Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 45

BOOK VII

CHAPTER I

Connection of the other Italian governments with the history of
Florence--Republics always disunited--Some differences are
injurious; others not so--The kind of dissensions prevailing at
Florence--Cosmo de' Medici and Neri Capponi become powerful by
dissimilar means--Reform in the election of magistrates favorable
to Cosmo--Complaints of the principal citizens against the reform
in elections--Luca Pitti, Gonfalonier of Justice, restrains the
imborsations by force--Tyranny and pride of Luca Pitti and his
party--Palace of the Pitti--Death of Cosmo de' Medici--His
liberality and magnificence--His modesty--His prudence--Sayings of
Cosmo.

It will perhaps appear to the readers of the preceding book that,
professing only to write of the affairs of Florence, I have dilated
too much in speaking of those which occurred in Lombardy and Naples.
But as I have not already avoided, so it is not my intention in future
to forbear, similar digressions. For although we have not engaged to
give an account of the affairs of Italy, still it would be improper to
neglect noticing the most remarkable of them. If they were wholly
omitted, our history would not be so well understood, neither would it
be so instructive or agreeable; since from the proceedings of the
other princes and states of Italy, have most commonly arisen those
wars in which the Florentines were compelled to take part. Thus, from
the war between John of Anjou and King Ferrando, originated those
serious enmities and hatreds which ensued between Ferrando and the
Florentines, particularly the house of Medici. The king complained of
a want of assistance during the war, and of the aid afforded to his
enemy; and from his anger originated the greatest evils, as will be
hereafter seen. Having, in speaking of external affairs, come down to
the year 1463, it will be necessary in order to make our narrative of
the contemporaneous domestic transactions clearly understood, to
revert to a period several years back. But first, according to custom,
I would offer a few remarks referring to the events about to be
narrated, and observe, that those who think a republic may be kept in
perfect unity of purpose are greatly deceived. True it is, that some
divisions injure republics, while others are beneficial to them. When
accompanied by factions and parties they are injurious; but when
maintained without them they contribute to their prosperity. The
legislator of a republic, since it is impossible to prevent the
existence of dissensions, must at least take care to prevent the
growth of faction. It may therefore be observed, that citizens acquire
reputation and power in two ways; the one public, the other private.
Influence is acquired publicly by winning a battle, taking possession
of a territory, fulfilling the duties of an embassy with care and
prudence, or by giving wise counsel attended by a happy result.
Private methods are conferring benefits upon individuals, defending
them against the magistrates, supporting them with money, and raising
them to undeserved honors; or with public games and entertainments
gaining the affection of the populace. This mode of procedure produces
parties and cliques; and in proportion as influence thus acquired is
injurious, so is the former beneficial, if quite free from party
spirit; because it is founded upon the public good, and not upon
private advantage. And though it is impossible to prevent the
existence of inveterate feuds, still if they be without partisans to
support them for their own individual benefit, they do not injure a
republic, but contribute to its welfare; since none can attain
distinction, but as he contributes to her good, and each party
prevents the other from infringing her liberties. The dissensions of
Florence were always accompanied by factions, and were therefore
always pernicious; and the dominant party only remained united so long
as its enemies held it in check. As soon as the strength of the
opposition was annihilated, the government, deprived of the
restraining influence of its adversaries, and being subject to no law,
fell to pieces. The party of Cosmo de' Medici gained the ascendant in
1434; but the depressed party being very numerous, and composed of
several very influential persons, fear kept the former united, and
restrained their proceedings within the bounds of moderation, so that
no violence was committed by them, nor anything done calculated to
excite popular dislike. Consequently, whenever this government
required the citizens' aid to recover or strengthen its influence, the
latter were always willing to gratify its wishes; so that from 1434 to
1455, during a period of twenty-one years, the authority of a balia
was granted to it six times.

