The origin of the Medici family is lost in the mists of the Middle Ages, and, only here and there, can the historian gain glimpses of the lives of early forbears. Still, there is sufficient data, to be had for the digging, upon which to transcribe, inferentially at least, an interesting narrative.

Away towards the end of the twelfth century, - exact dates are wholly beside the mark - there dwelt, under the shadow of one of the rugged castles of the robber-captains of the Mugello in Tuscany, a hard-working and trustworthy bonds-man - one Chiarissimo - "Old Honesty," as we may call him. He was married to an excellent helpmeet, and was by his lord permitted to till a small piece of land and rear his family.

In addition to intelligence in agriculture, it would seem that he, or perhaps his wife, possessed some knowledge of the virtues of roots and herbs, for, in one corner of his podere, he had a garden of "simples." The few peaceable inhabitants of that warlike valley, and also many a wounded man-at-arms, sought "Old Honesty" and his wise mate for what we now call "kitchen remedies."

Those, indeed, were happy days with respect to suffering human nature. "Kill or Cure" might have been the character of the healing art, but certainly specialists had not invented our appendicitis and other fashionable twentieth-century physical fashions! A little medical knowledge sufficed, and decoctions, pillules, poultices, and bleedings made up the simple pharmacopoeia.

All the same, the satirical rhyme, which an old chronicler put into the mouths of many a despairing patient, in later days, may have been true also of "Old Honesty" and his nostrums:

"There's not a herb nor a root Nor any remedy to boot Which can stave death off by a foot!"

Of that good couple's family only one name has been preserved - Gianbuono, "Good John." Passerini says he was a priest - probably he means a hermit. Anyhow, he acquired more property in the Valle della Sieve and founded a church - Santa Maria dell' Assunta - possibly the enlargement of his cell - upon Monte Senario, between the valley of the Arno and that of the Sieve.

Ser Gianbuono - ecclesiastic or not - had two sons - Bonagiunto, "Lucky Lad," and Chiarissimo II. In those primitive times nobody troubled about surnames - idiosyncrasy of any kind was a sufficient indication of individuality. The brothers were enterprising fellows, and both made tracks for Florence, which - risen Phoenix-like from barbarian ashes - was thriving marvellously as a mart for art and craft.

Ser Bonagiunto, in the first decade of the thirteenth century, was living in the Sestiere di Porta del Duomo, and working busily in wood and stone, the stalwart parent of a vigorous progeny. It was his great-grandson, Ardingo - a famous athlete in the giostre and a soldier of renown - who first of his family attained the rank of Signore.

Ser Chiarissimo, between 1201-1210, owned a tower near San Tommaso, at the north-east angle of the Mercato Vecchio - later, the family church of the Medici - and under it a bottega, or canova, for the sale of his grandmother's recipes. Over the door he put up his sign - seven golden Pillole di Speziale - pills or balls, which were emblazoned upon the proud escutcheon of his descendants. He was called "il Medico" - "the doctor" - hence the family name "Medici."

These were the days when the foundations of the fortunes of many great Florentine families were laid. The loaning of money was the royal road to affluence, and everybody who, by chance, had a spare gold florin or two, became ipso facto a "Presto" or bank. Next, after lending to one another with a moderate profit - a dono di tempo or a merito - "quick returns," came the ambitious system of State loans, with the regulated interesso and the speculative dealings in Cambio - on 'Change - with boroccolo - "unexpected gain," and ritravgola - "sly advantage," or, as we say, "sharp practice."

Ser Filippo, or "Lippo" - the twin son, as the name implies, of Ser Chiarissimo II. - what happened to the other twin we do not know - was probably the first of his family of doctor-apothecaries to deliberately abandon his less lucrative profession and establish himself as a banker in the Mercato Nuovo. Anyhow, his two sons were born and baptised under the happy auspices of plenty of money!

