipment or if it was of poor quality you would be fined. Missing a saddle, lance or shield would cost you 1 lira, and if you were missing a common piece of equipment it could cost you 5s. If you tried to sell your horse so as to avoid your obligations, you could be fined 100 lira, and failure to denounce absentees was a crime. You could also purchase an exemption, 30s. for a crossbowman, 15s. for "contadini", and 10s. for archers. They thought of everything, even offering 10 lira for every prisoner turned in. And if you didn't get paid you could keep the prisoner, and you could always keep the property you captured from the enemy.
By 1282 changes were made again, leading to a city that was almost entirely dominated by the wealthy merchants (the "popolani grassi"). By 1289 serfdom was abolished and the number of "arti" was increased, first to 12, then to 21. One continuing problem were the family clans that, despite being excluded from many offices, still influenced the administration of the city and state. But by this time each clan had to be agreed and accepted by the others, and they were held collectively responsible for any offences committed. In 1293, according to the "Ordinamenti della Giustizia" only guild members were admitted to the Signoria.
We have a better idea of 13th century mercenary forces. They were usually expected to be in groups of about 50 with officers, and could be recruited en bloc. They would be expected to provide horses and equipment and each would be paid 8 florins a month for a minimum of two months. If captured they could be exchanged for mercenaries captured from the opposing force. Compensation was expected for the loss of horse or life, and they would collect on any prisoners handed in. They were also granted safe-conduct "except in the case of Florentine citizens found guilty of murder, fraud, theft or arson". The region did not lack for political exiles who would find military employment, and would set themselves up with horses and weapons capture from defeated foes.
After the defeat of Florence at the Battle of Montaperti in 1260, they had learned that a force of burghers could no longer withstand a professional force in the field. By 1280, Florence had turned to mercenaries and their army became a complicated combination of civic militia with professional troops based upon mercenary bands. It must be said that the period was a "buyers market" with hard-pressed knights looking for work, and we known that Siena's Germans reduced their pay from 12 lira to 9 lira a month. By 1285 mercenaries had become a normal part of city life, and local officials acquired a new task "to inspect mercenaries and their arms and horses", and they were increasingly recruited "on the usual terms". The bands of mercenaries became "constabularies" with a commander, and recruiting moved to a negotiation with their preferred commander. And it made it much easier to loan mercenaries to allies, a common practice. Some commanders were able to bring with them several hundred horsemen, and city's like Florence started to only take mercenaries with a commander (or "constable"). The next step was for Florence to decide to appoint a Pistoian commander of 300 mercenary cavalry, "Captain of the Florentine Militia", with the power to recruit constables and other mercenaries. The 13th century constable became the 14th century "condottiero", but still at this time constabularies were about 25-50 or occasionally 100 men.
One of the earliest "condotta" (contract) was between Florence and a certain "Inghilese de St Rémy" (from France). He had already served Siena, but now he could turn up with 100 cavalrymen, each with a war-horse worth at least 30 lira, full armour (covering neck, thigh and leg) as well as a helmet and shield, sword, lance and knife. They were paid the normal rate of 11 florins per month. The captain would be paid double, but was expected to have two additional horses as well as his war-horse. There would be two "banner-bearers" for each company of 50 men, and they also were paid double. Each company was to have a trumpeter, and the force was expected to have 30 pack-horses, each paid 5 lira per month. The war-horses were inspected, and would be compensated for if killed in battle, provided it was reported within three days. The owner would receive the money within 10 days, and was to present his new horse within the following three days (he would be fined if he was late). Mercenaries had to parade on request, and failure to do so would also be fined. Any prisoners had to be handed in within four days, and they would pay 25 lira for a horseman and 10 lira for an infantryman. But the city could decide not to "buy" the prisoner, who would then be left to the charge of the captor (who could do as he wished but was not allowed to kill them). If either side failed to respect the contract, the fine was 1,000 lira. Our "Inghilese de St Rémy" was not a significant personality, but slightly later another constable was knighted and given 500 gold florins by a grateful city. Yet another constable was so successful that he was promoted to command 450 knights and 170 squires, with each knight paid 1 florin per day.
During this period military service remained active in Florence, but it was usual that only one or two "Sesti" would be called out, and the normal service was between 10 and 14 days. So imaginative arrangements were made, where a "Sesti" would send only ¼ of their force, but the other ¾ would pay them. But we cannot ignore the fact that Florence and the contado could put in the field between 6,000 and 15,000 men, and at least 500-600 citizens would receive "cavallata" payments (40 florins per year) to be ready with their horse (they would receive 10s. to 15s. per day in service). So, at least at this time, mercenaries were to reinforce and not replace citizen militias.
The result was that any particular conflict might include a variety of forces from different origins. An engagement against Pistoia in 1302 comprised 500 cavalry and nearly 7,000 infantry, of which about 1,000 sappers. The horsemen were Florentine, whereas 1,000 foot soldiers were mercenaries. There were 4,000 contadini and 750 crossbowmen and shieldmen from the city.
Throughout the period the principle motivation for combat was the continued conflict between Ghibellines and Guelphs. By the 1320's recruiting mercenary companies had become an administrative routine. Recruitment was extended to Germany and the Friuli, and now also included mounted crossbowmen. However mercenaries were still just bands of men, and we would have to wait until the 1350's to see mercenaries as a semi-independent political entity. And we are still some years away from being able to reproach Florentines as being a race of decadent and sedentary businessmen.
It was in 1322-23 that 200 hundred mercenaries left Florentine service, joined up with more unattached soldiers, and formed "la compagna" of 500 cavalry who wandered and plundered through the Sienese "contado" until they were driven out by a large Sienese and Florentine army working together. This was a sign of things to come.
The Florentine State
By the early 1380's the clergy had been stripped of most of their immunities, and even the Inquisition had almost become just another state tribunal. The right and privileges of the clergy had been curtailed and they were now expected to pay taxes like everyone else. Ecclesiastical lands were confiscated by the state, and public courts were replacing ecclesiastical tribunals. The Signorie had put a public treasurer in charge of the assets of the confraternities, and by the 1370's they were under direct fiscal supervision. Later lay religious companies were expressly prohibited from engaging in any political activist, no matter how trivial. Their assets could be stripped and distributed to the poor. In Florence this did not stop the Parte Guelfa (Guelph Party) trying to undo communal statutes. They still represented many of the great nobles of Florence and were still champions of pro-Papal policies. At the same time the great patrimonies of the nobles were also subject to direct public levies. Until the 1330's the lawlessness of Florentine nobility filled hundreds of pages of court records. Gradually seeking vengeance in the courts started to replace street brawls. On top of that as taxes became territorial rather than personal, many nobles could see no advantage in ancient ties and lineage, and they simple renounced them in court, asking to be included among il popolo. Many noble houses renounced their status and the right to bear arms, and many even changed their family name. Jousting and swordplay had fallen into disrepute, and when later revived it would be for ceremonial or decorative purposes only.
Just as the grandi had been transformed, so were the arti (guilds). Guilds and guildsmen became libel for forming monopolies after 1343. The imbalance between major and minor guilds was corrected, and guilds could avoid the guild courts and instead go to state tribunals. Florence officials were responsible for the food supply, fixing prices and even arranging for sale. Guilds not only lost their prestige but they lost also revenue. Behind the intervention of the state there was an economic need. Florence merchants and bankers were active all over Europe, and they needed state support to support their myriad activities. For example, in the 1370's Florence's favoured position was attacked by both foreign competition and the hostility of the Papacy. Florence manufacturers called for help from the Signorie, and in 1393 duty was added to imported foreign cloth. Later other guilds called for the same help. At the same time Florence had fought expensive wars to wrested control of the littoral from her neighbours, so that they could build ports, construct galleys, and export throughout the Mediterranean.
At the same time Florence starts to look to control the flow of money, something the powerful guilds could not do. Again in 1393 laws prohibited Florentines from insuring merchandise borne on foreign ships. People were not allowed to export more than 50 gold florins at one time, and public stock could not be sold to foreigners. They did everything to keep money in Florence and stop it leaving, including not paying interest to non-citizens. By the 1350's the most conspicuous officials were "regulatores", those make tax assessments and "gabelles" (taxes on salt). Then came the recovery and management of properties for no-payment of taxes. By the 1340's you would have had to be a financial and legal wizard to manage the accounts of a simple vicar or captain of a band of mercenaries. By the 1380's you could no longer expect elected people to know how to manage the state, this was now a job for professionals recruited by appointment. By the 1380's the discussion of Ghibellines and Guelphs had been replace with talk about taxation and fiscal policy.
Already, extraordinary commissions ("Balìe") were being created to do a lot of the administrative work of government. The Balìe ensured continuity, in particular in managing revenues and in hiring of troops, and they were more or less immune from political upheavals. It started when they drew up contracts for mercenaries, and then managed public funds for payments, including communal creditor payments. In the 1350's they were commissioned to supervise the collection of many gabelles. Then they were charged with finding new sources of revenue, and naturally their first stop was to fine violations of the city's food laws. The Balìe then built new communal grain mills so as to pull in higher revenues. Despite all the efforts, the phenomenal escalation of war costs produced a mounting public debt. This just placed greater pressure on the Balìe to impose more brutal means to collect taxes.
A Balìa (plural Balìe) is said to have been term of ancient French origin, adopted in the republics of Florence, Siena and Perugia with the meaning of exercising authority over administered territory. Some texts appear to suggest that a balìa could create bailiffs to exercise their authority. So generally the term balìa (plural balìe) designated the faculty to govern and dispose of subjects in a city in more or less an unlimited way, but on occasions of particular needs or serious danger to the State, i.e. through the creation of "extraordinary commissions"). The term therefore also came to indicate the commission, or judiciary, to which these powers were delegated. In Florence, as early as 1287, full powers began to be attributed to the Priori (priors) in order to defend and strengthen the authority of the Municipality in the face of internal and external dangers. Over time this custom became more and more generalised and despite the fact that a balìa was always granted for a defined period of time, however it exercised authority without limitation. In front of a balìa the traditional governing bodies, found themselves deprived of their sovereignty and authority. For example, the Medici resorted to the balìa to seize the powers of the State, and create new institutions, suppress the old ones, condemn the opponents, and entrust public offices to their followers.
It would appear that the creation of a balìa did not follow a predetermined rule, but on the contrary different rules were instituted according to the political context. Usually a people's assembly would required the creation of a balìa to address a specific problem. And they would authorised its ability to action, but the members on a balìa would, in most cases, be chosen either by the Podestà or a group of elder consuls. Over time the balìa became less an exception, and more common practice. Cities would delegating to more or less restricted commissions the task to deliberate on important and delicate issues, especially relating to fiscal or military matters. Experts have pointed out that balìe were seen as a way to get round overly rigid institutional systems with very strict regulations. The problem appears to have been that the balìe began to play a real role of government, freeing themselves from any form of control and dictating the political line of what was a people's regime. The rich and powerful of the guilds, just as the magnates and aristocrats of the past, came to treat public office as their private reserve. So all the important families were represented when a special balìa was founded, and over time the most pressing public problems were dealt with by these balìe. So the bankers and their "popolani" counterparts directed the affairs of state. Initially power was in the hands of an elite who found themselves in the Signorie, but a bureaucracy emerged that had to manage the debt and sustain an imposing administrative machinery. The letter of the law did not permit any Signore to by-pass constitutional practices, offend public opinion, or approve new revenue and spending measures. The appointment of extraordinary commissions (balìe) was the favoured remedy. Initially balìe served for stated periods made explicit in provisions enacted by the communal councils. But in the balìe authority was more centralised "at the top" and possibilities to influence it multiplied, the balìe grew more important and their terms of office were lengthened. As one expert wrote "All this served to give greater continuity and more intense managerial direction to political life without engendering felling of political impotency among the citizenry".
The Balìa di Siena was initially the main independent governing body of the Republic of Siena and, following the formation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the reform of 1561 by Cosimo I de 'Medici, it also became the autonomous government of the Duchy of Siena. In the latter version, the Balìa was made up of twenty resident citizens (those who had previously held some judiciary position), who remained in office for a year. The twenty were chosen directly by the Grand Duke from a wider list of names, proposed by the "Segretario delle Leggi" (secretary of laws). This particular form of a Balìa had a number of different tasks, including establish expenditure, elect the ambassadors, oversee all matters concerning the Monte dei Paschi, control monasteries, brotherhoods, hospitals, and charitable institutions, and more specifically organise city festivals such as the Palio.
The reality was that until the 1320's Florence was able to mange a public debt of around 50,000 florins. Any additional spending on military campaigns could be covered by adding taxes or customs duties on wine and salt. But then the State starts to run sizeable deficits (but nothing compared to what would come in the 15th century). In 1345 the communal debt ("Monte") was floated, and from then on it rapidly became the determinant element in public policy formation. In that year less than 100 families had substantial "Monte" holdings. But by 1427 virtually every patrimony exceeding 3,000 florins was a shareholder in Florence's funded debt. In 1387 the charges on the city's debt reached 150,000 florins annually, and by 1404 it had risen to 250,000 florins. It did not help that from 1388 through to around 1425 the costs for hiring troops for the different wars to which Florence participated must have been around 300,000 to 400,000 florins annually (for example, in 1424 it was 2.5 million florins). It must be said that most of the money paid to mercenaries was then spent in the city, and also public moral was high as a result of the victories carried over their neighbours. Also the accounts of the "Monte" were meticulously maintained, and ever effort was made to make repayments. And during this time Florence thrived in terms of foreign trade and communal customs receipts. The establishment of the "Catasto" in 1427 meant that a direct tax could also be exacted. Those who looked back at the past realised that Florence had gained in the way everyone was now treated the same in front of the law. Now civil authority was being applied fairly and impartially, but at the same time some people thought that Florence had lost some of its vitality, her generosity of character, and her distinction in arms.
Back to de' Medici
Friends and foes of the Medici had different stories concerning their origins. Their foes declared that they sprang from the dregs of the people, a charcoal-burner in the Mugello (an area north of Florence), whose son was a "medico". Friends went so far as to suggest that the Medici were once related to an Emperor. Yet others stated that there was a certain brave knight called Averardo de' Medici, who came to Italy with Charlemagne to kill a fierce giant Mugello who had kept Tuscany in bondage. Or could it have been the medico who saved the life of Charlemagne by applying cupping-glasses of his own invention.
The Medici coat of arms we see often bore six balls ("palle"), said to be doctor's pills, cupping-glasses, apples from the gardens of the Hesperides, dents made by the giant's mace on Averardo's golden shield, or just heads of enemies slain in battle. It appears that the number of red balls changed from 12, to 11, to 8, to 6, and then to 5 with one addition blue ball with three golden lilies, said to represent the symbol of the kings of France (to whom the Medici had lent money).
Giambuono - the first progenitor
The real progenitor of the Medici was probably a certain Giambuono (1131/1140-1192), who may have been a priest in the Mugello region. Some reports claim (with certainty) that in the 12th century the family owned houses and towers near the church San Tommaso, in the Ghetto. It is true that there once existed a San Tommaso in Piazza del Mercato Vecchio, but in 1890 the area was cleared to make place for the Piazza Vittorio Emaniele II, today called Piazza della Republica. It is also said that the church was in fact only built in the 13th century by the Sizii family. In addition, the Florentine Ghetto was officially developed only in 1571 by the Medici family.
There is some proof that the brothers Chiarissimo I (ca.1167-1210) and Bonagiunta (possibly 1164-1226) descended from Giambuono. Wikipedia clearly state that there are no useful documents on the origins of the Medici family before the 13th century, which seems reasonable since experts say that few documents date from before 1244. Some sources mention that Chiarissimo di Giambono de Medici was registered as a member of the Arte della Lana in 1201, and was in the General Council of the Florentine Republic in the same year. It was reported that he lent money to nobles and religious institutions, and was already an owner of a house in Florence. Later the family appears to have moved to the Arte di Calimala before finally moving to the Arte del Cambio.
The de' Medici family tree
Below we will try to reconstruct the family tree from Giambuono. There are a massive number of unknowns in terms of births, deaths, marriages, etc., but it's an attempt to follow from Giambuono through to ….
I've used a genealogy tree for de' Medici and added information found on Wikipedia. I've also tried to add a few less known facts to illustrate some of the less well known people in the history of the family.
So everything started with Giambuono (1131/1140-1192) who had two sons, Bonagiunta (?-1226) and Chiarissimo I (1167?-1210).
All the male names would normally have had …de' Medici added, i.e. Ugo de' Medici. The use of "de' " in Italian is a shortening of "dei" and means "of the" as in Lorenzo of the Medici, i.e. Lorenzo de' Medici.
Some sources trace back the de' Medici heritage to 1046. It takes a bit of imagination, but they refer to a "Medico di Potrone (1046-1102)", who practiced on behalf of the Ubaldini, feudal lords in the Mugello region. There are also vague references to a certain "Bono" (? 1046-1102) and a certain Bernardo (? 1099-1147), before Giambuono.
Bonagiunta (?-1226) had two sons, Ugo and Andrea (who also married with issue). Ugo married Dialta di Scolojo della Tosa, and they had one son, Galgano. Galgano married Orsabia and they had Bonagiunta, who married and had seven children, namely Ardingo, Lappo, Guccio, Albizo, Manetto, Lippo and Manno. Ardingo married Gemma di Bardi, and they had one son Francesco who married Contessina Adimari. Francesco and the Contessina had three children, Jacobo (?-1365) who married Troja Adimari, Bonagiunta (?-1363) who married Angela de' Guazzalotti, and Venna who married Francesco Gherardini. Lappo married and had two sons, Cambio and Coppo. Coppo married and had a son Lappo. Guccio married Margherita degli Agli, and they had two sons, Grifo and Albizo. Grifo married Donata Viviani, and had one son Zanobi. Manetto married and had one son Neri. Neri was married to Testa, and they had three sons, Giano who married Simona Rabatta, Matteo, and Manetto who married Francesca Lupicini.
The focus has always been on the line that would lead to Cosimo il Vecchio and on to the Dukes of Florence and Tuscany, but let us stay on Bonagiunta for a moment. The line of Bonagiunta did not lack for people who also played important roles in the history of Florence. Bonagiunta, let's call him "il Vecchio", had two sons Ugo and Andrea. Ugo only had one son, Gaigano, and he had only one son Bonagiunta. But this new Bonagiunta managed to have seven children, including Ardingo who married a Bardi and was Gonfaloniere della Repubblica in 1296 (his son, Francesco, would be Capitano di Pistoia in 1338). Bonagiunta's second son, Lappo, would be Magistrato de' Priori in 1317, and Gonfaloniere di Compagnia in 1328 (his son, Lappo, would be Capitano di Guerra in Todi in 1361). Bonagiunta's third son, Guccio, would be Gonfaloniere della Repubblica in 1299, and one of his sons, Grifo, would be Magistrato de' Priori in 1321, and another of his sons, Albizo, would be Podestà di Pescia in 1341. Bonagiunta's fourth son, Albizo, would be Magistrato de' Priori in 1302.
There are statements "we have historical proof" that brothers Chiarissimo I and Bonagiunta de' Medici were descendants of Giambuono. The same reference stated that Chiarissimo I was a member of the council which made an alliance with the Sienese against Semifonte in Val d'Elsa, when that strong castle was razed to the ground in 1201. It was also written that Ardingo (d. 1343?), a great-grandson of Bonagiunta was the first of that family line to hold high office in Florence. He became Prior of the city in 1291, Gonfaloniere of Justice in 1296, and again in the following year. It is also stated that this proves that the Medici were not of old nobility, since nobles had been excluded from all magisterial offices, by the law of 1293 called the Ordinamenti della Giustizia, which some have called the Magna Carta of the Republic of Florence.
Ardingo's brother Guccio, who was Gonfaloniere in 1299, made himself so popular that when he died he was buried with great pomp in a sarcophagus of the fourth century, which stood outside the baptistery. The cover, bearing the Medici arms and those of the Arte della Lana, to which Guccio belonged, was made by orders of the Priors at the time of his burial.
I've also seen a reference that in 1240 Ugo and Galgano di Bonagiunta de' Medici acted for the creditors of a certain Guido Guerra.
Chiarissimo I (1167?-1210) is said to have been on the Consiglio della Città di Firenze, and he had one son Filippo di Chiarissimo de' Medici. Filippo married Bana and had three sons, Ranieri, Averardo I de' Medici and Chiarissimo II (1211-1253?). Both Averardo I and Chiarissimo II produced an extensive heritage.
There are a few vague references to Filippo di Chiarissimo de' Medici marrying an Alessia Grimaldi di Genova.
Averardo I de' Medici married Benricevula, and they had one son Averardo II de' Medici (1270-1319).
Averardo II de' Medici (1270-1319) was Magistrato de'Priori in 1309, Gonfaloniere della Repubblica in 1314, married Mandina Arrigucci (ca. 1276-?), and had seven children, Jacobo, Giovenco, Francesco, Salvestro di Medici (1300-1346), Talento, Filigno and Giovanni.
Jacopo was Cavaliere and Legato in Napoli in 1317, married Margherita dell'Antella, and had three children, Masa (who married Bernardo Folchi), Averardo (who married Giovanna Baroncelli), and Forese.
