The History of Florence—Book III

Chapter VII

During the war with the Duke of Milan, the office of Gonfalonier of Justice fell to Maso degli Albizzi, who by the death of Piero in 1379, had become the inveterate enemy of the Alberti; and as party feeling is incapable either of repose or abatement, he determined, notwithstanding Benedetto had died in exile, that before the expiration of his magistracy, he would revenge himself on the remainder of that family. He seized the opportunity afforded by a person, who on being examined respecting correspondence maintained with the rebels, accused Andrea and Alberto degli Alberti of such practices. They were immediately arrested, which so greatly excited the people, that the Signory, having provided themselves with an armed force, called the citizens to a general assembly or parliament, and appointed a Balia, by whose authority many were banished, and a new ballot for the offices of government was made. Among the banished were nearly all the Alberti; many members of the trades were admonished, and some put to death. Stung by these numerous injuries, the trades and the lowest of the people rose in arms, considering themselves despoiled both of honor and life. One body of them assembled in the piazza; another ran to the house of Veri de' Medici, who after the death of Salvestro, was head of the family. The Signory, in order to appease those who came to the piazza or court of the palace, gave them for leaders, with the ensigns of the Guelfs and of the people in their bands, Rinaldo Gianfigliazzi and Donato Acciajuoli, both men of the popular class, and more attached to the interests of the plebeians than any other. Those who went to the house of Veri de' Medici, begged that he would be pleased to undertake the government, and free them from the tyranny of those citizens who were destroying the peace and safety of the Commonwealth.

It is agreed by all who have written concerning the events of this period, that if Veri had had more ambition than integrity he might without any impediment have become Prince of the city; for the unfeeling treatment which, whether right or wrong, had been inflicted upon the trades and their friends, had so excited the minds of men to vengeance, that all they required was some-one to be their leader. Nor were there wanting those who could inform him of the state of public feeling; for Antonio de' Medici, with whom he had for some time been upon terms of most intimate friendship, endeavored to persuade him to undertake the government of the republic. To this Veri replied: "Thy menaces when thou wert my enemy, never alarmed me; nor shall thy counsel, now when thou art my friend, do me any harm." Then, turning towards the multitude, he bade them be of good cheer; for he would be their defender, if they would allow themselves to be advised by him. He then went, accompanied by a great number of citizens, to the piazza, and proceeded directly to the audience chamber of the Signory, whom he addressed to this effect: That he could not regret having lived so as to gain the love of the Florentines; but he was sorry they had formed au opinion of him which his past life had not warranted; for never having done anything that could be construed, as either factious or ambitious, he could not imagine how it had happened, that they should think him willing to stir up strife as a discontented person, or usurp the government of his country like an ambitious one. He therefore begged that the infatuation of the multitude might not injure him in their estimation; for, to the utmost of his power, their authority should be restored. He then recommended them to use good fortune with moderation; for it would be much better to enjoy an imperfect victory with safety to the city, than a complete one with her ruin.

The Signory applauded Veri's conduct; begged he would endeavor to prevent recourse to arms, and promised that what he and the other citizens might deem most advisable should be done. Veri then returned to the piazza, where the people who had followed him were joined by those led by Donato and Rinaldo, and informed the united companies that he had found the Signory most kindly disposed towards them; that many things had been taken into consideration, which the shortness of the time, and tbe absence of the magistrates, rendered incapable of being finished. He therefore begged they would lay down their arms and obey the Signory; assuring them that humility would prevail rather than pride, entreaties rather than threats; and if they would take his advice, their privileges and security would remain unimpaired. He thus induced them to return peaceably to their homes.

The disturbance having subsided, the Signory armed the piazza, enrolled 2,000 of the most trusty citizens, who were divided equally by Gonfalons, and ordered to be in readinesss to give their assistance whenever required; and they forbade the use of arms to all who were not thus enrolled. Having adopted these precautionary measures, they banished and put to death many of those members of the trades who had shown the greatest audacity in the late riots; and to invest the office of Gonfalonier of Justice with more authoritative majesty, they ordered that no one should be eligible to it, under forty-five years of age. Many other provisions for the defence of the state were made, which appeared intolerable to those against whom they were directed, and were odious even to the friends of the Signory, themselves, for they could not believe a government to be either good or secure, which needed so much violence for its defence, a violence excessively offensive, not only to those of the Alberti who remained in the city, and to the Medici, who felt themselves injured by these proceedings, but also to many others.

