History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter IV

War between the Venetians and the Florentines — Peace re-established — Death of Niccolo Soderini — His character — Excesses in Florence — Various external events from 1468 to 1471 — Accession of Sixtus IV. — His character — Grief of Piero de’ Medici for the violence committed in Florence — His speech to the principal citizens — Plans of Piero de’ Medici for the restoration of order — His death and character — Tommaso Soderini, a citizen of great reputation, declares himself in favor of the Medici — Disturbances at Prato occasioned by Bernardo Nardi.

The concluding words of the Florentine exiles produced the utmost excitement among the Venetian senators, and they resolved to send Bernardo Coglione, their general, to attack the Florentine territory. The troops were assembled, and joined by Ercole da Esti, who had been sent by Borgo, marquis of Ferrara. At the commencement of hostilities, the Florentines not being prepared, their enemies burned the Borgo of Dovadola, and plundered the surrounding country. But having expelled the enemies of Piero, renewed their league with Galeazzo, duke of Milan, and Ferrando, king of Naples, they appointed to the command of their forces Federigo, count of Urbino; and being thus on good terms with their friends, their enemies occasioned them less anxiety. Ferrando sent Alfonso, his eldest son, to their aid, and Galeazzo came in person, each at the head of a suitable force, and all assembled at Castrocaro, a fortress belonging to the Florentines, and situated among the roots of the Appennines which descend from Tuscany to Romagna. In the meantime, the enemy withdrew toward Imola. A few slight skirmishes took place between the armies; yet, in accordance with the custom of the times, neither of them acted on the offensive, besieged any town, or gave the other an opportunity of coming to a general engagement; but each kept within their tents, and conducted themselves with most remarkable cowardice. This occasioned general dissatisfaction among the Florentines; for they found themselves involved in an expensive war, from which no advantage could be derived. The magistrates complained of these spiritless proceedings to those who had been appointed commissaries to the expedition; but they replied, that the entire evil was chargeable upon the Duke Galeazzo, who possessing great authority and little experience, was unable to suggest useful measures, and unwilling to take the advice of those who were more capable; and therefore any demonstration of courage or energy would be impracticable so long as he remained with the army. Hereupon the Florentines intimated to the duke, that his presence with the force was in many ways advantageous and beneficial, and of itself sufficient to alarm the enemy; but they considered his own safety and that of his dominions, much more important than their own immediate convenience; because so long as the former were safe, the Florentines had nothing to fear, and all would go well; but if his dominions were to suffer, they might then apprehend all kinds of misfortune. They assured him they did not think it prudent for him to be absent so long from Milan, having recently succeeded to the government, and being surrounded by many powerful enemies and suspected neighbors; while any who were desirous of plotting against him, had an opportunity of doing so with impunity. They would, therefore, advise him to return to his territories, leaving part of his troops with them for the use of the expedition. This advice pleased Galeazzo, who, in consequence, immediately withdrew to Milan. The Florentine generals being now left without any hindrance, to show that the cause assigned for their inaction was the true one, pressed the enemy more closely, so that they came to a regular engagement, which continued half a day, without either party yielding. Some horses were wounded and prisoners taken, but no death occurred. Winter having arrived, and with it the usual time for armies to retire into quarters, Bartolommeo Coglione withdrew to Ravenna, the Florentine forces into Tuscany, and those of the king and duke, each to the territories of their sovereign. As this attempt had not occasioned any tumult in Florence, contrary to the rebels’ expectation, and the troops they had hired were in want of pay, terms of peace were proposed, and easily arranged. The revolted Florentines, thus deprived of hope, dispersed themselves in various places. Diotisalvi Neroni withdrew to Ferrara, where he was received and entertained by the Marquis Borso. Niccolo Soderini went to Ravenna, where, upon a small pension allowed by the Venetians, he grew old and died. He was considered a just and brave man, but over-cautious and slow to determine, a circumstance which occasioned him, when Gonfalonier of Justice, to lose the opportunity of victory which he would have gladly recovered when too late.

