Medici, the House of
Medici, The House Of one of the most noted families of Italy's nobility, figures largely in the ecclesiastical history of mediaeval times and the days of the Renaissance that we cannot pass it without a somewhat detailed account of its different members.
1. The early history of the family of the Medici is obscure, although some authors have traced their genealogy from the' age of Charlemagne. But it must be remembered that these genealogies were made after the elevation of this family to suprep power in the republic of Florence-a position which they attained only by degrees, after the accumulation of wealth sufficient to control the affairs of the Italian nation. It appears, however, from authentic monuments, that many individuals of this family had signalized themselves on various important occasions even in early times. Giovanni de' Mediti in the yea 1251, with a body of only one hundred Florentines, forced his way through the Milanese army, then besieging the fortress of Scarperia, and entered the place with :he loss of twenty lives. Francesco de' Medici was at the head of the magistracy of Florence in 1348, at the time when the black plague, which had desolated so large a portion of the world, extended its ravages to that city.: Salvestro de' Medici acquired great reputation by his temperate but firm resistance to the nobles, who, in order to secure their power, accused those who opposed them of being attached to the party of the Ghibelines, then in great odium at Florence. The persons so accused, were said to be ammoniti (admonished), and by 'that act were excluded from all offices of government. In the year 1379, Salvestro, being chosen chief magistrate, exerted his power to reform this abuse, which was not, however, effected without a violent commotion, several of the nobility losing their lives in the attempt. It is from this time that we date the rise of the Medici to prominence in political, and finally also in ecclesiastical affairs.
2. The founder, however. of that almost regal greatness which the Medici enjoyed for more than two centuries was not Salvestro, who first received great public distinctions, but Giovanni de' Medici. His immense wealth, honorably acquired by commercial dealings, which had already rendered the name of Medici celebrated in Europe, was expended with liberality and magnificence. Of a mild temper and averse to cabals, Giovanni de' Medici did not attempt to set up a party, but contented himself with the place in the public councils to which even his enemies declared him entitled in virtue of his eminence, his acquirements, and the purity of his character. He died in 1429, leaving to his sons, Cosmo and Lorenzo, a heritage of wealth and honors hitherto unparalleled in the republic.
Cosmto (born 1389, died 1464), on whom was gratefully bestowed the honored title of Father of his country," really began the glorious epoch of the Medici. Cosno's life, except during a short period, when the Albizzi and other rivals re-established a successful opposition against the policy and credit of the Medici, was one uninterrupted course of prosperity; at once a munificent patron and a successful cultivator of art and literature, he did more than any other sovereign in Europe to revive the study of the ancient classics, and to foster a taste for mental culture. He assembled around him learned men of every nation, and gave liberal support to numerous Greek scholars, whom the subjection of Constantinople by the Turks had driven into exile; and by his foundation, of. an academy for the study of the philosophy of Plato, and of a library of Greek, Latin, and Oriental MSS he inaugurated a new sera in modern learning and art. In the lifetime of his father, Cosmo had engaged not only in the extensive business by which the family had acquired its wealth, but also in the affairs of state. Such was his authority and reputation that in the year 1414, when Balthasar Cossa, who had been elected pope, and had assumed the name of John XXIII, was summoned to attend the Council of Constance, he chose to be accompanied by Cosmo de' Medici, among other men of eminence, whose characters might countenance his cause. By this council, which continued nearly four years, Balthasar was deprived of his pontifical dignity, and Otto Colonna, who took the name of Martin V, was elected pope. Cosmo did not desert in adversity the mal to whom he had attached himself in prosperity. At the expense of a large sum of money, he redeemed him from the hands of the duke of Bavaria, who had seized upon his person; and afterwards gave him a hospitable shelter at Florence during the remainder of his life. The successful pontiff, instead of resenting the kindness shown to his rival, soon afterwards paid a public visit to Florence, where, on the formal submission of Balthasar, and at the request of the Medici, he created the ex-pope a cardinal, with. the privilege of taking the first place in the sacred college. The new-made cardinal died in 1419, and it was rumored that the Medici at his death possessed themselves of immense wealth which he had acquired during his pontificate. This rumor was afterwards encouraged by those who well knew its falsehood. The true source of the. wealth of the Medici was their superior talents and application to business, and the property of the cardinal was scarcely sufficient to discharge his debts and legacies. During the retirement of his latter days, his happiest hours were devoted to the study of letters and philosophy, and the conversation of learned men. He also endowed numerous religious houses, and built a hospital at Jerusalem for the relief of distressed pilgrims.
