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Chapter 47

CHAPTER III

Niccolo Soderini drawn Gonfalonier of Justice--Great hopes excited
in consequence--The two parties take arms--The fears of the
Signory--Their conduct with regard to Piero--Piero's reply to the
Signory--Reform of government in favor of Piero de' Medici--
Dispersion of his enemies--Fall of Lucca Pitti--Letter of Agnolo
Acciajuoli to Piero de' Medici--Piero's answer--Designs of the
Florentine exiles--They induce the Venetians to make war on
Florence.

In the midst of these events, the time arrived for the renewal of the
supreme magistracy; and Niccolo Soderini was drawn Gonfalonier of
Justice. It was surprising to see by what a concourse, not only of
distinguished citizens, but also of the populace, he was accompanied
to the palace; and while on the way thither an olive wreath was placed
upon his head, to signify that upon him depended the safety and
liberty of the city. This, among many similar instances, serves to
prove how undesirable it is to enter upon office or power exciting
inordinate expectations; for, being unable to fulfil them (many
looking for more than it is possible to perform), shame and
disappointment are the ordinary results. Tommaso and Niccolo Soderini
were brothers. Niccolo was the more ardent and spirited, Tommaso the
wiser man; who, being very much the friend of Piero, and knowing that
his brother desired nothing but the liberty of the city, and the
stability of the republic, without injury to any, advised him to make
new Squittini, by which means the election purses might be filled with
the names of those favorable to his design. Niccolo took his brother's
advice, and thus wasted the period of his magistracy in vain hopes,
which his friends, the leading conspirators, allowed him to do from
motives of envy; for they were unwilling that the government should be
reformed by the authority of Niccolo, and thought they would be in
time enough to effect their purpose under another gonfalonier. Thus
the magistracy of Niccolo expired; and having commenced many things
without completing aught, he retired from office with much less credit
than when he had entered upon it.

This circumstance caused the aggrandizement of Piero's party, whose
friends entertained stronger hopes, while those who had been neutral
or wavering became his adherents; so that both sides being balanced,
many months elapsed without any open demonstration of their particular
designs. Piero's party continuing to gather strength, his enemies'
indignation increased in proportion; and they now determined to effect
by force what they either could not accomplish, or were unwilling to
attempt by the medium of the magistrates, which was assassination of
Piero, who lay sick at Careggi, and to this end order the marquis of
Ferrara nearer to the city with his forces, that after Piero's death
he might lead them into the piazza, and thus compel the Signory to
form a government according to their own wishes; for though all might
not be friendly, they trusted they would be able to induce those to
submit by fear who might be opposed to them from principle.

Diotisalvi, the better to conceal his design, frequently visited
Piero, conversed with him respecting the union of the city, and
advised him to effect it. The conspirators' designs had already been
fully disclosed to Piero; besides this, Domenico Martelli had informed
him, that Francesco Neroni, the brother of Diotisalvi, had endeavored
to induce him to join them, assuring him the victory was certain, and
their object all but attained. Upon this, Piero resolved to take
advantage of his enemies' tampering with the marquis of Ferrara, and
be first in arms. He therefore intimated that he had received a letter
from Giovanni Bentivogli, prince of Bologna, which informed him that
the marquis of Ferrara was upon the river Albo, at the head of a
considerable force, with the avowed intention of leading it to
Florence; that upon this advice he had taken up arms; after which, in
the midst of a strong force, he came to the city, when all who were
disposed to support him, armed themselves also. The adverse party did
the same, but not in such good order, being unprepared. The residence
of Diotisalvi being near that of Piero, he did not think himself safe
in it, but first went to the palace and begged the Signory would
endeavor to induce Piero to lay down his arms, and thence to Luca
Pitti, to keep him faithful in their cause. Niccolo Soderini displayed
the most activity; for taking arms, and being followed by nearly all
the plebeians in his vicinity, he proceeded to the house of Luca, and
begged that he would mount his horse, and come to the piazza in
support of the Signory, who were, he said, favorable, and that the
victory would, undoubtedly, be on their side; that he should not stay
in the house to be basely slain by their armed enemies, or
ignominiously deceived by those who were unarmed; for, in that case,
he would soon repent of having neglected an opportunity irrecoverably
lost; that if he desired the forcible ruin of Piero, he might easily
effect it; and that if he were anxious for peace, it would be far
better to be in a condition to propose terms than to be compelled to
accept any that might be offered. These words produced no effect upon
Luca, whose mind was now quite made up; he had been induced to desert
his party by new conditions and promises of alliance from Piero; for
one of his nieces had been married to Giovanni Tornabuoni. He,
therefore, advised Niccolo to dismiss his followers and return home,
telling him he ought to be satisfied, if the city were governed by the
magistrates, which would certainly be the case, and that all ought to
lay aside their weapons; for the Signory, most of whom were friendly,
would decide their differences. Niccolo, finding him impracticable,
returned home; but before he left, he said, "I can do the city no good
alone, but I can easily foresee the evils that will befall her. This
resolution of yours will rob our country of her liberty; you will lose
the government, I shall lose my property, and the rest will be
exiled."

