History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

Cosmo de’ Medici, his character and mode of proceedings — The greatness of Cosmo excites the jealousy of the citizens — The opinion of Niccolo da Uzzano — Scandalous divisions of the Florentines — Death of Niccolo da Uzzano — Bernardo Guadagni, Gonfalonier, adopts measures against Cosmo — Cosmo arrested in the palace — He is apprehensive of attempts against his life.

During the war the malignant humors of the city were in constant activity. Cosmo de’ Medici, after the death of Giovanni, engaged more earnestly in public affairs, and conducted himself with more zeal and boldness in regard to his friends than his father had done, so that those who rejoiced at Giovanni’s death, finding what the son was likely to become, perceived they had no cause for exultation. Cosmo was one of the most prudent of men; of grave and courteous demeanor, extremely liberal and humane. He never attempted anything against parties, or against rulers, but was bountiful to all; and by the unwearied generosity of his disposition, made himself partisans of all ranks of the citizens. This mode of proceeding increased the difficulties of those who were in the government, and Cosmo himself hoped that by its pursuit he might be able to live in Florence as much respected and as secure as any other citizen; or if the ambition of his adversaries compelled him to adopt a different course, arms and the favor of his friends would enable him to become more so. Averardo de’ Medici and Puccio Pucci were greatly instrumental in the establishment of his power; the former by his boldness, the latter by unusual prudence and sagacity, contributed to his aggrandizement. Indeed the advice of wisdom of Puccio were so highly esteemed, that Cosmo’s party was rather distinguished by the name of Puccio than by his own.

By this divided city the enterprise against Lucca was undertaken; and the bitterness of party spirit, instead of being abated, increased. Although the friends of Cosmo had been in favor of it, many of the adverse faction were sent to assist in the management, as being men of greater influence in the state. Averardo de’ Medici and the rest being unable to prevent this, endeavored with all their might to calumniate them; and when any unfavorable circumstance occurred (and there were many), fortune and the exertions of the enemy were never supposed to be the causes, but solely the want of capacity in the commissary. This disposition aggravated the offenses of Astorre Gianni; this excited the indignation of Rinaldo degli Albizzi, and made him resign his commission without leave; this, too, compelled the captain of the people to require the appearance of Giovanni Guicciardini, and from this arose all the other charges which were made against the magistrates and the commissaries. Real evils were magnified, unreal ones feigned, and the true and the false were equally believed by the people, who were almost universally their foes.

All these events and extraordinary modes of proceeding were perfectly known to Niccolo da Uzzano and the other leaders of the party; and they had often consulted together for the purpose of finding a remedy, but without effect; though they were aware of the danger of allowing them to increase, and the great difficulty that would attend any attempt to remove or abate them. Niccolo da Uzzano was the earliest to take offense; and while the war was proceeding without, and these troubles within, Niccolo Barbadoro desirous of inducing him to consent to the ruin of Cosmo, waited upon him at his house; and finding him alone in his study, and very pensive, endeavored, with the best reasons he could advance, to persuade him to agree with Rinaldo on Cosmo’s expulsion. Niccolo da Uzzano replied as follows: “It would be better for thee and thy house, as well as for our republic, if thou and those who follow thee in this opinion had beards of silver instead of gold, as is said of thee; for advice proceeding from the hoary head of long experience would be wiser and of greater service to all. It appears to me, that those who talk of driving Cosmo out of Florence would do well to consider what is their strength, and what that of Cosmo. You have named one party, that of the nobility, the other that of the plebeians. If the fact corresponded with the name, the victory would still be most uncertain, and the example of the ancient nobility of this city, who were destroyed by the plebeians, ought rather to impress us with fear than with hope. We have, however, still further cause for apprehension from the division of our party, and the union of our adversaries. In the first place, Neri di Gino and Nerone di Nigi, two of our principal citizens, have never so fully declared their sentiments as to enable us to determine whether they are most our friends our those of our opponents. There are many families, even many houses, divided; many are opposed to us through envy of brothers or relatives. I will recall to your recollection two or three of the most important; you may think of the others at your leisure. Of the sons of Maso degli Albizzi, Luca, from envy of Rinaldo, has thrown himself into their hands. In the house of Guicciardini, of the sons of Luigi, Piero is the enemy of Giovanni and in favor of our adversaries. Tommaso and Niccolo Soderini openly oppose us on account of their hatred of their uncle Francesco. So that if we consider well what we are, and what our enemies, I cannot see why we should be called NOBLE any more than they. If it is because they are followed by the plebeians, we are in a worse condition on that account, and they in a better; for were it to come either to arms or to votes, we should not be able to resist them. True it is, we still preserve our dignity, our precedence, the priority of our position, but this arises from the former reputation of the government, which has now continued fifty years; and whenever we come to the proof, or they discover our weakness we shall lose it. If you were to say, the justice of our cause ought to augment our influence and diminish theirs I answer, that this justice requires to be perceived and believed by others as well as by ourselves, but this is not the case; for the justice of our cause is wholly founded upon our suspicion that Cosmo designs to make himself prince of the city. And although we entertain this suspicion and suppose it to be correct, others have it not; but what is worse, they charge us with the very design of which we accuse him. Those actions of Cosmo which lead us to suspect him are, that he lends money indiscriminately, and not to private persons only, but to the public; and not to Florentines only, but to the condottieri, the soldiers of fortune. Besides, he assists any citizen who requires magisterial aid; and, by the universal interest he possesses in the city, raises first one friend and then another to higher grades of honor. Therefore, to adduce our reasons for expelling him, would be to say that he is kind, generous, liberal, and beloved by all. Now tell me, what law is there which forbids, disapproves, or condemns men for being pious, liberal, and benevolent? And though they are all modes adopted by those who aim at sovereignty, they are not believed to be such, nor have we sufficient power to make them to be so esteemed; for our conduct has robbed us of confidence, and the city, naturally partial and (having always lived in faction) corrupt, cannot lend its attention to such charges. But even if we were successful in an attempt to expel him (which might easily happen under a favorable Signory), how could we (being surrounded by his innumerable friends, who would constantly reproach us, and ardently desire to see him again in the city) prevent his return? It would be impossible for they being so numerous, and having the good will of all upon their side, we should never be secure from them. And as many of his first discovered friends as you might expel, so many enemies would you make, so that in a short time he would return, and the result would be simply this, that we had driven him out a good man and he had returned to us a bad one; for his nature would be corrupted by those who recalled him, and he, being under obligation, could not oppose them. Or should you design to put him to death, you could not attain your purpose with the magistrates, for his wealth, and the corruption of your minds, will always save him. But let us suppose him put to death, or that being banished, he did not return, I cannot see how the condition of our republic would be ameliorated; for if we relieve her from Cosmo, we at once make her subject to Rinaldo, and it is my most earnest desire that no citizen may ever, in power and authority, surpass the rest. But if one of these must prevail, I know of no reason that should make me prefer Rinaldo to Cosmo. I shall only say, may God preserve the city from any of her citizens usurping the sovereignty, but if our sins have deserved this, in mercy save us from Rinaldo. I pray thee, therefore, do not advise the adoption of a course on every account pernicious, nor imagine that, in union with a few, you would be able to oppose the will of the many; for the citizens, some from ignorance and others from malice, are ready to sell the republic at any time, and fortune has so much favored them, that they have found a purchaser. Take my advice then; endeavor to live moderately; and with regard to liberty, you will find as much cause for suspicion in our party as in that of our adversaries. And when troubles arise, being of neither side, you will be agreeable to both, and you will thus provide for your own comfort and do no injury to any.”

These words somewhat abated the eagerness of Barbadoro, so that tranquillity prevailed during the war with Lucca. But this being ended, and Niccolo da Uzzano dead, the city being at peace and under no restraint, unhealthy humors increased with fearful rapidity. Rinaldo, considering himself now the leader of the party, constantly entreated and urged every citizen whom he thought likely to be Gonfalonier, to take up arms and deliver the country from him who, from the malevolence of a few and the ignorance of the multitude, was inevitably reducing it to slavery. These practices of Rinaldo, and those of the contrary side, kept the city full of apprehension, so that whenever a magistracy was created, the numbers of each party composing it were made publicly known, and upon drawing for the Signory the whole city was aroused. Every case brought before the magistrates, however trivial, was made a subject of contention among them. Secrets were divulged, good and evil alike became objects of favor and opposition, the benevolent and the wicked were alike assailed, and no magistrate fulfilled the duties of his office with integrity.

