26 April 1478 – The Pazzi Conspiracy

I must admit, I’m super excited to go to the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and see where the infamous Pazzi Conspiracy came to pass. Today’s post, as it’s 539 years ago to the day since it happened, is a throwback to a post I wrote on the conspiracy just before Christmas last year.

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Florence, by Georgio Vasari

On the 26th April 1478, as the host was raised within a crowded Santa Maria Del Fiore, carnage erupted. This moment was to be the finale of a conspiracy that had been concocted by the Pazzi family and their allies, in which the aim was to assassinate the two Medici brothers. But why did they want to kill them? The answer is mixed up in the politics of fifteenth century Florence along with what I can only describe as jealousy – although the Pazzi family were wealthy thanks to their work in the banking sector, they (and many others) watched as the Medici family scaled to the heights of Florentine politics through shrewd political machinations. In particular, Lorenzo De’ Medici had risen to the very top of the government and become the unofficial, defacto leader of Florence. As such, Lorenzo had power that many believed was becoming incredibly dangerous and absolute. Him and his family were obviously going to be the target for resentment, especially from a family such as the Pazzi who were old, well known nobility who had been shoved to the side thanks to a man they saw as an upstart.

It wasn’t just the Pazzi involved in the conspiracy, however. Lorenzo De’ Medici had gotten on the wrong side of the Pope one too many times – he had taken a dislike to the Pope’s choice for Archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviato, and had also taken umbridge to the fact that Girolamo Riario, Pope Sixtus’ nephew, had been given Imola in the aim of setting up a brand new papal state. It was all too close to home for Lorenzo, and his standing up against the Pope’s decisions ended up with the Pope backing the conspirators. It must be said, however, that Sixtus made the point of not endorsing murder outright. Instead he advised the conspirators to do whatever they had to do to remove Lorenzo from power. They took that as him condoning the assassination of the Medici brothers.

The original plan had been to assassinate Lorenzo and his brother, Giuliano, whilst the brother’s were visiting Rome. However the plan had to be rearranged when the two men decided against their visit to the Holy City. More plans were made, each of which were hampered by Giuliano De’ Medici falling ill – for example the second attempt was planned to happen during a lunch time meeting with the brothers at their villa in Fiesole, but with Giuliano unwell and unable to join them, they put the plans to bed.

Instead they planned to commit the double murder on 26th April 1478. It was to take place during Mass at the Santa Maria Del Fiore, during the elevation of the Host. There was only one problem – the man who had originally agreed to commit the murder, Federico Da Montefeltro, refused to commit murder upon holy ground. So two other priests were pulled in – they had no such qualms, and nor did the other conspirators. As the Host was raised, they attacked. Giuliano De’ Medici was stabbed multiple times by Bernardo Baroncelli and Francesco De’ Pazzi. And as the attack was happening to Giuliano, the attack began on Lorenzo. Except the conspirator standing behind the ruler of Florence made the mistake of reaching to steady himself on Lorenzo’s shoulder, thus alerting Lorenzo to what was about to happen. Lorenzo leapt away, his attackers knife thankfully only grazing his neck, and wrapped his cloak about his arm to act as a shield. In the chaos Poliziano, a close friend of the Medici family, rushed Lorenzo De’ Medici to safety within a room in the Sacristy.

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Giuliano De’ Medici by Sandro Boticelli

The conspirators had failed in their plan. Although Giuliano De’ Medici’s corpse lay upon the floor of the cathedral, they had failed to kill the leader of Florence and were now in significant danger. The reprisals started almost straight away. As the people fled the scene of bloodshed, Lorenzo and his allies went to the safety of the Medici palace. The city bells were rang and Jacopo De’ Pazzi rode into the main town square in an effort to stir up a revolution against the Medici. He failed miserably and was urged to flee the scene of the crime. Very quickly the conspirators were rounded up, some of them held as prisoners within the Palazzo Della Signoria. There, the bodies of both Bernardo Baroncelli, Francesco Salviati and Francesco De’ Pazzi were hung from the upper windows of the palace. Jacopo De’ Pazzi who had fled Florence after his failed attempt at riling up the popolo was caught and brought back – he was hung next to the corpse of Salviati.

The aftermath of Jacopo’s execution is particularly morbid. Although he was originally buried within the Pazzi crypt, many opposed the fact that this evil man was buried within consecrated ground. So he was moved outside the city. Except there, a group of children dug up his body and dragged it about the streets using the noose he had been hanged with. It’s a rather grim outcome, but one that sums up the popular feeling against the family who had caused such an uproar.

