History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter V

The emigrants attempt to re-enter Florence, but are not allowed to do so — The companies of the people restored — Restless conduct of Corso Donati — The ruin of Corso Donati — Corso Donati accused and condemned — Riot at the house of Corso — Death of Corso — His character — Fruitless attempt of the Emperor Henry against the Florentines — The emigrants are restored to the city — The citizens place themselves under the king of Naples for five years — War with Uguccione della Faggiuola — The Florentines routed — Florence withdraws herself from subjection to King Robert, and expels the Count Novello — Lando d’Agobbio — His tyranny — His departure.

The legate being returned to Rome, and hearing of the new disturbance which had occurred, persuaded the pope that if he wished to unite the Florentines, it would be necessary to have twelve of the first citizens appear before him, and having thus removed the principal causes of disunion, he might easily put a stop to it. The pontiff took this advice, and the citizens, among whom was Corso Donati, obeyed the summons. These having left the city, the legate told the exiles that now, when the city was deprived of her leaders, was the time for them to return. They, therefore, having assembled, came to Florence, and entering by a part of the wall not yet completed, proceeded to the piazza of St. Giovanni. It is worthy of remark, that those who, a short time previously, when they came unarmed and begged to be restored to their country, had fought for their return, now, when they saw them in arms and resolved to enter by force, took arms to oppose them (so much more was the common good esteemed than private friendship), and being joined by the rest of the citizens, compelled them to return to the places whence they had come. They failed in their undertaking by having left part of their force at Lastra, and by not having waited the arrival of Tolosetto Uberti, who had to come from Pistoia with three hundred horse; for they thought celerity rather than numbers would give them the victory; and it often happens, in similar enterprises, that delay robs us of the occasion, and too great anxiety to be forward prevents us of the power, or makes us act before we are properly prepared.

The banished having retired, Florence again returned to her old divisions; and in order to deprive the Cavalcanti of their authority, the people took from them the Stinche, a castle situated in the Val di Greve, and anciently belonging to the family. And as those who were taken in it were the first who were put into the new prisons, the latter were, and still continue, named after it — the Stinche. The leaders of the republic also re-established the companies of the people, and gave them the ensigns that were first used by the companies of the Arts; the heads of which were called Gonfaloniers of the companies and colleagues of the Signory; and ordered, that when any disturbance arose they should assist the Signory with arms, and in peace with counsel. To the two ancient rectors they added an executor, or sheriff, who, with the Gonfaloniers, was to aid in repressing the insolence of the nobility.

In the meantime the pope died. Corso, with the other citizens, returned from Rome; and all would have been well if his restless mind had not occasioned new troubles. It was his common practice to be of a contrary opinion to the most powerful men in the city; and whatever he saw the people inclined to do, he exercised his utmost influence to effect, in order to attach them to himself; so that he was a leader in all differences, at the head of every new scheme, and whoever wished to obtain anything extraordinary had recourse to him. This conduct caused him to be hated by many of the highest distinction; and their hatred increased to such a degree that the Neri faction to which he belonged, became completely divided; for Corso, to attain his ends, had availed himself of private force and authority, and of the enemies of the state. But so great was the influence attached to his person, that everyone feared him. Nevertheless, in order to strip him of the popular favor (which by this means may easily be done), a report was set on foot that he intended to make himself prince of the city; and to the design his conduct gave great appearance of probability, for his way of living quite exceeded all civil bounds; and the opinion gained further strength, upon his taking to wife a daughter of Uguccione della Faggiuola, head of the Ghibelline and Bianchi faction, and one of the most powerful men in Tuscany.

When this marriage became known it gave courage to his adversaries, and they took arms against him; for the same reason the people ceased to defend him, and the greater part of them joined the ranks of his enemies, the leaders of whom were Rosso della Tosa, Pazino dei Pazzi, Geri Spini, and Berto Brunelleschi. These, with their followers, and the greater part of the people, assembled before the palace of the Signory, by whose command a charge was made before Piero Branca, captain of the people, against Corso, of intending, with the aid of Uguccione, to usurp the government. He was then summoned, and for disobedience, declared a rebel; nor did two hours pass over between the accusation and the sentence. The judgment being given, the Signory, with the companies of the people under their ensigns, went in search of him, who, although seeing himself abandoned by many of his followers, aware of the sentence against him, the power of the Signory, and the multitude of his enemies, remained undaunted, and fortified his houses, in the hope of defending them till Uguccione, for whom he had sent, should come to his Relief. His residences, and the streets approaching them, were barricaded and taken possession of by his partisans, who defended them so bravely that the enemy, although in great numbers, could not force them, and the battle became one of the hottest, with wounds and death on all sides. But the people, finding they could not drive them from their ground, took possession of the adjoining houses, and by unobserved passages obtained entry. Corso, thus finding himself surrounded by his foes, no longer retaining any hope of assistance from Uguccione, and without a chance of victory, thought only of effecting his personal safety, and with Gherardo Bordoni, and some of his bravest and most trusted friends, fought a passage through the thickest of their enemies, and effected their escape from the city by the Gate of the Cross. They were, however, pursued by vast numbers, and Gherardo was slain upon the bridge of Affrico by Boccaccio Cavicciulli. Corso was overtaken and made prisoner by a party of Catalan horse, in the service of the Signory, at Rovezzano. But when approaching Florence, that he might avoid being seen and torn to pieces by his victorious enemies, he allowed himself to fall from horseback, and being down, one of those who conducted him cut his throat. The body was found by the monks of San Salvi, and buried without any ceremony due to his rank. Such was the end of Corso, to whom his country and the Neri faction were indebted for much both of good and evil; and if he had possessed a cooler spirit he would have left behind him a more happy memory. Nevertheless, he deserves to be enumerated among the most distinguished men our city has produced. True it is, that his restless conduct made both his country and his party forgetful of their obligation to him. The same cause also produced his miserable end, and brought many troubles upon both his friends and his country. Uguccione, coming to the assistance of his relative, learned at Remoli that Corso had been overcome by the people, and finding that he could not render him any assistance, in order to avoid bringing evil upon himself without occasion, he returned home.

