The Pazzi Conspiracy


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.


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.

Clarice Orsini and Lorenzo de Medici

In the spring of 1467 Lorenzo de Medici’s mother, Lucrezia Tournabuoni, went to Rome. Using the pretext of an incognito visit to her brother, managers of the Rome branch of the Medici bank, she was actually there to sort out a bride for her son. Her choice fell on the daughter of Jacopo Monterotondo and her trip to Rome was, for all intents and purposes, so she could inspect the girl and make sure she was a suitable match for Lorenzo.

Lucrezia Tournabuoni (the elderly lady on the right) by Domenico Ghirlandaio from a fresco in the Capella Tournabuoni, Florence.
The report that Lucrezia sent back to her husband Piero is rather telling towards attitudes towards marriage at those times:
“She is fairly tall, and fair, and has a nice manner, though she is not as sweet as our girls. She is very modest and will soon learn our customs…Her face is round, but it does not displease me…We could not see her bosom as it is the custom here to wear it completely covered up, but it seems promising.”
Following a meeting between Lucrezia and Clarice’s family it was noted that she actually had “fine quality breasts
The marriage was agreed upon and negotiations dragged on for over a year. The Florentine people weren’t very happy about the match, and many believed that the Medici thought the local nobility weren’t quite good enough for them. But the Orsini family were an old, very noble family. For the first time ever, the Medici were marrying into a class above their own – the Orsini were an old, powerful family in Rome with connections to the Papacy. It was certainly a step up for the Medici. To try and calm the populace, Lorenzo’s father tried to arrange a festival to celebrate his sons betrothal but by this point Piero (nicknamed “The Gouty”) was far too ill to do anything much and so Lorenzo took charge of organising the festivities. In the end, what he organised was an absolutely spectacular affair and would set the scene for his later ostentation when he took over the reigns of power in Florence.
In March 1469, the Piazza Santa Croce was covered with sand and the square itself was surrounded with seating stands for people to watch. In essence, what Lorenzo had organised was a massive joust – a fanfare announced the 18 knights who paraded past the Queen of the Tournament. They were all dressed magnificently but none more so than Lorenzo who stole the show – he took first prize, despite the fact he had already been unseated by one of his opponents. The people of Florence went away from the celebration happy, a fact which Lorenzo learned from in organising later celebrations. The cost of the whole thing ended up costing 8000 florins however, which was 2000 florins more than Clarice’s dowry!
Lorenzo de Medici by Agnolo Bronzino
Four months later Clarice arrived in Florence for her wedding, having spent months learning new dances so she would fit in in Florence. And on Sunday 4th June she made her way to the church in Florence dressed in a white and gold gown and she rode on Lorenzo’s white horse. Following the religious ceremony, three days of feasting followed and by the end of the celebrations over 300 barrels of wine had been consumed! After the ceremony, Clarice took formal possession of her new home on the Via Larga. As she entered her new home, she was greeted by her new servants and ladies in waiting who by all accounts, weren’t too thrilled about having a foreigner take charge of the household.
After she took formal possession of her new household, she rode to the Palazzo degli Alessandri – a palace that was supposed to symbolise the home of her father.
The following day, she would have moved into the house on the Via Larga properly. And it soon became evident that Lorenzo and Clarice were a complete mismatch. Despite not being the most attractive man in the world, there was something about him that made women go weak at the knees – he spent much of his time writing love sonnets to Lucrezia Donati, and would keep sending love sonnets to other Florentine beauties. He was also said to be quite difficult to live with at times. Clarice herself was quite a frumpy woman and nowhere near akin to the famous Florentine beauties, nor was she hugely intelligent. She was also convinced of her superiority to everyone else due to her family name and she spent much of her time with a somewhat disapproving attitude towards her husband, which for the most part she tried to conceal with various levels of success. Despite this, the couple went on to have ten children, three dying in childbirth, and they ended up becoming rather good friends even if they did not fall in love with each other. Their letters to each other confirm that they were at the very least, fond of each other, and they did their best to put on an outwards show of a normal marriage, albeit a marriage of politics.
Of their ten children, Lorenzo and Clarice would go on to produce the famous Piero de Medici (the Unfortunate) who was chased from Florence by Savonarola, and the future Pope Leo X.
Further Reading