There were in Florence, as we have frequently observed, two
principally powerful citizens, Cosmo de' Medici and Neri Capponi. Neri
acquired his influence by public services; so that he had many friends
but few partisans. Cosmo, being able to avail himself both of public
and private means, had many partisans as well as friends. While both
lived, having always been united, they obtained from the people
whatever they required; for in them popularity and power were united.
But in the year 1455, Neri being dead, and the opposition party
extinct, the government found a difficulty in resuming its authority;
and this was occasioned, remarkably enough, by Cosmo's private
friends, and the most influential men in the state; for, not fearing
the opposite party, they became anxious to abate his power. This
inconsistency was the beginning of the evils which took place in 1456;
so that those in power were openly advised in the deliberative
councils not to renew the power of the balia, but to close the
balloting purses, and appoint the magistrates by drawing from the
pollings or squittini previously made. To restrain this disposition,
Cosmo had the choice of two alternatives, either forcibly to assume
the government, with the partisans he possessed, and drive out the
others, or to allow the matter to take its course, and let his friends
see they were not depriving him of power, but rather themselves. He
chose the latter; for he well knew that at all events the purses being
filled with the names of his own friends, he incurred no risk, and
could take the government into his own hands whenever he found
occasion. The chief offices of state being again filled by lot, the
mass of the people began to think they had recovered their liberty,
and that the decisions of the magistrates were according to their own
judgments, unbiased by the influence of the Great. At the same time,
the friends of different grandees were humbled; and many who had
commonly seen their houses filled with suitors and presents, found
themselves destitute of both. Those who had previously been very
powerful were reduced to an equality with men whom they had been
accustomed to consider inferior; and those formerly far beneath them
were now become their equals. No respect or deference was paid to
them; they were often ridiculed and derided, and frequently heard
themselves and the republic mentioned in the open streets without the
least deference; thus they found it was not Cosmo but themselves that
had lost the government. Cosmo appeared not to notice these matters;
and whenever any subject was proposed in favor of the people he was
the first to support it. But the greatest cause of alarm to the higher
classes, and his most favorable opportunity of retaliation, was the
revival of the catasto, or property-tax of 1427, so that individual
contributions were determined by statute, and not by a set of persons
appointed for its regulation.

This law being re-established, and a magistracy created to carry it
into effect, the nobility assembled, and went to Cosmo to beg he would
rescue them and himself from the power of the plebeians, and restore
to the government the reputation which had made himself powerful and
them respected. He replied, he was willing to comply with their
request, but wished the law to be obtained in the regular manner, by
consent of the people, and not by force, of which he would not hear on
any account. They then endeavored in the councils to establish a new
balia, but did not succeed. On this the grandees again came to Cosmo,
and most humbly begged he would assemble the people in a general
council or parliament, but this he refused, for he wished to make them
sensible of their great mistake; and when Donato Cocchi, being
Gonfalonier of Justice, proposed to assemble them without his consent,
the Signors who were of Cosmo's party ridiculed the idea so
unmercifully, that the man's mind actually became deranged, and he had
to retire from office in consequence. However, since it is undesirable
to allow matters to proceed beyond recovery, the Gonfalon of Justice
being in the hands of Luca Pitti, a bold-spirited man, Cosmo
determined to let him adopt what course he thought proper, that if any
trouble should arise it might be imputed to Luca and not to himself.
Luca, therefore, in the beginning of his magistracy, several times
proposed to the people the appointment of a new balia; and, not
succeeding, he threatened the members of the councils with injurious
and arrogant expressions, which were shortly followed by corresponding
conduct; for in the month of August, 1458, on the eve of Saint
Lorenzo, having filled the piazza, and compelled them to assent to a
measure to which he knew them to be averse. Having recovered power,
created a new balia, and filled the principal offices according to the
pleasure of a few individuals, in order to commence that government
with terror which they had obtained by force, they banished Girolamo
Machiavelli, with some others, and deprived many of the honors of
government. Girolamo, having transgressed the confines to which he was
limited, was declared a rebel. Traveling about Italy, with the design
of exciting the princes against his country, he was betrayed while at
Lunigiana, and, being brought to Florence, was put to death in prison.

This government, during the eight years it continued, was violent and
insupportable; for Cosmo, being now old, and through ill health unable
to attend to public affairs as formerly, Florence became a prey to a
small number of her own citizens. Luca Pitti, in return for the
services he had performed for the republic, as made a knight, and to
be no less grateful than those who had conferred the dignity upon him,
he ordered that the priors, who had hitherto been called priors of the
trades, should also have a name to which they had no kind of claim,
and therefore called them priors of liberty. He also ordered, that as
it had been customary for the gonfalonier to sit upon the right hand
of the rectors, he should in future take his seat in the midst of
them. And that the Deity might appear to participate in what had been
done, public processions were made and solemn services performed, to
thank him for the recovery of the government. The Signory and Cosmo
made Luca Pitti rich presents, and all the citizens were emulous in
imitation of them; so that the money given amounted to no less a sum
than twenty thousand ducats. He thus attained such influence, that not
Cosmo but himself now governed the city; and his pride so increased,
that he commenced two superb buildings, one in Florence, the other at
Ruciano, about a mile distant, both in a style of royal magnificence;
that in the city, being larger than any hitherto built by a private
person. To complete them, he had recourse to the most extraordinary
means; for not only citizens and private individuals made him presents
and supplied materials, but the mass of people, of every grade, also
contributed. Besides this, any exiles who had committed murders,
thefts, or other crimes which made them amenable to the laws, found a
safe refuge within their walls, if they were able to contribute toward
their decoration or completion. The other citizens, though they did
not build like him, were no less violent or rapacious, so that if
Florence were not harassed by external wars, she was ruined by the
wickedness of her own children. During this period the wars of Naples
took place. The pope also commenced hostilities in Romagna against the
Malatesti, from whom he wished to take Rimino and Cesena, held by
them. In these designs, and his intentions of a crusade against the
Turks, was passed the pontificate of Pius II.