Giovenco (d. 1320) married Nucciana Rucellai, and they had four children, Elisabetta (married Michele Rondinelli), Mandina (married Ugo della Stufa), Giuliano, and Francesco. Their third child, Giuliano "detto Giovenco", who married Tellina Donati, had six children, Zanobi, Tellina, Giuliano (who had a grandson Giuliano who was Magistral de'Priori, Gonfaloniere della Repubblica in 1487, and Podestà di Prato in 1492), Caterina, Giovanni, and Antonio who had a son Bernardetto (1393-1464) who was Magistrato de'Priori in 1436, and Gonflaconiere della Repubblica di Fitenze and a grandson Averardo who was Magistral de'Priori, della Libera in 1464 and again in 1484 and Gonfaloniere della Repubblica in 1485 and 1513, Commissario in 1488, and Capitano di Livorno in 1495. Through Giuliano, Giovenco would also have a great-grandson Averardo (1518-1601) who would be Commissario delle Bande Ducali and Senatore in 1586, and even a great-great-grandson Ottaviano (1555-1625) who would be Commissario of Pisa in 1621 and Senatore in 1615. 126.96.36.199.1.2.5 Francesco married Francesca Dati, and who had nine children Luca (Frate del Carmine), Jacopo, Pietro, Niccolo, Tommaso, Michele, Antonia (married Benozzo Benozzi), Domenico (married Margherita Pozzi), and Caterina who married Giovanzo Filicaja. Tommaso firstly married Antonia Morelli, and then Lisa Libra with whom he had six children, Piero, Tolosino (?-1473), Giovanni, Francesco, Bartolomea (nun in 1418), and Lazzaro. Tolosino was married and they had six children Lazaro, Francesca (married Guido Mannelli), Piero (who married Constanza Capponi), Tommaso, Francesco (married twice, first to Lucrezia Manelli and then to Lucrezia Nicolai), and Marcantonio. Tommaso was Capitano della Montagna di Pistoia in 1488, married Elisabetta Salvetti, and had two girls, Beatrice (a nun) and Ginevra who married Giovanni Cavini. Lazaro married Maddalena degli Jacopi, and they had a son Jacopo who was Senatore in 1555, Commissario a Montepulciano in 1554, Commissario Generale in Pistoia in 1563, Commissario in Pisa in 1567, and firstly married Dianroa Vinaccesi and later Camilla Nicolini. From the first marriage Lazaro had Giuliano (?-1584), and from the second marriage Tommaso (1564-1583), and Francesco (?-1585, Capitano di Volterra in 1571). Tommaso (1564-1583) was Cavaliere dell'Ordine di Christo, married Lucrezia Frescobaldi, and had three children, Francesco (Knight of St John of Malta in 1585), Jacopo (?-1626) and Dianora who married Gianfranco de Medici. Jacopo was Cavaliere di S.Stefano, married Caterina Bagnesi, and had two sons Cosimo (?-1606) and Tomaso (?-1640). Tomaso was Cavaliere di S.Stefano in 1626, married Clarice Strozzi and had one son, Ottavio (?-1628). Marcantonio married Lucrezia Bruni and had five children Giuliano, Antonio, Marco, Averardo, and Leonardo (?-1495). Antonio married Oretta degli Asini and they had three children Bernardo, Marco (?-1538) and Ginevra. Marco married Maddalena Carnesecchi, and they had five children, Alessio, Marcantonio, Giulio Cesare, Orazio and Ferdinando. Orazio was Colonnello della Banda Ducali, Castellano di Volterra, married Camilla della Robbia, and they had two sons Pierpaolo (?-1656) and Ferdinando. Ferdinando was Cavaliere de S.Stefano in 1659, Bali di Delfinato, and married Maddalena Cafarecci….etc.
Francesco, married Bartolomea Cavalcanti, and they had one son Malatesta (d. 1367) who was Priori in both 1350 and 1361.
Talento married Lorenza Buono, and they had one son Mario, who was Priori in 1343, Gonfaloniere della Republica in 1354 and who married Margherita Bardi.
Filigno was Magistrato de 'Priori delle Arti in 1354, and firstly married Margherita da Montebuono, and then later Mandina Alfieri with whom he has one son Michele (d. 1400). Michele married Caterina Alberti and they had one son Giovanni (d. 1400) who went on to have two children with Agnese Alberti, Maria who married Ugone Vecchietti and Angela who married Luigi Covoni.
Giovanni (1341-1382) who married Dea Malcortese.
It would appear that Filigno di Conte de' Medici left a "Recordi" written in 1373, in which he mentioned his father Averardo II de' Medici as "di Conte". In his "Recordi" he noted that his brother Giovanni was responsible for buying most of their lands and houses. Filigno listed the properties they own collectively, starting with a house with shops in the Mercato Vecchio, and adjoining houses "two others, three smaller ones and several shops". In addition they owned a palace with courtyard, orchard and well (and an annexed house). Then in Mugello they owned "half of a palace with houses around it, a courtyard, a loggia and a wall and moat, with an orchard…". I loved the little additions such as "The broad road is to be 7 feet 8 inches wide round the old enclosure of Cafaggiuolo, so that the sons of Messer Giovenco cannot prevent us from using the road in front of the palace and by their wall, as far as the bridge. The moat round Cafaggiuolo is entirely ours as it touches our walls".
We mentioned above that Chiarissimo I (1167?-1210) had one son Filippo and he married and had three sons, Ranieri, Averardo I de' Medici and Chiarissimo II (1211-1253?). Above we followed the line of Averardo I to his son Averardo II de' Medici (1270-1319). One of Averardo II's sons, Salvestro (1300-1346) would have two sons, one of which was Averardo de Medici (1320-1363). We will see that this Averardo would have three children including Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429), who founded the Medici Bank and initiated the rise to power of the family Medici.
But Chiarissimo II also produced an extensive heritage. He would have at least 5 children, the second being Lippo, who would also have eight children including Alamanno, who would go on to marry Margherita Palagi and have four sons, one of which was Salvestro di Alamanno de' Medici (ca. 1331-1388). This Salvestro was a distant relative of Filigno, who wrote his "Recordi" in 1373, and is another example of someone from another branch of the Medici family that also had a major impact on Florentine history. Firstly, he led the Florentine troops against Giovanni Visconti, co-ruler of Milan (1290-1354), and was knighted on the battlefield of Scarperia. Then in 1370 he was Gonfalonier of Justice, and being a Ghibelline he took the side of the people against the nobles (just proving that it was not always the case that Guelphs were on the side of "il popolo"). He advocated for enforcing the enactments of the Ordinamenti della Giustizia (1293-95), which looked to excluded the nobles from power. He failed and might have being exiled, had his name not been again drawn as Gonfalonier in 1378. Once more he proposed to apply the law against the Guelph nobles, and meeting with opposition, threatened to resign. One of his friends then appealed to the populace, and the result was the Ciompi revolt (1378-1382). The mob broke into the Palazzo de' Priori and the Palazzo del Podestà, burnt many palaces, and then went on to knight sixty-four citizens in the Piazza della Signoria, of whom Salvestro was the first. He was also awarded the rents of the shops on the Ponte Vecchio. But more importantly from then on the Medici were looked upon as the friends and defenders of the people against the "grandi" or nobles.
Averardo de Medici (1320-1363), son of Salvestro di Medici (1300-1346), was sometime called Everard de' Medici or Averardo di Bicci di Medici. He married twice, first to Giovanna Cavallini de' Bonagaisi, and later to Giacoma (or Jacopa) Spini. They had three children Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429), Francesco (d. 1402), and Antonia (married Angelo Ardinghelli).
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429), Magistrato de'Priori in 1402, 1408, and 1411, Gonfaloniere in 1421, married Piccarda Bueri (1368-1433), and would have four sons, Antonio (d. 1398), Damiano (d. 1390), Cosimo de' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (1389-1464), and Lorenzo de' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (ca. 1395-1440).
Francesco (d. 1402) married twice, firstly to Francesca di Balduccio di Montecatini, and then to Selvaggia Gianfigliazzi, with whom he had four children, Malatesta (d. 1406) who married Caterina Strozzi, Averardo (1373-1434), Diamante (married Giovanni Capponi), and Dianora (who married Giovanni Bardacci Merichini). Averardo (1373-1434), a merchant and Ambasciatore, married Maddalena Monaldi, and had five children Mariotto (married Antonia da Vepignano), Selvaggia (married Bernardo Magalotti), Giuliano (1396-1467, who married Sandra Tornabuoni and had one son Francesco), Matteo, and Caterina (married Alemanno Salviati).
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, is probably the first of the Medici's who has some historical importance. His father, Averardo, was a wool merchant who had reached a position of relative prosperity only in the last years of his life. Here we have a central figure in the early Medici family, yet living below the level of the urban elite of the time. Initially the family lived on the income from a property in the countryside, and only later in life did Giovanni start to enjoy limited income from land and suburban real estate. Like other members of the family, he carried out a modest business of credit and the sale and rental of land and properties. On his death in 1363, the accumulated patrimony was divided into equal parts, so that for the children it was not a life-changing inheritance. As one expert put it, an inheritance that would have been "an absolutely insufficient basis for cultivating projects of social affirmation".
Giovanni's uncle, on the other hand, Vieri de 'Medici (1323-1395), Averardo's second cousin, was a member of the Arte del Cambio, active in shipping goods from Porto Pisano, and through his banking concerns had acquired substantial wealth. According to tax records Vieri was one of the richest 20 people in the city, yet he was another one of the Medici clan who sided with the "il popolo". In fact, in the riots of 1393 he was sufficiently well respected by both side that he could negotiate a peace between the Signoria and "il popolo". Vieri was at that time the only Medici engaged in trade and credit on an international scale.
Giovanni, and his elder brother Francesco, became "fattore", a steward or manager for Vieri, and Giovanni would go on to head the Vieri bank in Rome (he joined the Arte del Cambio in 1386). With the dowry of 1,500 florins from his future wife Piccarda Bueri Giovanni became a partner in the business in Rome. When Vieri retired in 1393, Giovanni took over the debts and credits and changed the name to "Giovanni de' Medici e compagni en Roma". In 1397 he would move the bank to Florence, and the main Medici Bank was born in partnership with Benedetto di Lippaccio Bardi.
It is thought that during his time in Rome Giovanni formed a friendship with Baldassarre Cossa, cardinal legate of Bologna and future Antipope John XXIII. From 1392 Baldassarre Cossa had been the administrator of the papal assets. It is said that Cossa had enriched himself by sharing in the profits of the creditors of the Curia, including the Medici, and some even go so far as to say that Cossa bought the cardinalate in 1402 using 10,000 ducats provided by the Medici.
In 1402 the Medici Bank opened branches in Venice and Naples, but the Rome branch remained the most profitable thanks to its relationship with the Papal Curia. At the same time Giovanni started his political career by following the line adopted by Vieri. After another plot in 1400 to overthrow the Albizzi power, many of the Medici were excluded from public office for 20 years, but both Giovanni and Francesco were spared. Giovanni spoke openly on behalf of the Gonfalonieri del Popolo and the "Dodici buinomini", and late even became a member of the Signoria in 1402 and 1408.
In 1416 Giovanni started to close down his banking affairs, transferring them to his sons Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo (along with Ilarione Bardi). Also with the failure of the Spini family in 1420, the Medici became the depository of the "Camera Apostolica", which they would retain for 22 consecutive years, and intermittently for another 18 years.
Giovanni had never asked for public office, preferring to wait until it was offered, so totally in line with his image as a "servant of the people and the Republic". And the offers were made, in 1421 Giovanni was Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, the highest office in the Florentine Republic, then in 1421-22 he was ambassador to the Pope. After that he was one of the "Dieci di Balìa" for the war against Milan, and in 1424 he was ambassador to Venice and Bologna.
Over the years Giovanni had adopted a position of non-opposition to the powers in place, but he had always "placed himself at the service of the Republic", and had built a wide and valuable network of family and friends. Only then did the Albizzian oilgarchy realise it was dealing with a "Malescia noce" (a hard walnut wood) who was strong in electoral voting. The key was the introduction of the "catasto" (land registry) in 1427, and whilst Giovanni became the second most taxed person in Florence, he nevertheless did not oppose it in public (only in close council meetings). Most experts feel that Giovanni could not truly oppose the city land registry tax because it was for the first time a tax that affected the rich and poor alike, but with taxes calibrated on income, rents and possessions of individual families, it obviously impacted the wealthy more than the poor. In the past the taxation system was complicated and more focussed on generating revenue from duties imposed on goods, along with extraordinary taxes to pay for wars or the construction of major works. These extra taxes were presented as forced loans and were repaid in a convoluted and cumbersome way, finally by 1343 it had created a mountain of debt, a "monte comune", covered by government issued bonds. Some text even suggest that Giovanni argued for the abolition of the forced loans, and the introduction of the "catasto".
Over the years Giovanni had remained discrete, but highly influential and was recognised as a wise man. When he died in 1429 he left no will, but had a fortune of about 180,000 florins. Perhaps most importantly he established a "modern" approach to politics, building a wide network of family and friends, listening to "il popolo", avoiding conflict, and adopting an informal or "soft" form of power. Tradition has it that on his death bed Giovanni told his sons, Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo, that he would leave them great wealth, "a larger business than any other merchant in the tuscan land", and the "esteem of every good citizen and of the great mass of the populace". He asked them to be "charitable to the poor, kind and gracious to the miserable", and assist people in adversity. They were to never "strive against the will of the people" and "speak not as though giving advice, but rather discuss matters with gentle and kindly reasoning". They were to be obedient in their efforts for the people, keep them at peace, and increase the commerce of the city. He gave a strong word of warning "avoid litigation or any attempt to influence justice, for whoso impedes justice will perish by justice". And finally "be careful not to attract public attention".
Before moving on let us spend a moment on Piccarda Bueri (1368-1433), wife of Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429). The above portrait was from the Pollaiuolo brothers, Antonio (1429-1498) and Piero (ca. 1443-1496), but who commissioned it is unknown. However it carries an inscription and the date 1470, so it was painted many years after her death. It is in keeping with portraits for the time, she is presented in profile. She was born to a noble family, so she brought with her a title and a dowry of 1,500 ducats, and in return Giovanni offered her a promising future (they married in 1386 so I presume it was about the time he might have been preparing to move to the bank in Rome).
One interesting aside is that in many ways Piccarda Bueri can be considered the first of a long line of powerful and influential women that were associated with the Medici family. Through the wives we see how the Medici family created a network of powerful allies, e.g. Bardi, Tornabuoni, Albizzi, Orsini, Sforza, Salviati, Strozzi, as well as the House of Este, House of Gonzaga, House of Savoy, House of Lorraine, House of Wittelsbach, House of Habsburg, Henry II of France, Charles V, and Henry IV of France (House of Bourbon), not to mention a number of Cardinals and Popes.
Cosimo il Vecchio
Cosimo de' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (1389-1464), often called "Pater Patriae", was Priori in 1415 and 1417, was Primo Signore di Firenze (1434-1464), married Contessina de' Bardi dei Conti di Vernio (1390-1473), and had two sons, Piero Pietro de' Medici (1416-1469), often called "il Gottoso", and Giovanni (1421-1463) who married in 1453 with Maria Ginevra degli Albizzi (or more specifically of the Alessandri, a branch of the Albizzi that separate from it in 1372), and they had one son Cosimo/Cosimino, who died young (1459).
The Bardi were a great Florentine banking family, before the company failed in 1345. They converted to landowners, having already bought from the Alberti family and fief in Vernio in 1332. With the marriage of the Contessina Bardi to Cosimo il Vecchio, the families became closely entwined even into the period of the Habsburg-Lorraine (1737-1859). The region of Vernio was strategically important in the constant conflict between Florence and Bologna, and the Bardi were able to always muster a substantial force of men, soldiers and peasants when needed. More than once they were able to immediately put 1,000 men in the field to support the Medici. It was a two way affair, and the Bardi benefited from appointments to important military roles, accommodation for their relatives and clients, tax relief, etc.
In 1459 Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) painted a series of "affreschi" in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. The three main walls depict the "Cavalcata dei Magi", and is a pretext to show off the prestige of the Medici family. It includes these "hidden" portraits of Cosimo il Vecchio and his wife the Contessina Bardi.
Cosimo il Vecchio is mentioned throughout this webpage, so here it is perhaps better to focus on the "little" things in life (which were not always that "little"). At the time he was described as of middle height, with an olive complexion, and of imposing presence, and it was said that he inherited his modesty, prudence and sense of "gravity" from his father. Machiavelli said that Cosimo il Vecchio applied himself so strenuously to increase the political power of his house that "those who had rejoiced at Giovanni's death, now regretted it, perceiving what manner of man Cosimo was. Of consummate prudence, staid yet agreeable presence, Cosimo was liberal and humane. He never worked against his party nor against the State, was prompt in giving aid to all, and his liberality gained him many partisans among the citizens". In one report it was also said of his wife Contessina de' Bardi, whom her married in 1416, that she was a "faithful, thrifty and austere woman".
There is also mention of a third son, Carlo. This illegitimate (or if you prefer "natural") son was born to a Circassian slave girl. It would appear that he was brought up alongside his two legitimate Piero and Giovanni, and later he would hold positions as ambassador to Florence, including to the Pope in Rome. According to Machiavelli Cosimo il Vecchio bought her while in Venice.
Apparently Cosimo il Vecchio understood German, French, Latin and Arabic, and he was known a passionate collector of classical and contemporary texts. Much of his influence and popularity, no doubt, arose from his generosity to men of letters. When Niccolo de' Niccoli, "censor of the Latin tongue," ruined himself by buying books, Cosimo opened an unlimited credit for him at his bank. After Niccoli's death he paid his debts on the condition of being allowed to dispose of the collection of manuscripts, amounting to six hundred volumes. Four hundred he gave to the library of S. Marco, the rest he kept or distributed among friends. Cosimo also provided Tommaso Parentucelli, Bishop of Bologna, with what money he needed, which was a service that was well repaid when the Bishop became Pope, and made him his banker. Parentucelli catalogued de' Niccoli's library, and noted for Cosimo the books that were necessary to complete it. When the Badia Fiesolana, built by Brunelleschi at Cosimo's expense, was finished, he asked how to fill the library. The answer was that to buy the books would be impossible, since they could not be purchased, so the only solution would be to copy the books needed. Cosimo il Vecchio orders that for the money needed for the copying should draw upon his bank which would be honoured. After beginning the collection, since it was Cosimo's will that it should be finished with all speed possible, and money was not lacking, forty-five copyists were engaged, and in twenty-two months they provided two hundred volumes, following the admirable list furnished by Pope Nicholas V.
In 1433 his enemies managed to get him arrested and sentenced to 10 years exile. He was welcomed in Padua and Venice with full honours, and even endowed a Benedictine monastery library in Venice with rare and valuable manuscripts as a sign of his gratitude for their hospitality. In Venice he was able to weave precious new diplomatic relations and even more enrich his business ventures. He was in fact called back to Florence in 1434, due to the discontent and manifestations of the Florentine citizens. He came back to take control of the city government, and his old opponents were sent in to exile. Between 1434 and 1443 he hosted Pope Eugene IV in Florence when Rome was invaded by Milan. And in 1439 he obtained the transfer of the council between the Western Church and the Eastern Church from Ferrara to Florence. The Pope and the patriarch of Constantinople with their respective courts were Cosimo's personal guests. The event, which ended with the signing of the union of the two churches sanctioned in Santa Maria Novella, was also Cosimo's political success.
Cosimo il Vecchio was a patron of the arts, but appeared to have had a particular weakness for architecture. Pope Eugene IV consecrated the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) which was finally completed in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). He also consecrated the church of the convent of San Marco. He completed the decorative details of the "Sagrestia Vecchia of San Lorenzo", made by Donatello (ca. 1386-1466), and he became the exclusive patron from 1442. The Novitiate Altarpiece (dated to 1440-1445) by Filippo Lippi (ca. 1406-1469) was commissioned in the Medici Chapel, or "Noviziato Nuovo" built by Michelozzo in the Franciscan convent of Santa Croce. Cosimo il Vecchio and his brother Piero built (or re-built) the monastery Badia Fiesolana. Cosimo's predilection for "the art of masonry" was said to provide him personal satisfaction of completing large building works. But equally he had a sincere religious sentiment, and the desire to raise one's conscience from the weight of "that not very good money" he earned applying usury rates. Cosimo il Vecchio also commissioned Michelozzo to build Palazzo Medici, which soon became a prototype of architecture civic renaissance.
While spending money in a princely manner on works of art, public libraries and buildings, Cosimo lived as simply as any other citizen. Though for twenty-five years he was practically the ruler of Florence, he remained the merchant, the plain burgher, the agriculturist. His estates were in good order, he superintended the planting, and rose early to prune his vines. Gambling he detested, and the only game he played, but rarely, was chess. Habitually taciturn, particularly in his later years, yet he could give witty and even sharp answers. One man, on being named Podestà, asked him for advice, and received the curt answer "Dress suitably and talk little".
In letters exchanged between Cosimo il Vecchio and his wife we see that they discuss domestic issues, the health of the family and their workers, and who had and had not paid the rents. His wife would also write to her sons where she worries about Cosimo not asking for his summer clothes and that they must be careful with the plague since it was not healthy in Florence. One can see in the letters that Cosimo il Vecchio was just as careful in discussing a 50,000 florins bribe as he was in discussing a bill of 27 florins, and through the letters there are constant references to small gifts, e.g. a "jar of excellent raisons", "stakes for the vineyard", a hat, salted meat, etc.
When Cosimo il Vecchio died the family distributed mourning cloths to close family members, employees and even the family slaves. This included veils and "sciugatoi" or handkerchief (asciugatoio) for the ladies. His wife, the Contessina Bardi, is said to have had 30 reams of cloth, eight veils and "sciugatoi" for the daughters-in-law (Lucretia Tornabuoni and Ginevra degli Alessandri), granddaughters (Bianca and Nannina), sisters-in-law (Ginevra Cavalcanti and Laudomia Acciaioli). In addition three additional women were present, the wives of Contessina Bardi cousins, Lisabetta Pannocchieschi d'Elci, Lisa Alidosi, and Mattea da Panzano. At the time there was even legislation sanctioning the provision of mourning cloths for the family and closest relatives. An important note was the inclusion of non-patrilineal cousins. The Bardi di Vernio were feudal lords and professional men-at-arms, and constituted the armed wing of the Medici family which they used "in the strategy of building and maintaining, even forced, consensus". One analysis of letters sent between the Medici and Bardi clearly shows the strong ties between the families, with members of the different families addressing each other as "pater", "mater", "dearest brother", etc., even if they were often written and sent by staff of the two families (although the Contessina Bardi was found to have written many of her letters herself). The sense of trust between the two families was very noticeable, e.g. a favour might be asked, but the tone was that it would obviously be accepted. Letters could be accompanied by simple gifts (e.g. a local cake or freshly caught trout) symbolising the sense of mutual obligation. The content of the letters of the Contessina Bardi clearly show that she was more aware of the political situation in Florence than might have been expected from a simple obedient wife.
There was an interesting on-going exchange between Count Francesco Sforza and Cosimo il Vecchio, two of the most powerful men of the period. Starting letters with highly elaborate and complimentary introductions in Latin was common practice, and Sforza would write Cosimo "Spectabilis ac Magnifice vir tanquam pater carissime" or "Magnifice tanquam Pater carissime" or "Magnifice vir et tanquam Pater honorandissime". He would express his "humble opinion" and address Cosimo as "Your Magnificence", but also just as a friend "Cosimo", and of course Florence would always be addressed as "Magnificent Commune", etc. In one letter it mentions that they communicated in cipher, and for the most important decisions one might send personally their secretary to make a report, or deliver an important message.
To summarise Cosimo il Vecchio probably did a pretty good job in following his fathers advice "Be careful not to attract public attention".
One might have noted with surprise the reference to an illegitimate child with a slave. In fact the number of female slaves imported into Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries was considered "a most disturbing element in family life and the cause of much jealousy". Nearly all came from Theodosia in the Crimea and from the mouth of the River Tana. The Genoese called Theodosia Caffa and it was practically a Genoese settlement. So much so that the Genoese consul levied a tax on every slave that passed through the town, and they were many. Hundreds of Circassian, Tartar, Armenian, Georgian, Arab, Turkish, Russian, and Greek girls were shipped, chiefly to Genoa and Venice, where the trade had existed since the 8th century.