That Sunday in April of 1478 was an attack upon a family who, at the point, were well respected in Florence. That would change after Lorenzo’s death. But the murder of Giuliano De’ Medici was a tragedy, caused by the jealousy of a family who believed they were better than the Medici and who were looking for any excuse to get the Medici out of the way. The belief that the Medici family were going too far in the way of absolute power was something that would come back to haunt them just a few years down the line and, perhaps, it can be said that the attack by the Pazzi was the beginning of the end for the great Florentine family.

Further Reading

Lauro Martinez: April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici

Paul Strathern: The Medici: Godfather’s Of The Renaissance

Christopher Hibbert: The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici

Christopher Hibbert: Florence: Biography Of A City.

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[Review] 1666 by Rebecca Rideal

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1666 was a watershed year for England. An outbreak of the Great Plague, the eruption of the second Dutch War, and the devastating Great Fire of London all struck the country in rapid succession and with devastating repercussions.

Shedding light on these dramatic events and their context, historian Rebecca Rideal reveals an unprecedented period of terror and triumph. Based in original archival research drawing on little-known sources, 1666 opens with the fiery destruction of London before taking readers on a thrilling journey through a crucial turning point in English history as seen through the eyes of an extraordinary cast of historical characters.

While the central events of this significant year were ones of devastation and defeat, 1666 also offers a glimpse of the incredible scientific and artistic progress being made at that time, from Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity to the establishment of The London Gazette. It was in this year that John Milton completed Paradise Lost, Frances Stewart posed for the iconic image of Britannia, and a young architect named Christopher Wren proposed a plan for a new London—a stone phoenix to rise from the charred ashes of the old city.

With flair and style, 1666 exposes readers to a city and a country on the cusp of modernity and a series of events that altered the course of history.

I’d been meaning to pick this book up for a while, being incredibly interested in the Restoration and the reign of Charles II. And when I eventually did download it on my kindle and started reading. I was not disappointed. I must admit now to having a bit of a historical crush on Charles II and John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and (sadly) I’m a bit of a fangirl over Samuel Pepys. So the moment I loaded the book up and saw the name ‘Samuel Pepys’, there was a bit (a lot) of a fangirl moment.

This book tells the story of 1666, a year of turmoil for England. It started with the plague, killing thousands of people and sending those who could scurrying for the countryside and ended with the Great Fire of London, an event that destroyed swathes of the city and ruined the lives of many. In between times the English were at War with the Dutch. It was a rough year – and a year that affected nearly everyone.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was that you got to know the people – I mean the real people. This wasn’t just the story of the nobility at the time, but local traders and families. It was heartbreaking to read about how the lives of these ordinary people were ruined by plague and fire, and you really do end up feeling for them. Quite often in historical biographies you don’t get that level of understanding with the characters, characters who lived and worked, so it was a pleasant change to read a book that allowed for this.

Rideal’s writing style in this work made it accessible – it is a great read for someone new to seventeenth century history and wanting to know about this particularly infamous year. It’s also a fantastic resource for those more ‘in the know’, as it were. I must admit, after a bit of a break from Seventeenth Century History, this book reignited my love for it – I feel a research party coming on regarding Rochester…

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18 April 1480 – Lucrezia Borgia is born

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Portrait of a woman by Bartolomeo Veneto, traditionally said to be of Lucrezia Borgia

On 18 April 1480, Lucrezia Borgia was born in Subiaco just outside Rome – the daughter of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and Vanozza Cattanei. She would have been born outside of the city as a method of keeping her birth and parentage discreet – Rodrigo Borgia had his own personal policy of discretion, unlike some other Cardinals. He wished for his family to be kept out of the public eye. It was only after his election as Pope Alexander VI that Rodrigo moved his illegitimate family closer to the Vatican, openly acknowledging him as his own.

Lucrezia’s name has been vilified and maligned throughout the centuries – accused of incest and murder, the reality of her life was quite different. The rumours came about by those who wished to tar the name of Borgia – the rumour of incest only started after her divorce from Giovanni Sforza when it was whispered that the Pope wanted his daughter for himself. As for the rumours of murder, it was a brush that tarred the entire family. Lucrezia was, in fact, a political pawn in her father and brother’s plans for her. She was also incredibly intelligent – she spent time in charge of the Vatican as well as Spoleto – and pious.

