The History of Florence—Book VI

Chapter II

While the affairs of Romagna proceeded thus, the city of Florence was not tranquil. Among the citizens of highest reputation in the government was Neri di Gino Capponi, of whose influence Cosmo de' Medici had more apprehension than any other; for to the great authority which he possessed in the city was added his influence with the soldiery. Having been often leader of the Florentine forces he had won their affection by his courage and talents; and the remembrance of his own and his father's victories (the latter having taken Pisa, and he himself having overcome Niccolo Piccinino at Anghiari) caused him to be beloved by many, and feared by those who were averse to having associates in the government. Among the leaders of the Florentine army was Baldaccio d' Anghiari, an excellent soldier, for in those times there was not one in Italy surpassed him in vigor either of body or mind; and possessing so much influence with the infantry, whose leader he had always been, many thought they would follow him wherever he chose to lead them. Baldaccio was the intimate friend of Neri, who loved him for his talents, of which he had been a constant witness. This excited great suspicion in the other citizens, who, thinking it alike dangerous either to discharge or retain him in their service, determined to destroy him, and fortune seemed to favor their design. Bartolomeo Orlandini was Gonfalonier of Justice; the same person who was sent to the defence of Marradi, when Niccolo Piccinino came into Tuscany, as we have related above, and so basely abandoned the pass, which by its nature was almost impregnable. So flagrant an instance of cowardice was very offensive to Baldaccio, who, on many occasions, both by words and letters, had contributed to make the disgraceful fact known to all. The shame and vexation of Bartolomeo were extreme, so that of all things he wished to avenge himself, thinking, with the death of his accuser, to efface the stain upon his character.

This feeling of Bartolomeo Orlandini was known to other citizens, so that they easily persuaded him to put Baldaccio to death, and at once avenge himself, and deliver his country from a man whom they must either retain at great peril, or discharge to their great confusion. Bartolomeo having therefore resolved to murder him, concealed in his own apartment at the palace several young men, all armed; and Baldaccio, entering the piazza, whither it was his daily custom to come to confer with the magistrates concerning his command, the Gonfalonier sent for him, and he, without any suspicion, obeyed. Meeting him in the corridor, which leads to the chambers of the Signory, they took a few turns together discoursing of his office, when being close to the door of the apartment in which the assassins were concealed, Bartolomeo gave them the signal, upon which they rushed out, and finding Baldaccio alone and unarmed, they slew him, and threw the body out of the window which looks from the palace toward the dogano, or customhouse. It was thence carried into the piazza, where the head being severed, it remained the whole day exposed to the gaze of the people. Baldaccio was married, and had only one child, a boy, who survived him but a short time; and his wife, Annalena, thus deprived of both husband and offspring, rejected every proposal for a second union. She converted her house into a monastery, to which she withdrew, and, being joined by many noble ladies, lived in holy seclusion to the end of her days. The convent she founded, and which is named from her, preserves her story in perpetual remembrance.

This circumstance served to weaken Neri's power, and made him lose both influence and friends. Nor did this satisfy the citizens who held the reins of government; for it being ten years since their acquisition of power, and the authority of the Balia expired, many began to exhibit more boldness, both in words and deeds, than seemed consistent with their safety; and the leaders of the party judged, that if they wished to preserve their influence, some means must be adopted to increase it. To this end, in 1444 the councils created a new Balia, which reformed the government, gave authority to a limited number to create the Signory, re-established the Chancery of Reformations, depriving Filippo Peruzzi of his office of president in it, and appointing another wholly under their influence. They prolonged the term of exile to those who were banished; put Giovanni di Simone Vespucci in prison; deprived the Accoppiatori of their enemies of the honors of government, and with them the sons of Piero Baroncelli, the whole of the Seragli, Bartolomeo Fortini, Francesco Castellani, and many others. By these means they strengthened their authority and influence, and humbled their enemies, or those whom they suspected of being so.

