History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VII

Cosmo is banished to Padua — Rinaldo degli Albizzi attempts to restore the nobility — New disturbances occasioned by Rinaldo degli Albizzi — Rinaldo takes arms against the Signory — His designs are disconcerted — Pope Eugenius in Florence — He endeavors to reconcile the parties — Cosmo is recalled — Rinaldo and his party banished — Glorious return of Cosmo.

Cosmo in some degree recovered his spirits, and while the citizens were disputing about him, Federigo, by way of recreation, brought an acquaintance of the Gonfalonier to take supper with him, an amusing and facetious person, whose name was Il Farnagaccio. The repast being nearly over, Cosmo, who thought he might turn this visit to advantage, for he knew the man very intimately, gave a sign to Federigo to leave the apartment, and he, guessing the cause, under pretense of going for something that was wanted on the table, left them together. Cosmo, after a few friendly expressions addressed to Il Farnagaccio, gave him a small slip of paper, and desired him to go to the director of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, for one thousand one hundred ducats; he was to take the hundred for himself, and carry the thousand to the Gonfalonier, and beg that he would take some suitable occasion of coming to see him. Farnagaccio undertook the commission, the money was paid, Bernardo became more humane, and Cosmo was banished to Padua, contrary to the wish of Rinaldo, who earnestly desired his death. Averardo and many others of the house of Medici were also banished, and with them Puccio and Giovanni Pucci. To silence those who were dissatisfied with the banishment of Cosmo, they endowed with the power of a Balia, the Eight of War and the Capitano of the People. After his sentence, Cosmo on the third of October, 1433, came before the Signory, by whom the boundary to which he was restricted was specified; and they advised him to avoid passing it, unless he wished them to proceed with greater severity both against himself and his property. Cosmo received his sentence with a cheerful look, assuring the Signory that wherever they determined to send him, he would willingly remain. He earnestly begged, that as they had preserved his life they would protect it, for he knew there were many in the piazza who were desirous to take it; and assured them, that wherever he might be, himself and his means were entirely at the service of the city, the people, and the Signory. He was respectfully attended by the Gonfalonier, who retained him in the palace till night, then conducted him to his own house to supper, and caused him to be escorted by a strong armed force to his place of banishment. Wherever the cavalcade passed, Cosmo was honorably received, and was publicly visited by the Venetians, not as an exile, but with all the respect due to one in the highest station.

Florence, widowed of so great a citizen, one so generally beloved, seemed to be universally sunk in despondency; victors and the vanquished were alike in fear. Rinaldo, as if inspired with a presage of his future calamities, in order not to appear deficient to himself or his party, assembled many citizens, his friends, and informed them that he foresaw their approaching ruin for having allowed themselves to be overcome by the prayers, the tears, and the money of their enemies; and that they did not seem aware they would soon themselves have to entreat and weep, when their prayers would not be listened to, or their tears excite compassion; and that of the money received, they would have to restore the principal, and pay the interest in tortures, exile, and death; that it would have been much better for them to have done nothing than to have left Cosmo alive, and his friends in Florence; for great offenders ought either to remain untouched, or be destroyed; that there was now no remedy but to strengthen themselves in the city, so that upon the renewed attempts of their enemies, which would soon take place, they might drive them out with arms, since they had not sufficient civil authority to expel them. The remedy to be adopted, he said, was one that he had long before advocated, which was to regain the friendship of the grandees, restoring and conceding to them all the honors of the city, and thus make themselves strong with that party, since their adversaries had joined the plebeians. That by this means they would become the more powerful side, for they would possess greater energy, more comprehensive talent and an augmented share of influence; and that if this last and only remedy were not adopted, he knew not what other means could be made use of to preserve the government among so many enemies, or prevent their own ruin and that of the city.

Mariotto Baldovinetti, one of the assembly, was opposed to this plan, on account of the pride and insupportable nature of the nobility; and said, that it would be folly to place themselves again under such inevitable tyranny for the sake of avoiding imaginary dangers from the plebeians. Rinaldo, finding his advice unfavorably received, vexed at his own misfortune and that of his party, imputed the whole to heaven itself, which had resolved upon it, rather than to human ignorance and blunders. In this juncture of affairs, no remedial measure being attempted, a letter was found written by Agnolo Acciajuoli to Cosmo, acquainting him with the disposition of the city in his favor, and advising him, if possible, to excite a war, and gain the friendship of Neri di Gino; for he imagined the city to be in want of money, and as she would not find anyone to serve her, the remembrance of him would be revived in the minds of the citizens, and they would desire his return; and that if Neri were detached from Rinaldo, the party of the latter would be so weakened, as to be unable to defend themselves. This letter coming to the hands of the magistrates, Agnolo was taken, put to the torture, and sent into exile. This example, however, did not at all deter Cosmo’s party.

