By William Landon, Northern Kentucky University
The Florentine Republic, under the steady leadership of Piero Soderini, ruled Florence from the end of May 1498 until September of 1512. Wars directly involving Florence became rare, and in general terms, peace prevailed. However, a perennial problem still faced the city. It was directly concerned with the Medici family and its constant attempts to retake power in Florence.
Laws on Marriage
Piero Soderini’s government ushered laws through the republican government that made it illegal for any Florentine to marry a Medici. Soderini and his advisors recognized that if the Medici were successful in marrying one of their own to a prominent member of the Florentine nobility, they would have a foothold they could use to mount an attempt to wrest control of the government from the republic—making the city their own again.
Lucrezia de’ Medici (daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the wife of Jacopo Salviati) was the only senior member of the Medici family still living in Florence after the others had gone into exile. In 1506, Lucrezia tried to marry Clarice, Piero de’ Medici’s daughter, to a Florentine nobleman, but her attempts were thwarted by Piero Soderini.
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Even as Soderini appealed to the Florentine constitution to thwart the Medici marriage, he had opened negotiations with Lucrezia de’ Medici, in the hope that he might marry one of his nephews to Clarice. Rumors of Soderini’s hypocrisy began to leak into the halls of the republic, and then into the streets of Florence, where an ever-interested population became irate. Soderini confessed to his plans, and they were halted.
Soderini, who up until that point in his leadership of the republic had been respected for his calm seriousness, lost the respect of his government and of Florence’s citizens.
In this weakened position, he was more easily swayed by powerful friends. Among them, one finds Bernardo Rucellai, who had quietly continued to support the Medici family and who had also had the support of Selvaggia Strozzi, the widow of the extravagantly wealthy Filippo Strozzi.
The Strozzi Family
The history of the Strozzi family is intimately linked with that of the Medici. In 1434, the staunchly republican line of the Strozzi had been sent into exile when Cosimo de’ Medici returned from his own exile. The Strozzi had been outspoken critics of amassed Medici power.
Of the Strozzi children who were exiled, one was Filippo di Matteo Strozzi—often called Filippo Strozzi the Elder. From the age of 13, he grew up in Naples, where he took part in the Strozzi family’s banking enterprises. His talents were such that he became a very wealthy man, and perhaps more importantly, a man who had earned the respect of the king of Naples.
During Piero de’ Medici’s tenure as the head of the Medici family, he had sought to maintain a cordial relationship with both Naples and Milan. The king of Naples was, at best, standoffish with Piero, until Filippo Strozzi intervened—opening diplomatic ties with the Neapolitan court and Florence.
As a result of Filippo’s assistance, Piero chose to forget the wounds that the Strozzi had inflicted upon the Medici. He allowed Filippo to return to Florence in 1466.
Filippo Strozzi’s Wealth
Upon his repatriation to Florence, Filippo sank himself into building projects and international banking enterprises. By 1489, as Lorenzo de’ Medici’s bank was nearing insolvency, Filippo had become far wealthier than Lorenzo. And, while he had generally refused to serve in the Medici government—in large part, historians suggest, because he remained a republican—he was a pillar of Florentine society.
When he died in 1491, he left an unfinished palace in the city center, an absolute fortune, and three sons, the youngest of which, Filippo Strozzi the Younger, was only two years old.
Filippo’s second wife, Selvaggia Gianfigliazzi Strozzi, chose not to remarry so that the wealth she had inherited from her husband would be passed to her sons. But her choice also came with many dangers. In Renaissance Florentine culture, a wealthy and still rather young widow needed male patronage and protection. She found both in Bernardo Rucellai.
This brings us to the year 1508.
The Strozzi-Medici Marriage
Bernardo Rucellai and Selvaggia Strozzi began to align themselves with Lucrezia de’ Medici. Through a series of bribes and shadowy negotiations, this formidable triumvirate overpowered Piero Soderini, allowing Lucrezia’s niece—Clarice de’ Medici—to be married to the dashing and wealthy Filippo Strozzi the Younger.
Once again, when word of this marriage made its way into the broader Florentine government and then into the streets of Florence, both joined in a chorus of anti-Medicean cries.
Soderini’s own ministers coerced him into having a decree written to halt the marriage.
With his own hypocrisy exposed, and with pressure mounting on him, Soderini turned to one of his most trusted civil servants—none other than Machiavelli—to sort out the mess. They failed. The Strozzi-Medici marriage took place in 1508—resulting in the first step toward the Medici family’s return.
Common Questions about the Medici Family’s Return
Piero Soderini’s government ushered laws that made it illegal for any Florentine to marry a Medici because Soderini and his advisors recognized that if the Medici were successful in marrying one of their own to a prominent member of the Florentine nobility, they would have a foothold they could use to mount an attempt to wrest control of the government from the republic—making the city their own again.
Lucrezia de’ Medici, daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the wife of Jacopo Salviati, was the only senior member of the Medici family still living in Florence after the others had gone into exile.
Upon his repatriation to Florence in 1466, Filippo Strozzi sank himself into building projects and international banking enterprises. By 1489, Filippo had become far wealthier than Lorenzo Medici.