Having thus recovered and confirmed their government, they then turned their attention to external affairs. As observed above, Niccolo Piccinino was abandoned by King Alfonso, and the count having been aggrandized by the assistance of the Florentines, attacked and routed him near Fermo, where, after losing nearly the whole of his troops, Niccolo fled to Montecchio, which he fortified in such a manner that in a short time he had again assembled so large an army as enabled him to make head against the count; particularly as the season was now come for them to withdraw into quarters. His principal endeavor during the winter was to collect troops, and in this he was assisted both by the Pope and Alfonso; so that, upon the approach of spring, both leaders took the field, and Niccolo, being the stronger, reduced the count to extreme necessity, and would have conquered him if the duke had not contrived to frustrate his designs. Filippo sent to beg he would come to him with all speed, for he wished to have a personal interview, that he might communicate matters of the highest importance. Niccolo, anxious to hear them, abandoned a certain victory for a very doubtful advantage; and leaving his son Francesco to command the army, hastened to Milan. The count being informed of the circumstance, would not let slip the opportunity of fighting in the absence of Niccolo; and, coming to an engagement near the castle of Monte Loro, routed the father's forces and took the son prisoner. Niccolo having arrived at Milan saw that the duke had duped him, and learning the defeat of his army and the capture of his son, he died of grief in 1445, at the age of sixty-four, having been a brave rather than a fortunate leader. He left two sons, Francesco and Jacopo, who, possessing less talent than their father, were still more unfortunate; so that the arms of the family became almost annihilated, while those of Sforza, being favored by fortune, attained augmented glory. The Pope, seeing Niccolo's army defeated and himself dead, having little hope of assistance from Arragon, sought peace with the count, and, by the intervention of the Florentines, succeeded. Of La Marca, the Pope only retained Osimo, Fabriano, and Recanati; all the rest remained in the count's possession.

Peace being restored to La Marca, the whole of Italy would have obtained repose had it not been disturbed by the Bolognese. There were in Bologna two very powerful families, the Canneschi and the Bentivogli. Of the latter, Annibale was the head; of the former, Battista, who, as a means of confirming their mutual confidence, had contracted family alliances; but among men who have the same objects of ambition in view, it is easy to form connections, but difficult to establish friendship. The Bolognese were in a league with the Venetians and Florentines, which had been effected by the influence of Annibale, after they had driven out Francesco Piccinino; and Battista, knowing how earnestly the duke desired to have the city favorable to him, proposed to assassinate Annibale, and put Bologna into his power. This being agreed upon, on June 25, 1445, he attacked Annibale with his men, and slew him; and then, with shouts of "The duke! The duke!" rode through the city. The Venetian and Florentine commissaries were in Bologna at the time, and at first kept themselves within doors; but finding that the people, instead of favoring the murderers, assembled in the piazza, armed and in great numbers, mourning the death of Annibale, they joined them; and, assembling what forces they could, attacked the Canneschi, soon overpowered them, slew part, and drove the remainder out of the city. Battista, unable to effect his escape, or his enemies his capture, took refuge in a vault of his house, used for storing grain. The friends of the Bentivogli, having sought him all day, and knowing he had not left the city, so terrified his servants, that one of them, a groom, disclosed the place of his concealment, and being drawn forth in complete armor he was slain, his body dragged about the streets, and afterward burnt. Thus the duke's authority was sufficient to prompt the enterprise, but his force was not at hand to support it.

The tumults being settled by the death of Battista, and the flight of the Canneschi, Bologna still remained in the greatest confusion. There not being one of the house of Bentivogli of age to govern, Annibale having left but one son, whose name was Giovanni, only six years old, it was apprehended that disunion would ensue among the Bentivogli, and cause the return of the Canneschi, and the ruin both of their country and party. While in this state of apprehension, Francesco, sometime Count di Poppi, being at Bologna, informed the rulers of the city, that if they wished to be governed by one of the blood of Annibale, he could tell them of one; and related that about twenty years ago, Ercole, cousin of Annibale, being at Poppi, became acquainted with a girl of the castle, of whom was born a son named Santi, whom Ercole, on many occasions, acknowledged to be his own, nor could he deny it, for whoever knew him and saw the boy, could not fail to observe the strongest resemblance. The citizens gave credit to the tale, and immediately sent to Florence to see the young man, and procure of Cosmo and Neri permission to return with him to Bologna. The reputed father of Santi was dead, and he lived under the protection of his uncle, whose name was Antonio da Cascese. Antonio was rich, childless, and a friend of Neri, to whom the matter becoming known, he thought it ought neither to be despised nor too hastily accepted; and that it would be best for Santi and those who had been sent from Bologna, to confer in the presence of Cosmo. They were accordingly introduced, and Santi was not merely honored but adored by them, so greatly were they influenced by the spirit of party. However, nothing was done at the time, except that Cosmo, taking Santi apart, spoke to him thus:

"No one can better advise you in this matter than yourself; for you have to take the course to which your own mind prompts you. If you be the son of Ercole Bentivogli, you will naturally aspire to those pursuits which are proper to your family and worthy of your father; but if you be the son of Agnolo [Antonio] da Cascese, you will remain in Florence, and basely spend the remainder of your days in some branch of the woollen trade."

