Florence Italy, 1478
In 1478, when the Pazzi conspiracy happened, Florence was a Republic, unofficially ruled by the Medici family. It was also, by far, the richest and most important town in Europe. Like their father and grand-father, Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano continued their policy of providing favors in exchange for loyalty, and also continued sponsoring culture. In the period between 1469 and 1478, Florence Italy was an amazing city where you could breathe optimism and confidence, there was no unemployment, several families owned large companies and lived in magnificent palaces, and the city could claim the largest Cathedral in the world. The marriages of the two Medici brothers were celebrated for many days with Medieval tournaments followed by banquets: the Joust of Lorenzo and the Joust of Giuliano, described in epic poems respectively by Luigi Pulci and Agnolo Poliziano. Renaissance was pervading the city, while Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci were about to reveal their genius.
The Pazzi family
The Pazzi were an ancient family in Florence Italy. Unlike the Medici, they had noble origins: Pazzino de Pazzi had been a knight of the first Crusade (1095-99) and, according to the legend, he had been the first to enter in Jerusalem, receiving a prize by the leader Godfrey of Bouillon: pieces of stone of the Holy Sepulchre. These stones were used in Florence as flint to light the Holy Fire during Easter celebrations. A cart would then carry this fire in any
house of Florence and every family would ignite their own torch/candle to be blessed for the coming year. In the 1470s, the Pazzi were yet another wealthy family in Florence, owning a large Bank, living in their magnificent palace and sponsoring arts: the Pazzi Chapel, designed by Brunelleschi, had been built few years earlier in the Basilica of Santa Croce to become the chapter room of the convent and also the burial place of the family. The Pazzi coat of arms features two dolphins and several crosses, remembering the Crusades. Read on to see how the Pazzi conspiracy ruined the family.
Bankers of the Popes
Let’s inspect the reasons for the Pazzi conspiracy. For many years the Medici Bank had been the official Bank of the Vatican. In 1471, Francesco Della Rovere was elected Pope Sixtus IV. The new Pope, like many more Popes in this age, distributed offices and honors to his relatives and friends and tried to make a Prince out of his nephew Girolamo Riario. He asked a loan to the Medici Bank to buy the city of Imola, but the Medici refused for political reasons: they didn’t want their city to be surrounded by Pope’s properties. The Pazzi bank gave the loan though: it’s the start of a commercial rivalry between Pazzi and Medici. The Medici lost their business with the Vatican, which was awarded partly to the Salviati, again relatives of the Pope, and to the Pazzi. At the same time, the Pope also wanted to name another relative, Francesco Salviati, archbishop of Florence, but Lorenzo de Medici vetoed the designation and also tried to prevent the designation of Francesco as archbishop of Pisa. It’s clear by now that Lorenzo de Medici had many enemies. He was an obstacle for both the Pope and the Pazzi’s ambitions: the Pope wanted his nephew to become Prince of Florence; the Pazzi wanted to become rulers of Florence themselves. Even though the goals were different, Sixtus IV and the Pazzi family had a common enemy: the Medici. And there comes the Pazzi conspiracy.
- Francesco de Pazzi
- Jacopo de Pazzi – Francesco’s uncle
- Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli, banker and friend of the Pazzi
- Pope Sixtus IV
- Girolamo Riario – nephew of the Pope and Lord of Imola
- Francesco Salviati – archbishop of Pisa and relative of the Pope
- Federigo da Montefeltro Duke of Urbino – allied with the Pope
- Ferrante King of Naples – allied with the Pope
- Raffaele Riario – nephew of the Pope and Cardinal (unaware of the Pazzi conspiracy)
The conspirators met in Rome at the start of 1478 and agreed that eliminating Lorenzo de Medici was not enough: his brother Giuliano would have been acclaimed as new ruler; it was necessary to kill both brothers. The opportunity was created: Raffaele Riario (guess what: nephew of the Pope!) had been named Cardinal in Pisa at the age of 17, and he would go to Florence, together with archbishop Francesco Salviati, to visit the city. The Pazzi conspiracy was on the go.
Two missed chances for the Pazzi conspiracy
The original plan of the Pazzi conspiracy was to poison the food of the Medici brothers during a banquet to honor the Cardinal. The banquet was held at the Pazzi Villa, on the hills of Florence, but Lorenzo de Medici came alone, because Giuliano was sick. In return, Lorenzo invited everybody to a second banquet, this time in his own Medici Villa in Fiesole, but again, Giuliano didn’t join the party. Pressed by the urgency to act before the Cardinal left Florence, the conspirators decided to kill both brothers the next day. It was Easter day, and even though Giuliano de Medici was still sick and wouldn’t probably take part to the banquet again, he wouldn’t miss the mass in the Cathedral.
Violence in the House of God
This decision created some problems: Giovan Battista di Montesecco, designed killer of Lorenzo de Medici, refused to accomplish his task inside a church. With no time left, the Pazzi designed two unexperienced priests (!!!), Antonio Maffei da Volterra and Stefano da Bagnone, to be the killers of Lorenzo. As planned, Francesco de Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli would have taken care of Giuliano de Medici; in the meantime, Francesco Salviati, archbishop of Pisa, would have gone to Palazzo Vecchio to take control of the official institutions of the Republic of Florence.