3. Cosmo's grandson, Lorenzo, afterwards surnamed the " Magnificent" (born Jan. 1,1448, died April 8,1492), was introduced to a knowledge of public affairs, on account of the infirmities of his father, immediately upon the decease of Cosmo. Though only a youth, he was at once pushed forward to take upon himself the work supposed to belong to a much maturer mind. To afford him a clearer insight into political affairs than he could secure at home, he was sent to visit the principal courts in Italy. Upon the accession of Sixtus IV to the papal throne, he went. with other citizens of Florence, to congratulate the new pope, and was invested with the office of treasurer of the holy see; and while at Rome embraced the opportunity to add to the remains of ancient art which his family had collected. One of the first events after he undertook the administration of affairs was a revolt of the inhabitants of Volterra, on account of a dispute with the Florentine republic. By the recommendation of Lorenzo, force was used, and the result was the sack of Volterra. Like his grandfather, hp encouraged literature and the arts, employed learned men to collect choice books and antiquities for him from every part of the known world, established printing-presses in his dominions as soon as the art was invented but, above all, he deserves special commendation for his re- establishment of the Academy of Pisa, to which city-he removed in order to complete the undertaking: he selected the most eminent professors, and contributed a large sum from his private fortune, in addition to that granted by the state of Florence. In another respect also Lorenzo resembled his grandfather Cosmo. He was or affected to be, an admirer of Plato, took an active part in the establishment of an academy for the cultivation of the Platonic philosophy, and instituted an annual-festival in honor of Plato.
While Loreiuzo was dividing his time between the administration of the state and the promotion of literature, the Pazzi, a numerous and distinguished family in Florence, of all the opponents of the Medici the most inveterate, formed a conspiracy to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother experience having taught them the impossibility of overthrowing the reign of the Medici in any other way. Giuliano was killed, but Lorenzo escaped. "A horrible transaction this, which has been justly quoted as an incontrovertible proof of the practical atheism of the times in which it took place-one in which a pope, a cardinal, an archbishop, and several other ecclesiastics, associated themselves with a band of ruffians to destroy two men who were an honor to their age and 'country; and purposed to perpetrate their crime at a season of hospitality, in the sanctuary of a Christian Church, and at the very moment of the elevation of the host, when the congregation bowed down before it, and the assassins were presumed to be in the immediate presence of their God. The plan was concocted at Rome, with the participation of pope Sixtus IV. On the 6th of April, 1478, in the church of the Reparata, during the mass, while the host was elevated and the multitude were kneeling, the murderous blow was struck, the very mass-bell itself sounding the signal to the other conspirators to possess themselves of the palace and government." The failure of this dastardly scheme only made the Medici the more invincible. The people, who had always been attached to them, exasperated by this open and daring attempt to rob them of those whom they conceived to be their best friends, now took the execution of the law in their own hands, and put to death or apprehended the assassins. Salviati, archbishop of Pisa, was hung through the windows of the palace, and was not allowed to divest himself even of his robes and Jacopo de'.Pazzi, with one of his nephews, shared the same fate. The name and arms of the Pazzi family were suppressed, its members were banished, and Lorenzo rose still higher in the regard of his fellow-citizens. The troubles of the Medici, however, did not stop here. For them yet remained the punishment at. the disposal of the papal party, and the latter, madened by the failure of their plot, determined now to vail themselves of the advantages which Rome could afford as "ecclesiastical thunderer." Sixtus IV promptly excommunicated Lorenzo and the magistrates of Florence, laidan interdict upon the whole territory, and, forming a league with the king of Naples, prepared to invade the Florentine dominions.Lorenzo appealed to all the surrounding potentates, and, zealously supported by his fellow-citizens, commenced hostilities, and carried on two campaigns. At the close, of 1479, Lorenzo took the bold resolution of paying a visit to the king of Naples, and, without obtaining any previous promise of security, trusted himself to the mercy of his enemy. The result of this confidence was a treat. of mutual defence and friendship between the king of Naples and Florence, and this finally forced Sixtus to consent to a treaty of peace. In 1484 Sixtus IV died, and his successor on the papal throne, Innocent VIII, manifesting a determination to re-establish friendly relations with the different Italian princes, SEE INNOCENT VIII, the contest of the Medici with the Church seemed to have come to a happy close. There was, however, still one dark cloud on the firmament of the heavens, and it threatened sooner or later to bring trouble and discomfiture to the Medici we refer to Savonarola, the great Italian reformer, who was in the very strength of his manhood at this time. The Italian monk had long opposed the licentious habits of the court and the nobility. He was opposed, moreover, to the display of regal splendor, and boldly preached. in favor of democracy and republican institutions. Lorenzo sought in more than one way to conciliate the sturdy reformer, but all efforts proved futile. Not even the cardinalate could tempt him SEE SAVONAROLA and Lorenzo was forced to admit himself," Besides this man, I have never seen a true monk." Gradually Savonarola gave system to his republican ideas, and, gathering about him a host of followers, these opponents of the ruling, administration came to be known by the name of Piagnoni (q.v.) or "weepers," so called because of their determination to stem the progress of the voluptuous refinement of the day by ascetic severity o. morals. Lorenzo himself saw clearly the inherent insufficiency of art and philosophy alone for the security of a state; but while he sighed for a purely religious influence, he feared the dangerous tendency of the Piagnoni towards a popular and democratic form of government, and he had failed to extinguish or abate his opposition when suddenly cut down by disease an death, April 8, 1492.
