On January 1, 1449, Lorenzo de’ Medici was born in Florence, Italy. The Medici were an influential family that had gained their wealth through banking. Lorenzo’s grandfather, Cosimo, had established many branches throughout Europe. In turn, his banking abilities made him one of the wealthiest men of his time. Cosimo later used his money to gain political power and ultimately became the unofficial ruler of Florence in 1434.
After thirty years as the Lord of Florence, Cosimo died in August 1464. Upon his death, Cosimo’s son, Piero, inherited his position and wealth. A sickly man, Piero suffered from gout (joint inflammation). Due to typically being bedridden, Piero’s enemies viewed him as weak and vulnerable. After learning of a plot to overthrow him in 1466, Piero boldly faced his enemies and defeated them in battle. After securing his family’s hold on Florence, Piero died after a five-year reign in December 1469.
Lord of Florence
Upon his father’s death, Lorenzo de’ Medici became the co-Lord of Florence with his brother, Giuliano. At twenty years old, Lorenzo was a tall and strong, yet ugly, man. Despite his appearance, Lorenzo made up for it with his intelligence. From a young age, Piero had seen his son’s intellect and made him a diplomat. As a teenager, Lorenzo traveled throughout Italy and Europe on his father’s behalf. Although only fifteen, the young Florentine acted as though he were twice his age.
Initially, Lorenzo de’ Medici promised to respect Florence’s republic. However, this would merely be to maintain the illusion of Florence’s independence. In reality, Lorenzo continued his family’s hold over the city as its de-facto ruler. Over the following years, the Lord of Florence caused the popular assemblies to lose their financial powers. To keep Florentine support, Lorenzo sponsored many festivals, carnivals, and tournaments that citizens enjoyed. Despite his support, the Medici family still had its share of enemies.
The Pazzi Conspiracy
In Florence, a rival family to the Medicis grew resentful. Like the Medici, the Pazzi were an influential banking family. Despite their success, they remained overshadowed by the Medici. Francesco de’ Pazzi was the manager of the Pazzi bank’s Roman branch. Through his efforts, Francesco gathered a group of individuals who had issues with the Medicis. One such member was the pope of the Catholic church: Sixtus IV.
Pope Sixtus IV initially had a good relationship with Lorenzo de’ Medici. However, it became strained after Lorenzo refused to grant the pope a large loan. In response, Sixtus began banking with the Pazzi instead. To make matters worse, the Florentine also opposed the pope’s efforts to consolidate papal power in central Italy. As a result, Sixtus believed that Lorenzo needed to be deposed.
On April 26, 1478, Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici attended mass at the Cathedral of Florence. During the service, the brothers were attacked by assassins. Led by Francesco de’ Pazzi, the conspirators successfully killed Giuliano but only wounded Lorenzo. Afterward, the men attempted to overthrow the Medici’s control of Florence. However, their plan backfired. Instead of supporting the conspiracy, Florentines attacked the assassins. Those who weren’t killed by the mob fled for their lives.
Lorenzo de’ Medici emerged from the Pazzi Conspiracy as the sole ruler of Florence. Although shaken by the event, he had gained the full support of Florence. Despite this development, Pope Sixtus IV demanded that Lorenzo appear before him. King Ferdinand I of Naples supported the pope, while the lord had minor aid from Milan. Unfazed by the situation, Lorenzo boldly traveled to Rome. As a result, Ferdinand backed down, and Sixtus was forced to make peace with the Florentine.
After successfully dealing with Sixtus IV, Lorenzo’s reputation skyrocketed in Europe. Although he could’ve pressed his political advantage by becoming duke, Lorenzo instead reformed Florence’s ruling council from 100 members to 70. Outwardly, the lord portrayed himself as a modest civil servant. In reality, Lorenzo was at the height of his power as Florence’s ruler.
Birth of the Renaissance
During his reign, Lorenzo de’ Medici devoted much of his money to supporting artists, architects, and writers. The lord surrounded himself with fellow intellectuals and artists. As the Renaissance began, Lorenzo personally participated by buying ancient texts and writing poetry. The Lord also had an eye for talent. Lorenzo adopted a young Michelangelo and raised him as his son. de’ Medici’s support of such individuals transformed Florence into a center of art and culture.
In 1490, Lorenzo de’ Medici allowed a Dominican monk named Girolamo Savonarola to preach in San Marco. Girolamo proclaimed that the church and the Medici family were evil. After receiving a vision, he spoke of a prophecy about the death of a tyrant. The monk’s words affected the Florentines, who feared God’s wrath. Lorenzo heard of Girolamo’s sermons, but his attention lay elsewhere. By this time, the Lord of Florence’s health had been in decline for three years.
As Lorenzo lay dying in 1492, he called Girolamo to his bedside. The monk asked the lord to free Florence from the Medici’s grasp. When Lorenzo didn’t respond, Girolamo refused to give him absolution. On April 9, the 43-year-old Florentine died, leaving the lordship to his son, Piero. Although the Medici had lost support in recent years, Florentines sincerely mourned Lorenzo’s premature death.
Lorenzo de’ Medici ruled Florence for over twenty years. As its lord, Lorenzo overcame threats to his position and emerged even stronger. Through his leadership, the Florentine made the Medicis more prestigious and influential. As a patron, Lorenzo’s financial support of various artists, writers, and builders helped initiate the Renaissance in Italy. By the time he died in 1492, Lorenzo’s achievements had earned him the title of “the magnificent.”
Hibbert, C. (1974). The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. New York, NY, NY: Morrow Quill Paperbacks.
Lorenzo de’ Medici. (2021, January 12). Retrieved February 2, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lorenzo-de-Medici