History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter IV

Death of Giovanni de’ Medici — His character — Insurrection of Volterra — Volterra returns to her allegiance — Niccolo Fortebraccio attacks the Lucchese — Diversity of opinion about the Lucchese war — War with Lucca — Astore Gianni and Rinaldo degli Albizzi appointed commissaries — Violence of Astorre Gianni.

About this time Giovanni de’ Medici was taken ill, and finding his end approach, called his sons Cosmo and Lorenzo to him, to give them his last advice, and said, “I find I have nearly reached the term which God and nature appointed at my birth, and I die content, knowing that I leave you rich, healthy, and of such standing in society, that if you pursue the same course that I have, you will live respected in Florence, and in favor with everyone. Nothing cheers me so much at this moment, as the recollection that I have never willfully offended anyone; but have always used my utmost endeavors to confer benefits upon all. I would have you do so too. With regard to state affairs, if you would live in security, take just such a share as the laws and your countrymen think proper to bestow, thus you will escape both danger and envy; for it is not what is given to any individual, but what he has determined to possess, that occasions odium. You will thus have a larger share than those who endeavor to engross more than belongs to them; for they thus usually lose their own, and before they lose it, live in constant disquiet. By adopting this method, although among so many enemies, and surrounded by so many conflicting interests, I have not only maintained my reputation but increased my influence. If you pursue the same course, you will be attended by the same good fortune; if otherwise, you may be assured, your end will resemble that of those who in our own times have brought ruin both upon themselves and their families.” Soon after this interview with his sons, Giovanni died, regretted by everyone, as his many excellencies deserved. He was compassionate; not only bestowing alms on those who asked them, but very frequently relieving the necessities of the poor, without having been solicited so to do. He loved all; praised the good, and pitied the infirmities of the wicked. He never sought the honors of government; yet enjoyed them all; and never went to the palace unless by request. He loved peace and shunned war; relieved mankind in adversity, and assisted them in prosperity; never applied the public money to his own uses, but contributed to the public wealth. He was courteous in office; not a man of great eloquence, but possessed of extraordinary prudence. His demeanor expressed melancholy; but after a short time his conversation became pleasant and facetious. He died exceedingly rich in money, but still more in good fame and the best wishes of mankind; and the wealth and respect he left behind him were not only preserved but increased by his son Cosmo.

The Volterran ambassadors grew weary of lying in prison, and to obtain their liberty promised to comply with the commands of the Florentines. Being set free and returned to their city, the time arrived for the new Priors to enter upon office, and among those who were drawn, was one named Giusto, a plebeian, but possessing great influence with his class, and one of those who had been imprisoned at Florence. He, being inflamed with hatred against the Florentines on account of his public as well as personal injuries, was further stimulated by Giovanni di Contugi, a man of noble family, and his colleague in office, to induce the people, by the authority of the Priors and his own influence, to withdraw their country from the power of the Florentines, and make himself prince. Prompted by these motives, Giusto took arms, rode through the city, seized the Capitano, who resided in it, on behalf of the Florentines, and with the consent of the people, became lord of Volterra. This circumstance greatly displeased the Florentines; but having just made peace with the duke, and the treaty being yet uninfringed on either side, they bethought themselves in a condition to recover the place; and that the opportunity might not be lost, they immediately appointed Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Palla Strozzi commissaries, and sent them upon the expedition. In the meantime, Giusto, who expected the Florentines would attack him, requested assistance of Lucca and Sienna. The latter refused, alleging her alliance with Florence; and Pagolo Guinigi, to regain the favor of the Florentines, which he imagined he had lost in the war with the duke and by his friendship for Filippo, not only refused assistance to Giusto, but sent his messenger prisoner to Florence.

The commissaries, to come upon the Volterrani unawares, assembled their cavalry, and having raised a good body of infantry in the Val d’Arno Inferiore, and the country about Pisa, proceeded to Volterra. Although attacked by the Florentines and abandoned by his neighbors, Giusto did not yield to fear; but, trusting to the strength of the city and the ruggedness of the country around it, prepared for his defense.