During this disturbance the Signory closed the palace and kept their
magistrates about them, without showing favor to either party. The
citizens, especially those who had followed Luca Pitti, finding Piero
fully prepared and his adversaries unarmed, began to consider, not how
they might injure him, but how, with least observation, glide into the
ranks of his friends. The principal citizens, the leaders of both
factions, assembled in the palace in the presence of the Signory, and
spoke respecting the state of the city and the reconciliation of
parties; and as the infirmities of Piero prevented him from being
present, they, with one exception, unanimously determined to wait upon
him at his house. Niccolo Soderini having first placed his children
and his effects under the care of his brother Tommaso, withdrew to his
villa, there to await the event, but apprehended misfortune to himself
and ruin to his country. The other citizens coming into Piero's
presence, one of them who had been appointed spokesman, complained of
the disturbances that had arisen in the city, and endeavored to show,
that those must be most to blame who had been first to take up arms;
and not knowing what Piero (who was evidently the first to do so)
intended, they had come in order to be informed of his design, and if
it had in view the welfare of the city, they were desirous of
supporting it. Piero replied, that not those who first take arms are
the most to blame, but those who give the first occasion for it, and
if they would reflect a little on their mode of proceeding toward
himself, they would cease to wonder at what he had done; for they
could not fail to perceive, that nocturnal assemblies, the enrollment
of partisans, and attempts to deprive him both of his authority and
his life, had caused him to take arms; and they might further observe,
that as his forces had not quitted his own house, his design was
evidently only to defend himself and not to injure others. He neither
sought nor desired anything but safety and repose; neither had his
conduct ever manifested a desire for ought else; for when the
authority of the Balia expired, he never made any attempt to renew it,
and was very glad the magistrates had governed the city and had been
content. They might also remember that Cosmo and his sons could live
respected in Florence, either with the Balia or without it, and that
in 1458, it was not his family, but themselves, who had renewed it.
That if they did not wish for it at present, neither did he; but this
did not satisfy them; for he perceived that they thought it impossible
to remain in Florence while he was there. It was entirely beyond all
his anticipations that his own or his father's friends should think
themselves unsafe with him in Florence, having always shown himself
quiet and peaceable. He then addressed himself to Diotisalvi and his
brothers, who were present, reminding them with grave indignation, of
the benefits they had received from Cosmo, the confidence he had
reposed in them and their subsequent ingratitude; and his words so
strongly excited some present, that had he not interfered, they would
certainly have torn the Neroni to pieces on the spot. He concluded by
saying, that he should approve of any determination of themselves and
the Signory; and that for his own part, he only desired peace and
safety. After this, many things were discussed, but nothing
determined, excepting generally, that it was necessary to reform the
administration of the city and government.

The Gonfalon of Justice was then in the hands of Bernardo Lotti, a man
not in the confidence of Piero, who was therefore disinclined to
attempt aught while he was in office; but no inconvenience would
result from the delay, as his magistracy was on the point of expiring.
Upon the election of Signors for the months of September and October,
1466, Roberto Lioni was appointed to the supreme magistracy, and as
soon as he assumed its duties, every requisite arrangement having been
previously made, the people were called to the piazza, and a new Balia
created, wholly in favor of Piero, who soon afterward filled all the
offices of government according to his own pleasure. These
transactions alarmed the leaders of the opposite faction, and Agnolo
Acciajuoli fled to Naples, Diotisalvi Neroni and Niccolo Soderini to
Venice. Luca Pitti remained in Florence, trusting to his new
relationship and the promises of Piero. The refugees were declared
rebels, and all the family of the Neroni were dispersed. Giovanni di
Neroni, then archbishop of Florence, to avoid a greater evil, became a
voluntary exile at Rome, and to many other citizens who fled, various
places of banishment were appointed. Nor was this considered
sufficient; for it was ordered that the citizens should go in solemn
procession to thank God for the preservation of the government and the
reunion of the city, during the performance of which, some were taken
and tortured, and part of them afterward put to death and exiled. In
this great vicissitude of affairs, there was not a more remarkable
instance of the uncertainty of fortune than Luca Pitti, who soon found
the difference between victory and defeat, honor and disgrace. His
house now presented only a vast solitude, where previously crowds of
citizens had assembled. In the streets, his friends and relatives,
instead of accompanying, were afraid even to salute him. Some of them
were deprived of the honors of government, others of their property,
and all alike threatened. The superb edifices he had commenced were
abandoned by the builders; the benefits that had been conferred upon
him, where now exchanged for injuries, the honors for disgrace. Hence
many of those who had presented him with articles of value now
demanded them back again, as being only lent; and those who had been
in the habit of extolling him as a man of surpassing excellence, now
termed him violent and ungrateful. So that, when too late, he
regretted not having taken the advice of Niccolo Soderini, and
preferred an honorable death in battle, than to a life of ignominy
among his victorious enemies.

