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Borgia & Medici Family Trees

Borgia & Medici Family Trees


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The Renaissance Papacy was dominated by 3 families: the Borgias, the Roveres, and the Medicis. This video discusses the family tree of each and their role in the Italian Renaissance.


Timeline

Alonso de Borja born at Játiva in Valencia, Spain.

Start of Great or Western Schism, dividing Roman Church.

Alfonso V becomes king of Aragon.

Alonso de Borja enters service of Alfonso V.

Oddone Colonna elected Pope Martin V.

Martin V returns papacy to Rome, ending long exile.

Rodrigo de Borja born at Játiva.

Gabriele Condulmer elected Pope Eugenius IV.

Alfonso V drives Angevins from Naples, assumes Neapolitan crown.

Alonso de Borja appointed to College of Cardinals, moves to Rome following year.

Tommaso Parentucelli elected Pope Nicholas V.

Birth of Isabella, future queen of Castile.

Birth of Ferdinand II, future king of Aragon.

Constantinople falls to Ottoman Turks.

Cardinal Alonso Borgia elected Pope Calixtus III, appoints Rodrigo Borgia protonotary apostolic and Pedro Luis Borgia commander of Castel Sant&rsquoAngelo.

Rodrigo Borgia is made a cardinal, Pedro Luis captain-general of papal army.

Rodrigo appointed vice-chancellor of Church.

Rodrigo appointed bishop of Valencia.

Alfonso V dies, to be succeeded as king of Naples by son Ferrante (Ferdinand I).

Calixtus III dies Enea Silvio Piccolomini succeeds as Pope Pius II.

Death of Pedro Luis Borgia.

Cardinal Rodrigo rebuked by Pius II following garden party in Siena.

Birth of Louis of Orléans, future Louis XII of France.

Start of sixteen-year war between Venice and Ottoman Empire.

Pietro Barbo elected Pope Paul II.

Negropont captured by Turks.

Birth of Charles VIII of France.

Francesco della Rovere elected Pope Sixtus IV.

Rodrigo Borgia appointed papal legate to Iberian peninsula.

Probable year of Cesare Lanzol y de Borja&rsquos birth in Spain.

Probable year of birth of Cesare&rsquos brother Juan Lanzol y de Borja.

Pazzi Conspiracy against Medici family in Florence.

Beginning of Pope Sixtus&rsquos Italian War, which will continue two years.

Lucrezia Lanzol y de Borja born.

Ottoman Turks occupy Otranto in southern Italy.

Probable year of death of Guillen Ramón Lanzol, father of Pedro Luis, Cesare, Lucrezia, and others.

Ludovico Sforza, as regent, wins control of the duchy of Milan.

Death of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II son and successor Bayezid II withdraws Turkish troops from Otranto.

Giovanni Battista Cibo elected Pope Innocent VIII.

Pedro Luis Lanzol y de Borja is made duke of Gandía by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

Murder of Girolamo Riario, nephew of Sixtus IV and husband of Caterina Sforza.

Charles VIII of France marries Anne of Brittany.

Cesare Borgia appointed bishop of Pamplona.

Death of Lorenzo de&rsquo Medici.

Election of Rodrigo Borgia as Pope Alexander VI.

Archbishopric of Valencia is conferred on Cesare.

Christopher Columbus sails west from Spain, seeking Japan, China, and India.

Borgia marriages: Juan to Maria Enriquez de Luna of Spain, Lucrezia to Giovanni Sforza, Jofrè to Sancia of Aragon.

Cesare is appointed to College of Cardinals.

Columbus returns from his first voyage of discovery.

Papal bull divides newly discovered territories between Spain and Portugal.

Death of Ferrante of Naples succeeded by son Alfonso II.

French invasion of Italy by Charles VIII.

Expulsion of Medici family from Florence.

Alfonso II of Naples abdicates succeeded by son Ferrandino (Ferdinand II).

Charles VIII meets Alexander VI in Rome, enters Naples in triumph.

Holy League formed to resist French occupation.

Following Battle of Fornovo, Charles withdraws to France.

Death of Ferrandino of Naples succeeded by uncle Don Fadrique (Federico I).

Friar Girolamo Savonarola of Florence is excommunicated after calling for a council to depose Alexander VI.

Alexander makes war on Orsini death of Virginio Orsini.

Murder in Rome of Juan Borgia, second duke of Gandía.

Annulment of Lucrezia Borgia&rsquos marriage to Giovanni Sforza.

Murder of Pedro Calderón, Lucrezia&rsquos alleged lover.

Death of Charles VIII succeeded by Louis XII, who later agrees with Venice to partition Milan.

Lucrezia wed to Alfonso of Aragon, duke of Bisceglie.

Cesare is allowed to resign from College of Cardinals travels to French court at Chinon, France is made duke of Valentinois wed to Charlotte d&rsquoAlbret.

Savonarola, discredited, is executed by Florentine civil authorities.

Louis XII marries Anne of Brittany, seizes Milan and Genoa.

Pope Alexander excommunicates Romagna lords, seizes territories of the Gaetani.

Vasco da Gama returns to Lisbon from voyage to India.

Cesare&rsquos first impresa captures Imola, besieges Forlì.

Lucrezia gives birth to son, Rodrigo of Aragon.

Cesare captures Caterina Sforza.

Duke of Bisceglie is attacked and gravely wounded, subsequently strangled.

Cesare launches second impresa, besieges Faenza.

Spain and France agree to partition kingdom of Naples.

Alexander creates Cesare duke of Romagna.

Don Fadrique abdicates as king of Naples, retires to Anjou.

Lucrezia is married to Alfonso d&rsquoEste.

Arezzo rebels against Florence.

Cesare launches third impresa, captures Urbino and Cesena.

Machiavelli and Soderini meet Cesare at Urbino.

Conspiracy of condottieri against Cesare.

Cesare makes surprise visit to Louis XII at Milan, renews alliance.

Machiavelli visits Cesare at Imola.

Cesare resumes offensive, advances to Senigallia.

Vitelli and Oliverotto strangled at Senigallia.

Alexander and Cesare launch war on Orsini.

Gonsalvo captures city of Naples for Spain.