Upon the restoration of peace, those who remained victorious in Florence, as if unable to convince themselves they had conquered, unless they oppressed not merely their enemies, but all whom they suspected, prevailed upon Bardo Altoviti, then Gonfalonier of Justice, to deprive many of the honors of government, and to banish several more. They exercised their power so inconsiderately, and conducted themselves in such an arbitrary manner, that it seemed as if fortune and the Almighty had given the city up to them for a prey. Piero knew little of these things, and was unable to remedy even the little he knew, on account of his infirmities; his body being so contracted that he could use no faculty but that of speech. All he could do was to admonish the leading men, and beg they would conduct themselves with greater moderation, and not by their violence effect their country’s ruin. In order to divert the city, he resolved to celebrate the marriage of his son Lorenzo with Clarice degli Orsini with great splendor; and it was accordingly solemnized with all the display suitable to the exalted rank of the parties. Feasts, dancing, and antique representations occupied many days; at the conclusion of which, to exhibit the grandeur of the house of Medici and of the government, two military spectacles were presented, one performed by men on horseback, who went through the evolutions of a field engagement, and the other representing the storming of a town; everything being conducted with admirable order and the greatest imaginable brilliancy.

During these transactions in Florence, the rest of Italy, though at peace, was filled with apprehension of the power of the Turks, who continued to attack the Christians, and had taken Negropont, to the great disgrace and injury of the Christian name. About this time died Borso, marquis of Ferrara, who was succeeded by his brother Ercole. Gismondo da Rimini, the inveterate enemy of the church also expired, and his natural brother Roberto, who was afterward one of the best generals of Italy, succeeded him. Pope Paul died, and was succeeded by Sixtus IV. previously called Francesco da Savona, a man of the very lowest origin, who by his talents had become general of the order of St. Francis, and afterward cardinal. He was the first who began to show how far a pope might go, and how much that which was previously regarded as sinful lost its iniquity when committed by a pontiff. Among others of his family were Piero and Girolamo, who, according to universal belief, were his sons, though he designated them by terms reflecting less scandal on his character. Piero being a priest, was advanced to the dignity of a cardinal, with the title of St. Sixtus. To Girolamo he gave the city of Furli, taken from Antonio Ordelaffi, whose ancestors had held that territory for many generations. This ambitious method of procedure made him more regarded by the princes of Italy, and all sought to obtain his friendship. The duke of Milan gave his natural daughter Caterina to Girolamo, with the city of Imola, which he had taken from Taddeo degli Alidossi, as her portion. New matrimonial alliances were formed between the duke and king Ferrando; Elisabetta, daughter of Alfonso, the king’s eldest son, being united to Giovan Galeazzo, the eldest son of the duke.

Italy being at peace, the principal employment of her princes was to watch each other, and strengthen their own influence by new alliances, leagues, or friendships. But in the midst of this repose, Florence endured great oppression from her principal citizens, and the infirmities of Piero incapacitated him from restraining their ambition. However, to relieve his conscience, and, if possible, to make them ashamed of their conduct, he sent for them to his house, and addressed them in the following words: “I never thought a time would come when the behavior of my friends would compel me to esteem and desire the society of my enemies, and wish that I had been defeated rather than victorious; for I believed myself to be associated with those who would set some bounds to their avarice, and who, after having avenged themselves on their enemies, and lived in their country with security and honor, would be satisfied. But now I find myself greatly deceived, unacquainted with the ambition of mankind, and least of all with yours; for, not satisfied with being masters of so great a city, and possessing among yourselves those honors, dignities, and emoluments which used to be divided among many citizens; not contented with having shared among a few the property of your enemies, or with being able to oppress all others with public burdens, while you yourselves are exempt from them, and enjoy all the public offices of profit you must still further load everyone with ill usage. You plunder your neighbors of their wealth; you sell justice; you evade the law; you oppress the timid and exalt the insolent. Nor is there, throughout all Italy, so many and such shocking examples of violence and avarice as in this city. Has our country fostered us only to be her destroyer? Have we been victorious only to effect her ruin? Has she honored us that we may overwhelm her with disgrace? Now, by that faith which is binding upon all good men, I promise you, that if you still conduct yourselves so as to make me regret my victory, I will adopt such measures as shall cause you bitterly to repent of having misused it.” The reply of the citizens accorded with the time and circumstances, but they did not forego their evil practices; so that, in consequence, Piero sent for Agnolo Acciajuoli to come secretly to Cafaggiolo, and discussed with him at great length the condition of the city; and doubtless, had he not been prevented by death, he would have called home the exiles as a check upon the rapine of the opposite party. But these honorable designs were frustrated; for, sinking under bodily infirmities and mental anguish, he expired in the fifty-third year of his age. His goodness and virtue were not duly appreciated by his country, principally from his having, until almost the close of his life, been associated with Cosmo, and the few years he survived being spent in civil discord and constant debility. Piero was buried in the church of St. Lorenzo, near his father, and his obsequies were performed with all the pomp and solemnity due to his exalted station. He left two sons, Lorenzo and Guiliano, whose extreme youth excited alarm in the minds of thinking men, though each gave hopes of future usefulness to the republic.

