- The Pazzi Conspiracy
- Protagonists :
- Medici: Lorenzo il Magnifico, Giuliano di Piero, Bianca di Piero; Pazzi: Francesco, Jacopo, Renato, Guglielmo; Girolamo Riario, Raffaele Riario Sansoni; Sixtus IV, pope; Francesco Salviati, archbishop of Pisa; Federico da Montefeltro; assassins: Giovan Battista Montesecco, Stefano da Bagnone, the vicar apostolic Antonio Maffei di Volterra, Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli; Francesco Nori; Petrucci, gonfalonier; Lorenzo il Magnifico; Leonardo da Vinci; Agnolo Poliziano. Consequences: Galeazzo Maria Sforza; Louis XI of France; Ferrante of Aragon.
- Epoch, date:
- Florence, Piazza Santa Croce
- Description and history :
On 26 April 1478 the Pazzi conspiracy against Lorenzo and Giuliano di Piero risked toppling the political leadership of the Medici in Florence.
Probably one of the most important motivations of the conspiracy was the major hostility of Pope Sixtus IV (lay name Francesco della Rovere) towards the Medici brothers. Effectively, as soon as he was elected in 1471, the Pope immediately revealed his intention of favouring the interests of the sons of his sister, who had married a member of the Riario family.
More specifically, Girolamo Riario urged his uncle to the conquest of the Florentine territories to transform them into his own personal state. Among other things, the new territorial acquisitions would have boosted the revenue flowing into the papal coffers which had to tackle the costs of the vast works promoted by the Pope in Rome, such as the creation of the Vatican Library.
Among other things, Sixtus IV aspired to expand the papal territorial possessions in Romagna, instructing his nephews to occupy the territories between Imola and Faenza under the jurisdiction of the Medici Signoria, and at the ready to confront them.
Irked by the proud opposition of Lorenzo il Magnifico and the Medici, Sixtus IV gave his full support to the plan perpetrated by his nephew Girolamo Riario to take possession of Florence by making an attempt on the life of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, with the help of influential anti-Medici families in Florence.
Among these were the Pazzi, to whom the Pope had entrusted the administration of the papal finances, ousting the Medici from this prestigious role. Through this gesture Sixtus IV established a profound and definitive rift with the Medici, given that control of the papal purse-strings provided the opportunity to acquire enormous wealth thanks to commissions on the movements and the exploitation of the alum mines in the Papal States, which made it possible to hold the monopoly of this mineral, used as a fixer in the dyeing of fabrics.
At the same time, the new situation refuelled festering rancour and hostility between the Pazzi and the Medici that had apparently been lulled by the marriage between Guglielmo Pazzi and Bianca de’ Medici, sister of Lorenzo and Giuliano, which took place in 1469.
The old grudges were now joined by new rancour. In 1477, after the death of the wealthy Giovanni Borromei, father of Beatrice and father-in-law of Giovanni de’ Pazzi, Lorenzo issued a retroactive law prohibiting the assignation of the paternal heredity to female offspring, so that in the absence of male heir it was to pass to the cousins. Through this deed Lorenzo blocked the growth of the assets of the Pazzi. The Pazzi on their part lent 30,000 ducats to Sixtus IV to finance the military campaign of his nephew to conquer the county of Imola, after Lorenzo de’ Medici had refused to make the loan, inviting all the Florentine banks to do likewise.
These were probably the sparks that led to the explosion of the conspiracy organised in first person by Jacopo and Francesco Pazzi, with the connivance and support of many important figures and external public authorities.
Effectively, the Pazzi enjoyed the support and collaboration of Francesco Salviati, archbishop of Pisa, in preference to whom the Medici had elected Rinaldo Orsini as archbishop of Florence.
Once the attempt on the lives was made by Giovan Battista Montesecco, a professional assassin, Girolamo Riario was to employ his own troops to liberate Florence. The Pope sought the military support of other Italian States: the Republic of Siena, the Kingdom of Naples and probably the Duchy of Urbino in the person of Federico da Montefeltro. Moreover, he also set at disposal the armies of various cities in the Papal States: Todi, Città di Castello, Perugia and Imola.
Saturday 25 April 1478: the plan is postponed
The plan scheduled that Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici were to be poisoned at Villa Medici in Fiesole on 25 April, on occasion of the banquet announced to celebrate the election of Raffaele Riario Sansoni as cardinal. However, at the last minute Giuliano was indisposed and the plotters had to postpone the conspiracy to the next day.
Sunday 26 April 1478: the attack
On the following day, Cardinal Raffaele Riario Sansoni, unaware of the plans afoot, invited the guests at the festivities in Villa Medici to the mass officiated by himself at the Duomo of Florence. The plotters agreed that this would be a favourable opportunity to make an attempt on the lives of the two Medici. Only that Montesecco, who was supposed to kill Lorenzo, stepped down, refusing to spill blood on holy ground. In his place, two priests accepted the murder assignment: Stefano da Bagnone and the vicar apostolic, Antonio Maffei di Volterra.
In order not to let this opportunity too slide through their fingers, Francesco Pazzi and the assassin Bernardo Bandini went to pick up Giuliano, who was still unwell, directly at Palazzo Medici, to convince him to attend the religious ceremony. When they entered the church, the mass had already begun.
As planned, at the moment when the Most Holy Sacrament was being raised, the plotters threw themselves upon the two Medici brothers: Giuliano was killed, stabbed repeatedly by Bandini; Lorenzo instead, just wounded in the shoulder, managed to escape and take refuge in the Sacristy of the Messe, while his friend Francesco Nori barred the way to the assassins with his own body, and was thus killed in Lorenzo’s place.
