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Chapter 49

CHAPTER V

Bernardo takes possession of Prato, but is not assisted by the
inhabitants--He is taken, and the tumult appeased--Corruption of
Florence--The duke of Milan in Florence--The church of Santo
Spirito destroyed by fire--The rebellion of Volterra, and the
cause of it--Volterra reduced to obedience by force, in accordance
with the advice of Lorenzo de' Medici--Volterra pillaged.

Cesare Petrucci held the office of Provost of Prato for the Florentine
people, at this period. It is customary with governors of towns,
similarly situated, to keep the keys of the gates near their persons;
and whenever, in peaceful times, they are required by any of the
inhabitants, for entrance or exit, they are usually allowed to be
taken. Bernardo was aware of this custom, and about daybreak,
presented himself at the gate which looks toward Pistoia, accompanied
by the Palandra and about one hundred persons, all armed. Their
confederates within the town also armed themselves, and one of them
asked the governor for the keys, alleging, as a pretext, that some one
from the country wished to enter. The governor not entertaining the
slightest suspicion, sent a servant with them. When at a convenient
distance, they were taken by the conspirators, who, opening the gates,
introduced Bernardo and his followers. They divided themselves into
two parties, one of which, led by Salvestro, an inhabitant of Prato,
took possession of the citadel; the other following Bernardo, seized
the palace, and placed Cesare with all his family in the custody of
some of their number. They then raised the cry of liberty, and
proceeded through the town. It was now day, and many of the
inhabitants hearing the disturbance, ran to the piazza where, learning
that the fortress and the palace were taken and the governor with all
his people made prisoners, they were utterly astonished, and could not
imagine how it had occurred. The eight citizens, possessing the
supreme authority, assembled in their palace to consider what was best
to be done. In the meantime, Bernardo and his followers, on going
round the town, found no encouragement, and being told that the Eight
had assembled, went and declared the nature of their enterprise, which
he said was to deliver the country from slavery, reminding them how
glorious it would be for those who took arms to effect such an
honorable object, for they would thus obtain permanent repose and
everlasting fame. He called to recollection their ancient liberty and
present condition, and assured them of certain assistance, if they
would only, for a few days, aid in resisting the forces the
Florentines might send against them. He said he had friends in
Florence who would join them as soon as they found the inhabitants
resolved to support him. His speech did not produce the desired effect
upon the Eight, who replied that they knew not whether Florence was
free or enslaved, for that was a matter which they were not called
upon to decide; but this they knew very well, that for their own part,
they desired no other liberty than to obey the magistrates who
governed Florence, from whom they had never received any injury
sufficient to make them desire a change. They therefore advised him to
set the governor at liberty, clear the place of his people, and, as
quickly as possible, withdraw from the danger he had so rashly
incurred. Bernardo was not daunted by these words, but determined to
try whether fear could influence the people of Prato, since entreaties
produced so little effect. In order to terrify them, he determined to
put Cesare to death, and having brought him out of prison, ordered him
to be hanged at the windows of the palace. He was already led to the
spot with a halter around his neck, when seeing Bernardo giving
directions to hasten his end, he turned to him, and said: "Bernardo,
you put me to death, thinking that the people of Prato will follow
you; but the direct contrary will result; for the respect they have
for the rectors which the Florentine people send here is so great,
that as soon as they witness the injury inflicted upon me, they will
conceive such a disgust against you as will inevitably effect your
ruin. Therefore, it is not by my death, but by the preservation of my
life, that you can attain the object you have in view; for if I
deliver your commands, they will be much more readily obeyed, and
following your directions, we shall soon attain the completion of your
design." Bernardo, whose mind was not fertile in expedients, thought
the advice good, and commanded Cesare, on being conducted to a veranda
which looked upon the piazza, to order the people of Prato to obey
him, and having done which, Cesare was led back to prison.