The elder, the prosperous doctor-banker, was jubilantly called Averardo - "Blessed with good means," and the younger was christened Chiarissimo III., to mark quite sententiously that, whilst his bank-balance was considerable, it had been accumulated by honest dealing!

True to the variable law of vicissitude, this Averardo I. failed to make any very great name for himself, as might have been expected in a lad of so much promise. He was shadowed doubtless by his more strenuous parent. Still, he added to the family possessions by acquiring the lay-patronage of the churches of San Pietro a Sieve and San Bartolommeo di Petrone. Near the latter he built a castello, or fortress, which was then considered a title to nobility. He made also a prosperous marriage with Donna Benricevuta de' Sizi.

Messer Averardo's son, Averardo II., was, in the crisscross nature of things, a man of stronger grit than his father. He came to great honour as well as to great riches. Elected Prior in 1304, he was chosen asGonfaloniere di Giustizia in 1314, and, between these dates, in 1311, Ser Teghia de' Sizi, his mother's brother, made him his heir, and gave him, besides full money-bags, much valuable property and ecclesiastical patronage. To his surname of Medici he added that of Sizi: he was the wealthiest citizen of his day in Florence. His wife, Donna Mandina di Filippo de' Arrigucci of Fiesole, gave him six sons - Giacopo, Giovenco, Francesco, Salvestro, Talento, and Conte. All of them rose to eminence in the State, but of one only can the story be told here - Salvestro.

Messer Salvestro de' Medici - who must not be confounded with his celebrated namesake and kinsman, the "Grand" Salvestro - married Donna Lisa de' Donati, of which union three sons were the issue - Talento, Giovenco, and Averardo III. Salvestro di Averardo II. bore another Christian name - Chiarissimo - the old-world cognomen of his family. Possibly his father thought it wise to stand well with the world and parade his honesty; for whatever ill-gotten gains other bankers acquired, he, at least, was an upright man, and his profits were just!

Anyhow, Messer Salvestro became popular for rectitude in his private life, and for his unselfish discharge of public duties. He was chosen to fill many responsible offices of State, and reached the goal of personal ambition as ambassador to Venice, in 1336. His youngest son, Averardo III., acquired the sobriquet of "Bicci" - the exact meaning of which is problematical - it may mean a "worthless fellow" or "one who lives in a castle!" Nothing indeed is related of him, but, perhaps, like Brer Fox, of a later epoch, he was content "to lie low" and enjoy, without much exertion, the good things his ancestors had provided for him.

Messer Averardo married twice - Giovanna de' Cavallini and Giovanna de' Spini. By the first he became the father of one of the very greatest of the Medici - Giovanni, the parent of a still more famous son - Cosimo.

At this period Florence was ruled by Whalter von Brienne - the so-called Duke of Athens - sagacious, treacherous and depraved. He sought to make himself Lord of Florence by skilfully playing the various political parties one against the other. The Grandi he kept in check by the Popolo Minuto, but ignored the Popolo Grasso, to which the Medici belonged. Under Giovanni de' Medici, Guglielmo degli Altoviti, and Bernardo de' Rucellai, the middle class rose against the usurper; but their plans miscarried, and the leaders were imprisoned and fined.

A Giovanni de' Medici was beheaded in 1342 - the first recorded "Tragedy of the Medici." As to who this unfortunate man was, it is difficult to say. He is called "the son of Bernardo de' Medici," but no such name appears in the early records of the family. He was probably a descendant of Bonagiunto, a son of Ardingo de' Medici, who was a violent enemy of the Ghibellines, and Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, in 1296 and 1307, and brother of Francesco, Captain of Pistoja in 1338, and one of the principal participants in the expulsion of the hated Duke.

