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Medieval Sourcebook:
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527):
History of Florence: Lorence de' Medici

History of Florence

After the successful termination of the war of Serezana, the Florentines lived in prosperous tranquillity until the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492; for after having established peace by his good judgment and authority, Lorenzo devoted his attention to the aggrandisement of the city and of his own family. He married his eldest son Piero to Alfonsina, daughter of the Cavaliere Orsini, and had his second son promoted to the dignity of cardinal, which was the more remarkable as it was unprecedented, the youth having hardly completed his thirteenth year. This was in fact a ladder by means of which his house was enabled to mount to heaven itself, as indeed it happened in the course of time. He could not provide equally good fortune for his third son, as he was still too young when Lorenzo died. Of his daughters, one was married to Jacopo Salviati, another to Francesco Cibo, and a third to Piero Ridolfi; but the fourth, who, by way of keeping the family united, had been married to Giovanni de' Medici, her cousin, died. In his commercial affairs, however, Lorenzo was very unfortunate; for through the irregularity of his agents, who managed his affairs, not like those of a private individual, but of a prince, the greater part of his private fortune was consumed; so that he was obliged to call upon his country to aid him with large sums of money. In consequence of this he gave up all commercial operations, and turned his attention to landed property, as being a more safe and solid wealth. He acquired large possessions in the districts of Prato and Pisa, and in the Val di Pesa, and erected upon them useful and elegant buildings, not like a private citizen, but with truly royal magnificence. After that he directed his attention to extending and embellishing the city of Florence, in which there was still much vacant land. Here he had new streets laid out and built up with houses, whereby the city was greatly enlarged and beautified. And to secure greater quiet and security within the state, and to be able to resist and combat its enemies at a greater distance from the city, he fortified the castle of Firenzuola, in the mountains towards Bologna; in the direction of Siena he began the restoration of the Poggio Imperiale, which he fortified in the most complete manner. Towards Genoa he closed the road to the enemy by the acquisition of Pietrasanta and Serezana. Besides this, he maintained his friends the Baglioni in Perugia with subsidies and pensions, and the same with the Vitelli in Citta di Castello; and in Faenza he kept a special governor; all of which measures served as strong bulwarks to the city of Florence.

In peaceful times he often entertained the people with various festivities, such as jousts, feats of arms, and representations of triumphs of olden times. He aimed to maintain abundance in the city, to keep the people united and the nobility honoured. He had the greatest love and admiration for all who excelled in any art, and was a great patron of learning and of literary men, of which his conduct towards Cristofano Landini and Messer Demetrius the Greek furnishes the strongest proof. For this reason the Count Giovanni della Mirandola, a man of almost supernatural genius, was attracted by the magnificence of Lorenzo, and preferred to establish his home in Florence rather than in any other part of Europe, all of which he had visited in his travels. Lorenzo took the greatest delight in architecture, music and poetry; and many of his own poetic compositions, enriched with commentaries, appeared in print. And for the purpose of enabling the Florentine youths to devote themselves to the study of letters, he established a university in the city of Pisa, where he employed the most eminent men of all Italy as professors. He built a monastery for Fra Mariano da Chianozzona, of the order of St Augustine, who was a most admirable pulpit orator. And thus, beloved of God and fortune, all his enterprises were crowned with success, whilst those of his enemies had the opposite fate. For besides the conspiracy of the Pazzi, Battista Frescobaldi also attempted his assassination in the church of the Carmine; and Baldinatto of Pistoia tried the same at his villa. Each of these, together with their accomplices, suffered the most just punishment for their nefarious attempts.

Thus Lorenzo's mode of life, his ability and good fortune, were recognised with admiration, and highly esteemed, not only by all the princes of Italy, but also by those at a great distance. Matthias, King of Hungary, gave him many proofs of his affection; the Sultan of Egypt sent ambassadors to him with precious gifts; and the Grand Turk gave up to him Bernardo Bandini, the murderer of his brother. These proofs of regard from foreign sovereigns caused Lorenzo to be looked upon with the greatest admiration by all Italy; and his reputation was daily increased by his rare ability, for he was eloquent and subtle in speech, wise in his resolves, and bold and prompt in their execution. Nor can he be charged with any vices that would stain his many virtues, though very fond of women, and delighting in the society of witty and sarcastic men, and even taking pleasure in puerile amusements – more so than would seem becoming to so great a man, so that he was often seen taking part in the childish sports of his sons and daughters. Considering, then, his fondness for pleasure, and at the same time his grave character, there seemed as it were united in him two almost incompatible natures. During his latter years he was greatly afflicted with sufferings from his malady, the gout, and oppressed with intolerable pains in his stomach, which increased to that degree that he died in the month of April, 1492, in the forty-fourth year of his age. Neither Florence nor all Italy ever lost a man of higher reputation for prudence and ability, or whose loss was more deplored by his country, than Lorenzo de' Medici. And as his death was to be followed by the most ruinous consequences, Heaven gave many manifest indications of it. Amongst these was that the highest pinnacle of the church of the Santa Reparata was struck by lightning, so that a large part of the pinnacle fell to the earth, filling every one with terror and amazement. All Florence, then, as well as all the princes of Italy, lamented the death of Lorenzo; in proof of which there was not one who did not send ambassdors to Florence to express his grief at so great a loss. And events very soon after proved that they had just cause for their regrets; for Italy being deprived of Lorenzo's counsels, no means could be found to satisfy or check the ambition of Lodovico Sforza, governor of the Duke of Milan. From this, soon after Lorenzo's death, there began to spring up those evil seeds of trouble, which ruined and continue to cause the ruin of Italy, as there was no one capable of destroying them.


Source.

The Historical, Political and Diplomatic Writings of Niccolò Machiavelli, trans. C. E. Detmold, 4 vols, Boston 1882. Extract from `The History of Florence', Vol. 1, Book 8, 36.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, October 1998
halsall@fordham.edu