History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

Confusion and riots in the city — Reform of government in opposition to the plebeians — Injuries done to those who favored the plebeians — Michael di Lando banished — Benedetto Alberti hated by the Signory — Fears excited by the coming of Louis of Anjou — The Florentines purchase Arezzo — Benedetto Alberti becomes suspected and is banished — His discourse upon leaving the city — Other citizens banished and admonished — War with Giovanni Galeazzo, duke of Milan.

The death of Giorgio caused very great excitement; many took arms at the execution in favor of the Signory and the Capitano; and many others, either for ambition or as a means for their own safety, did the same. The city was full of conflicting parties, who each had a particular end in view, and wished to carry it into effect before they disarmed. The ancient nobility, called the GREAT, could not bear to be deprived of public honors; for the recovery of which they used their utmost exertions, and earnestly desired that authority might be restored to the Capitani di Parte. The nobles of the people and the major trades were discontented at the share the minor trades and lowest of the people possessed in the government; while the minor trades were desirous of increasing their influence, and the lowest people were apprehensive of losing the companies of their trades and the authority which these conferred.

Such opposing views occasioned Florence, during a year, to be disturbed by many riots. Sometimes the nobles of the people took arms; sometimes the major and sometimes the minor trades and the lowest of the people; and it often happened that, though in different parts, all were at once in insurrection. Hence many conflicts took place between the different parties or with the forces of the palace; for the Signory sometimes yielding, and at other times resisting, adopted such remedies as they could for these numerous evils. At length, after two assemblies of the people, and many Balias appointed for the reformation of the city; after much toil, labor, and imminent danger, a government was appointed, by which all who had been banished since Salvestro de’ Medici was Gonfalonier were restored. They who had acquired distinctions or emoluments by the Balia of 1378 were deprived of them. The honors of government were restored to the Guelphic party; the two new Companies of the Trades were dissolved, and all who had been subject to them assigned to their former companies. The minor trades were not allowed to elect the Gonfalonier of Justice, their share of honors was reduced from a half to a third; and those of the highest rank were withdrawn from them altogether. Thus the nobles of the people and the Guelphs repossessed themselves of the government, which was lost by the plebeians after it had been in their possession from 1378 to 1381, when these changes took place.

The new establishment was not less injurious to the citizens, or less troublesome at its commencement than that of the plebeians had been; for many of the nobles of the people, who had distinguished themselves as defenders of the plebeians, were banished, with a great number of the leaders of the latter, among whom was Michael di Lando; nor could all the benefits conferred upon the city by his authority, when in danger from the lawless mob, save him from the rabid fury of the party that was now in power. His good offices evidently excited little gratitude in his countrymen. The neglect of their benefactors is an error into which princes and republics frequently fall; and hence mankind, alarmed by such examples, as soon as they begin to perceive the ingratitude of their rulers, set themselves against them.

As these banishments and executions had always been offensive to Benedetto Alberti, they continued to disgust him, and he censured them both publicly and privately. The leaders of the government began to fear him, for they considered him one of the most earnest friends of the plebeians, and thought he had not consented to the death of Giorgio Scali from disapprobation of his proceeding, but that he might be left himself without a rival in the government. His discourse and his conduct alike served to increase their suspicions, so that all the ruling party had their eyes upon him, and eagerly sought an opportunity of crushing him.

During this state of things, external affairs were not of serious importance, for some which ensued were productive of apprehension rather than of injury. At this time Louis of Anjou came into Italy, to recover the kingdom of Naples for Queen Giovanna, and drive out Charles of Durazzo. His coming terrified the Florentines; for Charles, according to the custom of old friends, demanded their assistance, and Louis, like those who seek new alliances, required their neutrality. The Florentines, that they might seem to comply with the request of Louis, and at the same time assist Charles, discharged from their service Sir John Hawkwood, and transferred him to that of Pope Urban, who was friendly to Charles; but this deceit was at once detected, and Louis considered himself greatly injured by the Florentines. While the war was carried on between Louis and Charles in Puglia, new forces were sent from France in aid of Louis, and on arriving in Tuscany, were by the emigrants of Arezzo conducted to that city, and took it from those who held possession for Charles. And when they were about to change the government of Florence, as they had already done that of Arezzo, Louis died, and the order of things in Puglia and in Tuscany was changed accordingly; for Charles secured the kingdom, which had been all but lost, and the Florentines, who were apprehensive for their own city, purchased Arezzo from those who held it for Louis. Charles, having secured Puglia, went to take possession of Hungary, to which he was heir, leaving, with his wife, his children Ladislaus and Giovanna, who were yet infants. He took possession of Hungary, but was soon after slain there.

