The Pazzi Conspiracy in 1478
The Medici Family ruled Florence and possessed an immense amount of power in the middle ages. The House of Medici was formed by Cosimo de’ Medici in the early part of the 15th century. Their power and wealth grew to the stage where they were able to fund the Medici Bank which was Europe’s largest during the 15th century. Although the family was officially only citizens of the Republic of Florence, they were really the rulers. The Medici Family ultimately used its vast wealth to gain political power in other areas of Italy and Europe. The dynasty lasted until the 18th century, but things could have been very different had a rival family’s coup proved successful.
The Pazzi was a noble Florentine family and grew envious of Medici power. In 1477, Francesco de’ Pazzi, a manager of the Pazzi bank in Rome, formulated a plot to murder Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici as a means of ending Medici rule of Florence. He was abetted by Francesco Salviati and Girolamo Riario (a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV). Apparently, Pope Sixtus gave his approval to the plot. Salviati was the archbishop of Pisa, but Lorenzo de’ Medici refused to recognize his title. Also, Riario resented Lorenzo’s attempts to prevent the consolidation of papal rule in the region of Romagna.
The assassination attempt took place on April 26, 1478, during High Mass at Florence Cathedral. It was a bold move as the conspirators attacked the brothers in front of 10,000 people. Giuliano died after being stabbed 19 times, but Lorenzo managed to fight the attackers off although he sustained serious injuries in the process. He was locked in the sacristy to keep him safe, and when the conspirators failed to capture the Gonfaloniere of Justice and the Signoria of Florence, they knew their coup had failed.
It didn’t take long for the conspirators to be rounded up and executed. Five of them, including Salviati and Francesco de’ Pazzi, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo Della Signoria. The head of the Pazzi family, Jacopo, fled Florence but was caught and tortured before getting hanged and put on display with the others. Even after his body was buried, the Medici Family was not finished delivering its message. Jacopo’s body was dug up, tossed on a ditch, dragged around the streets and dumped at the Palazzo Pazzi where the head was used as a door-knocker. To complete the indignity, the body was thrown into the Arno River but fished out by kids, hung from a willow tree, flogged and tossed back into the water.
The Pazzi Family was banished from Florence with their lands confiscated. Their name was erased from public registers, and all buildings and streets bearing the Pazzi name had their names changed. If you had Pazzi as a surname, you were ordered to have it changed, and if you married a Pazzi, you were banned from public office. The Medici Family ultimately went on to influence the Italian Renaissance; once wonders what would have happened had the Pazzi succeeded in killing Lorenzo?