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The Medici – Part 2  – Machiavellian Intrigue

Illustration of the Pazzi Conspiracy

By the mid-C15th Florence had become the centre of an artistic, architectural, philosophical, and scientific golden age we now call the Renaissance.  And all this had happened under the stewardship of one man, Cosimo de’ Medici. 

However, his death in 1464, saw his commercial and political legacy inherited by an inexperienced and sickly son.  For the first time in a long time the future looked uncertain.

If you missed my first article on the Medici in the C15th, you might wish to read that one first (which deals with the rise of the Medici in the early C15th and the career of Cosimo de’ Medici).  If you wish to read this one first, click here.

Death of a Patriarch

Cosimo’s favoured heir had been his commercially capable son Giovanni.  Over the years he had carefully groomed Giovanni to take over the family banking business.  But then, just a year before Cosimo’s death, Giovanni died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack.  So, instead of Giovanni, Cosimo’s other son Piero inherited the Medici empire.

Unlike his brother, Piero had not been especially involved in the family business.  Indeed, his ill health had prevented him from participating much in public life at all.  Debilitating attacks of gout often confined him to his bed chamber, because of which he’d received the nickname ‘Piero the Gouty’. 

Many people did not expect him to outlive his father by long.  Many also doubted he possessed the necessary experience to lead the house of Medici effectively. 

Portrait of Piero de Medici
Piero de ’Medici.  Known as ‘Piero the Gouty’ due to his ill health

Nevertheless, Cosimo’s successful stewardship of the city meant the Medici family enjoyed considerable goodwill in Florence.  And although Piero clearly lacked Cosimo’s entrepreneurial brilliance, he was nevertheless a competent and meticulous accountant.  To begin with, most Florentines were willing to give Piero the benefit of the doubt.

The Party of the Hill

There were, however, a few important Florentines who felt Piero simply wasn’t up to the job.  Most prominent among them was Luca Pitti. 

Pitti had played a key role in running Florence on behalf of Cosimo during the final years of the old man’s life.  Now, with Cosimo finally gone, he felt that he, rather than the inexperienced Piero, was best qualified to run the city.

Pitti found support in the form of the Florentine Ambassador to France, Angelo Acciaiuoli and Diotislavi Neroni, the brother of the Archbishop of Florence.  The three would meet to discuss their concerns at the Pitti family palace, that stood high on a hill overlooking the city centre.  By contrast the Medici palace stood on low ground.  As a result, the two factions were soon called the Parties of the Hill (Pitti supporters) and of the Plain (Medici supporters).

Before long, events soon provided the Party of the Hill with further cause for concern.

Instability and disagreement

One of Piero’s first actions was to conduct a thorough audit of the financial health of the Medici businesses.  What he found frightened him.  Rather than holding his nerve and playing the long game, Piero panicked and called in several loans that he suspected were risky.  This prompted a run of bankruptcies which, of course, damaged confidence in his commercial acumen.

The death of Florence’s long-time ally Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan prompted a further crisis.  His heir, Galeazzo Maria Sforza was unstable, unpredictable, and cruel.  Despite this, Piero felt that it would be safer to stick by the Milanese alliance rather than risk a potentially destabilizing political re-alignment.

The Party of the Hill disagreed.  Surely it would be better for Florence to align with Venice, their traditional allies during the early C15th.  At least the Venetians had reasonably stable and predictable leadership.  It was this disagreement that finally prompted the Party of the Hill to act.


Pitti and his allies approached the Venetians and Duke Boroso of Ferrara for help in overthrowing the Medici.  Boroso agreed to supply troops, led by his brother, for the task.  Pitti and his supporters would seize Piero and his sons and have them quickly executed, whilst Boroso’s troops moved to secure the city.

In August 1466, Piero fell ill again and his servants carried him to his villa at Careggi to recuperate.  It seemed to be the ideal opportunity for the conspirators to put their plans into action.

However, Piero received warning that a plot was afoot and immediately resolved to return to Florence.  Although conspirators blocked the road between his villa and the city his son, Lorenzo spotted the potential ambush.  The family avoided the trap and returned to the city by an alternative route.