In Florence the duty paid on every slave that entered the city brought in a considerable sum, as owners were obliged to register every newly acquired slave within two months and to have him or her baptised. One would have thought that good Catholics might have had some qualms of conscience about keeping a Christian as a slave, but most people appear to have thought that they were baptised as servants, and the church even declared that being baptised did not free a person from slavery. By a law of 1366 the flight of a slave was declared a serious offence. Anyone aiding or inciting a slave to run away was fined 200 florins, half to the city, half to the owner. The seduction of a slave was still more severely punished, and the seducer was held responsible for her price if she died in childbirth. If the father was a free man the child was also free, and the father was bound to provide for it.
From 1366 to 1397, 259 Tartars, 27 Greeks (from Constantinople or Rhodes), 7 Turks, 3 Slovenians, 3 Circassians, 2 Bosnians, 1 Arab, 1 Saracen, and 1 Cretan, nearly all girls from nine to twenty-four years of age, and 26 little boys or lads, were carefully described in the city register. Most were identified also by the marks of small-pox or had tribal scars. Slaves could be sold for life or for a certain number of years, and many were hired for two or three years as wet-nurses.
One writer documented his slaves as so, "On May 7, 1376, I bought a slave for thirty-five florins from Bartolommeo of Venice, named Tiratea, or Dorothea, a Tartar from Russia. She was about eighteen years of age, and Cieci the broker only put twenty-five florins on the bill of sale on account of the duty. With brokerage and duty she cost me one florin, and four florins for clothes, as she was almost naked when I bought her. I sold her in September 1379 for thirty-six florins. In 1380 I bought on November 28th a slave for forty-five florins, her name is Domenica, she is fair-skinned and comes from near Tartary. I bought her of Bartolommeo of Venice, who in writing declares her to be sound in all ways. With brokerage and other expenses she cost me before I got her home eleven golden florins, and as she was almost naked, altogether forty-seven florins". In the 15th century prices rose, as Florentines started to insisted on having Russian or Circassian girls since they were considered better-looking. The reputation of slaves for honesty and morality did not stand high, and they were often brutally ill-treated and imprisoned in the dreaded prison of the Stinche for stealing, etc. Alessandra Strozzi, writing to her son Filippo at Naples in 1465, warns him about two he thought of buying, "Thou tellest me in thy letter of the 28th that a slave is offered thee who was here with Lionardo Vernacci and that thou wouldest have taken her but for the old one thou hast in the house. I must tell thee that she is not fit for thee according to my ideas. Lionardo's wife had her four or five years, and as she did not learn and was of a bad disposition they feared she might do some ill to herself or to others, so they got rid of her. She was also dishonest. They sold her to Antonio della Luna, with whom she remained but a short time, as he would not have her and sent her back. So she was sent down there [Naples]. Lionardo's wife had her for sewing, but she had no aptitude for it. Had she been a good servant they would have kept her for themselves. Thou sayest thou hast one now who belonged to Filippo degl' Albizzi. She was highly thought of and well treated, but was sold because wine began to affect her and made her extremely lively, and also she was immoral. Having a wife and children in the house he would not keep her. She is praised for loyalty and intelligence. Now do as thou wilt. ...I have told thee what I know".
Towards the end of the fifteenth century the manumission of slaves begins to be mentioned in wills together with bequests to hospitals and convents. By the word "este civis ronmna" a slave could be declared a free man or woman, could own property, buy and sell, and act in all other respects as if free-born.
Lorenzo il Vecchio
Lorenzo de' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (ca. 1395-1440), was the younger brother of Cosimo de' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (1389-1464), and progenitor of the so-called "Popolani" (i.e. for the people), a cadet line of the Medici family. He was a member of the Dieci di Balìa in 1431, Ambasciatore a Venezia in 1429, then to Pope Eugenio IV in 1431 and again in 1438. Lorenzo married Ginevra Cavalcanti (who was related to the merchant Giovanni Arnolfini), and they had two sons, Francesco (d. 1440) who married Maria Gualterotti, and Pierfrancesco di Lorenzo De' Medici, detto il Vecchio, (1430-1476), who married in 1451 Laudomia Acciaiuoli and who had two sons, Lorenzo di Piefrancesco de' Medici, detto il Popolano, (1463-1503) and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, detto il Popolano, (1467-1498). Both Lorenzo and Giovanni were inscribed in the Arte del Cambio in 1480 and in the Arte di Calimala in 1485, and Lorenzo was also inscribed in the Arte della Seta in 1497.
Below we have a good example of the relationship between Piero and his younger brother Lorenzo whom we would later call "il Vecchio". In 1466 Piero sent Lorenzo, then eighteen years of age, to Rome on a mission of great moment both politically and commercially. Perhaps the most important part of the private business was to secure from the Pope a monopoly of working the alum mines discovered not many years before in the short range of volcanic hills lying round the little village of La Tolfa (Tofa), about eleven miles due west of Civita Vecchia and within the Pope's dominions [alum is used in the dyeing and tanning processes]. A few deposits of alum had been known and partially worked in Europe, i.e. at Volterra and Ischia, but for all practical purposes almost all the alum used in Christendom came from Asia Minor, and the supply was always inferior to the increasing demand. A certain Giovanni di Castro prospecting among the hills round La Tolfa found what he believed to be an inexhaustible supply, "seven hills of alum", Castro made sure of his find by calcinating the stone. He then hastened to Rome, appeared before the Pope, and somewhat grandiloquently announced his discovery. "I make known to you a victory over the Turk. He draws yearly from the Chiistians more than 300,000 pieces of gold, paid to him for the alum with which we dye wool of various colours, because none is found in Italy, save a little at Ischia. ... I have found seven hills so abounding in alum that they might supply seven worlds. If you will send workmen, cause furnaces to be built and the stone to be calcined, you may furnish almost all Europe, and what money the Turk used to acquire will fall into your hands". The Holy See made haste to secure the newly found treasure, and in order to have a monopoly in the sale the Pope excommunicated every one who tried to import alum into Europe from the Turkish dominions. So determined were the Popes to maintain this treasure that in the proclamation of indulgences it was always expressly declared that the pardon promised did not include those who imported alum into Europe from the Turkish dominions.
Such a deposit needed capital to work it properly and the Holy See farmed out the monopoly, protected by excommunication, to a firm of capitalists. Young Lorenzo was instructed to secure, and did obtain, this very valuable concession for his family. Hereafter the profits of the monopoly of alum were a source of great wealth to the Medici.
The political problem, overshadowing all others, entrusted to the youthful Lorenzo was the maintenance of the league between the King of Naples, Milan, and Florence. This was the keystone of Piero's foreign policy, and he believed it to be essential to the balance of power and the preservation of peace in the peninsula. The alliance received an almost deadly blow in the somewhat sudden death of Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, and Piero's fears were reflected in the despairing letters he wrote to his son. The league between the three powers survived the shock. Francesco Sforza's son Galeazzo was, after some little delay, universally recognised as his father's successor, and the foreign policy of Piero de' Medici was maintained.
We see that Lorenzo married Ginevra Cavalcanti. The Cavalcanti family is a good example of the ups and downs of Florentine nobility. The family originated from nobles located in the southwest of Tuscany, and who became rich as merchants. They were known to have been an important Florentine family by the 12th century. They were of Guelph tradition, and played an important role in the struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and in 1246, with the Adimari they led the Guelph fraction. They were members of the Arte di Calimala, and owned several houses, shops and warehouses. They were declared Magnati (magnates) and were excluded from holding political positions in the city. The family sided with the white Guelphs, lost and were exiled. Because the family was relegated by the "antimagnatizie" laws many renounced their nobility and coat of arms, and changed their family name. Cosimo il Vecchio was looking to consolidate his power though family alliances with magnate families, offering in exchange re-admission to public office. Later a number of members of the family would be drawn as Priori della Repubblica. Different branches of the family moved to Naples, Venice and Brazil.
Experts have pointed out that marriage was a social and economic contract between families. When Lorenzo married Ginevra Cavalcanti, his first duty was to increase his family. A woman's primary function was to ensure that the lineage was maintained. Her secondary function was to attract to the lineage allies from other wealthy, noble and influential Florentine families. So marriage was a kind of "social glue". The Cavalcanti were an ancient Florentine magnate house from medieval times. As aristocrats they were barred from the Priorate and other high political office, so it was a family who had past its prime and was in decline financially.
We don't know the age of Ginevra when she married, but Lorenzo was twenty and she was probably fifteen or sixteen. This is considered to have been unusual for the times, because it was often the case that the man would be in his mid- to late-twenties and his wife 10 or more years younger (at the time the average age of a girl for a first marriage was seventeen). A Venetian humanist Francesco Barbaro, gifted Lorenzo a manuscript entitled "Concerning Things About a Wife", specifically on the topic of Lorenzo's engagement to the Cavalcanti girl. It was a kind of manual, written in painstaking detail, on how a man should train a young woman to become a good and virtuous wife. It covered her age, her clothing, her personal bodily demeanour, her domestic responsibilities in raising children and in servant management, and finally on her duties as a wife and with respect to the outside world (i.e. private and public life). I recommend the text if you are interested, but it stressed that she should have a slow, measured speech, and that through her eyes and ears she must avoid being influenced and corrupted. She was to limit eye contact, avert her gaze, and be diligent, prudent and frugal at home. But above all she must produce citizens of outstanding quality. We don't know if Lorenzo following the instructions in the manual.
Above we have a famous bust of Ginevra Cavalcanti said to have been executed by Donatello in around 1460, when she was old and a widow. Some reports mention this as a death mask of an unknown woman. But it is considered unusual in that it is upright, yet the artist clearly decided, or was told, to leave the eyes closed. So the aim was an exact replica, yet cast in bronze, which was an unusual and expensive material for such an object.
Lorenzo di Piefrancesco de' Medici, detto il Popolano, (1463-1503), Signore di Piombino, was a member of the Balìa, and in 1483 was Ambasciatore to France. Lorenzo married in 1485 Semiramide Appiani (1464-1523), dei Signori di Piombino, and they had five children, Pierfrancesco de' Medici il Giovane, (1487-1525), Averardo (1488-1495) who was Gonfaloniere della Chiesa, Laudomia de' Medici who married in 1502 Francesco Salviati, Ginevra de' Medici who married in 1503 Giovanni degli Albizzi and had four children, and Vincenzo. Pierfrancesco il Giovane, who was also called il Popolano, married in 1511 Maria Soderini, and they had four children, Laudomia (ca. 1510-1558) who married twice, firstly in 1532 to Alamanno Salviati, and then in 1539 to Piero Strozzi, Lorenzino de' Medici (1514-1548), Giuliano di Pierfrancesco de' Medici (1520-1588) who was Archbishop of Aix in 1571 and in 1574 Archbishop of Albi, and finally Maddalena (ca. 1523-1583) who married in 1539 Roberto Strozzi.
Lorenzino de' Medici (1514-1548), often called "Lorenzaccio", assassinated Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537), often called "il Moro", who was the 1st Duke of the Florentine Republic. Maria Soderini, mother of Lorenzino, was said to one of the most beautiful women of Florence, and she was praised for the honesty of her customs and her feminine virtues, both characteristics highly appreciated at the time. She also proved to be a skilled manager of what was a shaky family economy due to the disorderly behaviour of her husband. She actually moved to the Mugello estate, where she "tried to reduce waste, keep the servants under control, make them work hard and not steal". Cosimo I, the future Grand Duke of Tuscany would grow up nearby, and would play and grow up together with her son Lorenzino. Their respective fathers died in 1525 and 1526, and the wives formed a close bond. Due to unrest in the region, Maria send her daughters to a convent, and her sons, with Cosimo I, to Venice (the mothers join them in 1527). To cut a long story short we can zoom forward to 1537 where we find a rebellious, arrogant, and violent Lorenzino who sees that Alessandro, now married, with have descendants that will prevent his ascension to the Dukedom of Florence. So he lured Alessandro to a lonely house and killed him. With the murder he is declared a traitor, a rebel, and a bounty of 4,000 florins is placed on his head. He then escaped to Venice. Some think of Lorenzino as a hero, and exult over the death of Alessandro, others send assassins to kill him. Finally in 1548 two hired killers executed him in Venice, killers that were paid by Emperor Charles V. He took revenge for the murder of his son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Margaret.
With Alessandro's death, the main branch of the Medici family was extinguished, and Cosimo I, a member of the cadet branch became the new Duke with the approval of the Pope.
Less that two years after the death of Alessandro, his 15-year-old widow Margaret married Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, the 14-year-old grandson of Pope Paul III. The marriage was not a happy one, however her story as part of the history of the Netherlands is interesting, but not the topic of this webpage.
Lorenzino's crime meant that his mother, brother, and sisters were stripped of their possessions and forced into exile (the Strozzi family helps them take refuge first in Bologna, then Venice).
Interestingly, it is now thought that Botticelli's "Primavera" was commissioned on the occasion of the wedding of Lorenzo and Semiramide Appiani. There is even a suggestion that Lorenzo was the model for Mercury, and Semiramide represented Flora (or even Venus).
The British Museum holds a "Book of Hours" which bears the insignia of Laudomia and her husband Francesco Salviati, and was commissioned for or just after their marriage in 1502.
Piero il Gottoso
Piero Pietro de' Medici (1416-1469), often called "il Gottoso", 2nd Signore di Firenze (1464-1469), married Lucrezia Tornabuoni (1427-1482) and had five children, Giuliano (1453-1478), Maria (1445-1479) who married Lionetto de Rossi and have a son Luigi (1474-1519) who would become a Cardinal in Rome, Lorenzo "ill Magnifico" (1449-1492), Bianca (1445-1505) who would marry Nobile Guglielmo de Pazzi and have 16 children, and Nannina (1448-1493) who would marry Nobile Bernardo Rucellai and have two children.
It is said that Piero did not have the physical strength need for a position of responsibility, since he suffered from an extreme case of gout. Upon the death of his father, Cosimo il Vecchio, Piero received the most courteous of letters from Pope Pius II and from Louis XI of France, who also accorded the Medici "by our own will, special grace, full power and royal authority", "may henceforward and for ever have and bear in the arms three Fleur de lis", and "to use as seen good to them in all places and amoung all people, in time of peace or in time of war, without any impediment either now or hereafter being placed to their so doing".
However all was not so easy, as Cosimo il Vecchio had advised Piero to take Diotisalvi Neroni as his right-hand man. This is Machiavelli account of the conspiracy which so nearly wrecked the power of the house of Medici. "Messer Diotisalvi, moved more by his own ambition than by affection for Piero or gratitude for the benefits he had received from Cosimo, thought it would be easy to ruin Piero's credit, and to deprive him of the authority inherited from his father. He therefore gave him advice which appeared most honest and reasonable, but in reality was meant to lead to his ruin. Showing him the disorder in his affairs, and how much money was absolutely necessary to save his own credit and that of the State, he declared that the most honourable way to remedy his difficulties would be to call in the debts due to his father by both foreigners and citizens. For Cosimo, in order to gain partisans in Florence and friends abroad, had been most generous in the use of his riches, and the moneys owing to him amounted to a very considerable sum. Such counsel seemed good and honest to Piero, who wished to remedy his affairs with his own means. But as soon as he demanded re-payment of these loans the citizens, as though he wanted to take what was theirs and not what was his own, complained loudly, and showed small respect in speaking ill of him, and accusing him of ingratitude and avarice. When Diotisalvi saw the universal disfavour his advice had brought on Piero he joined Luca Pitti, Agnolo Acciaiuoli, and Niccolo Soderini, and they conspired to deprive Piero of his credit and his authority. They were influenced by various motives. Messer Luca aspired to fill the position held by Cosimo, having become so great a man that he disdained to obey Piero. Messer Diotisalvi, knowing that Messer Luca was unfit to be the head of the government, thought that once Piero was out of the way the management must of necessity fall to him. Niccolo Soderini desired that the city should enjoy more freedom, and be governed according to the wishes of the magistrates, while Messer Agnolo had private reasons for hating the Medici. Some time before his son Raffaello had married Alessandia de' Bardi, whose dower was very large. Owing either to her own misconduct, or to the faults of others, she was maltreated by her father-in-law and her husband, so one night Lorenzo d'llarione, her kinsman, moved to pity for the girl, with many men-at-arms, took her away from the house of Messer Agnolo. The Acciaiuoli complained of the insult done to them by the Bardi, and the matter being laid before Cosimo he decreed that the dower was to be repaid to Alessandra, and that she was to decide whether she would or would not return to her husband. Messer Agnolo did not think that in delivering this judgment Cosimo had behaved as a friend, and not being able to do anything against him he determined to take revenge on his son. The conspirators, though animated by such diverse motives, agreed to give the same reason publicly, declaring that they desired the city to be ruled by magistrates and not by the uncontrolled will of a few men. The hatred felt against Piero and the reasons for attacking him, were increased by the bankruptcy of many merchants for which he was blamed; his unexpected demand to be repaid having caused these men to fail, and thus brought great discredit and loss upon the city".
Florence was divided into two camps, the Party of the Hill, so-called because Luca Pitti's palace was being erected on the highest part of the city, and the Party of the Plain, because the palace of the Medici was on the flat. "While things were in this disorder," continues Machiavelli, "the time arrived for renewing the chief magistrate, and Niccolo Soderini was elected Gonfalonier of Justice". But Niccolo wasted his two months' tenure of office in futile attempts to "reform" the government, accomplished nothing, and quit the office as a discredited man. The conspirators then determined to murder Piero as he returned to Florence from his villa of Careggi. He was only saved by the presence of mind of his young son Lorenzo, who preceded him on horseback, and noticed armed men loitering on the road. Lorenzo rode quietly on announcing that Piero was close behind him, but sent back in hot haste a messenger to order his father's litter to take an unfrequented lane. Luca Pitti, perceiving that if the Medici were swept away Neroni and not himself would be the head of the Republic, betrayed his fellow-conspirators, and made peace with Piero. His defection was a death-blow to the conspiracy and to his own fortunes. Neroni and Niccolo Soderini fled to Venice, Acciaiuoli to Siena first and then to Naples, and the power of the Medici was once more firmly established.
There is an excellent exchange of letters between Agnolo Acciaiuoli and Piero, which highlights what exile meant in those days, and informs up on the character of Piero. Acciaiuoli wrote on 17 September 1466 "Spectabilis vir Frater honorande, I laugh at what I see. God has put it in thy power to cancel all the debts I have against thee, and thou dost not know how to do it. I lost my country and my estates for thy father, thou art in the position to restore all to me. I prevented his being despoiled, now corn and other belongings are taken from me; thou canst save them; be not tardy in showing thou art not ungrateful; I do not say this for my belongings, although I have need of them, so much as for thy reputation. I commend myself to thee".
Piero's reply of the 22 September 1466 is a fine example of diplomacy at work. "Magnifice eques tanquam Pater honorande, Your laughter is the cause of my not shedding tears, although I am sorry for your ill fortune. You have not shown your accustomed good sense, which in such cases is necessary. Your guilt, as I said in a former letter, is manifest and so great that neither my intercession nor that of any other person would be of any avail. My nature is to forget and forgive you, and all who have shown me enmity and hostility. I have pardoned every offence; the Republic cannot and may not lightly do so on account of the bad example, as you know better than I, having had experience of such matters and having proclaimed it in public and in private. You say you were exiled on my father's account, and for having saved what belonged to him. I do not deny your friendship with my father and with us, which ought to have made you regard me as a son, and as such I considered myself. You were banished with my father and were recalled with him, according to the pleasure of the Republic, which has full power over us. I do not conceive that our friendship was in any way hurtful or dishonourable to you as can be clearly demonstrated, and if obligations and benefits were weighed, perhaps the scale would not be equal, although from what you write you do not seem to think so. I always considered myself beholden to you, but if you examine your conscience you will see that you have exempted me from any obligations; nevertheless I am willing to remain your debtor in so far as it touches me privately, but the public injury I cannot, will not, and may not pardon. For myself personally I forget everything, forgive all wrongs, and remain as a son ought to be towards such a father".
Just as a note on the reason why Diotisalvi Neroni, Luca Pitti and Agnolo Acciaiuoli wanted to work against Piero. The Treaty of Lodi in April 1454 had given his father, Cosimo il Vecchio, an opportunity to interfere in home politics. His first step in June 1454, on the pretext that war was over, was to abolish the Balìa, which appeared to be the mainstay of his own authority. In November, new elections were held, and in January 1455 the new Signorie ordered that in six months' time the Gonfaloniere and the Priori would be once more chosen by lot. The measure was a popular one, and it worked, not against Cosimo, but against Luca Pitti, Diotisalvi Neroni, and Agnolo Acciaiuoli, as it put an end to their power to manipulate the appointments to office. This was followed by a re-assessment of the "catasto" early in 1458 which was another heavy blow to his opponents, given that the new register of property entailing considerable losses to them due to an increase in taxes.
Piero's wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni (1427-1482) was the daughter of Francesco Tornabuoni, an old friend of Cosimo il Vecchio. It would appear from their letters that her husband had a high regard for her opinion and kept he minutely informed about passing events. It was also evident from the letters that she suffered from health problems that motivated her doctors to send her often to baths in the countryside. In one letter she mentions that she felt better for bringing up "much phlegm and nastiness which must have been there for a long time". This gives us an opportunity to delve into both bathing habits of the 15th century and a little investment made by Lucrezia that showed that she was not just a pretty faced housewife.
On one occasion the doctors sent Lucrezia early in September to Bagno a Morbo, today a hamlet near Volterra about 100 km from Florence. It was already know to the Romans as Acquae Volaterranae, and now is next to Larderello, the oldest geothermal power plant in the world. It's often ignored that bathing generally and thermal baths specifically played a part in the social life of the Florentine elite. We delude ourselves into thinking that the frequent use of water, cold or hot, is a modem virtue. It is true that from the middle of the 16th century till the end of the 18th century men and women washed but sparingly. Manuals of Etiquette, published in 1667 and in 1782, recommend ladies and gentlemen to clean their faces with a dry white linen cloth, because to wash the face with water made it more susceptible to cold in winter and to tan in summer. But in the 14th and 15th centuries the use of water was nearly as common as it is now. People, whether north or south of the Alps, rejoiced in bathing. They used cold baths, hot baths, and steam baths. They gathered to bathe in mineral water, and above all they delighted in baths when the water came from hot springs. The most prized were those strongly impregnated with sulphur, as was the case at Morbo. The site of many Italian monasteries was selected simply because it was near a hot spring for the monks to enjoy what was looked on almost as necessary to healthy living. Indeed one of the punishments inflicted on unruly members of the community was a prohibition to use the bath. The Italian doctors distinguished between "stupha", or hot air, and "balneum" or hot water baths. Rubbing and even scratching whilst bathing was recommended, and Arnaldo di Villanova (1240-1313) ordered his elderly patients to be well rubbed when in the water, and to take a herb-bath four times a month. Soap, and sometimes lye, was used, and Italian soap was in great request, particularly in Germany.