Death of Alexander VI, election of Francesco Todeschini Piccolomini as Pope Pius III.

Death of Pius III, election of Giuliano della Rovere as Pope Julius II.

Having earlier become the prisoner of Julius II at Ostia and subsequently freed, Cesare is again arrested, at Naples, this time by Gonsalvo, transported as prisoner to Spain.


Line of Chiarissimo II

The Medici were originally of Tuscan peasant origin, from the village of Cafaggiolo in the Mugello, the valley of the Sieve, north of Florence. Some of these villagers, in the 12th century perhaps, became aware of the new opportunities afforded by commerce and emigrated to Florence. There, by the following century, the Medici were counted among the wealthy notables, although in the second rank, after leading families of the city. After 1340 an economic depression throughout Europe forced these more powerful houses into bankruptcy. The Medici, however, were able to escape this fate and even took advantage of it to establish themselves among the city’s elite. But their policy of consolidating their position by controlling the government—the work of the descendants of Chiarissimo II (himself the grandson of the first known Medici)—resulted in 50 years of serious misfortunes for the family (1343–93).

His grandson Salvestro took up his policy of alliance with the popolo minuto (“common people”) and was elected gonfalonier, head of the signoria, the council of government, in 1378. Salvestro more or less willingly stirred up an insurrection of the ciompi, the artisans of the lowest class, against his rivals and, after the rebellion’s victory, was not above reaping substantial monetary and titular advantages. But in 1381, when the popular government fell, he had to go into exile. His memory, however, was still alive in 1393, when the popolo magro (“lean people”) once more thought it possible to take over the signoria. The mob hastened to seek out Salvestro’s first cousin, Vieri, who was, however, able to fade away without losing face. With Vieri this branch of the Medici was to disappear definitively from history.


‘The Borgias’ and ‘The Family Medici’ Review: Dangerous Dynasties

Readers of history, like all readers, love an engrossing narrative: a conquest triumphant or repulsed, a great man brought to ruin by his flaws. The story doesn’t have to have heroes and villains, but it doesn’t hurt.

The intertwining chronicles of the Borgia and Medici dynasties offer rich material for such a narrative. Two of the wealthiest families in Renaissance Italy vied for supreme power, seizing thrones royal and ecclesiastic by force and cunning. The traditional version makes the Medici the heroes, philanthropic bankers who fostered the rise of humanism and science, commissioning masterpieces of art by Donatello, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The villains, the Borgias, have become a byword of evil, covering the full gamut of the deadly sins, spiced with rumors of incest and occasional applications of poison.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1861 watercolor depicting Lucrezia Borgia after she poisoned her husband with the help of her father, Pope Alexander IV. The two men can be seen in the background.

The Borgias

By Paul Strathern
Pegasus, 383 pages, $28.95

The Family Medici

By Mary Hollingsworth
Pegasus, 480 pages, $29.95

Such history, when it is presented on the stage and screen—one thinks of Donizetti’s opera “ Lucrezia Borgia, ” based upon a play by Victor Hugo, or of “The Borgias,” the TV series starring Jeremy Irons —can omit nuance and tailor facts as the story requires. But historians who seek a wide readership, while giving their readers the drama they crave, must honor the historical record in all its complexity.

Paul Strathern’s “The Borgias: Power and Fortune” and Mary Hollingsworth’s “The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty” (first published in 2018 and soon to be issued in paperback) present just such nuanced accounts. And they are not their authors’ first forays into the period, each having earlier staked a claim in the other’s dynasty, so to speak. In 2016, Mr. Strathern published “The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance,” and Ms. Hollingsworth had previously published “The Borgias: History’s Most Notorious Dynasty” (2011). All four are fine books, authoritative and well-written, by independent scholars who know how to make the past come alive without turning it into pulp.

Both authors begin their Medici chronicles with a scene of high drama, then dial back to the beginning and progress chronologically, alternating between fully rendered scenes and brisk summaries. Mr. Strathern starts with the Pazzi conspiracy, one of the bloodiest passages in Italian history. In the late 15th century, the Medici ruled Florence as princes in all but name, led by young Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 1478, a rival clan, the Pazzi, plotted to seize control of the city. Mr. Strathern opens with a vivid scene of Lorenzo and his entourage riding to Mass. His younger brother, Giuliano, walks behind them, accompanied by his friends Bernardo Bandini and Francesco de’ Pazzi.

When Mass begins, as Mr. Strathern relates, “two separate incidents take place simultaneously. By the door, Bernardo Bandini whips out a dagger, turns and plunges it into Giuliano de’ Medici’s head with such force that Giuliano’s skull is split open with a spray of blood.” Francesco de’ Pazzi joins in the brutal murder. Meanwhile, at the altar, two priests standing behind Lorenzo pull out knives from their robes to stab him, but the young lord springs away, receiving only a superficial wound, and scrambles to safety. The conspiracy fails.

Mary Hollingsworth’s “The Family Medici” begins some 50 years later, with a graphic account of the siege of Florence by an army assembled by Pope Clement VII. Born Giulio de’ Medici, Pope Clement was the illegitimate son of Giuliano de’ Medici, born a month after his father’s assassination in the Pazzi conspiracy. Three years before the siege, a decisive majority of the Florentine people, weary of the Medici’s imperious ways, had voted to banish them. Clement, writes Ms. Hollingsworth, “was determined to reverse this quite lawful decision, whatever the cost.” He may have been the vicar of Christ, but his first loyalty was to his clan. “He did not regard Florence as an independent republic but as the personal fiefdom of his own family.”

She opens on the feast of St. John the Baptist and contrasts the somber mood in 1530, the year of the siege, with the gaiety of previous celebrations. “There were no banquets nor bullfights, no laughter nor music.” No banquets because there was no food: The horses and cats had all been slaughtered, and rats were selling for 16 soldi, a craftsman’s day wage in good times. All the gold and silver in the churches had been melted down to pay the mercenaries defending the city. By the time of Florence’s surrender, 10 months after the siege had begun, one third of the population had died, but it was once again under Medici control.

