History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter II

The duke of Milan becomes lord of Genoa — The king of Naples and the duke of Milan endeavor to secure their dominions to their heirs — Jacopo Piccinino honorably received at Milan, and shortly afterward murdered at Naples — Fruitless endeavors of Pius II. to excite Christendom against the Turks — Death of Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan — Perfidious counsel given to Piero de’ Medici by Diotisalvi Neroni — Conspiracy of Diotisalvi and others against Piero — Futile attempts to appease the disorders — Public spectacles — Projects of the conspirators against Piero de’ Medici — Niccolo Fedini discloses to Piero the plots of his enemies.

While Florence and Italy were in this condition, Louis XI. of France was involved in very serious troubles with his barons, who, with the assistance of Francis, duke of Brittany, and Charles, duke of Burgundy, were in arms against him. This attack was so serious, that he was unable to render further assistance to John of Anjou in his enterprise against Genoa and Naples; and, standing in need of all the forces he could raise, he gave over Savona (which still remained in the power of the French) to the duke of Milan, and also intimated, that if he wished, he had his permission to undertake the conquest of Genoa. Francesco accepted the proposal, and with the influence afforded by the king’s friendship, and the assistance of the Adorni, he became lord of Genoa. In acknowledgment of this benefit, he sent fifteen hundred horse into France for the king’s service, under the command of Galeazzo, his eldest son. Thus Ferrando of Aragon and Francesco Sforza became, the latter, duke of Lombardy and prince of Genoa, and the former, sovereign of the whole kingdom of Naples. Their families being allied by marriage, they thought they might so confirm their power as to secure to themselves its enjoyment during life, and at their deaths, its unencumbered reversion to their heirs. To attain this end, they considered it necessary that the king should remove all ground of apprehension from those barons who had offended him in the war of John of Anjou, and that the duke should extirpate the adherents of the Bracceschi, the natural enemies of his family, who, under Jacopo Piccinino, had attained the highest reputation. The latter was now the first general in Italy, and possessing no territory, he naturally excited the apprehension of all who had dominions, and especially of the duke, who, conscious of what he had himself done, thought he could neither enjoy his own estate in safety, nor leave them with any degree of security to his son during Jacopo’s lifetime. The king, therefore, strenuously endeavored to come to terms with his barons, and using his utmost ingenuity to secure them, succeeded in his object; for they perceived their ruin to be inevitable if they continued in war with their sovereign, though from submission and confidence in him, they would still have reason for apprehension. Mankind are always most eager to avoid a certain evil; and hence inferior powers are easily deceived by princes. The barons, conscious of the danger of continuing the war, trusted the king’s promises, and having placed themselves in his hands, they were soon after destroyed in various ways, and under a variety of pretexts. This alarmed Jacopo Piccinino, who was with his forces at Sulmona; and to deprive the king of the opportunity of treating him similarly, he endeavored, by the mediation of his friends, to be reconciled with the duke, who, by the most liberal offers, induced Jacopo to visit him at Milan, accompanied by only a hundred horse.

Jacopo had served many years with his father and brother, first under Duke Filippo, and afterward under the Milanese republic, so that by frequent intercourse with the citizens he had acquired many friends and universal popularity, which present circumstances tended to increase; for the prosperity and newly acquired power of the Sforzeschi had occasioned envy, while Jacopo’s misfortunes and long absence had given rise to compassion and a great desire to see him. These various feelings were displayed upon his arrival; for nearly all the nobility went to meet him; the streets through which he passed were filled with citizens, anxious to catch a glimpse of him, while shouts of “The Bracceschi! the Bracceschi!” resounded on all sides. These honors accelerated his ruin; for the duke’s apprehensions increased his desire of destroying him; and to effect this with the least possible suspicion, Jacopo’s marriage with Drusiana, the duke’s natural daughter, was now celebrated. The duke then arranged with Ferrando to take him into pay, with the title of captain of his forces, and give him 100,000 florins for his maintenance. After this agreement, Jacopo, accompanied by a ducal ambassador and his wife Drusiana, proceeded to Naples, where he was honorably and joyfully received, and for many days entertained with every kind of festivity; but having asked permission to go to Sulmona, where his forces were, the king invited him to a banquet in the castle, at the conclusion of which he and his son Francesco were imprisoned, and shortly afterward put to death. It was thus our Italian princes, fearing those virtues in others which they themselves did not possess, extirpated them; and hence the country became a prey to the efforts of those by whom it was not long afterward oppressed and ruined.