The hot sulphur springs of Morbo had been known for centuries, and wild desolate scenery, the blowholes, and the smell of rotten eggs gave rise to legends about the place being the mouth of hell. However the baths had been largely deserted, conduits broken, bathing-houses tumbling down, everything neglected and falling to ruin. The sulphurous springs were left to find their own way through the rocks and the soil, were wasted and produced nothing but evil-smelling ooze. When the Florentines became masters of Volterra they sent Doctor Ugolino da Montecatini to report on the virtues of the waters in 1388. Something was done to render the baths useful and productive and a small castle was rebuilt and surrounded with a sheltering wall. Visitors were protected from the sudden assaults of the robber nobles whose castles crowned neighbouring heights, and who swooped down on the bathers in hopes of plunder and ransom. The baths regained something of their old prosperity, and gouty or rheumatic Florentines braved the discomforts of the road to make use of the waters. Cosimo "Pater Patriae" visited them frequently, however it was very likely that Lucrezia would have found the healing springs anything but luxurious. However it is said that she soon saw the advantages of the position, and after buying the village and baths of Morbo in 1477 from the Commune of Florence, in true Florentine fashion at once made plans which would benefit the place, its visitors, her own health, and her pocket. The known springs were cleared, the water was carefully collected and brought into a great covered cistern built of well-burnt bricks and covered with tiles according to the most approved pattern of the day. Search was made for other springs, and soon the supply of water was more than doubled. Meanwhile the bathing-houses with their twelve separate baths were rebuilt. The result was that these Italian baths were made much more luxurious than those north of the Alps, and there was no trace of that promiscuous bathing so common in Germany. Each sex had the use of the same baths at different hours. There was a room with one or more oblong baths set in the floor, and to each bathroom was attached a smaller apartment with a bed for the hour of rest enjoined after bathing. The bathing establishment was a long row of such bathrooms completely separate from each other. An ingenious system of conduits mixed streams of hot and colder water, and each bathroom had a shower or douche baths, the water being conducted along the walls in open gutters pierced with holes above each wooden tub. Lucrezia also built a large house which served as an hotel, and she also built a "small palace" for herself.
Lorenzo was known to have accompanied his mother to Morbo, but there was a report which seems to have been well founded, though Piero in his letter to her treats it as an idle dream, that the Florentine exiles had resolved to attack the place and capture both mother and son. So Lucrezia invented a pretext to send Lorenzo back to Florence, and the family doctor prevented his return.
Above we have Madonna del Magnificat, painted by Sandro Botticelli (ca. 1445-1510), his nickname means "little barrel", which I must admit dents a little his aura. Initially trained as a goldsmith he became an apprentice to Fra Filippo Lippi, who was a not a paragon of virtue but was nevertheless supported by the Medici family. Botticelli's earliest recorded commission in 1470, was from a patron with connections to the Medici family or Lorenzo's government. It was about the same time that he was hired by the banker's guild to which the Medici belonged, and by the Pucci family, great supporters of the Medici. By 1480 Botticelli was considered one of the Medici family's painters of choice. However, many of his painting hung in public spaces, and along with the status of his patrons, and the excellence of his art, there was a high demand for his work. In fact he and his assistants speculatively produced pictures for sale in his "bottaga". For his portraits he produce numerous drawings as he re-thought the figure and composition, and the results were highly innovative compared to past practices. Above all he experimented with the expressive power of the face.
The Madonna del Magnificat, is believed to have been completed in 1483. Some have suggested that it is a family portrait of the de ’Medicis, in which the Virgin is Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the mother of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, who are the angels. However, this interpretation is not deemed credible by many experts, but it's a great excuse for including a painting of one my favourite Renaissance artists.
On the other hand, the above portrait by Domenico Ghirlandaio is almost certainly Lucrezia Tornabuoni, and it was probably the one mentioned in the 1497 inventory of her brother Giovanni Tornabuoni's household possessions.
Lucrezia was intensely religious, as were many women of the period, and men would often delegate to them the responsilbitiy for charity and other pious works to ensure the collective salvation fo the lineage. The instruction of women focussed on moral and spiritual perfection, and although limited when compared to men, there education equipped then well enough to read the books of the offices of the Virgin which they often owned. In addition the production of devotional literature was a means of self-expression that was acceptable to men. In fact some men regarded women as natural conduits of divine wisdom because they were not learned. They could speak wisely, because without human instruction they were able to converse with God. Lucrezia was unusually well educated, and also well connected to the leading literary figures of Florence, and she produced a large corpus of sacred poems and songs, and she often focussed on examples showing women what they needed to be. There is a report that Lucrezia boasted of her largesse, claiming that "I know of no greater charity than to marry off young girls and free those who are in prison and above all free those who are there on account of debt". A certain parish priest Arlotto, known for his irreverence, replied that he could think of a greater charity, "not to deprive others of their goods, their labor, or their sweat, above all the poor".
When Lucrezia died in 1482, Lorenzo wrote to the success of Ferrara that he had lost not only a mother, "but an irreplaceable refuge from my many troubles", testimony to his respect and admiration for her wisdom and intelligence.
Generally I have not included illegitimate offspring, but our Giuliano de' Medici (1453-1478), who was co-ruler of Florence with his brother Lorenzo "il Magnifico" and was killed in the so-called Pazzi Conspiracy, had with his mistress Fioretta Gorini (ca. 1453-1478) an illegitimate son Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici (1478-1534). Now our Giulio di Giuliano actually became Pope Clement VII in 1523. In addition, a minority held the view that Clement VII was the true father of Alessandro "il Moro" (1510-1537) who in 1532 would become the first Duke of the Florentine Republic, and was later assassinated.
Lorenzo il Magnifico
Above we have "The Triumph of Fame" by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni di Simone (1406-1486) which is a so-called "birth tray" presented by Piero to his wife Lucrezia at the time of the birth of Lorenzo in 1449, and is an image of the ambitions of their dynasty. This particular "desco" is often referenced as the Medici-Tornabuoni tray.
So what is a "birth tray"? Recurring outbreaks of plague and their resulting demographic catastrophes largely contributed to the Renaissance emphasis on family and procreation. After the initial epidemic in 1348, the plague returned more than a dozen times over the next two centuries. Childbirth was seen as a vital measure to combat the plague’s devastation, and a woman’s most important duty was to produce children, especially male heirs, to ensure the continuity of her husband’s patrimony. However, childbirth did not come without risks to the infant, and the crucial first days following birth were characterised by high infant mortality. For these reasons, childbirth was encouraged, celebrated, and commemorated with a variety of objects, such as painted wooden birth trays or "desco da parto".
Birth trays began to appear about 1370 in Italy and became particularly popular in 15th century Florentine and Sienese society. Wealthy families commissioned lavishly painted confinement scenes with suitable religious, mythological, or literary themes. Serial stock production of birth trays in workshops also permitted common people to buy them at the birth of their child. Birth trays were painted on both sides, sometimes with coats of arms or board games on the back. Either round or multi-sided, they measured about 50 to 60 cm in diameter.
To influence a healthy birth and even the gender of the baby, an expectant mother was encouraged to reflect on the narrative of her "desco". Immediately following the birth, the "desco" was covered with a protective cloth, laden with nourishing food, and presented to the mother for her swift recovery. One type of birth tray might depicts a mother sitting up in bed to receive guests. Following the birth ceremony, the family often hung the "desco" in their home, usually in the bedroom, as a painting. The bedroom was an important part of the house, where large gatherings took place. Later, the "desco" would serve an educational function to the growing child. For example, a “David and Goliath” theme would convey wishes of courage and bravery for the child, probably a son, persuading him to emulate the valour of the hero depicted on the tray. Birth trays were not only offered at the birth of a child. They often also served as gifts to newlywed couples, with the implied message that the bride should reflect on her maternal duty. These objects were guarded preciously long after the child had grown into adulthood. For example, Lorenzo de Medici, ruler of the city of Florence, kept the above "desco", which depicted the Triumph of Fame, in his private quarters till his death. These trays, symbols of fertility and rewards for a healthy birth, became outmoded by the end of the 16th century. However, birth objects did not completely fall into disfavour, as majolica birth bowls continued to remain popular into the 17th century.
This particular "desco" or birth tray has another interesting feature. One the key elements of any piece of art is to know its full provenance, i.e. the chronology of ownership. We know that this tray was owned by Lorenzo, and upon his death it was confiscated by the Florentine government, a sale was held in the summer of 1495, and the try bought by Bartolomeo di Bambello. He paid just over three florins for the tray that had been valued in the inventory at ten florins. It helps that the Media-Tornabuoni tray is different from any other childbirth tray, and on the back side it has the Medici and Tornabuoni coats of arms. Sometime after 1543 it passed to Bartolomeo's son Jacopo. It is thought that it would have remained in the possession of the same family until it was placed up for sale by a certain Abbé Rimani and bought by the fFrench diplomat and historian Artaud de Montor. He would actually publish information on the tray in 1811 and again in 1843, but attributing it to Giotto. When he died his estate when to auction in 1851, and the tray was bought by Thomas Jefferson Bryan of New York. He gave it to the New York Historical Society in 1867, who deaccessioned in 1995. The Metropolitan Museum of Art bought the tray, now properly attributed to Giovanni di Ser Giovanni di Simone, in a Sotheby's sale.
Lorenzo "il Magnifico" (1449-1492), 3rd Signore di Firenze (1469-1492), married Clarice Orsini (1453-1488), and they had ten children (three died in infancy):
Lucrezia (1470-1553), who would marry Jacopo Salviati (1461-1533), and have ten children. Jacopo would be a Prior of the Guilds in both 1499 and 1518, Gonfaloniere of Justice in 1514, and ambassador to Rome in 1513. He was a member of the Balìa of 200. Their ten children were Giovanni (1490-1553) who would become a Cardinal, Lorenzo (1492-1539), Piero, Elena (ca. 1495-1552), Baptist (1498-1524), Maria (1499-1543) who would marry the condottiero Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere (1498-1526) and they would have one son Cosimo I, Luisa, Francesca who who would first marry Piero Gualterotti and then in 1533 Ottaviano de' Medici with whom she would have two sons one of which would become Pope XI (1535-1605), Bernardo (ca. 1515-1568) who would become a Cardinal, and finally Alamanno (1510-1571).
twins who died after birth in 1471.
Piero II de' Medici (1472-1503), often called "il Fatuo" (the Unfortunate).
Maddalena (1473-1528) who would marry Franceschetto Cybo, the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII, and they would have seven children, including Innocenzo who would become a Cardinal and Lorenzo who would become commander-in-chief of the Papal Army.
Contessina Beatrice who died young
Giovanni (1475-1521) who would become Pope Leo X in 1513.
Luisa (1476-1488) who died at the age of 11.
Contessina Antonia (1478-1515) who married Piero Ridolfi and had five children including another Cardinal.
Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici (1479-1516) Duc de Nemours, married Filiberta di Savoie (1498-1534), daughter of Philip II, Duke of Savoy and niece of Francis I of France. Our Giuliano would have an illegitimate child Ippolito de' Medici (1511-1535) with Pacifica Brandano (d. 1511), a child that would late become a Cardinal in Rome (not the subject of this webpage, but our Ippolito led quite an exciting life).
With Lorenzo "il Magnifico" it's only fitting that we focus on his wife Clarice Orsini (1453-1488), of the noble Orsini family who included among their ranks 34 cardinals and three Popes. Lucrezia, Lorenzo's mother, wrote to her husband Piero concerning a "chance encounter" she had with the young Clarice. She happened to meet Maddalena Orsini, sister to the Cardinal [Latino Orsini], with her daughter, who was about fifteen or sixteen years old (Lorenzo was 4 years old). Clarice was dressed in the Roman fashion with a "lenzuolo" (a kind of long loose shawl or cloak). Lucrezia wrote that "in this dress she seemed to me handsome, fair, and tall, but being so covered up I could not see her to my satisfaction. Yesterday I paid a visit to the said Monsignor Orsini in his sister's house, which adjoins his. When I had saluted him in thy name his sister came in with the maiden, who had on a tight frock of the fashion of Rome without the cloak. We talked for some time and I looked closely at the girl. As I said she is of good height and has a nice complexion, her manners are gentle, though not so winning as those of our girls, but she is very modest and would soon learn our customs. She has not fair hair, because here there are no fair women. Her hair is reddish and abundant, her face rather round, but it does not displease me. Her throat is fairly elegant, but it seems to me a little meagre, or to speak better, slight. Her bosom I could not see, as here the women are entirely covered up, but it appeared to me of good proportions. She does not carry her head proudly like our girls, but pokes it a little forward. I think she was shy, indeed I see no fault in her save shyness. Her hands are long and delicate. In short I think the girl is much above the common, though she cannot compare with Maria, Lucrezia, and Bianca. Lorenzo has seen her and thou canst find out whether she pleases him. Whatever thou and he determine will be well done, and I shall be content. Let us leave the issue to God".
Lucrezia went on to note that the girl's father was Signor Jacopo Orsini of Monte Rotondo [Monterotondo], and her mother was the Cardinal's sister. Clarice had two brothers, one a soldier, the other a priest. They owned the half of Monte Rotondo, the other half belonged to their uncle, who had two sons and three daughters. Besides this there were three other castles belonging to her brothers, and Lucrezia concluded that they were otherwise well provided. She mentioned that they will be still better off in the future because besides the Cardinal, the Archbishop, Napoleon, and the Cavalier, being their uncles on the mother's side, they were cousins through the father, who was a second cousin in direct line of the aforesaid gentlemen, and they were all very fond of them. Lucrezia also mentioned that she has thus managed to see the girl quietly, without ceremony, but concluded that the girl has two good qualities, she was tall and fair, her face was not pretty, but was not common, and her figure was good. She concluded that if Lorenzo liked her then they should be content.
The letter of Lucrezia was written in March 1467, and her husband Piero would reply that Lorenzo was pleased with the choice. In January 1469 Francesco Tornabuoni, uncle of Lorenzo, wrote to say that he had seen Clarice, that she was beautiful, had the sweetest of manners and an admirable intelligence. He also mentioned that she was learning to dance. Lorenzo's letters to his future bride are not to be found, but her answers show a girlish simplicity. However it has been noted that her letters also showed that Clarice, brought up in strictly clerical surroundings, was not the woman to captivate the brilliant, rather skeptical Lorenzo. In his Ricordi Lorenzo wrote "I, Lorenzo, took to wife Clarice, the daughter of Signor Jacopo Orsini, or rather she was given to me (i.e. betrothed), in December 1468 and the marriage was celebrated in our house on the 4th June 1469. Till now I have by her two children, a daughter called Lucrezia.. years old, and a son called Piero... months old. King Ferrante is the godfather of the girl. She is again with child. God spare her to us for a long time and preserve her from all ill".
The following description of Lorenzo de' Medici's wedding is taken from a contemporary manuscript.
On Friday, which was the 2nd of June , the presents offered by the countryside began to arrive from the principal towns, Pisa, Arezzo, and other communes, villas, and castles. All presented eatables, such as calves, fowls, geese, wine, sweetmeats, wax [which I think describes decorations to accompany the different services], and fish. The presentations of these went on all day on Saturday with great noise and rejoicings, and on that day pieces of veal of 10 to 20 lbs. in weight were given to 800 citizens. Our author included list of the eatables, namely 150 calves, more than 2000 couples of capons, geese, and fowls, sea fish and trout in large quantities. sugar-plums as big as arbutus berries, almonds, pine-seeds, sweetmeats, also many wax imitations thereof. In addition, many hundreds of flasks of wine and several casks of foreign wines, such as malvasy [Malvasia] and the like, and of native red wine.
On Sunday morning the bride left the house of Benedetto degli Alessandri on the big horse given to Lorenzo by the King [of Naples], preceded by many trumpeters and fifers [pipers], and surrounded by the youths usually in attendance on marriage festivities, well clothed. Behind her came two cavaliers, Messer Carlo and Messer Tommaso, on horseback with their retainers, who according to the usage of the city accompanied her to her husband's house which was sumptuously adorned, and where a stage had been erected in the street for dancing. As she dismounted the bride's retinue arrived from the house of the Alessandri. There were thirty young matrons and maidens most richly dressed, and among them was your Fiammetta [it is thought that this letter was addressed to Filippo di Matteo Strozzi who was then in Naples], one of the two handsomest there. They were accompanied by another set of youths dressed for dancing and preceded by trumpeters. Thirty other maidens were in Lorenzo's house to receive the bride and her retinue. After the olive tree, to the sound of much music, had been hauled up to the windows, all went to dinner. [I think the olive tree was a symbol of fertility and peace] The tree was arranged in a vase like those used on the triumphal cars for the feast of S. Giovanni [John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence] and was almost like a trionfo.
The order of the banquets, of which there were five, was alike on the mornings of Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. The bride, with about fifty maidens who were the dancers, ate in the garden under the loggia, and the tables were set at the sides as far as the doors, one of which leads into the house, the other outside. In the loggia which surrounds the courtyard of the house sat the citizens who had been invited. The tables were placed on three sides, beginning from the garden, and following the wall were six tables, so here sat from seventy to eighty citizens. In the ground-floor hall the youths who danced, about thirty-two or thirty-six, were seated. Forty or more men of more mature age were occupied in marshalling the banquet, and at every table were two who acted as seneschals. On a balcony in the great room upstairs dined the women of a certain age, so about forty in the company of Monna Lucrezia [I think Monna is a courtesy title and is short for Madonna]. In short, at the principal tables dined about two hundred people.
The order observed in serving was wonderful. For all the dishes were brought in at the door opening into the street, preceded, as is the custom, by trumpets. The bearers turned to the right in the loggia and returned to the foot of the staircase up which some went, while others passed into the hall to the youths, and others to the maidens in the garden, and others again remained under the loggie where were those who had been invited, so that all were served at the same time. The like order was observed in taking away the dishes, and each man knew his service and his place and did nought else. The dishes were according to the tables, and among those who brought them in were the stewards, each of whom directed his own men to the proper table. There were fifty large dishes, the contents of each of which were sufficient to fill two trenchers, and one trencher was placed between every two guests, a carver being in attendance.
The banquets were prepared for a marriage rather than for a magnificent feast, and I think this was done "de industria" [deliberately] as an example to others not to exceed the modesty and simplicity suitable to marriages, so there was never more than one roast. In the morning a small dish, then some boiled meat, then a roast, after that wafers, marzipan and sugared almonds and pine-seeds, then jars of preserved pine-seeds and sweetmeats. In the evening jelly, a roast, fritters, wafers, almonds, and jars of sweetmeats. On Tuesday morning, instead of the roast were sweet pies of succulent vegetables on trenchers, the wines were excellent malvasy, trebbiano [a simple white wine much prized at the time], and red wine. Of silver plate there was little.
No sideboards had been placed for the silver. Only tall tables in the middle of the courtyard, round that handsome column on which stands the David [the fantastic Donatello's David now in the Bargello], covered with tablecloths, and at the four corners were four great copper basins for the glasses, and behind the tables stood men to hand wine or water to those who served the guests. The same arrangement was made in the garden round the fountain. On the tables were silver vessels in which the glasses were put to be kept cool. The salt-cellars, forks, knife-handles, bowls for the fritters, almonds, sugar-plums, and the jars for preserved pine-seeds were of silver. There was none other for the guests save the basins and jugs for washing of hands. The table-cloths were of the finest white damask linen laid according to our fashion.
On Monday morning to all who had received veal, jelly was given, and then about 1500 trenchers full were presented to others. Many religious [monks and mans] also received gifts of fowls, fish, sweetmeats, wine, and similar things. After the guests at the first tables had finished many hundreds ate. They say that more than a thousand people ate, and every day one hundred barrels of wine were drunk.
In the house here, where the marriage feast was, every respectable person who came in was at once taken to the ground-floor hall, out of the large loggia, to refresh himself with fruit, sweetmeats, and white and red wine. The common folk were not invited. The feasting began in the morning a little before dinner-time, then every one went away to rest. At about the twentieth hour (4 o'clock) they returned and danced until supper-time on the stage outside, which was decorated with tapestries, benches, and forms, and covered in with large curtains of purple, green, and white cloth, embroidered with the arms of the Medici and the Orsini. Every time a company came on to the stage to dance they took refreshments once or twice, according to the time. First came the trumpeters, then a great silver basin, then many smaller ones full of glasses, then small silver jars full of water, then many flasks of trebbiano and then twenty-three silver bowls full of preserved pine-seeds and sweet conserves. To all was given in abundance and all the dishes were emptied, as were the flasks of wine. The account has not been made, but from five to. . . thousand pounds of sweetmeats and sugar-plums were consumed.
The bride has received about fifty rings, costing they say from ten to fifty or sixty ducats each. In addition, one piece of brocade a sweetmeat dish of silver, and many other such things, such as a small book of the offices of Our Lady, most beautiful, the gift of Messer Gentile, written in letters of gold on blue vellum and covered with crystal and worked silver, which cost about two hundred florins. On Tuesday the bride left (a tournament was held first), and returned to the house of the Alessandri in the same dress in which she came to be married. This was a robe of white and gold brocade and a magnificent hood on her head, as is used here. She rode the same horse and was accompanied by the same youths, whose rich dresses of silver brocade embroidered with large pearls and jewels baffle description. From what they tell of courts of great princes nothing was ever seen like it save certain jewels of great value worn by some great Lords. Of the women I say nothing! Such jackets and dresses of silk, all of them embroidered with pearls. I rather blame than praise this height of civilisation. And thus ended this marriage.
One day it rained; on the Monday, just when the feast was at its highest. It seemed as though done on purpose. It enveloped everything and wet the beautiful dresses, for the rain was so sudden and so heavy that many could not get under shelter soon enough. But the youths and the women had not put on the finest clothes which they had reserved for that day, the most important of the feast, so that to many it seemed their money had been spent in vain, not being able to wear them. However, on Tuesday morning when the bride went to hear mass in S. Lorenzo, accompanied by all the youths and maidens who had attended her at the wedding, every one was in their finest clothes. I warrant you that there were about fifty maidens and young girls and as many or more youths, so richly dressed that I do not think that anywhere among so many people could such a splendid and fine spectacle be seen.
Naturally the world did not stop for a marriage, and on the 17th June 1469 Piero received a message from Bologna noting that the Signoria of Venice had again made an alliance with the Pope and had promised to send 4,000 horses and 3,000 foot soldiers into Romagna. It was thought that Pope had asked for them and was arming them, and paying them to be ready to march. Piero died on 2nd December 1469.
So who was Lorenzo "il Magnifico"? He was described as "above the common stature, with broad shoulders, solidly built, robust, and second to none in agility. Although nature had acted towards him like a stepmother with regard to his personal appearance, in all things connected with the mind she had been a loving mother. His complexion was swarthy, and although his face was not handsome, it was so full of dignity as to command respect. He was short-sighted, his nose was flattened, and he had no sense of smell. This did not trouble him. He was wont to say that he was grateful to nature, disagreeable things being more common than agreeable ones to so delicate a sense".
