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Chapter 10


Changes in Florence--The Ghibellines recalled--New form of
government in Florence--The Signory created--Victory over the
Aretins--The Gonfalonier of Justice created--Ubaldo Ruffoli the
first Gonfalonier--Giano della Bella--New reform by his advice--
Giano della Bella becomes a voluntary exile--Dissensions between
the people and the nobility--The tumults composed--Reform of
Government--Public buildings--The prosperous state of the city.

Florence was at this time in a very unhappy condition; for the great
Guelphic families had become insolent, and set aside the authority of
the magistrates; so that murders and other atrocities were daily
committed, and the perpetrators escaped unpunished, under the
protection of one or other of the nobility. The leaders of the people,
in order to restrain this insolence, determined to recall those who
had been expelled, and thus gave the legate an opportunity of uniting
the city. The Ghibellines returned, and, instead of twelve governors,
fourteen were appointed, seven for each party, who held their office
one year, and were to be chosen by the pope. The Florentines lived
under this government two years, till the pontificate of Martin, who
restored to Charles all the authority which had been taken from him by
Nicholas, so that parties were again active in Tuscany; for the
Florentines took arms against the emperor's governor, and to deprive
the Ghibellines of power, and restrain the nobility, established a new
form of government. This was in the year 1282, and the companies of
the Arts, since magistrates had been appointed and colors given to
them, had acquired so great influence, that of their own authority
they ordered that, instead of fourteen citizens, three should be
appointed and called Priors, to hold the government of the republic
two months, and chosen from either the people or the nobility. After
the expiration of the first magistracy they were augmented to six,
that one might be chosen from each sixth of the city, and this number
was preserved till the year 1342, when the city was divided into
quarters, and the Priors became eight, although upon some occasions
during the interim they were twelve.

This government, as will be seen hereafter, occasioned the ruin of the
nobility; for the people by various causes excluded them from all
participation in it, and then trampled upon them without respect. The
nobles at first, owing to their divisions among themselves, made no
opposition; and each being anxious to rob the other of influence in
the state, they lost it altogether. To this government a palace was
given, in which they were to reside constantly, and all requisite
officers were appointed; it having been previously the custom of
councils and magistrates to assemble in churches. At first they were
only called Priors, but to increase their distinction the word
signori, or lords, was soon afterward adopted. The Florentines
remained for some time in domestic quiet, during which they made war
with the Aretins for having expelled the Guelphs, and obtained a
complete victory over them at Campaldino. The city being increased in
riches and population, it was found expedient to extend the walls, the
circle of which was enlarged to the extent it at present remains,
although its diameter was previously only the space between the old
bridge and the church of St. Lorenzo.

Wars abroad and peace within the city had caused the Guelph and
Ghibelline factions to become almost extinct; and the only party
feeling which seemed occasionally to glow, was that which naturally
exists in all cities between the higher classes and the people; for
the latter, wishing to live in conformity with the laws, and the
former to be themselves the rulers of the people, it was not possible
for them to abide in perfect amity together. This ungenial
disposition, while their fear of the Ghibellines kept them in order,
did not discover itself, but no sooner were they subdued than it broke
forth, and not a day passed without some of the populace being
injured, while the laws were insufficient to procure redress, for
every noble with his relations and friends defended himself against
the forces of the Priors and the Capitano. To remedy this evil, the
leaders of the Arts' companies ordered that every Signory at the time
of entering upon the duties of office should appoint a Gonfalonier of
Justice, chosen from the people, and place a thousand armed men at his
disposal divided into twenty companies of fifty men each, and that he,
with his gonfalon or banner and his forces, should be ready to enforce
the execution of the laws whenever called upon, either by the Signors
themselves or the Capitano. The first elected to this high office was
Ubaldo Ruffoli. This man unfurled his gonfalon, and destroyed the
houses of the Galletti, on account of a member of that family having
slain one of the Florentine people in France. The violent animosities
among the nobility enabled the companies of the Arts to establish this
law with facility; and the former no sooner saw the provision which
had been made against them than they felt the acrimonious spirit with
which it was enforced. At first it impressed them with greater terror,
but they soon after returned to their accustomed insolence, for one or
more of their body always making part of the Signory, gave them
opportunities of impeding the Gonfalonier, so that he could not
perform the duties of his office. Besides this, the accuser always
required a witness of the injury he had received, and no one dared to
give evidence against the nobility. Thus in a short time Florence
again fell into the same disorders as before, and the tyranny
exercised against the people was as great as ever; for the decisions
of justice were either prevented or delayed, and sentences were not
carried into execution.

In this unhappy state, the people not knowing what to do, Giano della
Bella, of a very noble family, and a lover of liberty, encouraged the
heads of the Arts to reform the constitution of the city; and by his
advice it was ordered that the Gonfalonier should reside with the
Priors, and have four thousand men at his command. They deprived the
nobility of the right to sit in the Signory. They condemned the
associates of a criminal to the same penalty as himself, and ordered
that public report should be taken as evidence. By these laws, which
were called the ordinations of justice, the people acquired great
influence, and Giano della Bella not a small share of trouble; for he
was thoroughly hated by the great, as the destroyer of their power,
while the opulent among the people envied him, for they thought he
possessed too great authority. This became very evident upon the first
occasion that presented itself.

