Ippolito - Il Cardinale
ALESSANDRO - "Il Negro."
LORENZINO - "Il Terribile."
The First Tyrannicide
"Go at once, ye base-born bastards, or I will be the first to thrust you out - Begone!"
These were the passionate words of the proudest and most ambitious princess that ever bore the great name of Medici - Clarice, daughter of Piero di Lorenzo - "Il Magnifico," and wife of Filippo di Filippo degli Strozzi - "Il Primo Gentiluomo del Secolo."
They were spoken on 16th May 1527, in the Long Gallery of the Palazzo Medici in Florence, and were addressed to two youths - sixteen and thirteen years old respectively, who shrank with terror at the aspect and the vehemence of their contemner. Clarice was a virago, both in the Florentine sense of man's equal in ability and action, and in the sense of the present day - a woman with a mighty will and endowed with physical strength to enforce it.
The two "bastards" were Ippolito, the natural son of Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours, and Alessandro, the so-called illegitimate son of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, the virtual ruler of Florence. The lads were not alone in their exposure to the wrath of Madonna Clarice, for, sitting in his chair of estate, was Silvio Passerini, Cardinal of Cortona, their Governor, and Pope Clement VII.'s Regent of the Republic.
"Begone"! Well had it been if the Cardinal had taken his charges right away from Florence never to return.
* * * * *
"The splendour, not of Tuscany only, but of the whole of Italy has disappeared!" wrote Benedetto Dei, in his Cronica. "The Burial Confraternity of the Magi laid his body in the sacristy of San Lorenzo, and the next day the funeral obsequies were held without pomp - as is the custom of the Signori - but quite simply. Truly it may be said that however gorgeous the ceremonies might have been, they would have proved altogether too mean for so great a man."
This relates to the death of Lorenzo il Magnifico, which occurred on 8th April 1492. That year is one of the most memorable in modern history: Columbus discovered America; Roderigo Borgia was elected Pope; Charles VIII. became the most prominent political figure in Europe; and the power of Florence had reached its zenith.
She was not only the Head of the Tuscan League and the chief Republic in Europe, but also the first of modern states. If the spirit of the Greeks inspired the physical prowess of the Romans, the enlightenment of the Florentines brought forth the renascence of the arts and crafts of Italy and of the world.
Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," laid the foundation-stone of Medici renown in the iron grip of his powerful personality, and Piero, his son, maintained unimpaired its eminence by his urbanity and good sense. To Lorenzo, however, was reserved the distinction of placing upon that mighty column its magnificent copestone, and he adorned it with the sevenfold balls of his escutcheon, whilst on the summit he held unfurled the great Red Cross Oriflamme of Florence.
Lorenzo left three sons and three daughters to uphold that ensign and to exhibit the glory of their house. To the first-born, Piero, came the great inheritance of his father's place and power, and no man ever entered into a greater possession, - a possession, so firm, so unquestioned and so portentous, that nothing seemed likely to disturb its equilibrium or to sully its triumph.
But, "the son of his father is not always his father's son," and this quaint saying is perfectly true of Piero de' Medici - a youth of twenty-one years of age - the exact age of his father on his succession to the Headship of the State. Physically the young prince was well favoured, he was cultured and, like his unfortunate uncle Giuliano, he was an adept in all gentlemanly exercises.
Alas, he took not the slightest interest in politics, nor in the business affairs of his house, and the proverbial urbanity and pushfulness of the Medici were alike absent. Whilst he lightly handed over to Piero Dorizzi di Bibbiena, his Chancellor, the conduct of public affairs, he listened to the proud persuasions of his mother, to whom anything like commercial pursuits were abhorrent. Clarice d'Orsini's forbears had all been soldiers, Lorenzo's merchants, that made all the difference in Rome's degenerate days.
Of course there was no Florentine girl good enough to be the bride of young Piero de' Medici - at least, Domina Clarice, his mother, decided so. She was the proudest of the proud, and as ignorant and prejudiced as she was haughty. Her son could only wed a Roman princess, and, by preference, a daughter of the Orsini; consequently Alfonsina, daughter of Roberto d'Orsini, Clarice's cousin, entered Florence in state on 22nd May 1488, for her magnificent nuptials with the young Capo della Repubblica.
The same year the Domina died. Her influence had not been for good, and her want of tact and her unpopularity caused Lorenzo much anxiety. Perhaps, however, a prince of his conspicuous and, in many ways, unique ability, was better mated with an unsympathetic spouse than with a woman who could, from parity of gifts, enter into his feelings and aspirations. He lived for the magnanimous renown of Florence - she for the selfish prominence of her family.