Friends said Lorenzo was able to comprehend all knowledge, philosophy, poetry, and was a gift amateur artist. Some said he jousted with the boldest, and danced and masqueraded with the merriest, yet the pious extolled him as an author of devotional lauds and mystery plays, and a profound theologian. Some said he was as good a judge of cattle as of statues, but what is certain is that he was much inferior to his grandfather Cosimo in commercial talent.
The indelible stain on Lorenzo's fair name was his interference with the deposits in the Monte. To obtain funds for the exchequer exhausted by the war against Milan in1426 recourse was had to a curious financial scheme. A Monte, or special fund, was created for granting marriage portions to young men and maidens. Every contributor had the right to name a male or female child, to whom at the expiration of fifteen years a sum five times that subscribed was paid when they married. Should the nominee die the money became the property of the Monte. In 1490 Lorenzo instigated, with the authority of the Signory, and the many Councils operating in the city, a revision of the coinage. In doing so they directed the entries of all monies received for the use of the State to the benefit of Lorenzo de 'Medici, who needed money in order to make his son Giovanni a cardinal, which he did. And this cost the Commune 10,000 scudi in gold. From the poor dowers of the married maidens and of those about to be married they deducted by means of taxes and the reduction of all future interest so that what should have given 3 %, they lowered to 1½ %, and even that was not paid. Thus few maidens married, and those few still needed the permission of Lorenzo de 'Medici.
Despite this Lorenzo, the one true statesman of Italy at the time, worked to preserve the balance of power in Italy. As prudent as he was dexterous, the preservation of peace in Italy was his constant aim, to be attained by a maintenance of the balance of power so that no one State should become pre-eminent. He had also learned that the existence of Italy depended upon the maintenance of internal peace, and his efforts for that end had, for the last ten years of his life, been unceasing. He has been accused of abetting the moral corruption of his people but the causes of this corruption are to be found in the general character of Italian life, and Lorenzo did what all Italian statesmen were doing, he identified his city for good and ill with his own house.
Pacifica Brandano was the illegitimate daughter of the noble Giovanni Antonio Brandani and courtesan at the court of Urbino. Some highly qualified historians have claimed that Giuliano commissioned Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in April 1515 a painting in memory of his lover who died in childbirth and that "the Brandana da Urbino" is depicted in the famous painting of the Mona Lisa. It was Vasari who identified a certain Lisa, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, as being the subject of the Leonardo portrait. Some experts support the Lisa del Giocondo history, other claim that the glazing and painting technique dates the painting to after 1508. Thee is a suggestion that it might be Lisa Gherardini, a Florentine silk merchants wife (this would the wife of the father of Lisa del Giocondo). This article gives a survey of some of the women that might be the subject of the painting, but it does not accept the idea that it might be Pacifica Brandano. However, we now have a second face under the Lisa, as seen above. This is a reconstruction of an image taken with a multispectral camera that suggests there is an older portrait under the Mona Lisa. Other experts feel that it is not another portrait, but that the image shows how the original portrait evolved as it was being painted, and not one portrait painted over another. Above, the two images of the Mona Lisa are set beside a portrait said to be of Pacifica Brandano, so you can judge for yourself.
Piero II de' Medici (1472-1503), often called "il Fatuo" (the Unfortunate), was the 4th Signore di Firenze (1492-1494). In 1487 he married Alfonsina Orsini del Conti di Tagliacozzo (1472-1520), and they had two children, Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (1492-1519) and Clarice (1493-1528) who married Filippo Strozzi.
Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (1492-1519), was the 5th Signore di Firenze (1516-1519), married Medeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne, and they had two children, Caterina de' Medici (1519-1589) who married in 1555 Henri II, King of France (1519-1559), and Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537).
Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537), often called "il Moro", was the 1st Duke of the Florentine Republic (from 1532), and as such the first hereditary monarch of Florence. He was assassinated by his distant cousin and close friend Lorenzino de' Medici (1514-1548). Alessandro married in 1536 Margaret di Parma (1522-1586). They did not have children, but Alessandro did have three illegitimate children:-
Alessandro with Taddea Malaspina had a son Giulio (1537-1600), who would go on to marry Angelica Malaspina and have a daughter, Caterina, who would become a nun. Giulio would also have two illegitimate children, Cosimo I, who would be a knight in the Order of Santo Stefano, and Giuliano. When it became clear that he recognised Cosimo's authority as the future Duke of Florence, he was appointed first knight of the Order of Santo Stefano (in 1562), founded by the Grand Duke to fight pirates and the Moors in the Mediterranean. Giulio would later be the first Admiral of the fleet. He would accompany Cosimo I at his coronation as Grand Duke.
Giulia (ca. 1535-1588) was a second child Alessandro had with Taddea Malaspina. Giulia would first marry Francesco Cantelmo, and then later Bernadetto de' Medici, to whom she had a son, Alessandro (1560-1606).
Porzia (1538-1565), Alessandro's third illegitimate child, became a nun.
Have a look at this portrait, nearly 90 cm tall, painted by Jacopo Carucci (1494-1557), who was usually known simply by the name of his home town near Empoli, Pontormo. Who do you think it portrays?
After Cosimo I, at the age of seventeen, became Duke he had first to rout his enemies at the Battle of Montemurlo (1537). Then he immediately commissioned Pontormo to paint some frescos in his mother's villa in Castillo. Vasari noted that the commission also included portraits of both mother, Maria Salviati, and son. Assuming the panels were commission in 1537, Maria would have been 38. We can see that Maria is pale, serious, unadorned and heavily veiled, so a perfect example of decorous widowhood (her husband had died eleven years earlier in 1526). We have to remember that the child had been painted out of the portrait, and was only revealed in a cleaning performed in 1937. Then the panel was entitled "Maria Salviati, with her son Cosimo", and was believed to have been a version from Castillo.
Once the child had been revealed it was assumed to be a portrait of Maria and Cosimo I but then to be coherent, it must date from around 1526, she had been widowed one year and would have been twenty-seven, Cosimo I would have been eight. In fact there was a minimum age of seven-and-half for a child to be allowed to appear in a portrait with a widowed mother. Does she look 27, does the boy look 8? Of course it's possible that it was a retrospective commission, possibly even commissioned after Maria's death in 1543. However, with the child present, an 1612 inventory of Pontormo's portraits listed the child as "un puttina". Now this must be considered an archaic expression for a small child or boy, and more generally when naked a kind of angel or cherub. This comforted many in the presumption that the boy was Cosimo I. However, as some experts pointed out, if it was the Duke, then the inventory would surely have mentioned such a prestigious reference.
Some experts noted that the "boy" looked very girlish, and didn't even look eight years old. Others just thought that the inventory record could be a descriptive error. But if painted in 1626 why portray Maria as older than her twenty-seven years? In particular because it was an "artist convention" to never portray women as older, but to idealise them as looking younger. On top of that why not just present Maria as she was in 1626, a twenty-seven year old woman who has lost her husband the previous year? There is a preparatory drawing of Maria showing her veiled, but still youthful. Vasari identified other portraits of Maria as dating from 1537 to 1543, and she appears as a middle aged woman of rank as the mother of the Duke. In addition the child does not reappear in any of these other Medici portraits commissioned by Cosimo I. Throughout his life Cosimo I always looked for ways to eulogise his childhood and parentage, and the child in this portrait does not look like a future prince and ruler. It is also known that Cosimo I at that age loved to wear the costume of a cavalier, underlining the fact that his fathers' military abilities were bestowed upon his son. Finally Cosimo I was known for an "inscrutable" look, and not the anxious expression in the face in the portrait. As a retrospective portrait Cosimo I would never have accepted this portrait. In addition Maria had taken Cosimo I to Venice, then to Bologna, and had always presented him to the Doge, to ambassadors, and even at the coronation of Charles V in 1529. She wanted Cosimo I to be well educated and to remain at the forefront of European interests. So the pose, dress, decorum and expression of the child in this portrait are incongruous with historical facts. It's not conceivable for a portrait painted in the period 1537 to 1543, for Cosimo I to accept to seen sheltered, poorly dressed and anxious. In conclusion, any official portrait, whether painted in 1526, 1537, or after Maria's death, would have presented Cosimo I differently. So the portrait is of Maria, but the child is not Cosimo I.
The focus turned to the idea that it might have been painted sometime around Cosimo's accession in 1537, but that the child was a girl. Now things started to fall in place. The hair was coiffed exactly in the same way as Maria's, and the curling was typical for a girl. Portraits of the period showed boys with close-cropped hair. Who could she be? There were a number of girls in the Medici circle, an illegitimate daughter, nieces, etc. Eliminating by age, judging by comparisons with other portraits, and looking for a dark-haired, dark-eyed girl who might be four or five years old, left only two possibilities. The first was Bianca de' Medici (ca. 1536-1542), known a "Bia", an illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I, born before his marriage (mother unknown). The second was Giulia de' Medici (ca. 1535-1588), who shared the nursery with Bia (Giulia and her brother Giulio, were under the guardianship of Cosimo I). In 1542 both children became ill, Giulia survived, Bianca did not. The results of a very erudite study concluded that the child was probably Giulia, and the portrait is now known as "Maria Salviati, with Giulia d'Alessandro de' Medici".
?? Alessandro would also have a second illegitimate child, Cosimo (1550-1630) this time with Virginia Corsini. Cosimo would marry Lucrezia Gaetani and they would have Angelica (1608-1636) who would marry Gianpietro d'Altemps. In addition Cosimo would have an illegitimate boy Francesco (1610-1656) with Giulia de Medici dei Signori di Ottojani. This Francesco would marry and found a line of Nobile.
Averardo de' Medici married Benricevula, and they had one son Averardo II (1270-1319)
Chiarissimo II (1211-1346) had three sons, Giambuono (1260-?), Ugolino and Filippo (?-1290)
Giambuono (1260-?) had two sons, Bernardo and Lappo I (1306-?) who had a son Coppo (1330-?)
Filippo (?-1290) and had five children, Cambio (?-1356), Alamanno, Filippo, Arrigo, Giovanni, and Bonino)
Averardo II (1270-1319) married Mandina Arrigucci, and they had 6 children Salvestro il Chiarissimo, Giovenco I, Talento, Conte, Jacopo, and Francesco [Averardo II was Gonfaloniere in 1314]
Salvestro il Chiarissimo (1300-1346), married Lisa Donati,… son Averardo Bicci de' Medici
Averardo Bicci de' Medici (1320-1363), cloth/silk manufacturer, married Giovanna Cavallini de Buonaguidi and Jacopa Spini (also known as Giovanna), children of Japcopa were Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, Francesco de' Medici (il Vecchio), Antonia de' Medici (married Angelo Ardinghelli), Averardo Bicci de' Medici was founder of Medici Bank
Chiarissimo II (born 1195-1255), father of Gianbuono, Filippo, and Ugolino
It would appear that we
Chiarissimo I (ca.1167-1210) is said to have had one son, Filippo di Chiarissimo de' Medici (1180-), It would appear that Filippo had one son Chiarissimo II de' Medici (1211-1346), who also had a son called Averardo de' Medici.
Chiarissimo I (born between 1185-1239 and died between 1223-1317), son Filippo
Chiarissimo I (1201-1232), son Filippo
Chiarissimo I (1150-) father Arrigo (1120-), married in 1175, son Filippo
Chiarissimo II (1211-) father Filippo (1180-), son Averardo
Chiarissimo (1230-) father Filippo (1190-), brother Averardo, two sons one Filippo
Chiarissimo (1230-) father Filippo (1200-) mother Bana, brother Averardo I, married Ugolinetta, son Lippo
Chiarissimo Silvestro (-) father Filippo (1210-) mother Bana, brother Averardo I plus 2 other, married Ugolinetta, 2 children Giambuono plus another son
Chiarissimo III (1300-1346) married a Lisa Donati (1307-) and had two children, one of which was called Averardo de' Medici
Chiarissimo di Filippo de' Medici, father Filippo, mother Lisa Donati, two brothers Averardo I plus another, had 3 children, Filippo and 2 others
Chiarissimo, father Filippo detto Lippo, two brothers Averardo I plus another, had 3 children, Filippo and 2 others
Chiarissimo III de' Medici (between 1335-1364, died between 1356-1443, age 21?) parents Averardo II (1314-), son Averardo detto Bici de' Medici
Chiarissimo II, father Filippo and mother Alessia, 2 brothers Ranieri and another, 3 children Giambuono, plus 2 others
A new wall for Florence 1284-1333
Due to the fact that the city was constantly expanding, a new wall was commissioned in 1284 from Arnolfo di Cambio (ca. 1240-1310). When completed in 1333 the wall was 8,500 metres long and enclosed an area of 630 hectares (so around 300 football pitches). It was also Arnolfo who designed Florence cathedral, and it was said by many that "no Italian architect had enjoyed the proud privilege of stamping his own individuality more strongly on his native city than Arnolfo".
We can see below that the old Sesto d'Oltrarno became the Quartiere di Santo Spirito. The area across the river was not originally part of the city, but had been settled since Roman times. The wall build in the 12th century, surrounded only three "borghi" or suburbs beyond the Arno, inhabited by the poorest classes. A few rich and noble families began to settle there towards the beginning of the 13th century. In 1250 the "Primo Popolo" started to wall in a larger area, using stones from dismantled feudal towers, and this was included in the new wall. This portion of the wall with its gates was only built between 1324-1327. Initially the area was home to craftsmen and workers, but it became an alternative road for pilgrims going to Rome, so numerous hostels were built. It was also in the 1400's that wealthy Florentine families found the space to build their palaces and monumental residences, and once the Medici family moved there in 1550, every rich family did likewise. Some texts mention that in the 1400's the area became home to the faction opposed to the Medici, and they were even called the "Party of the Mountain" because from the raised ground you have (still today) nice views over the city.
Above we see Florence in 1333, once again divided into "Quartieri" or "Gonfaloni". At the time the city had an estimated population of 90,000-100,000. With the expansion of the city walls and the existence of 13 gates, the names for the "Quartieri" corresponded to the most important churches within them. We can see below the symbols of the "Quartieri", with the Baptistry being retained for San Giovanni. On the map we can now also see four bridges.
Bankruptcies and the Black Death
From about the 1340's the traditional industries of wool and cloth were in decline. The Flemish, French and English industries were competitive, and they were all adopting hostile policies to imports from competitors. Increasingly the Florentine bourgeoise left textiles and moved to the world of banking, or more specifically lending. However, between 1343 and 1346 the city saw the complete bankruptcy of two of their most powerful banks, the Bardi and the Peruzzi. The cause was Edward III of England (1312-1377) defaulting on loans estimated at 1.5 million gold florins. Given that the banks were lending money deposited with them, these bankruptcies indirectly affected the entire city economy. Bankruptcy appears to have been a more or less common occurrence, but the losses of Bardi and Peruzzi were clearly exceptional. There are lists here and there that mention the bankruptcies of i Bonsignori di Siena (1298), i Ricciardi di Pistoia (1300), and in Florence, i Mozzi (1301), i Franzesi (1307) i Pulci and i Rimbertini (1309), i Frescobaldi (1312), i Scali (1326), and in 1342 i Dell'Antella, i Cocchi, i Perendoli, i Bonaccorsi, i Corsini, i da Uzzano, and i Castellani.
It is said that between 1333 and 1346 dozens and perhaps hundreds of merchant-banking enterprises, most of them small companies, had collapsed. The Bardi and the Peruzzi were simply the most conspicuous examples. As a surrogate, it was noting that in just one year during that period a total of 1344 individuals were ineligible to participate in communal elections owing to bankruptcy.
In March 1348 the Black Death (bubonic plague) hit Florence. Between the years 1346 to 1351 it would kill an estimated 30% to 60% of the European population. Less well known is the fact that Florence had already been hit by the plague in 1340, which killed an estimated 15,000 people, and another 4,000 died during a famine in 1347, leaving a population in the city of 94,000 according to one account. Figures vary but it would appear that Florence lost between 14,000 and 25,000 people due the plague of 1348. Florentine tax records from 1352 mention 41,686 inhabitants, i.e. those subject to the so-called "prestanze" tax. This is thought to be an underestimate of the surviving population because it ignored the "miserabili", and it was limited only to people inside the city walls. Another estimate suggested that the population fell to 55,000, so a loss of over 30,000 people. Other reports suggest that Florence may have lost between half and three-fifths of its population, leaving a population of as few as 32,000. Most experts appear to concur that Tuscany registered a particularly high rate of fatality, in the 60% to 80% range. And this was in a city that was expecting the worst, had cleaned it streets, refused entry to ill travellers, animals, homosexuals and prostitutes, and forced the population to empty the streets and squares and remain indoors. And of course they also had lots of processions of prayers in order to lessen the wrath of God.
Most reports agree that the noticeable recover of the city was not seen before 1370. A census in 1379 determined that Florence was home to 56,000 people, in 13,779 families. We tend to forget that the plague did not just hit once and then pass on, there were further outbreaks in Florence in 1363, 1374, 1383, and 1390. And finally we tend also to forget that child mortality greatly surpassed adult mortality, so not only was there a pressing need to replace adult workers, but the high child mortality meant a slow recovery cycle.
Salvestro de' Medici (ca. 1331-1388)
During the second half of the 14th century the Medici had divided into several apparently rival branches. The family Medici had founded several factories in Genoa, Treviso, Nimes and Gascony, and more importantly they had skilfully avoided the fate of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks. Having several rival branches gave them increased visibility in the city, and it's not surprising that Salvestro de' Medici (ca. 1331-1388) rose to dominate the city from 1378, when he was nominated "Gonfaloniere di Giustizia", through to 1382 when he was exiled. Gonfaloniere di Giustizia was the highest office of the Florentine State, and once in office he embarked on an anti-Guelph policy. He restored some restrictive laws on the nobles, reduced the powers of the "Capitani di Parte" and perhaps most importantly he abolished the so-called "amminzioni", i.e. denunciations that the Guelph's had exploited during their period in power. Naturally the nobles were not happy, but when the Ciompi revolt broke out in 1378, one could see that he had done too little, too late, at least in the opinion of the working classes. During the revolt Salvestro supported the demands of the wool workers against the city oligarchy, but later he was also one of the key actors in the counter-revolt where the popolo grasso allied themselves with the bourgeoisie against the Ciompi.
The story goes that that in July 1378, Salvestro, along with 63 other citizens, were knighted and shortly after, the newly appointed "Gonfaloniere di Giustizia", the wool comb Michele di Lando (ex-leader of the Ciompi), gave him the income from the shops on the Old Bridge (a privilege that was later removed). There was a clear suspicion that di Lando had been bought off, and that Salvestro had also changed sides once he had received the additional income from the shops. Later Salvestro was accused of tyranny, and when the Guelph's regained the upper hand he was exiled.
In 1372 the Pope Gregory XI (1329-1378) was in Avignon rather than Rome. One of the conditions for his return to Rome in 1376 was that he wanted to expand the Papal States into Central Italy. It is also said that he disliked the "Parte Guelfa", and on top of that Florence had not helped him in his war against Milan in 1375. In fact Florence had signed an alliance with Milan just before the outbreak of war, and so it had worked to foment rebellion in many of the cities of the Papal States. The Pope excommunicated all members of the Florentine government and banned all religious services in the city under pain of arrest, enslavement and confiscation of all properties throughout Europe. The Signoria replied by confiscating ecclesiastical properties, and formed a coalition with Milan and Siena. The war was called the "War of the Eight Saints" (1375-1378), and it is said to have cost Florence 2.5 million florins (there is no clear explanation for the name of the war). Upon the death of the Pope in 1378 a treaty was signed with the new Pope Urban VI (1318-1389).
As one can imagine the sanctions imposed on Florence hurt their merchants throughout Europe, including the Alberti bankers in Avignon. They had established a flourishing trading company with offices in Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Greece and London, and in 1372 had gained a virtual monopoly in the transfer of money from the "collectories" of Europe to the "Apostolic Camera" (Papal Treasury). Naturally they lost this monopoly in 1376, and had all their properties in Avignon confiscated and sold to French merchants. At the time this was a dramatic moment since the Pope commanded the largest financial organisation in the world, and Florentines were the world's bankers. This break would last 10 years before Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici (1389-1464) would recover, and later improved on, the position of the Alberti.
Giovanni de' Medici (1360-1429) - the first great banker of the Medici family
Florence was always committed to Roman obedience, but with a strong preferences for peace and unity. Florentines who sought Papal employment went to Rome and not Avignon. Urban VI was not inclined to favour Florentine bankers, and Gregory XI had made arrangements with the firm of a certain Andrea Ticci of Pistoia, who had also made some substantial loans to the Papacy. However it would appear that the family Guinigi of Lucca had finally supplanted the Florentine bankers, and had handled transfer to the Papal Treasury until the death of Urban VI. It would also appear that Boniface IX (1350-1404), at least initially, continued to use Guinigi. Later they were replaced, but it was only in the 1390's that Florentine companies began to recover control over the Papal Treasury.
At the time the main Florence bankers were the Alberti, Ricci, Spini, and Medici. The Alberti had suffered following the Avignon Papacy, but despite the fact that could no longer do business in Florence they had a number of banking houses scatter over Europe that were loosely connected by their family relationships. Their range of business connection across Europe meant that they were well suited to transfer taxes, "servitia" and legal fees. The Ricci were punished in 1400 and excluded from office in Florence for 20 years. They had been implicated in a conspiracy to eliminate political figures in the city and open the gates to Milan (it's possible that the Alberti and Medici were also involved). However it would appear that they became "depositarius" to Innocent VII and Gregory XII through a third party. The Spini were probably the most active agents of payment for Boniface IX during 1397-1402. Finally the Medici had two banks at the Curia, both belonging to the line of Bicci de' Medici (excluded from the condemnation of other members of the family in 1400). One of the banks was jointly owned with Benedetto di Lippaccio de' Bardi, and the other with Ilarione di Lippacco de' Bardi. During 1390-1410 Giovanni de' Medici (1360-1429) and his bank appeared frequently in Papal records, but rather less than Spini. However in the following period they became the preferred banker for the rest of the 15th century. The crucial point was the connection between the Medici and Baldassarre Cossa (1370-1419), who was the Pisan antipope from 1410-1415 during the Western Schism. There were many accusations concerning that relationship, and even the suggestion that the Medici had paid for Cossa's cardinal hat. What is sure is they had a business relationship between 1404-1409, but the nature of the relationship is unknown. Clearly Bicci de' Medici had acted for Baldassarre Cossa before he became Pope. It is worth noting that the Depositary of the Papal Camera, responsible for receiving and disbursing revenues and managing papal finances, was with the family Ricci in 1406, and then with Spini until 1409. Medici took over that task for Baldassarre Cossa in 1411.
