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Chapter 11


The Cerchi and the Donati--Origin of the Bianca and Nera factions
in Pistoia--They come to Florence--Open enmity of the Donati and
the Cerchi--Their first conflict--The Cerchi head the Bianca
faction--The Donati take part with the Nera--The pope's legate at
Florence increases the confusion with an interdict--New affray
between the Cerchi and the Donati--The Donati and others of the
Nera faction banished by the advice of Dante Alighieri--Charles of
Valois sent by the pope to Florence--The Florentines suspect him--
Corso Donati and the rest of the Nera party return to Florence--
Veri Cerchi flies--The pope's legate again in Florence--The city
again interdicted--New disturbances--The Bianchi banished--Dante
banished--Corso Donati excites fresh troubles--The pope's legate
endeavors to restore the emigrants but does not succeed--Great
fire in Florence.

The Cerchi and the Donati were, for riches, nobility, and the number
and influence of their followers, perhaps the two most distinguished
families in Florence. Being neighbors, both in the city and the
country, there had arisen between them some slight displeasure, which,
however, had not occasioned an open quarrel, and perhaps never would
have produced any serious effect if the malignant humors had not been
increased by new causes. Among the first families of Pistoia was the
Cancellieri. It happened that Lore, son of Gulielmo, and Geri, son of
Bertacca, both of this family, playing together, and coming to words,
Geri was slightly wounded by Lore. This displeased Gulielmo; and,
designing by a suitable apology to remove all cause of further
animosity, he ordered his son to go to the house of the father of the
youth whom he had wounded and ask pardon. Lore obeyed his father; but
this act of virtue failed to soften the cruel mind of Bertacca, and
having caused Lore to be seized, in order to add the greatest
indignity to his brutal act, he ordered his servants to chop off the
youth's hand upon a block used for cutting meat upon, and then said to
him, "Go to thy father, and tell him that sword wounds are cured with
iron and not with words."

The unfeeling barbarity of this act so greatly exasperated Gulielmo
that he ordered his people to take arms for his revenge. Bertacca
prepared for his defense, and not only that family, but the whole city
of Pistoia, became divided. And as the Cancellieri were descended from
a Cancelliere who had had two wives, of whom one was called Bianca
(white), one party was named by those who were descended from her
BIANCA; and the other, by way of greater distinction, was called NERA
(black). Much and long-continued strife took place between the two,
attended with the death of many men and the destruction of much
property; and not being able to effect a union among themselves, but
weary of the evil, and anxious either to bring it to an end, or, by
engaging others in their quarrel, increase it, they came to Florence,
where the Neri, on account of their familiarity with the Donati, were
favored by Corso, the head of that family; and on this account the
Bianchi, that they might have a powerful head to defend them against
the Donati, had recourse to Veri de Cerchi, a man in no respect
inferior to Corso.

This quarrel, and the parties in it, brought from Pistoia, increased
the old animosity between the Cerchi and the Donati, and it was
already so manifest, that the Priors and all well-disposed men were in
hourly apprehension of its breaking out, and causing a division of the
whole city. They therefore applied to the pontiff, praying that he
would interpose his authority between these turbulent parties, and
provide the remedy which they found themselves unable to furnish. The
pope sent for Veri, and charged him to make peace with the Donati, at
which Veri exhibited great astonishment, saying that he had no enmity
against them, and that as pacification presupposes war, he did not
know, there being no war between them, how peacemaking could be
necessary. Veri having returned from Rome without anything being
effected, the rage of the parties increased to such a degree, that any
trivial accident seemed sufficient to make it burst forth, as indeed
presently happened.

It was in the month of May, during which, and upon holidays, it is the
custom of Florence to hold festivals and public rejoicings throughout
the city. Some youths of the Donati family, with their friends, upon
horseback, were standing near the church of the Holy Trinity to look
at a party of ladies who were dancing; thither also came some of the
Cerchi, like the Donati, accompanied with many of the nobility, and,
not knowing that the Donati were before them, pushed their horses and
jostled them; thereupon the Donati, thinking themselves insulted, drew
their swords, nor were the Cerchi at all backward to do the same, and
not till after the interchange of many wounds, they separated. This
disturbance was the beginning of great evils; for the whole city
became divided, the people as well as the nobility, and the parties
took the names of the Bianchi and the Neri. The Cerchi were at the
head of the Bianchi faction, to which adhered the Adimari, the Abati,
a part of the Tosinghi, of the Bardi, of the Rossi, of the
Frescobaldi, of the Nerli, and of the Manelli; all the Mozzi, the
Scali, Gherardini, Cavalcanti, Malespini, Bostichi, Giandonati,
Vecchietti, and Arrigucci. To these were joined many families of the
people, and all the Ghibellines then in Florence, so that their great
numbers gave them almost the entire government of the city.