The first of the "Grand" Medici was Salvestro, son of Alamanno, of the line of Chiarissimo III., called "The German," because of his alien Teutonic mother. Great-great-grandson of Ser Filippo, the last of the doctor-apothecaries, Salvestro does not appear to have gone in for the steady, unromantic life of a banker, but to have addressed his energies to the profession of arms. Nevertheless, he was chosen Prior in 1318, and contributed, during peace, to the advancement of his city's interest. Upon the outbreak of war with the Visconti of Milan, in 1351, he was appointed commander of the Florentine forces.

His sterling grit made itself apparent in the vigour with which at the head of no more than one hundred men he relieved the town and fortress of Scarperia, on the Mugello hills, besieged by the invaders. For his bravery he was knighted by the Signoria. Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici sided with the aristocratic party, and proclaimed himself a Ghibelline - consorting with the noble families of Albizzi, Ricci, and Strozzi. Their aim was to convert the Republic into an oligarchy under Piero degli Albizzi.

The Popolo Minuto, thoroughly alarmed at this menace of liberty and popular government, appointed leaders, who approached Cavaliere Salvestro, in 1370, when he held the supreme office of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, to safeguard the interests of the tradespeople and lower classes. He gave heed to their representations, for he cunningly perceived that he might ride into the undisputed leadership of the great popular party, the Guelphs, and so checkmate his other allies, the aristocrats! As head of a powerful branch of the rising family of Medici, members of the Popolo Grasso, or wealthy middle class, Cavaliere Salvestro became the champion of the people. All round his popularity was established, for people said, "He was born for the safety of the Republic." He was tactful enough to conceal the personal bent of his policy, and acted upon the maxim, which he was never tired of repeating: "Never make a show before the people!" As Gonfaloniere he summoned a Parliament of representatives of all parties and classes at the Palazzo Vecchio, with a view to the composition of differences and the maintenance of public order.

The Ghibellines would have none of his proposals, but privately they were divided amongst themselves, seeing which, the Cavaliere astutely announced the resignation of his office. This had the effect he expected - the Palazzo and the Piazza outside rang with the old cry - " Liberta!" "Liberta!" "Evviva il Popolo!" "Evviva il Gonfaloniere!" Salvestro de' Medici was master of the situation - the first of his family to attain the virtual, if not the real, control of the State.

The revolution spread through the city; the palaces of the Ghibelline nobles were sacked and burnt. A period of discord and disaster followed, but, with the firm hand of Salvestro de' Medici upon the helm of the ship of the Republic, matters settled. In 1376 he was unanimously chosen Capitano della Parte Guelfa - an office of still more personal influence than the Gonfaloniership. No one questioned his authority. He was, as the historian, Michaele Bruto, has recorded, "The first of his family to show his successors how that by conciliating the middle and lower classes they could make their way to sovereignty."

Another crisis in the history of Florence arose in 1378, during Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici's second Gonfaloniership, when the Ciompi - "Wooden Shoes" they were called in derision - the wool-workers - rose en masse, and besieged the Signoria sitting at the Palazzo Vecchio. They claimed to rule the city and to abolish the nobles, and a second time Salvestro was "the man of the hour!"

Acting upon his advice, terms were arranged with the revolutionaries, and Michaele Lando - a common woolcarder by trade, but a born leader of men - was elected Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, and a new government was set up. Upon Salvestro, "the Champion of the People," was again conferred by public acclamation the accolade of knighthood; moreover, as a further mark of popular estimation, to him were allocated the rents of the shops upon the Ponte Vecchio and other prerogatives.

The public spirit displayed by Cavaliere Salvestro gained for him not only personal distinction and reward, but obtained for his family recognition as the first in Florence. He married Donna Bartolommea, the daughter of Messer Oddo degli Altoviti, by whom he had many children. None of his sons seem to have added laurels to the family fame, but to have lived peacefully in the glamour of their father's renown. The Cavaliere retired into private life in 1380, and his death, which occurred in 1388, marked the establishment of Medicean domination in the affairs of Florence.

