The History of Florence—Book V

Chapter I

It may be observed, that provinces amid the vicissitudes to which they are subject, pass from order into confusion, and afterward recur to a state of order again; for the nature of mundane affairs not allowing them to continue in an even course, when they have arrived at their greatest perfection, they soon begin to decline. In the same manner, having been reduced to disorder, and sunk to their utmost state of depression, unable to descend lower, they, of necessity, reascend; and thus from good they gradually decline to evil, and from evil again return to good. The reason is, that valor produces peace; peace, repose; repose, disorder; disorder, ruin; so from disorder, order springs; from order, virtue, and from this, glory and good-fortune. Hence, wise men have observed, that the age of literary excellence is subsequent to that of distinction in arms; and that in cities and provinces, great warriors are produced before philosophers. Arms having secured victory, and victory peace, the buoyant vigor of the martial mind cannot be enfeebled by a more excusable indulgence than that of letters: nor can indolence, with any greater or more dangerous deceit, enter a well-regulated community. Cato was aware of this when the philosophers, Diogenes and Carneades, were sent ambassadors to the Roman Senate, by the Athenians; for, perceiving with what earnest admiration the Roman youth began to follow them, and knowing the evils that might result to his country from this specious idleness, he enacted that no philosopher should be allowed to enter Rome. Provinces by this means sink to ruin, from which, men's sufferings having made them wiser, they again recur to order, if they be not overwhelmed by some extraordinary force. These causes made Italy, first under the ancient Tuscans, and afterward under the Romans, by turns happy and unhappy; and although nothing has subsequently arisen from the ruins of Rome at all corresponding to her ancient greatness (which under a well-organized monarchy might havc been gloriously effected), still there was so much bravery and intelligence in some of the new cities and governments that afterward sprang up, that although none ever acquired dominion over the rest, they were, nevertheless, so balanced and regulated among themselves, as to enable them to live in freedom, and defend their country from the barbarians.

Among these governments, the Florentines, although they possessed a smaller extent of territory, were not inferior to any in power and authority; for being situated in the middle of Italy, wealthy, and prepared for action, they either defended themselves against such as thought proper to assail them, or decided victory in favor of those to whom they became allies. From the valor, therefore, of these new governments, if no seasons occurred of long-continued peace, neither were any exposed to the calamities of war; for that cannot be called peace in which states frequently assail each other with arms, nor can those be considered wars in which no men are slain, cities plundered, or sovereignties overthrown; for the practice of arms fell into such a state of decay, that wars were commenced without fear, continued without danger, and concluded without loss. Thus the military energy which is in other countries exhausted by a long peace was wasted in Italy by the contemptible manner in which hostilities were carried on, as will be clearly seen in the events to be described from 1434 to 1494, from which it will appear how the barbarians were again admitted into Italy, and she again sunk under subjection to them. Although the transactions of our princes at home and abroad will not be viewed with admiration of their virtue and greatness like those of the ancients, perhaps they may on other accounts be regarded with no less interest, seeing what masses of highspirited people were kept in restraint by such weak and disorderly forces. And if, in detailing the events which took place in this wasted world, we shall not have to record the bravery of the soldier, the prudence of the general, or the patriotism of the citizen, it will be seen with what artifice, deceit, and cunning, princes, warriors, and leaders of republics conducted themselves, to support a reputation they never deserved. This, perhaps, will not be less useful than a knowledge of ancient history; for, if the latter excites the liberal mind to imitation, the former will show what ought to be avoided and decried.

Italy was reduced to such a condition by her rulers, that when, by consent of her princes, peace was restored, it was soon disturbed by those who retained their armies, so that glory was not gained by war nor repose by peace. Thus when the league and the Duke of Milan agreed to lay aside their arms in 1433, the soldiers, resolved upon war, directed their efforts against the Church. There were at this time two factions or armed parties in ltaly, the Braccesca and the Sforzesca. The leader of the latter was the Count Francesco, the son of Sforza, and of the former, Niccolo Piccinino and Niccolo Fortebraccio. Under the banner of one or other of these parties almost all the forces of Italy were assembled. Of the two, the Sforzesca was in greatest repute, as well from the bravery of the count himself, as from the promise which the Duke of Milan had made him of his natural daughter, Madonna Bianca, the prospect of which alliance greatly strengthened his influence. After the peace of Lombardy, these forces, from various causes, attacked Pope Eugenius. Niccolo Fortebraecio was instigated by the ancient enmity which Braccio had always entertained against the Church; the count was induced by ambition; so that Niccolo assailed Rome, and the count took possession of La Marca.

The Romans, in order to avoid the war, drove Pope Eugenius from their city; and he, having with difficulty escaped, came to Florence, where, seeing the imminent danger of his situation, being abandoned by the princes (for they were unwilling again to take up arms in his cause, after having been so anxious to lay them aside), he came to terms with the count, and ceded to him the sovereignty of La Marca, although, to the injury of having occupied it, he had added insult; for in signing the place, from which he addressed letters to his agents, he said in Latin, according to the Italian custom, "Ex Girfalco nostro Firmiano, invito Petro et Paulo." Neither was he satisfied with this concession, but insisted upon being appointed Gonfalonier of the Church, which was also granted; so much more was Eugenius alarmed at the prospect of a dangerous war than of an ignominious peace. The count, having thus been reconciled to the pontiff, attacked Niccolo Fortebraccio, and during many months various encounters took place between them, from all which greater injury resulted to the Pope and his subjects, than to either of the belligerents. At length, by the intervention of the Duke of Milan, an arrangement, by way of a truce, was made, by which both became princes in the territories of the Church.