The Donati, at the head of whom was Corso, joined the Nera party, to
which also adhered those members of the above-named families who did
not take part with the Bianchi; and besides these, the whole of the
Pazzi, the Bisdomini, Manieri, Bagnesi, Tornaquinci, Spini,
Buondelmonti, Gianfigliazzi, and the Brunelleschi. Nor did the evil
confine itself to the city alone, for the whole country was divided
upon it, so that the Captains of the Six Parts, and whoever were
attached to the Guelphic party or the well-being of the republic, were
very much afraid that this new division would occasion the destruction
of the city, and give new life to the Ghibelline faction. They,
therefore, sent again to Pope Boniface, desiring that, unless he
wished that city which had always been the shield of the church should
either be ruined or become Ghibelline, he would consider some means
for her relief. The pontiff thereupon sent to Florence, as his legate,
Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta, a Portuguese, who, finding the Bianchi,
as the most powerful, the least in fear, not quite submissive to him,
he interdicted the city, and left it in anger, so that greater
confusion now prevailed than had done previously to his coming.

The minds of men being in great excitement, it happened that at a
funeral which many of the Donati and the Cerchi attended, they first
came to words and then to arms, from which, however, nothing but
merely tumult resulted at the moment. However, having each retired to
their houses, the Cerchi determined to attack the Donati, but, by the
valor of Corso, they were repulsed and great numbers of them wounded.
The city was in arms. The laws and the Signory were set at nought by
the rage of the nobility, and the best and wisest citizens were full
of apprehension. The Donati and their followers, being the least
powerful, were in the greatest fear, and to provide for their safety
they called together Corso, the Captains of the Parts, and the other
leaders of the Neri, and resolved to apply to the pope to appoint some
personage of royal blood, that he might reform Florence; thinking by
this means to overcome the Bianchi. Their meeting and determination
became known to the Priors, and the adverse party represented it as a
conspiracy against the liberties of the republic. Both parties being
in arms, the Signory, one of whom at that time was the poet Dante,
took courage, and from his advice and prudence, caused the people to
rise for the preservation of order, and being joined by many from the
country, they compelled the leaders of both parties to lay aside their
arms, and banished Corso, with many of the Neri. And as an evidence of
the impartiality of their motives, they also banished many of the
Bianchi, who, however, soon afterward, under pretense of some
justifiable cause, returned.

Corso and his friends, thinking the pope favorable to their party,
went to Rome and laid their grievances before him, having previously
forwarded a statement of them in writing. Charles of Valois, brother
of the king of France, was then at the papal court, having been called
into Italy by the king of Naples, to go over into Sicily. The pope,
therefore, at the earnest prayers of the banished Florentines,
consented to send Charles to Florence, till the season suitable for
his going to Sicily should arrive. He therefore came, and although the
Bianchi, who then governed, were very apprehensive, still, as the head
of the Guelphs, and appointed by the pope, they did not dare to oppose
him, and in order to secure his friendship, they gave him authority to
dispose of the city as he thought proper.

Thus authorized, Charles armed all his friends and followers, which
step gave the people so strong a suspicion that he designed to rob
them of their liberty, that each took arms, and kept at his own house,
in order to be ready, if Charles should make any such attempt. The
Cerchi and the leaders of the Bianchi faction had acquired universal
hatred by having, while at the head of the republic, conducted
themselves with unbecoming pride; and this induced Corso and the
banished of the Neri party to return to Florence, knowing well that
Charles and the Captains of the Parts were favorable to them. And
while the citizens, for fear of Charles, kept themselves in arms,
Corso, with all the banished, and followed by many others, entered
Florence without the least impediment. And although Veri de Cerchi was
advised to oppose him, he refused to do so, saying that he wished the
people of Florence, against whom he came, should punish him. However,
the contrary happened, for he was welcomed, not punished by them; and
it behooved Veri to save himself by flight.

Corso, having forced the Pinti Gate, assembled his party at San Pietro
Maggiore, near his own house, where, having drawn together a great
number of friends and people desirous of change, he set at liberty all
who had been imprisoned for offenses, whether against the state or
against individuals. He compelled the existing Signory to withdraw
privately to their own houses, elected a new one from the people of
the Neri party, and for five days plundered the leaders of the
Bianchi. The Cerchi, and the other heads of their faction, finding
Charles opposed to them, withdrew from the city, and retired to their
strongholds. And although at first they would not listen to the advice
of the pope, they were now compelled to turn to him for assistance,
declaring that instead of uniting the city, Charles had caused greater
disunion than before. The pope again sent Matteo d'Acquasparta, his
legate, who made peace between the Cerchi and the Donati, and
strengthened it with marriages and new betrothals. But wishing that
the Bianchi should participate in the employments of the government,
to which the Neri who were then at the head of it would not consent,
he withdrew, with no more satisfaction nor less enraged than on the
former occasion, and left the city interdicted for disobedience.

Both parties remained in Florence, and equally discontented; the Neri
from seeing their enemies at hand, and apprehending the loss of their
power, and the Bianchi from finding themselves without either honor or
authority; and to these natural causes of animosity new injuries were
added. Niccolo de' Cerchi, with many of his friends, went to his
estates, and being arrived at the bridge of Affrico, was attacked by
Simone, son of Corso Donati. The contest was obstinate, and one each
side had a sorrowful conclusion; for Niccolo was slain, and Simone was
so severely wounded that he died on the following night.

