History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter IV

The duke of Calabria routs the Florentine army at Poggibonzi — Dismay in Florence on account of the defeat — Progress of the duke of Calabria — The Florentines wish for peace — Lorenzo de’ Medici determines to go to Naples to treat with the king — Lodovico Sforza, surnamed the Moor, and his brothers, recalled to Milan — Changes in the government of that city in consequence — The Genoese take Serezana — Lorenzo de’ Medici arrives at Naples — Peace concluded with the king — The pope and the Venetians consent to the peace — The Florentines in fear of the duke of Calabria — Enterprises of the Turks — They take Otranto — The Florentines reconciled with the pope — Their ambassadors at the papal court — The pope’s reply to the ambassadors — The king of Naples restores to the Florentines all the fortresses he had taken.

The army being thus reduced, without a leader, and disorder prevailing in every department, the duke of Calabria, who was with his forces near Sienna, resolved to attack them immediately. The Florentines, finding the enemy at hand, were seized with a sudden panic; neither their arms, nor their numbers, in which they were superior to their adversaries, nor their position, which was one of great strength, could give them confidence; but observing the dust occasioned by the enemy’s approach, without waiting for a sight of them, they fled in all directions, leaving their ammunition, carriages, and artillery to be taken by the foe. Such cowardice and disorder prevailed in the armies of those times, that the turning of a horse’s head or tail was sufficient to decide the fate of an expedition. This defeat loaded the king’s troops with booty, and filled the Florentines with dismay; for the city, besides the war, was afflicted with pestilence, which prevailed so extensively, that all who possessed villas fled to them to escape death. This occasioned the defeat to be attended with greater horror; for those citizens whose possessions lay in the Val di Pesa and the Val d’Elsa, having retired to them, hastened to Florence with all speed as soon as they heard of the disaster, taking with them not only their children and their property, but even their laborers; so that it seemed as if the enemy were expected every moment in the city. Those who were appointed to the management of the war, perceiving the universal consternation, commanded the victorious forces in the Perugino to give up their enterprise in that direction, and march to oppose the enemy in the Val d’Elsa, who, after their victory, plundered the country without opposition; and although the Florentine army had so closely pressed the city of Perugia that it was expected to fall into their hands every instant, the people preferred defending their own possessions to endeavoring to seize those of others. The troops, thus withdrawn from the pursuit of their good fortune, were marched to San Casciano, a castle within eight miles of Florence; the leaders thinking they could take up no other position till the relics of the routed army were assembled. On the other hand, the enemy being under no further restraint at Perugia, and emboldened by the departure of the Florentines, plundered to a large amount in the districts of Arezzo and Cortona; while those who under Alfonso, duke of Calabria, had been victorious near Poggibonzi, took the town itself; sacked Vico and Certaldo, and after these conquests and pillagings encamped before the fortress of Colle, which was considered very strong; and as the garrison was brave and faithful to the Florentines, it was hoped they would hold the enemy at bay till the republic was able to collect its forces. The Florentines being at Santo Casciano, and the enemy continuing to use their utmost exertions against Colle, they determined to draw nearer, that the inhabitants might be more resolute in their defense, and the enemy assail them less boldly. With this design they removed their camp from Santo Casciano to Santo Geminiano, about five miles from Colle, and with light cavalry and other suitable forces were able every day to annoy the duke’s camp. All this, however, was insufficient to relieve the people of Colle; for, having consumed their provisions, they were compelled to surrender on the thirteenth of November, to the great grief of the Florentines, and joy of the enemy, more especially of the Siennese, who, besides their habitual hatred of the Florentines, had a particular animosity against the people of Colle.

