By William Landon, Northern Kentucky University
The story of Alessandro de’ Medici’s murder is murky and somewhat sordid. Lorenzino and Scoronconcolo successfully assassinated Alessandro, and quietly escaped the city and fled to Bologna. There, they expected to hear that the Florentines had turned against their Medici overlords and begun the restoration of the republic. Instead, they heard nothing. Florence was silent.
Alessandro de’ Medici
The Medici family further consolidated its control of Florence under the mercurial leadership of Alessandro de’ Medici, the black prince.
Alessandro was born to a slave, almost certainly of African descent, in the Medici household. He was, most scholars agree, the first prince of African descent in early modern European history.
During his lifetime, there were no discussions of his race or ethnicity, but, like other scandalous princes, such as Ludovico Sforza, Alessandro was often called Il Moro, the Moor, not because of his skin color, but because he, like Sforza, was deemed a traitor and scoundrel.
Days Leading to Alessandro de’ Medici’s Death
After his assassination many stories and myths explaining the event did the rounds. The most widely known was the one that recounted a love affair.
In the first days of January 1537, Florence was celebrating Epiphany. Alessandro de’ Medici’s wife, Margaret, had only recently lost a child via miscarriage, leaving Alessandro without a legitimate heir.
His military captain, Alessandro Vitelli, was away, spending the Christmas season in Arezzo. The imperial armies, which had until recently left garrisons near Florence to add martial force to Alessandro’s regime, had been recalled to Spain, as Emperor Charles was focused, for a while at least, on his continued conflicts with Francis I of France.
A Love Affair
Against this backdrop, at long last, a young married woman who Alessandro had consistently tried to seduce had agreed to meet the Medici lord for a night of sensuality. The woman in question, Caterina Soderini, was the wife of Leonardo Ginori.
She had promised to meet Alessandro in an apartment adjacent to the Medici palace on the night of January 5.
Having long desired her, Alessandro, who usually entered the streets wearing a chest plate or hidden chain mail for protection, dressed in an extremely fine velvet outfit and cape.
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Alessandro had a few guards escort him to the apartment and made his way in, instructing his guards to return to the palace. Then he waited.
But when the door to the apartment opened, Alessandro was greeted not by a beautiful woman but rather by an adherent of the Cult of Brutus, his own cousin Lorenzino de’ Medici. Lorenzo also had an accomplice, Piero di Giovannabate, known as Scoronconcolo.
Alessandro was unarmed. He was stabbed and cut to death and rolled into a carpet. Liberty and the republic had been restored yet again.
Bishop of Assisi’s Role
Yet, when the cries that tyranny was defeated left Lorenzino’s lips as he fled the city, the Florentines he had stirred from their slumber pulled their shutters tightly closed and returned to their beds.
Lorenzino had not planned to stay in Florence. He knew that trouble would find him. Thus, in advance of the assassination, he had petitioned for and received signed and sealed safe conduct from Angelo Marzi, the bishop of Assisi, who held the keys to the gates of Florence, which were locked after dark.
No Response from Florentines
Lorenzino presented the safe conduct to the guards and was permitted to exit the city. He rode for Bologna, where he met with other Florentine republicans, and from there he fled to Venice, where he stayed with Filippo Strozzi.
This is one of the stories that the republicans later shared to support their efforts. But only parts of it were true. Here are the facts, or as least as close as we can get to them.
Lorenzino and Scoronconcolo had successfully assassinated Alessandro. However, as the story goes, Lorenzino hadn’t ridden through the streets proclaiming the death of tyranny. He had quietly escaped the city and fled to Bologna. There, he had waited for the Florentines to revolt against their Medici overlords. Instead, nobody stirred. Florence was, indeed, silent.
Covering up the Assassination
After Alessandro’s body had been discovered, the Medici regime had taken pains to cover up the assassination. But, eventually, word of Alessandro’s death began to leak, and as it did, Lorenzino’s hopes were shattered. The Florentines did nothing. Likewise, the Florentine republicans in exile did nothing. And the cult of Brutus began to fade away.
The Florentine government, the majority of which consisted of Medici supporting nobles, were faced with a difficult decision. Alessandro had left behind no legitimate heirs. This meant that the major Medici line, which traced itself to Cosimo de’ Medici, had for all practical purposes died out.
Cosimo de’ Medici
They turned to the ‘Popolano’ line, which traced back to Cosimo’s younger brother Lorenzo. It was alive and well, and it offered a legitimate heir, also named Cosimo de’ Medici. And, of hereditary importance, Cosimo’s mother was half Medici—she was the daughter of Lucrezia de’ Medici, and therefore the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Also, he was the son of the deceased military captain Giovanni de’ Medici. Giovanni’s personal connections with Florence were minimal. He had made his name in the field of battle. His father’s legacy added a martial luster and further credibility to the young Cosimo. He could, bear the mantle of his Christian name with pride and dignity.
Common Questions about the Assassination of the Black Prince of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici
Alessandro de’ Medici was, most scholars agree, the first prince of African descent in early modern European history.
Lorenzino de’ Medici had quietly escaped the city and fled to Bologna.
Cosimo de’ Medici’s mother was half Medici—she was the daughter of Lucrezia de’ Medici, and therefore, the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent.