Lorenzo de' Medici

English Version

The Pazzi Conspiracy, the story of a coup during the Renaissance

26 April 1478, Florence. Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici were getting ready to go to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but little did they know that someone had been scheming a plot behind their backs, and that right inside the Cathedral, the two lords of Florence were going to be victims of what is historically known as the Pazzi conspiracy.

Lorenzo De’ Medici, portrait by Sandro Botticelli

Who were the Pazzi, the historical rivals of the Medici

As skilled traders, during the 15th century, the Pazzi were able to make money and become one of the most powerful families in Florence.

Through a series of arranged marriages among other powerful families of the city, they entered the politics of Florence as the most influential members, on par with the Medici family.

The marriage policy of Jacopo de’ Pazzi involved the Medicis. Therefore, Bianca de’ Medici, sister of Lorenzo and Giuliano, married Guglielmo de’ Pazzi. The wedding should have smoothed out the historical tensions between the two families. The Pazzi were bankers just like the Medici, but they never accepted the supremacy of the rival family and their power over Florence.

There was also another thing that the Pazzis couldn’t tolerate, a privilege that they did not have; the Medici were the bankers of the Pope.

Although the Pazzis are known in history for being rivals with Medicis, they weren’t the only ones that wanted their death. From Rome, Francesco de’ Pazzi, nephew of Jacopo, managed to involve Pope Sixtus IV, nephew of Francesco Salviati (archbishop of Pisa), and the king of Naples, Ferrante d’Aragona. Each of them had their reasons for wanting to destroy the Medici’s family.

Giuliano de medici la congiura dei pazzi
Post Mortem portrait of Giuliano De’ Medici by Sandro Botticelli, 1478-1480

The matter of Imola and the dispute with the Pope

In 1473, the Duke of Imola, Giangaleazzo Sforza, put up the city of Imola for sale. The Pope intended to purchase and give it as a wedding gift to his nephew Girolamo Riario, who married Caterina Sforza. With his nephew as the head of the city, the Papal State would have expanded its dominion as far as Romagna, but the city was in the crosshairs of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The Pope didn’t have enough money to buy it and the Medicis, since they were their bankers, knew it.

Lorenzo went to the Pazzis, asking them to not lend money to the Pope and to not reveal that he intended to purchase the city. In this way, without any support from the Florentine banks, Sixtus would have lost his chance of getting the fortress of Romagna, which would have been handed to the people of Florence. However, the Pazzis betrayed the intentions of Lorenzo and warned the Pope about his plans.

The breaking point between the Pope and the Medicis occurred when Sixtus IV decided to replace the Medicis with the Pazzis as the bankers of the pontifical funds.

The resentment of Francesco Salviati, the Archbishop of Pisa

Among the protagonists of the Conspiracy, there was a member of an important family of Florence (he was related to the Pazzis): Francesco Salviati. He was appointed by the Pope as the Archbishop of Pisa, and in 1474 Salviati strongly wanted the position of the Archbishop of Florence, but Lorenzo was able to prevent his rise. If Lorenzo had denied Florence, the Pope would have closed its door on Pisa with a power struggle.

The king of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, took part in the conspiracy, and both were motivated by a political calculation rather than resentment. They wanted Florence weak without any interruptions from the Medicis.

Francesco Salviati’self portrait, 1540-1549

The conspiracy takes shape

Francesco de’ Pazzi, the nephew of Jacopo, was the one who kicked off the project. Francesco lived in Rome, where he oversaw the apostolic treasury, after the Pope entrusted it to the Pazzis. The desire to physically eliminate Lorenzo and Giuliano pushed him to talk to Girolamo Riario and the Archbishop Salviati, who gave him their consent.

Initially, Jacopo de’ Pazzi was reluctant, because he was aware of the gravity of the situation. Thus, Riario thought that if he would have gained the consent of the Pope, then Jacopo could have not refused.

The attempt was successful: Sixtus IV advocated a change of regime in Florence, even though he recommended to do it without shedding any blood. The original plan was blown out by Giuliano de’ Medici

For the conspirators, it was fundamental that Lorenzo and Giuliano died together. According to the original plan, they should have drunk a poisoned chalice the night before the 26th of April. However, since Giuliano was sick, he didn’t participate in the feast that night. Because of that, they decided that the attack would have happened the morning after, during the mass in Santa Maria del Fiore.

The decision to commit a massacre in the church was the one that saved Lorenzo’s life. His appointed assassin, Giovanni Battista da Montesecco, pulled himself out because he didn’t want to assassinate a man in a sacred place. In his place, two priests were hired by the conspirators.

Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli was the appointed assassin of Giuliano, he was a Florentine who opposed the Medici’s and hoped that Florence would have been free from their lordship.

The Pazzi Conspiracy by Stefano Ussi
26 april 1478, the Pazzi conspiracy goes down in history

After the mass, Bandini, Francesco de’ Pazzi, and the other plotters cornered the young man until, after nineteen stab wounds, his dead body collapsed to the ground.

Lorenzo, probably because the two priests were hesitating, had enough time to react and pick up the sword. He was injured in his neck, but he still managed to defend himself and barricade inside the sacristy with his men. He had no idea of what had happened to his brother, and in spite of the wound, he kept calling Giuliano. In the meantime, according to the plan, Jacopo de’ Pazzi, was supposed to call the crowd outside the church while praising the people and their freedom. Nevertheless, the conspirators underestimated the love that the people of Florence had for the Medicis.

The failed conspiracy and the tragic ending of the conspirators

As soon as the rumor spread of what had happened in the church, an angry crowd rushed to Francesco de’ Pazzi’s residence, where he went right after to regain his strengths after being seriously injured. He was dragged to Palazzo Vecchio and hanged. Archbishop Salviati had the same fate, who, according to the plan, was meant to conquer Palazzo Vecchio and kill the gonfalonier of justice. After a fight between the two, the gonfalonier prevailed on the archbishop. He was prosecuted and executed, and, as it is said, right where Francesco de’ Pazzi had been executed.

Jacopo tried to escape but, outside Florence, he was recognized by a farmer, captured, and hanged.

Montesecco, after having explained all the details about the conspiracy,  was decapitated instead of hanged because he refused to kill Lorenzo.

Hanging of Bernardo Baroncelli by Leonardo da Vinci, 1479
Lorenzo de Medici had the chance to clean Florence from all his enemies

While he was locked up in his palace for over ten days after the attack, Lorenzo did not waste any time to avenge his brother, who was the only victim in the conspiracy (except for the conspirators).

The Pazzi’s family was held accountable. Gugliemo, the husband of Bianca de’ Medici, even though he was the only one exempt, was exiled from the city. There was only a man left who did not receive justice yet, and that person was Baroncelli, the killer of Giuliano, who managed to escape. He was tracked down a year later in Constantinople and brought back to Florence.

In 1479, to his execution, there was a boy, a young apprentice of Verrocchio, who drew Baroncelli hanging from the neck: that young boy was Leonardo Da Vinci.


Testo inglese tradotto da: La congiura dei Pazzi, storia di un golpe rinascimentale