After the death of Corso, which occurred in the year 1308, the disturbances were appeased, and the people lived quietly till it was reported that the Emperor Henry was coming into Italy, and with him all the Florentine emigrants, to whom he had promised restoration to their country. The leaders of the government thought, that in order to lessen the number of their enemies, it would be well to recall, of their own will, all who had been expelled, excepting such as the law had expressly forbidden to return. Of the number not admitted, were the greater part of the Ghibellines, and some of those of the Bianchi faction, among whom were Dante Alighieri, the sons of Veri de’ Cerchi and of Giano della Bella. Besides this they sent for aid to Robert, king of Naples, and not being able to obtain it of him as friends, they gave their city to him for five years, that he might defend them as his own people. The emperor entered Italy by the way of Pisa, and proceeded by the marshes to Rome, where he was crowned in the year 1312. Then, having determined to subdue the Florentines, he approached their city by the way of Perugia and Arezzo, and halted with his army at the monastery of San Salvi, about a mile from Florence, where he remained fifty days without effecting anything. Despairing of success against Florence, he returned to Pisa, where he entered into an agreement with Frederick, king of Sicily, to undertake the conquest of Naples, and proceeded with his people accordingly; but while filled with the hope of victory, and carrying dismay into the heart of King Robert, having reached Buonconvento, he died.

Shortly after this, Uguccione della Faggiuola, having by means of the Ghibelline party become lord of Pisa and of Lucca, caused, with the assistance of these cities, very serious annoyance to the neighbouring places. In order to effect their relief the Florentines requested King Robert would allow his brother Piero to take the command of their armies. On the other hand, Uguccione continued to increase his power; and either by force or fraud obtained possession of many castles in the Val d’Arno and the Val di Nievole; and having besieged Monte Cataini, the Florentines found it would be necessary to send to its relief, that they might not see him burn and destroy their whole territory. Having drawn together a large army, they entered the Val di Nievole where they came up with Uguccione, and were routed after a severe battle in which Piero the king’s brother and 2,000 men were slain; but the body of the Prince was never found. Neither was the victory a joyful one to Uguccione; for one of his sons, and many of the leaders of his army, fell in the strife.

The Florentines after this defeat fortified their territory, and King Robert sent them, for commander of their forces, the Count d’Andria, usually called Count Novello, by whose deportment, or because it is natural to the Florentines to find every state tedious, the city, notwithstanding the war with Uguccione, became divided into friends and enemies of the king. Simon della Tosa, the Magalotti, and certain others of the people who had attained greater influence in the government than the rest, were leaders of the party against the king. By these means messengers were sent to France, and afterward into Germany, to solicit leaders and forces that they might drive out the count, whom the king had appointed governor; but they failed of obtaining any. Nevertheless they did not abandon their undertaking, but still desirous of one whom they might worship, after an unavailing search in France and Germany, they discovered him at Agobbio, and having expelled the Count Novello, caused Lando d’Agobbio to be brought into the city as Bargello sheriff), and gave him the most unlimited power of the citizens. This man was cruel and rapacious; and going through the country accompanied with an armed force, he put many to death at the mere instigation of those who had endowed him with authority. His insolence rose to such a height, that he stamped base metal with the impression used upon the money of the state, and no one had sufficient courage to oppose him, so powerful had he become by the discords of Florence. Great, certainly, but unhappy city! which neither the memory of past divisions, the fear of her enemies, nor a king’s authority, could unite for her own advantage; so that she found herself in a state of the utmost wretchedness, harassed without by Uguccione, and plundered within by Lando d’Agobbio.

The friends of the king and those who opposed Lando and his followers, were either of noble families or the highest of the people, and all Guelphs; but their adversaries being in power they could not discover their minds without incurring the greatest danger. Being, however, determined to deliver themselves from such disgraceful tyranny, they secretly wrote to King Robert, requesting him to appoint for his vicar in Florence Count Guido da Battifolle. The king complied; and the opposite party, although the Signory were opposed to the king, on account of the good quality of the count, did not dare to resist him. Still his authority was not great, because the Signory and Gonfaloniers of the companies were in favor of Lando and his party.

During these troubles, the daughter of King Albert of Bohemia passed through Florence, in search of her husband, Charles, the son of King Robert, and was received with the greatest respect by the friends of the king, who complained to her of the unhappy state of the city, and of the tyranny of Lando and his partisans; so that through her influence and the exertions of the king’s friends, the citizens were again united, and before her departure, Lando was stripped of all authority and send back to Agobbio, laden with blood and plunder. In reforming the government, the sovereignty of the city was continued to the king for another three years, and as there were then in office seven Signors of the party of Lando, six more were appointed of the king’s friends, and some magistracies were composed of thirteen Signors; but not long afterward the number was reduced to seven according to ancient custom.

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