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Chapter 15


The Duke of Athens requires to be made prince of Florence--The
Signory address the duke upon the subject--The plebeians proclaim
him prince of Florence for life--Tyrannical proceedings of the
duke--The city disgusted with him--Conspiracies against the duke--
The duke discovers the conspiracies, and becomes terrified--The
city rises against him--He is besieged in the palace--Measures
adopted by the citizens for reform of the government--The duke is
compelled to withdraw from the city--Miserable deaths of Guglielmo
da Scesi and his son--Departure of the duke of Athens--His

These executions greatly terrified the middle class of citizens, but
gave satisfaction to the great and to the plebeians;--to the latter,
because it is their nature to delight in evil; and to the former, by
thus seeing themselves avenged of the many wrongs they had suffered
from the people. When the duke passed along the streets he was hailed
with loud cheers, the boldness of his proceedings was praised, and
both parties joined in open entreaties that he would search out the
faults of the citizens, and punish them.

The office of the Twenty began to fall into disuse, while the power of
the duke became great, and the influence of fear excessive; so that
everyone, in order to appear friendly to him, caused his arms to be
painted over their houses, and the name alone was all he needed to be
absolutely prince. Thinking himself upon such a footing that he might
safely attempt anything, he gave the Signory to understand that he
judged it necessary for the good of the city, that the sovereignty
should be freely given to him, and that as the rest of the citizens
were willing that it should be so, he desired they would also consent.
The Signory, notwithstanding many had foreseen the ruin of their
country, were much disturbed at this demand; and although they were
aware of the dangerous position in which they stood, that they might
not be wanting in their duty, resolutely refused to comply. The duke
had, in order to assume a greater appearance of religion and humanity,
chosen for his residence the convent of the Minor Canons of St. Croce,
and in order to carry his evil designs into effect, proclaimed that
all the people should, on the following morning, present themselves
before him in the piazza of the convent. This command alarmed the
Signory much more than his discourse to them had done, and they
consulted with those citizens whom they thought most attached to their
country and to liberty; but they could not devise any better plan,
knowing the power of which the duke was possessed, than to endeavor by
entreaty to induce him either to forego his design or to make his
government less intolerable. A party of them was, therefore, appointed
to wait upon him, one of whom addressed him in the following manner:--

"We appear before you, my lord, induced first by the demand which you
have made, and then by the orders you have given for a meeting of the
people; for it appears to us very clearly, that it is your intention
to effect by extraordinary means the design from which we have
hitherto withheld our consent. It is not, however, our intention to
oppose you with force, but only to show what a heavy charge you take
upon yourself, and the dangerous course you adopt; to the end that you
may remember our advice and that of those who, not by consideration of
what is beneficial for you, but for the gratification of their own
unreasonable wishes, have advised you differently. You are endeavoring
to reduce to slavery a city that has always existed in freedom; for
the authority which we have at times conceded to the kings of Naples
was companionship and not servitude. Have you considered the mighty
things which the name of liberty implies to such a city as this, and
how delightful it is to those who hear it? It has a power which
nothing can subdue, time cannot wear away, nor can any degree of merit
in a prince countervail the loss of it. Consider, my lord, how great
the force must be that can keep a city like this in subjection, no
foreign aid would enable you to do it; neither can you confide in
those at home; for they who are at present your friends, and advise
you to adopt the course you now pursue, as soon as with your
assistance they have overcome their enemies, will at once turn their
thoughts toward effecting your destruction, and then take the
government upon themselves. The plebeians, in whom you confide, will
change upon any accident, however trivial; so that in a very short
time you may expect to see the whole city opposed to you, which will
produce both their ruin and your own. Nor will you be able to find any
remedy for this; for princes who have but few enemies may make their
government very secure by the death or banishment of those who are
opposed to them; but when the hatred is universal, no security
whatever can be found, for you cannot tell from what direction the
evil may commence; and he who has to apprehend every man his enemy
cannot make himself assured of anyone. And if you should attempt to
secure a friend or two, you would only increase the dangers of your
situation; for the hatred of the rest would be increased by your
success, and they would become more resolutely disposed to vengeance.

