History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VII

The Emperor at Rome — The Florentines refuse to purchase Lucca, and repent of it — Enterprises of the Florentines — Conspiracy of the Bardi and the Frescobaldi — The conspiracy discovered and checked — Maffeo da Marradi appeases the tumult — Lucca is purchased by the Florentines and taken by the Pisans — The duke of Athens at Florence — The nobility determine to make him prince of the city.

The emperor, being arrived at Rome, created an anti-pope, did many things in opposition to the church, and attempted many others, but without effect, so that at last he retired with disgrace, and went to Pisa, where, either because they were not paid, or from disaffection, about 800 German horse mutinied, and fortified themselves at Montechiaro upon the Ceruglio; and when the emperor had left Pisa to go into Lombardy, they took possession of Lucca and drove out Francesco Castracani, whom he had left there. Designing to turn their conquest to account, they offered it to the Florentines for 80,000 florins, which, by the advice of Simone della Tosa, was refused. This resolution, if they had remained in it, would have been of the greatest utility to the Florentines; but as they shortly afterward changed their minds, it became most pernicious; for although at the time they might have obtained peaceful possession of her for a small sum and would not, they afterward wished to have her and could not, even for a much larger amount; which caused many and most hurtful changes to take place in Florence. Lucca, being refused by the Florentines, was purchased by Gherardino Spinoli, a Genoese, for 30,000 florins. And as men are often less anxious to take what is in their power than desirous of that which they cannot attain, as soon as the purchase of Gherardino became known, and for how small a sum it had been bought, the people of Florence were seized with an extreme desire to have it, blaming themselves and those by whose advice they had been induced to reject the offer made to them. And in order to obtain by force what they had refused to purchase, they sent troops to plunder and overrun the country of the Lucchese.

About this time the emperor left Italy. The anti-pope, by means of the Pisans, became a prisoner in France; and the Florentines from the death of Castruccio, which occurred in 1328, remained in domestic peace till 1340, and gave their undivided attention to external affairs, while many wars were carried on in Lombardy, occasioned by the coming of John king of Bohemia, and in Tuscany, on account of Lucca. During this period Florence was ornamented with many new buildings, and by the advice of Giotto, the most distinguished painter of his time, they built the tower of Santa Reparata. Besides this, the waters of the Arno having, in 1333, risen twelve feet above their ordinary level, destroyed some of the bridges and many buildings, all which were restored with great care and expense.

In the year 1340, new sources of disagreement arose. The great had two ways of increasing or preserving their power; the one, so to restrain the emborsation of magistrates, that the lot always fell upon themselves or their friends; the other, that having the election of the rectors, they were always favorable to their party. This second mode they considered of so great importance, that the ordinary rectors not being sufficient for them, they on some occasions elected a third, and at this time they had made an extraordinary appointment, under the title of captain of the guard, of Jacopo Gabrielli of Agobbio, and endowed him with unlimited authority over the citizens. This man, under the sanction of those who governed, committed constant outrages; and among those whom he injured were Piero de’ Bardi and Bardo Frescobaldi. These being of the nobility, and naturally proud, could not endure that a stranger, supported by a few powerful men, should without cause injure them with impunity, and consequently entered into a conspiracy against him and those by whom he was supported. They were joined by many noble families, and some of the people, who were offended with the tyranny of those in power. Their plan was, that each should bring into his house a number of armed men, and on the morning after the day of All Saints, when almost all would be in the temples praying for their dead, they should take arms, kill the Capitano and those who were at the head of affairs, and then, with a new Signory and new ordinances, reform the government.

But, as the more a dangerous business is considered, the less willingly it is undertaken, it commonly happens, when there is any time allowed between the determining upon a perilous enterprise and its execution, that the conspiracy by one means or another becomes known. Andrea de’ Bardi was one of the conspirators, and upon reconsideration of the matter, the fear of the punishment operated more powerfully upon him than the desire of revenge, and he disclosed the affair to Jacopo Alberti, his brother-in-law. Jacopo acquainted the Priors, and they informed the government. And as the danger was near, All Saints’ day being just at hand, many citizens met together in the palace; and thinking their peril increased by delay, they insisted that the Signory should order the alarm to be rung, and called the people together in arms. Taldo Valori was at this time Gonfalonier, and Francesco Salviati one of the Signory, who, being relatives of the Bardi, were unwilling to summon the people with the bell, alleging as a reason that it is by no means well to assemble them in arms upon every slight occasion, for power put into the hands of an unrestrained multitude was never beneficial; that it is an easy matter to excite them to violence, but a difficult thing to restrain them; and that, therefore, it would be taking a more prudent course if they were to inquire into the truth of the affair, and punish the delinquents by the civil authority, than to attempt, upon a simple information, to correct it by such a tumultuous means, and thus hazard the safety of the city. None would listen to these remarks; the Signory were assailed with insolent behavior and indecent expressions, and compelled to sound the alarm, upon which the people presently assembled in arms. On the other hand, the Bardi and the Frescobaldi, finding themselves discovered, that they might conquer with glory or die without shame, armed themselves, in the hope that they would be able to defend that part of the city beyond the river, where their houses were situated; and they fortified the bridge in expectation of assistance, which they expected from the nobles and their friends in the country. Their design was frustrated by the people who, in common with themselves, occupied this part of the city; for these took arms in favor of the Signory, so that, seeing themselves thus circumstanced, they abandoned the bridges, and betook themselves to the street in which the Bardi resided, as being a stronger situation than any other; and this they defended with great bravery.