Lorenzo is credited with even greater love and devotion to the development of literary life and the study of the fine arts than any of his predecessors. His own productions are sonnets, canoni, and other lyric pieces; some longer works in stanzas, some comic satires, carnival songs, and various sacred poems. Many of the lighter kind were popular in their day. Although the ancestors of Lorenzo laid the foundation of the immense collection of manuscripts contained in the Laurentian library Lorenzo has the credit of adding most largely to the stock. For the purpose of enriching his collection of books and antiquities, he employed learned men in different parts of Italy, and especially his intimate friend Politian, who made several journeys in order to discover and purchase the valuable remains of antiquity. Two journeys were undertaken it the request of Lorenzo into the East by John Lascaris and the result was the acquisition of a great number manuscripts. On his return from his second expedition, Lascaris brought two hundred manuscripts, many of which he had procured from a monastery at Mount Ahos; but this treasure did not arrive till after the death of Lorenzo, who in his last moments expressed to Politian and Pico of Mirandola his regret that he could not live to complete the-collection which he was forming. On the discovery of the art of printing, Lorenzo quickly saw and appreciated its importance. At his suggestion, several Italian scholars devoted their attention to collating the manuscripts of the ancient authors, for the purpose of having them accurately printed. On the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, many learned Greeks took refuge in Italy; and an academy was established at Florence for the purpose of cultivating the Greek language, partly under the direction of native Greeks, and partly under native Italians. The services of these learned men were procured by Lorenzo, and were amply rewarded by his bounty. "Hence," as Roscoe observes (in his Life of Lorenzo del Medici. 1795,2 vols. 4to Bohn's edit. Lond. 1851, 12mo), succeeding scholars have been profuse of their acknowledgments to their great patron, who first formed that establishment, from which (to use their own scholastic figure), as from the Trojan horse, so many illustrious champions have sprung, and by means of which the knowledge of the Greek tongue was extended, not only through Italy, but through France, Spain, Germany, and England, from all which countries numerous pupils attended at Florence, who diffused the learning they had there acquired throughout the rest of Europe." Lorenzo also augmented his father's collection of the remains of ancient art. He appropriated his gardens in Florence to the purpose of an academy for the study of the antique, which he furnished with statues, busts, and other works of art, the best of their kind that he could procure. The higher class of his fellow-citizens were incited to these pursuits by the example of Lorenzo, and the lower class by his liberality. To the latter he not only allowed competent stipends while they attended to. their studies, but gave considerable premiums as rewards of their proficiency. To this institution. more than to any other circumstance, Roscoe ascribes. the sudden and astonishing advance which, towards the close of the 15th century, was evidently made in the arts, and which, commencing at Florence, extended itself to the rest of Europe.
4. Lorenzo's successor in the government of Florence was his eldest son Pietro; but of far greater interest to the ecclesiastical student is the history of his younger son Giovanni, and that of his nephew Giulio. The former of the two last named, Giovanni, was honored, by the prudent manipulations of Lorenzo, with the cardinal's hat when only a boy of thirteen years, at the hands of Innocent VIII, and on the death-of Julius II, brought credit upon the name of Medici by his accession to the papal throne. SEE LEO X. Of Giulio's history we have the following from Roscoe Shortly after the attempt at assassination, he says, Uprenzo received a visit from Antonio da San Gall, who informed him that. the untimely death of Giuliano had prevented his disclosing to Lorenzo a circumstance with which it was now become necessary that he should be acquainted: this was the birth of a son, whom a lady of the family of Gorini had borne to Giuliano about twelve months before his death, and whom Antonio had held over the baptismal font, where he received the name of Giulio. Lorenzo immediately repaired to the place of the infant's residence, and, taking him under his protection, delivered him to Antonio, with whom he remained until he had arrived 'at the seventh year of his age. This concealed offspring of illicit love, to whom the kindness of Lorenzo supplied the untimely loss of a father, was destined to act an important part in the affairs of Europe. The final extinction of the liberties of Florence, the alliance of the family of Medici with the royal house of France, the expulsion of Henry VIII of England from the bosom of the Roman Church, and the consequent establishment of the doctrines of the Reformers in Great Britain, are principally to be referred to this illegitimate so of Giuliano de' Medici, who through various vicissitudes of fortune at length obtained the supreme direction of the Roman see, and, under the name of Clement VII guided the bark of St. Peter through a succession of the, severest storms which it has ever experienced." Pietro possessed neither capacity nor prudence, and in the troubles which the ambition of her princes and the profligacy of her popes brought upon Italy, by plunging her into civil and foreign war, he showed himself treacherous and vacillating alike to friends and foes. Lodovico Sforza, surnamed the "Moor," relying on the friendship which, from the middle of the 15th century, had prevailed between the Sforza family of Milan and the Medici, applied to him for assistance in establishing his claim to the duchy of Milan; but, seeing that no reliance could be. placed on Pietro, he threw himself into the arms of Charles VIII of France. The result was the invasion of Italy by a French army of 32,000 men. Pietro, in hopes of conciliating the powerful invader, hastened to meet the troops on their entrance into the dominions of Florence, and surrendered to Charles the fortresses of Leghorn and Pisa, which constituted the keys of the republic. The magistrates 'and people, incensed at his perfidy, drove him from the. city, and formally deposed the family of the Medici from all participation of power in 1494.