These opening scenes predict the direction the books will take. Mr. Strathern doesn’t gloss over the brazen ambition of the Medici, yet his book is a generally admiring portrait of the dynasty. He calls Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” a sobriquet often omitted by modern historians, and presents him as an action hero who might have been played by Errol Flynn. Ms. Hollingsworth isn’t out to smear the Medici, but her book clearly aims to take the shine off their sterling reputation. Clement VII is usually remembered for approving Copernicus ’ heliocentric theory a century before the trial of Galileo and for protecting Jews from the Inquisition yet Ms. Hollingsworth points out that he was willing to sacrifice thousands of lives to keep his native city under Medici control.

When both authors turn to the Borgias, they put the dynasty’s notorious reputation into perspective, citing examples of equally egregious immorality in the conduct of their rivals. For instance, Alexander VI, reputed to be the most fiendishly wicked of the Borgia popes, was by no means the first or only pope to flout the vows of chastity and poverty (he fathered several children): In the 15th century, the papacy was a temporal office with spiritual embellishments. Yet the hard facts of the Borgia clan may be fairly described as revealing depravity to an extraordinary if not a monstrous degree. Any truthful genealogical table of the Borgias is a speculative exercise, strewn with dotted lines to indicate extramarital relationships and question marks about parentage. Appalling cruelty crowds the historical record. For an evening’s sport, Cesare Borgia, the pope’s son, invited his sister Lucrezia (with whom he may have had a sexual relationship) to join him on a balcony as he took archery practice using felons in the courtyard as targets.


The Borgias and The Family Medici

Cesare Borgia leaving the Vatican by Giuseppe Lorenzo Gatteri A Glass of Wine with Caesar Borgia by John Collier From left: Cesare Borgia, Lucrezia Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, and a young man holding an empty glass. The painting represents the popular view of the treacherous nature of the Borgias—the implication being that the young man cannot be sure that the wine is not poisoned. Catherine de Medici with the Head of Coligny by Joseph Hornung

From The Wall Street Journal:

Readers of history, like all readers, love an engrossing narrative: a conquest triumphant or repulsed, a great man brought to ruin by his flaws. The story doesn’t have to have heroes and villains, but it doesn’t hurt.

The intertwining chronicles of the Borgia and Medici dynasties offer rich material for such a narrative. Two of the wealthiest families in Renaissance Italy vied for supreme power, seizing thrones royal and ecclesiastic by force and cunning. The traditional version makes the Medici the heroes, philanthropic bankers who fostered the rise of humanism and science, commissioning masterpieces of art by Donatello, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The villains, the Borgias, have become a byword of evil, covering the full gamut of the deadly sins, spiced with rumors of incest and occasional applications of poison.

Such history, when it is presented on the stage and screen—one thinks of Donizetti ’s opera “ Lucrezia Borgia, ” based upon a play by Victor Hugo, or of “The Borgias,” the TV series starring Jeremy Irons —can omit nuance and tailor facts as the story requires. But historians who seek a wide readership, while giving their readers the drama they crave, must honor the historical record in all its complexity.

Paul Strathern ’s “The Borgias: Power and Fortune” and Mary Hollingsworth ’s “The Family Medici: The Hidden History of the Medici Dynasty” (first published in 2018 and soon to be issued in paperback) present just such nuanced accounts. And they are not their authors’ first forays into the period, each having earlier staked a claim in the other’s dynasty, so to speak. In 2016, Mr. Strathern published “The Medici: Power, Money, and Ambition in the Italian Renaissance,” and Ms. Hollingsworth had previously published “The Borgias: History’s Most Notorious Dynasty” (2011). All four are fine books, authoritative and well-written, by independent scholars who know how to make the past come alive without turning it into pulp.

Both authors begin their Medici chronicles with a scene of high drama, then dial back to the beginning and progress chronologically, alternating between fully rendered scenes and brisk summaries. Mr. Strathern starts with the Pazzi conspiracy, one of the bloodiest passages in Italian history. In the late 15th century, the Medici ruled Florence as princes in all but name, led by young Lorenzo de’ Medici. In 1478, a rival clan, the Pazzi, plotted to seize control of the city. Mr. Strathern opens with a vivid scene of Lorenzo and his entourage riding to Mass. His younger brother, Giuliano, walks behind them, accompanied by his friends Bernardo Bandini and Francesco de’ Pazzi.

Mary Hollingsworth’s “The Family Medici” begins some 50 years later, with a graphic account of the siege of Florence by an army assembled by Pope Clement VII. Born Giulio de’ Medici, Pope Clement was the illegitimate son of Giuliano de’ Medici, born a month after his father’s assassination in the Pazzi conspiracy. Three years before the siege, a decisive majority of the Florentine people, weary of the Medici’s imperious ways, had voted to banish them. Clement, writes Ms. Hollingsworth, “was determined to reverse this quite lawful decision, whatever the cost.” He may have been the vicar of Christ, but his first loyalty was to his clan. “He did not regard Florence as an independent republic but as the personal fiefdom of his own family.”

She opens on the feast of St. John the Baptist and contrasts the somber mood in 1530, the year of the siege, with the gaiety of previous celebrations. “There were no banquets nor bullfights, no laughter nor music.” No banquets because there was no food: The horses and cats had all been slaughtered, and rats were selling for 16 soldi, a craftsman’s day wage in good times. All the gold and silver in the churches had been melted down to pay the mercenaries defending the city. By the time of Florence’s surrender, 10 months after the siege had begun, one third of the population had died, but it was once again under Medici control.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)


Borgia & Medici Family Trees - History

Their fame stemmed as much from their longevity as from their achievements. Their rivals burned just as bright - they just didn't last as long.

Albizzi
The Albizzi were one of the oldest families in Florence and led the republican government for two generations. By 1427, they were the most powerful family in the city, and far richer than the Medici. They had been the patrons of genius and cultural icons, but the family was more interested in waging war than sustaining commercial viability. By 1430, their military policy had cost the Florentine taxpayer a fortune and much of their support. Pragmatic pacifists marshaled around Cosimo de'Medici.