The sudden appearance of the Medici in Florence caught the conspirators completely off guard.  Pitti panicked and went to Piero to beg forgiveness.  Meanwhile Piero swiftly mustered his men at arms and sent to Milan for aid.   The conspiracy collapsed.   

Pitti’s co-conspirators were banished.  Pitti himself, earned himself a pardon through his grovelling apology.  However, he was finished as an effective political force and died a few years later, a broken man.

Piero the Gouty

Piero may not have possessed the impressive talents of his father (or his son) but he ruled Florence competently.  He proved more able than his enemies gave him credit for.  Ultimately, his tenure as head of house of Medici could be classified as a period of safe, if unimpressive, continuity.

Piero followed his father’s example, acting as a patron of the arts.  He was particularly fond of a young and up and coming artist by the name of Botticelli, whom he invited to come and live with his family for a time.  He also commissioned Gozzoli’s Procession of the Magi fresco for the Medici Palace.

Piero’s weakness, in the end, proved to be his health rather than his capabilities.  Early in 1469 he fell ill and, although he lingered on for most that year, he was dead before 1470.  Leadership of the Medici would now fall to his son, the dashing but still very young and inexperienced Lorenzo.

Lorenzo de’ Medici

Portrait of Lorenzo de Medici
Lorenzo de’ Medici became the ruler of Florence at the age of just 20

Young Lorenzo was not yet 21 when his father died.  He was many things his father was not – young, strong, healthy, and athletic.  Enjoying sport and hunting, he had a boisterous reputation for carousing.  In addition, he was something of a ladies’ man.  However, like his forebears, he enthusiastically involved himself in the intellectual life of renaissance Italy.  He played the lyre and wrote romantic verse.  Everyone in Florence appreciated his zest for life, which shows in his poetry:

“How beautiful is youth,

Youth, which is so soon over and gone,

Let him who would be happy seize the moment,

For tomorrow may never come.”

Lorenzo de’ Medici

The day after his father’s death a delegation of the city grandees came to visit Lorenzo at the Medici Palace.  They were there to ask him to assume the reins of government.  Lorenzo himself later wrote “their proposal was naturally against my youthful instincts”.  Nevertheless, despite his reluctance, he accepted the invitation.

Elsewhere in Italy, events would soon unfold to test young Lorenzo’s leadership.

Pope Sixtus IV

In August 1471, Francesco della Rovere became Pope Sixtus IV.  Nepotism characterised his tenure as he sought to find positions and titles for his relatives and friends.  He constantly interfered in the politics of neighbouring states; seeking to extend his influence and set his relatives up in positions of power.

One of his nephews, Girolamo Riario, had his sights set on buying Imola from the Milanese as part of a scheme to build a powerbase in that region.  With his uncle’s backing he approached the Medici bank to help finance the purchase.  However, Lorenzo had hoped to acquire Imola himself, and besides which, such an expansion of Papal influence represented a disturbing development.  As a result, Lorenzo refused the loan.  Undeterred, Sixtus obtained the loan from a rival Florentine banking family, the Pazzi.

Pope Sixtus IV’s nepotistic cronyism and expansionist ambitions increasingly drew him into conflict with Florence

Shifting alliances

Sixtus’ ambitions were far from done and soon he’d arranged for another of his relatives to marry the daughter of the Duke of Urbino.  Then, in 1474, Sixtus foisted another of his favourites, Francesco Salviati, onto the Florentine state as the new Archbishop of Pisa.  Resentful of Papal interference, Lorenzo refused Salviati entrance to Tuscany.

Worried by Sixtus’ ambitions, Lorenzo approached Milan and Venice.  He suggested they set aside their differences to present a united front against any future expansion of the Papal States.  However, such overtures only succeeded in making King Ferrante of Naples suspicious, driving him closer to the Pope.

In 1476 Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan was assassinated.  His son was too young to assume power and, as the boy’s uncles and mother fought for control, Florence’s strongest ally descended into chaos.