Florence continued in disunion and disturbance. The dissensions
continued among the party of Cosmo, in 1455, from the causes already
related, which by his prudence, as we have also before remarked, he
was enabled to tranquilize; but in the year 1464, his illness
increased, and he died. Friends and enemies alike grieved for his
loss; for his political opponents, perceiving the rapacity of the
citizens, even during the life of him who alone restrained them and
made their tyranny supportable, were afraid, lest after his decease,
nothing but ruin would ensue. Nor had they much hope of his son Piero,
who though a very good man, was of infirm health, and new in the
government, and they thought he would be compelled to give way; so
that, being unrestrained, their rapacity would pass all bounds. On
these accounts, the regret was universal. Of all who have left
memorials behind them, and who were not of the military profession,
Cosmo was the most illustrious and the most renowned. He not only
surpassed all his contemporaries in wealth and authority, but also in
generosity and prudence; and among the qualities which contributed to
make him prince in his own country, was his surpassing all others in
magnificence and generosity. His liberality became more obvious after
his death, when Piero, his son, wishing to know what he possessed, it
appeared there was no citizen of any consequence to whom Cosmo had not
lent a large sum of money; and often, when informed of some nobleman
being in distress, he relieved him unasked. His magnificence is
evident from the number of public edifices he erected; for in Florence
are the convents and churches of St. Marco and St. Lorenzo, and the
monastery of Santa Verdiana; in the mountains of Fiesole, the church
and abbey of St. Girolamo; and in the Mugello, he not only restored,
but rebuilt from its foundation, a monastery of the Frati Minori, or
Minims. Besides these, in the church of Santa Croce, the Servi, the
Agnoli, and in San Miniato, he erected splendid chapels and altars;
and besides building the churches and chapels we have mentioned, he
provided them with all the ornaments, furniture, and utensils suitable
for the performance of divine service. To these sacred edifices are to
be added his private dwellings, one in Florence, of extent and
elegance adapted to so great a citizen, and four others, situated at
Careggi, Fiesole, Craggiulo, and Trebbio, each, for size and grandeur,
equal to royal palaces. And, as if it were not sufficient to be
distinguished for magnificence of buildings in Italy alone, he erected
an hospital at Jerusalem, for the reception of poor and infirm
pilgrims. Although his habitations, like all his other works and
actions, were quite of a regal character, and he alone was prince in
Florence, still everything was so tempered with his prudence, that he
never transgressed the decent moderation of civil life; in his
conversation, his servants, his traveling, his mode of living, and the
relationships he formed, the modest demeanor of the citizen was always
evident; for he was aware that a constant exhibition of pomp brings
more envy upon its possessor than greater realities borne without
ostentation. Thus in selecting consorts for his sons, he did not seek
the alliance of princes, but for Giovanni chose Corneglia degli
Allesandri, and for Piero, Lucrezia de' Tornabuoni. He gave his
granddaughters, the children of Piero, Bianca to Guglielmo de' Pazzi,
and Nannina to Bernardo Ruccellai. No one of his time possessed such
an intimate knowledge of government and state affairs as himself; and
hence amid such a variety of fortune, in a city so given to change,
and among a people of such extreme inconstancy, he retained possession
of the government thirty-one years; for being endowed with the utmost
prudence, he foresaw evils at a distance, and therefore had an
opportunity either of averting them, or preventing their injurious
results. He thus not only vanquished domestic and civil ambition, but
humbled the pride of many princes with so much fidelity and address,
that whatever powers were in league with himself and his country,
either overcame their adversaries, or remained uninjured by his
alliance; and whoever were opposed to him, lost either their time,
money, or territory. Of this the Venetians afford a sufficient proof,
who, while in league with him against Duke Filippo were always
victorious, but apart from him were always conquered; first by Filippo
and then by Francesco. When they joined Alfonso against the Florentine
republic, Cosmo, by his commercial credit, so drained Naples and
Venice of money, that they were glad to obtain peace upon any terms it
was thought proper to grant. Whatever difficulties he had to contend
with, whether within the city or without, he brought to a happy issue,
at once glorious to himself and destructive to his enemies; so that
civil discord strengthened his government in Florence, and war
increased his power and reputation abroad. He added to the Florentine
dominions, the Borgo of St. Sepolcro, Montedoglio, the Casentino and
Val di Bagno. His virtue and good fortune overcame all his enemies and
exalted his friends. He was born in the year 1389, on the day of the
saints Cosmo and Damiano. His earlier years were full of trouble, as
his exile, captivity, and personal danger fully testify; and having
gone to the council of Constance, with Pope John, in order to save his
life, after the ruin of the latter, he was obliged to escape in
disguise. But after the age of forty, he enjoyed the greatest
felicity; and not only those who assisted him in public business, but
