After an economic depression throughout Europe forced these more powerful houses into bankruptcy. But their policy of consolidating their position by controlling the government—the work of the descendants of Chiarissimo II himself the grandson of the first known Medici —resulted in 50 years of serious misfortunes for the family — Salvestro more or less willingly stirred up an insurrection of the ciompi , the artisans of the lowest class, and, after their victory, was not above reaping substantial monetary and titular advantages.
But in , when the popular government fell, he had to go into exile. The mob hastened to seek out his first cousin, Vieri, who was, however, able to fade away without losing face. With Vieri this branch of the Medici was to disappear definitively from history. He served on the Florentine board of war, called the Dieci The Ten , and held other posts. His two sons were Piero —69 and Giovanni — He also fathered two sons, one of whom, Giuliano —78 was assassinated. Inheriting from his forebears a deep respect for arts and letters, he became a poet himself as well as a patron of artists and a skilled statesman.
End of Europe's Middle Ages - The Medici in Florence
Assuming the mantle of family power from Lorenzo, Piero alienated the people of Florence by siding with the French. Because of this act, considered a betrayal, the Medici had to flee Florence Giovanni, at that time a cardinal, used his influence with Pope Julius II to bring the family back to positions of power. Giuliano, who received the French title of duc de Nemours, was in poor health and died relatively young.
Piero, oldest of the children of Lorenzo the Magnificent, fathered one son, also named Lorenzo — , who in turn had a daughter, Catherine —89 , who became queen of France as wife of Henry II ; three of her four sons became kings of France. In commemoration of the deaths of Giuliano and Lorenzo, the two who had died relatively young, the family commissioned Michelangelo to complete the famous Medici Tombs in Florence. The few years of this period are often considered to be the apogee of the Medici age.
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By the s, nonetheless, the descendants of Cosimo the Elder had become few in number. To ensure that a Medici of the Cosimo line would continue to rule Florence, Pope Clement VII , nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent, installed Alessandro —37 , reputedly his own illegitimate son, as hereditary duke of Florence. Alessandro proved to be cruel and brutally authoritarian. He ruled for five years. The governing class at this time consisting of small nobles and rich merchants was divided by bitter conflicts among its members; the city was expanding into the surrounding countryside, and it was coming into conflict, economic and military, with neighboring cities.
The struggle with Pisa was to last for centuries.
Until , when the last great medieval emperor, Frederick II, died, Florence had to struggle against the attempts of emperors to assert lordship over the city. That none of these struggles prevented Florence from prospering is shown by the coinage in of the gold florin, which became a medium of international exchange, like the Venetian ducat already mentioned, because of the consistency and reliability of its gold content.
The Florentine coin may not be the earliest gold coin created in this period; at about the same time, and perhaps a little earlier, Genoa began issuing its first gold coins. In the next century, the example was followed not only by other Italian cities but by the states of Europe, testifying to a general revival of trade and economic life. During the struggles between Guelf and Ghibelline factions in Italy, Florence became a Guelf city, which means that it was on the side of the papacy in its struggle against the empire.
The Medicis: A Ruling Dynasty (Makers of the Middle Ages and Renaissance)
This alliance with the popes, which became traditional, secured for the Florentine bankers the banking business of the papacy, and for the Florentine merchants special privileges in areas in which the popes had particular influence. The growing prosperity of the Florentine class of merchants and bankers eventually enabled them to take over the government of the city in 83, from an old ruling class, that of the magnates, weakened by its own internal disunity.
The new ruling class, called the popolo, or people, was divided into guilds. There were twenty-one of these, consisting of the seven greater guilds and the fourteen lesser guilds. The members of the greater guilds were commonly known as the popolo grasso, or fat people, as distinguished from the popolo minuto, or little people, who belonged to the lesser guilds.
It was the former who dominated the government of Florence from this time on, though the popolo minuto were allowed some authority. Among the greater guilds were those of the wool manufacturers, the wool finishers, the silk merchants, and the bankers. As the instrument of their domination, they established an executive body of six priors the number was later increased to eight.
Their term of office was two months, and they came to be chosen by lot, according to a system that strengthened the hold of the greater guilds. This fact, combined with the short term of office, helped to place real power securely in the hands of the great merchants, manufacturers, and bankers. Thus Florence, though bearing the name of a republic, can with more justification be called an oligarchy.
There was also a large class with no political power whatever, the workers, especially those employed by the wool manufacturers. They were not members of any guilds, were forbidden to form guilds of their own, and were the worst sufferers in time of economic depression.
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They were one of the earliest examples of a modern industrial proletariat. Their discontent might break out from time to time, but they never succeeded in acquiring permanent political status. The victors of consolidated their position by means of the Ordinances of Justice of , which penalized the members of the former ruling class of magnates. A gonfaloniere standard-bearer of justice was established as the seventh prior and chief of the priors, with the function of executing sentences pronounced in court against the nobles.