It was now almost a year since Cosmo had been banished, and the end of August, 1434, being come, Niccolo di Cocco was drawn Gonfalonier for the two succeeding months, and with him eight signors, all partisans of Cosmo. This struck terror into Rinaldo and his party; and as it is usual for three days to elapse before the new Signory assume the magistracy and the old resign their authority, Rinaldo again called together the heads of his party. He endeavored to show them their certain and immediate danger, and that their only remedy was to take arms, and cause Donato Velluti, who was yet Gonfalonier, to assemble the people in the piazza and create a Balia. He would then deprive the new Signory of the magistracy, appoint another, burn the present balloting purses, and by means of a new Squittini, provide themselves with friends. Many thought this course safe and requisite; others, that it was too violent, and likely to be attended with great evil. Among those who disliked it was Palla Strozzi, a peaceable, gentle, and humane person, better adapted for literary pursuits than for restraining a party, or opposing civil strife. He said that bold and crafty resolutions seem promising at their commencement, but are afterward found difficult to execute, and generally pernicious at their conclusion; that he thought the fear of external wars (the duke’s forces being upon the confines of Romagna), would occupy the minds of the Signory more than internal dissensions; but, still, if any attempt should be made, and it could not take place unnoticed, they would have sufficient time to take arms, and adopt whatever measures might be found necessary for the common good, which being done upon necessity, would occasion less excitement among the people and less danger to themselves. It was therefore concluded, that the new Signory should come in; that their proceedings should be watched, and if they were found attempting anything against the party, each should take arms, and meet in the piazza of San Pulinari, situated near the palace, and whence they might proceed wherever it was found necessary. Having come to this conclusion, Rinaldo’s friends separated.

The new Signory entered upon their office, and the Gonfalonier, in order to acquire reputation, and deter those who might intend to oppose him, sent Donato Velluti, his predecessor, to prison, upon the charge of having applied the public money to his own use. He then endeavored to sound his colleagues with respect to Cosmo: seeing them desirous of his return, he communicated with the leaders of the Medici party, and, by their advice, summoned the hostile chiefs, Rinaldo degli Albizzi, Ridolfo Peruzzi, and Niccolo Barbadoro. After this citation, Rinaldo thought further delay would be dangerous: he therefore left his house with a great number of armed men, and was soon joined by Ridolfo Peruzzi and Niccolo Barbadoro. The force accompanying them was composed of several citizens and a great number of disbanded soldiers then in Florence: and all assembled according to appointment in the piazza of San Pulinari. Palla Strozzi and Giovanni Guicciardini, though each had assembled a large number of men, kept in their houses; and therefore Rinaldo sent a messenger to request their attendance and to reprove their delay. Giovanni replied, that he should lend sufficient aid against their enemies, if by remaining at home he could prevent his brother Piero from going to the defense of the palace. After many messages Palla came to San Pulinari on horseback, accompanied by two of his people on foot, and unarmed. Rinaldo, on meeting him, sharply reproved him for his negligence, declaring that his refusal to come with the others arose either from defect of principle or want of courage; both of which charges should be avoided by all who wished to preserve such a character as he had hitherto possessed; and that if he thought this abominable conduct to his party would induce their enemies when victorious to spare him from death or exile, he deceived himself; but for himself (Rinaldo) whatever might happen, he had the consolation of knowing, that previously to the crisis he had never neglected his duty in council, and that when it occurred he had used every possible exertion to repel it with arms; but that Palla and the others would experience aggravated remorse when they considered they had upon three occasions betrayed their country; first when they saved Cosmo; next when they disregarded his advice; and now the third time by not coming armed in her defense according to their engagement. To these reproaches Palla made no reply audible to those around, but, muttering something as he left them, returned to his house.