It was now the depth of winter, and the weather so unsuitable for war, that the pope and the king, either designing to hold out a hope of peace, or more quietly to enjoy the fruit of their victories, proposed a truce for three months to the Florentines, and allowed them ten days to consider the reply. The offer was eagerly accepted; but as wounds are well known to be more painful after the blood cools than when they were first received, this brief repose awakened the Florentines to a consciousness of the miseries they had endured; and the citizens openly laid the blame upon each other, pointing out the errors committed in the management of the war, the expenses uselessly incurred, and the taxes unjustly imposed. These matters were boldly discussed, not only in private circles, but in the public councils; and one individual even ventured to turn to Lorenzo de’ Medici, and say, “The city is exhausted, and can endure no more war; it is therefore necessary to think of peace.” Lorenzo was himself aware of the necessity, and assembled the friends in whose wisdom and fidelity he had the greatest confidence, when it was at once concluded, that as the Venetians were lukewarm and unfaithful, and the duke in the power of his guardians, and involved in domestic difficulties, it would be desirable by some new alliance to give a better turn to their affairs. They were in doubt whether to apply to the king or to the pope; but having examined the question in all sides, they preferred the friendship of the king as more suitable and secure; for the short reigns of the pontiffs, the changes ensuing upon each succession, the disregard shown by their church toward temporal princes, and the still greater want of respect for them exhibited in her determinations, render it impossible for a secular prince to trust a pontiff, or safely to share his fortune; for an adherent of the pope will have a companion in victory, but in defeat must stand alone, while the pontiff is sustained by his spiritual power and influence. Having therefore decided that the king’s friendship would be of the greatest utility to them, they thought it would be most easily and certainly obtained by Lorenzo’s presence; for in proportion to the confidence they evinced toward him, the greater they imagined would be the probability of removing his impressions of past enmities. Lorenzo having resolved to go to Naples, recommended the city and government to the care of Tommaso Soderini, who was at that time Gonfalonier of Justice. He left Florence at the beginning of December, and having arrived at Pisa, wrote to the government to acquaint them with the cause of his departure. The Signory, to do him honor, and enable him the more effectually to treat with the king, appointed him ambassador from the Florentine people, and endowed him with full authority to make such arrangements as he thought most useful for the republic.

At this time Roberto da San Severino, with Lodovico and Ascanio (Sforza their elder brother being dead) again attacked Milan, in order to recover the government. Having taken Tortona, and the city and the whole state being in arms, the duchess Bona was advised to restore the Sforzeschi, and to put a stop to civil contentions by admitting them to the government. The person who gave this advice was Antonio Tassino, of Ferrara, a man of low origin, who, coming to Milan, fell into the hands of the duke Galeazzo, and was given by him to his duchess for her valet. He, either from his personal attractions, or some secret influence, after the duke’s death attained such influence over the duchess, that he governed the state almost at his will. This greatly displeased the minister Cecco, whom prudence and long experience had rendered invaluable; and who, to the utmost of his power, endeavored to diminish the authority of Tassino with the duchess and other members of the government. The latter, aware of this, to avenge himself for the injury, and secure defenders against Cecco, advised the duchess to recall the Sforzeschi, which she did, without communicating her design to the minister, who, when it was done, said to her, “You have taken a step which will deprive me of my life, and you of the government.” This shortly afterward took place; for Cecco was put to death by Lodovico, and Tassino, being expelled from the dukedom, the duchess was so enraged that she left Milan, and gave up the care of her son to Lodovico, who, becoming sole governor of the dukedom, caused, as will be hereafter seen, the ruin of Italy.

Lorenzo de’ Medici had set out for Naples, and the truce between the parties was in force, when, quite unexpectedly, Lodovico Fregoso, being in correspondence with some persons of Serezana, entered the place by stealth, took possession of it with an armed force, and imprisoned the Florentine governor. This greatly offended the Signory, for they thought the whole had been concerted with the connivance of King Ferrando. They complained to the duke of Calabria, who was with the army at Sienna, of a breach of the truce; and he endeavored to prove, by letters and embassies, that it had occurred without either his own or his father’s knowledge. The Florentines, however, found themselves in a very awkward predicament, being destitute of money, the head of the republic in the power of the king, themselves engaged in a long-standing war with the latter and the pope, in a new one with the Genoese, and entirely without friends; for they had no confidence in the Venetians, and on account of its changeable and unsettled state they were rather apprehensive of Milan. They had thus only one hope, and that depended upon Lorenzo’s success with the king.

