The Medici Party’s Fall and Rise to Power in Florence


By William Landon, Northern Kentucky University

As the Medici party gained power and influence in the Florentine government, a handful of ancient Florentine families, led by Rinaldo Degli Albizzi, began to organize their own party to offset Cosimo de’ Medici’s party. Rinaldo used the combined power of Florence’s old elite to consolidate a party that represented their interests.

Illustration of Cosimo de’ Medici’s exile from Florence.
After declaring Cosimo an enemy of the state, the government of Florence sent him and the rest of his family into exile. (Image: Giorgio Vasari/Public domain)

Conspiracies in the Background

In the elections of September and October of 1433, the Albizzi party miraculously gained a majority in the Florentine government, and Bernardo Guadagni became its most important magistrate.

Cosimo de’ Medici, who carefully managed his public image, had been away from Florence on business. He returned to the city at the start of September. On the 4th, Cosimo went to meet with the new gonfaloniere to discuss the rumors he’d heard while abroad of a plot against the Medici. 

Guadagni assured Cosimo that there were no such plots and that he was safe to remain in Florence. The following day, Cosimo was invited to the Palazzo della Signoria (known today as the Palazzo Vecchio, the ‘old palace’) to give council. The meeting produced no decisions, leaving Cosimo suspicious.

Enemy of the State

When he was called to attend yet another advisory meeting on the morning of September 7, Cosimo went, even though he was aware that plans against him were well-advanced. When he arrived, Cosimo found the entire chamber already clamoring and in deep discussion. The room fell silent as the nine members of the Signoria—presided over by Albizzi’s puppet Guadagni—called for Cosimo to come before them. 

He was declared an enemy of the state, arrested, and imprisoned in a room in the tower of the Palazzo, called the ‘Barberia’. Along with the rest of the Medici family, he stood accused of treason: for instigating the Ciompi Rebellion in 1378, for constantly undermining the elite of Florence through governmental manipulation, and for pushing Florence into the war with Lucca so that he might personally profit. 

Of these three main charges, the only one that could not likewise be leveled against Rinaldo Degli Albizzi was the Ciompi Rebellion. But given that Cosimo wasn’t born until 1389, he could hardly be blamed personally for it; even so, he was.

All of the charges against Cosimo stuck. The great bell of the Palazzo della Signoria tolled, calling the entire government—and all Florentine males—to parliament, which met in Florence’s main square, the Piazza della Signoria.

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

Cosimo’s Exile

Fearing the city would erupt in violence at the news of Cosimo’s arrest and conviction, Albizzi called out his own private security force, many on horseback, to crush any citizen rebellion that might arise. A number of Cosimo’s close family gathered what belongings they could and fled the city for Venice.

Many members of the Albizzi party—led by the increasingly strident Rinaldo—called for Cosimo’s execution. However, the Signoria chose a calmer course, insisting that the city’s constitution must be followed. Roughly three weeks later, the government of Florence spared Cosimo’s life, choosing instead to send him and the rest of his family into exile. 

Along with exile, all of Cosimo’s wealth and property were to be seized. And he was ordered to pay his native city 20,000 florins. Rinaldo Degli Albizzi had determined to destroy the Medici’s financial foundations and therefore their influence in Florence. What Rinaldo didn’t know was that in the months before his arrest, the rumors of Albizzi party’s intentions had given Cosimo time to prepare. 

Cosimo had secretly moved nearly all of the liquidity from his bank’s main Florentine branch; and he had loaned many of his family’s treasures—including important relics—to various monasteries and churches in Florence, thereby protecting them from secular confiscation. As a sign of good faith, Cosimo paid his fine and departed.

Florence Got Worse

In the months after Cosimo’s departure, Rinaldo Degli Albizzi tightened his grip on the city. The citizens of Florence suffered under his administration. Albizzi used threats of violence and continuous intimidation to keep Florence’s working poor and a growing number of its guild members in line. In the absence of Medici patronage, nearly all building projects in the city ceased, leaving thousands unemployed. Public unrest reached a crescendo. 

An illustration of Florence from 1493
After Cosimo’s exile, public unrest in Florence rose to an unprecedented level. (Image: Michael Wolgemut/Public domain)

The contrast between the two men was stunning. Cosimo’s exile was widely respected and admired across the peninsula, he had the support of the papacy, and he had personally funded a good deal of Florence’s economy. Albizzi, the republican and erstwhile leader of Florence, had become a tyrant.

The Medici Party Was Back in Business

Cosimo used his influence in Florence to keep his party alive and, in fact, to grow its numbers. When the elections of August, September, and October 1434 were concluded, the Medici party had regained a small majority of the seats in government. This led to a deadlock in proceedings. Obviously, the Albizzi faction was concerned about Medici-sponsored revenge, and the Medici party, fearing it would be seen thus, agreed to call another parliament.

The Piazza della Signoria was filled to capacity. Soldiers from both parties arrived in Florence from the Mugello and various old regime members’ estates. However, there was no violence, and the Florentines who gathered for the parliament carried on their business.

Cosimo Returns to Rule

The parliament voted to recall Cosimo and the Medici family to Florence. Cosimo, his brother Lorenzo, one servant, and a mace-bearer representing the Florentine government were instructed to enter the city after nightfall because its streets were filled with a jubilant population. 

The quartet rode around the city walls and entered the Palazzo della Signoria, unseen, via its back entrance. The Medici party took control of the Florentine government without bloodshed, and perhaps more importantly, they had done so in strict accordance with constitutional law. Cosimo de’ Medici ruled his native city for 30 more years until his death in 1464.

Common Questions about the Medici Party’s Fall and Rise to Power in Florence

Q: On what charges was Cosimo de’ Medici found guilty by the Florentine government?

Cosimo de’ Medici was accused of treason, pushing Florence into a war for personal gain, initiating the Ciompi Rebellion, and undermining the elite of Florence.

Q: How had Cosimo de’ Medici prepared before being exiled from Florence?

Cosimo de’ Medici had secretly moved nearly all of the liquidity from his bank’s main Florentine branch; and he had loaned many of his family’s treasures—including important relics—to various monasteries and churches in Florence, thereby protecting them from secular confiscation.

Q: How did Cosimo de’ Medici come back to Florence?

In 1434, the Medici party reclaimed a small majority of the seats in parliament. Because of the political deadlock that happened subsequent to this, another parliament was called. This parliament voted for Cosimo to return to Florence.

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