In this state of confusion, Rinaldo, anxious to abate the power of Cosmo, and knowing that Bernardo Guadagni was likely to become Gonfalonier, paid his arrears of taxes, that he might not, by being indebted to the public, be incapacitated for holding the office. The drawing soon after took place, and fortune, opposed to our welfare, caused Bernardo to be appointed for the months of September and October. Rinaldo immediately waited upon him, and intimated how much the party of the nobility, and all who wished for repose, rejoiced to find he had attained that dignity; that it now rested with him to act in such a manner as to realize their pleasing expectations. He then enlarged upon the danger of disunion, and endeavored to show that there was no means of attaining the blessing of unity but by the destruction of Cosmo, for he alone, by the popularity acquired with his enormous wealth, kept them depressed; that he was already so powerful, that if not hindered, he would soon become prince, and that it was the part of a good citizen, in order to prevent such a calamity, to assemble the people in the piazza, and restore liberty to his country. Rinaldo then reminded the new Gonfalonier how Salvestro de’ Medici was able, though unjustly, to restrain the power of the Guelphs, to whom, by the blood of their ancestors, shed in its cause, the government rightly belonged; and argued that what he was able unjustly to accomplish against so many, might surely be easily performed with justice in its favor against one! He encouraged him with the assurance that their friends would be ready in arms to support him; that he need not regard the plebeians, who adored Cosmo, since their assistance would be of no greater avail than Giorgio Scali had found it on a similar occasion; and that with regard to his wealth, no apprehension was necessary, for when he was under the power of the Signory, his riches would be so too. In conclusion, he averred that this course would unite and secure the republic, and crown the Gonfalonier with glory. Bernardo briefly replied, that he thought it necessary to act exactly as Rinaldo had advised, and that as the time was suitable for action, he should provide himself with forces, being assured from what Rinaldo had said, he would be supported by his colleagues.

Bernardo entered upon the duties of his office, prepared his followers, and having concerted with Rinaldo, summoned Cosmo, who, though many friends dissuaded him from it, obeyed the call, trusting more to his own innocence than to the mercy of the Signory. As soon as he had entered the palace he was arrested. Rinaldo, with a great number of armed men, and accompanied by nearly the whole of his party, proceeded to the piazza, when the Signory assembled the people, and created a Balia of two hundred persons for the reformation of the city. With the least possible delay they entered upon the consideration of reform, and of the life or death of Cosmo. Many wished him to be banished, others to be put to death, and several were silent, either from compassion toward him or for fear of the rest, so that these differences prevented them from coming to any conclusion.

There is an apartment in the tower of the palace which occupies the whole of one floor, and is called the Alberghettino, in which Cosmo was confined, under the charge of Federigo Malavolti. In this place, hearing the assembly of the Councils, the noise of arms which proceeded from the piazza, and the frequent ringing of the bell to assemble the Balia, he was greatly apprehensive for his safety, but still more less his private enemies should cause him to be put to death in some unusual manner. He scarcely took any food, so that in four days he ate only a small quantity of bread, Federigo, observing his anxiety, said to him, “Cosmo, you are afraid of being poisoned, and are evidently hastening your end with hunger. You wrong me if you think I would be a party to such an atrocious act. I do not imagine your life to be in much danger, since you have so many friends both within the palace and without; but if you should eventually lose it, be assured they will use some other medium than myself for that purpose, for I will never imbue my hands in the blood of any, still less in yours, who never injured me; therefore cheer up, take some food, and preserve your life for your friends and your country. And that you may do so with greater assurance, I will partake of your meals with you.” These words were of great relief to Cosmo, who, with tears in his eyes, embraced and kissed Federigo, earnestly thanking him for so kind and affectionate conduct, and promising, if ever the opportunity were given him, he would not be ungrateful.

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