The History of Florence—Book VII

Chapter III

In the midst of these events, the time arrived for the renewal of the supreme magistracy; and Niccolo Soderini was drawn gonfalonier of justice. It was surprising to see by what a concourse, not only of distinguished citizens, but also of the populace, he was accompanied to the palace; and while on the way thither an olive wreath was placed upon his head, to signify that upon him depended the safety and liberty of the city. This, among many similar instances, serves to prove how undesirable it is to enter upon office or power exciting inordinate expectations; for, being unable to fulfil them (many looking for more than it is possible to perform), shame and disappointment are the ordinary results. Tommaso and Niccolo Soderini were brothers. Niccolo was the more ardent and spirited, Tommaso the wiser man, who, being very much the friend of Piero, and knowing that his brother desired nothing but the liberty of the city and the stability of the republic, without injury to any, advised him to make new squittini, by which means the election purses might be filled with the names of those favorable to his design. Niccolo took his brother's advice, and thus wasted the period of his magistracy in vain hopes, which his friends, the leading conspirators, allowed him to do from motives of envy; for they were unwilling that the government should be reformed by the authority of Niccolo, and thought they would be in time enough to effect their purpose under another gonfalonier. Thus the magistracy of Niccolo expired; and having commenced many things without completing aught, he retired from office with much less credit than he had entered upon it.

This circumstance caused the aggrandizement of Piero's party, whose friends entertained stronger hopes, while those who had been neutral or wavering became his adherents; so that both sides being balanced, many months elapsed without any open demonstration of their particular designs. Piero's party continuing to gather strength, his enemies' indignation increased in proportion; and they now determined to effect by force what they either could not accomplish or were unwilling to attempt by the medium of the magistrates, which was the assassination of Piero, who lay sick at Careggi, and to this end order the Marquis of Ferrara nearer to the city with his forces, that after Piero's death he might lead them into the piazza, and thus compel the signory to form a government according to their own wishes; for though all might not be friendly, they trusted they would be able to induce those to submit by fear who might be opposed to them from principle.

Diotisalvi, the better to conceal his design, frequently visited Piero, conversed with him respecting the union of the city, and advised him to effect it. The conspirators' designs had already been fully disclosed to Piero; besides this, Domenico Martelli had informed him, that Francesco Neroni, the brother of Diotisalvi, had endeavored to induce him to join them, assuring him the victory was certain, and their object all but attained. Upon this, Piero resolved to take advantage of his enemies' tampering with the Marquis of Ferrara, and be first in arms. He therefore intimated that he had received a letter from Giovanni Bentivogli, Prince of Bologna, which informed him that the Marquis of Ferrara was upon the river Albo, at the head of a considerable force, with the avowed intention of leading it to Florence; that upon this advice he had taken up arms; after which, in the midst of a strong force, he came to the city, when all who were disposed to support him armed themselves also. The adverse party did the same, but not in such good order, being unprepared. The residence of Diotisalvi being near that of Piero, he did not think himself safe in it, but first went to the palace and begged the signory would endeavor to induce Piero to lay down his arms, and thence to Lucca Pitti, to keep him faithful in their cause. Niccolo Soderini displayed the most activity; for taking arms, and being followed by nearly all the plebeians in his vicinity, he proceeded to the house of Lucca, and begged that he would mount his horse, and come to the piazza in support of the signory, who were, he said, favorable, and that the victory would, undoubtedly, be on their side; that he should not stay in the house to be basely slain by their armed enemies, or ignominiously deceived by those who were unarmed; for, in that case, he would soon repent of having neglected an opportunity irrecoverably lost; that if he desired the forcible ruin of Piero, he might easily effect it; and that if he were anxious for peace, it would be far better to be in a condition to propose terms than to be compelled to accept any that might be offered. These words produced no effect upon Lucca, whose mind was now quite made up; he had been induced to desert his party by new conditions and promises of alliance from Piero; for one of his nieces had been married to Giovanni Tornabuoni. He, therefore, advised Niccolo to dismiss his followers and return home, telling him he ought to be satisfied, if the city were governed by the magistrates, which would certainly be the case, and that all ought to lay aside their weapons; for the signory, most of whom were friendly, would decide their differences. Niccolo, finding him impracticable, returned home; but before he left, he said: "I can do the city no good alone, but I can easily foresee the evils that will befall her. This resolution of yours will rob our country of her liberty; you will lose the government, I shall lose my property, and the rest will be exiled."

