Piero de’ Medici was born on February 15, 1472, in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, to Lorenzo de’ Medici. At the time of his birth, Piero’s father and uncle, Giuliano, jointly ruled Florence. Although outwardly a republic, both men controlled the city behind the scenes. Piero’s great-grandfather, Cosimo de’ Medici, used his banking wealth to become the unofficial Lord of Florence in 1434. Since then, the title passed from father to son. Before Piero’s grandfather’s death in December 1469, Piero (I) made his two sons, Lorenzo and Giuliano, co-rulers of Florence.
Although Lorenzo and Giuliano proved successful lords, their position made other noble families jealous. The Pazzis had a similar background to the Medicis. Both families had made their fortunes in banking, which increased their influence. However, the Medicis proved more successful in politics, which overshadowed the Pazzis. Over time, the family’s resentment turned into a plot to overthrow the Medici.
With the approval of Pope Sixtus IV, the Pazzi attempted to assassinate the Medici brothers. On April 26, 1478, Pazzi assassins killed Giuliano and wounded Lorenzo at the Cathedral of Florence. After the incident, the Pazzi attempted to overthrow the Medici. However, they underestimated the family’s support in Florence. Instead of helping, Florentines turned against the Pazzi. With his brother dead, Lorenzo became the sole ruler of Florence.
Lord of Florence
As Piero de’ Medici grew, Lorenzo groomed his son as his successor. The lord ensured that Piero received a fine education to someday rule over Florence and be the head of the family. However, his father’s efforts proved ineffective. Piero was undisciplined, a poor leader, and lacked good judgment. The last trait would prove costly later in his life.
On April 9, 1492, Lorenzo died from an illness. In turn, Piero de’ Medici became the new Lord of Florence. Although he reigned peacefully at first, it wouldn’t last. In 1494, King Charles VIII of France and the French army crossed the Alps into Italy. The king had come to the peninsula to claim Naples as his birthright. The arrival of the French forced Piero to make a decision: either ally with Charles or fight against him.
Initially, Piero de’ Medici tried to take a middle-of-the-road approach. The lord declared that Florence would be neutral towards the French. However, Charles didn’t like Piero’s response. The French wanted to pass through Florence and needed to use their fortresses for protection. Instead of further negotiations, the French king led his troops to the fortress of Fivizzano in Tuscany. Although the fortress quickly surrendered, Charles ruthlessly ordered all its soldiers to be executed.
Loss of Support
The brutal massacre of Fivizzano deeply affected Piero de’ Medici. The lord began making plans to prevent the French from advancing further into Tuscany. Despite his efforts, Piero lacked support from his fellow Florentines. Many citizens viewed the French invasion as an act of God against Italy. They further believed that resistance would ultimately be useless against Charles’ massive army. Even members of the Medici family thought that Piero’s efforts would be in vain.
By October 1494, Piero de’ Medici realized that his position was hopeless. He could expect no help from his family, his citizens, or his fellow rulers. Piero had only one option left to save Florence: submission to King Charles. After arriving in San Stefano, the lord met with the French king to discuss terms. Still bitter at Piero’s earlier defiance, Charles demanded the right to occupy several fortresses and a substantial loan. Without any negotiation, Piero agreed to all of the king’s terms.
Upon his return to Florence on November 8, Piero de’ Medici reported Charles’ terms to his government. Enraged at his complete submission, Piero quickly left for his palace as a crowd formed to throw stones at him. Sensing that his family was in danger, Piero and the remaining Medicis fled Florence during the night. In response to their flight, the Florentine government declared that the Medici were now banned and placed bounties on their heads. A mob subsequently raided the Medici palace and took many of the family’s valuables.
Life in Exile
Despite his drastic fall from grace, Piero de’ Medici remained in Italy to regain his former standing. From 1496-1498, the exiled lord made various plans to return to Florence. However, none of them were successful. By the early 1500s, Piero had aligned himself with Charles VIII’s successor, Louis XII. While on a French campaign in southern Italy, Piero drowned in the Garigliano River on December 28, 1503.
Piero de’ Medici proved to be an unworthy successor to his father, Lorenzo. Although outside factors, such as the French invasion, worked against him, Piero’s lack of political insight doomed the Medici family. Piero submitted to all of Charles VIII’s terms without resistance, which weakened his position in Florence. The following uproar caused the Medici to lose their 50-year lordship and live as exiles. Despite Piero’s failure, the Medici family would eventually return to power in 1512.
Hibbert, C. (1974). The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. New York, NY, NY: Morrow Quill Paperbacks.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Piero di LORENZO DE’ MEDICI. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 6, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Piero-di-Lorenzo-de-Medici.