Ippolito - Il Cardinale
This proposal did not gain any favour outside the Papal cabinet: in Florence it was scouted with derision. Two violent politicians, if not more, lost their heads over the young girl's destiny - Battista Cei, for proposing that she should be placed in the lions' den, and Bernardo Castiglione, for demanding that she should be put upon the streets of Florence, wearing the yellow badge of woman's shame!
In Rome Caterina conceived at once an invincible repugnance for Alessandro - her father's son. His appearance, his manner, his language appalled her; probably she was not long before she knew the story of his birth. On no account would she speak to him, and, if he entered an apartment where she happened to be, she rushed out, crying, " Negrello - Bastardo!"
With Ippolito, on the contrary, she was the best of friends. She admired the good-looking boy, his talents for music, and his skill in gentlemanly exercises. The Venetian ambassador at the Vatican remarked, in a letter to his Government: "We have here a little Medici princess, Caterina, the only child of the late Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino. She and Don Ippolito, the bastard son of Duke Giuliano, are inseparable companions. The boy is very fond of his young cousin, whilst she is devoted to him. She has confidence in nobody else, and she asks him only for everything she wants." Ultimately, of course, Caterina de' Medici became Queen of France, as the consort of Henry II.
The trend of affairs in Florence gave Pope Clement grave anxiety, for, of course, his own personal control became less and less effective upon his elevation to the Papacy. Accredited representatives of the family were required to be in residence there for the maintenance of Medici supremacy. Alas, legitimate male heirs of the senior branch from Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," were non-existent, and Giovanni delle Bande Nere and his family would not, had he been chosen as Capo della Repubblica, consent to be dependent upon Rome.
Clement took counsel with the Florentine ambassadors, who had been sent to congratulate him upon his elevation. Very adroitly he placed by his chair of state the two youths, who passed for Medici, and who were "as dear to him as sons" - Ippolito and Alessandro. In compliment to the Pope, and certainly not from conviction, the fourteen envoys agreed in asking him to send the two boys to Florence, under the charge of a worthy administrator, who should hold the reins of government in Clement's name.
Delighted with the success of his stratagem, Clement chose the Cardinal of Cortona, one of his most obedient and faithful creatures, to accompany Ippolito, nearly sixteen years old, to Florence as quasi-Regent for the lad. With them went, as Ippolito's chamberlains, four Florentine youths of good birth who were favourites of the Pope, Alessandro de' Pucci, Pietro de' Ridolfi, Luigi della Stufa, and Palla de' Rucellai. The cortege was received in Florence without demonstrations of any kind; but certainly Ippolito made a very favourable impression by his good looks and gaiety. The Cardinal and his companions drew rein first at the Church of the SS. Annunziata, where they heard Mass, and they then rode on to the renovated Palazzo Medici. A meeting of the Signoria was convened, and by a narrow majority Ippolito was declared eligible for the offices of State.
The appointment of Passerini was unfortunate. "He was," writes Benedetto Varchi, "like most prelates, extremely avaricious; he had neither the intellect to understand the Florentine character nor the judgment to manage it, had he understood it." Ippolito assumed at once the style of "Il Magnifico," and began to display a lust for power and a taste for extravagance quite unusual in so young a lad. The Cardinal yielded to every whim, and very soon a goodly number of courtiers rallied round the handsome youth.
Having launched one of his proteges successfully upon the troubled sea of Florentine politics, Clement despatched Alessandro, under the care of Rosso de' Ridolfi, one of his most trustworthy attendants, with little Caterina de' Medici. They were instructed to report themselves to Cardinal Passerini, and then without delay to proceed to the Villa Poggio a Caiano.
This was a very wise arrangement on the part of Clement, in view of the strenuous rivalry and emphatic dislike the two lads had for each other. The two were kept apart as they had been at the Vatican, but this led naturally to the creation of rival parties and rival courts, each of which acclaimed their respective young leaders as Il Capo della Repubblica and "Il Signore di Firenze." Better far as matters turned out, had it been deemed sufficient to advance Ippolito alone. His splendid talents - although linked to fickleness and inconsistency - and his liberality, appealed to the Florentines, and he might have proved a second Lorenzo il Magnifico.
The sack of Rome in 1527 and the imprisonment of Clement VII. in the fortress of Sant Angelo, raised the spirits of the Republicans of Florence. Niccolo de' Soderini, Francesco de' Guicciardini and Pietro de' Salviati took up a strong position as leaders of a popular party, and once more the cry of "Liberta!" "Liberta!" was raised. Cardinal Passerini was advised to leave Florence and to take the two lads with him.
Among those who escaped from Rome were Filippo negli Strozzi and his wife Clarice. They posted off to Florence, and whilst Filippo temporised with the Cardinal and with the party of reform on either hand, Clarice declared openly for the opponents of her own family.