"That time can neither destroy nor abate the desire for freedom is
most certain; for it has been often observed, that those have
reassumed their liberty who in their own persons had never tasted of
its charms, and love it only from remembrance of what they have heard
their fathers relate; and, therefore, when recovered, have preserved
it with indomitable resolution and at every hazard. And even when
their fathers could not remember it, the public buildings, the halls
of the magistracy, and the insignia of free institutions, remind them
of it; and these things cannot fail to be known and greatly desired by
every class of citizens.

"What is it you imagine you can do, that would be an equivalent for
the sweets of liberty, or make men lose the desire of their present
conditions? No; if you were to join the whole of Tuscany to the
Florentine rule, if you were to return to the city daily in triumph
over her enemies, what could it avail? The glory would not be ours,
but yours. We should not acquire fellow-citizens, but partakers of our
bondage, who would serve to sink us still deeper in ignominy. And if
your conduct were in every respect upright, your demeanor amiable, and
your judgments equitable, all these would be insufficient to make you
beloved. If you imagine otherwise, you deceive yourself; for, to one
accustomed to the enjoyment of liberty, the slightest chains feel
heavy, and every tie upon his free soul oppresses him. Besides, it is
impossible to find a violent people associated with a good prince, for
of necessity they must soon become alike, or their difference produce
the ruin of one of them. You may, therefore, be assured, that you will
either have to hold this city by force, to effect which, guards,
castles, and external aid have oft been found insufficient, or be
content with the authority we have conferred; and this we would
advise, reminding you that no dominion can be durable to which the
governed do not consent; and we have no wish to lead you, blinded by
ambition, to such a point that, unable either to stand or advance, you
must, to the great injury of both, of necessity fall."

This discourse did not in the slightest degree soften the obdurate
mind of the duke, who replied that it was not his intention to rob the
city of her liberty, but to restore it to her; for those cities alone
are in slavery that are disunited, while the united are free. As
Florence, by her factions and ambition, had deprived herself of
liberty, he should restore, not take it from her; and as he had been
induced to take this charge upon himself, not from his own ambition,
but at the entreaty of a great number of citizens, they would do well
to be satisfied with that which produced contentment among the rest.
With regard to the danger he might incur, he thought nothing of it;
for it was not the part of a good man to avoid doing good from his
apprehension of evil, and it was the part of a coward to shun a
glorious undertaking because some uncertainty attended the success of
the attempt; and he knew he should so conduct himself, that they would
soon see they had entertained great apprehensions and been in little

The Signory then agreed, finding they could not do better, that on the
following morning the people should be assembled in their accustomed
place of meeting, and with their consent the Signory should confer
upon the duke the sovereignty of the city for one year, on the same
conditions as it had been intrusted to the duke of Calabria. It was
upon the 8th of November, 1342, when the duke, accompanied by Giovanni
della Tosa and all his confederates, with many other citizens, came to
the piazza or court of the palace, and having, with the Signory
mounted upon the ringhiera, or rostrum (as the Florentines call those
steps which lead to the palace), the agreement which had been entered
into between the Signory and himself was read. When they had come to
the passage which gave the government to him for one year, the people
shouted, "FOR LIFE." Upon this, Francesco Rustichelli, one of the
Signory, arose to speak, and endeavored to abate the tumult and
procure a hearing; but the mob, with their hootings, prevented him
from being heard by anyone; so that with the consent of the people the
duke was elected, not for one year merely, but for life. He was then
borne through the piazza by the crowd, shouting his name as they

It is the custom that he who is appointed to the guard of the palace
shall, in the absence of the Signory, remain locked within. This
office was at that time held by Rinieri di Giotto, who, bribed by the
friends of the duke, without waiting for any force, admitted him
immediately. The Signory, terrified and dishonored, retired to their
own houses; the palace was plundered by the followers of the duke, the
Gonfalon of the people torn to pieces, and the arms of the duke placed
over the palace. All this happened to the indescribable sorrow of good
men, though to the satisfaction of those who, either from ignorance or
malignity, were consenting parties.