At this time, Pope Pius II. having settled the affairs of Romagna, and witnessing a universal peace, thought it a suitable opportunity to lead the Christians against the Turks, and adopted measures similar to those which his predecessors had used. All the princes promised assistance either in men or money; while Matthias, king of Hungary, and Charles, duke of Burgundy, intimated their intention of joining the enterprise in person, and were by the pope appointed leaders of the expedition. The pontiff was so full of expectation, that he left Rome and proceeded to Ancona, where it had been arranged that the whole army should be assembled, and the Venetians engaged to send ships thither to convey the forces to Sclavonia. Upon the arrival of the pope in that city, there was soon such a concourse of people, that in a few days all the provisions it contained, or that could be procured from the neighborhood, were consumed, and famine began to impend. Besides this, there was no money to provide those who were in want of it, nor arms to furnish such as were without them. Neither Matthias nor Charles made their appearance. The Venetians sent a captain with some galleys, but rather for ostentation and the sake of keeping their word, than for the purpose of conveying troops. During this position of affairs, the pope, being old and infirm, died, and the assembled troops returned to their homes. The death of the pontiff occurred in 1465, and Paul II. of Venetian origin, was chosen to succeed him; and that nearly all the principalities of Italy might change their rulers about the same period, in the following year Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, also died, having occupied the dukedom sixteen years, and Galleazzo, his son, succeeded him.

The death of this prince infused redoubled energy into the Florentine dissensions, and caused them to produce more prompt effects than they would otherwise have done. Upon the demise of Cosmo, his son Piero, being heir to the wealth and government of his father, called to his assistance Diotisalvi Neroni, a man of great influence and the highest reputation, in whom Cosmo reposed so much confidence that just before his death he recommended Piero to be wholly guided by him, both with regard to the government of the city and the management of his fortune. Piero acquired Diotisalvi with the opinion Cosmo entertained of him, and said that as he wished to obey his father, though now no more, as he always had while alive, he should consult him concerning both his patrimony and the city. Beginning with his private affairs, he caused an account of all his property, liabilities, and assets, to be placed in Diotisalvi’s hands, that, with an entire acquaintance with the state of his affairs, he might be able to afford suitable advice, and the latter promised to use the utmost care. Upon examination of these accounts the affairs were found to be in great disorder, and Diotisalvi, instigated rather by his own ambition than by attachment to Piero or gratitude to Cosmo, thought he might without difficulty deprive him of both the reputation and the splendor which his father had left him as his inheritance. In order to realize his views, he waited upon Piero, and advised him to adopt a measure which, while it appeared quite correct in itself, and suitable to existing circumstances, involved a consequence destructive to his authority. He explained the disorder of his affairs, and the large amount of money it would be necessary to provide, if he wished to preserve his influence in the state and his reputation of wealth; and said there was no other means of remedying these disorders so just and available as to call in the sums which his father had lent to an infinite number of persons, both foreigners and citizens; for Cosmo, to acquire partisans in Florence and friends abroad, was extremely liberal of his money, and the amount of loans due to him was enormous. Piero thought the advice good, because he was only desirous to repossess his own property to meet the demands to which he was liable; but as soon as he had ordered those amounts to be recalled, the citizens, as if he had asked for something to which he had no kind of claim, took great offense, loaded him with opprobrious expressions, and accused him of being avaricious and ungrateful.

Diotisalvi, noticing the popular excitement against Piero, occasioned by his own advice, obtained an interview with Luca Pitti, Agnolo Acciajuoli, and Niccolo Soderini, and they resolved to unite their efforts to deprive him both of the government and his influence. Each was actuated by a different motive; Luca Pitti wished to take the position Cosmo had occupied, for he was now become so great, that he disdained to submit to Piero; Diotisalvi Neroni, who knew Luca unfit to be at the head of a government, thought that of necessity on Piero’s removal, the whole authority of the state would devolve upon himself; Niccolo Soderini desired the city to enjoy greater liberty, and for the laws to be equally binding upon all. Agnolo Acciajuoli was greatly incensed against the Medici, for the following reasons: his son, Raffaello, had some time before married Alessandra de’ Bardi, and received with her a large dowry. She, either by her own fault or the misconduct of others, suffered much ill-treatment both from her father-in-law and her husband, and in consequence Lorenzo d’ Ilarione, her kinsman, out of pity for the girl, being accompanied by several armed men, took her away from Agnolo’s house. The Acciajuoli complained of the injury done them by the Bardi, and the matter was referred to Cosmo, who decided that the Acciajuoli should restore to Alessandra her fortune, and then leave it to her choice either to return to her husband or not. Agnolo thought Cosmo had not, in this instance, treated him as a friend; and having been unable to avenge himself on the father, he now resolved to do his utmost to ruin the son. These conspirators, though each was influenced by a different motive from the rest, affected to have only one object in view, which was that the city should be governed by the magistrates, and not be subjected to the counsels of a few individuals. The odium against Piero, and opportunities of injuring him, were increased by the number of merchants who failed about this time; for it was reported that he, in having, quite unexpectedly to all, resolved to call in his debts, had, to the disgrace and ruin of the city, caused them to become insolvent. To this was added his endeavor to obtain Clarice degli Orsini as wife of Lorenzo, his eldest son; and hence his enemies took occasion to say, it was quite clear, that as he despised a Florentine alliance, he no longer considered himself one of the people, and was preparing to make himself prince; for he who refuses his fellow-citizens as relatives, desires to make them slaves, and therefore cannot expect to have them as friends. The leaders of the sedition thought they had the victory in their power; for the greater part of the citizens followed them, deceived by the name of liberty which they, to give their purpose a graceful covering, adopted upon their ensigns.