The weakness of the conspirators was obvious; and many Florentines
residing in the town, assembled together, among whom, Giorgio Ginori,
a knight of Rhodes, took arms first against them, and attacked
Bernardo, who traversed the piazza, alternately entreating and
threatening those who refused to obey him, and being surrounded by
Giorgio's followers, he was wounded and made prisoner. This being
done, it was easy to set the governor at liberty and subdue the rest,
who being few, and divided into several parties, were nearly all
either secured or slain. An exaggerated report of these transactions
reached Florence, it being told there that Prato was taken, the
governor and his friends put to death, and the place filled with the
enemy; and that Pistoia was also in arms, and most of the citizens in
the conspiracy. In consequence of this alarming account, the palace as
quickly filled with citizens, who consulted with the Signory what
course ought to be adopted. At this time, Roberto da San Severino, one
of the most distinguished generals of this period, was at Florence,
and it was therefore determined to send him, with what forces could be
collected, to Prato, with orders that he should approach the place,
particularly observe what was going on, and provide such remedies as
the necessity of the case and his own prudence should suggest. Roberto
had scarcely passed the fortress of Campi, when he was met by a
messenger from the governor, who informed him that Bernardo was taken,
his followers either dispersed or slain, and everything restored to
order. He consequently returned to Florence, whither Bernardo was
shortly after conveyed, and when questioned by the magistracy
concerning the real motives of such a weak conspiracy, he said, he had
undertaken it, because, having resolved to die in Florence rather than
live in exile, he wished his death to be accompanied by some memorable
action.

This disturbance having been raised and quelled almost at the same
time, the citizens returned to their accustomed mode of life, hoping
to enjoy, without anxiety, the state they had now established and
confirmed. Hence arose many of those evils which usually result from
peace; for the youth having become more dissolute than before, more
extravagant in dress, feasting, and other licentiousness, and being
without employment, wasted their time and means on gaming and women;
their principal study being how to appear splendid in apparel, and
attain a crafty shrewdness in discourse; he who could make the most
poignant remark being considered the wisest, and being most respected.
These manners derived additional encouragement from the followers of
the duke of Milan, who, with his duchess and the whole ducal court, as
it was said, to fulfill a vow, came to Florence, where he was received
with all the pomp and respect due to so great a prince, and one so
intimately connected with the Florentine people. Upon this occasion
the city witnessed an unprecedented exhibition; for, during Lent, when
the church commands us to abstain from animal food, the Milanese,
without respect for either God or his church, ate of it daily. Many
spectacles were exhibited in honor of the duke, and among others, in
the temple of Santo Spirito, was represented the descent of the Holy
Ghost among the apostles; and in consequence of the numerous fires
used upon the occasion, some of the woodwork became ignited, and the
church was completely destroyed by the flames. Many thought that the
Almighty being offended at our misconduct, took this method of
signifying his displeasure. If, therefore, the duke found the city
full of courtly delicacies, and customs unsuitable to well-regulated
conduct, he left it in a much worse state. Hence the good citizens
thought it necessary to restrain these improprieties, and made a law
to put a stop to extravagance in dress, feasts, and funerals.

In the midst of this universal peace, a new and unexpected disturbance
arose in Tuscany. Certain citizens of Volterra had discovered an alum-
mine in their district, and being aware of the profit derivable from
it, in order to obtain the means of working and securing it, they
applied to some Florentines, and allowed them to share in the profits.
This, as is frequently the case with new undertakings, at first
excited little attention from the people of Volterra; but in time,
finding the profits derived from it had become considerable, they
fruitlessly endeavored to effect what at first might have been easily
accomplished. They began by agitating the question in their councils,
declaring it grossly improper that a source of wealth discovered in
the public lands should be converted to the emolument of private
individuals. They next sent advocates to Florence, and the question
was referred to the consideration of certain citizens, who, either
through being bribed by the party in possession, or from a sincere
conviction, declared the aim of the people of Volterra to be unjust in
desiring to deprive their citizens of the fruit of their labor; and
decided that the alum-pit was the rightful property of those who had
hitherto wrought it; but, at the same time, recommended them to pay an
annual sum by way of acknowledgment to the city. This answer instead
of abating, served only to increase the animosities and tumult in
Volterra, and absorbed entire attention both in the councils and
throughout the city; the people demanding the restitution of what they
considered their due, and the proprietors insisting upon their right
to retain what they had originally acquired, and what had been
subsequently been confirmed to them by the decision of the
Florentines. In the midst of these disturbances, a respectable
citizen, named Il Pecorino, was killed, together with several others,
who had embraced the same side, whose houses were also plundered and
burned; and the fury of the mob rose to such a height, that they were
with difficulty restrained from putting the Florentine rectors to
death.