By 1477 Florence was looking increasingly isolated.  It wasn’t long before a conspiracy emerged, to get rid of the Medici for good.

The Pazzi conspiracy

The principal conspirators met in Rome in early 1477.  They included the ambitious Francesco de’ Pazzi, whose Florentine banking family had long been a jealous rival of the Medici.  Girolamo Riario, now master of Imola thanks to the backing of the Pope and Pazzi money, joined him.  The final conspirator was Francesco Salviati, the resentful Archbishop designate of Pisa.

The conspirators planned to seize control of Florence in a co-ordinated series of surprise attacks and assassinations in a single day.  The plan consisted of three key elements. 

Firstly, a select group of assassins would have to kill Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano. 

Secondly, a group of mercenaries would need to take the Palazzo Vecchio and deal with the Medici loyalists holding office on the city council (the Priori). 

Finally, the Pazzi would raise as many supporters as they could to take to the streets and secure the city.

The three men convinced themselves that Florence, surely, was more than ready escape from the dictatorship of the Medici family.  Over the next few months, they worked hard to enlist support for their plans. 

The conspirators prepare

Despite their own enthusiasm, their plans received only a cautious reception at first.  Many were sceptical of the proposed venture.

The mercenary captain, Gian Battista da Montesecco agreed to organise the required mercenary company.  However, he openly expressed doubts about the affair and would not agree to terms until the conspirators had secured the backing of the Pope. 

Francesco Pazzi’s uncle Jacopo’s support, as the head of the Pazzi family, was vital to mobilising Pazzi resources inside Florence.  However, Jacopo also took some convincing. Fearing his hot-headed nephew had not thought things through, he suspected the entire affair was too risky. So, he too, refused to join the venture without Papal approval.

They eventually convinced the Pope himself to support the plan.  However, he worded his endorsement in evasive terms, with a view to distancing himself from the whole affair if anything went wrong.  It was not ideal, but it was good enough.

By the morning of the 26th April 1478 all the pieces were finally in place.  The conspirators, their supporters and mercenaries began to filter into Florence, ready to strike at the appointed time.

Ambush at Mass

The first part of the plan depended on the assassination of the Medici brothers.  Finding an opportunity to do this had already delayed things for a few days.  In the end they decided to strike whilst the Medicis were attending Mass at the Cathedral.

They nearly abandoned the attempt as Giuliano had injured his leg and remained at the Medici palace.  However, Francesco Pazzi and his co-assassin, Bernardo Baroncelli, fearful of putting things off any longer, went in person to the palace and persuaded Giuliano to attend.  They had to help him limp to the Cathedral, all the time feigning friendship.  They entered the Cathedral together and made their way to northern side of the choir.

Lorenzo was already on the other side of the Cathedral with a small group of friends.  Two priests, Antonio Maffei and Stefano da Bagnone, stood nearby.  Both were Pazzi men and both were carrying concealed daggers.

The assassins waited until the sacristy bell rang – the appointed time for the conspirators to strike.

The assassin’s blade

As the bell tolled, Pazzi and Baroncelli struck, plunging their daggers into the unsuspecting Giuliano multiple times.  Francesco attacked his victim in such a frenzy that he mistimed one of his blows and stabbed himself in the thigh.  Nevertheless, poor Giuliano stood no chance, and fell to the floor in a pool of blood.

Illustration of the Pazzi Conspiracy
The Assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici

On the other side of the Cathedral, the two priests drew their daggers and positioned themselves behind Lorenzo.  Maffei put a hand on Lorenzo’s shoulder to hold him in place to deliver the blow.  But he mistimed the blow, cutting the side of Lorenzo’s neck but not deeply, nor in a vital spot.  Lorenzo stepped away, drew his sword, and attacked the two priests, who, shocked by his fast reaction, retreated.