During this disturbance, the signory closed the palace, and kept their magistrates about them, without showing favor to either party. The citizens, especially those who had followed Lucca Pitti, finding Piero fully prepared and his adversaries unarmed, began to consider, not how they might injure him, but how, with least observation, glide into the ranks of his friends. The principal citizens, the leaders of both factions, assembled in the palace in the presence of the signory, and spoke respecting the state of the city and the reconciliation of parties; and as the infirmities of Piero prevented him from being present, they, with one exception, unanimously determined to wait upon him at his house. Niccolo Soderini having first placed his children and his effects under the care of his brother Tommaso, withdrew to his villa, there to await the event, but apprehended misfortune to himself and ruin to his country. The other citizens coming into Piero's presence, one of them, who had been appointed spokesman, complained of the disturbances that had arisen in the city, and endeavored to show that those must be most to blame who had been first to take up arms; and, not knowing what Piero (who was evidently the first to do so) intended, they had come in order to be informed of his design, and, if it had in view the welfare of the city, they were desirous of supporting it.

Piero replied that not those who first take arms are the most to blame, but those who give the first occasion for it, and if they would reflect a little on their mode of proceeding toward himself, they would cease to wonder at what he had done; for they could not fail to perceive that nocturnal assemblies, the enrolment of partisans, and attempts to deprive him both of his authority and his life, had caused him to take arms; and they might further observe that as his forces had not quitted his own house, his design was evidently only to defend himself and not to injure others. He neither sought nor desired anything but safety and repose; neither had his conduct ever manifested a desire for aught else; for when the authority of the balia expired, he never made any attempt to renew it, and was very glad the magistrates had governed the city and been content. They might also remember that Cosmo and his sons could live respected in Florence, either with the balia or without it, and that in 1458, it was not his family, but themselves, who had renewed it. That if they did not wish for it at present, neither did he; but this did not satisfy them; for he perceived they thought it impossible to remain in Florence while he was there. It was entirely beyond all his anticipations that his own or his father's friends should think themselves unsafe with him in Florence, having always shown himself quiet and peaceable. He then addressed himself to Diotisalvi and his brothers, who were present, reminding them with grave indignation of the benefits they had received from Cosmo, the confidence he had reposed in them and their subsequent ingratitude; and his words so strongly excited some present, that had he not interfered they would certainly have torn the Neroni to pieces on the spot. He concluded by saying that he should approve of any determination of themselves and the signory; and that for his own part, he only desired peace and safety. After this, many things were discussed, but nothing determined, excepting generally that it was necessary to reform the administration of the city and government.

The gonfalon of justice was then in the hands of Bernardo Lotti, a man not in the confidence of Piero, who was therefore disinclined to attempt aught while he was in office; but no inconvenience would result from the delay, as his magistracy was on the point of expiring. Upon the election of signors for the months of September and October, 1466, Roberto Lioni was appointed to the supreme magistracy, and as soon as he assumed its duties, every requisite arrangement having been previously made, the people were called to the piazza, and a new balia created, wholly in favor of Piero, who soon afterward filled all the offices of government according to his own pleasure.

These transactions alarmed the leaders of the opposite faction, and Agnolo Acciajuoli fled to Naples, Diotisalvi Neroni and Niccolo Soderini to Venice. Lucca Pitti remained in Florence, trusting to his new relationship and the promises of Piero. The refugees were declared rebels, and all the family of the Neroni were dispersed. Giovanni di Neroni, then Archbishop of Florence, to avoid a greater evil, became a voluntary exile at Rome; and to many other citizens who fled, various places of banishment were appointed. Nor was this considered sufficient; for it was ordered that the citizens should go in solemn procession to thank God for the preservation of the government and the reunion of the city, during the performance of which some were taken and tortured, and part of them afterward put to death and exiled. In this great vicissitude of affairs, there was not a more remarkable instance of the uncertainty of fortune than Lucca Pitti, who soon found the difference between victory and defeat, honor and disgrace. His house now presented only a vast solitude, where previously crowds of citizens had assembled. In the streets, his friends and relatives, instead of accompanying, were afraid even to salute him. Some of them were deprived of the honors of government, others of their property, and all alike threatened. The superb edifices he had commenced were abandoned by the builders; the benefits that had been conferred upon him were now exchanged for injuries, the honors for disgrace. Hence many of those who had presented him with articles of value now demanded them back again, as being only lent; and those who had been in the habit of extolling him as a man of surpassing excellence, now termed him violent and ungrateful. So that, when too late, he regretted not having taken the advice of Niccolo Soderini, and preferred an honorable death in battle, than to a life of ignominy among his victorious enemies.

