The origins and rise of the Medici in Tuscany
The Medici family of Florence can be traced back to the end of the 12 C. They were part of the patrician class, not the nobility, and through much of their history the family were seen as the friends of the common people. Through banking and commerce, the family acquired great wealth in the 13 C, and political influence came with this wealth. At the end of that century, a member of the family served as gonfaliere, or standard bearer (a high ceremonial office) of Florence. In the 14 C the family's wealth and political influence increased until the gonfaliere Salvestro de' Medici led the common people in the revolt of the ciompi (wool combers). Although Salvestro became the de facto dictator of the city, his brutal regime led to his downfall and he was banished in 1382. The family's fortune then fell until it was restored by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici (1360-1429), who made the Medici the wealthiest family in Italy, perhaps Europe. The family's political influence again increased, and Giovanni was gonfaliere in 1421.
Cosimo de' Medici, il Vecchio
Giovanni's son, Cosimo (1389-1464), Cosimo il Vecchio (the old or first Cosimo), is considered the real founder of the political fortunes of the family. In a political struggle with another powerful family, the
Albizzi, Cosimo initially lost and was banished, but because of the support of the people he was soon recalled, in 1434, and the Albizzi were banished in turn. Although he himself occupied no office. Cosimo ruled the city as uncrowned king for the rest of his life. Under his rule Florence prospered.
Lorenzo de' Medici, il Magnifico
Piero's sons, Lorenzo (1449-1492) and Giuliano (1453-1478) ruled as tyrants, and in an attack in 1478 Giuliano was killed and Lorenzo wounded. If the family fortunes dwindled somewhat and Florence was not quite as prosperous as before, under Lorenzo, known as the Magnificent, the city surpassed even the cultural achievements of the earlier period. This was the high point of the Florentine Renaissance: Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Boticelli, Michelangelo, etc. But Lorenzo's tyrannical style of governing and hedonistic lifestyle eroded the goodwill of the Florentine people. His son Piero (1472-1503) ruled for just two years. In 1494, after accepting humiliating peace conditions from the French (who had invaded Tuscany), he was driven out of the city and died in exile. For some time, Florence was now torn by strife and anarchy and, of course, the rule of Savanarola.
Return of the Medici
Upon the defeat of the French armies in Italy by the Spanish, the Spanish forced Florence to invite the Medici back. Piero's younger brother
Giuliano (1479-1516) reigned from 1512 to 1516, and became a prince; he was followed by
Lorenzo (1492-1519), son of Piero, who was named Duke of Urbino by Pope Leo X (himself a Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent); and upon Lorenzo's death,
Giulio (1478-1534), the illigitimate son of Lorenzo the Magnificent's brother
Giuliano, became rule of the city but abdicated in 1523 in favor of his own illegitimate son,
Alessandro (1510-1537), to become Pope Clement VII. Alessandro became hereditary Duke of Florence.
The Last of the Medici Family
The Florentine and Tuscan economy had been slowly stagnating since the end of the sixteenth century. Under Ferdinand II, his son,
Cosimo III (1642-1723), and his grandson, Gian-Gastone (1671-1737), the city country slipped into insignificance. Cosimo III's rule was one of incompetence and religious intolerance. Gian-Gastone's rule was too short to repair the damage. In 1735, an arrangement was made between Austria, France, England, and the Netherlands that a swap should be made with Lorraine going to France and Tuscany to Austria in return. In 1737 Austrian troops occupied Tuscany. One of Gian Gastone's last acts was to erect a memorial to Galileo in the church of Santa Croce and to inter Galileo remains there. During the transference, several parts of Galileo's skeleton were taken as relics by various people. One of Galileo's fingers is now housed in the Museum of History of Science in Florence.
A manuscript history of the Medici dynasty
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