Lorenzo arrived at Naples by sea, and was most honorably received, not only by Ferrando, but by the whole city, his coming having excited the greatest expectation; for it being generally understood that the war was undertaken for the sole purpose of effecting his destruction, the power of his enemies invested his name with additional lustre. Being admitted to the king’s presence, he spoke with so much propriety upon the affairs of Italy, the disposition of her princes and people, his hopes from peace, his fears of the results of war, that Ferrando was more astonished at the greatness of his mind, the promptitude of his genius, his gravity and wisdom, than he had previously been at his power. He consequently treated him with redoubled honor, and began to feel compelled rather to part with him as a friend, than detain him as an enemy. However, under various pretexts he kept Lorenzo from December till March, not only to gain the most perfect knowledge of his own views, but of those of his city; for he was not without enemies, who would have wished the king to detain and treat him in the same manner as Jacopo Piccinino; and, with the ostensible view of sympathizing for him, pointed out all that would, or rather that they wished should, result from such a course; at the same time opposing in the council every proposition at all likely to favor him. By such means as these the opinion gained ground, that if he were detained at Naples much longer, the government of Florence would be changed. This caused the king to postpone their separation more than he would have otherwise done, to see if any disturbance were likely to arise. But finding everything go quietly on, Ferrando allowed him to depart on the sixth of March, 1479, having, with every kind of attention and token of regard, endeavored to gain his affection, and formed with him a perpetual alliance for their mutual defense. Lorenzo returned to Florence, and upon presenting himself before the citizens, the impressions he had created in the popular mind surrounded him with a halo of majesty brighter than before. He was received with all the joy merited by his extraordinary qualities and recent services, in having exposed his own life to the most imminent peril, in order to restore peace to his country. Two days after his return, the treaty between the republic of Florence and the king, by which each party bound itself to defend the other’s territories, was published. The places taken from the Florentines during the war were to be taken up at the discretion of the king; the Pazzi confined in the tower of Volterra were to be set at liberty, and a certain sum of money, for a limited period, was to be paid to the duke of Calabria.

As soon as this peace was publicly known, the pope and the Venetians were transported with rage; the pope thought himself neglected by the king; the Venetians entertained similar ideas with regard to the Florentines, and complained that, having been companions in the war, they were not allowed to participate in the peace. Reports of this description being spread abroad, and received with entire credence at Florence, caused a general fear that the peace thus made would give rise to greater wars; and therefore the leading members of the government determined to confine the consideration of the most important affairs to a smaller number, and formed a council of seventy citizens, in whom the principal authority was invested. This new regulation calmed the minds of those desirous of change, by convincing them of the futility of their efforts. To establish their authority, they in the first place ratified the treaty of peace with the king, and sent as ambassadors to the pope Antonio Ridolfi and Piero Nasi. But, notwithstanding the peace, Alfonso, duke of Calabria, still remained at Sienna with his forces, pretending to be detained by discords among the citizens, which, he said, had risen so high, that while he resided outside the city they had compelled him to enter and assume the office of arbitrator between them. He took occasion to draw large sums of money from the wealthiest citizens by way of fines, imprisoned many, banished others, and put some to death; he thus became suspected, not only by the Siennese but by the Florentines, of a design to usurp the sovereignty of Sienna; nor was any remedy then available, for the republic had formed a new alliance with the king, and were at enmity with the pope and the Venetians. This suspicion was entertained not only by the great body of the Florentine people, who were subtle interpreters of appearances, but by the principal members of the government; and it was agreed, on all hands, that the city never was in so much danger of losing her liberty. But God, who in similar extremities has always been her preserver, caused an unhoped-for event to take place, which gave the pope, the king, and the Venetians other matters to think of than those in Tuscany.

The Turkish emperor, Mahomet II. had gone with a large army to the siege of Rhodes, and continued it for several months; but though his forces were numerous, and his courage indomitable, he found them more than equalled by those of the besieged, who resisted his attack with such obstinate valor, that he was at last compelled to retire in disgrace. Having left Rhodes, part of his army, under the Pasha Achmet, approached Velona, and, either from observing the facility of the enterprise, or in obedience to his sovereign’s commands, coasting along the Italian shores, he suddenly landed four thousand soldiers, and attacked the city of Otranto, which he easily took, plundered, and put all the inhabitants to the sword. He then fortified the city and port, and having assembled a large body of cavalry, pillaged the surrounding country. The king, learning this, and aware of the redoubtable character of his assailant, immediately sent messengers to all the surrounding powers, to request assistance against the common enemy, and ordered the immediate return of the duke of Calabria with the forces at Sienna.

This attack, however it might annoy the duke and the rest of Italy, occasioned the utmost joy at Florence and Sienna; the latter thinking it had recovered its liberty, and the former that she had escaped a storm which threatened her with destruction. These impressions, which were not unknown to the duke, increased the regret he felt at his departure from Sienna; and he accused fortune of having, by an unexpected and unaccountable accident, deprived him of the sovereignty of Tuscany. The same circumstance changed the disposition of the pope; for although he had previously refused to receive any ambassador from Florence, he was now so mollified as to be anxious to listen to any overtures of peace; and it was intimated to the Florentines, that if they would condescend to ask the pope’s pardon, they would be sure of obtaining it. Thinking it advisable to seize the opportunity, they sent twelve ambassadors to the pontiff, who, on their arrival, detained them under different pretexts before he would admit them to an audience. However, terms were at length settled, and what should be contributed by each in peace or war. The messengers were then admitted to the feet of the pontiff, who, with the utmost pomp, received them in the midst of his cardinals. They apologized for past occurrences; first showing they had been compelled by necessity, then blaming the malignity of others, or the rage of the populace, and their just indignation, and enlarging on the unfortunate condition of those who are compelled either to fight or die; saying, that since every extremity is endured in order to avoid death, they had suffered war, interdicts, and other inconveniences, brought upon them by recent events, that their republic might escape slavery, which is the death of free cities. However, if in their necessities they had committed any offense, they were desirous to make atonement, and trusted in his clemency, who, after the example of the blessed Redeemer, would receive them into his compassionate arms.

The pope’s reply was indignant and haughty. After reiterating all the offenses against the church during the late transactions, he said that, to comply with the precepts of God, he would grant the pardon they asked, but would have them understand, that it was their duty to obey; and that upon the next instance of their disobedience, they would inevitably forfeit, and that most deservedly, the liberty which they had just been upon the point of losing; for those merit freedom who exercise themselves in good works and avoid evil; that liberty, improperly used, injures itself and others; that to think little of God, and less of his church, is not the part of a free man, but a fool, and one disposed to evil rather than good, and to effect whose correction is the duty not only of princes but of every Christian; so that in respect of the recent events, they had only themselves to blame, who, by their evil deeds, had given rise to the war, and inflamed it by still worse actions, it having been terminated by the kindness of others rather than by any merit of their own. The formula of agreement and benediction was then read; and, in addition to what had already been considered and agreed upon between the parties, the pope said, that if the Florentines wished to enjoy the fruit of his forgiveness, they must maintain fifteen galleys, armed, and equipped, at their own expense, as long as the Turks should make war upon the kingdom of Naples. The ambassadors complained much of this burden in addition to the arrangement already made, but were unable to obtain any alleviation. However, after their return to Florence, the Signory sent, as ambassador to the pope, Guidantonio Vespucci, who had recently returned from France, and who by his prudence brought everything to an amicable conclusion, obtained many favors from the pontiff, which were considered as presages of a closer reconciliation.

Having settled their affairs with the pope, Sienna being free, themselves released from the fear of the king, by the departure of the duke of Calabria from Tuscany, and the war with the Turks still continuing, the Florentines pressed the king to restore their fortresses, which the duke of Calabria, upon quitting the country, had left in the hands of the Siennese. Ferrando, apprehensive that if he refused, they would withdraw from the alliance with him, and by new wars with the Siennese deprive him of the assistance he hoped to obtain from the pope and other Italian powers, consented that they should be given up, and by new favors endeavored to attach the Florentines to his interests. It is thus evident, that force and necessity, not deeds and obligations, induce princes to keep faith.

The castles being restored, and this new alliance established, Lorenzo de’ Medici recovered the reputation which first the war and then the peace, when the king’s designs were doubtful, had deprived him of; for at this period there was no lack of those who openly slandered him with having sold his country to save himself, and said, that in war they had lost their territories, and in peace their liberty. But the fortresses being recovered, an honorable treaty ratified with the king, and the city restored to her former influence, the spirit of public discourse entirely changed in Florence, a place greatly addicted to gossip, and in which actions are judged by the success attending them, rather than by the intelligence employed in their direction; therefore, the citizens praised Lorenzo extravagantly, declaring that by his prudence he had recovered in peace, what unfavorable circumstances had taken from them in war, and that by his discretion and judgment he had done more than the enemy with all the force of their arms.

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