How Lorenzo the Magnificent Managed to End Florence’s War with Naples


By William LandonNorthern Kentucky University

In the immediate aftermath of the Pazzi conspiracy, Lorenzo the Magnificent proved himself to be a truly magnificent individual, partly because of Florence’s war. Faced with an irate pope—and the threat of other Italian powers who considered invading Tuscany while Florence was temporarily weakened—Lorenzo martialed all of his personal skills to restore the strength of his position and his family’s grip on Florence.

Painting of the Medici Family
Lorenzo Medici’s personal skills were able to restore the grip the Medici family had on Florence for years to come. (Image: Sandro Botticelli/Public domain)

Florence against the Papacy

Pope Sixtus IV excommunicated Lorenzo and the entirety of the Florentine government and placed all of Florence and its dominions under papal interdict; clergy were told to suspend all holy services and rights to the subjects of Florence.

Rather than crumbling in the face of papal power, the Florentines obstinately refused to bend to the pope’s wishes. And a number of Tuscan priests continued in their spiritual duties.  

Thus, when the pope’s interdict failed to produce Florence’s surrender or a change in the city’s governing regime, he used his connections with the Aragonese Kingdom of Naples to instigate a war between the two states.

Portrait of Pope Sixtus IV
Pope Sixtus IV hoped that the pressure on Florence would lead to a change of regime. (Image: Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete/Public domain)

The Burden of War

In the summer of 1478, the pope instituted a formal military alliance with the King of Naples—Ferdinand I—who sent his eldest son, Alfonso, to wage war on Florence. Leary of showing too much friendship with Florence, its traditional allies, Milan and Bologna, offered only marginal support, leaving Lorenzo and Florence to fend entirely for themselves in the face of the much larger Neapolitan powers.

Even so, the Florentines held their own, maintaining Florence and preserving most of its dominion in Tuscany. But this came at a heavy cost. Like nearly every state in Italy, they did not possess their own standing army. They were forced, yet again, to hire mercenaries, who were extremely expensive to contract. The result was that the government of Florence was forced to levy burdensome taxes on its populace.

The pope expected that these measures would break the Florentines. And he hoped that the Florentine people would run Lorenzo and the Medici from their city, making it possible to install a papal-friendly regime.

In his haste, the pope failed to consider that the Albizzi were chased from Florence as a result of taxation related to a foreign war that the Albizzi government instigated with the city of Lucca. The Medici were able to gain power as a result. And, whatever one thinks of them, Cosimo, Piero and Lorenzo had defended Florentine interests.

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Florence’s War Incited Patriotism

The war with the pope was different from the failed campaign against Lucca. This time, the Florentines were defending themselves from foreign aggressors.

As the war between Florence and Naples dragged on, Lorenzo spent considerable time pondering how he might get Florence, and his own interests, out of their quandary. The plan that he finally chose came with considerable risks—to himself. And, if he failed, to Florence.

Through diplomatic channels, which he kept private, Lorenzo learned that Ferdinand was willing to meet with him directly. Lorenzo chose to inform Florence’s war council just before he departed from Florence for Naples. This gave the council no time to stop him, and it also meant that if Lorenzo’s diplomatic mission failed, he and the Medici would likely be expelled from Florence. The stakes could not have been higher for either party.

Reasons for Lorenzo’s Optimism

Portrait of Ludovico Sforza
Milan’s leader Ludovico Sforza was a friend of the Medici. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

Even though Lorenzo was putting himself in the hands of a duplicitous king, Lorenzo wagered that Ferdinand had come to realize he had less to gain from the war with Florence than did the pope. He also knew that there had been a change in regimes in Milan. And the new Milanese leader, Ludovico Sforza, a friend of the Medici, was, therefore, much more likely to come to Florence’s aid. 

By the same token, the French, with whose king Lorenzo had been in frequent correspondence, especially since the Pazzi conspiracy, indicated that it was willing to support both Milan and Florence. The kingdom of Aragon was not willing, at this point, to engage in war with France. Lorenzo hoped that Ferdinand would end the war with Florence to avoid a peninsular war.

Lorenzo’s Brave Bet

In December of 1479, nearly a year and a half after the Pazzi conspiracy was revealed, Lorenzo set out from Florence, accompanied by a small retinue of guards. While Tuscan winters aren’t terribly harsh, they tend to be extremely wet; and the path that Lorenzo set for himself led to the Tuscan coast, through wild and crime-ridden Maremma, where he boarded a ship that departed for Naples. 

When he arrived at that heaving port, he turned himself in as a prisoner of the king. He remained in Naples until the beginning of March 1480. During that time, he formed a good working relationship with Ferdinand and negotiated an end to the Florentine-Neapolitan war.

Lorenzo saved Florence and when he finally left Naples, he found his home city welcoming.

Common Questions about How Lorenzo the Magnificent Managed to End Florence’s War with Naples

Q: Why did Pope Sixtus IV instigate a war between Florence and Naples?

Sixtus IV excommunicated Lorenzo and the entire Florentine government in hopes of Florence’s surrender or a change of regime. He even told the clergy to halt all holy services and rights to the subjects of Florence but his actions didn’t have the planned consequences. Hence, he instigated Florence’s war with the Kingdom of Naples.

Q: Why did Lorenzo wager that King Ferdinand would be willing to negotiate a peace treaty?

Lorenzo believed that Ferdinand had come to the conclusion that Florence’s war with Naples wasn’t as beneficial to Naples as it was to the papacy. Also, regime change in Milan had led to it becoming a potential ally in the war and the French were also willing to help. Ferdinand definitely didn’t want to engage in a war with the French.

Q: How did Florence’s war with the Kingdom of Naples affect its citizens financially?

Florence’s war with the Kingdom of Naples came at a heavy price. Florence didn’t have its own army and had to hire mercenaries which were very expensive. To account for such expenses, taxes were raised and became a burden to the citizens of Florence.

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