He was given a force of a thousand men to assist him in this purpose. Furthermore, nobles could not be elected priors or hold office in the guilds, and they were severely punished for crimes against members of the popolo. Though some of these restrictions were later lifted in nobles were given permission to become priors if they were guild members there remained a permanent stigma on the nobles.
Some members of the class formally renounced their noble status, and one way to attack political enemies henceforth was to have them officially declared magnates. The Guelfs, now victorious in Florence, did not remain united, but split into the Black and White factions. Many went into exile, including Dante and the father of Petrarch.
Since the second half of the thirteenth century, popes had been calling in members of the French royal family to defend papal interests in Italy. This established one of the precedents for the later disastrous invasions of Italy. In about , Florence had reached a peak of prosperity. According to the chronicler Giovanni Villani, the population was about ninety thousand, making Florence one of the largest cities in Europe. Its wealth, based largely on woolen cloth, was immense. It is also true that Florentine bankers were among the greatest of all, involved in far-flung transactions.
House of Medici
This fact was to be one of the causes of the great disasters which befell the city during the fourteenth century, for the two greatest banks, those of the Bardi and Peruzzi, had loaned money to the king of England, Edward III, who defaulted in , thus weakening the whole financial structure of the city. Meanwhile a war against Lucca, which was going badly for Florence, was costing so much that the government was forced to suspend payments on its loans, thus deepening the financial crisis.
Possibly in an attempt to avert disaster, the city called in a member of the ruling family of Naples, Walter of Brienne, duke of Athens, to take temporary charge of the affairs of the city. On previous occasions members of this family had been given temporary authority in Florence. Walter arrived in , tried to make himself a tyrant, and was driven out in in an uprising that united the various elements of the population. Not long afterwards, a successful rising inaugurated an interlude of thirty-five years during which the lesser guilds exercised the dominant power in the city.
It was a period of factional and class struggle, of conflict abroad, and of the reversal of the old alliance with the papacy, which culminated in the War of the Eight Saints, from to , when Florence and the pope were actually at war. At the beginning of the period, in the s, two catastrophic events helped to shatter the well-being of the city. The weakened financial structure finally collapsed, when the Bardi and Peruzzi went bankrupt, dragging many other firms down with them.
In came the Black Death, which may have killed as many as fifty thousand Florentines. These disasters contributed powerfully to the internal strains in Florence during the following years. The poor, as always, suffered most from economic depression and plague, and these factors helped to swell the discontent among the unenfranchised workers. This discontent came to a head in in the so-called Revolt of the Ciompi, a rising of the workers, especially the wool carders.
It enjoyed a brief success, and for a few years the workers were able to form their own guilds and exercise some political power. This episode ended in , when the popolo grasso seized by force the power they had originally acquired just a century before. The workers' new guilds were abolished, the dominance of the lesser guilds that had prevailed since came to an end, and the merchant oligarchy recovered its rule.
It was under the government of this oligarchy that Florence had to face the threat from Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan. In this conflict the Florentines claimed to be standing for freedom against tyranny, and regarded their deliverance from the great duke through his death in as being due to their steadfastness in the cause of liberty.
Devotion to freedom was an essential part of what might be called the Florentine political ideology. In this ideology the expulsion of the duke of Athens in played an important part, as the Florentines looked back on the time when their city had lived up to its ideals by expelling a tyrant. Even the official diplomatic documents of Florence contain many references to liberty. During the fourteenth century Florence claimed to be defending freedom not only for herself but also for the rest of Tuscany, and even for Italy as a whole.
It is true that Florence alone held out to the end against Gian Galeazzo; other cities yielded to him, voluntarily or otherwise, or stood aloof. When Filippo Maria Visconti resumed the aggressive policy of his father, Florence opposed him, still professing the ideals of liberty.
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In Venice joined the fight against Milan, so that for a while the two great republics fought side by side, each proclaiming its devotion to freedom. With the death of the last Visconti and the coming of Francesco Sforza the alliance was broken when Florence opposed the Venetian expansion into Milanese territory and aided Sforza.
In the first half of the fifteenth century, under the influence of the resistance to the Visconti, there developed in Florence what has been called civic humanism. The humanistic scholars of Florence, who will be discussed at length in Chapter 5, adopted the ideal of the active civic life in the service of the state, and some of the leaders held important civic posts. They praised Florence for her devotion to liberty, and sought the origin of the city in the days of the Roman republic.
This represented a change from the customary attribution of the origins of the city to Caesar, whose reputation now began to change until he was regarded as a destroyer of Roman liberty.