his agents who conducted his commercial speculations throughout
Europe, participated in his prosperity. Hence many enormous fortunes
took their origin in different families of Florence, as in that of the
Tornabuoni, the Benci, the Portinari, and the Sassetti. Besides these,
all who depended upon his advice and patronage became rich; and,
though he was constantly expending money in building churches, and in
charitable purposes, he sometimes complained to his friends that he
had never been able to lay out so much in the service of God as to
find the balance in his own favor, intimating that all he had done or
could do, was still unequal to what the Almighty had done for him. He
was of middle stature, olive complexion, and venerable aspect; not
learned but exceedingly eloquent, endowed with great natural capacity,
generous to his friends, kind to the poor, comprehensive in discourse,
cautious in advising, and in his speeches and replies, grave and
witty. When Rinaldo degli Albizzi, at the beginning of his exile, sent
to him to say, "the hen had laid," he replied, "she did ill to lay so
far from the nest." Some other of the rebels gave him to understand
they were "not dreaming." He said, "he believed it, for he had robbed
them of their sleep." When Pope Pius was endeavoring to induce the
different governments to join in an expedition against the Turks, he
said, "he was an old man, and had undertaken the enterprise of a young
one." To the Venetians ambassadors, who came to Florence with those of
King Alfonso to complain of the republic, he uncovered his head, and
asked them what color it was; they said, "white": he replied, "it is
so; and it will not be long before your senators have heads as white
as mine." A few hours before his death, his wife asked him why he kept
his eyes shut, and he said, "to get them in the way of it." Some
citizens saying to him, after his return from exile, that he injured
the city, and that it was offensive to God to drive so many religious
persons out of it; he replied that, "it was better to injure the city,
than to ruin it; that two yards of rose-colored cloth would make a
gentleman, and that it required something more to direct a government
than to play with a string of beads." These words gave occasion to his
enemies to slander him, as a man who loved himself more than his
country, and was more attached to this world than to the next. Many
others of his sayings might be adduced, but we shall omit them as
unnecessary. Cosmo was a friend and patron of learned men. He brought
Argiripolo, a Greek by birth, and one of the most erudite of his time,
to Florence, to instruct the youth in Hellenic literature. He
entertained Marsilio Ficino, the reviver of the Platonic philosophy,
in his own house; and being much attached to him, have him a residence
near his palace at Careggi, that he might pursue the study of letters
with greater convenience, and himself have an opportunity of enjoying
his company. His prudence, his great wealth, the uses to which he
applied it, and his splendid style of living, caused him to be beloved
and respected in Florence, and obtained for him the highest
consideration, not only among the princes and governments of Italy,
but throughout all Europe. He thus laid a foundation for his
descendants, which enabled them to equal him in virtue, and greatly
surpass him in fortune; while the authority they possessed in Florence
and throughout Christendom was not obtained without being merited.
Toward the close of his life he suffered great affliction; for, of his
two sons, Piero and Giovanni, the latter, of whom he entertained the
greatest hopes, died; and the former was so sickly as to be unable to
attend either to public or private business. On being carried from one
apartment to another, after Giovanni's death, he remarked to his
attendants, with a sigh, "This is too large a house for so small a
family." His great mind also felt distressed at the idea that he had
not extended the Florentine dominions by any valuable acquisition; and
he regretted it the more, from imagining he had been deceived by
Francesco Sforza, who, while count, had promised, that if he became
lord of Milan, he would undertake the conquest of Lucca for the
Florentines, a design, however, that was never realized; for the
count's ideas changed upon his becoming duke; he resolved to enjoy in
peace, the power he had acquired by war, and would not again encounter
its fatigues and dangers, unless the welfare of his own dominions
required it. This was a source of much annoyance to Cosmo, who felt he
had incurred great expense and trouble for an ungrateful and
perfidious friend. His bodily infirmities prevented him from attending
either to public or private affairs, as he had been accustomed, and he
consequently witnessed both going to decay; for Florence was ruined by
her own citizens, and his fortune by his agents and children. He died,
however, at the zenith of his glory and in the enjoyment of the
highest renown. The city, and all the Christian princes, condoled with
his son Piero for his loss. His funeral was conducted with the utmost
pomp and solemnity, the whole city following his corpse to the tomb in
the church of St. Lorenzo, on which, by public decree, he was
inscribed, "FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY." If, in speaking of Cosmo's
actions, I have rather imitated the biographies of princes than
general history, it need not occasion wonder; for of so extraordinary
an individual I was compelled to speak with unusual praise.

Niccolo Machiavelli