Maso degli Albizzi, patriach of his family, had two sons, Luca and Rinaldo. From a young age, Luca was friends with Cosimo de'Medici. They shared a passion for classical learning and good conversation. During the 1420s, Luca declared his public allegiance to the Medici family, even marrying Cosimo's cousin. For his hot-headed brother Rinaldo, this was a humiliation too far. The bitter family rivalry had just got personal.

Rinaldo's impatience got the better of him. Eager to flush Cosimo out of Florence, he allowed the head of the Medici family to stay alive, gathering support whilst in exile. And Rinaldo's rash decision to besiege the Palazzo Vecchio when he didn't get his way allowed Cosimo to return triumphant. The Albizzi were banished, never to return to power in Florence.

Pazzi
Like the Albizzi, the Pazzi were an older, nobler lineage than the Medici. They could trace their ancestry back to Pazzino de'Pazzi, the first knight to scale the wall of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The Pazzi were also wealthy bankers, and enjoyed good commercial terms with their Medici rivals. They even sealed these friendly relations through inter-marriage.

But Lorenzo de'Medici, wary of Pazzi ambition, kept his rivals out of government office during the 1470s. When a greedy nephew of Pope Sixtus IV approached the younger Pazzi with a plan to seize Medici land, they found the chance for power in Florence irresistible. The ambitious sons of Jacopo de'Pazzi led an audacious plot against the Medici.

The plot failed. Executed at the hands of furious Florentines, the name of Pazzi was erased from the city, their homes looted and destroyed. One conspirator was hunted down in the streets of Constantinople, and handed over by the Ottoman Emperor. Even he knew that Lorenzo de'Medici was not to be messed with.

Perhaps by coincidence, the Italian noun for a hot-headed fool is pazzo - and some have suggested that the Italian-American slang, patsy, meaning a scapegoat or stooge, is derived from the unfortunate Pazzi assassins.

Borgia
Their name has become a byword for murder and incest, making the Borgia the most notorious family in Renaissance Italy. They were not friends of the Medici.

Rodrigo Borgia, the corrupt Pope Alexander VI, had at least two illegitimate children. His sociopath son, Cesare, was born just a year after Giovanni de'Medici, in 1476. Cesare was made a cardinal in 1493 and his presence in Rome under the rule of his father made the city off-limits to the Medici cousins.

Cesare marched through Rome with weapons barely hidden under his silk robes, taking pot-shots at prisoners and murdering close relations. Rumored to have committed incest with his beautiful sister, Lucrezia, he stabbed her lover to death at the feet of the Pope, and strangled her second husband, who was only 18-years-old. After his father's death, Cesare was exiled to Spain, where he died in 1507. Lucrezia went on to patronize some of the greatest talents of the High Renaissance, including the poet Ariosto, and the artist Titian.

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The Rise of Cesare Borgia

Juan had been Alexander’s favorite and his commander: that honor (and the rewards) were now diverted to Cesare, who wished to resign his cardinal’s hat and marry. Cesare represented the future to Alexander, partly because the other male Borgia children were dying or weak. Cesare secularized himself fully in 1498. He was immediately given replacement wealth as the Duke of Valence through an alliance Alexander brokered with the new French King Louis XIII, in return for papal acts and aiding him in gaining Milan. Cesare also married into Louis’ family and was given an army. His wife became pregnant before he left for Italy, but neither she nor the child ever saw Cesare again. Louis was successful and Cesare, who was only 23 but with an iron will and strong drive, began a remarkable military career.


In the summer of 1503, both Cesare and his father Rodrigo were struck down by a terrifying and mysterious wasting illness. The two powerful Borgia men were both bedridden and feverish, though the exact cause of their ailment has never been confirmed. While Cesare survived, however, his father tragically did not.

Though he was originally groomed for a life of God and even rose to the rank of Cardinal, Cesare eventually decided that a pious existence just wasn’t for him. Instead, he wanted to make war. In 1498, Cesare became the first man in history to resign his position as a cardinal, and became more involved in the military.

Flickr

The Medici Family

Today, the legacy of the Medicis is most visible in Italian art and architecture, with galleries such as the Uffizi owing their existence to the family’s success. However, there is much to be learnt beyond the remaining physical evidence, with many fascinating power struggles and personalities underlying the centuries of impact. They were a vital force in the renaissance, pouring money into the arts and sponsoring many of the period’s great artists. They were also profuondly influential in the banking sector, and are sometimes given credit for popularising the revolutionary method of double-entry bookkeeping.

The Medicis originally came to power in Florence. Florence is the best known of the five cities. By the 15 th century the city was both large and wealthy with its wealth resting primarily on banking and industry. Throughout much of the period, officially, it remained a republic but few ordinary people had the right to vote and the power rested in the hands of the guilds and the wealthy families. The Medici family, through its money and though a series of alliances, was able to assert authority much of the time.

First gaining power in the thirteenth century, the Medicis originally made its money from banking and by the 15 th century there was enough money to spend some of it on enhancing their status in the city. For the vast majority of time between 1434 to 1737 The Medicis ruled Florence and, later, Tuscany. Their power extended throughout the region, and during that time, four Medici Popes took office: Pope Leo X (December 11, 1475 – December 1, 1521), Pope Clement VII (May 26, 1478 – September 25, 1534), Pope Pius IV (31 March 1499 – December 9, 1565), and Pope Leo XI (June 2, 1535 – April 27, 1605).

Among the most significant and influential Medicis was Cosimo Di Giovanni de’Medici. Born in 1389, he was educated at the school of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Even at this early date the school was noted for its interest in the classical learning of Greece and Rome. Cosimo’s education helped to make him a humanist with an interest in literature, philosophy and all forms of art while still retaining the family’s astuteness and practical ability to make money.

Cosimo Medici, 1389-1464

When his father, Giovanni, retired in 1420, Cosimo became head of the family bank. Cosimo now headed the major financial institution in Florence and on his father’s death became leader of its influential faction in Italian politics. From that time on, despite political upheavals at various times, Cosimo became a major player in the development of art and architecture of Florence.

In 1430 Cosimo decided that the Medici should have a palazzo of their own, one befitting their status. He hired Brunelleschi, the leading architect of the time, to draw up the plans. He decided, however, that these plans were too elaborate and settled for a more modest design with a more modest façade but with some quite sumptuous features away from the public gaze. Today, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi still stands in Florence.