Lorenzo’s friends crowded around him and bundled him away toward the doors to the sacristy.  Baroncelli, seeing that Lorenzo was escaping, gave pursuit.  He cut down one of Lorenzo’s friends, Francesco Norri, and wounded another.  But it was too late. Lorenzo and his other friends had made it to the sacristy, shutting the large bronze doors behind them.

As Lorenzo caught his breath, all he could think to say was “Giuliano?  Is he safe?”

Showdown in the Palazzo Vecchio

Meanwhile Archbishop Salviati, Jacopo di Poggio Bracciolini and a group of Perugian mercenaries had made their way to the Palazzo Vecchio.  There they hoped to deal with the Medici loyalists sitting on the Priori. 

Pretending they had an urgent message from the Pope, they demanded an audience with the Gonfaloniere, Cesare Petrucci.  Cesare was, nominally at least, the head of the Florentine state and, of course, Lorenzo’s man.

Salviati and his attendants entered a reception room.  However, his ‘guards’ (i.e. the Perugian mercenaries) were made to wait in nearby offices, with the door closed behind them.

Salviati appeared nervous which almost immediately made Cesare Petrucci suspicious.  Petrucci called out the guard.  Salviati, and his companions attempted to rush him. Bracciolini attacked but Petrucci grabbed him by the hair and flung him to the ground.  Petrucci shouted the order to toll the Vacca (the great city hall bell), to call the people out to the central square.  He then grabbed an iron cooking-spit and charged the archbishop and his companions.

The Perugian mercenaries tried to sally forth from the offices.  However, they soon discovered the offices were fitted with special catches that could only be opened from the outside.  The suspicious Petrucci was not so easily caught off guard!

“Palle! Palle! Palle!”

As the Vacca tolled, the people of Florence rushed to the central square, understanding that some crisis or other was developing.  The Pazzi and their supporters were already present and attempted to win the crowds to their cause.  The Pazzi rode amongst the crowd shouting of the liberation of Florence, the people were free and “Down with the Medici!”

However, the Pazzi had seriously misjudged the mood of Florence.  It was true that the Medici had ruled Florence as virtual dictators for approaching half a century.  However, during that time the city had enjoyed peace and prosperity.  The Medici had invested eye-watering amounts of their own money in civic projects.  Lorenzo himself regularly spent lavishly on providing the people with festivals and public entertainments.  In short, life under the Medici was good.

And so, the people turned against the conspirators, shouting “Palle! Palle! Palle!” referring to the distinctive red ball that was the symbol of the Medici family.

Bloody retribution

The Medici retainers and Palace Guards moved into the Palazzo Vecchio and, after a short but fierce fight, overwhelmed the Perugian mercenaries. 

As news of Giuliano’s murder spread through the city, the angry mob lynched Jacopo Bracciolini and Archbishop Salviati.  Francesco de’ Pazzi managed to flee to the family palace, but they hunted him down and strung him up.

Lorenzo appeared to the mob at the Medici Palace, his neck in bandages and still covered in blood.  He reassured them that he lived and begged them to refrain from vigilante justice.  It was to no avail.  Many people saw the conspiracy as an attempt by traitors and foreigners to take over the city.  They hunted down and killed suspected Pazzi supporters and sympathisers.  Over the next few days, the mob claimed eighty lives.

Jacopo de’Pazzi, attempted to flee the city.  However, he did not get far before villagers seized him and returned him to face justice.  He was tortured, stripped naked and hung from the window of the Palazzo Vecchio.  The priestly assassins, Maffei and Stefano, were castrated and hung.  Montesecco, the mercenary captain, was beheaded.

Baroncelli managed to flee as far as Ottoman Constantinople, but Medici influence had a long reach.  The Sultan, a good customer of the Medici, was more than happy to have Baroncelli arrested and returned to Florence for execution.


The Pazzi were finished.  Their properties and riches confiscated; their crest and family symbols expunged from civic life.  The conspiracy had failed. 

The one key conspirator who’d survived the debacle was Girolamo Riario, the Lord of Imola.  He had remained in Rome during the key events of the spring of 1478, waiting to see whether the plot would succeed.  Now, thwarted, he went to his uncle the Pope, demanding action.

