The Medici: The Family Life of Lorenzo the Magnificent


By William LandonNorthern Kentucky University

Studying the home life of Lorenzo the Magnificent requires us to travel back to the years directly after his marriage. Lorenzo and Clarice had their first child in 1470, Lucrezia. Their second child—their eldest son—Piero was born in 1472. As Lorenzo’s first son, he knew from an early age that the mantle of family leadership would one day rest upon his shoulders.

Painting of Lorenzo the magnificent and his children
Lorenzo was an expert at using his children as pawns to acquire political power. (Image: Domenico Ghirlandaio/Public domain)

Political Ties with the Papacy

Lorenzo’s third child—a daughter named Maddalena—was born in 1473. She was married to Franceschetto Cybo, the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII, in 1488—two years after the conclusion of the war between the papacy and Naples, which Lorenzo had helped to end. 

That Maddalena was married to one of the pope’s sons, given the context in which we are operating, should not surprise us. The papacy of that era was rife with corruption. Above all, Maddalena’s marriage was arranged for diplomatic purposes. Lorenzo sought to form a deeper bond with the pope, and, therefore, with the Vatican’s power structure.

Lorenzo was an expert at using marriage to bolster relationships and acquire additional power, and he used his children acted as his pawns. What might surprise us, given Lorenzo’s matrimonial machinations, is how much Lorenzo loved his children and his wife.

When Clarice and Lorenzo had a second son—Giovanni—in 1475, his future role was predetermined by the order of his birth. Amongst European nobility, first sons were destined to inherit leadership of their families, even if they were temperamentally unsuited for such a role, and second sons, whether or not they were inclined to spiritual things, were destined to be members of the clergy.

Lorenzo’s Son to Be the Future Pope?

A painting of Pope Leo X
Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Second Son, Giovanni, would later become Pope Leo X. (Image: Raphael/Public domain)

Lorenzo’s hope for the young Giovanni was that he might be made a cardinal and eventually pope. Such a plan, if it were to come to pass, would elevate the Medici family to a position of almost unparalleled power and authority. In 1489, barely a year after Maddalena de’ Medici was married to Pope Innocent VIII’s son, the pope elevated the 13-year-old Giovanni to the rank of the cardinalate. 

It was, by the corrupt pontifical standards of the late 15th century, common for young men in their late teens or early twenties to be appointed to the cardinalate, but that the pope would promote a 13-year-old to one of the most powerful positions in the Roman hierarchy was truly shocking.

Giovanni entered the halls of power cradled in scandal and ended his pontificate, as Pope Leo X, having presided over the shattering of Christendom—what we know today as the Protestant Reformation. 

It is essential to emphasize that even Giovanni’s colossal mismanagement of the Roman Church was not enough to destroy the Medici family’s reputation or to permanently evict them from Florence and control of its government.

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

Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Children Weren’t as Magnificent

Lorenzo could never have known how badly things would go for his son. But, while he yet lived, he believed that having his son made a cardinal was his most significant accomplishment. Lorenzo and Clarice’s sons, Piero, Giovanni, and their youngest son Giuliano—who was born in 1479 and became a future prince of Florence—all experienced meteoric rises to power, but all of them met disastrous ends to their rule.

A painting of Pope Clement VII
Lorenzo and Clarice’s adopted son, Giulio, later became Pope Clement VII. (Image: Sailko/Public domain)

Lorenzo and Clarice had three more daughters, too—only one of whom lived to adulthood. Her name was Contessina. She was born in 1478 and was married in 1494 to Piero Ridolfi, a member of a wealthy and ancient Florentine family.

Lorenzo and Clarice also adopted Giulio de’ Medici, the illegitimate son of Lorenzo’s slain younger brother Giuliano. Giulio, like his cousin Giovanni, was destined for a life in the Church. Just as Giovanni, who became Pope Leo X, was also elevated to the papacy, Giulio followed the exact same path. 

Upon his elevation, Giulio took the name Clement VII. He presided over the sack of Rome in 1527 and a number of subsequent disasters. But, more importantly to the Medici family, he brought the Medici back to power in Florence, after they had been exiled for a third and final time—ushering in centuries of Medici rule.

Common Questions about the Family Life of Lorenzo the Magnificent

Q: What was the tradition of predetermining children’s career paths among European nobility?

Among European nobility, the first son would inherit the leadership of the family, and the second son would step into the path of becoming part of the clergy. Such things were predetermined and the temperament of the first and second son was irrelevant to such matters. Lorenzo the Magnificent predetermined the lives of his sons in the same manner.

Q: How did Lorenzo use relationships and marriages to bolster his power?

Lorenzo the Magnificent was a master of using marriages for political gain. For example, his third daughter was married to the illegitimate son of Pope Innocent VIII so that Lorenzo could former a deeper bond with the papacy and its power structure. Lorenzo also had his son enter the clergy life hoping that he would one day become pope.

Q: How did Lorenzo’s son, Giovanni, enter the papacy?

Only a year after his sister had been married to Pope Innocent VIII’s illegitimate son, Giovanni, who was 13 years old at the time, was elevated by the pope to the rank of the cardinalate. Such a move was even by the corrupt standards of the 15th century shocking. Lorenzo the Magnificent’s son would one day become pope himself and presided over the shattering of Christendom—the Protestant Reformation.

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