The plan had effectively misfired, but the plotters were relying on the support of the people. Archbishop Salviati and Jacopo Pazzi with a group of their companions immediately leapt onto their horses and rode to Piazza della Signoria shouting “Freedom!” In the meantime a meeting of the Signoria had been urgently summoned by the gonfalonier Petrucci, who had been informed of what had happened. Salviati requested in vain to be received, with the intention of obtaining the support of the public authority: instead he was cast into prison and later hanged. Just a few hours after the conspiracy, his body and that of Francesco Pazzi, who had been wounded himself in the attack, dangled from nooses outside the windows of Palazzo della Signoria.
Meanwhile the Florentines, summoned by the continuous pealing of the bells, launched themselves into a frenetic and pitiless manhunt, crying “palle, palle!” in reference to the Medici heraldic device.
Jacopo Pazzi succeeded in reaching the militia of the Pope and the other allies lined up outside the city, informing them that the plot had failed and attack was impossible. Just a few days later, however, having taken refuge in Castagno in Mugello, he and his nephew Renato were taken captive by the inhabitants of the town; they were brought to Florence and hanged, after which their bodies were cast into the Arno. Guglielmo, Francesco’s brother and husband of Bianca de’ Medici was spared his life, but was sentenced to perpetual exile. All the members of the Pazzi family were either killed or exiled and their goods confiscated. In addition they were also condemned to a sort of damnatio memoriae: the coats of arms of the family were demolished and erased from the florins of their bank, while their names were banished from all official documents in the city.
Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli initially managed to escape as far as Constantinople, but he was recognised and handed over to the Florentine authorities who condemned him to be hanged. There is a sketch on a sheet by Leonardo da Vinci which shows him dangling from a noose from one of the windows of the Palazzo del Bargello (then the Palazzo del Capitano di Giustizia).
The same fate was suffered by the other assassins. Giovan Battista Montesecco, despite having withdrawn from the conspiracy at the last minute, was tortured and forced to confess the details of the attempt and the names of the conspirators; among other things he indicated the Pope as the prime mover behind the plot. The two religious, Stefano da Bagnone and Antonio Maffei di Volterra, were abandoned to lynching by the infuriated mob and were then led to the gallows in Piazza della Signoria.
As the blood bath continued to expand, Cardinal Raffele Riario - most probably ignorant of the criminal plan despite having celebrated the mass in the Duomo - was taken into the protection of the Florentine prelates and hidden in a secret place for approximately a month before he was able to return unharmed to Rome.
Lorenzo and his family and the entire population of the city mourned the death of Giuliano de’ Medici. The solemn funeral was celebrated in San Lorenzo. Poets and intellectuals sang the praises of the virtues and beauty of the young Medici, wrested from life by a cruel murder. At the desire of the Magnifico, Bertoldo di Giovanni struck a two-sided medal to commemorate the conspiracy: on the side recording the death of Giuliano was the legend “luctus publicus”, while the other side portrayed Lorenzo surviving the attack and was inscribed with the words “salus publica”.
In one of his writings Agnolo Poliziano recounted the events of the Pazzi plot, which he had witnessed in person.
The natural son of Giuliano, Giulio, was taken into Palazzo Medici and reared with Lorenzo’s own children.
Just a few hours after the attack, the streets and squares of the city were littered with dozens of bodies. Lorenzo il Magnifico gave free rein to the citizens’ thirst for vengeance, while at the same time he wrote to Bona Sforza and her son Galeazzo Maria, Duke of Milan, requesting military aid in the event of his not being able to control the situation and tackle the anger of Pope Sixtus IV.
Aware of the threat that was still hanging in the air, Lorenzo sent his wife Clarice Orsini and their children to Pistoia, where they remained up to the end of 1479, after which they moved to the Villa of Cafaggiolo in Mugello.
Effectively, on 1 June the Pope excommunicated Lorenzo and placed Florence under interdict, guilty of having killed Cardinal Salviati and the other conspirators. Sixtus IV then sequestered the Medici assets in Rome, including the branch of the bank, and asked the Florentine Signoria to hand Lorenzo over to the papal authorities. But the reply of the Signoria was a curt refusal, and the Tuscan bishops also demonstrated an entrenched opposition. The latter actually came together, legitimising the action of Lorenzo and the Florentine Signoria in a document that they forwarded to the principal courts in Italy and the rest of Europe.
At this stage, Sixtus IV had no alternative but to declare war on Florence, finding allies in the States that feared the growing power of the Medici such as Naples, Lucca, Siena and Urbino. Lorenzo il Magnifico, aware of the superiority of the papal army, chose the path of diplomacy: he refused the help offered by Louis XI of France, not wishing to open the gates to the interference of a foreign monarch, but with the consent of the Signoria he went to Naples to negotiate with Ferrante of Aragon. After months of extenuating negotiations and vast financial outlay, Lorenzo managed to obtain the withdrawal of the King of Naples from the conflict, which was then followed by that of the other allies.
In March 1480 Lorenzo il Magnifico returned to Florence in “grandissimo” triumph (Niccolò Machiavelli). On the strength of his political success, he was able to take the reins of the Florentine government fully into his own hands: he in fact placed the assemblies and the institutions of the Comune under the control of a new council of 70 members composed of men of his trust who were answerable only to himself.
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