How the Medici Reclaimed Florence

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: How the Medici Shaped the Renaissance

By William LandonNorthern Kentucky University

In September of 1512, Giovanni de’ Medici’s younger brother, Giuliano, entered Florence, formally reestablishing the Medici regime. After Piero ‘the Unfortunate’ de’ Medici’s death in 1503 at the Battle of Garigliano, Giuliano had become the secular head of the Medici family. He had shown himself to possess a decent political mind, and rather less love of power than his elder brother Cardinal Giovanni.

Coat of arms of the Medici family
The Medici family supporters were called Palleschi after the palle or balls that adorned the Medici family crest. (Image: Alberto Masnovo/Shutterstock)

Giuliano Angers the Palleschi Faction

The Florentine government began a series of reforms designed to re-enforce the power of the city’s elite. The Medici family supporters, called Palleschi after the palle or balls that adorned the Medici family crest, had hoped that Giuliano would seek to cement the family’s control in Florence by assuming politically important titles and by seeking high-level offices. He, however, agreed to become a part of the government but not to take control of it—which angered the Palleschi faction, who saw Giuliano as the key to their renewed power.

Giuliano was more deeply concerned with the prestige of his family and restoring ties with other politically important families throughout Italy than he was with the political power of his family at Florence.

His kind attitude, and the fact that he did not wish to spearhead a coup at Florence, pushed his elder brother, Giovanni, together with their cousin, Giulio, to exert ham-fisted authority—at the insistence of the Palleschi faction.

This article comes directly from content in the video series How the Medici Shaped the RenaissanceWatch it now, on Wondrium.

Renewed Rule

Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici entered the city on September 14, 1512. Upon his arrival, the Palleschi, with Giuliano’s approval, tolled the bell at the governmental palace, signaling a parliament.

When the population of Florence had crowded into the Piazza della Signoria, it was announced that the Florentine government would be suspended and replaced with yet another emergency government—a balìa.

One would think that the people of Florence, who had lived in republican freedom since the last Medici expulsion of 1494, would have lamented their change in fortune. While some certainly did, the majority of the Florentine population slipped into renewed Medici rule with ease.

Plot to Assassinate Giuliano

However, a small group of young idealists—including Pietro Paolo Boscoli and Agostino Capponi—began to put together a list of people who they believed would be amenable to violence, and who would support the assassination of Giuliano.

In mid-February 1513, as he walked through the streets of Florence, a list of over a dozen names fell from Pietro Paolo Boscoli’s pocket. Conveniently, it was picked up by a Medici supporter, Bernardino Coccio, who delivered the list to the balìa government, which informed Giuliano de’ Medici. Given that the names on the list were known republicans, the balìa, and therefore Giuliano, concluded that there must be a plot to assassinate him.

Left to his own devices, it’s doubtful Giuliano would have doggedly pursued the matter. Rather, he would have had the men named on the list watched closely. Florence was, after all, filled with Medici spies and mercenary soldiers on the Medici’s payroll. The city had become, once again, a ‘police state’.

Giovanni Takes Charge of Situation

The real push to make an example of the supposed conspirators came from none other than Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici.

Even as the Vatican had called a conclave to elect a new pontiff—which Giovanni assumed, correctly, would be him—he stayed in Florence to oversee the arrests, trials, and beheadings of the alleged conspirators. Pietro Paolo Boscoli and Agostino Capponi were tried on the 22nd of February, 1513, and sentenced to death by beheading.

Arrest of Niccolò Machiavelli

Portrait of Machiavelli
Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici got Machiavelli (above) arrested. (Image: Cristofano dell’Altissimo/Public domain)

But Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici wasn’t finished. A few days earlier, on February 19, 1513, Florence’s town criers were instructed to inform the city that an arrest warrant had been issued for Niccolò Machiavelli. The Medici went so far as to hire a group of horsemen to search the entirety of Tuscany for the former second chancellor of the Florentine Republic, who had been fired from his position only a few months earlier.

Machiavelli was indeed arrested and tortured. Even under duress, he did not confess to being part of the supposed conspiracy to murder Giuliano. He was kept in prison for many weeks, until at long last, he and Florence’s real criminals were set free in a general amnesty to celebrate Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici’s elevation to the papacy as Pope Leo X.

Just a few months after his release from prison, Machiavelli began writing one of the greatest political works in the western canon—Il Principe, which he originally dedicated to none other than Giuliano de’ Medici. Machiavelli wanted his job back, but the Medici family refused, even after he rededicated The Prince to Giuliano’s successor—Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici.

Common Questions about How the Medici Reclaimed Florence

Q: Who were the Palleschi?

The Palleschi were the Medici family supporters. They were called Palleschi after the palle or balls that adorned the Medici family crest.

Q: Who were Pietro Paolo Boscoli and Agostino Capponi?

Pietro Paolo Boscoli and Agostino Capponi were young idealists who put together a list of people who they believed would support the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici. Their plot was uncovered by the balìa government and Giuliano de’ Medici. Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici ensured that the conspirators were arrested and tried. On the 22nd of February, 1513, they were sentenced to death by beheading.

Q: To whom did Machiavelli dedicate Il Principe?

Machiavelli‘s Il Principe, one of the greatest political works in the western canon, was originally dedicated to Giuliano de’ Medici. He later rededicated The Prince to Giuliano’s successor, Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici.

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