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Lucrezia Borgia in Pinturicchio’s Disputation of Saint Catherine – the Borgia Apartments, Vatican Museum.

Her bad image isn’t helped by modern television adaptations that show her as a murderer and guilty of incest. The evidence and historical fact paint a very different story – however today I have seen an awful lot of comments floating about on social media stating that she was a harlot who poisoned her enemies. There is no evidence for this at all, only rumour brought down through the centuries started by those who wished to darken the Borgia name. Lucrezia Borgia was more sinned against than sinner, and a woman who deserves to be recognised for what she was rather than what people want her to have been.

Historians have worked solidly to get rid of Lucrezia’s bad image and it is my hope that my own work will help contribute to this. But for now?

Happy birthday, Lucrezia Borgia.

Los Borgia

Maria Valverde as Lucrezia Borgia in “Los Borgia”

Borgia Season 1

Isolda Dychauk as Lucrezia Borgia in “Borgia: Faith & Fear”

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On This Day In History – Leonardo da Vinci is born.

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The Mona Lisa – Louvre Museum, Paris

On 15 April 1452, Leonardo da Vinci was born in the little town on Vinci, in Tuscany. He was born to the Florentine Notary Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, and Caterina – a peasant girl. The little bastard boy would go on to become one of the most famous artists that the world had ever seen. At the age of 14, he was apprenticed to Verocchio and by the age of 20 he had qualified as a Master.

Leonardo would go on to produce some of the finest works of art Italy had seen at the time, and indeed would ever be seen. Although it has to be said that Leonardo was awful at getting his commissions finished – he never completed the altarpiece in the Palazzo della Signoria, nor did he complete his commission to pain the Adoration of the Magi for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto. Not only was he an artist, but he was an inventor as well. In 1502 he entered the service of Cesare Borgia as his military architect and produced some of the most accurate maps ever seen, including a map of Imola.

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Da Vinci’s map of Imola

Leonardo spent his last years in France, in the service of King Francis I. Legend states then when Leonardo was dying, King Francis held the dying man’s head in his arms. He died on 2nd May, 1519 at Clos Lucé, and was buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d’Amboise.

Today, Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy lives on through his art work. In a recent trip to the Louvre in Paris, I was struck by just how many people crowded around the tiny Mona Lisa. She is the most famous of his works, people wondering just what on earth she was smiling at. It seemed to me as I stood in front of the Mona Lisa that many of those people didn’t even realise da Vinci had created other, much more beautiful works of art – some of which were on display in the very same room that they were crowded in. In fact, one only has to read his notebooks to understand that Leonardo da Vinci is very much more than the man who painted the Mona Lisa.

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Leonardo da Vinci – self portrait

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An Update.

So the Doctor signed me off work last week due to problems with my diabetes. “Great”, I thought, “I can get on and do a bit of writing”.

I thought wrong.

Now I know I probably shouldn’t feel guilty about the fact that I just couldn’t concentrate to get words down on paper for my next couple of projects. But I do feel incredibly guilty about it. I just about managed to finish off an article for the lovely guys at Medievalists.net, and managed to get maybe…a page or two done for another project I’m working on with the guys at Medieval Courses. But in my mind, it wasn’t enough. Instead I was spaced out feeling rough as anything, cursing my broken pancreas and getting bored watching daytime TV.

I did manage to go out and grab coffee with a dear friend of mine, and signed her copy of Cesare Borgia In A Nutshell – despite it only being a short little outing it really did exhaust me, not helped by the new tablets the doctors had put me on for the nerve damage I suffer from. Still, towards the end of the week I was feeling much better (hence being able to at least do a little writing) and headed out for a walk in the early morning Southampton sun.

There’s loads of history in Southampton and above are just a few pictures of the sort of thing I get to walk past every day. There are signs dotted all over the city that point out where Jane Austen lived, worked, went to parties etc.  I feel incredibly lucky to live in a city with such amazing history.

But I digress – I’m back at work now and feeling much better, so that means I’ll be able to get back on with my writing projects. There’s LOADS of exciting stuff in the works – my second book “Girolamo Savonarola: The Renaissance Prophet” will be coming later this year and I’m also working on something exciting for Medieval Courses. The holiday to Florence is also just around the corner so that means plenty of opportunities to see Savonarola’s old stomping grounds and where the Medici family lived and worked. Crazy, exciting times. I’ve also started on book three, so that will keep me super busy!

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