It happened that a man from the class of the people was killed in a
riot, in which several of the nobility had taken a part, and among the
rest Corso Donati, to whom, as the most forward of the party, the
death was attributed. He was, therefore, taken by the captain of the
people, and whether he was really innocent of the crime or the
Capitano was afraid of condemning him, he was acquitted. This
acquittal displeased the people so much, that, seizing their arms,
they ran to the house of Giano della Bella, to beg that he would
compel the execution of those laws which he had himself made. Giano,
who wished Corso to be punished, did not insist upon their laying down
their arms, as many were of opinion he ought to have done, but advised
them to go to the Signory, complain of the fact, and beg that they
would take it into consideration. The people, full of wrath, thinking
themselves insulted by the Capitano and abandoned by Giano della
Bella, instead of going to the Signory went to the palace of the
Capitano, of which they made themselves masters, and plundered it.

This outrage displeased the whole city, and those who wished the ruin
of Giano laid the entire blame upon him; and as in the succeeding
Signory there was an enemy of his, he was accused to the Capitano as
the originator of the riot. While the case was being tried, the people
took arms, and, proceeding to his house, offered to defend him against
the Signory and his enemies. Giano, however, did not wish to put this
burst of popular favor to the proof, or trust his life to the
magistrates, for he feared the malignity of the latter and the
instability of the former; so, in order to remove an occasion for his
enemies to injure him, or his friends to offend the laws, he
determined to withdraw, deliver his countrymen from the fear they had
of him, and, leaving the city which at his own charge and peril he had
delivered from the servitude of the great, become a voluntary exile.

After the departure of Giano della Bella the nobility began to
entertain hopes of recovering their authority; and judging their
misfortune to have arisen from their divisions, they sent two of their
body to the Signory, which they thought was favorable to them, to beg
they would be pleased to moderate the severity of the laws made
against them. As soon as their demand became known, the minds of the
people were much excited; for they were afraid the Signors would
submit to them; and so, between the desire of the nobility and the
jealousy of the people, arms were resorted to. The nobility were drawn
together in three places: near the church of St. John, in the New
Market, and in the Piazza of the Mozzi, under three leaders, Forese
Adimari, Vanni de Mozzi, and Geri Spini. The people assembled in
immense numbers, under their ensigns, before the palace of the
Signory, which at that time was situated near St. Procolo; and, as
they suspected the integrity of the Signory, they added six citizens
to their number to take part in the management of affairs.

While both parties were preparing for the fight, some individuals, as
well of the people as of the nobility, accompanied by a few priests of
respectable character, mingled among them for the purpose of effecting
a pacification, reminding the nobility that their loss of power, and
the laws which were made against them, had been occasioned by their
haughty conduct, and the mischievous tendency of their proceedings;
that resorting to arms to recover by force what they had lost by
illiberal measures and disunion, would tend to the destruction of
their country and increase the difficulties of their own position;
that they should bear in mind that the people, both in riches,
numbers, and hatred, were far stronger than they; and that their
nobility, on account of which they assumed to be above others, did not
contribute to win battles, and would be found, when they came to arms,
to be but an empty name, and insufficient to defend them against so
many. On the other hand, they reminded the people that it is not
prudent to wish always to have the last blow; that it is an
injudicious step to drive men to desperation, for he who is without
hope is also without fear; that they ought not to forget that in the
wars the nobility had always done honor to the country, and therefore
it was neither wise nor just to pursue them with so much bitterness;
and that although the nobility could bear with patience the loss of
the supreme magistracy, they could not endure that, by the existing
laws, it should be in the power of everyone to drive them from their
country; and, therefore, it would be well to qualify these laws, and,
in furtherance of so good a result, be better to lay down their arms
than, trusting to numbers, try the fortune of a battle; for it is
often seen that the many are overcome by the few. Variety of opinion
was found among the people; many wished to decide the question by arms
at once, for they were assured it would have to be done some time, and
that it would be better to do so then than delay till the enemy had
acquired greater strength; and that if they thought a mitigation of
the laws would satisfy them, that then they would be glad to comply,
but that the pride of the nobility was so great they would not submit
unless they were compelled. To many others, who were more peaceable
and better disposed, it appeared a less evil to qualify the laws a
little than to come to battle; and their opinion prevailing, it was
provided that no accusation against the nobility could be received
unless supported with sufficient testimony.

Although arms were laid aside, both parties remained full of
suspicion, and each fortified itself with men and places of strength.
The people reorganized the government, and lessened the number of its
officers, to which measure they were induced by finding that the
Signors appointed from the families, of which the following were the
heads, had been favorable to the nobility, viz.: the Mancini,
Magalotti, Altoviti, Peruzzi, and Cerretani. Having settled the
government, for the greater magnificence and security of the Signory,
they laid the foundation of their palace; and to make space for the
piazza, removed the houses that had belonged to the Uberti; they also
at the same period commenced the public prisons. These buildings were
completed in a few years; nor did our city ever enjoy a greater state
of prosperity than in those times: filled with men of great wealth and
reputation; possessing within her walls 30,000 men capable of bearing
arms, and in the country 70,000, while the whole of Tuscany, either as
subjects or friends, owed obedience to Florence. And although there
might be some indignation and jealousy between the nobility and the
people, they did not produce any evil effect, but all lived together
in unity and peace. And if this peace had not been disturbed by
internal enmities there would have been no cause of apprehension
whatever, for the city had nothing to fear either from the empire or
from those citizens whom political reasons kept from their homes, and
was in condition to meet all the states of Italy with her own forces.
The evil, however, which external powers could not effect, was brought
about by those within.

Niccolo Machiavelli