By William Landon, Northern Kentucky University
By the end of the first decade of the 16th century, Piero Soderini, Florence’s gonfaloniere for life, had become the head of the ‘republican party’—a loosely knit group of republicans who had seen their reputations, and therefore their livelihoods and wealth, suffer under the previous century’s various Medici-guided governments.
Anti-Medici and Pro-Medici Florentines
While republicans’ hatred for the Medici was, on a personal level, justified, their republicanism was less important than their anti-Medici worldview. Even so, they trusted Piero Soderini to administer the Florentine Republic wisely, which, no matter what one might think of his legacy, he did.
But he was also, probably correctly, accused of tampering with Florence’s elections so that newly elected officials—whom he had supported—would usher his policies through the legislative process.
These policies ensured that families who had once been Medici supporters remained outside of the governing process. One can only speculate what might have happened had Soderini attempted to engage those families rather than ostracizing them. But we know for certain that those who were sidelined became keen to seek revenge.
Indeed, Prinzivalle della Stufa, a hot-headed member of the openly pro-Medici Florentine della Stufa family, formed a conspiracy to assassinate Piero Soderini with the external support of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici and his cousin Giulio.
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In December of 1510, Prinzivalle paid a visit to Filippo Strozzi’s home. Filippo was a close friend of the Medici family. When Prinzivalle tried to entice Filippo to enter into his conspiracy, he was rebuffed and informed by Strozzi that his conspiracy had to be revealed to Piero Soderini. Rather than having his palace guards arrest Prinzivalle, Filippo Strozzi allowed the would-be assassin to flee into exile. If Prinzivalle hadn’t cast his conspiratorial net too wide, Soderini would almost certainly have been murdered.
Having been informed of the Prinzivalle conspiracy against his life, Soderini ordered the della Stufa family to cut all ties with Prinzivalle, and sent the young man into a five-year exile.
This brief vignette serves to illustrate that the ‘pro-Medici’ Florentines elites were not willing to stoop to murder to oust Soderini. On the whole, most wanted participatory rights in the government, but Soderini was wary of their motivations, and for good reason.
What we are left with is a miniature cold war of sorts and Soderini held the upper hand. By the same token, his distrust of the papacy grew. After all, Prinzivalle’s conspiracy had been supported by the Medici cardinal, and the Medici cardinal was, by extension, under the protection of Pope Julius II.
The Holy League
During the next two years, 1510–1512, Soderini’s management of governmental affairs had left Florence strained on the domestic front and isolated internationally. Having been formally allied with France for decades, Soderini spent a large portion of his energy on keeping that relationship secure, even as the political tides of Italy began to shift.
Pope Julius II, for example, had recoiled in horror when the French, the German States and Aragon (an alliance the pope himself had instigated) despoiled Venice of nearly all of its landholdings on the Italian peninsula proper. Repenting of the part he had played in this continued barbarian conquest of Italy (even though he was content that Venice’s power was put in check), Pope Julius reasoned that when faced with two international powers—France and Spain—Spain was the lesser of two evils, and therefore that its claims to Naples were just.
Thus, France had to be expelled from Italy. The pope, therefore, formed an alliance between Spain, Venice, and the papacy itself. He then began to build a coalition of other Italian states, which he added to his Holy League. However, Soderini’s government refused to abandon its alliance with France.
Battle with French
In the early months of 1512, the Holy League faced its French adversary in the environs of Ravenna. The French actually won the battle, but in the process their field general was killed, throwing the army into confusion. They pillaged their way back to Milan, where the French were met by Swiss mercenaries allied with the papacy. The French folded and retreated back across the Alps.
Pope Julius II found himself at the head of an Italian peninsula that was, with the exception of Florence, united in its pleasure at having defeated the French. Thus, Florence was alone, and the pope had a Spanish Army at his beck and call.
Government in Exile
During the same period, from 1510–1512, Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici and Giulio de’ Medici had begun running what one might think of as a government in exile. While their moves were watched closely by diplomats from the Florentine Republic, they operated with autonomy.
Pope Julius II was not an anti-republican pontiff, but he had become a firmly anti-French pontiff. If Piero Soderini had chosen to back the pontiff and the anti-French league that he oversaw, the pope would almost certainly have allowed Florence to continue its republican traditions. But, wrongly convinced that the pope was behind the failed Prinzivalle della Stufa conspiracy, Soderini could not be convinced to turn on France, Florence’s long-time patron.
The pope felt betrayed, and Giovanni and Giulio de’ Medici used his proud and irritable nature to their favor. With only a little cajoling from the Medici at Rome, the pope provided them with Spanish army to retake their native city.
Common Questions about Piero Soderni and the Republicans’ Hatred for the Medici
Prinzivalle della Stufa was a hot-headed member of the openly pro-Medici Florentine della Stufa family. He formed a conspiracy to assassinate Piero Soderini with the external support of Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici and his cousin Giulio.
Pope Julius II formed an alliance between Spain, Venice, and the papacy itself to expel France from Italy. He also built a coalition of other Italian states, which he added to his Holy League.
In the early months of 1512, the Holy League faced its French adversary in the environs of Ravenna. The French actually won the battle, but their field general was killed, throwing the army into confusion. They pillaged their way back to Milan, where they were met by Swiss mercenaries allied with the papacy. The French then folded and retreated back across the Alps.