For the inner courtyard Cosimo had the great Donatello produce a bronze statue of the Biblical David. This was the first free-standing, life-sized bronze statue to be created since classical times. The statue, however, in its expression of inner humanity and sexual beauty, rose above classical perfection. The old and the new had combined to produce a masterpiece of Renaissance art.

Also within the palace can be found one of the most beautiful and politically revealing frescos of the period.

The frescos, by Benozzo Gozolli, were completed in 1463 and depict a religious subject with highly political overtones. The Journey of the Magi might be the ostensible subject but the frescos show three generations of the Medici family playing important roles. Other significant political players of the day have also been included. Among these are Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini, Galeazzo Maria Sforza from Milan, a couple of emperors and the painter himself.

The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Brunelleschi, was finally completed in 1436. In order to complete the dome Brunelleschi was obliged to combine historical research and contemporary invention. The spectacular new feature of the church transformed the skyline of Florence.

At the same time as the dome was being completed Brunelleschi continued to work for Cosimo on the Medici Chapel in the Church of San Lorenzo and on many other projects within the city. Once his father died Cosimo felt free to begin pouring money into a number of schemes and a new Renaissance city began to appear. Apparently when Cosimo’s grandson Lorenzo examined the banks books many years later, he was astonished to learn that Cosimo had spent (or caused to be spent) a staggering 663,755 gold florins. With this money Cosimo had funded the construction or renovation of buildings ranging from palaces to churches, monasteries and libraries. Florence became a very different place under Cosimo’s leadership.

When Cosimo died he was followed by his son Piero. Piero suffered from a long illness and conducted most of his business from bed. During his short time as head of the Medici family (from 1464 to 1469), though not officially the leader of Florence, Piero proved to be efficient and quick thinking. He managed to thwart a coup against the family with the help of a number of allies including Federico da Montefeltro of Urbino. Ultimately, the coup was undone when Piero’s son Lorenzo encountered a road block that was meant to catch Piero. Lorenzo managed to go unrecognized and return to his father to warn him.

By the time Piero died in 1469, the Medici family was securely in control of both Florence and a huge fortune, through the continued success of its banking and financial businesses.

Piero the Gouty, by Bronzino.

While his father was alive, and during the short period of his own rule, Piero regularly commissioned works by a number of painters including Donatello and Fra Filippo Lippi.

Donatello’s “David.”

Lorenzo, the Magnificent.

Two days after the death of his father in December 1469, a delegation of Florentine dignitaries arrived at the Medici palace asking to speak with Lorenzo. Despite his youth (he was only 20) they asked him to take on the care of the state just as his father and grandfather had done before him.

Lorenzo, not quite as handsome as his father, but longer lived!

From an early age Lorenzo had been prepared by his father for leadership. At the age of 15 he was already being sent on missions, in his father’s place, as a representative of the Republic of Florence.

In the family tradition he received a fine humanist education. No prince in Europe could have been so well tutored in the new learning. His education extended beyond book learning and he was known to enjoy hunting and hawking as well as ball games.

Lorenzo was one of the most significant patrons of the Renaissance, and sponsored Botticelli and Michelangelo. Lorenzo himself wrote poetry and made art, and started the book collection that eventually became the Medici Library. His love of education and knowledge caused him to create a workshop which copied out books and disseminated them throughout Europe.

There were many ups and downs throughout the Medici’s reign, and the final years of Lorenzo’s life proved to be difficult ones for the dynasty. Bad loans caused a number of the family’s banks to collapse, and Lorenzo himself had financial difficulties which he navigated by misappropriating state funds.

Lorenzo had 10 children, two of whom were especially historically consequential.

Lorenzo’s heir, “Piero the Unfortunate” essentially brought about an end to the Medici dynasty in Florence. It was recaptured, however, by another son of Lorenzo, Giovanni, who went on to become Pope Leo X.

The Pazzi conspiracy.

On Sunday the 26 th of April 1478, in the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiori, an attempt was made to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano. The attempt was made by a rival Florentine banking family and sanctioned by the pope, Sixtus IV. Just as the priest raised the host, Giuliano, who was standing by the door, was stabbed violently in the head and then many times in the body. At the same moment Lorenzo, already at the altar, was attacked by two priests standing directly behind him. Lorenzo escaped but his brother was killed.

The conspiracy had failed. The ring-leaders, including an archbishop, were dealt with promptly and brutally. For two days mobs roamed the city taking vengeance when and how they see fit. The news soon spread to Rome where the pope, who had backed the attempt, was infuriated by the failure of the plot and by the public hanging of one of his archbishops (still in his ecclesiastical robes). Lorenzo was immediately excommunicated and the whole of Florence put under interdict. No mass was to be said in any Florentine church until Lorenzo had been handed over to the pope. The people of Florence treated the pope’s announcement with scorn and Sixtus IV declared war on the republic.

Eventually, after a long and bitter struggle, a peace treaty was signed and Lorenzo, who had been living in Naples, was allowed to return home a free man. Once back in Florence, Lorenzo was welcomed as a hero and once more took control of the government.

Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, includes several generations of the Medici family, including a sixteen year old Lorenzo and his horse, just about to set off on a diplomatic mission.

Art Patronage

The Medicis remain a significant influence on the classical art we enjoy in museums and galleries today. For instance, when Lorenzo decided to patronise Michelanngelo, he took the artist under his wing. Michelangelo was able to live at the Palazzo Medici, and was treated as an equal, remaining in the palace for four years. Lorenzo was also the patron of Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s said (although the precise history remains uncertain) that Da Vinci was one of Lorenzo’s favourite proteges, and he was employed in the Gardens of Florence’s Piazza di San Marco.

One interesting piece of trivia: Later in life, Leonardo wrote ‘Li medici mi crearono e distrussono.’ This is often translates as ‘The Medici created me and destroyed me.’ However, it can also be translated as ‘Physicians created and destroyed me.’ The latter is more likely, as there is no real reason to suspect that Leonardo would have felt much animosity towards the family.