The attempts of Giovanni, then a cardinal, to uphold the Medician authority, and his success in the reestablishment of his house in 1512, we have narrated in our article on Leo X. Pietro was slain in 1503, while fighting in the French ranks.
It was during the invasions of the French-in Italy, in the days of Pietro, that Florence was robbed of one of her greatest treasures the invaluable-library which had been collected by the care of his father and grandfather. "The French troops, which had entered the city without opposition, led the way to this act of barbarism, in which they were joined by the Florentines themselves. who openly carried off or purloined whatever they could discover that was rare or valuable. Besides the numerous manuscripts, the plunderers carried off the inestimable specimens of the arts which the palace of the Medici contained, and which had long made it the admiration of strangers and the chief ornament of the city. Exquisite pieces of ancient sculpture, vases, cameos, and gems of various kinds, were lost amid the indiscriminate plunder, and the rich accumulations of half a century were destroyed or dispersed in a single day." During the interregnum, the labors of the Piagnoni were suddenly checked by the martyrdom of their beloved leader, Savonarola, in 1498; and, when the Medici came again to rule over Florence, this disposition of some of their strongest opponents threw a weight of power into the hands of the Medici which rendered all attempts to maintain even a show of independence futile on the part of the Florentines. The faintest indication of republican spirit was at once crushed by the combined aid of pope and emperor.
5. The accession of Clement VII only strengthened the Medici in Florence, and, though the legitimate male line of Cosmo was extinct (with the exception of the pope), Clement VII gave, in 1529, to Alessandro, natural son of the last prince Lorenzo II, the rank of duke of Florence; and on his death, by assassination, without direct heirs, in 1537, raised Cosmo I, the descendant of a collateral branch, to the ducal chair.
Cosmo, known as the Great, possessed the astuteness of-character, the love of elegance, and taste for literature, but not the frank and generous spirit that had distinguished his great ancestors; and while he founded the academies of painting and of fine arts, made collections of paintings and statuary, published magnificent editions of his own works and those of others, and encouraged, trade, for the protection of which he instituted the ecclesiastical order of St. Stephen, he was implacable in his enmity. and scrupled not utterly to extirpate the race of the Strozzi, the hereditary foes of his house. His acquisition of Sienna gained for him the title of grand- duke of Tuscany from Pius V; and he died in 1574, leaving enormous wealth and regal power to his descendants, who, throughout the next half century, maintained the literary and artistic fame of their family. In the 17th century the race rapidly degenerated, and, after several of its representatives had suffered themselves to be made the mere tools of Spanish and Austrian ambition, the main line of the Medici family became extinct in 1737. The genealogy of the Medici to the present time is given in a splendid work but little known, entitled Famiglie celebri Italiane, by Litta. The Medici and their descendants are comprised in Fascicolo XVII (in seven parts, Milan, i827-30, folio). See also Modern Universal History, vol. xxxvi; Noble, Memoirs of the House of Medici, illustrated with genealogical tables; Tenhove, Memoirs of the House of Medici, translated from the French by Sir R. Clayton '(Bath, 1797,2 vols. 4to); Roscoe, Life of Lorenzo de' Medici, and his Life and Pontificate of Leo X (Liverp. 1805,4 vols. 4to); Guicciardini, Storia d'ltalia; Botta, Storia d'ltalia; Sismondi. Hist. des Republiques Italiennes; Leo, Gesch. v. Italien; Trollope, Hist. of Florence (Lond. 1865, 4 vols. 8vo); Hallam, Middle Ages (Smith's ed., Harpers, 1872), p. 229 sq.; National Quart. Revelation Dec. 1863, art. iii; Foreign Quart. Revelation v. 475; and the excellent article in the English Cyclopaedia, s.v.