[Review] The Black Prince of Florence by Catherine Fletcher


In The Black Prince of Florence, a dramatic tale of assassination, spies and betrayal, the first retelling of Alessandro’s life in two-hundred years opens a window onto the opulent, cut-throat world of Renaissance Italy.

When I found a copy of Catherine Fletcher’s “The Black Prince of Florence” under the tree on Christmas morning, I have to admit that I may have squealed a bit. I’d wanted a copy of this book since I’d heard that it was coming out – my poor other half often has to put up with my quite frankly over zealous enthusiasm about the Italian Renaissance, so I’m sure he was probably prepared for my excitement over this book. The later Medici aren’t something I have read into all that much, so I was intrigued to get started on Fletcher’s book about Alessandro de’ Medici – I certainly was not disappointed.

From the very first page, I found myself immersed in the treacherous world of Renaissance Florence. What intrigued me the most was how still, even after the debacle that was the flight of the Medici during Savonarola’s time, there were still those within Florence who despised the family and believed them to be tyrants. Being accused of tyranny was certainly something that the Medici could not escape.


Alessandro de’ Medici by Giorgio Vasari

Fletcher’s work tells the story of Alessandro de’ Medici, an illegitimate son of Lorenzo II de’ Medici. Alessandro was dark-skinned, likely the son of one of Lorenzo’s slaves or servants. But to start with, Alessandro was never meant to rise to the top of Florentine politics and become the city’s Duke – that was the role originally meant for his cousin, Ippolito. However, Pope Clement VII decided that Ippolito was better off in the Church and Alessandro should lead Florence.

It struck me throughout that there is a massive similarity between the relationship of Alessandro and Ippolito, and the Borgia siblings Cesare and Juan. It was also a similarity brought up by Fletcher throughout the book. Indeed, Cesare was originally a churchman who threw off his Crimson robes in order to become the soldier that his murdered brother had been. He had wanted to be a soldier from an early age and despised his role in the church – jealousy was rife between him and his brother, Juan, who was viciously murdered in 1497. Rumours began a year later in Venice, whispers that Cesare had been the one to murder his brother in order to gain the military standing that Juan had been given by their father, Pope Alexander VI. Although they were cousins, Alessandro and Ippolito’s relationship was chock full of jealousy in just the same way as Cesare and Juan’s had been. Ippolito even tried to follow Cesare’s footsteps and leave the college of Cardianals. But unlike Cesare, he failed.

Alessandro was ultimately assassinated by another of his cousins, Lorenzino de’ Medici, who lured Alessandro to his demise with a promise that he could sleep with Lorenzino’s sister. Lorenzino later stated that he had murdered his cousin for the state of the Republic and to end his cousin’s tyrannical rule. Alessandro’s body was found wrapped in a carpet – a sad end for a man who had ruled the Republic of Florence and whose name went alongside his great forefathers.

This book was an absolutely fantastic read. Fletcher’s research into Alessandro’s life and times is beyond first class, and her writing style made this biography so easy to read. I look forward to reading more from Catherine Fletcher – her work is an inspiration and one day I can only hope to be half the historian she is. Ten out of ten, would recommend.

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