As great rejoicings were made in Florence on account of this acquisition as ever took place in any city for a real victory, which served to exhibit the public and private wealth of the people, many families endeavoring to vie with the state itself in displays of magnificence. The Alberti surpassed all others; the tournaments and exhibitions made by them were rather suitable for a sovereign prince than for any private individuals. These things increased the envy with which the family was regarded, and being joined with suspicions which the state entertained of Benedetto, were the causes of his ruin. The rulers could not endure him, for it appeared as if, at any moment, something might occur, which, with the favor of his friends, would enable him to recover his authority, and drive them out of the city. While in this state of suspicion and jealousy, it happened that while he was Gonfalonier of the Companies, his son-in-law, Filippo Magalotti, was drawn Gonfalonier of Justice; and this circumstance increased the fears of the government, for they thought it would strengthen Benedetto’s influence, and place the state in the greater peril. Anxious to provide a remedy, without creating much disturbance, they induced Bese Magalotti, his relative and enemy, to signify to the Signory that Filippo, not having attained the age required for the exercise of that office, neither could nor ought to hold it.

The question was examined by the signors, and part of them out of hatred, others in order to avoid disunion among themselves, declared Filippo ineligible to the dignity, and in his stead was drawn Bardo Mancini, who was quite opposed to the plebeian interests, and an inveterate foe of Benedetto. This man, having entered upon the duties of his office, created a Balia for the reformation of the state, which banished Benedetto Alberti and admonished all the rest of his family except Antonio. Before his departure, Benedetto called them together, and observing their melancholy demeanor, said, “You see, my fathers, and you the elders of our house, how fortune has ruined me and threatened you. I am not surprised at this, neither ought you to be so, for it always happens thus to those who among a multitude of the wicked, wish to act rightly, and endeavor to sustain, what the many seek to destroy. The love of my country made me take part with Salvestro de Medici and afterward separated me from Giorgio Scali. The same cause compelled me to detest those who now govern, who having none to punish them, will allow no one to reprove their misdeeds. I am content that my banishment should deliver them from the fears they entertain, not of me only, but of all who they think perceives or is acquainted wit their tyrannical and wicked proceedings; and they have aimed their first blow at me, in order the more easily to oppress you. I do not grieve on my own account; for those honors which my country bestowed upon me while free, she cannot in her slavery take from me; and the recollection of my past life will always give me greater pleasure than the pain imparted by the sorrows of exile. I deeply regret that my country is left a prey to the greediness and pride of the few who keep her in subjection. I grieve for you; for I fear that the evils which this day cease to affect me, and commence with you, will pursue you with even greater malevolence than they have me. Comfort, then, each other; resolve to bear up against every misfortune, and conduct yourselves in such a manner, that when disasters befall you (and there will be many), every one may know they have come upon you undeservedly.” Not to give a worse impression of his virtue abroad than he had done at home, he made a journey to the sepulcher of Christ, and while upon his return, died at Rhodes. His remains were brought to Florence, and interred with all possible honors, by those who had persecuted him, when alive, with every species of calumny and injustice.

The family of the Alberti was not the only injured party during these troubles of the city; for many others were banished and admonished. Of the former were Piero Benini, Matteo Alderotti, Giovanni and Francesco del Bene, Giovanni Benci, Andrea Adimari, and with them many members of the minor trades. Of the admonished were the Covini, Benini, Rinucci, Formiconi, Corbizzi, Manelli, and Alderotti. It was customary to create the Balia for a limited time; and when the citizens elected had effected the purpose of their appointment, they resigned the office from motives of good feeling and decency, although the time allowed might not have expired. In conformity with this laudable practice, the Balia of that period, supposing they had accomplished all that was expected of them, wished to retire; but when the multitude were acquainted with their intention, they ran armed to the palace, and insisted, that before resigning their power, many other persons should be banished and admonished. This greatly displeased the signors; but without disclosing the extent of their displeasure, they contrived to amuse the multitude with promises, till they had assembled a sufficient body of armed men, and then took such measures, that fear induced the people to lay aside the weapons which madness had led them to take up. Nevertheless, in some degree to gratify the fury of the mob, and to reduce the authority of the plebeian trades, it was provided, that as the latter had previously possessed a third of the honors, they should in future have only a fourth. That there might always be two of the signors particularly devoted to the government, they gave authority to the Gonfalonier of Justice, and four others, to form a ballot-purse of select citizens, from which, in every Signory, two should be drawn.

This government from its establishment in 1381, till the alterations now made, had continued six years; and the internal peace of the city remained undisturbed until 1393. During this time, Giovanni Galeazzo Visconti, usually called the Count of Virtú, imprisoned his uncle Bernabo, and thus became sovereign of the whole of Lombardy. As he had become duke of Milan by fraud, he designed to make himself king of Italy by force. In 1391 he commenced a spirited attack upon the Florentines; but such various changes occurred in the course of the war, that he was frequently in greater danger than the Florentines themselves, who, though they made a brave and admirable defense, for a republic, must have been ruined, if he had survived. As it was, the result was attended with infinitely less evil than their fears of so powerful an enemy had led them to apprehend; for the duke having taken Bologna, Pisa, Perugia, and Sienna, and prepared a diadem with which to be crowned king of Italy at Florence, died before he had tasted the fruit of his victories, or the Florentines began to feel the effect of their disasters.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11