The exiles now began to consider various means of recovering that
citizenship which they had not been able to preserve. However, Agnolo
Acciajuoli being at Naples, before he attempted anything else,
resolved to sound Piero, and try if he could effect a reconciliation.
For this purpose, he wrote to him in the following terms: "I cannot
help laughing at the freaks of fortune, perceiving how, at her
pleasure, she converts friends into enemies, and enemies into friends.
You may remember that during your father's exile, regarding more the
injury done to him than my own misfortunes, I was banished, and in
danger of death, and never during Cosmo's life failed to honor and
support your family; neither have I since his death ever entertained a
wish to injure you. True, it is, that your own sickness, and the
tender years of your sons, so alarmed me, that I judged it desirable
to give such a form to the government, that after your death our
country might not be ruined; and hence, the proceedings, which not
against you, but for the safety of the state, have been adopted,
which, if mistaken, will surely obtain forgiveness, both for the good
design in view, and on account of my former services. Neither can I
apprehend, that your house, having found me so long faithful, should
now prove unmerciful, or that you could cancel the impression of so
much merit for so small a fault." Piero replied: "Your laughing in
your present abode is the cause why I do not weep, for were you to
laugh in Florence, I should have to weep at Naples. I confess you were
well disposed toward my father, and you ought to confess you were well
paid for it; and the obligation is so much the greater on your part
than on ours, as deeds are of greater value than words. Having been
recompensed for your good wishes, it ought not to surprise you that
you now receive the due reward of your bad ones. Neither will a
pretense of your patriotism excuse you, for none will think the city
less beloved or benefited by the Medici, than by the Acciajuoli. It,
therefore, seems but just, that you should remain in dishonor at
Naples, since you knew not how to live with honor at home."

Agnolo, hopeless of obtaining pardon, went to Rome, where, joining the
archbishop and other refugees, they used every available means to
injure the commercial credit of the Medici in that city. Their
attempts greatly annoyed Piero; but by his friends' assistance, he was
enabled to render them abortive. Diotisalvi Neroni and Niccolo
Soderini strenuously urged the Venetian senate to make war upon their
country, calculating, that in case of an attack, the government being
new and unpopular, would be unable to resist. At this time there
resided at Ferrara, Giovanni Francesco, son of Palla Strozzi, who,
with his father, was banished from Florence in the changes of 1434. He
possessed great influence, and was considered one of the richest
merchants. The newly banished pointed out to Giovanni Francesco how
easily they might return to their country, if the Venetians were to
undertake the enterprise, and that it was most probable they would do
so, if they had pecuniary assistance, but that otherwise it would be
doubtful. Giovanni Francesco, wishing to avenge his own injuries, at
once fell in with their ideas, and promised to contribute to the
success of the attempt all the means in his power. On this they went
to the Doge, and complained of the exile they were compelled to
endure, for no other reason, they said, than for having wished their
country should be subject to equal laws, and that the magistrates
should govern, not a few private individuals; that Piero de' Medici,
with his adherents, who were accustomed to act tyrannically, had
secretly taken up arms, deceitfully induced them to lay their own
aside, and thus, by fraud, expelled them from their country; that, not
content with this, they made the Almighty himself a means of
oppression to several, who, trusting to their promises, had remained
in the city and were there betrayed; for, during public worship and
solemn supplications, that the Deity might seem to participate in
their treachery, many citizens had been seized, imprisoned, tortured,
and put to death; thus affording to the world a horrible and impious
precedent. To avenge themselves for these injuries, they knew not
where to turn with so much hope of success as to the senate, which,
having always enjoyed their liberty, ought to compassionate those who
had lost it. They therefore called upon them as free men to assist
them against tyrants; as pious, against the wicked; and would remind
the Venetians, that it was the family of the Medici who had robbed
them of their dominions in Lombardy, contrary to the wish of the other
citizens, and who, in opposition to the interests of the senate, had
favored and supported Francesco, so, that if the exiles' distresses
could not induce them to undertake the war, the just indignation of
the people of Venice, and their desire of vengeance ought to prevail.

Niccolo Machiavelli