From what I understand Baldassarre Cossa, as John XXIII, was not a good Pope, but he was better than Boniface IX, Innocent VII and Gregory XII in that he tried to recover the Papal position in Rome and Italy. The funds for this derived from a levy on French clergy and a heavy tax on the part of the Papal States he controlled. He nominated two Florentine merchants to receive deposits of the Papal Camera in return for loans which they would recover from the Camera revenues. They were privileged officials of the Camera with the legal right to handle nearly all the income and expenditure of the Papacy and to charge a standard rate for doing so. The two depositaries were in reality set up in business by three Florentine companies, those of Giovanni di Bicci, Andrea de' Bardi and Averardo de' Medici. What this meant was that the Medici family had a very favourable relationship with the Camera through the depositaries. As John XXIII pursued an active military policy, so he spent money lent to him by Medici in anticipation of income. Documentation exists showing that between March 1411 and May 1412 the sum loaned was at least 95,000 florins. In June 1412 John XXIII made a peace with Naples for the sum of another 95,000 florins, but was expelled from Naples when he failed to complete the payments. Lending money to the Pope was probably not that advantageous, but it put Medici at the head of the curial bankers. Lending to the Pope was the price a banker must pay for favour at the Camera. The profit came from the innumerable routine transactions involving money transferred to and from the Papal court. Medici had the bigger share of the transactions, just when more money was flowing into the Camera. In fact the Rome branch produced more than half the total profits of the Medici banks. It stopped when John XXIII was captured and deposed in March 1415. The ransom for Baldassarre Cossa would be paid, and he would return to Florence and be reconciled with Pope Martin V (1369-1431) in 1419 (Cossa died later that year).
Martin V was elected in November 1417, and the expense of his coronation was borrowed from the Spini, who was then nominated as his depositary. Medici returned to being just one of the prominent bankers of the Curia. The key change was that Spini was declared bankrupt in 1420, reasons unknown. Medici's manager at the Curia was appointed the new depositary, and the tenure was to last 22 years, and intermittently for another 40 years. The result was that the Medici bank became the greatest business organisation in the world, and Cosimo? the richest man simply due to the position they held in the financial affairs of the Curia.
Back in Florence, and following the Ciompi revolt (1378) a government was formed in 1382 that concentrated power in the hands of the "Ottimati", a restricted group of rich bourgeois dedicated to banking and commerce, and led by the Albizzi family. They had an expansionist view, taking Cortona in 14122, Livorno in 1421, and buying and conquering Pisa from Milan in 1406. So by 1450 the Florentine State encompassed over 15,000 square kilometres, with access to the sea. The Medici and the Albizzi did not get one well, but Giovanni Bicci de' Medici developed himself the banking and trade, and becoming the official banker of the Papacy. It is said that he did not look for politically important positions, but he was occasionally an ambassador, and also in 1421 held the post of "Gonfaloniere de Justicia". He worked to increase the family wealth, and was much appreciated by the Florentine population for his prudence and "good offices".
According to the "catastro" Giovanni owned assets worth 180,000 florins, making him the second richest man in Florence, after Palle Strozzi. Giovanni would leave two sons, Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo.
Machiavelli wrote of Cosimo il Vecchio "those who had rejoiced at Giovanni's death, now regretted it, perceiving what manner of man Cosimo was. Of consummate prudence, staid yet agreeable presence, Cosimo was liberal and humane. He never worked against his party nor against the State, was prompt in giving aid to all, and his liberality gained him many partisans among the citizens. Chief amounts those who helped to consolidate his power were Averardo de' Medici and Puccio Pucci - Averardo for his audacity, Puccio by his prudence and sagacity, augmented his popularity and greatness. The advice and the sane judgement of Puccio were so highly esteemed and so well known by all that Cosimo's party was not called by his name but by that of Puccio".
This mass of governmental/public debt was known as Il Monte (“the mountain”),
"The second day after his death," writes Lorenzo in his diary, "although I, Lorenzo, was very young, in fact only in my twenty-first year, the leading men of the city and of the ruling party came to our house to express their sorrow for our misfortune, and to persuade me to take upon myself the charge of the government of the city, as my grandfather and father had already done. This proposal being contrary to the instincts of my age, and entailing great labour and danger, I accepted against my will, and only for the sake of protecting my friends, and our own fortunes, for in Florence one can ill live in the possession of wealth without control of the government."
These “priors” soon became so-called “Signori” or lords, and the divisions between the Guelphs and Ghibellines almost disappeared to be replaced by conflicts between the people and the higher classes. But problems persisted, with nobles doing what they wanted without redress for the common people. It was decided that each Signori should take a Gonfalonier or justice and place 1,000 armed men at his disposal in order to execute the laws. This was not resisted by the nobles because of the constant animosity between them. The nobles remained insolent, and the laws were enforced with great violence provided a witness could be found (but who would give evidence against a noble). The Gonfalonier received 4,000 armed men at their disposition. Nobles were refused places as Signori, and it was proposed that associates were to be condemned with the same severity as the criminal, and public reports were to be accepted as evidence. Conflicts between the nobles and the people escalated, but fortunately a peaceful opinion prevailed, modifications were made to the government of the city and both the nobles and citizens laid aside their arms in favour of sensible elections of the Signori. But the evil remained.
With time two noble families emerged, the Cerchi and the Donati, and it did not take much to ignite a major conflict and again to divide the whole city. The two parties took names, Cerchi became the Bianchi (and federated all the remaining Ghibellines), and the Donati became the Neri (if you were not a Bianchi you must be a Neri). One conflict lead to another, and as the two parties faced-off, the Signori caused the people to rise up to preserve order. In 1304 Florence suffered a major fire (1,700 houses burned), but the conflict between the Bianchi and Neri continued, and between both parties and the Signori. As the city took on importance it became a major actor in Italian politics. And because at one time or another the city was dominated by a representative of one king or another, or by the Pope, the internal conflicts festered but remained manageable. Florence had had many chances to find a compromise between its internal fractions, but their story moved almost unstoppably toward a final conflict.
The catalyst was just another attempt by one noble to take power from the Signori. But this time the nobles felt that they might be able to overcome the people and recover their “rights”. They openly armed themselves and called for help form Perugia and Sienna. The people came together under the gonfalon of justice. The attack was started by the Medici and Rondinelli who attacked and won against one of the nobles. They then went on to attack the Pazzi and the Donati. Many nobles yielded, and the Neri were also taken. The lower classes, greedy for spoils, sacked and destroyed the houses of the nobles, pulling down towers and burning palaces. The destruction of the nobility was so complete that they never recovered power. Florence had become a Republic, controlled by a new elite “the Signori”, the seeds of the Medici power had been planted, and the city found peace until 1353.
We find that the greater part of Tuscany was subject to Florence, with Lucca and Sienna alone governed by their own laws. None of the principle states were armed with their own proper forces, and Florence, having destroyed the nobility and the republic being in the hands of men of trade, used mercenaries.
When war with Venice and Naples became inevitable Florence created a Council of Ten. They engaged new condottieri and sent ambassadors to Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan and Sienna to ask for help or to gain information. The Pope was friendly, King Alfonso was clearly identified as a future enemy, the friendship with Milan was strengthened and the Genoese became friends as well. Venice refused to see the Florentine ambassador. Sienna tried to be friends with everyone. Milan and Florence also established a treaty with the King of France. In 1452 Venice attacked the domains of Milan with 16,000 horses and 6,000 footmen. Duke Sforza replied by defending his lands and then attacking the territories of Venice with 18,000 horses and 3,000 infantry. At the same time Florence and King Alfonso attacked each other is a “similarly inefficient” manner. The king’s son turned up with 12,000 troops and took 36 days to take his first small fortress, before failing at the next and retiring in disgrace. Florence put together 8,000 soldiers but did not engage. “Small castles when lost, were recovered at the peace, and larger places were in no danger”. Florence also agreed to pay 30,000 florins, plus 10,000 per month, to get King René of Anjou to attack Venice, take back what they had lost in the past, and take Brescia before returning to France. By now everyone was getting a bit tired of fighting so the Pope was able to negotiate a peace. Venice and Milan agreed to return all the captured lands and cities, and Florence, Venice and Milan agreed a 25-year treaty. Kin Alfonso was finally persuaded to join the “league” for 30 years, reserving the right to attack the Genoese. The King and Duke Sforza also married their sons and daughters together. This things never finish is a clear-cut way. The mercenary troops of Venice decided to march through Romagna to Sienna. So finally the soldiers of the Pope with those of Florence and Milan defeated the mercenaries, who were saved at the last minute by King Alfonso - so it became obvious that they had been paid by King Alfonso to start trouble form the beginning. So he finally had to return everything the mercenaries had taken, pay them off with 20,000 florins, and accept them in his kingdom of Naples.
I think this short summary of a few years in the life of Renaissance Florence shows: The constant friction in Italy between city states and regional kingdoms The constant suspicion that each party held with respect to the others The constant plotting and double-plotting of each party, and how someone such a Cosmo di’Medici could be respected for being perhaps a touch more faithful and true to his friends
How the elite were able to dispose of considerable resources (monies and lives) in order to satisfy their desires for power and prestige
How the city states were able to collect taxes and pay substantial sums of money to buy mercenaries to attack others, to buy other cities, to buy their freedom, and to reimburse their adversaries in case of failure And how Florence’s famous painters, architects, sculptors, poets were not mentioned once.
We like to think of the Renaissance as a period of great artistic freedom, but above all the Renaissance was a period of conflict between city states, of unbridled power in the hand of a few, and of .........
Cosimo de 'Medici
An attempt to conquer Lucca led Florence, together with Venice, to another costly war with Milan (1432–1433). The mismanagement of the campaign resulted in a dispute between the aristocratic party led by Rinaldo degli Albizzi and the popular party led by Cosimo de 'Medici (Giovanni's son), although both had previously consented to the war. Rinaldo was determined to crush the Medici Party and successfully enforced Cosimo's banishment. The Albizzi tried to strengthen their position by conferring extraordinary powers on the capitano del popolo , but the Medici still had great popular support. Rinaldo's proposal for a coup d'etat found no response in his own party, and he could not prevent the election of a pro-Medici Signoria in 1434. He and other party leaders were summoned to the palace to counter allegations of conspiracy against the state. He responded by summoning 800 armed supporters. A revolution was only averted by the intervention of Pope Eugen IV , who was in Florence at the time.
The Florentine territory at the Peace of Lodi (1454) in relation to the rest of Italy. Special map below left: pink the territory around 1300; Extensions to 1377 brown; Extensions up to 1377, which were lost before 1377, outlined in brown; Extensions 1377–1433 yellow; Extensions 1433–1494 green.
A parliament was convened and the elected Balia decided to return Cosimo and exile Rinaldo degli Albizzi, Rodolfo Peruzzi, Niccolò Barbadori and others, despite a weak attempt by Eugen to protect them. On October 6, 1434 Cosimo returned to Florence. For the next three centuries, the history of the city was determined by that of the House of Medici . Cosimo managed to dominate the republic while remaining nominally a private citizen. He banished those who opposed him and ruled through the Balia , which was re-elected every five years, appointed all magistrates and acted according to his orders. In 1437 Florence and Venice were again at war with the Visconti, whose leader Niccolò Piccinino was defeated by the Florentines under Francesco I. Sforza while entering Tuscany with many Florentine exiles in his retinue in the Battle of Anghiari (1440); peace was made the following year.
The abusive system of the catasto was abolished and a progressive income tax ( decima scala ) was introduced with the aim of relieving the poor, who were usually Medici adherents. But since the tax was raised frequently, it ended up depressing society as a whole. Cosimo expanded his own authority and that of the republic by helping Francesco Sforza become Duke of Milan (1450), and he sided with him in the war against Venice (1452-1454). In 1452 Emperor Friedrich III came. on his way to the coronation in Rome through Florence and was greeted as a friend. During the final years of Cosimo's life, things were less under his control, and the gonfaloniere Luca Pitti, a vain and ambitious man, made many changes, such as the devaluation of the posts of Podestà and Capitano, which Cosimo coveted but gladly left to others.
Lorenzo the Magnificent
Statue of Lorenzo de Medici il Magnifico at the Uffizi
Cosimo died in 1464, and he was followed - not without opposition - by his son Piero , who was very weak and suffering from gout. The anti-Medici party was called Del Poggio because its leader Luca Pitti's house was on a hill; the Medici Party was called Del Piano because Piero's house was down in town; the other opposition leaders were Dietisalvi Neroni and Agnolo Acciaiuoli. Various conspiracies were hatched against Piero, but his unexpected energy foiled the plans of his opponents. Sforza's death led to a war of succession in Milan, and the Venetians, incited by the Florentine exiles, invaded Tuscany. The war ended after many unsuccessful skirmishes in 1468 with the intervention of Pope Paul II.
Piero died in 1469, leaving two sons behind: Lorenzo (1449–1492) and Giuliano (1453–1478). The former immediately seized the reins of government and became ruler of Florence in ways that neither Cosimo nor Piero had ever attempted. He established his supremacy on a Balia , from the Signoria, the accoppiatori and 240 other members insisted, all Medici supporters, were to be replaced every five years (1471). When a dispute arose over the alum mines of Volterra in 1472 , Lorenzo sent an expedition to the city; it was looted and many residents were massacred. For a variety of reasons, a hostility arose between Lorenzo and Pope Sixtus IV. If the Pope was not an accomplice, he was at least an accomplice in the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici (1478).
The result of the plot, although Giuliano was murdered, was that Lorenzo consolidated his position and had a number of his enemies executed or exiled. He was excommunicated by Sixtus, who went to war with King Ferdinand of Naples against him. Neither side was successful at first, but eventually the Florentines were defeated at Poggio Imperiale (near Poggibonsi ) and the city itself was in danger. Lorenzo's position was critical, but his audacity to go to Naples enabled him to make peace with the king, which led to a reconciliation with the Pope (1479–1480). On his return to Florence, Lorenzo was received enthusiastically, which he used to consolidate his power. The Balia , formed in April 1480 , decided u. a. to set up a Council of Seventy ( consiglio dei settanta ), which, although originally only constituted for five years, developed into a permanent institution. Since the members were all supporters of Lorenzo, the council represented a permanent pillar of the Medici rule. As late as 1480, a conspiracy against Lorenzo was foiled. The council then passed a law declaring attacks on Lorenzo's life to be treason . Until Lorenzo's death, the city remained free from party disputes.
Due to his political activity, Lorenzo had neglected the business interests of his company and, in order to make up for certain heavy losses, he seems to have appropriated public funds. His brilliant but expensive foreign policy made further forced loans necessary, and he also laid his hand on Monte delle Doti , an insurance company that provided dowries for girls.
An attempt by the Venetians to occupy Ferrara led to a general Italian war in which Florence sided with Venice. When peace was made in 1484, the republic gained some advantages. In the following year a revolt of the Neapolitan barons broke out against King Ferdinand, actively supported by Pope Innocent VIII ; Lorenzo initially remained neutral, but because of his policy of equilibrium, and because he did not want Ferdinand to be completely inferior, he supported him despite the unpopularity of the king in Florence. Peace was made in 1486 when the Pope was ready to come to a settlement. In 1487 Lorenzo regained Sarzana , which GGirolamo Savonarola wasenoa had wrested from the Florentines nine years earlier. The general confusion and ceaseless intrigue throughout Italy required Lorenzo's constant attention, and he managed to tip Florence on the scales of power in Italy. At the time, the Dominican in Florence and shook the whole city with his attacks on corruption in the Church and among the Florentines. He opposed Lorenzo's government as the source of the people's immorality, and to some extent raised public opinion against him. Lorenzo fell ill and Savonarola, whom he had called to his bedside, refused absolution to the destroyer of the Florentine freedoms. Lorenzo, during whose reign Florence had become one of the most important centers of art and literature in Europe, died in 1492.
Expulsion of the Medici
He was followed by his son Piero , who had none of the qualities of his father and made a number of political mistakes. When Charles VIII came to Italy from France to conquer Naples (beginning of the Italian Wars ), Piero decided to support Naples, despite the traditional popular sympathies on the side of the French king. And when Karl arrived on Florentine territory and occupied Sarzana, Piero went to his camp and apologized. The king demanded the cession of Pisa, Livornus and other cities, which Piero allowed. On his return to Florence on November 8, 1494, he found the opposition strengthened and his popularity declined, especially when the news of the scandalous cession to Charles became known. He was denied access to the palace, and the people began to shout Popolo e libertà against the Medici call Palle palle (after the bullets on the Medici coat of arms). He fled the city with a small escort, and shortly afterwards his brother Giovanni. On the same day Pisa rose against the Florentines and was occupied by Charles.
The eviction of the Medici caused disorder, but Piero Capponi and other prominent citizens managed to keep the peace. Envoys, one of them Savonarola, were sent to negotiate with the French king, but no agreement was reached until Charles arrived in Florence on November 17th at the head of an army of 12,000. Despite their French sympathies, the citizens were indignant about the occupation of Sarzana and while giving the king a great welcome, they did not like his demeanor as a conqueror. Karl was impressed by the wealth and sophistication of the citizens and above all by the fortress-like appearance of their palaces. The Signoria appointed Piero Capponi Gonfaloniere, a man of great talent and patriotism and experienced in diplomacy. Francesco Valori, the Dominican Giorgio Vespucci and the diplomat Domenico Bonsi became the syndic to conduct negotiations with the French king.
Karl's demands did not please the citizens, and the arrogance and brutality of his soldiers led to riots in which they were attacked with stones in the narrow streets. When the king suggested a return of Piero de 'Medici, the Signoria urged the citizens to get ready to take up arms. The proposal was dropped, but Karl demanded an immense sum of money before leaving town. Long debates ensued, and when he finally issued a presumptuous ultimatum, the syndicates refused. When the king realized what a street fight would mean in Florence, he was immediately ready to come to an agreement. He contented himself with 120,000 florins and agreed to surrender the fortresses he had captured within two years, unless his campaign against Naples was concluded earlier; the Medici were to remain exiled, but their bounty was canceled. But Karl did not want to leave, which caused permanent unrest in the city. Not until November 28th, after a warning from Savonarola, whom he respected very much, did he leave Florence.
Girolamo Savonarola, Portrait of Fra Bartolomeo , around 1498
It was now planned to restore the government on the basis of the old republican institutions. But one had to recognize that 60 years of Medici rule had turned these institutions into mere shadow structures. The state of government, largely republican, controlled by a balia of 20 accoppiatori and often disrupted by the convening of a parlamento, was extremely chaotic. As a result, people talked about nothing more than a change in government. But unfortunately there was no longer an upper class familiar with public affairs while the lower class was completely demoralized. Many suggestions were made, none of which were of practical value until Girolamo Savonarola , who had already made a name for himself as a moral reformer, began his famous political sermon series.
When the alliance between Pope, Emperor, Venice and Spain prevailed against Charles VIII, he had to withdraw to France. On his way back he passed through Florence, and although the republic had refused to join the alliance, it saw itself in danger because Piero de 'Medici was among the king's entourage. Savonarola was again sent to the French camp and convinced the king to refrain from any idea of reinstating the Medici. At the same time, Charles broke his promise by giving the Pisans help in their revolt against Florence and not returning the fortresses.
After the French had given up Italy, Piero de 'Medici recruited some mercenaries and marched on Florence. However, the citizens - spurred on by Savonarola - took up arms and prepared themselves for violent resistance. Due to Piero's ineptitude and the exhaustion of his funds, nothing came of the campaign. At the same time, the city was not doing well; their resources were strained by the amount paid to Karl and by the war; their creditworthiness was shattered, their trade paralyzed; Famine and plague ravaged the city, and the war to subjugate Pisa went badly. Even worse was the death of one of the most capable and impartial statesmen, Piero Capponi, in 1496.
The league now attacked Florence, because Borgia- Pope Alexander VI. hated Savonarola and was determined to destroy the Republic in order to temporarily reinstate the Medici and prepare the way for his own sons. The Venetians and Imperial troops besieged Livorno and there was great misery in Florence. All of this caused Savonarola's popularity to decline somewhat, but after the enemy had been defeated at Livorno and the League seemed to be breaking up, the Florentines took heart and the monk's party was on the rise again. Numerous processions were held, Savonarola's sermons against corruption and vice seemed to have temporarily transformed the citizens, and the 1497 Carnival remained famous for the bruciamenti della vanità (i.e. the burning of "indecent" books and pictures, as well as carnival masks and costumes). The monk's sermons against church corruption and especially against the Pope resulted in his excommunication, which made him lose much of his influence.
In the same year Piero de 'Medici tried another attempt on Florence. When renewed Medici plots were discovered, Bernardo del Nero and other famous citizens were tried and executed; but the party hostile to Savonarola was gaining ground and had the support of the Franciscans who were hostile to the Dominican order . Between Savonarola and his opponents there was now a violent dispute in the pulpit, which was resolved by forbidding him to preach. Savonarola was injured in a trial by fire . After that he lost even more the confidence of the Florentines. The Pope asked for his extradition again and again, but was unsuccessful despite threats of an interdict against the city.
The Piagnoni were no longer in power, and when a Signoria from Arrabbiati was elected in 1493, a mob of opponents of Savonarola attacked the convent of San Marco , where he lived. He was arrested and charged with heresy and treason. The committee appointed to his trial consisted of his enemies, including Doffo Spini, who had previously tried to assassinate him. Many irregularities occurred during the three trials and Savonarola was repeatedly tortured . The outgoing Signoria made sure that a like-minded Signoria was elected as successor, and on May 22, 1498 Savonarola was sentenced to death and executed the following day.
Reinstatement of the Medici
City view from the Schedel world chronicle (1493)
After the Pope was satisfied, the situation in Florence was less critical for the moment. The war against Pisa resumed and in 1499 the city was not captured, perhaps only because of the delaying tactics of the Florentine commander Paolo Vitelli; he was subsequently arrested, charged with treason and executed. Louis XII. France, who was now sending an army to Italy to conquer Milan, received the support of the Florentines. Cesare Borgia , who had occupied many cities in Romagna, suddenly demanded the reinstatement of the Medici in Florence, and the danger was only averted by making him captain-general of the Florentine troops with a considerable salary (1501).
The weakness of the government became more evident every day, several constitutional changes were made and many old institutions such as those of the Podestà and the Capitano del popolo were abolished. Finally, in 1502, the office of gonfaloniere was bestowed for life to give more stability to the government; he also had the right to submit legislative proposals to the Signoria. The choice fell on Piero Soderini (1452–1522), an honest man with a sense of community who did not belong to any particular party, but who lacked strength of character. A useful measure he took was the establishment of a national militia at the suggestion of Niccolò Machiavelli (1505). In the meantime, the Pisan War dragged on without much progress being made. 1503 were both Piero de Medici and Alexander VI. died, eliminating two dangers for the republic. Spain, at war with France over the division of Naples, helped the Pisans as the enemies of Florence, the ally of Francis I (1501–1504). When this war was over, the Florentines were able to besiege Pisa (1507), and in 1509 the city was forced to surrender by a famine and again dependent on Florence.
