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Chapter 18


The war of the Florentines against the pope's legate, and the
causes of it--League against the pope--The censures of the pope
disregarded in Florence--The city is divided into two factions,
the one the Capitani di Parte, the other of the eight
commissioners of the war--Measures adopted by the Guelphic party
against their adversaries--The Guelphs endeavor to prevent
Salvestro de Medici from being chosen Gonfalonier--Salvestro de
Medici Gonfalonier--His law against the nobility, and in favor of
the Ammoniti--The /Collegi/ disapprove of the law--Salvestro
addresses the council in its favor--The law is passed--
Disturbances in Florence.

The papal chair was occupied by Gregory XI. He, like his predecessors,
residing at Avignon, governed Italy by legates, who, proud and
avaricious, oppressed many of the cities. One of these legates, then
at Bologna, taking advantage of a great scarcity of food at Florence,
endeavored to render himself master of Tuscany, and not only withheld
provisions from the Florentines, but in order to frustrate their hopes
of the future harvest, upon the approach of spring, attacked them with
a large army, trusting that being famished and unarmed, he should find
them an easy conquest. He might perhaps have been successful, had not
his forces been mercenary and faithless, and, therefore, induced to
abandon the enterprise for the sum of 130,000 florins, which the
Florentines paid them. People may go to war when they will, but cannot
always withdraw when they like. This contest, commenced by the
ambition of the legate, was sustained by the resentment of the
Florentines, who, entering into a league with Bernabo of Milan, and
with the cities hostile to the church, appointed eight citizens for
the administration of it, giving them authority to act without appeal,
and to expend whatever sums they might judge expedient, without
rendering an account of the outlay.

This war against the pontiff, although Uguccione was now dead,
reanimated those who had followed the party of the Ricci, who, in
opposition to the Albizzi, had always favored Bernabo and opposed the
church, and this, the rather, because the eight commissioners of war
were all enemies of the Guelphs. This occasioned Piero degli Albizzi,
Lapo da Castiglionchio, Carlo Strozzi, and others, to unite themselves
more closely in opposition to their adversaries. The eight carried on
the war, and the others admonished during three years, when the death
of the pontiff put an end to the hostilities, which had been carried
on which so much ability, and with such entire satisfaction to the
people, that at the end of each year the eight were continued in
office, and were called /Santi/, or holy, although they had set
ecclesiastical censures at defiance, plundered the churches of their
property, and compelled the priests to perform divine service. So much
did citizens at that time prefer the good of their country to their
ghostly consolations, and thus showed the church, that if as her
friends they had defended, they could as enemies depress her; for the
whole of Romagna, the Marches, and Perugia were excited to rebellion.

Yet while this war was carried on against the pope, they were unable
to defend themselves against the captains of the parts and their
faction; for the insolence of the Guelphs against the eight attained
such a pitch, that they could not restrain themselves from abusive
behavior, not merely against some of the most distinguished citizens,
but even against the eight themselves; and the captains of the parts
conducted themselves with such arrogance, that they were feared more
than the Signory. Those who had business with them treated them with
greater reverence, and their court was held in higher estimation: so
that no ambassador came to Florence, without commission to the

Pope Gregory being dead, and the city freed from external war; there
still prevailed great confusion within; for the audacity of the
Guelphs was insupportable, and as no available mode of subduing them
presented itself, it was thought that recourse must be had to arms, to
determine which party was the strongest. With the Guelphs were all the
ancient nobility, and the greater part of the most popular leaders, of
which number, as already remarked, were Lapo, Piero, and Carlo. On the
other side, were all the lower orders, the leaders of whom were the
eight commissioners of war, Giorgio Scali and Tommaso Strozzi, and
with them the Ricci, Alberti, and Medici. The rest of the multitude,
as most commonly happens, joined the discontented party.

It appeared to the heads of the Guelphic faction that their enemies
would be greatly strengthened, and themselves in considerable danger
in case a hostile Signory should resolve on their subjugation.
Desirous, therefore, of being prepared against this calamity, the
leaders of the party assembled to take into consideration the state of
the city and that of their own friends in particular, and found the
/ammoniti/ so numerous and so great a difficulty, that the whole city
was excited against them on this account. They could not devise any
other remedy than, that as their enemies had deprived them of all the
offices of honor, they should banish their opponents from the city,
take possession of the palace of the Signory, and bring over the whole
state to their own party; in imitation of the Guelphs of former times,
who found no safety in the city, till they had driven all their
adversaries out of it. They were unanimous upon the main point, but
did not agree upon the time of carrying it into execution. It was in
the month of April, in the year 1378, when Lapo, thinking delay
inadvisable, expressed his opinion, that procrastination was in the
highest degree perilous to themselves; as in the next Signory,
Salvestro de' Medici would very probably be elected Gonfalonier, and
they all knew he was opposed to their party. Piero degli Albizzi, on
the other hand, thought it better to defer, since they would require
forces, which could not be assembled without exciting observation, and
if they were discovered, they would incur great risk. He thereupon
judged it preferable to wait till the approaching feast of St. John on
which, being the most solemn festival of the city, vast multitudes
would be assembled, among whom they might conceal whatever numbers
they pleased. To obviate their fears of Salvestro, he was to be
ADMONISHED, and if this did not appear likely to be effectual, they
would "ADMONISH" one of the Colleague of his quarter, and upon
redrawing, as the ballot-boxes would be nearly empty, chance would
very likely occasion that either he or some associate of his would be
drawn, and he would thus be rendered incapable of sitting as
Gonfalonier. They therefore came to the conclusion proposed by Piero,
though Lapo consented reluctantly, considering the delay dangerous,
and that, as no opportunity can be in all respects suitable, he who
waits for the concurrence of every advantage, either never makes an
attempt, or, if induced to do so, is most frequently foiled. They
"admonished" the Colleague, but did not prevent the appointment of
Salvestro, for the design was discovered by the Eight, who took care
to render all attempts upon the drawing futile.