After the first outrage, the Volterrani immediately determined to send
ambassadors to Florence, who intimated, that if the Signory would
allow them their ancient privileges, the city would remain subject to
them as formerly. Many and various were the opinions concerning the
reply to be made. Tommaso Soderini advised that they should accept the
submission of the people of Volterra, upon any conditions with which
they were disposed to make it; for he considered it unreasonable and
unwise to kindle a flame so near home that it might burn their own
dwelling; he suspected the pope's ambition, and was apprehensive of
the power of the king; nor could he confide in the friendship either
of the duke or the Venetians, having no assurance of the sincerity of
the latter, or the valor of the former. He concluded by quoting that
trite proverb, "Meglio un magro accordo che una grassa vittoria."[*]
On the other hand, Lorenzo de' Medici, thinking this an opportunity
for exhibiting his prudence and wisdom, and being strenuously
supported by those who envied the influence of Tommaso Soderini,
resolved to march against them, and punish the arrogance of the people
of Volterra with arms; declaring that if they were not made a striking
example, others would, without the least fear or respect, upon every
slight occasion, adopt a similar course. The enterprise being resolved
on, the Volterrani were told that they could not demand the observance
of conditions which they themselves had broken, and therefore must
either submit to the direction of the Signory or expect war. With this
answer they returned to their city, and prepared for its defense;
fortifying the place, and sending to all the princes of Italy to
request assistance, none of whom listened to them, except the Siennese
and the lord of Piombino, who gave them some hope of aid. The
Florentines on the other hand, thinking success dependent principally
upon celerity, assembled ten thousand foot and two thousand horse,
who, under the command of Federigo, lord of Urbino, marched into the
country of Volterra and quickly took entire possession of it. They
then encamped before the city, which, being in a lofty situation, and
precipitous on all sides, could only be approached by a narrow pass
near the church of St. Alessandro. The Volterrani had engaged for
their defense about one thousand mercenaries, who, perceiving the
great superiority of the Florentines, found the place untenable, and
were tardy in their defensive operations, but indefatigable in the
constant injuries they committed upon the people of the place. Thus
these poor citizens were harassed by the enemy without, and by their
own soldiery within; so, despairing of their safety, they began to
think of a capitulation; and, being unable to obtain better terms,
submitted to the discretion of the Florentine commissaries, who
ordered the gates to be opened, and introduced the greater part of
their forces. They then proceeded to the palace, and commanded the
priors to retire to their homes; and, on the way thither, one of them
was in derision stripped by the soldiers. From this beginning (so much
more easily are men predisposed to evil than to good) originated the
pillage and destruction of the city; which for a whole day suffered
the greatest horrors, neither women nor sacred places being spared;
and the soldiery, those engaged for its defense as well as its
assailants, plundered all that came within their reach. The news of
this victory was received with great joy at Florence, and as the
expedition had been undertaken wholly by the advice of Lorenzo, he
acquired great reputation. Upon which one of the intimate friends of
Tommaso Soderini, reminding him of the advice he had given, asked him
what he thought of the taking of Volterra; to which he replied, "To me
the place seems rather lost than won; for had it been received on
equitable terms, advantage and security would have been the result;
but having to retain it by force it will in critical junctures,
occasion weakness and anxiety, and in times of peace, injury and
expense."

[*] A lean peace is better than a fat victory.

Niccolo Machiavelli