Last month, my family and I visited the city of Florence. I had been wanting to visit the city ever since I wrote an essay on one of the most important and dramatic events of Florentine history and having spent many months researching it, I was interested in visiting the places where it took place.
Of all the events during the political rule of Florence by the Medici family, probably the most famous, is the so-called Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478, when Lorenzo de Medici, the de facto ruler of the city of Florence, was attacked during the Mass on the Sunday after Easter, when the Archbishop of Pisa raised the Host as a signal to members of the rival Pazzi family, in a conspiracy involving many leading Italian powers, and the head of the Christian Church, Pope Sixtus IV himself. Lorenzo’s brother Guiliano de Medici was killed, but the people of Florence supported the Medici.
By end of the day, three members of the Pazzi family and the Archbishop of Pisa, were hung upside down from the Palace of the Signoria. Something like seventy more plotters were executed during the following period and Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned to paint their bodies. Nevertheless, the Medicis’ position was still not secure, as Pope Sixtus, outraged at the murder of the Archbishop, excommunicated Lorenzo and every citizen of the Florentine Republic and with the assistance of King Ferrante of Naples went to war with Florence.
The taxes the citizens of Florence had to pay led to widespread discontent, and Lorenzo, fearing overthrow, took a tremendous risk and went to the notoriously unpredictable Ferrante, who eventually agreed to make peace, forcing Sixtus to do the same. As a result of this spectacular success, the Medici rule of Florence was left stronger than ever.
Visiting Florence gave me an opportunity to visit some of the places where the conspiracy occurred.
I visited the Palace of the Medici where Lorenzo de Medici and Guiliano de Medici are buried. The chamber itself was clearly designed to intimidate due to its sheer size, presumably to overwhelm guests and emphasise Medici power.
The Cathedral where the assassination attempt itself took place was another place we visited. It was a fascinating display of Renaissance architecture, and the experience of standing where the conspiracy I had spent months studying took place was indescribable.
I chose to study the Pazzi Conspiracy because it remains one of the emblematic events of the Renaissance, combining political intrigue, religion, corruption and fine arts. It has been the topic for media as disparate as eighteenth century plays and modern video games. As I argued in my essay, ‘the reasons that interpretations of the conspiracy have changed so dramatically is because the conspiracy can be seen as emblematic of some of the most important and quintessential values of human society, namely the desire for prosperity overcoming the importance of liberty, the interference of religion in secular matters, the disillusionment of idealists when the struggle for liberty turns out to have been for reasons far from noble, all of these can be seen in the Pazzi conspiracy, with many debates about the nature of the conspirators being more informative of the historians own views than anything else, and it is likely that this is the reason that the Pazzi Conspiracy, was and remains such a popular event in history.’
This is the main reason I wanted to go to Florence, to get a glimpse of the city where this fascinating event took place and I can safely say, standing in the places where the conspiracy was hatched, I could easily get a glimpse of this remarkable event, effectively reminding me why I became a historian.