Salvestro Alammano de' Medici was therefore drawn Gonfalonier, and,
being one of the noblest popular families, he could not endure that
the people should be oppressed by a few powerful persons. Having
resolved to put an end to their insolence, and perceiving the middle
classes favorably disposed, and many of the highest of the people on
his side, he communicated his design to Benedetto Alberti, Tommaso
Strozzi, and Georgio Scali, who all promised their assistance. They,
therefore, secretly draw up a law which had for its object to revive
the restrictions upon the nobility, to retrench the authority of the
Capitani di Parte, and recall the /ammoniti/ to their dignity. In
order to attempt and obtain their ends, at one and the same time,
having to consult, first the Colleagues and then the Councils,
Salvestro being Provost (which office for the time makes its possessor
almost prince of the city), he called together the Colleagues and the
Council on the same morning, and the Colleagues being apart, he
proposed the law prepared by himself and his friends, which, being a
novelty, encountered in their small number so much opposition, that he
was unable to have it passed.

Salvestro, seeing his first attempt likely to fail, pretended to leave
the room for a private reason, and, without being perceived, went
immediately to the Council, and taking a lofty position from which he
could be both seen and heard, said:--"That considering himself
invested with the office of Gonfalonier, not so much to preside in
private cases (for which proper judges were appointed, who have their
regular sittings), as to guard the state, correct the insolence of the
powerful, and ameliorate those laws by the influence of which the
republic was being ruined, he had carefully attended to both these
duties, and to his utmost ability provided for them, but found the
perversity of some so much opposed to his just designs as to deprive
him of all opportunity of doing good, and them not only of the means
of assisting him with their counsel, but even hearing him. Therefore
finding he no longer contributed either to the benefit of the republic
or of the people generally, he could not perceive any reason for his
longer holding the magistracy, of which he was either undeserving, or
others thought him so, and would therefore retire to his house, that
the people might appoint another in his stead, who would either have
greater virtue or better fortune than himself." And having said this,
he left the room as if to return home.

Those of the council who were in the secret, and others desirous of
novelty, raised a tumult, at which the Signory and the Colleagues came
together, and finding the Gonfalonier leaving them, entreatingly and
authoritatively detained him, and obliged him to return to the council
room, which was now full of confusion. Many of the noble citizens were
threatened in opprobrious language; and an artificer seized Carlo
Strozzi by the throat, and would undoubtedly have murdered him, but
was with difficulty prevented by those around. He who made the
greatest disturbance, and incited the city to violence, was Benedetto
degli Alberti, who, from a window of the palace, loudly called the
people to arms; and presently the courtyards were filled with armed
men, and the Colleagues granted to threats, what they had refused to
entreaty. The Capitani di Parte had at the same time drawn together a
great number of citizens to their hall to consult upon the means of
defending themselves against the orders of the Signors, but when they
heard the tumult that was raised, and were informed of the course the
Councils had adopted, each took refuge in his own house.

Let no one, when raising popular commotions, imagine he can afterward
control them at his pleasure, or restrain them from proceeding to the
commission of violence. Salvestro intended to enact his law, and
compose the city; but it happened otherwise; for the feelings of all
had become so excited, that they shut up the shops; the citizens
fortified themselves in their houses; many conveyed their valuable
property into the churches and monasteries, and everyone seemed to
apprehend something terrible at hand. The companies of the Arts met,
and each appointed an additional officer or Syndic; upon which the
Priors summoned their Colleagues and these Syndics, and consulted a
whole day how the city might be appeased with satisfaction to the
different parties; but much difference of opinion prevailed, and no
conclusion was come to. On the following day the Arts brought forth
their banners, which the Signory understanding, and being apprehensive
of evil, called the Council together to consider what course to adopt.
But scarcely were they met, when the uproar recommenced, and soon the
ensigns of the Arts, surrounded by vast numbers of armed men, occupied
the courts. Upon this the Council, to give the Arts and the people
hope of redress, and free themselves as much as possible from the
charge of causing the mischief, gave a general power, which in
Florence is called /Balia/, to the Signors, the Colleagues, the Eight,
the Capitani di Parte, and to the Syndics of the Arts, to reform the
government of the city, for the common benefit of all. While this was
being arranged, a few of the ensigns of the Arts and some of the mob,
desirous of avenging themselves for the recent injuries they had
received from the Guelphs, separated themselves from the rest, and
sacked and burnt the house of Lapo da Castiglionchio, who, when he
learned the proceedings of the Signory against the Guelphs, and saw
the people in arms, having no other resource but concealment or
flight, first took refuge in Santa Croce, and afterward, being
disguised as a monk, fled into the Casentino, where he was often heard
to blame himself for having consented to wait till St. John's day,
before they had made themselves sure of the government. Piero degli
Albizzi and Carlo Strozzi hid themselves upon the first outbreak of
the tumult, trusting that when it was over, by the interest of their
numerous friends and relations, they might remain safely in Florence.

The house of Lapo being burnt, as mischief begins with difficulty but
easily increases, many other houses, either through public hatred, or
private malice, shared the same fate; and the rioters, that they might
have companions more eager than themselves to assist them in their
work of plunder, broke open the public prisons, and then sacked the
monastery of the Agnoli and the convent of S. Spirito, whither many
citizens had taken their most valuable goods for safety. Nor would the
public chambers have escaped these destroyers' hands, except out of
reverence for one of the Signors, who on horseback, and followed by
many citizens in arms, opposed the rage of the mob.

Niccolo Machiavelli