Savonarola

Girolamo Savonarola, although born and raised in Ferrara, is most remembered for the impact he had on life in Florence. He was born in 1452 and raised under the influence of his physician grandfather, a man steeped in medieval morality and given to tirades against the evils of modern life. This was a very different upbringing to that of the young Lorenzo.

Savonarola was educated at home until his grandfather’s death when he attended the university at Ferrara and first came into contact with humanist ideas. These he rejected. After an unhappy first infatuation, Savonarola increasingly turned against all women and his attitude towards humanist ideals hardened. In 1475 he ran away from Ferrara and went to Bologna where he entered the Dominican order and became a monk.

In a letter to his father Savonarola wrote, “I can no longer bear the wickedness of the people of Italy…As the instincts of the body are repugnant to reason, I must fight with all my strength to stop the devil from leaping on my shoulders.”

In 1482 Savonarola was posted to the monastery of San Marco in Florence which had been rebuilt at huge expense by Cosimo de’ Medici. Here he quickly gained a reputation for extreme asceticism. Savonarola prayed and fasted, asking God to reveal the purpose for his existence on Earth. Finally he got an answer. God wanted him to warn the people of the horrors that lay in store for the wicked. He set about delivering his message with a new intensity.

His superiors at the monastery became troubled by his new vehemence and sent him back to Bologna as master of religious studies. Ironically it was Lorenzo de’ Medici, looking for a good influence on his young son Giovanni, the 13 year old cardinal, who caused Savonarola to be recalled to Florence.

Once back in Florence Savonarola found the city ripe for his message of hell- fire and brimstone. Crowds flocked to hear his sermons. According to him the new humanist ideas had led only to senseless luxury and sensual pleasure. As his audience grew his sermons became bolder and he began to denounce the tyrants ruling Florence and it was obvious that he meant Lorenzo de’ Medici.

Although only in his early forties, Lorenzo was not a well man. He was suffering from the family gout and painful arthritic joints. As his illness progressed, word reached him of Savonarola’s increasing influence over the citizens. As Lorenzo lay dying he sent for Savonarola. The reason for this is not clear but apparently Savonarola demanded that Lorenzo give up his wealth and his family’s claim to rule Florence. Lorenzo was not prepared to do either of these. A short time later, on the 8 th of April 1492, Lorenzo the Magnificent died.

Lorenzo was succeeded by his twenty one year old son Piero.

Savonarola continued to preach his fiery sermons. He railed against the corruption in the church and in society at all levels and called upon the citizens to repent. He had already prophesied the death of Lorenzo and of Pope Innocent VIII, now his prophesies became much more wide ranging, all were doomed unless they followed Christ’s teachings more stringently. Savonarola demanded that all unnecessary luxuries be abandoned.

When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy it appeared that another of Savonarola’s prophesies had come true. When Piero de’ Medici failed to deal satisfactorily with the French threat he, and his family were exiled from the city. Savonarola had more success with the French king and eventually became the de facto ruler of the city at the head of a much more democratic government. At first he had wide popular approval and mobs of young people roamed the city consigning “vanities” (including wigs, perfumes, trinkets, “pagan” books and humanist inspired art works) to the bonfire.

But the city was deeply divided. Savonarola had made many enemies, particularly the new Borgia pope, Alexander VI, who excommunicated him in 1497. Savonarola ignored the excommunication and continued to preach. Eventually the city turned against him. He was arrested, tortured, hanged and his body burnt at the stake. Two of his disciples died with him.

A painting of Savonarola’s execution in the Piazza della Signoria

Piero de Medici, known as Piero the Unfortunate, never managed to re-establish himself in Florence. He drowned when the boat he was in capsized leaving the 28 year old Cardinal Giovanni as head of the Medici family in exile.

With the Medicis in exile, and Savonarola dead, Florence found itself going from bad to worse. The city was impoverished by war with Pisa, the populous was disgruntled and the streets were becoming increasingly lawless. It was during this period that Piero Soderini, the gonfalonieri, (elected leader), suggested that pride be restored by asking Michelangelo to sculp a giant statue of of David, the symbol of Florentine republican pride. Astonishingly it took Michelangelo only eighteen months to complete the work.

Machiavelli was one Florentine who came to prominence during the republic under Soderini. Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469 into a once wealthy Florentine family which had fallen into difficulties by the time of his birth.

Little is known about his early life though he obviously had a humanist education with a grounding in Latin and some knowledge of Greek. In a letter to a friend he mentions having listened to a sermon by Savonarola and of having been impressed by his learning and rhetorical skill.

Several days after Savonarola was hanged, Machiavelli emerged from obscurity aged 29. It is not known why but Machiavelli was appointed by Soderini to the prestigious position of head of the second chancery, that is, head of Florence’s foreign affairs. He held the post until the fall of the republic 14 years later.

While in office he persuaded Soderini to reduce the city’s reliance on mercenary soldiers and to establish a citizen militia. He also undertook a number of diplomatic missions including to France and to Cesare Borgia. During his 14 years in office he undertook some 40 diplomatic missions.

In 1512 the Florentine Republic was overthrown and the gonfalonier deposed by a Spanish army in the pay of Pope Julius II. With the return of the Medici, Machiavelli was thrown into prison where he was tortured and then exiled to the small farm south of Florence once owned by his father. It was here that he wrote The Prince and Discourses on Livy, both published after his death in 1527.

Niccolo Machiavelli


Were the Borgias Really so Bad?

Alexander Lee attempts to rescue the Borgias from their baleful reputation.

Renaissance Italy was dominated by rich and powerful families whose reputations have been shaped by the many dark and dastardly deeds they committed. In quattrocento Florence, the Medici bought, bribed, and blackmailed their way to the top in Rimini, the Malatesta flitted continually between self-destructive megalomania and near psychopathic brutality and in Milan, the Sforza were every bit as infamous for their sexual proclivities as they were for their political ruthlessness. But in this devilish roll-call of nefarious names, none sends such a chill up the spine as that of ‘Borgia’.