The second of the "Grand" Medici was Giovanni, the son of Averardo III. - called "Bicci" - and his first wife, Donna Giovanna de' Cavallini, born in 1360. He was just twenty-eight years of age when his popular relative, Cavaliere Salvestro de' Medici, died. His young manhood found him in the very forefront of party strife, and from the first he held unswervingly with the Guelphs.

Married, in 1384, to Donna Piccarda, daughter of Messer Odoardo de' Bueri, he was the father of four sons - Antonio, Damiano, Cosimo, and Lorenzo - the two former died in childhood. The choice of names for two of the boys is significant of the value Messer Giovanni placed upon his family's origin - Saints Damiano and Cosimo, of course, were patrons of doctors and apothecaries. Hence he was not ashamed of the golden pillules of his armorial bearings!

Messer Giovanni developed extraordinary strength of character; he was a born ruler of men, and a passionate patriot. He gained the goodwill of his fellow-citizens by his unselfishness and generosity - truly not too common in the bearing of men of his time. He served the office of Prior in 1402, 1408, 1411; he was ambassador to Naples in 1406, and to Pope Alessandro V. in 1409; and, in 1407, he held the lucrative post of Podesta of Pistoja.

In 1421 Messer Giovanni de' Medici was elected Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, as the representative of the middle classes, and in opposition to Messeri Rinaldo degli Albizzi and Niccolo da Uzzano, the Ghibelline nominees. The Republic sighed for peace, the crafts for quietness; but the immense liabilities incurred by many costly military enterprises had to be met. Messer Giovanni proposed, in 1427, a tax which should not weigh too heavily upon anybody. Each citizen who was possessed of a capital of one hundred gold florins, or more, was mulcted in a payment to the State of half a gold florin (ten shillingscirca). This tax, which was called "Il Catasto" was unanimously accepted - "it pleased the common people greatly." Messer Giovanni was taxed as heavily as anyone, namely, three hundred gold florins - indicative, incidentally, of his wealth and honesty.

Giovanni associated with himself another prominent man, Messer Agnolo de' Pandolfini, the leader of the "Peace-at-any-Price" party, who is remembered in the annals of Florence as "The Peaceful Citizen." The main points of their policy were: - (1) Peace abroad; (2) Prosperity at home; (3) Low taxation.

No combination of his opponents - and they were many and unscrupulous - was able to damage Messer Giovanni's reputation and power. He could, had he wished it, have proclaimed himself sole ruler of Florence and her territory; but self-control and prudence - which were so characteristic of the men of his family - never forsook him. He died universally regretted in 1429, and was buried in the church of San Lorenzo, which he, along with the Martelli, had restored and endowed. Giovanni di Averardo de' Medici was looked upon as the first banker in Italy, the controller of the credit of Florence and the prince of financiers. Cavalcanti, Macchiavelli, Ammirato, and almost all other historians, describe him as "Large-hearted, liberal-minded, courteous and charitable, dispensing munificent alms with delicate consideration of the feelings and wants of those whom he assisted. Never suing for honours, he gained them all. Hostile to public peculations he strove disinterestedly for the public good. He died rich in this world's goods, but richer still in the goodwill of his fellow citizens."

Many have sought, nevertheless, to belittle Messer Giovanni's reputation - attributing to him a motive for all his urbanity - that of the permanent domination of his house in the government of the Republic - not surely a fault. His old rival in the arena of politics, Niccolo da Uzzano, ever spoke of him after his death with unstinted praise and admiration.

Messer Giovanni shares with Cavaliere Salvestro the undying fame of having raised, upon the excellent foundation laid by their ancestors, the massive supporting walls of that superb edifice, of which his son, Cosimo, formed the cupola, and his great-grandson, Lorenzo - the lantern - "the Light of Italy."