Jacopo d’Agobbio, knowing the whole conspiracy was directed against himself, in fear of death, terrified and vanquished, kept himself surrounded with forces near the palace of the Signory; but the other rectors, who were much less blamable, discovered greater courage, and especially the podesta or provost, whose name was Maffeo da Marradi. He presented himself among the combatants without any fear, and passing the bridge of the Rubaconte amid the swords of the Bardi, made a sign that he wished to speak to them. Upon this, their reverence for the man, his noble demeanor, and the excellent qualities he was known to possess, caused an immediate cessation of the combat, and induced them to listen to him patiently. He very gravely, but without the use of any bitter or aggravating expressions, blamed their conspiracy, showed the danger they would incur if they still contended against the popular feeling, gave them reason to hope their complaints would be heard and mercifully considered, and promised that he himself would use his endeavors in their behalf. He then returned to the Signory, and implored them to spare the blood of the citizens, showing the impropriety of judging them unheard, and at length induced them to consent that the Bardi and the Frescobaldi, with their friends, should leave the city, and without impediment be allowed to retire to their castles. Upon their departure the people being again disarmed, the Signory proceeded against those only of the Bardi and Frescobaldi families who had taken arms. To lessen their power, they bought of the Bardi the castle of Mangona and that of Vernia; and enacted a law which provided that no citizen should be allowed to possess a castle or fortified place within twenty miles of Florence.

After a few months, Stiatta Frescobaldi was beheaded, and many of his family banished. Those who governed, not satisfied with having subdued the Bardi and the Frescobaldi, as is most commonly the case, the more authority they possessed the worse use they made of it and the more insolent they became. As they had hitherto had one captain of the guard who afflicted the city, they now appointed another for the country, with unlimited authority, to the end that those whom they suspected might abide neither within nor without. And they excited them to such excesses against the whole of the nobility, that these were driven to desperation, and ready to sell both themselves and the city to obtain revenge. The occasion at length came, and they did not fail to use it.

The troubles of Tuscany and Lombardy had brought the city of Lucca under the rule of Mastino della Scala, lord of Verona, who, though bound by contract to assign her to the Florentines, had refused to do so; for, being lord of Parma, he thought he should be able to retain her, and did not trouble himself about his breach of faith. Upon this the Florentines joined the Venetians, and with their assistance brought Mastino to the brink of ruin. They did not, however, derive any benefit from this beyond the slight satisfaction of having conquered him; for the Venetians, like all who enter into league with less powerful states than themselves, having acquired Trevigi and Vicenza, made peace with Mastino without the least regard for the Florentines. Shortly after this, the Visconti, lords of Milan, having taken Parma from Mastino, he found himself unable to retain Lucca, and therefore determined to sell it. The competitors for the purchase were the Florentines and the Pisans; and in the course of the treaty the Pisans, finding that the Florentines, being the richer people, were about to obtain it, had recourse to arms, and, with the assistance of the Visconti, marched against Lucca. The Florentines did not, on that account, withdraw from the purchase, but having agreed upon the terms with Mastino, paid part of the money, gave security for the remainder, and sent Naddo Rucellai, Giovanni di Bernadino de’ Medici, and Rosso di Ricciardo de’ Ricci, to take possession, who entered Lucca by force, and Mastino’s people delivered the city to them. Nevertheless, the Pisans continued the siege, and the Florentines used their utmost endeavors to relieve her; but after a long war, loss of money, and accumulation of disgrace, they were compelled to retire, and the Pisans became lords of Lucca.

The loss of this city, as in like cases commonly happens, exasperated the people of Florence against the members of the government; at every street corner and public place they were openly censured, and the entire misfortune was laid to the charge of their greediness and mismanagement. At the beginning of the war, twenty citizens had been appointed to undertake the direction of it, who appointed Malatesta da Rimini to the command of the forces. He having exhibited little zeal and less prudence, they requested assistance from Robert king of Naples, and he sent them Walter duke of Athens, who, as Providence would have it, to bring about the approaching evils, arrived at Florence just at the moment when the undertaking against Lucca had entirely failed. Upon this the Twenty, seeing the anger of the people, thought to inspire them with fresh hopes by the appointment of a new leader, and thus remove, or at least abate, the causes of calumny against themselves. As there was much to be feared, and that the duke of Athens might have greater authority to defend them, they first chose him for their coadjutor, and then appointed him to the command of the army. The nobility, who were discontented from the causes above mentioned, having many of them been acquainted with Walter, when upon a former occasion he had governed Florence for the duke of Calabria, thought they had now an opportunity, though with the ruin of the city, of subduing their enemies; for there was no means of prevailing against those who had oppressed them but of submitting to the authority of a prince who, being acquainted with the worth of one party and the insolence of the other, would restrain the latter and reward the former. To this they added a hope of the benefits they might derive from him when he had acquired the principality by their means. They, therefore, took several occasions of being with him secretly, and entreated he would take the command wholly upon himself, offering him the utmost assistance in their power. To their influence and entreaty were also added those of some families of the people; these were the Peruzzi, Acciajuoli, Antellesi, and Buonaccorsi, who, being overwhelmed with debts, and without means of their own, wished for those of others to liquidate them, and, by the slavery of their country, to deliver themselves from their servitude to their creditors. These demonstrations excited the ambitious mind of the duke to greater desire of dominion, and in order to gain himself the reputation of strict equity and justice, and thus increase his favor with the plebeians, he prosecuted those who had conducted the war against Lucca, condemned many to pay fines, others to exile, and put to death Giovanni de’ Medici, Naddo Rucellai, and Guglielmo Altoviti.

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