It is impossible to imagine a family more heavily tainted by the stains of sin and immorality, and – as even those who have not seen the eponymous television series will know – there is scarcely one of their number who does not seem to be cloaked in an aura of iniquity. The founder of the family’s fortunes, Alfons de Borja (1378-1458) – who reigned as Pope Callixtus III – was decried even by his closest allies as the “scandal of [his] age” for his monstrously corrupt ways. His nephew, Rodrigo (1431-1503) – who he himself elevated to the cardinalate, and who would be elected Pope Alexander VI in 1492 – was reputed to be even worse. Accused of buying the papacy, he would later be besmirched by rumours so severe that the Venetian diplomat Girolamo Priuli felt able to claim he had “given his soul and body to the great demon in Hell”. Indeed, as the papal master of ceremonies, Johann Burchard, was to contend in the middle of Alexander’s reign:

There is no longer any crime or shameful act that does not take place in public in Rome and in the home of the Pontiff. Who could fail to be horrified by the…terrible, monstrous acts of lechery that are committed openly in his home, with no respect for God or man? Rapes and acts of incest are countless…[and] great throngs of courtesans frequent St. Peter’s Palace, pimps, brothels, and whorehouses are to be found everywhere!

But worse still was the reputation of Alexander’s children, and Burchard’s blithe comment that they were “utterly depraved” barely begins to cover the crimes with which they were associated in the contemporary imagination. Lucrezia (1480-1519) – with whom the pope was reputed to have slept – was cast not only as a whore, but also as a poisoner, a murderer, and a witch. And Cesare (1475/6-1507) – the most handsome, dashing, and despicable Borgia of all – was widely believed to have killed his elder brother Juan in a fit of jealousy, bedded his sister, and embarked on a campaign of slaughter and conquest aimed at carving a kingdom out of the scattered states of Northern Italy.

Confronted with so comprehensively damning a portrait, it is difficult to believe that the Borgias could have been any more dreadful if they had tried. But precisely because the impression conveyed by contemporary accounts is so utterly dreadful, it is equally difficult not to question whether such a terrible reputation was entirely justified. Were the Borgias really all that bad?

As with most things that are supposed to have happened behind the scenes in the shadowy world of Renaissance Rome, certainty is often elusive, and it is a challenging task to separate the evidential wheat from the gossipy chaff when sifting through the documents which have survived. Yet despite this, there is enough to suggest that the Borgias weren’t quite the one-dimensional evil-doers they first appear to have been.

On the one hand, they certainly weren’t the demonic arch-villains they have been painted as. For all of the vividness with which observers such as Burchard, Priuli, Machiavelli, and Guicciardini described the Borgias, it is clear that at least some of the family’s unenviable reputation was entirely undeserved. The charge of incest, for example, seems to be without any solid basis in fact. So too, the suggestion that Lucrezia was a poisoner is grounded more on salacious gossip and the hysterical accusations of a divorced husband than on reliable evidence. Although thrice married – each time for political reasons – she was, by all accounts, a highly cultured and intelligent figure who was admired and respected by contemporaries such as the poet Pietro Bembo, and who was never seriously associated with any misdeeds. But equally untenable is the claim that Cesare killed his brother. Not only was there little for Cesare to gain from Juan’s death, but it is even arguable that – since Cesare was compelled to set aside his cardinal’s hat to assume Juan’s secular roles - the family’s long-term position was weakened so severely that he could not have been unaware of the risks. Much more plausible is the suggestion that Juan was killed either in an amorous adventure gone wrong, or at the instigation of Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, with whom he had argued, and who was an avowed enemy of the whole family. Even less credible, however, are the piquant accounts of the Borgias’ supposedly raucous parties. The so-called “Banquet of the Chestnuts” – an all-night orgy at Apostolic Palace attended by fifty “honest prostitutes” and involving eye-popping sexual athletics – is, for example, attested only in Burchard’s memoirs, and is not only intrinsically implausible, but was also dismissed as such by many contemporaries.

On the other hand, even those crimes of which the Borgias were guilty weren’t anything out of the ordinary. Indeed, when the evidence is interrogated more carefully, it is apparent that the Borgias were entirely typical of the families who were continually vying for the papal throne during the Renaissance.

They were, for example, undoubtedly guilty of both nepotism and simony. Although the sums involved were unquestionably exaggerated by contemporary chroniclers, both Callixtus III and Alexander VI bribed their way to the papacy, and used their power to advance their family as fully as possible. Alexander VI alone elevated not fewer than ten of his relatives to the College of Cardinals, and endowed others with a host of fiefdoms in the Papal States. But precisely because the papacy could so easily be misused for familial aggrandisement and enrichment, these ecclesiastical abuses were all too familiar. Though formally classed as a sin, simony was common. In 1410, for example, Baldassare Cossa borrowed 10,000fl. from Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici to bribe his way to becoming Anti-pope John XXIII, and at the conclave of 1458, Cardinal Guillaume d’Estouteville promised to distribute a vast array of lucrative benefices to anyone who would vote for him, albeit in vain. Nepotism, too, was widespread. In the early fifteenth century, Martin V had secured immense estates for his Colonna relatives in the kingdom of Naples, but within a century, nepotism had become so extreme that even Machiavelli felt obliged to attack Sixtus IV – who had elevated six of his relatives to the Sacred College – for this crime. Later, Julius II (a kinsman of Sixtus IV) acquired the duchy of Urbino for his nephew, Francesco Maria della Rovere Clement VII made his illegitimate son, Alessandro, the first duke of Florence and Paul III raised his bastard child, Pier Luigi Farnese, to the duchy of Parma.

Similarly, there is no doubting that Alexander VI was a lusty and sexually adventurous pope. He openly acknowledged fathering a bevy of children by his mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei, and later enjoyed the legendary affections of Giulia Farnese, renowned as one of the most beautiful women of her day. But here again, Alexander was merely following the norms of the Renaissance papacy, and it is telling that Pius II had no shame about penning a wild, sexual comedy called Chrysis. Popes and cardinals were almost expected to have mistresses. Julius II, for example, was the father of numerous children, and never bothered to hide the fact, while Cardinal Jean de Jouffroy was notorious for being a devotee of brothels. Homosexual affairs were no less common, and in that he seems to have limited himself to only one gender, Alexander VI almost seems straight-laced. Sixtus IV was, for instance, reputed to have given the cardinals special permission to commit sodomy during the summer, perhaps to allow him to do so without fear of criticism, while Paul II was rumoured to have died while being sodomised by a page-boy.