After Pope Julius II had formed the League of Cambrai with France and Spain against the Republic of Venice , he withdrew from it in 1510 and shouted Fuori i Barbari (Out with the barbarians), with a view to attracting the French from Italy to evict. King Ludwig then proposed an ecumenical council to create a schism in the church and demanded that it be held in Florentine territory. After some hesitation the republic agreed and the council was opened in Pisa, whereupon the Pope immediately placed Florence under an interdict. At the request of the Florentines, the council was moved to Milan , but this did not save them from the wrath of the Pope.
A Spanish army under Ramón de Cardona , accompanied by Cardinal Giovanni de 'Medici and his brother Giuliano , penetrated the territory of the republic and demanded 100,000 florins, the release of Soderini and the readmission of the Medici. Soderini offered to resign, but the Grand Council supported him and provisions were made for defense. In August, the Spaniards took Prato by storm and committed atrocities against the residents. Florence was in a panic, a group of the Ottimati or nobles forced Soderini to step back and leave the city. Cardona's new terms were accepted: the re-admission of the Medici, a cash payment of 150,000 florins and an alliance with Spain. On September 1, 1512, Giuliano and Giovanni de 'Medici and their nephew Lorenzo entered Florence with Spanish troops. A parliamento was convened and a balia was formed, which abolished the Gran Consiglio and created a constitution similar to that of Lorenzo Il Magnifico. Giuliano became the de facto head of the government, but he did not pursue the usual vengeful policies of his house, although he resorted to the Laurentine method of entertaining the citizens with glamorous festivities.
After the death of Julius II in 1513, Giovanni de 'Medici was elected Pope as Leo X , an event that enormously increased the importance of the house. In March 1516, Giuliano di Lorenzo de 'Medici, Duke of Nemours, died and was followed by his nephew Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici , who was also made Duke of Urbino. On his death in 1519, Cardinal Giulio de 'Medici (son of Giuliano, who had been killed in the Pazzi conspiracy ) assumed responsibility for government. He met opposition and had to play the Ottimati against the Piagnoni, but he did not rule badly and in any case preserved the external forms of freedom. In 1523 he became Pope Clement VII and sent his relatives Ippolito and Alessandro , both minors and illegitimate, to Florence under the tutelage of Cardinal Silvio Passerini. Ippolito was called Il Magnifico and was to become the ruler of the republic.
The Modern Age
Renewed expulsion and reinstatement of the Medici
But Cardinal Passerini's reign turned out to be highly unpopular, and the city soon seething with discontent. Revolts broke out and Passerini was not up to the situation. The Ottimati were for the most part opposed to the Medici, and by 1527 the position became untenable. Through the Sacco di Roma , the influence of the Medici Pope Clemens was temporarily switched off. This led to a successful change of power on May 16, 1527. When Filippo Strozzi and above all his wife threw their political weight on the scales against the Medici and the magistrates spoke out in favor of their exclusion from power, Passerini, Ippolito and Alessandro left Florence (May 17, 1527).
A Consiglio degli Scelti was convened and a constitution similar to that of Savonarola's time was adopted. The Grand Council was revived and Niccolò Capponi made gonfaloniere for a year. But Florence was torn apart by its parties: the Ottimati, who wanted an oligarchy ; the Palleschi or Medici, who generally supported them; the Adirati, who opposed Capponi for his temperance; the Arrabbiati, who were strongly anti-Medici, and the Popolani, who opposed the Ottomati. Capponi did his best to reform the city and save the situation, and while adopting Savonarola's tone on internal affairs, he saw the dangers of the external situation and realized that a reconciliation between the Pope and Emperor Charles V would be devastating Florence would have, for Clemens would surely take the opportunity to bring his family back to power. After he was re-elected Gonfaloniere in 1525, despite opposition, Capponi tried to make peace with the Pope. His correspondence with the Vatican led to the unjustified charge of high treason, and although he was acquitted, he was forced to resign and leave the city for six months.
Francesco Carducci was elected Gonfaloniere in his place, and on June 29, 1529, the Pope and Emperor signed a treaty in which the latter consented to reinstate the Medici in Florence. Carducci made arrangements for a siege, but much of the people were either out of sympathy for the Medici or out of fear against him, although the Frateschi - as the representatives of Savonarola's views were called - strongly supported him. A body called Nove della Milizia , on which Michelangelo Buonarotti also sat, was entrusted with the defense of the city, and Michelangelo himself supervised the reinforcement of the fortifications. A most unfortunate choice for the high command of the army was Malatesta Baglioni. In August an imperial army under Philibert, Prince of Orange, marched towards the city. In September Malatesta gave up Perugia and other cities fell into the hands of the imperial troops. Attempts to come to an agreement with the Pope were unsuccessful, and in October the siege began. Although the citizens stood alone against the papacy and empire, they showed themselves undaunted. The most prominent figure in these events was Francesco Ferrucci . But Malatesta was a traitor at heart and in every way hampered the city's defense. Ferrucci, who had re-conquered Volterra, marched to Gavinana above Pistoias to attack the imperial troops in the rear. A battle took place at this point on August 3, 1530, but despite Ferrucci's heroism, he was defeated and killed. The Prince of Orange was also killed in this desperate battle. Malatesta contributed to the defeat by preventing a simultaneous attack by the besieged.
The famine within the city was now very severe and a growing proportion of the population was in favor of surrender. The Signoria finally realized that Malatesta was a traitor and released him. But it was too late, and he was now acting as if he were the governor of Florence - when the troops tried to get his release he turned his arms on them. On August 9th, the Signoria saw that all hope was in vain and entered into negotiations with Don Ferrante I Gonzaga , the new imperial commander. The surrender was signed on August 12, 1530: Florence had to pay compensation of 80,000 florins; the Medici were to be called again; the emperor should set up a new government, it being understood that freedom should be preserved. Baccio Valori, a Medici who had been in the imperial camp, now took charge, and the city was occupied by foreign troops. A parliamento was convened, the usual balia formed and all opposition silenced. The city was handed over to Pope Clement, who, in violation of the terms of surrender, hanged Carducci and Girolami (the last Gonfaloniere) and installed Alessandro de 'Medici, the illegitimate son of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, as head of the republic on July 5, 1531. The next year the Signoria was abolished, Alessandro made gonfaloniere for life and his rule made hereditary within his family by an imperial patent. Florence lost its freedom in 1532 and became the capital of the Duchy (later Grand Duchy) of Tuscany .
|Balìe|Il termine balìa designava la facoltà di governare e di disporre dei sudditi in senso illimitato, in occasioni di particolari necessità o gravi pericoli dello Stato; il termine venne quindi ad indicare anche la commissione, o magistratura, a cui questi poteri erano delegati. A Firenze già dal 1287 si cominciò ad attribuire ai priori i pieni poteri, cioè la balia per affari straordinari, allo scopo di difendere e rafforzare l'autorità del comune di fronte a pericoli interni ed esterni. Col tempo tale consuetudine si andò generalizzando sempre più e nonostante che la balia venisse sempre concessa per un periodo di tempo definito, tuttavia essa esercitava senza limitazione la sovranità che ordinariamente risiedeva nei tradizionali organi di governo, i quali così venivano a trovarsi esautorati. Alla balìa ricorsero, ad esempio, i Medici per impadronirsi dei poteri dello Stato: attraverso la balìa era, infatti, possibile creare istituzioni nuove, sopprimere le vecchie, condannare gli avversari, affidare le cariche pubbliche ai seguaci del partito vincente
Chris Dobson has a website on "Italian Art, History and Culture" and I liberally exploited his webpages on "The Heraldry of Florence"
Juliana Hill Cotton, "Benedetto Reguardati of Nursia (1389-1469)"
Sara Jocamien van Dijk, "Beauty Adorns Virtue - dress in portraits of women by Leonardo da Vinci"
I visited a lot Medieval Warfare, which also has a webpage on Heraldry
Nicolai Rubinstein, ed., "Florentine Studies - Politics and Society in Renaissance Florence"
Niccolò Rodolico, "The Struggle for the Right of Association in Fourteenth-Century Florence"
Carole Collier Frick, "Dressing Renaissance Florence"
Jean Boutier and Yves Sintomer, "The Republic of Florence (from the 12th to the 16th centuries)"
Cinzia Cosi. "L'Attività Laniera nel Contado Fiorentino"
John F. Padgett and Paul D. McLean, "Economic Credit and Elite Transformation in Renaissance Florence"
Basics of Florentine Governance
Some of the institutions and roles presented in this section are separately described in sections further down this webpage.
The documentary heritage of Florence is fragmentary concerning public life of the city before the institution of the Magistrato dei Priorato delle Arti (Magistrate of the Priors of the Guilds), which took place in 1282. The 12th and 13th centuries saw initially the affirmation of the consular regime ("consulatus" or supreme magistrate), the rise of the institution of the Podestà (another supreme magistrate), the constitution of the "people" of 1250 (il costituto dei popolo), the Guelph victory of 1266 and the rise of the powerful Guelph party and the buonomini (good men).
The title of Priore (Prior) was sometimes given in the early communal period to one of the Consoli (Consuls) who appeared as the head of the Consolato (Consulate) with the title "prior consulum". However, initially it was a transitory designation and only became a permanently title given to the heads of the municipality of Florence following the reforms of the municipal constitution in the years 1282-83. These "Priori" (Priors) were originally the representatives of the most important commercial and industrial corporations, the so-called "Arti" (guilds). The leaders of the guilds had for a long time already exercised a considerable influence on the decisions of the municipality. In 1250, after the victory of the Ghibellines, "il popolo" (the people) was constituted, that is, the traders and craftsmen gathered in a political body with its leaders, the "anziani" (elders), and a captain who was in charge of the military side, the latter was given the name of "Difensore delle Arti e del Popolo" (Defender of the guilds and of the people). In June 1282 three "Priori delle Arti" (Priors of the Guilds) were placed at the head of the municipality. One was chosen from the "Arte di Calimala" (merchants in foreign cloth), one from the "Arte del Cambio" (money exchange, credit, etc.), and one from the "Arte della Lana" (wool).
Some reports note that in 1138 Florence was a "free municipality" governed by four Consoli (a kind of magistrate, one for each quartieri), who at the end of the century became twelve, two for each district, or sestiere, inside the walled city. The Consoli (Consuls) were assisted by a Consiglio di Cento Buonuomini (Council of One Hundred Good Men, which might even then have been called a Senate) and by an Assemblea (a type of Parliament) of all citizens able to take up arms. The Archives of Florence are able to name some Consoli from 1172 through to 1206, and every Podestà from 1207 to 1502. The Podestà of 1207 was the first signoria forestiere (or "uno gentile uomo d'altra città"), whereas the Consoli were local lords.
What happened in Florence was not unique, Prato first documented its "Consoli" in 1142, and also replaced its aristocratic regime with a "Podestà" in 1193. At the end of the 13th century they would adopt a popular regime consisting of a "Gonfaloniere di Giustizia" and a "Priori delle Arti" called the "Otto Defensori del Popolo" (Eight Defenders of the People). In 1350 Prato would be annexed by Florence.
Consoli could have quite specific roles, for example, in 1421 Florence established "Consoli del Mare" (Consuls of the Sea), and there is a dedicated and detailed description further down this webpage.
First we turn to the archives
If we are to understand even the basics of Florentine governance we need to turn to the archives. And fortunately Florentines loved creating committees and building archives, however not everything survived the ravages of time.
Whilst outside the scope of this webpage, it's worth noting that Tuscany was annexation to France in 1808, and in addition, in 1809, Tuscany became (again) a Grand Duchy with Princess Elisa Baciocchi (1777-1820), sister of Napoleon as regent.
At the institutional level, the decree of 1808, abolished all civil, criminal and police courts, including any authority covered by any Tuscan law that executed judicial power, whether civil or criminal or police, and any right of temporal jurisdiction attributed to the Sacred College, to the bishops and other ecclesiastical corporations, and all the corporations of legal officers, all the colleges of lawyers and all the institutions of a similar nature that served the education and the continuation of business in the previous courts. The date of 16 August 1808 marked the definitive break, in the former Grand Duchy of Tuscany, of the old judicial order, new courts were created ad hoc, which followed the typology of those already existing in the rest of the French empire. Fortunately the archives of the French period deposited with the Court of First Instance of Florence, established in 1838, together with the Court's archives, are now in the State Archives of Florence. This includes the archives of Giudici di Pace (Justices of the Peace), Tribunale di Prima Istanza Civile (Court of First Civil Instance), Tribunale di Commercio (Commercial Court), Corte di Appello (Court of Appeal) and finally the Corte Imperiale ( Imperial Court).
The archives that cover the broadly defined Renaissance period include:
Archivi del Tribunali Civili e Criminale (Civil and Criminal Courts), appear to be best viewed through the:-
L'Archivio del Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People) where criminals were judged between 1343 and 1502, and where civil cases were judged between 1450 and 1502.
L'Archivio del Podestà where criminals were judged between 1343 and 1502, and where civil cases were judged between 1346 and 1502, after which started the documentation of the Magistrato Supremo, Piero di Tommaso Soderini (1451-1522), who in 1502 was elected Gonfaloniere di Giustizia for life.
Archivio dell' Esecutore degli Ordinamenti di Giustizia (Executor of the Ordinances of Justice), would normally have started in 1306 with the introduction of the ordinances designed to curb the power of i Grandi, however some were lost during the riots at the time of the presence of the Duke of Athens (1342-43).
Archivio della Ruota, from 1502 to 1808.
Archivio del Magistrato Supremo (Supreme Magistrate), from 1532 to 1808.
Archivio del Tribunali delle Arti (Courts of the Guilds) was chaired by a Proconsul (Proconsole) nominated by the guild of judges and notaries. The courts had both civil and criminal jurisdictions under the Government of the Republic, and its responsibilities were only transferred to the Camera di Commercio (Chamber of Commerce) in 1772. Many experts look to these archives to provide the greatest insight into the way public and commercial life evolved in Florence.
Archivio del Tribunale dei Pupilli e dei Minori (Court of Pupils and Minors), as far as I know started in the 1394 as a collection of documents to the history of certain elite families, etc. but the judicial papers only start from 1480
Archivio del Conservadori di Legge e del Conservatore delle Leggi (Preservation of the Law and Conservation of the Laws), were institutions that ran from 1428 to 1777, and appeared with the suppression of the Proconsul.
Archivio delle Tratte
Archivio delle Regalie e Possessioni (Gifts and Possessions). The above archives are mostly focussed on civil cases, without explicitly excluding criminal justice. Concerning criminal justice the riches collection is with the Palazzo del Podestà, commonly called the Otto. This archive appear to hold many of the criminal trials of the the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People) or by the Podestà in executing implementation of the Ordinamenti di Giustizia (Ordinances of Justice)
Archivio della Zecca (Archives of the Mint) ran until 1814, and included some documents relative to the Uffizio‘ di Garanzia. In addition the archive held the Statues of the Arte dei Monetieri (Guild of ….), which began in the last years of the 13th century and ran to 1407. This is the oldest of the documents of the Florentine mint. There are also the documents of the currency reform of 1324, and the deliberations of the currency officials from 1344 to 1373. Along with other document sources, they collectively provide a continuous record through to modern times.
Archivio dei Sindici (Archive of Mayors) covers the period from 1515 to 1815.
The above archives are just for Florence, but in addition you have the Archives of Tuscany, and the archives of other major Tuscan cities such as Pisa, Lucca and Siena.
Along side these archives you also have the acts of the Councils, the varied Deliberations and the Correspondence of the Signoria, the Balìe, which includes such institutions as the Dieci di Balìa, Otto di Pratica, and the Nove conservatori di ordinanza e milizia from the last republican phase.
The Archivio delle Reformagioni, is the name associated with the antico Magistrato of Florence, who's origins date back to the 13th and early 14th century. In an institutional landscape characterised by the rapid rotation of public offices, they provided a stable presence and a point of reference in the political and administrative life of the city. They were in charge of drafting acts of the councils (the reformagioni, in fact). It would appear that they drafted documents for the collegi priorali (Priorate), and some have equated this role with that of a Registrar. With the introduction of new election systems they were responsible for the receipt of oaths, and applying the sanctions of non-compliance, as well as documenting the entire electoral process, including documenting the actual selection process on a daily basis. As an example they were responsible for verifying the absence of pending charges against potential candidates, as well as verifying their ages.
Initially the first Florentine statutes were kept with the Camera del Comune (with the Municipality), established at the headquarters of the Podestà. However in early 14th century the archives were moved inside a new building built to house the office of the Priorato and the main city magistrates. And in the 1320's there was a considerable simplification, reducing the key institutions to just two, the Consiglio del Capitano del Popolo and the Consiglio del Podestà. At the same time, the authority of the Priorato, an executive office originally subordinate to the Capitano del Popolo, was strengthened through the conferral of the power to appoint officers and decide which regulatory measures to submit to the Councils for approval. Additional extraordinary deliberative powers (Balìe) were increasingly attributed to this office. In 1396 the Priorato assumed the physiognomy of a real Singorie (Lordships), assuming the authority to convene the city councils and having full political and legal responsibility for legislative activity. The main documentary types that from the beginning settled in the Archivio delle Reformagioni were the so-called Libri fabarum, the paper registers containing the minutes of the council meetings with the annotation of the votes made, and le Provvisioni, the parchment notebooks on which the legislative measures were recorded in public form.
The statutes of 1355 gave a definitive role to the archival institution because it allowed it, upon payment, to provide authentic copies of council deeds, the so-called Duplicati (Duplicates). The decidedly expansionist policy of the Florentine State produced an influx of new documentary material for the Archivio delle Reformagioni. In addition to the giornali delle Deliberazioni dei Signori e Collegi (Deliberations of the Lords and Colleges), the Statutes of the subject communities, titles of territorial jurisdiction, and the acts of treaties were all collected with the archive. In 1444 with the affirmation to power of the Medici party, the office of Notaio delle Riformagioni took on a declared political connotation by changing his name to that of Ufficiale delle Riformagioni. And the creation of new institutional bodies such as the Consiglio del Cento (Council of the One Hundred) in 1458 produced new documentary types that were added to the traditional ones and deposited in the Archivio delle Reformagioni. As the importance of the city grew, the Ufficio delle Riformagioni was involved in the overall reorganisation of the Florentine institutions and the official in charge, l'Auditore delle Riformagioni, was also in charge of the affairs concerning "infeudazioni, accomandigie, concessioni di privilegi e di privative, permessi di pubblicazioni, trasporto delle armi" (establishing fiefdoms, partnerships, concession of privileges and privatives, permits of publications, and the transport of arms). The Archive also welcomed the correspondence of the Signoria previously entrusted to the Cancelleria delle Lettere (Chancellery of Letters). The correspondence of the Dieci di Balìa and the Otto di Pratica were inherited by the new Medici institution of the Nove Conservatori del Dominio Fiorentino, and only arrived in the Florence archive in the 18th century.
Institutions and roles
Notarile antecosimiano (1237-1569) - includes registers of protocols and files of deeds of notaries of the entire territory subject to Florentine jurisdiction prior to 1569. Originally kept at the notaries themselves and, from the beginning of the 14th century, they were also at the Arte dei Giudici e notai of the municipality of Florence. The registers and files were, following a provision issued 1569 at the time of Cosimo I dei Medici, collected within the new public archive of contracts (Archivio Pubblico dei Contratti), specifically set up for the conservation of notarial deeds of the Florentine state.
Capitani di Parte Guelfa (1267-1549) - together with the Consiglio di Credenza, they were the highest authority of the Guelfa Party. Originally there were only three Capitani, but in 1324 they were doubled to six. In an attempt to transform the Party into a political body, they decided to balance the power of i Grandi with three people from the popolo grasso.
Libri fabarum (1279 - 1533) - was an archival series containing not only the votes of the Consigli, but also the discussions. In 1302 the Cancelleria delle Riformagioni adopted the system of splitting up the discussions and the votes. The oldest part was unfortunately lost in the riots that arose on the occasion of the expulsion of the Duke of Athens, so this archival source now begins only with 1343.
Provvisioni (1281-1530) - the definitive approval in the appropriate Consigli of the ordinary laws of the Florentine Republic were called Provvisioni and also Riformagioni. The Libri fabarum describes the legislative process preceding the final approval. The bills were generally drawn up in the judiciary of the Priors (magistratura dei Priori) or in restricted councils. The proposals approved by the "Signori e Collegi" were then presented to the appropriate Consigli, which were convened ad personam, or by means of a banditóre (a bit like a town crier), or by ringing a bell. In the Consiglio it was usually the rector who presented the bill, which was then explained by a Prior. There followed the debate and finally the votes that could be held by open ballot (that is to say with the raising of hands), or by secret ballot. From the early 14th century white beans for yes and black for the no were used, and it is said that this procedure gave the name to the so-called Libri fabarum.
Priorista di Palazzo (1282-1532) - These are the lists of the Priori and Gonfalonieri di Giustizia who governed the city from the year of their respective institution to the first months of 1532. With the birth of these two magistracies it was deemed necessary to draw up and keep, constantly updated, a list of the names of those elected, a task that in 1322 was entrusted by statutory provision to the Notaio delle Riformagioni. The Priori delle Arti, or the highest political office of republican Florence together with the Gonfalonierato, was established in 1282. The Gonfalonieri di Giustizia was established in 1293 with the task of protecting the institutions from ingerenze magnatizie (magnate interference).
Tratte (1282-1784) - At least from 1378 the collection contains all the documents concerning the complex electoral procedure necessary to access the various public offices, or the offices that were exercised both within the city (intrinseci), and in the countryside (estrinseci). The collection also includes the Ufficio dello Specchio, established in 1375 in order to verify the position of the candidates with regard to the public debt.
Signori, Dieci di Balìa, Otto di Pratica (1287-1581) - The Dieci di Balìa o della Guerra were established in1383, as an extraordinary organ of the municipality, and were entrusted with the care of foreign policy and, above all, the direction of the republic's military operations. The Otto di Pratica attend to the defence of domination and foreign policy.
Statuti del Comune di Firenze (1292-1494) - the statutory legislation of medieval municipalities, especially of central-northern Italy, was a document that contained in summary the oath by which the supreme magistrates at the head of the government and of the municipal institutions, solemnly promised, in front of the assembly of people, to observe the norms concerning public and private relations. This was the starting point for municipal statutes in first quarter of the 12th century. The earliest express mention of statutes dates to 1182, and was a treaty of concord and reciprocal defence between Florence and Siena. So we know that Florence must have had statues, but we don't have a statutory draft until 1322-25.
Pareri dei Savi (1293-1415) - between 1293-1378 these were opinions requested by the Podestà or by other judges on requests for rappresaglie, and votes expressed. Rappresaglie might concern a proposal for a self-defence action to be carried out against another State, usually in response to a previous act considered illegal. It could also include a retaliation in the form of a punitive military action because of inhumane and indiscriminate violence carried out by an occupying force against the civilian population. And between 1378-1415 it involved requests to cancel convictions.