Among the principal citizens in the government of Florence, and very superior to the rest, was Tommaso Soderini, whose prudence and authority were well known not only at home, but throughout Italy. After Piero’s death, the whole city looked up to him; many citizens waited upon him at his own house, as the head of the government, and several princes addressed him by letter; but he, impartially estimating his own fortune and that of the house of Medici, made no reply to the princes’ communications, and told the citizens, it was not his house, but that of the Medici they ought to visit. To demonstrate by his actions the sincerity and integrity of his advice he assembled all the heads of noble families in the convent of St. Antonio, whither he also brought Lorenzo and Guiliano de’ Medici, and in a long and serious speech upon the state of the city, the condition of Italy, and the views of her princes, he assured them, that if they wished to live in peace and unity in Florence, free both from internal dissensions and foreign wars, it would be necessary to respect the sons of Piero and support the reputation of their house; for men never regret their continuance in a course sanctioned by custom while new methods are soon adopted and as speedily set aside; and it has always been found easier to maintain a power which by its continuance has outlived envy, than to raise a new one, which innumerable unforeseen causes may overthrow. When Tommaso had concluded, Lorenzo spoke, and, though young, with such modesty and discretion that all present felt a presentiment of his becoming what he afterward proved to be; and before the citizens departed they swore to regard the youths as their sons, and the brothers promised to look upon them as their parents. After this, Lorenzo and Guiliano were honored as princes, and resolved to be guided by the advice of Tommaso Soderini.

While profound tranquillity prevailed both at home and abroad, no wars disturbing the general repose, there arose an unexpected disturbance, which came like a presage of future evils. Among the ruined families of the party of Luca Pitti, was that of the Nardi; for Salvestro and his brothers, the heads of the house, were banished and afterward declared rebels for having taken part in the war under Bartolommeo Coglione. Bernardo, the brother of Salvestro, was young, prompt, and bold, and on account of his poverty being unable to alleviate the sorrows of exile, while the peace extinguished all hopes of his return to the city, he determined to attempt some means of rekindling the war; for a trifling commencement often produces great results, and men more readily prosecute what is already begun than originate new enterprises. Bernardo had many acquaintances at Prato, and still more in the district of Pistoia, particularly among the Palandra, a family which, though rustic, was very numerous, and, like the rest of the Pistolesi, brought up to slaughter and war. These he knew to be discontented, on account of the Florentine magistrates having endeavored, perhaps too severely, to check their partiality for inveterate feuds and consequence bloodshed. He was also aware that the people of Prato considered themselves injured by the pride and avarice of their governors, and that some were ill disposed toward Florence; therefore all things considered, he hoped to be able to kindle a fire in Tuscany (should Prato rebel) which would be fostered by so many, that those who might wish to extinguish it would fail in the attempt. He communicated his ideas to Diotisalvi Neroni, and asked him, in case they should succeed in taking possession of Prato, what assistance might be expected from the princes of Italy, by his means? Diotisalvi considered the enterprise as imminently dangerous, and almost impracticable; but since it presented a fresh chance of attaining his object, at the risk of others, he advised him to proceed, and promised certain assistance from Bologna and Ferrara, if he could retain Prato not less than fifteen days. Bernardo, whom this promise inspired with a lively hope of success, proceeded secretly to Prato, and communicated with those most disposed to favor him, among whom were the Palandra; and having arranged the time and plan, informed Diotisalvi of what had been done.

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