In this agitated state of the city, some, to whom civil discord was extremely offensive, thought it would be well to endeavor to engage men’s minds with some new occupation, because when unemployed they are commonly led by whoever chooses to excite them. To divert their attention from matters of government, it being now a year since the death of Cosmo, it was resolved to celebrate two festivals, similar to the most solemn observed in the city. At one of them was represented the arrival of the three kings from the east, led by the star which announced the nativity of Christ; which was conducted with such pomp and magnificence, that the preparations for it kept the whole city occupied many months. The other was a tournament (for so they call the exhibition of equestrian combats), in which the sons of the first families in the city took part with the most celebrated cavaliers of Italy. Among the most distinguished of the Florentine youth was Lorenzo, eldest son of Piero, who, not by favor, but by his own personal valor, obtained the principal prize. When these festivals were over, the citizens reverted to the same thoughts which had previously occupied them, and each pursued his ideas with more earnestness than ever. Serious differences and troubles were the result; and these were greatly increased by two circumstances: one of which was, that the authority of the balia had expired; the other, that upon the death of Duke Francesco, Galeazzo the new duke sent ambassadors to Florence, to renew the engagements of his father with the city, which, among other things, provided that every year a certain sum of money should be paid to the duke. The principal opponents of the Medici took occasion, from this demand, to make public resistance in the councils, on pretense that the alliance was made with Francesco and not Galeazzo; so that Francesco being dead, the obligation had ceased; nor was there any necessity to revive it, because Galeazzo did not possess his father’s talents, and consequently they neither could nor ought to expect the same benefits from him; that if they had derived little advantage from Francesco, they would obtain still less from Galeazzo; and that if any citizen wished to hire him for his own purposes, it was contrary to civil rule, and inconsistent with the public liberty. Piero, on the contrary, argued that it would be very impolitic to lose such an alliance from mere avarice, and that there was nothing so important to the republic, and to the whole of Italy, as their alliance with the duke; that the Venetians, while they were united, could not hope either by feigned friendship or open war to injure the duchy; but as soon as they perceived the Florentines alienated from him they would prepare for hostilities, and, finding him young, new in the government, and without friends, they would, either by force or fraud, compel him to join them; in which case ruin of the republic would be inevitable.

The arguments of Piero were without effect, and the animosity of the parties began to be openly manifested in their nocturnal assemblies; the friends of the Medici meeting in the Crocetta, and their adversaries in the Pieta. The latter being anxious for Piero’s ruin, had induced many citizens to subscribe their names as favorable to the undertaking. Upon one occasion, particularly when considering the course to be adopted, although all agreed that the power of the Medici ought to be reduced, different opinions were given concerning the means by which it should be effected; one party, the most temperate and reasonable, held that as the authority of the balia had ceased, they must take care to prevent its renewal; it would then be found to be the universal wish that the magistrates and councils should govern the city, and in a short time Piero’s power would be visibly diminished, and, as a consequence of his loss of influence in the government, his commercial credit would also fail; for his affairs were in such a state, that if they could prevent him from using the public money his ruin must ensue. They would thus be in no further danger from him, and would succeed in the recovery of their liberty, without the death or exile of any individual; but if they attempted violence they would incur great dangers; for mankind are willing to allow one who falls of himself to meet his fate, but if pushed down they would hasten to his relief; so that if they adopted no extraordinary measures against him, he will have no reason for defense or aid; and if he were to seek them it would be greatly to his own injury, by creating such a general suspicion as would accelerate his ruin, and justify whatever course they might think proper to adopt. Many of the assembly were dissatisfied with this tardy method of proceeding; they thought delay would be favorable to him and injurious to themselves; for if they allowed matters to take their ordinary course, Piero would be in no danger whatever, while they themselves would incur many; for the magistrates who were opposed to him would allow him to rule the city, and his friends would make him a prince, and their own ruin would be inevitable, as happened in 1458; and though the advice they had just heard might be most consistent with good feeling, the present would be found to be the safest. That it would therefore be best, while the minds of men were yet excited against him, to effect his destruction. It must be their plan to arm themselves, and engage the assistance of the marquis of Ferrara, that they might not be destitute of troops; and if a favorable Signory were drawn, they would be in condition to make use of them. They therefore determined to wait the formation of the new Signory, and be governed by circumstances.

Among the conspirators was Niccolo Fedini, who had acted as president of their assemblies. He, being induced by most certain hopes, disclosed the whole affair to Piero, and gave him a list of those who had subscribed their names, and also of the conspirators. Piero was alarmed on discovering the number and quality of those who were opposed to him; and by the advice of his friends he resolved to take the signatures of those who were inclined to favor him. Having employed one of his most trusty confidants to carry his design into effect, he found so great a disposition to change and instability, that many who had previously set down their names among the number of his enemies, now subscribed them in his favor.

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