It’s the morning of April 26th, 1478 and people floods in the Cathedral for the most important religious celebration of the year. Nobody knows that the Pazzi conspiracy is about to change the city forever. Lorenzo de Medici is there, but Giuliano isn’t, again. Francesco de Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli decide to go to Palazzo Medici to convince Giuliano, like old friends saying “come on, you can’t miss this, it’s not the same without you”. Reluctant, the young Medici wears some clothing and joins the “friends”. Francesco and Bernardo, more than once, show their affection to Giuliano with hugs, checking if the young man is wearing an armor or carrying weapons. But that’s not the case.
The mass unfolds, until the solemn moment arrives when the priest raises up the host. That’s the signal. Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli hits Giuliano on the head, and together with Francesco de Pazzi, they stab the young man to death. In the excitement of the moment, Francesco seriously hurts himself with his same knife. At the same time, the two “killer priests” try to stab Lorenzo de Medici, but he just receives a wound on the neck, also because he’s defended by people, and escapes into the sacristy, protected by heavy doors. A citizen of Florence, Francesco Nori, dies defending Lorenzo (later Lorenzo will commission a beautiful tomb in Santa Croce for this common man).
Florence lines up with the Medici
The Pazzi conspiracy failed. In Palazzo Vecchio, the archbishop of Pisa is waiting for the bells ringing, signal that all went ok, while the Gonfaloniere (sort of Mayor) who received him starts to suspect something (afterall, why an archbishop is in the city hall with soldiers on Easter day instead of attending the mass?) and sends someone to get informed. Once the Pazzi conspiracy is revealed, the Gonfaloniere arrests the archbishop and his soldiers, and they’re hanged outside a window of Palazzo Vecchio.
Escorted back to Palazzo Medici, Lorenzo shows himself from a window to reassure people. Jacopo de Pazzi, uncle of Francesco, makes a desperate attempt to create a revolt, riding his horse to Piazza della Signoria and screaming “Freedom for Florence!”, but people, loyal to the Medici house, answers “Balls! Balls! Balls!” (yeah, the balls in the Medici coat of arms), and Jacopo immediately leaves the city.
A revolt actually happens, but not the one the Pazzi conspiracy should have fueled. The two priests who tried to kill Lorenzo are lynched and hanged; people breaks into the Pazzi palace to pick up Francesco de Pazzi in his bed, naked and seriously hurt, and he is immediately hanged, as is. Jacopo de Pazzi, escaped from Florence, is reached some days later, carried to Florence, hanged and his body insulted. After being initially buried in the Pazzi chapel, 15 days later his body is exhumed and buried out of the city, as happened for people condemned to death. Later his body will be exhumed again (episode represented in a painting by Odoardo Borrani at the Modern Art Gallery, see picture on the right), carried around the city, knocking at the doors of the Pazzi palace and finally thrown in the Arno river. Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli escapes to Costantinoples, but the Sultan, friend of Lorenzo de Medici, arrests him one year later. He’s sent back to Florence where he is hanged, episode represented in a famous sketch by Leonardo da Vinci (click on picture to enlarge). The Pazzi family is banned from Florence: the women of the family cannot inherit the large fortune, which is seized by the Republic of Florence, and it is even prohibited to marry them. Guglielmo de Pazzi, husband of Bianca de Medici (Lorenzo’s sister), although not involved in the conspiracy, is banned from Florence as well, and he will come back only in 1495. Look at the Medici family tree for more info on Guglielmo and Bianca.
Pazzi conspiracy places in Florence
I created a map to show you the places where the Pazzi conspiracy happened. Click on the markers to read more detail. Don’t miss the second part of the article though!
Lorenzo consolidates his internal power in a subtle way: he speaks to the Signoria fiorentina in a touching speech, proposing to retire from politics. The Signoria answers acclaiming Lorenzo as the ruler of Florence again and granting him an escort to protect his person, paid with public funds. The problems for Florence now come from outside: the Pope is really angry for how the Pazzi conspiracy failed and starts moving war, helped by his powerful allied Ferrante, King of Naples. Florence cannot hold out against such a powerful army, and Lorenzo risks his life again to save the city. He goes to Naples, alone, to propose a deal to Ferrante. The King, pending a decision, arrests Lorenzo, but in the end he decides to accept his offer, realizing that a large papal state would be a danger and also because Lorenzo offered a lot of money to cut the deal.
Lorenzo the Magnificent
Lorenzo comes back to Florence and is received like the hero, who saved peace in Italy. His nickname becomes Lorenzo the Magnificent. He will be considered the most influential political man in Italy, able to keep balance between the various small countries that used to fight each other for supremacy. At the same time, after risking his life because of the Pazzi conspiracy, the Magnificent is aware that he needs to consolidate his new friendships and also reconcile with he Pope. He offers the Pope the same thing that made the Medici family so popular in Florence: the Renaissance. The best Florentine painters, Botticelli and others, are sent to Rome where they will start decorating the Sistine Chapel. Leonardo da Vinci is sent to Milan, the city that has been the only loyal friend of Lorenzo during the Pazzi conspiracy. Leonardo will paint a masterpiece in Milan: the Last Supper fresco. We can safely say that, as a political result, the Pazzi conspiracy was good for Lorenzo de Medici. Incidentally, the Pazzi conspiracy was important for arts: as a consequence of the plot, the Renaissance came out of Florence and was spread in all of Italy.