The duke, having acquired the sovereignty of the city, in order to
strip those of all authority who had been defenders of her liberty,
forbade the Signory to assemble in the palace, and appointed a private
dwelling for their use. He took their colors from the Gonfaloniers of
the companies of the people; abolished the ordinances made for the
restraint of the great; set at liberty those who were imprisoned;
recalled the Bardi and the Frescobaldi from exile, and forbade
everyone from carrying arms about his person. In order the better to
defend himself against those within the city, he made friends of all
he could around it, and therefore conferred great benefits upon the
Aretini and other subjects of the Florentines. He made peace with the
Pisans, although raised to power in order that he might carry on war
against them; ceased paying interest to those merchants who, during
the war against Lucca, had lent money to the republic; increased the
old taxes, levied new ones, and took from the Signory all authority.
His rectors were Baglione da Perugia and Guglielmo da Scesi, who, with
Cerrettieri Bisdomini, were the persons with whom he consulted on
public affairs. He imposed burdensome taxes upon the citizens; his
decisions between contending parties were unjust; and that precision
and humanity which he had at first assumed, became cruelty and pride;
so that many of the greatest citizens and noblest people were, either
by fines, death, or some new invention, grievously oppressed. And in
completing the same bad system, both without the city and within, he
appointed six rectors for the country, who beat and plundered the
inhabitants. He suspected the great, although he had been benefited by
them, and had restored many to their country; for he felt assured that
the generous minds of the nobility would not allow them, from any
motives, to submit contentedly to his authority. He also began to
confer benefits and advantages upon the lowest orders, thinking that
with their assistance, and the arms of foreigners, he would be able to
preserve the tyranny. The month of May, during which feasts are held,
being come, he caused many companies to be formed of the plebeians and
very lowest of the people, and to these, dignified with splendid
titles, he gave colors and money; and while one party went in
bacchanalian procession through the city, others were stationed in
different parts of it, to receive them as guests. As the report of the
duke's authority spread abroad, many of French origin came to him, for
all of whom he found offices and emoluments, as if they had been the
most trustworthy of men; so that in a short time Florence became not
only subject to French dominion, but adopted their dress and manners;
for men and women, without regard to propriety or sense of shame,
imitated them. But that which disgusted the people most completely was
the violence which, without any distinction of quality or rank, he and
his followers committed upon the women.

The people were filled with indignation, seeing the majesty of the
state overturned, its ordinances annihilated, its laws annulled, and
every decent regulation set at naught; for men unaccustomed to royal
pomp could not endure to see this man surrounded with his armed
satellites on foot and on horseback; and having now a closer view of
their disgrace, they were compelled to honor him whom they in the
highest degree hated. To this hatred, was added the terror occasioned
by the continual imposition of new taxes and frequent shedding of
blood, with which he impoverished and consumed the city.

The duke was not unaware of these impressions existing strongly in the
people's minds, nor was he without fear of the consequences; but still
pretended to think himself beloved; and when Matteo di Morozzo, either
to acquire his favor or to free himself from danger, gave information
that the family of the Medici and some others had entered into a
conspiracy against him he not only did not inquire into the matter,
but caused the informer to be put to a cruel death. This mode of
proceeding restrained those who were disposed to acquaint him of his
danger and gave additional courage to such as sought his ruin. Bertone
Cini, having ventured to speak against the taxes with which the people
were loaded, had his tongue cut out with such barbarous cruelty as to
cause his death. This shocking act increased the people's rage, and
their hatred of the duke; for those who were accustomed to discourse
and to act upon every occasion with the greatest boldness, could not
endure to live with their hands tied and forbidden to speak.

This oppression increased to such a degree, that not merely the
Florentines, who though unable to preserve their liberty cannot endure
slavery, but the most servile people on earth would have been roused
to attempt the recovery of freedom; and consequently many citizens of
all ranks resolved either to deliver themselves from this odious
tyranny or die in the attempt. Three distinct conspiracies were
formed; one of the great; another of the people, and the third of the
working classes; each of which, besides the general causes which
operated upon the whole, were excited by some other particular
grievance. The great found themselves deprived of all participation in
the government; the people had lost the power they possessed, and the
artificers saw themselves deficient in the usual remuneration of their