Signori e collegi (1331-1571)
Captano del Popolo - Giudice degli Appelli e Nullità (1332-1529)
Ufficiali della condotta (1337-1530)
Dieci di Balìa (1341-1530)
Capitano del Popolo e Difensore delle Arti (1343-1502)
Esecutore degli Ordinamenti di Giustizia (1343-1435)
Consoli del mare (1362 - 1531)
Ripudie di eredità (1365 -1534)
Ufficiali poi Magistrato della Grascia (1375-1768)
Magistrato del Pupillo Avanti il Principato (1384-1520)
Estimo (14th century-1530)
Giudice degli Appelli e Nullità (14th and 15th century)
Sindacati (14th and 15th century)
Otto di Guardia e Balìa della Repubblica (1408-1534)
Notificazioni di Atti di Emancipazione (1421-1534)
Cinque Conservatori del Contado e del Distretto Fiorentino (1428 - 1560)
Ufficiali di notte e conservatori dell'onestà dei monasteri (1432-1503)
Consiglio del Cento (1458 - 1527)
Otto di pratica (1480 - 1532)
Monte di Pietà (1495 - 1786)
Otto di Guardia e Balìa del Principato (1532-1772)
Magistrato delle Bande (1534-1722)
Consiglio di Giustizia (1502-1532)
Nove conservatori di ordinanza e milizia (1506 - 1530)
Magistrato del Pupillo del Principato (1531-1808)
Ruota Civile (1532-1807)
Otto di guardia e balia del principato (1532-1777)
Magistrato Supremo (1532-1808)
Conservatori di Leggi (1532-1777)
Senato dei Quarantotto (1532-1739)
Otto di pratica del principato (1533-1560)
Five conservators from the countryside and the Florentine district
1428 - 1560
Council of the hundred
1458 - 1527
Consuls of the sea
1362 - 1531;
Ten of the nurse
1279 - 1533
Magistrato dei Pupilli before the Principality
Pupilli Magistrate of the Principality
1495 - 1786
1237-1569 (with documents up to 1705)
Notifications of emancipatory acts
1421 January 24 - 1534 July 28
Nine conservatives by ordinance and militia
1506 - 1530
Eight guard and nurse of the principality
Eight of practice
1480 - 1532
Eight of practice of the principality
1533 - 1560
Opinions of the wise
1293 - 1415 October 22
Prioress of the palace
1282 - 1532
Repudiation of inheritance
1365 August 8 - 1534 February 20
Senate of the Forty-eight
1532 - 1739
1308 - 1554
Gentlemen and colleges
1331 - 1571
Gentlemen, Ten of Nurse, Eight of practice
1287 - 1581
Statutes of the Municipality of Florence
1360 - 1493
1337 September 4 - 1530 September 1
Night officers and conservatives of the honesty of the monasteries
1432 - 1503
Officers then Magistrato della Grascia, 1375-1768
1342 September 18 - 1534 September 10
sec. XIV - 1530
For all other affairs the councils of the captain and mayor are always competent. Another important innovation was made by Lorenzo dei Medici in 1471 with the creation of the Maggior Consiglio, made up of 40 members, elected by five couplers and the Signoria, and 50 citizens for each sixth, designated by the 40. The Maggior Consiglio was given the task of scrutinizing those eligible and of giving executive value to the resolutions of the Signoria. The Hundred were allowed to promulgate laws, without further approval from the councils of the captain and the podestà. Finally in 1480 another council, the Council of the Seventy, came to complete the Medici transformation of the state. The Seventy elect the Lordship; within it are elected the Eight of Practice, who attend to the defense of domination and foreign policy, and the Eight prosecutors, who administer the public debt and have the finances in hand. The Council of Seventy was in practice reconfirmed in office every five years; and the most important affairs took place on it, concerning the elections, the gabelles, the Monte. The Hundred sanctioned what the Seventy first examined and approved. The Major Council, which had been charged with creating that of the Seventy, disappears. The councils of the podestà and the captain are left with the petitions of private individuals, the concessions of pardons and privileges, the rights of citizenship, the corporations, the exemptions and rights of the communities of the domain, the administration of the countryside. When the Medici fell, the assemblies of the Hundred and the Seventy fell, which had been the fulcrum of their dominion, and the councils of the captain and the podestà regained greater powers (1494). Twenty couplers were appointed to elect the Signoria and the Gonfaloniere and with the Signoria to form, after the squeak, the councils of the podestà and the captain. I resourced the Major Council, but on a broader basis, to include all those who had political rights and were 29 years old, so that it included between 600 and 1000 members. This Council ended up giving the greatest powers: elections to offices, the sanction of the most important laws, squittinî, etc.
Squittinio e tratte
In different places through this webpage there will be references to a voting process for the selection of the next Priore or Gonfaloniere (or other important posts in the Florentine Republic). It is in fact quite difficult to find a complete description of this process despite the fact that it was used extensively in Florence for more than 150 years. The best description I've found was on a blog entitled demarchia, or in English demarchy (or sortition, selection by lottery, by lot, or by allotment).
In its simplest form, demarchy is a form of democracy, an alternative to elective democracy, in which the state is governed by ordinary citizens drawn by lot.
Firstly, squittinio is an antique alteration of scrutinio or ballot.
Starting from 1291, a new scheme for selecting offices called "imborsazione" was introduced, which consisted in the election of a sufficient number of appointments for a whole year, taking into account the bimonthly rotation. These appointments were then drawn each time a vacancy arose. In addition, to manage emergency situations, a Balìa could be convened, i.e. a special commission appointed by the Signioria with the task of governing on a particular issue, usually for a limited time.
So scrutinio e tratta is a system introduced in the 14th century, and used for about 150 years with only minor changes.
In the municipalities of northern Italy between the 12th and 13th centuries the Brevia had been used. It was a form of indirect election, in which a small group of electors were chosen by means of the draw, and they then voted on the nominations for the various positions. The problem was that factions formed within a community, generally led by the most influential families, which inevitably led to clashes and disagreements, intensified by the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. One way to deal with these conflicts was to invite an impartial authority capable of resolving internal conflicts, and this led to the creation of the figure of the Podestà. He temporarily managed the power of the council including the appointment of administrative offices as well as magistrates. To ensure maximum impartiality, he was hired from a distant municipality.
As the crisis of authority became more pressing, more dramatic measures were needed to defend the institutions from arbitrary use by the most influential members. This led to the birth of a popular body with its own organisation, its own offices, statutes and its own milizia (militia or non-professional soldiers). This mass organisation, was different from both the guilds of merchants and the nobles, and was often simply called il Popolo (the People). It was il Popolo who adopted the Brevia as a way to select the members of the People's Government. Their council consisted of about 12 members, called anziani (elders), who were rotated periodically every 2-6 months.
The most common Brevia scheme involved a combination of lottery and election, also called indirect election, in which nominations were drawn through ballot and elections were held from extracts with secret ballot.
It is important to note that extracted voters were asked to swear to vote in complete independence and not to represent any other person or group of people in any way. For this reason the voting phase was often done by isolating the voters in the "Conclave".
The "Parties", thought organizations then called "Intelligences", were considered dangerous and for this reason they were forbidden.
In any case, there are writings that suggest that in some cases, members of the crafts were part of the executive government as an advisory body under the name of "Priories".
Another way was to introduce a selection process by scrutinio e tratta, designed as a balanced system that prevented a family or a group of families from holding power permanently.
To reinforce this system there was the sacco dei Remissi, in which was placed the names of those extracted that already had a family member holding one of the offices. This was one the divieto rules, i.e. rules that prohibited someone from being elected.
The only ones who knew the names in the bag were the accoppiatori who, however, were devoted to secrecy.
is the inverse of Brevia and consists in the regular extraction of offices from a pool of previously elected appointments. It was used precisely for the periodic delivery of appointments, especially for senior magistrates, in combination with a system of rotation of offices with relatively short periods.
Also in the same year, 1321, a new system of "imborsazione" was adopted for the election of the Priori. A "imborsazione" was a "borsa" or bag in which you had a series of tickets. Each eligible candidate had his name on only one of the tickets, and the selection was made by the drawing of lots. Experts suggest that this was an embryonic but decisive step, which would lead to a more complex procedure they called a "squittinio" (an antique alteration of "scrutinio" or ballot).
- SIGNORIA: composed of 6 priors + the Gonfaloniere della Giustizia.
- CAPTAIN OF THE GUELF PARTY: remnant of the "Guelph Party", it will become an expression of civil society.
- 5 DELLA MERCANZIA: the 5 most influential members of the Florentine Guild.
- GONFALONIERI DELLA JUSTICE: high magistrate, equivalent of the head of state.
- GONFALONIERI OF THE COMPANY: 16 members of the civil militia.
The reform that linked the draw to the elective system, provided a very balanced system that prevented a family or a group of families from holding power permanently. To reinforce this system there was the "sack of Remissi", in which the names of the extracts that already had a family member holding one of the offices were thrown. This system was called "Prohibition".
The only ones who knew the names in the bag were the "Couplers" who, however, were devoted to secrecy. In 1443, thanks to the strong influence they held over the most influential members of the city, to a strategy of "State within the State", as well as a dose of luck, the Medici family succeeded in establishing its hegemony and overthrowing the system, made as one gentleman.
It was the end of a flourishing period that lasted 150 years. Following the fall of the Medici, the second Republic was founded, which reintroduced a form of Scrutinio, although it was less long-lived.
Un’ultima tipologia di tali scritti è quella, confluita nell’Archivio delle Tratte, che consiste nell’elencazione dei cittadini eleggibili, sorteggiati o eletti; senza contenere alcun valore informativo sul pensiero e la lingua di M., queste carte ci permettono di conoscere il coinvolgimento del Segretario, che pure non era un notaio, nella supervisione o nella registrazione di alcune votazioni negli organi legislativi e direttivi della Repubblica.
Secondo i registri delle Tratte, Maso fu estratto al priorato sei volte tra il 1318 e il 1332; fu inoltre chiamato per i Dodici buonuomini nel novembre 1330 e nell’agosto 1335.
When hunting through the
In Italy as in much of Europe, corporate and associative forms of organisation proliferated during the 13th century, communes, guilds (of trades), parties, consorterìa (an association of related noble families), confraternities, corporations and even universities, all more or less collectives self-governed by a body of equals. These organisations were often the free creation of its members, acting voluntarily and in concert. The members, or a council representing the members, would delegate power to elected heads, who served for a limited time and with a specific mandate. They would preside over the organisation, represent it, and act on their behalf, according to the will of majority, within the limits of a written constitution, and for the common good of the community. Organisations such as communes, and some guilds of merchants, gained the power to make and enforce their own laws, and this was the first step towards an autonomous political existence. In most cities there was a big increase in the number of guilds, coupled with a rapid rise in their political impact. The second-half of the 13th century was marked by strong population growth and a vigorous social mobility, so it's not surprising that new social and professional groups began to organise themselves. This is often termed the rise of "il popolo" (the people), a movement firmly grounded in the principles of corporatism. Logically the strongest and best organised groups quickly realised that political advancement lay with a corporate federation. The idea was to unite a group of guilds under a common banner, so a move from a guild with members to a federation of individual guilds. Many of these federations implanted themselves in the local commune, and became a constituent of urban society. Florence went one step further, and the very sovereignty of the commune was absorbed by the corporate federation itself (producing what some have called "guild republicanism"). This form of "guild republicanism" was conceived as a challenge to the hegemony of the elite in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was an alternative to the oligarchical governments favoured by the great families. "Guild republicanism" became a reality in 1282 with the creation of the "Priorato della Arte" as the new highest magistracy of communal government, and in 1292 they managed to impose a corporate approach on the election of the Priorate. It was simple, Priori (Priors) would be elected from independent nominations from the guilds, and no guild could have more than one representative on the Priorate in any one term of office. So each guild participated, through its Consuls, autonomously and on an equal basis with the other guilds, and the guilds were to be evenly represented in the Priorate. The idea meant that butchers and shoemakers were on equal terms with bankers and international traders. In 1293 the guilds were entrusted with both the election of the Priorate and the defence of the central magistracy of the communal government. This effectively interposed the guilds between the citizens and the commune, and made the guilds the expression (and interpretation) of popular will. An educated guess put the number of the guild members in Florence in the year 1300 at about 7,000 to 8,000, in a population of about 100,000 (so about ⅓ of the adult male population).
The analyses of the Florentine model of government abound, and the first conclusion was that whilst the guilds represented the interests of specific professional and occupational groups, it nevertheless guaranteed an equal voice to each of the participating guilds, and thereby institutionalised the representation of a wide range of social groups with varying economic and class interests. However, this approach to "popular government" did not stop the fighting between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which was more or less continuous through the latter part of the 13th and early years of the 14th centuries. Neither did it avoid the creation of divisional factions, Bianchi e Neri, into which the Guelphs divided themselves. The Bianchi, who were inferior in numbers to the Neri, sided with Ghibellines in order to obtain equal power with their rivals. And it was when the parties were evenly balanced that the famous Florentine constitution was formed, i.e. the "Ordinamenti di Giustizia" (Ordinances of Justice) of 1293. The presence of Charles of Valois, ostensibly to reconcile contending parties, really sowed dissension by adopting the side of the Neri. After he left Florence in 1302, the exiling of the Bianchi continued. This was followed by the persecution of the Alberti by the Albizzi until Cosimo de' Medici came into power in 1434. Naturally he exiled all those that had been on the side of the Albizzi, and then firmly installed himself in the government of the city.
So we can see that the idea of a commune ruled by a corporate federation failed, but it did not die. The guilds remained, as did the corporate federation. In 1343 a Florentine Republic was born and governed by the guilds and guildsmen. In part this move was linked to the impending collapse of several of the largest banking companies. The guild regime wanted to establish firm control of the institutions that would deal with the litigations and would have to resolve conflicting claims of foreign creditors. In particular this concerned the Mercanzia (an oligarchic institution dominated by five of the major commercial guilds). In 1344 an ad hoc Committee of Twelve, with "Five" from the Mercanzia, sat to administer settlements of creditors' claims through seizure, distribution, and sale of good and assets, including land, of the bankrupt merchants. This "popular government" allowed claims of creditors to be satisfied thought the liquidation of the enormous landholdings that served as the indispensable security in the high-risk deposit banking business. And most importantly the "Twelve" were from the twenty-one guilds, and could out-vote the "Five". In constitutional terms the importance here was that the "popular government" formulated a policy based upon the direct consultation of the guild community and it was executed by the Consuls of all twenty-one guilds.
However, one problem was that the twenty-one guilds spoke with twenty-one equal voices, and therefore the traditional Florentine oligarchy was bound to always be hopelessly outnumbered. One of the first acts of the restored oligarchic regime in 1348 was to consolidate the number of minor guilds down from fourteen to seven (this only lasted two years). Finally the upper classes of Florentine society became alienated from corporate politics, which had over the years taken an anti-oligarchic stance on economic issues. The guilds had adopted the idea of corporate organisation as the most effective means to safeguard their class interests. As a "popular government", they often needed popular support, and this could only be found lower down the social and professional hierarchy. These "lower" groups were ready to trade support for recognition of their own corporate and political aspirations. So the guilds saw effective political power as being based upon a broad base of all twenty-one guilds. In addition the artisans and working class, also now looked to establish their own guilds, e.g. the dyers of the textile industries had already petitioned for their own guild in 1342. The organiser of this was executed in 1345, by a government who professed to be based upon the principles of corporatism. "Guild republicanism" was now weakened because it had alienated both the upper and lower ranks of Florentine society.
In 1370 the corporate principles of the guild were reaffirmed by the wool guild (Arte della Lana) when they opened the election of the guild notary to the full membership of the guild's council. The key reason was to reduce the Balìa powers of the Consuls and expand the role of the council. In 1374 Consuls were obliged to hold regular meetings with the guild council, in an attempt to return to the ideals of consent and representation. This was a sign of faith in the collective wisdom of the members to discern the common good, one of the basic ideals of "guild republicanism". Ultimately this restatement of the ideals of the guilds led to the revolution of 1378. An advisory committee of twelve citizens had submitted to the Signoria (the lords) a long list of recommendations on the most difficult and sensitive issues facing the government. It included also the reminder to consult the Capitudini or Consuls of the guilds. The idea was that communal sovereignty depended upon the consent of guilds, which was (of course) the same as the consent "of the whole city". It is true that with the Ciompi revolt (1378), and the subsequent creation of a guild for skilled artisans of the textile industries and another guild for the unskilled Ciompi, the consent of the guilds came closer to be the consent of the "whole city". 1378-82 is now recognised as the last serious attempt by Florentines to construct a polity on corporate principles. Certainly one of the reasons why "guild republicanism" failed in the long run was because bankers, manufacturers, and international merchants, realised that the principles actually threatened their own security and hegemony. Some chroniclers of the time suggested that the patrician families of Florence, "the grandi of wisdom, gentility, and order", could make better decisions because there were fewer of them, and because they could more easily turn to the wisest person to advise them. This was the notion of benevolent authority, and involved replacing the fraternal corporation of equal members with "the family" as the fundamental political unit. The argument was that a city is composed of many families, so that itself is like a large family, and equally a family is like a small city. So it was not an accident that the most powerful and revered Florentine of them all, Cosimo de' Medici, was dubbed "pater patriae". Finally the political class of the guilds was reduced to being officers of the state, subordinated legally and constitutionally to a sovereignty in which they no longer had a place. As such the guilds were no longer the vehicle for expressing the aspirations and grievances of social groups, and the ideal of the corporate republic had run its course.
Brief historical summary
The first (known) statutory text in Florence, the origins of a city constitution, dates from 1159. The first mention of the move from the Consiglio di Cento Buonuòmini (a kind of General Council) to one hundred and fifty boni homines, dates from 1166 (as far as I can see buonuomini and boni homines were both public officials with very varied administrative or judicial, deliberative or consultative functions). In the 1170's and 1180's city Consuls (consules civitatis) came to prominence, and the consular commune emerged (the consular system would end in 1211). In ca. 1180 the Arte di Calimala (the guild of merchants in foreign cloth) was formed. The earliest Florentine constitutum dates from 1182. The first mention of the Priori delle Arti (Priors of the Guilds) dates from 1193, the same year a Podestà was appointed as an emergency solution. In 1200 the first foreign Podestà was appointed. In 1224 an additional 120 citizens (20 for each sestieri) were added to the General Council. The first Ghibelline triumph in 1239 was followed in 1244 by the first popolo regime (regime of the people), an insurrection that toppled the Ghibellines. A popolo regime was instated along with the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People). In 1280 the government of the Quattordici Anziani (Fourteen Elders) was created bring together Guelphs and Ghibellines (it lasted less than three years). In 1282 the second popolo regime was created, with the Priori being nominated from the different Arte Maggiori (major guilds). In 1293 the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia (Gonfaloniere of Justice) was created and the number of Priori was fixed at eight, and this configuration would remain more or less the same until 1532. In 1328 a lottery system was introduced for the selection of the Priori. Florence would be hit by a financial crash in 1342-46, and the Black Plague in 1348. In 1375-1378 there was the War of the Eight Saints, followed by excommunication of all Florentines by Pope Gregory XI. In 1378 the Ciompi Revolt began, and Salvestro de' Medici was named Gonfaloniere di Giustizia. 1382 is the year that Firenze returns to the 1293 statutes, and the popolo minuto ("small" people) lost all government access. In 1387 the accoppiatori were created to prepare the election process by drawing lots in a random process. In 1396 the ability to convoke council meetings was transferred from the Podestà to the Signoria. In 1411 the Councils of the "One Hundred and Thirty" and the "Two Hundred" were created. Florence introduced a general tax registers (castato or land registry) in 1427. In 1433 the Medici family was exiled to Padua for 10 years, but Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici was invited back in 1434. The Treaty of Lodi in 1545 created peace and a territorial equilibrium. The "Council of One Hundred" was created in 1458, but members were only Gonfalonieri who had held office after 1434. Cosimo il Vecchio de' Medici died, and Piero de' Medici succeeds him. This was followed in 1465-66 by a failed attempt to reinstate a Republican regime. In 1471 Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici succeed Piero. The Medici controlled the selection of 40 citizens to become permanent representative of the "Council of One Hundred". In 1478 Guiliano died in the Pazzi Conspiracy. In 1480 the "Eight of Practice" were created to manage foreign policy, and the "Council of the Seventy" was created to select new Priors. Lorenzo died in 1494, and his successor Piero de' Medici was expelled from the city. A Republican regime is reinstated, a Grand Council created, and in 1498 random selection was again used to full public offices. In 1512 a Balìa governed by the Medici's looked at reforming the institutions and controlling access to the magistracies. Giovanni de' Medici held a citizen assembly and became de facto "Signore di Firenze". In 1513 the Grand Council and the "Council of Eighty" were replaced by the "Councils of the Hundred" and of the "Seventy", both led by the Medici's. In 1515 Lorenzo de' Medici became Captain of the Republic of Florence. Lorenzo died in 1519 and Giulio de' Medici took over, but in 1523 he was elected Pope Clement VII. In 1527 Florence reinstates the Republic, along with the Grand Council and the "Council of Eighty". In 1530 supporters of the Medici convoke a citizen assembly, appoint a Balìa which eliminated the Republican institutions and reinstated a Signoria. In 1531 Alessandro de' Medici returned to Florence, and in 1532 the "Council of Two Hundred" and a 48-person Senate were created, but Alessandro was assassinated in 1537. The Senate then recognised Cosimo I de' Medici as the "first citizen of Florence". In 1564 Cosimo I abdicated in favour of his son Francesco, but Cosimo I died in 1574, and the dynasty of the Medici's finally ended in 1737.
Initially the knights (nobles and milites) held the consular power, but in the first decades of the 13th century il popolo created an autonomous organisation in opposition to the knights. In the 1190's the Arti (Guilds) started out as a way to organise labour and professional life, but evolved into a powerful political entity. In very simple terms, in the struggle for power that exploded around the year 1215, the Florentines were divided into Ghibellines (feudal nobility and a new but powerful merchant class) and Guelphs (an emerging bourgeoisie, cultured but always mercantile). From the 1240's, in the middle of the clash between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, and with the support of the latter, parish-based armed territorial organisations banded together under the command of the Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People).
The Guelphs dominated until 1250 when, to get rid of the invasion of Frederick II of Swabia, the government of the primo popolo (primo as in first or older people), rebelled in arms and drove out the Swabian Podestà. The Arti (Guilds) truly gained power between 1250 and 1260 with the primo popolo, which was in fact a people's movement of tradesmen, relatively well-off craftsmen, judges and notaries, and with families of supportive milites. The key was il popolo supported a political model dominated by public authority, which judiciously managed public goods and finances, and did not grant any privileges to the former knight class. In the 1270's a second popolo was characterised by a political collaboration between the city administration and the guilds, with the creation of the Priorato delle Arti (Priors of the Guilds).
Most of the below text is based upon documents drawn from the "Archivio de Stato di Firenze", the state archives of Florence. Additions and explanations are often presented in separate paragraphs in italics.
Florence from 1282 to 1355
1282 marked a fundamental moment i