The first who attempted resistance was Donato, son of Jacopo Acciajuoli, who though of great authority, and the superior rather than the equal of Maso degli Albizzi, (who on account of the events which took place while he was Gonfalonier of Justice, was almost at the head of the republic), could not enjoy repose amid such general discontent, or, like many others, convert social evils to his own private advantage, and therefore resolved to attempt the restoration of the exiles to their country, or at least their offices to the admonished. He went from one to another, disseminating his views, showing that the people would not be satisfied, or the ferment of parties subside, without the changes he proposed; and declared that if he were in the Signory, he would soon carry them into effect. In human affairs, delay causes tedium, and haste danger. To avoid what was tedious, Donato Acciajuoli resolved to attempt what involved danger. Michele Acciajuoli his relative, and Niccolo Ricoveri his friend, were of the Signory. This seemed to Donato a conjuncture of circumstances too favorable to be lost, and he requested they would propose a law to the councils, which would include the restoration of the citizens. They, at his entreaty, spoke about the matter to their associates, who replied, that it was improper to attempt any innovation in which the advantage was doubtful and the danger certain. Upon this, Donato, having in vain tried all other means he could think of, excited with anger, gave them to understand that since they could not allow the city to be governed with peaceful measures, he would try what could be done with arms. These words gave so great offence, that being communicated to the heads of the government, Donato was summoned, and having appeared, the truth was proved by those to whom he had entrusted the message, and he was banished to Barletta. Alamanno and Antonio de' Medici were also banished, and all those of that family, who were descended from Alamanno, with many who, although of the inferior artificers, possessed influence with the plebeians. These events took place two years after the reform of government effected by Maso degli Albizzi.

At this time many discontented citizens were at home, and others banished in the adjoining states. Of the latter there lived at Bologna, Picchio Cavicciulli, Tommaso de' Ricci, Antonio de' Medici, Benedetto degli Spini, Antonio Girolami, Cristofano di Carlone, and two others of the lowest order, all bold young men, and resolved upon returning to their country at any hazard. These were secretly told by Piggiello and Baroccio Cavicciulli, who, being admonished, lived in Florence, that if they came to the city they should be concealed in their houses from which they might afterwards issue, slay Maso degli Albizzi, and call the people to arms, who, full of discontent, would willingly arise, particularly as they would be supported by the Ricci, Adimari, Medici, Manelli, and many other families. Excited with these hopes, on August 4, I397, they came to Florence, and having entered unobserved according to their arrangement, they sent one of their party to watch Maso, designing with his death to raise the people. Maso was observed to leave his house and proceed to that of an apothecary, near the church of San Pietro Maggiore, which he entered. The man who went to watch him ran to give information to the other conspirators, who took their arms and hastened to the house of the apothecary, but found that Maso had gone.

However, undaunted with the failure of their first attempt, they proceeded to the old market, where they slew one of the adverse party, and with loud cries of "People!" "Arms!" "Liberty!" and "Death to Tyrants!" directed their course toward the new market, and at the end of the Calimala slew another. Pursuing their course with the same cries, and finding no one join them in arms, they stopped at the Loggia Nighittosa, where, from an elevated situation, being surrounded with a great multitude, assembled to look on rather than assist them, they exhorted the men to take arms and deliver themselves from the slavery which weighed so heavily upon them; declaring that the complaints of the discontented in the city, rather than their own grievances, had induced them to attempt their deliverance. They had heard that many prayed to God for an opportunity of avenging themselves, and vowed they would use it whenever they found any one to conduct them; but now, when the favorable circumstances occurred, and they found those who were ready to lead them, they stared at each other like men stupefied, and would wait till those who were endeavoring to recover their liberty for them were slain, and their own chains more strongly riveted upon them; they wondered that those who were wont to take arms upon slight occasions, remained unmoved under the pressure of so many and so great evils; and that they could willingly suffer such number of their fellow citizens to be banished, so many admonished, when it was in their power to restore the banished to their country, and the admonished to the honors of the state.