There lived at Volterra one Arcolano, brother of that Giovanni Contugi who had persuaded Giusto to assume the command. He possessed influence among the nobility, and having assembled a few of his most confidential friends, he assured them that by this event, God had come to the relief of their necessities; for if they would only take arms, deprive Giusto of the Signory, and give up the city to the Florentines, they might be sure of obtaining the principal offices, and the place would retain all its ancient privileges. Having gained them over, they went to the palace in which Giusto resided; and while part of them remained below, Arcolano, with three others, proceeded to the chamber above, where finding him with some citizens, they drew him aside, as if desirous to communicate something of importance, and conversing on different subjects, let him to the lower apartment, and fell upon him with their swords. They, however, were not so quick as to prevent Giusto from making use of his own weapon; for with it he seriously wounded two of them; but being unable to resist so many, he was at last slain, and his body thrown into the street. Arcolano and his party gave up the city to the Florentine commissaries, who, being at hand with their forces, immediately took possession; but the condition of Volterra was worse than before; for among other things which operated to her disadvantage, most of the adjoining countryside was separated from her, and she was reduced to the rank of a vicariate.

Volterra having been lost and recovered almost at the same time, present circumstances afforded nothing of sufficient importance to occasion a new war, if ambition had not again provoked one. Niccolo Fortebraccio, the son of a sister of Braccio da Perugia, had been in the service of the Florentines during most of their wars with the duke. Upon the restoration of peace he was discharged; but when the affair of Volterra took place, being encamped with his people at Fucecchio, the commissaries availed themselves both of himself and his forces. Some thought that while Rinaldo conducted the expedition along with him, he persuaded him, under one pretext or another, to attack the Lucchese, assuring him, that if he did so, the Florentines would consent to undertake an expedition against them, and would appoint him to the command. When Volterra was recovered, and Niccolo returned to his quarters at Fucecchio, he, either at the persuasion of Rinaldo, or of his own accord, in November, 1429, took possession of Ruoti and Compito, castles belonging to the Lucchese, with three hundred cavalry and as many infantry, and then descending into the plain, plundered the inhabitants to a vast amount. The news of this incursion having reached Florence, persons of all classes were seen gathered in parties throughout the city discussing the matter, and nearly all were in favor of an expedition against Lucca. Of the Grandees thus disposed, were the Medici and their party, and with them also Rinaldo, either because he thought the enterprise beneficial to the republic, or induced by his own ambition and the expectation of being appointed to the command. Niccolo da Uzzano and his party were opposed to the war. It seems hardly credible that such contrary opinions should prevail, though at different times, in the same men and the same city, upon the subject of war; for the same citizens and people that, during the ten years of peace had incessantly blamed the war undertaken against Duke Filippo, in defense of liberty, now, after so much expense and trouble, with their utmost energy, insisted on hostilities against Lucca, which, if successful, would deprive that city of her liberty; while those who had been in favor of a war with the duke, were opposed to the present; so much more ready are the multitude to covet the possessions of others than to preserve their own, and so much more easily are they led by the hope of acquisition than by the fear of loss. The suggestions of the latter appear incredible till they are verified; and the pleasing anticipations of the former are cherished as facts, even while the advantages are very problematical, or at best, remote. The people of Florence were inspired with hope, by the acquisitions which Niccolo Fortebraccio had made, and by letters received from their rectors in the vicinity of Lucca; for their deputies at Vico and Pescia had written, that if permission were given to them to receive the castles that offered to surrender, the whole country of Lucca would very soon be obtained. It must, however, be added, that an ambassador was sent by the governor of Lucca to Florence, to complain of the attack made by Niccolo, and to entreat that the Signory would not make war against a neighbor, and a city that had always been friendly to them. The ambassador was Jacopo Viviani, who, a short time previously, had been imprisoned by Pagolo Guinigi, governor of Lucca, for having conspired against him. Although he had been found guilty, his life was spared, and as Pagolo thought the forgiveness mutual, he reposed confidence in him. Jacopo, more mindful of the danger he had incurred than of the lenity exercised toward him, on his arrival in Florence secretly instigated the citizens to hostilities; and these instigations, added to other hopes, induced the Signory to call the Council together, at which 498 citizens assembled, before whom the principal men of the city discussed the question.

Among the first who addressed the assembly in favor of the expedition, was Rinaldo. He pointed out the advantage that would accrue from the acquisition, and justified the enterprise from its being left open to them by the Venetians and the duke, and that as the pope was engaged in the affairs of Naples, he could not interfere. He then remarked upon the facility of the expedition, showing that Lucca, being now in bondage to one of her own citizens, had lost her natural vigor and former anxiety for the preservation of her liberty, and would either be surrendered to them by the people in order to expel the tyrant, or by the tyrant for fear of the people. He recalled the remembrance of the injuries done to the republic by the governor of Lucca; his malevolent disposition toward them; and their embarrassing situation with regard to him, if the pope or the duke were to make war upon them; and concluded that no enterprise was ever undertaken by the people of Florence with such perfect facility, more positive advantage, or greater justice in its favor.