Sixtus needed no prompting.  Lorenzo had killed his Archbishop and destroyed the Pazzi banking family whom he’d been using to finance his schemes.  He arrested key Medici people in Rome and moved to confiscate Medici assets.  He excommunicated Lorenzo and declared war on Florence.  Within a short time, he persuaded King Ferrante of Naples to join him.

Florence now faced war.

Things did not look very hopeful.  The alliance between Naples and the Papal States raised a significant army under the command of Alfonso, the Duke of Calabria.  Florence, by contrast, was short of allies.  Milan was still embroiled with its own internal difficulties and unable to send any more than token aid.  A few other allies sent token forces and King Louis of France sent no more than diplomatic support.


The Florentine army, commanded by the Duke of Ferrara, now prepared to repel the superior forces of Naples and the Papal States.  However, for the remainder of 1478 the Florentines were able to avoid disaster.  No major engagement was fought and little more than raiding and plundering occurred. 

A key reason for the lack of any decisive engagement stemmed from the simple fact that the two commanders avoided it.  The Dukes of Ferrara and Calabria were brothers in law, and both were keen to ensure that the campaign progressed in the ‘Italian way’.  This form of war is best described by a contemporary of the period:

“The system of our Italian soldiers is this; you turn your attention to plundering in that direction, and we will do the same in this.  Getting too near each other is not our game.”

Luca Landucci

Both Ferrara and Calabria were keen to make a reasonable amount of money from plundering before the war was brought to any conclusion.

However, the following year, the Duke of Calabria began to prosecute the war more energetically.  He advanced through the Val d’Elsa, capturing the fortress of Poggio Imperiale and besieging the town of Colle, just thirty miles south of Florence.  Only the stubborn resistance of Colle and the onset of winter saved Florence. 

Banking collapse

1478 had also brought bad news for the Medici banking business.  Two branches, in London and Bruges, collapsed.  In both cases the collapse had been long coming and dated back to problems that had been getting worse since the mid-1460s.

The London branch had loaned significant sums of money to both sides during the Wars of the Roses.  With the defeat of the Lancastrians in 1471, a significant amount of debt had to be written off.  The bank had been more hopeful of recovering the £10,500 it had lent to the victorious Edward IV.  However, after years of war Edward was flat broke.  The best he could offer was some favourable trade concessions and vague promises about paying what he could later.

Portrait of Edward IV who was unable to pay his debts to the Medici
Edward IV, after years of war, was no more able to repay his debts than his Lancastrian predecessors

In Bruges, the Medici manager Tommaso Portinari made a succession of poor business deals and loans to ingratiate himself with the Burgundian court.  This branch also collapsed in 1478.

These were losses the Medici could ill afford in time of war.

Last throw of the dice

By late 1479, things looked bleak.  Financing was increasingly difficult, and no outside aid looked like arriving any time soon.  Defeat in 1480 seemed inevitable.

But Florence still had one last card to play – Lorenzo de’ Medici.

At the end of 1479 Lorenzo wrote to the Priori:

“I have decided, with your approval, to sail to Naples immediately, believing that as I am the person against whom the activities of our enemies are chiefly directed, I may, perhaps, by delivering myself into their hands, be the means of restoring peace…I am more bound than any other person to serve our country, even at the risk of my life.”

Lorenzo de’ Medici

It was a desperate gamble, but Florence was out of options.  Lorenzo set sail for Naples.  It was the last throw of the dice.

Charm offensive

Lorenzo arrived in Naples just before Christmas 1479.  Once there he embarked on what was, perhaps, the most audacious charm offensive in history.

He had known Ippolita Sforza, wife of the Duke of Calabria for years, and took full advantage of this to win her over to his cause.  He ingratiated himself with Diomede Carafa, the king’s advisor, whom he’d assisted many times in the past with his art collection.  And he beguiled the people of Naples too.