These words, although full of truth, produced no effect upon those to whom they were addressed; for they were either restrained by their fears, or, on account of the two murders that had been committed, disgusted with the parties. Thus the movers of the tumult, finding that neither words or deeds had force sufficient to stir any one, saw, when too late, how dangerous a thing it is to attempt to set a people free who are resolved to be slaves; and, despairing of success, they withdrew to the temple of Santa Reparata, where, not to save their lives, but to defer the moment of their deaths, they shut themselves up. Upon the first rumor of the affair, the Signory being in fear, armed and secured the palace; but when the facts of the case were understood, the parties known, and whither they had betaken themselves, their fears subsided, and they sent the Capitano with a sufficient body of armed men to secure them. The gates of the temple were forced without much trouble; part of the conspirators were slain defending themselves; the remainder were made prisoners and examined, but none were found implicated in the affair except Baroccio and Piggiello Cavicciulli, who were put to death with them.

Shortly after this event, another occurred of greater importance. The Florentines were, as we have before remarked, at war with the Duke of Milan, who, finding that with merely open force he could not overcome them, had recourse to secret practices, and with the assistance of the exiles of whom Lombardy was full, he formed a plot to which many in the city were accessary. It was resolved by the conspirators, that most of the exiles capable of bearing arms, should set out from the places nearest Florence, enter the city by the river Arno, and with their friends hasten to the residences of the chiefs of the government; having slain them, reform the republic according to their own will. Of the conspirators within the city, was one of the Ricci named Samminiato; and as it often happens in treacherous practices, few are insufficient to effect the purpose of the plot, and among many secrecy cannot be preserved, so while Samminiato was in quest of associates, he found an accuser. He confided the affair to Salvestro Cavicciulli, whose wrongs and those of his friends were thought sufficient to make him faithful; but he, more influenced by immediate fear than the hope of future vengeance, discovered the whole affair to the Signory, who, having caused Samminiato to be taken, compelled him to tell all the particulars of the matter. However, none of the conspirators was taken, except Tommaso Davizi, who, coming from Bologna, and unaware of what had occurred at Florence, was seized immediately upon his arrival. All the others had fled immediately upon the apprehension of Samminiato.

Samminiato and Tommaso having been punished according to their deserts, a Balia was formed of many citizens, which sought the delinquents, and took measures for the security of the state. They declared six of the family of the Ricci rebels; also, six of the Alberti; two of the Medici; three of the Scali; two of the Strozzi; Bindo Altoviti, Bernardo Adimari, and many others of inferior quality. They admonished all the family of the Alberti, the Ricci, and the Medici for ten years, except a few individuals. Among the Alberti, not admonished, was Antonio, who was thought to be quiet and peaceable. It happened, however, before all suspicion of the conspiracy had ceased, a monk was taken who had been observed during its progress to pass frequently between Bologna and Florence. He confessed that he had often carried letters to Antonio, who was immediately seized, and, though he denied all knowledge of the matter from the first, the monk's accusation prevailed, and he was fined in a considerable sum of money, and banished a distance of three hundred miles from Florence. That the Alberti might not constantly place the city in jeopardy, every member of the family was banished whose age exceeded fifteen years.

These events took place in the year 1400, and two years afterwards, died Giovanni Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, whose death, as we have said above, put an end to the war, which had then continued twelve years. At this time, the government having gained greater strength, and being without enemies external or internal, undertook the conquest of Pisa, and having gloriously completed it, the peace of the city remained undisturbed from 1400 to 1433, except that in 1412, the Alberti, having crossed the boundary they were forbidden to pass, a Balia was formed which with new provisions fortified the state and punished the offenders with heavy fines. During this period also, the Florentines made war with Ladislaus, King of Naples, who finding himself in great danger ceded to them the city of Cortona of which he was master; but soon afterwards, recovering his power, he renewed the war, which became far more disastrous to the Florentines than before; and had it not, in 1414, been terminated by his death, as that of Lombardy had been by the death of the Duke of Milan, he, like the duke, would have brought Florence into great danger of losing her liberty. Nor was the war with the King concluded with less good fortune than the former; for when he had taken Rome, Sienna, the whole of La Marca and Romagna, and had only Florence itself to vanquish, he died. Thus death has always been more favorable to the Florentines than any other friend, and more potent to save them than their own valor. From the time of the King's decease, peace was preserved both at home and abroad for eight years, at the end of which, with the wars of Filippo, Duke of Milan, the spirit of faction again broke out, and was only appeased by the ruin of that government which continued from 1381 to 1434; had conducted with great glory so many enterprises; acquired Arezzo, Pisa, Cortona, Leghorn, and Monte Pulciano; and would have accomplished more if the citizens had lived in unity, and had not revived former factions; as in the following book will be particularly shown.