These words greatly influenced the youth, who, though he had at first almost refused to adopt such a course, said he would submit himself wholly to what Cosmo and Neri should determine. They, assenting to the request of the Bolognese, provided suitable apparel, horses, and servants; and in a few days he was escorted by a numerous cavalcade to Bologna, where the guardianship of Annibale's son and of the city was placed in his hands. He conducted himself so prudently that although all his ancestors had been slain by their enemies, he lived in peace and died respected by everyone.

After the death of Niccolo Piccinino and the peace of La Marca, Filippo wishing to procure a leader of his forces, secretly negotiated with Ciarpellone, one of the principal captains of Count Francesco, and arrangements having been made, Ciarpellone asked permission to go to Milan to take possession of certain castles which had been given him by Filippo during the late wars. The count suspecting what was in progress, in order to prevent the duke from accommodating himself at his expense, caused Ciarpellone to be arrested, and soon afterward put to death; alleging that he had been detected plotting against him. Filippo was highly annoyed and indignant, which the Venetians and the Florentines were glad to observe, for their greatest fear was that the duke and the count should become friends.

The duke's anger caused the renewal of war in La Marca. Gismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimino, being son-in-law of the count, expected to obtain Pesaro; but the count, having obtained possession, gave it to his brother, Alessandro. Gismondo, offended at this, was still further exasperated by finding that Federigo di Montefeltro, his enemy, by the count's assistance, gained possession of Urbino. He therefore joined the duke, and solicited the Pope and the King to make war against the count, who, to give Gismondo a taste of the war he so much desired, resolved to take the initiative, and attacked him immediately. Thus Romagna and La Marca were again in complete confusion, for Filippo, the King, and the Pope sent powerful assistance to Gismondo, while the Florentines and Venetians supplied the count with money, though not with men. Nor was Filippo satisfied with the war in Romagna, but also desired to take Cremona and Pontremoli from the count; but Pontremoli was defended by the Florentines, and Cremona by the Venetians. Thus the war was renewed in Lombardy, and after several engagements in the Cremonese, Francesco Piccinino, the leader of the duke's forces, was routed at Casale, by Micheletto and the Venetian troops. This victory gave the Venetians hope of obtaining the duke's dominions. They sent a commissary to Cremona, attacked the Ghiaradadda, and took the whole of it, except Crema. Then crossing the Adda, they overran the country as far as Milan. Upon this the duke had recourse to Alfonso, and entreated his assistance, pointing out the danger his kingdom would incur if Lombardy were to fall into the hands of the Venetians. Alfonso promised to send him troops, but apprised him of the difficulties which would attend their passage, without the permission of the count.

Filippo, driven to extremity, then had recourse to Francesco, and begged he would not abandon his father-in-law, now that he had become old and blind. The count was offended with the duke for making war against him; but he was jealous of the increasing greatness of the Venetians, and he himself began to be in want of money, for the league supplied him sparingly. The Florentines, being no longer in fear of the duke, ceased to stand in need of the count, and the Venetians desired his ruin; for they thought Lombardy could not be taken from them, except by his means: yet while Filippo sought to gain him over, and offered him the entire command of his forces, on condition that he should restore La Marca to the Pope and quit the Venetian alliance, ambassadors were sent to him by that republic, promising him Milan, if they took it, and the perpetual command of their forces, if he would push the war in La Marca, and prevent Alfonso from sending troops into Lombardy. The offers of the Venetians were great, as also were their claims upon him, having begun the war in order to save him from losing Cremona; while the injuries received from the duke were fresh in his memory, and his promises had lost all influence, still the count hesitated; for, on the one hand were to be considered, his obligations to the league, his pledged faith, their recent services, and his hopes of the future, all which had their influence with him; on the other, were the entreaties of his father-in-law, and, above all, the bane which he feared would be concealed under the specious offers of the Venetians, for he doubted not, that both with regard to Milan and their other promises, if they were victorious, he would be at their mercy, to which no prudent man would ever submit if he could avoid it. These difficulties in the way of his forming a determination, were obviated by the ambition of the Venetians, who seeing a chance of occupying Cremona, from secret intelligence with that city, under a different pretext, sent troops into its neighborhood; but the affair was discovered by those who commanded Cremona for the count, and measures were adopted which prevented its success. Thus without obtaining Cremona, they lost the count's friendship, who now being free from all other considerations, joined the duke.