Lorenzo had brought with him the sum of 60,000 Florins.  He immediately bought the freedom of 100 galley slaves, paid to clothe them, and gave them 10 Florins each.  He provided handsome dowries for several poor Neapolitan girls and handed out money liberally to all manner of local good causes.

He also charmed King Ferrante, exploiting their shared love of hunting and poetry.  In his negotiations, Lorenzo played on the king’s concerns – his suspicion that the Pope was using him and the fear of French intervention.

Il Magnifico

After ten weeks, Lorenzo returned to Florence with peace treaty in hand. 

It cost Florence dearly, both in money and land, but the city was saved.  It was a truly astonishing diplomatic triumph, almost unbelievable.

Lorenzo was greeted by adoring, almost hysterical crowds.  He was the saviour of Florence. 

Without the support of Naples, Sixtus lacked the strength to actively prosecute a war with Florence.  Nevertheless, he refused to revoke his excommunication or negotiate an end to the dispute.

Then, in July of that year, a dramatic turn of events changed everything.


On 28th July 1480, a Turkish force landed at Otranto in the southern heel of Italy.  They immediately laid siege to the city in the first stage of a full-blown Ottoman invasion of Italy.  Rome itself was the primary target but in the initial instance it was Naples that had to bear the brunt of the fighting.

King Ferrante had to recall the Duke of Calabria from occupied Florentine territory.  Desperate for all the help he could get, he returned to Lorenzo all the territory he’d taken during the previous two years of fighting.  He now needed Lorenzo’s aid and, more importantly, so too did the Pope.

Lorenzo had a better relationship with Sultan Mehmed II than anyone else in Italy.  If anyone stood a chance of brokering a diplomatic solution it was him.  The Pope had little choice but to come to terms with Lorenzo after all.

However, a larger scale invasion never followed.  In early May 1481 Sultan Mehmed II died.  The campaign in Italy was abandoned and Otranto returned to Naples by September of that year.  The only person who’d benefited from the whole affair was Lorenzo.

Fresh starts

Lorenzo’s relationship with Sixtus remained strained at best.  Although no further large-scale conflict broke out, the Pope continued scheming to expand his influence.  His destabilising behaviour only finally came to an end with his death in August 1484. 

The new pope, Innocent VIII, offered the opportunity for a fresh start.  Lorenzo wasted no time in launching a characteristic charm offensive, sending the Pope gifts, and pandering to his interests.  Within a short time Lorenzo had successfully gained significant influence with Innocent.

During the later period of Lorenzo’s life, he was regarded as something of a diplomatic genius in Italy.  Pope Innocent described him as “the needle in the Italian compass” ; a key player in maintaining the balance between rival states and resisting foreign interference. 

It seemed to many that, so long as ‘the magnificent Lorenzo’ (as he was known in his own lifetime) lived, Italy would remain peaceful and prosperous.  However, a more objective analysis of his influence would conclude that the stability of Italy over this time owed at least as much to luck as to Il Magnifico’s diplomatic talents. 

Art and culture

Lorenzo’s financial situation did not permit him to lavish quite such large sums on arts and cultural projects as his grandfather.  However, throughout his life he remained an enthusiastic patron.  Indeed, Lorenzo’s influence played a critical role in nurturing some of the most talented artists of the Italian Renaissance.

The artists Filippo Lippi and his protégé Botticelli were both supported and influenced by the Medici. 

Botticelli painting Adoration of the Magi, featuring members of the Medici family
Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi (1475) featured several generations of the Medici family.  The old family patriarch, Cosimo, is shown kneeling immediately before the Madonna and child.  Piero the Gouty is shown kneeling front and centre.  Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano are shown together at the far left of the picture.

The sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio enjoyed significant Medici patronage.  His workshop provided a seven-year apprenticeship for a young, up and coming artist by the name of Leonardo da Vinci.  Leonardo enjoyed a close relationship with Lorenzo during the early years of his career, even living at the Medici Palace for a brief period.  Lorenzo would prove instrumental in sponsoring Leonardo’s move to Milan in 1482, supplying him with the necessary introduction to Duke Ludovico Sforza.