Even Cesare’s deserved reputation for savage megalomania is rather less impressive when set in the context of the period. He was, of course, a ferociously ambitious figure who indulged in some pretty low tactics. Having divested himself of his cardinal’s hat, he ripped through the Romagna and Le Marche, building a vast, private fiefdom in the space of just three years. In all this, murder seemed not an occasional necessity, but an integral part of everyday existence. In 1499 alone, he ordered the assassination or execution of the Spanish Constable of the Guard, the soldier-captain Juan Cervillon, and Ferdinando d’Almaida, the cruel-minded bishop of Ceuta, and subsequently added a host of individuals such as Astorre III Manfredi to his list of victims. Later, he even slaughtered three of his own senior commanders at a dinner in Senigallia after (rightly) suspecting them of plotting against him. But from a certain perspective, all of this was only to be expected. It was quite normal for the relatives of Renaissance popes to set their sights on conquest and acquisition. Although some ‘papal’ families – such as the Colonna – owned huge tracts of land, the majority – such as the Piccolomini and the della Rovere – started out as cash-strapped minor nobles, or – in the Borgias’ case – as landless foreigners, and popes from this latter group naturally encouraged their kinsmen to seize enough territory to put them on a par with the greatest noble houses in Italy. This meant war. And in an age in which war was the preserve of mercenaries, war meant cruelty on a grand scale. The wild, bisexual Pier Luigi Farnese, for example, was infamous for his brutality, and not only pillaged at will, but also made a habit of hunting down those men who resisted his advances. So too, Francesco Maria della Rovere, was nothing more than a soldier for hire, who ordered his troops to slaughter Cardinal Francesco Alidosi after his own failure to capture Bologna. Indeed, if anything, Cesare was unusual only in his tactical brilliance and in his comparative self-restraint.

It seems clear that the Borgias’ rather unfortunate reputation was undeserved. While some of the accusations levelled at them were simply untrue, even those crimes which they did commit were typical of the period, and paled by comparison to those of other ‘papal’ families.

Yet this leaves us with a problem. If the Borgias weren’t as bad as they may seem, why was their name so heavily tarnished? Why did observers turn on them quite so comprehensively, and what was the reason for so dramatic a smear campaign?

Although in later years, the steady worsening of the Borgias’ reputation was intimately linked to the shifting currents of Reformation and Counter-Reformation thought, there are perhaps three reasons why contemporary observers were prepared to attack them quite so viciously.

The first is simply that they were Spaniards, and as such, were yoked to shifting perceptions of Spanish influence in the Italian peninsula. Attitudes were, of course, often positive, but as a result of the involvement of Spain and the Aragonese kingdom of Naples in the affairs of Northern Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, there gradually emerged a ‘Black Legend’, a virulent form of anti-Spanish propaganda which identified all things Spanish with oppression, brutality, and cruelty. The fact that the Borgias hailed from Valencia, and that Alexander VI had helped to involve the Spanish more closely in Italian affairs meant that the family was almost inevitably tarred with the same brush.

The second reason is that they were outsiders. In spite of the universality of the Church’s message, the Renaissance papacy was perceived to be an Italian institution, simply by virtue of the fact that the control of the Papal States gave a pontiff and his family colossal power in the Italian peninsula itself, both in terms of direct political influence, and in terms of familial aggrandizement. Whichever way you looked at it, the papacy was dominated by Italians, directed in the interest of Italian states, and misused for the benefit of Italians. The Borgias were an anomaly. It was not merely that they were not Italian (there would be only one other non-Italian pope between the end of the Great Schism in 1417 and the Sack of Rome in 1527) rather, it was that Callixtus III and Alexander VI sought to use the papacy to enrich their family at the expense of Italians. They despoiled other (Italian) families of their land and titles they invoked the help of foreign powers and they generally disrupted the delicate balance of power in Italy. As a consequence, it was almost natural that Italian commentators and historians – many of whom had experienced the rapaciousness of successive pontiffs – were willing to depict the Borgias inaccurately as especially corrupt and vile individuals.

The third – and most important – reason is, however, that the Borgias simply weren’t all that successful. Although it was not unusual for families to base their success entirely on papal favour, most were canny enough to limit their ambitions, to consolidate their gains gradually and to graft themselves into other more established families. In other words, they started small, played the long game and tried not to ruffle too many feathers. And, by and large, this was a technique that worked. The Piccolomini, the della Rovere, and the Farnese families all climbed the ladder slowly and effectively, and – in time – became dominant players in the game of Italian politics. This fact alone prevented anyone from taking too strong a dislike to them. You just had to get along with them. But the Borgias were different. They were too hasty, too reliant on papal authority and foreign favour, and too unwilling to respect existing patters of landed power. They were building on sand. No sooner had Alexander VI died than Cesare’s proto-kingdom imploded and he himself was betrayed by Julius II. There was nothing left, and there was no-one to turn to for help. Forced to return to Spain, Cesare – and the Borgias – had failed. And in failure, even their former friends had no hesitation in decrying them as scoundrels. Without lasting power or influence, there was nothing either to hold back the criticism or to restrain the exaggerations.

If the Borgias weren’t as bad as they have often seemed, therefore, the background to their unfortunate and ill-deserved reputation leaves us with a rather more interesting and engaging history. On the one hand, it is a tale of an obscure Spanish family determined to seek its fortune in a foreign land, set on beating the Italians at their own game, and perhaps willing to engage a little too freely in some of the more sensuous pleasures of the age. But on the other hand, it is a story of inglorious failure, dramatic defeat, and the ignominious assaults of enemies who hated outsiders – especially Spaniards – more than anything else. It is not a tale we might expect of the Borgias, but it is nevertheless a tale that is all too reflective of the amazing double-standards of the Renaissance, and is perhaps all the richer for it.

Alexander Lee's book The Ugly Renaissance: Sex Disease and Excess in an Age of Beauty is published by Hutchinson.


Watch the video: Medici: The Infamous Royal Family of Florence. House of Medici. Real Royalty with Foxy Games (July 2022).


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