The war thus extinguished at Rome was rekindled in Romagna by Battista da Canneto, who at Bologna slew some of the family of the Grifoni, and expelled from the city the governor who resided there for the Pope, along with others who were opposed to him. To enable himself to retain the government, he applied for assistance to Filippo, and the Pope, to avenge himself for the injury, sought the aid of the Venetians and Florentines. Both parties obtained assistance, so that very soon two large armies were on foot in Romagna. Niccolo Piccinino commanded for the duke, Gattamelata and Niccolo da Tolentino for the Venetians and Florentines. They met near Imola, where a battle ensued, in which the Florentines and Venetians were routed, and Niccolo da Tolentino was sent prisoner to Milan, where, either through grief for his loss, or by some unfair means, he died in a few days.

The duke, on this victory, either being exhausted by the late wars, or thinking the league after their defeat would not be in haste to resume hostilities, did not pursue his good-fortune, and thus gave the Pope and his colleagues time to recover themselves. They therefore appointed the Count Francesco for their leader, and undertook to drive Niccolo Fortebraecio from the territories of the Church, and thus terminate the war which had been commenced in favor of the pontiff. The Romans, finding the Pope supported by so large an army, sought a reconciliation with him, and being successful, admitted his commissary into the city. Among the places possessed by Niccolo Fortebraccio were Tivoli, Montefiascone, Citta di CasteIlo, and Ascesi, to the last of which, not being able to keep the field, he fled, and the count besieged him there. Niccolo's brave defence making it probable that the war would be of considerable duration, the duke deemed it necessary to prevent the league from obtaining the victory, and said that if this were not effected he would very soon have to look to the defence of his own territories. Resolving to divert the count from the siege, he commanded Niccolo Puccinino to pass into Tuscany by way of Romagna; and the league, thinking it more important to defend Tuscany than to occupy Ascesi, ordered the count to prevent the passage of Niccolo, who was already, with his army, at Furli. The count accordingly moved with his forces, and came to Cesena, having left the war of La Marca and the care of his own territories to his brother Lione; and while Niccolo Piccinino was endeavoring to pass by, and the count to prevent him, Fortebraccio attacked Lione with great bravery, made him prisoner, routed his forces, and pursuing the advantage of his victory, at once possessed himself of many places in La Marca. This circumstance greatly perplexed the count, who thought he had lost all his territories; so, leaving part of his force to check Piccinino, with the remainder he pursued Fortebraccio, whom he attacked and conquered. Fortebraccio was taken prisoner in the battle, and soon after died of his wounds. This victory restored to the pontiff all the places that had been taken from him by Fortebraccio, and compelled the Duke of Milan to sue for peace, which was concluded by the intercession of Niccolo da Este, Marquis of Ferrara; the duke restoring to the Church the places he had taken from her, and his forces retiring into Lombardy. Battista da Canneto, as is the case with all who retain authority only by the consent and forces of another, when the duke's people had quitted Romagna, unable with his own power to keep possession of Bologna, fled, and Antonio Bentivogli, the head of the opposite party, returned to his country.

All this took place during the exile of Cosmo, after whose return, those who had restored him, and a great number of persons injured by the opposite party, resolved at all events to make themselves sure of the government; and the Signory for the months of November and December, not content with what their predecessors had done in favor of their party, extended the term and changed the residences of several who were banished, and increased the number of exiles. In addition to these evils, it was observed that citizens were more annoyed on account of their wealth, their family connections or private animosities, than for the sake of the party to which they adhered, so that if these proscriptions had been accompanied with bloodshed, they would have resembled those of Octavius and Sylla, though in reality they were not without some stains; for Antonio di Bernardo Guadagni was beheaded, and four other citizens, among whom were Zanobi dei Belfratelli and Cosmo Barbadori, passing the confines to which they were limited, proceeded to Venice, when the Venetians, valuing the friendship of Cosmo de' Medici more than their own honor, sent them prisoners to him, and they were basely put to death. This circumstance greatly increased the influence of that party, and struck their enemies with terror, finding that such a powerful republic would so humble itself to the Florentines. This, however, was supposed to have been done, not so much out of kindness to Cosmo, as to excite dissensions in Florence, and by means of bloodshed make greater certainty of division among the citizens, for the Venetians knew there was no other obstacle to their ambition so great as the union of her people.

The city being cleared of the enemies, or suspected enemies of the state, those in possession of the government now began to strengthen their party by conferring benefits upon such as were in a condition to serve them, and the family of the Alberti, with all who had been banished by the former government, were recalled. All the nobility, with few exceptions, were reduced to the ranks of the people, and the possessions of the exiles were divided among themselves, upon each paying a small acknowledgment. They then fortified themselves with new laws and provisos, made new squittini, withdrawing the names of their adversaries from the purses, and filling them with those of their friends. Taking advice from the ruin of their enemies, they considered that to allow the great offices to be filled by mere chance of drawing, did not afford the government sufficient security, they therefore resolved that the magistrates possessing the power of life and death should always be chosen from among the leaders of their own party, and therefore that the Accoppiatori, or persons selected for the imborsation of the new squittini, with the Signory who had to retire from office, should make the new appointments. They gave to eight of the guard authority to proceed capitally, and provided that the exiles, when their term of banishment was complete, should not be allowed to return, unless from the Signory and colleagues, which were thirty-seven in number, the consent of thirty-four were obtained. It was made unlawful to write to or to receive letters from them; every word, sign, or action that gave offence to the ruling party was punished with the utmost rigor; and if there was still in Florence any suspected person whom these regulations did not reach, he was oppressed with taxes imposed for the occasion. Thus in a short time, having expelled or impoverished the whole of the adverse party, they established themselves firmly in the government. Not to be destitute of external assistance, and to deprive others of it, who might use it against themselves, they entered into a league, offensive and defensive, with the Pope, the Venetians, and the Duke of Milan