But the artist who became closest to Lorenzo was Michelangelo.


Michelangelo began his artistic career as an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio who, in 1489, was asked to present his two best pupils to Lorenzo.  Ghirlandaio had no hesitation in suggesting Michelangelo.

Lorenzo first saw Michelangelo at work carving a faun.  He was impressed by the fact that Michelangelo chose to carve it with its mouth open, such that he could fashion its teeth and tongue.  Lorenzo joked with the boy that, since the faun looked old, he should be aware that old men, generally, had all lost at least one tooth.  The next day, when Lorenzo returned, the lad had cut out a tooth and carved a realistic tooth cavity.  Lorenzo was both impressed and amused.

Lorenzo took an instant liking to Michelangelo and became a great admirer and promoter of his talent.  Michelangelo came to live at the Medici Palace for three years and would frequently dine with Lorenzo, with the two becoming close friends.

Michelangelo produced some of his earliest work, such as the fresco of the Battle of the Centaurs under Lorenzo’s patronage.  Lorenzo supplied Michelangelo with a steady income, a home, and a classical education.  Michelangelo’s association with the Magnificent Lorenzo no doubt helped to open many doors for the young artist in the early stages of his career.


Lorenzo was, at heart, a passionate supporter of the arts.  He was well versed in the classics and no mean poet himself.  Despite his diplomatic triumphs and his magnetic charisma, he lacked the commercial flare of his grandfather.  Medici commercial fortunes continued to decline during his tenure, although he clearly remained fabulously rich by the standards of the time.

However, he certainly did not regret the amount his family had invested in the arts, rationalising it as follows:

“I do not regret this for though many would consider it better to have a part of that sum in their purse, I consider it to have been a great honour to our state, and I think the money was well-expended and I am well-pleased.”

Lorenzo de’Medici

The death of Lorenzo

Lorenzo was ill for much of the latter part of his life.  At the time, it was said he was plagued by gout, just as his father had been.  By the early 1490s his ill health was getting the better of him.  He suffered from debilitating weakness and fatigue and his joints became so painful that he found it difficult to walk or write.

When Lorenzo de’ Medici died in 1492, he was just 43 years old.  The contemporary diagnosis of gout was, however, almost certainly mistaken.  Examination of his skeleton in 1945 revealed no sign of the disease.  Instead, evidence of a rare debilitating genetic disorder called Acromegaly was found.  These days the condition is generally treatable but C15th medicine stood no chance.

End of an age

After Lorenzo’s death the world changed.  His son Piero succeeded him but lacked either the magnetic charisma of his father or the commercial talent of his grandfather.  He would also prove very unlucky. 

Piero had been in power for just two years, when the French King Charles VIII decided to pursue his Angevin claim to the Neapolitan throne.  In September 1494 he invaded Italy with an army of 25,000 men. 

Florence was caught in the ensuing maelstrom.  Piero himself was deposed and forced to flee into exile in 1494.  It marked the end of the Florentine and Medici golden age.

The cataclysmic Italian Wars that dominated the first 65 years of the early modern era in Italy had begun.  From now on the Italian states were destined to serve as pawns in the struggle for supremacy between the great European powers – France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. The old world of the wealthy, vibrant, independent Italian city states was gone forever.

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References & further reading:

The rise and fall of the House of Medici by Christopher Hibbert, Penguin 1979

Acromegaly in Lorenzo the Magnificent, father of the Renaissance.  Lippi, Charlier, Romagnani.  The Lancet, May 27, 2017

The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Modern Wars In Perspective), Mallet and Shaw, Routledge, 2018


Assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici – Messe Medicio (via Wiki Commons)

Piero the Gouty – Bronzino (via Wiki Commons)

Lorenzo de’Medici – Girolamo Macchietti (via Wiki Commons)

Sixtus IV – Melozzo da Forli Fresco (via Wiki Commons)

Edward IV – Ann Longmore Etheridge collection, c.1510 (via Wiki Commons)

Adoration of the Magi – Botticelli (via Wiki Commons)

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