The exiles now began to consider various means of recovering that citizenship which they had not been able to preserve. However, Agnolo Acciajuoli being at Naples, before he attempted anything else, resolved to sound Piero, and try if he could effect a reconciliation. For this purpose, he wrote to him in the following terms:

"I cannot help laughing at the freaks of fortune, perceiving how, at her pleasure, she converts friends into enemies, and enemies into friends. You may remember that during your father's exile, regarding more the injury done to him than my own misfortunes, I was banished, and in danger of death, and never during Cosmo's life failed to honor and support your family; neither have I since his death ever entertained a wish to injure you. True, it is, that your own sickness, and the tender years of your sons, so alarmed me that I judged it desirable to give such a form to the government that after your death our country might not be ruined; and hence, the proceedings, which not against you, but for the safety of the state, have been adopted, which, if mistaken, will surely obtain forgiveness, both for the good design in view and on account of my former services. Neither can I apprehend that your house, having found me so long faithful, should now prove unmerciful, or that you could cancel the impression of so much merit for so small a fault."

Piero replied: "Your laughing in your present abode is the cause why I do not weep, for were you to laugh in Florence, I should have to weep at Naples. I confess you were well disposed toward my father, and you ought to confess you were well paid for it; and the obligation is so much the greater on your part than on ours, as deeds are of greater value than words. Having been recompensed for your good wishes, it ought not to surprise you that you now receive the due reward of your bad ones. Neither will a pretence of your patriotism excuse you, for none will think the city less beloved or benefited by the Medici than by the Acciajuoli. It, therefore, seems but just that you should remain in dishonor at Naples, since you knew not how to live with honor at home."

Agnolo, hopeless of obtaining pardon, went to Rome, where, joining the archbishop and other refugees, they used every available means to injure the commercial credit of the Medici in that city. Their attempts greatly annoyed Piero; but by his friends' assistance, he was enabled to render them abortive. Diotisalvi Neroni and Niccolo Soderini strenuously urged the Venetian Senate to make war upon their country, calculating that in case of an attack, the government, being new and unpopular, would be unable to resist. At this time there resided at Ferrara, Giovanni Francesco, son of Palla Strozzi, who, with his father, was banished from Florence in the changes of 1434. He possessed great influence, and was considered one of the richest merchants. The newly banished pointed out to Giovanni Francesco how easily they might return to their country, if the Venetians were to undertake the enterprise, and that it was most probable they would do so, if they had pecuniary assistance, but that otherwise it would be doubtful.

Giovanni Francesco, wishing to avenge his own injuries, at once fell in with their ideas, and promised to contribute to the success of the attempt all the means in his power. On this they went to the Doge, and complained of the exile they were compelled to endure, for no other reason, they said, than for having wished their country should be subject to equal laws, and that the magistrates should govern, not a few private individuals; that Piero de' Medici with his adherents, who were accustomed to act tyrannically, had secretly taken up arms, deceitfully induced them to lay their own aside, and thus, by fraud, expelled them from their country; that, not content with this, they made the Almighty himself a means of oppression to several, who, trusting to their promises, had remained in the city and were there betrayed; for, during public worship and solemn supplications, that the Deity might seem to participate in their treachery, many citizens had been seized, imprisoned, tortured, and put to death; thus affording to the world a horrible and impious precedent. To avenge themselves for these injuries, they knew not where to turn with so much hope of success as to the Senate, which, having always enjoyed their liberty, ought to compassionate those who had lost it. They therefore called upon them as free men to assist them against tyrants; as pious, against the wicked; and would remind the Venetians, that it was the family of the Medici who had robbed them of their dominions in Lombardy, contrary to the wish of the other citizens, and who, in opposition to the interests of the Senate, had favored and supported Francesco, so that if the exiles' distresses could not induce them to undertake the war, the just indignation of the people of Venice and their desire of vengeance ought to prevail.