History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter V

New regulations for the elections of the Signory — Confusion in the City — Piero degli Albizzi and other citizens condemned to death — The Florentines alarmed by the approach of Charles of Durazzo — The measures adopted in consequence thereof — Insolent Conduct of Giorgio Scali — Benedetto Alberti — Giorgio Scali beheaded.

By the time Michael di Lando had subdued the plebeians, the new Signory was drawn, and among those who composed it, were two persons of such base and mean condition, that the desire increased in the minds of the people to be freed from the ignominy into which they had fallen; and when, upon the first of September, the new Signory entered office and the retiring members were still in the palace, the piazza being full of armed men, a tumultuous cry arose from the midst of them, that none of the lowest of the people should hold office among the Signory. The obnoxious two were withdrawn accordingly. The name of one was Il Tira, of the other Baroccio, and in their stead were elected Giorgio Scali and Francesco di Michele. The company of the lowest trade was also dissolved, and its members deprived of office, except Michael di Lando, Lorenzo di Puccio and a few others of better quality. The honors of government were divided into two parts, one of which was assigned to the superior trades, the other to the inferior; except that the latter were to furnish five Signors, and the former only four. The Gonfalonier was to be chosen alternately from each.

The government thus composed, restored peace to the city for the time; but though the republic was rescued from the power of the lowest plebeians, the inferior trades were still more influential than the nobles of the people, who, however, were obliged to submit for the gratification of the trades, of whose favor they wished to deprive the plebeians. The new establishment was supported by all who wished the continued subjugation of those who, under the name of the Guelphic party, had practiced such excessive violence against the citizens. And as among others, thus disposed, were Giorgio Scali, Benedetto Alberti, Salvestro di Medici, and Tommaso Strozzi, these four almost became princes of the city. This state of the public mind strengthened the divisions already commenced between the nobles of the people, and the minor artificers, by the ambition of the Ricci and the Albizzi; from which, as at different times very serious effects arose, and as they will hereafter be frequently mentioned, we shall call the former the popular party, the latter the plebeian. This condition of things continued three years, during which many were exiled and put to death; for the government lived in constant apprehension, knowing that both within and without the city many were dissatisfied with them. Those within, either attempted or were suspected of attempting every day some new project against them; and those without, being under no restraint, were continually, by means of some prince or republic, spreading reports tending to increase the disaffection.

Gianozzo da Salerno was at this time in Bologna. He held a command under Charles of Durazzo, a descendant of the kings of Naples, who, designing to undertake the conquest of the dominions of Queen Giovanna, retained his captain in that city, with the concurrence of Pope Urban, who was at enmity with the queen. Many Florentine emigrants were also at Bologna, in close correspondence with him and Charles. This caused the rulers in Florence to live in continual alarm, and induced them to lend a willing ear to any calumnies against the suspected. While in this disturbed state of feeling, it was disclosed to the government that Gianozzo da Salerno was about to march to Florence with the emigrants, and that great numbers of those within were to rise in arms, and deliver the city to him. Upon this information many were accused, the principal of whom were Piero degli Albizzi and Carlo Strozzi: and after these Cipriano Mangione, Jacopo Sacchetti, Donato Barbadori, Filippo Strozzi, and Giovanni Anselmi, the whole of whom, except Carlo Strozzi who fled, were made prisoners; and the Signory, to prevent any one from taking arms in their favor, appointed Tommaso Strozzi and Benedetto Alberti with a strong armed force, to guard the city. The arrested citizens were examined, and although nothing was elicited against them sufficient to induce the Capitano to find them guilty, their enemies excited the minds of the populace to such a degree of outrageous and overwhelming fury against them, that they were condemned to death, as it were, by force. Nor was the greatness of his family, or his former reputation of any service to Piero degli Albizzi, who had once been, of all the citizens, the man most feared and honored. Some one, either as a friend to render him wise in his prosperity, or an enemy to threaten him with the fickleness of fortune, had upon the occasion of his making a feast for many citizens, sent him a silver bowl full of sweetmeats, among which a large nail was found, and being seen by many present, was taken for a hint to him to fix the wheel of fortune, which, having conveyed him to the top, must if the rotation continued, also bring him to the bottom. This interpretation was verified, first by his ruin, and afterward by his death.