This event again disturbed the entire city; and although the Neri were
most to blame, they were defended by those who were at the head of
affairs; and before sentence was delivered, a conspiracy of the
Bianchi with Piero Ferrante, one of the barons who had accompanied
Charles, was discovered, by whose assistance they sought to be
replaced in the government. The matter became known from letters
addressed to him by the Cerchi, although some were of opinion that
they were not genuine, but written and pretended to be found, by the
Donati, to abate the infamy which their party had acquired by the
death of Niccolo. The whole of the Cerchi were, however, banished,--
with their followers of the Bianchi party, of whom was Dante the poet,
--their property confiscated, and their houses pulled down. They
sought refuge, with a great number of Ghibellines who had joined them,
in many places, seeking fresh fortunes in new undertakings. Charles,
having effected the purpose of his coming, left the city, and returned
to the pope to pursue his enterprise against Sicily, in which he was
neither wiser nor more fortunate than he had been at Florence; so that
with disgrace and the loss of many of his followers, he withdrew to

After the departure of Charles, Florence remained quiet. Corso alone
was restless, thinking he did not possess that sort of authority in
the city which was due to his rank; for the government being in the
hands of the people, he saw the offices of the republic administered
by many inferior to himself. Moved by passions of this kind, he
endeavored, under the pretense of an honorable design, to justify his
own dishonorable purposes, and accused many citizens who had the
management of the public money, of applying it to their private uses,
and recommended that they should be brought to justice and punished.
This opinion was adopted by many who had the same views as himself;
and many in ignorance joined them, thinking Corso actuated only by
pure patriotism. On the other hand, the accused citizens, enjoying the
popular favor, defended themselves, and this difference arose to such
a height, that, after civil means, they had recourse to arms. Of the
one party were Corso and Lottieri, bishop of Florence, with many of
the nobility and some of the people; on the other side were the
Signory, with the greater part of the people; so that skirmishes took
place in many parts of the city. The Signory, seeing their danger
great, sent for aid to the Lucchese, and presently all the people of
Lucca were in Florence. With their assistance the disturbances were
settled for the moment, and the people retained the government and
their liberty, without attempting by any other means to punish the
movers of the disorder.

The pope had heard of the tumults at Florence, and sent his legate,
Niccolo da Prato, to settle them, who, being in high reputation both
for his quality, learning, and mode of life, presently acquired so
much of the people's confidence, that authority was given him to
establish such a government as he should think proper. As he was of
Ghibelline origin, he determined to recall the banished; but designing
first to gain the affections of the lower orders, he renewed the
ancient companies of the people, which increased the popular power and
reduced that of the nobility. The legate, thinking the multitude on
his side, now endeavored to recall the banished, and, after attempting
in many ways, none of which succeeded, he fell so completely under the
suspicion of the government, that he was compelled to quit the city,
and returned to the pope in great wrath, leaving Florence full of
confusion and suffering under an interdict. Neither was the city
disturbed with one division alone, but by many; first the enmity
between the people and the nobility, then that of the Ghibellines and
the Guelphs, and lastly, of the Bianchi and the Neri. All the citizens
were, therefore, in arms, for many were dissatisfied with the
departure of the legate, and wished for the return of the banished.
The first who set this disturbance on foot were the Medici and the
Guinigi, who, with the legate, had discovered themselves in favor of
the rebels; and thus skirmishes took place in many parts of the city.

In addition to these evils a fire occurred, which first broke out at
the garden of St. Michael, in the houses of the Abati; it thence
extended to those of the Capoinsacchi, and consumed them, with those
of the Macci, Amieri, Toschi, Cipriani, Lamberti, Cavalcanti, and the
whole of the New Market; from thence it spread to the gate of St.
Maria, and burned it to the ground; turning from the old bridge, it
destroyed the houses of the Gherardini, Pulci, Amidei, and Lucardesi,
and with these so many others that the number amounted to seventeen
hundred. It was the opinion of many that this fire occurred by
accident during the heat of the disturbances. Others affirm that it
was begun willfully by Neri Abati, prior of St. Pietro Scarragio, a
dissolute character, fond of mischief, who, seeing the people occupied
with the combat, took the opportunity of committing a wicked act, for
which the citizens, being thus employed, could offer no remedy. And to
insure his success, he set fire to the house of his own brotherhood,
where he had the best opportunity of doing it. This was in the year
1304, Florence being afflicted both with fire and the sword. Corso
Donati alone remained unarmed in so many tumults; for he thought he
would more easily become the arbitrator between the contending parties
when, weary of strife, they should be inclined to accommodation. They
laid down their arms, however, rather from satiety of evil than from
any desire of union; and the only consequence was, that the banished
were not recalled, and the party which favored them remained inferior.

Niccolo Machiavelli