The third and fourth "Grand" Medici were, of course, Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," and Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico." The stories of their lives and exploits are to be read in the stories, the literature and the arts of Florence. Of Cosimo, Niccolo Macchiavelli wrote as follows:

"He applied himself so strenuously to increase the political power of his house, that those who had rejoiced at Giovanni's death now regretted it, perceiving what manner of man Cosimo was. Of consummate prudence, staid yet agreeable presence, he was liberal and humane. He never worked against his own party, or against the State, and was prompt in giving aid to all. His liberality gained him many partisans among the citizens."

Born in 1389, he early evinced mercantile proclivities, and when a lad of no more than seventeen Messer Giovanni, his father, placed him in charge successively of several of the foreign agencies of the Medici bank. Young Cosimo used his opportunities so well that he was looked upon as a successful financier, and came to be called "The Great Merchant of Florence!"

He was jokingly wont to say: "Two yards of scarlet cloth are enough to make a citizen!" Nevertheless he had a deep regard for the opinions and privileges of his fellow Florentines. One of his constant sayings was: "One must always consult the will of the people" - and "the people" replied by acclaiming him "Il Padre della Patria."

Cosimo has been called "a great merchant and a grand party-leader: the first of Florentines by birth and the first of Italians by culture." He died in 1464. His father left in cash a fortune of nearly 180,000 gold florins, but Cosimo's estate totalled upwards of 230,000 - circa L100,000 - a vast amount in those days!

After the strong personality of Cosimo and his masterful manipulation of commercial and political affairs, perhaps the unambitious rule of his son Piero was a necessary and healthful corollary. Piero de' Medici maintained the ground his father had made his own, and gave away nothing of the predominance of his family, and he made way, after a brief exercise of authority, for his brilliant son, Lorenzo.

Piero's character and career again prove the truth of the adage: "Ability rarely runs in two successive generations." All the same, he died in 1409, leaving his sons the heirs to nearly 300,000 gold florins!

Lorenzo, "Il Magnifico," was the first of the "Grand" Medici to give up entirely all connection with commercial pursuits and banking interests. His tenure of office, by a curious paradox, marks the termination of the financial liberties of Florence! He was an all-round genius - there was nothing he could not do - and do well! "Whatever is worth doing at all," he was wont to say, "is worth doing well."

With his death, in 1492, as Benedetto Dei said, "The Splendour, not of Tuscany only, but of all Italy, disappeared."

With the beginning of the sixteenth century dawned a new era. Preliminary signs had appeared in the growth of wealth, in enfranchisement from primitive methods, and in the evolution of individualism. Love of country and the ties of family life were loosened by the universal craving for self-indulgence and personal distinction. Idleness, sensuality, and scepticism - three baneful sisters - gained the mastery, weakening the fabric of society, and leading on to the evil courses of tyrannicide.

"The gradual extinction of public spirit; the general deterioration of private character, and the exercise of unbridled lust and passion, are the livid hues which tinge with the purple of melancholy and the scarlet of tragedy the later pages of Florentine story."

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The direct line of Cosimo, "Il Padre della Patria," the elder surviving son of Messer Giovanni di Averardo "Bicci" de' Medici, ended with Caterina, Queen of France, the only legitimate child of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, and last Capo della Repubblica of Florence; and Alessandro the Bastard, first Duke of Florence, the illegitimate son of Pope Clement VII.

The sovereignty of the Medici was maintained in the person of Cosimo, the only son of Condottiere Giovanni, "delle Bande Nere," the great-grandson of Lorenzo, the younger of the two surviving sons of Messer Giovanni di Averardo "Bicci" de' Medici. The rule of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany was carried on from Cosimo I. to Gian Gastone, seventh Grand Duke and last of his line, who died in 1737.

The Grand Duchy then passed to the house of Lorraine, and with a Napoleonic usurpation of eighteen years (1796-1814), it continued in the Lorraine family, as represented by the collateral Hapsburgs, till the year 1859. In that year, King Vittorio Emmanuele of Piedmont and Sardinia, entered Florence, which, with all Italy, was united under the Royal Crown of the House of Savoy.