Agnolo Acciajuoli was at this time archbishop of Florence, and by his
discourses had formerly greatly favored the duke, and procured him
many followers among the higher class of the people. But when he found
him lord of the city, and became acquainted with his tyrannical mode
of proceeding, it appeared to him that he had misled his countrymen;
and to correct the evil he had done, he saw no other course, but to
attempt the cure by the means which had caused it. He therefore became
the leader of the first and most powerful conspiracy, and was joined
by the Bardi, Rossi, Frescobaldi, Scali Altoviti, Magalotti, Strozzi,
and Mancini. Of the second, the principals were Manno and Corso
Donati, and with them the Pazzi, Cavicciulli, Cerchi, and Albizzi. Of
the third the first was Antonio Adimari, and with him the Medici,
Bordini, Rucellai, and Aldobrandini. It was the intention of these
last, to slay him in the house of the Albizzi, whither he was expected
to go on St. John's day, to see the horses run, but he not having
gone, their design did not succeed. They then resolved to attack him
as he rode through the city; but they found this would be very
difficult; for he was always accompanied with a considerable armed
force, and never took the same road twice together, so that they had
no certainty of where to find him. They had a design of slaying him in
the council, although they knew that if he were dead, they would be at
the mercy of his followers.

While these matters were being considered by the conspirators, Antonio
Adimari, in expectation of getting assistance from them, disclosed the
affair to some Siennese, his friends, naming certain of the
conspirators, and assuring them that the whole city was ready to rise
at once. One of them communicated the matter to Francesco
Brunelleschi, not with a design to injure the plot, but in the hope
that he would join them. Francesco, either from personal fear, or
private hatred of some one, revealed the whole to the duke; whereupon,
Pagolo del Mazecha and Simon da Monterappoli were taken, who
acquainted him with the number and quality of the conspirators. This
terrified him, and he was advised to request their presence rather
than to take them prisoners, for if they fled, he might without
disgrace, secure himself by banishment of the rest. He therefore sent
for Antonio Adimari, who, confiding in his companions, appeared
immediately, and was detained. Francesco Brunelleschi and Uguccione
Buondelmonti advised the duke to take as many of the conspirators
prisoners as he could, and put them to death; but he, thinking his
strength unequal to his foes, did not adopt this course, but took
another, which, had it succeeded, would have freed him from his
enemies and increased his power. It was the custom of the duke to call
the citizens together upon some occasions and advise with them. He
therefore having first sent to collect forces from without, made a
list of three hundred citizens, and gave it to his messengers, with
orders to assemble them under the pretense of public business; and
having drawn them together, it was his intention either to put them to
death or imprison them.

The capture of Antonio Adimari and the sending for forces, which could
not be kept secret, alarmed the citizens, and more particularly those
who were in the plot, so that the boldest of them refused to attend,
and as each had read the list, they sought each other, and resolved to
rise at once and die like men, with arms in their hands, rather than
be led like calves to the slaughter. In a very short time the chief
conspirators became known to each other, and resolved that the next
day, which was the 26th July, 1343, they would raise a disturbance in
the Old Market place, then arm themselves and call the people to

The next morning being come, at nine o'clock, according to agreement,
they took arms, and at the call of liberty assembled, each party in
its own district, under the ensigns and with the arms of the people,
which had been secretly provided by the conspirators. All the heads of
families, as well of the nobility as of the people, met together, and
swore to stand in each other's defense, and effect the death of the
duke; except some of the Buondelmonti and of the Cavalcanti, with
those four families of the people which had taken so conspicuous a
part in making him sovereign, and the butchers, with others, the
lowest of the plebeians, who met armed in the piazza in his favor.

The duke immediately fortified the place, and ordered those of his
people who were lodged in different parts of the city to mount upon
horseback and join those in the court; but, pn their way thither, many
were attacked and slain. However, about three hundred horse assembled,
and the duke was in doubt whether he should come forth and meet the
enemy, or defend himself within. On the other hand, the Medici,
Cavicciulli, Rucellai, and other families who had been most injured by
him, fearful that if he came forth, many of those who had taken arms
against him would discover themselves his partisans, in order to
deprive him of the occasion of attacking them and increasing the
number of his friends, took the lead and assailed the palace. Upon
this, those families of the people who had declared for the duke,
seeing themselves boldly attacked, changed their minds, and all took
part with the citizens, except Uguccione Buondelmonti, who retired
into the palace, and Giannozzo Cavalcanti, who having withdrawn with
some of his followers to the new market, mounted upon a bench, and
begged that those who were going in arms to the piazza, would take the
part of the duke. In order to terrify them, he exaggerated the number
of his people and threatened all with death who should obstinately
persevere in their undertaking against their sovereign. But not
finding any one either to follow him, or to chastise his insolence,
and seeing his labor fruitless, he withdrew to his own house.

