Ippolito - Il Cardinale
The coup d'etat was complete and meekly enough the Signoria declared that - "Considering the excellent qualities, life and habits of the most illustrious Duke Alessandro de' Medici, son of the late Magnificent Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino; and in recognition of the many and great benefits received, both spiritual and temporal, from the House of Medici, he was eligible for all the offices of State."
Alessandro at once began to follow the bent of his base inclinations. As supreme Head of the State he ruled autocratically, and set justice and decency at defiance. The Florentines abashed by the pass in which they found themselves, seemed powerless to oppose the Duke's aggression upon their liberties. That had come to pass against which they had striven for hundreds of years - Florence was subject to Il governo d'un solo.
Significantly enough, Alessandro took as his motto "Un solo Signore, una sola Legge," and this he stuck up all over Tuscany. He applied it quite autocratically by disarming the citizens, building fortresses, banishing the disaffected nobles, and confiscating all properties he coveted. These were but the beginnings of troubles.
Taxes were doubled, every office at court was held by a creature and toady of the Duke, bribery and corruption of all kinds ruled the State, and there appeared to be no limit to his lust and rapacity, and no barrier against the chicanery of his adherents.
Added to all this was the dislocation of public order. Florence became a hot-bed of immorality and a sink of iniquity. Women were openly ravished in the streets, the inmates of convents were not spared, men were wronged and removed suspiciously, the eyes and ears of the children were assailed by unblushing depravity. The oubliettes of the Bigallo had their fill of victims.
"Tyrant of Florence" was the designation which best fitted the new ruler. He destroyed the fabric of society and polluted the sanctity of family life. Dismay and revenge alternated in the feelings of the people. Those who dared, began to flock to Ippolito, who, with grim satisfaction, received at his palace in Rome all disaffected refugees. Meetings were held at Filippo negli Strozzi's house, and a movement was set on foot for the overthrow of Alessandro and his dissolute government. A deputation was sent to the Emperor Charles to complain of the tyranny of the Duke and to expose his immoral life. This sealed Ippolito's fate, for Alessandro at once took steps, not only to checkmate the action of the deputation, but to circumvent the destruction of his rival.
Clement had of course full knowledge of the condition of affairs in Florence, and of the increase of hostility between the cousins, but both he and Paul III., who succeeded him as Pope in 1534, kept Ippolito engaged in military and diplomatic duties away from Italy. Knowing his predilection for soldiering, he was despatched, at the head of eight thousand horsemen, to the assistance of the Emperor against the Turks who had invaded Hungary under the Sultan Soliman. His valour and ability were remarkable; and the dash with which he marched, later on, to the defence of Rome, marked him as a commander of rare distinction.
Returning once more to Rome, he abandoned himself to a career of debauchery and extravagance. Catillo, his castle-villa at Tivoli, became the resort of immoral and disreputable persons. The Pope sought to redress the disorder: he owed much to Ippolito at the time of his election to the Papacy, which was in a great measure achieved by his keen advocacy, so he sent him on embassies to the Emperor at Barcelona, and to the King of Naples, under promise of rich revenues.
At the castle of Fondi, near the little town of Itri in the Neapolitan province of Terra di Lavoro, eight miles from the fortress of Gaeta, and overlooking the high road from Rome to Naples, was living, in strict retirement, a girl greatly beloved by the Cardinal. Giulia Gonzaga, such was her name, was the attractive and clever daughter of Messer Vespasiano Colonna, whose brother, Cavaliere Stefano, had taken a prominent and honourable part in the defence of Florence during the memorable siege of 1529-1530.
Giulia was certainly only one of the many eligible maidens proposed at various times as a wife for the young ecclesiastic; but, in her case, the betrothal was all but effected, and with the approval of Pope Clement, whose conscience smote him when he saw that his handsome and gay young nephew was anything but disposed to observe the conventions of his Order.
Nevertheless, the lovers were parted, and Giulia was confined in the conventual fortress, and carefully guarded. Pope Paul, it appears, did not relax the imprisonment of the unfortunate girl, as he surely ought to have done, in recognition of the Cardinal's successful advocacy of his own advancement.
Naturally, poor Giulia pined and pined for her lover with whom, she was of course forbidden to correspond. At length her health gave way, and she appealed to her father to obtain just one interview with Ippolito before she died. Reluctantly permission was given by the Pope, and Ippolito, after the completion of his diplomatic duties in Naples, sought the neighbourhood of his innamorata; ostensibly upon the plea that his health needed the rest and change which the invigorating air of the Foresteria, a sanatorium at Itri, offered.