In a reply to this, Niccolo da Uzzano stated that the city of Florence never entered on a more unjust or more dangerous project, or one more pregnant with evil, than this. In the first place they were going to attack a Guelphic city, that had always been friendly to the Florentine people, and had frequently, at great hazard, received the Guelphs into her bosom when they were expelled from their own country. That in the history of the past there was not an instance, while Lucca was free, of her having done an injury to the Florentines; and that if they had been injured by her enslavers, as formerly by Castruccio, and now by the present governor, the fault was not in the city, but in her tyrant. That if they could assail the latter without detriment to the people, he should have less scruple, but as this was impossible, he could not consent that a city which had been friendly to Florence should be plundered of her wealth. However, as it was usual at present to pay little or no regard either to equity or injustice, he would consider the matter solely with reference to the advantage of Florence. He thought that what could not easily be attended by pernicious consequences might be esteemed useful, but he could not imagine how an enterprise should be called advantageous in which the evils were certain and the utility doubtful. The certain evils were the expenses with which it would be attended; and these, he foresaw, would be sufficiently great to alarm even a people that had long been in repose, much more one wearied, as they were, by a tedious and expensive war. The advantage that might be gained was the acquisition of Lucca, which he acknowledged to be great; but the hazards were so enormous and immeasurable, as in his opinion to render the conquest quite impossible. He could not induce himself to believe that the Venetians, or Filippo, would willingly allow them to make the acquisition; for the former only consented in appearance, in order to avoid the semblance of ingratitude, having so lately, with Florentine money, acquired such an extent of dominion. That as regarded the duke, it would greatly gratify him to see them involved in new wars and expenses; for, being exhausted and defeated on all sides, he might again assail them; and that if, after having undertaken it, their enterprise against Lucca were to prove successful, and offer them the fullest hope of victory, the duke would not want an opportunity of frustrating their labors, either by assisting the Lucchese secretly with money, or by apparently disbanding his own troops, and then sending them, as if they were soldiers of fortune, to their relief. He therefore advised that they should give up the idea, and behave toward the tyrant in such a way as to create him as many enemies as possible; for there was no better method of reducing Lucca than to let them live under the tyrant, oppressed and exhausted by him; for, if prudently managed, that city would soon get into such a condition that he could not retain it, and being ignorant or unable to govern itself, it must of necessity fall into their power. But he saw that his discourse did not please them, and that his words were unheeded; he would, however, predict this to them, that they were about to commence a war in which they would expend vast sums, incur great domestic dangers, and instead of becoming masters of Lucca, they would deliver her from her tyrant, and of a friendly city, feeble and oppressed, they would make one free and hostile, and that in time she would become an obstacle to the greatness of their own republic.

The question having been debated on both sides, they proceeded to vote, as usual, and of the citizens present only ninety-eight were against the enterprise. Thus determined in favor of war, they appointed a Council of Ten for its management, and hired forces, both horse and foot. Astorre Gianni and Rinaldo degli Albizzi were appointed commissaries, and Niccolo Fortebraccio, on agreeing to give up to the Florentines the places he had taken, was engaged to conduct the enterprise as their captain. The commissaries having arrived with the army in the country of the Lucchese, divided their forces; one part of which, under Astorre, extended itself along the plain, toward Camaiore and Pietrasanta, while Rinaldo, with the other division, took the direction of the hills, presuming that when the citizens found themselves deprived of the surrounding country, they would easily submit. The proceedings of the commissaries were unfortunate, not that they failed to occupy many places, but from the complaints made against them of mismanaging the operations of the war; and Astorre Gianni had certainly given very sufficient cause for the charges against him.

There is a fertile and populous valley near Pietrasanta, called Seravezza, whose inhabitants, on learning the arrival of the commissary, presented themselves before him and begged he would receive them as faithful subjects of the Florentine republic. Astorre pretended to accept their proposal, but immediately ordered his forces to take possession of all the passes and strong positions of the valley, assembled the men in the principal church, took them all prisoners, and then caused his people to plunder and destroy the whole country, with the greatest avarice and cruelty, making no distinction in favor of consecrated places, and violating the women, both married and single. These things being known in Florence, displeased not only the magistracy, but the whole city.

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