After this execution the city was full of consternation, for both victors and vanquished were alike in fear; but the worst effects arose from the apprehensions of those possessing the management of affairs; for every accident, however trivial, caused them to commit fresh outrages, either by condemnations, admonitions, or banishment of citizens; to which must be added, as scarcely less pernicious, the frequent new laws and regulations which were made for defense of the government, all of which were put in execution to the injury of those opposed to their faction. They appointed forty-six persons, who, with the Signory, were to purge the republic of all suspected by the government. They admonished thirty-nine citizens, ennobled many of the people, and degraded many nobles to the popular rank. To strengthen themselves against external foes, they took into their pay John Hawkwood, an Englishman of great military reputation, who had long served the pope and others in Italy. Their fears from without were increased by a report that several bodies of men were being assembled by Charles of Durazzo for the conquest of Naples, and many Florentine emigrants were said to have joined him. Against these dangers, in addition to the forces which had been raised, large sums of money were provided; and Charles, having arrived at Arezzo, obtained from the Florentines 40,000 ducats, and promised he would not molest them. His enterprise was immediately prosecuted, and having occupied the kingdom of Naples, he sent Queen Giovanna a prisoner into Hungary. This victory renewed the fears of those who managed the affairs of Florence, for they could not persuade themselves that their money would have a greater influence on the king’s mind than the friendship which his house had long retained for the Guelphs, whom they so grievously oppressed.

This suspicion increasing, multiplied oppressions; which again, instead of diminishing the suspicion, augmented it; so that most men lived in the utmost discontent. To this the insolence of Giorgio Scali and Tommaso Strozzi (who by their popular influence overawed the magistrates) also contributed, for the rulers were apprehensive that by the power these men possessed with the plebeians they could set them at defiance; and hence it is evident that not only to good men, but even to the seditious, this government appeared tyrannical and violent. To put a period to the outrageous conduct of Giorgio, it happened that a servant of his accused Giovanni di Cambio of practices against the state, but the Capitano declared him innocent. Upon this, the judge determined to punish the accuser with the same penalties that the accused would have incurred had he been guilty, but Giorgio Scali, unable to save him either by his authority or entreaties, obtained the assistance of Tommaso Strozzi, and with a multitude of armed men, set the informer at liberty and plundered the palace of the Capitano, who was obliged to save himself by flight. This act excited such great and universal animosity against him, that his enemies began to hope they would be able to effect his ruin, and also to rescue the city from the power of the plebeians, who for three years had held her under their arrogant control.

To the realization of this design the Capitano greatly contributed, for the tumult having subsided, he presented himself before the signors, and said “He had cheerfully undertaken the office to which they had appointed him, for he thought he should serve upright men who would take arms for the defense of justice, and not impede its progress. But now that he had seen and had experience of the proceedings of the city, and the manner in which affairs were conducted, that dignity which he had voluntarily assumed with the hope of acquiring honor and emolument, he now more willingly resigned, to escape from the losses and danger to which he found himself exposed.” The complaint of the Capitano was heard with the utmost attention by the Signory, who promising to remunerate him for the injury he had suffered and provide for his future security, he was satisfied. Some of them then obtained an interview with certain citizens who were thought to be lovers of the common good, and least suspected by the state; and in conjunction with these, it was concluded that the present was a favorable opportunity for rescuing the city from Giorgio and the plebeians, the last outrage he had committed having completely alienated the great body of the people from him. They judged it best to profit by the occasion before the excitement had abated, for they knew that the favor of the mob is often gained or lost by the most trifling circumstance; and more certainly to insure success, they determined, if possible, to obtain the concurrence of Benedetto Alberti, for without it they considered their enterprise to be dangerous.

Benedetto was one of the richest citizens, a man of unassuming manners, an ardent lover of the liberties of his country, and one to whom tyrannical measures were in the highest degree offensive; so that he was easily induced to concur in their views and consent to Giorgio’s ruin. His enmity against the nobles of the people and the Guelphs, and his friendship for the plebeians, were caused by the insolence and tyrannical proceedings of the former; but finding that the plebeians had soon become quite as insolent, he quickly separated himself from them; and the injuries committed by them against the citizens were done wholly without his consent. So that the same motives which made him join the plebeians induced him to leave them.

Having gained Benedetto and the leaders of the trades to their side, they provided themselves with arms and made Giorgio prisoner. Tommaso fled. The next day Giorgio was beheaded; which struck so great a terror into his party, that none ventured to express the slightest disapprobation, but each seemed anxious to be foremost in defense of the measure. On being led to execution, in the presence of that people who only a short time before had idolized him, Giorgio complained of his hard fortune, and the malignity of those citizens who, having done him an undeserved injury, had compelled him to honor and support a mob, possessing neither faith nor gratitude. Observing Benedetto Alberti among those who had armed themselves for the preservation of order, he said, “Do you, too, consent, Benedetto, that this injury shall be done to me? Were I in your place and you in mine, I would take care that no one should injure you. I tell you, however, this day is the end of my troubles and the beginning of yours.” He then blamed himself for having confided too much in a people who may be excited and inflamed by every word, motion, and breath of suspicion. With these complaints he died in the midst of his armed enemies, delighted at his fall. Some of his most intimate associates were also put to death, and their bodies dragged about by the mob.

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