In the meantime, the contest in the piazza between the people and the
forces of the duke was very great; but although the place served them
for defense, they were overcome, some yielding to the enemy, and
others, quitting their horses, fled within the walls. While this was
going on, Corso and Amerigo Donati, with a part of the people, broke
open the stinche, or prisons; burnt the papers of the provost and of
the public chamber; pillaged the houses of the rectors, and slew all
who had held offices under the duke whom they could find. The duke,
finding the piazza in possession of his enemies, the city opposed to
him, and without any hope of assistance, endeavored by an act of
clemency to recover the favor of the people. Having caused those whom
he had made prisoners to be brought before him, with amiable and
kindly expressions he set them at liberty, and made Antonio Adimari a
knight, although quite against his will. He caused his own arms to be
taken down, and those of the people to be replaced over the palace;
but these things coming out of season, and forced by his necessities,
did him little good. He remained, notwithstanding all he did, besieged
in the palace, and saw that having aimed at too much he had lost all,
and would most likely, after a few days, die either of hunger, or by
the weapons of his enemies. The citizens assembled in the church of
Santa Reparata, to form the new government, and appointed fourteen
citizens, half from the nobility and half from the people, who, with
the archbishop, were invested with full authority to remodel the state
of Florence. They also elected six others to take upon them the duties
of provost, till he who should be finally chosen took office, the
duties of which were usually performed by a subject of some
neighboring state.

Many had come to Florence in defense of the people; among whom were a
party from Sienna, with six ambassadors, men of high consideration in
their own country. These endeavored to bring the people and the duke
to terms; but the former refused to listen to any whatever, unless
Guglielmo da Scesi and his son, with Cerrettieri Bisdomini, were first
given up to them. The duke would not consent to this; but being
threatened by those who were shut up with him, he was forced to
comply. The rage of men is certainly always found greater, and their
revenge more furious upon the recovery of liberty, than when it has
only been defended. Guglielmo and his son were placed among the
thousands of their enemies, and the latter was not yet eighteen years
old; neither his beauty, his innocence, nor his youth, could save him
from the fury of the multitude; but both were instantly slain. Those
who could not wound them while alive, wounded them after they were
dead; and not satisfied with tearing them to pieces, they hewed their
bodies with swords, tore them with their hands, and even with their
teeth. And that every sense might be satiated with vengeance, having
first heard their moans, seen their wounds, and touched their
lacerated bodies, they wished even the stomach to be satisfied, that
having glutted the external senses, the one within might also have its
share. This rabid fury, however hurtful to the father and son, was
favorable to Cerrettieri; for the multitude, wearied with their
cruelty toward the former, quite forgot him, so that he, not being
asked for, remained in the palace, and during night was conveyed
safely away by his friends.

The rage of the multitude being appeased by their blood, an agreement
was made that the duke and his people, with whatever belonged to him,
should quit the city in safety; that he should renounce all claim, of
whatever kind, upon Florence, and that upon his arrival in the
Casentino he should ratify his renunciation. On the sixth of August he
set out, accompanied by many citizens, and having arrived at the
Casentino he ratified the agreement, although unwillingly, and would
not have kept his word if Count Simon had not threatened to take him
back to Florence. This duke, as his proceedings testified, was cruel
and avaricious, difficult to speak with, and haughty in reply. He
desired the service of men, not the cultivation of their better
feelings, and strove rather to inspire them with fear than love. Nor
was his person less despicable than his manners; he was short, his
complexion was black, and he had a long, thin beard. He was thus in
every respect contemptible; and at the end of ten months, his
misconduct deprived him of the sovereignty which the evil counsel of
others had given him.

Niccolo Machiavelli