The Signory, knowing Rinaldo and his party had taken arms, finding themselves abandoned, caused the palace to be shut up, and having no one to consult they knew not what course to adopt. However, Rinaldo, by delaying his coming to the piazza, having waited in expectation of forces which did not join him, lost the opportunity of victory, gave them courage to provide for their defense, and allowed many others to join them, who advised that means should be used to induce their adversaries to lay down their arms. Thereupon, some of the least suspected, went on the part of the Signory to Rinaldo, and said, they did not know what occasion they had given his friends for thus assembling in arms; that they never had any intention of offending him, and if they had spoken of Cosmo, they had no design of recalling him; so if their fears were thus occasioned they might at once be dispelled, for that if they came to the palace they would be graciously received, and all their complaints attended to. These words produced no change in Rinaldo’s purpose; he bade them provide for their safety by resigning their offices, and said that then the government of the city would be reorganized, for the mutual benefit of all.

It rarely happens, where authorities are equal and opinions contrary, that any good resolution is adopted. Ridolfo Peruzzi, moved by the discourse of the citizens, said, that all he desired was to prevent the return of Cosmo, and this being granted to them seemed a sufficient victory; nor would he, to obtain a greater, fill the city with blood; he would therefore obey the Signory; and accordingly went with his people to the palace, where he was received with a hearty welcome. Thus Rinaldo’s delay at San Pulinari, Palla’s want of courage, and Ridolfo’s desertion, deprived their party of all chance of success; while the ardor of the citizens abated, and the pope’s authority did not contribute to its revival.

Pope Eugenius was at this time at Florence, having been driven from Rome by the people. These disturbances coming to his knowledge, he thought it a duty suitable to his pastoral office to appease them, and sent the patriarch Giovanni Vitelleschi, Rinaldo’s most intimate friend, to entreat the latter to come to an interview with him, as he trusted he had sufficient influence with the Signory to insure his safety and satisfaction, without injury or bloodshed to the citizens. By his friend’s persuasion, Rinaldo proceeded with all his followers to Santa Maria Nuova, where the pope resided. Eugenius gave him to understand, that the Signory had empowered him to settle the differences between them, and that all would be arranged to his satisfaction, if he laid down his arms. Rinaldo, having witnessed Palla’s want of zeal, and the fickleness of Ridolfo Peruzzi, and no better course being open to him, placed himself in the pope’s hands, thinking that at all events the authority of his holiness would insure his safety. Eugenius then sent word to Niccolo Barbadoro, and the rest who remained without, that they were to lay down their arms, for Rinaldo was remaining with the pontiff, to arrange terms of agreement with the signors; upon which they immediately dispersed, and laid aside their weapons.

The Signory, seeing their adversaries disarmed, continued to negotiate an arrangement by means of the pope; but at the same time sent secretly to the mountains of Pistoia for infantry, which, with what other forces they could collect, were brought into Florence by night. Having taken possession of all the strong positions in the city, they assembled the people in the piazza and created a new balia, which, without delay, restored Cosmo and those who had been exiled with him to their country; and banished, of the opposite party, Rinaldo degli Albizzi, Ridolfo Peruzzi, Niccolo Barbadoro, and Palla Strozzi, with so many other citizens, that there were few places in Italy which did not contain some, and many others beyond her limits were full of them. By this and similar occurrences, Florence was deprived of men of worth, and of much wealth and industry.

The pope, seeing such misfortunes befall those who by his entreaties were induced to lay down their arms, was greatly dissatisfied, and condoled with Rinaldo on the injuries he had received through his confidence in him, but advised him to be patient, and hope for some favorable turn of fortune. Rinaldo replied, “The want of confidence in those who ought to have trusted me, and the great trust I have reposed in you, have ruined both me and my party. But I blame myself principally for having thought that you, who were expelled from your own country, could preserve me in mine. I have had sufficient experience of the freaks of fortune; and as I have never trusted greatly to prosperity, I shall suffer less inconvenience from adversity; and I know that when she pleases she can become more favorable. But if she should never change, I shall not be very desirous of living in a city in which individuals are more powerful than the laws; for that country alone is desirable in which property and friends may be safely enjoyed, not one where they may easily be taken from us, and where friends, from fear of losing their property, are compelled to abandon each other in their greatest need. Besides, it has always been less painful to good men to hear of the misfortunes of their country than to witness them; and an honorable exile is always held in greater esteem than slavery at home.” He then left the pope, and, full of indignation, blaming himself, his own measures, and the coldness of his friends, went into exile.

Cosmo, on the other hand, being informed of his recall, returned to Florence; and it has seldom occurred that any citizen, coming home triumphant from victory, was received by so vast a concourse of people, or such unqualified demonstrations of regard as he was upon his return from banishment; for by universal consent he was hailed as the benefactor of the people, and the FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY.

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