Piero de’ Medici: The Underestimated Ruler

Piero de' Medici
c. 1416 – December 2, 1469

Piero de’ Medici was born around 1416 in Florence, Italy. The eldest son of Cosimo de’ Medici, Piero was groomed from a young age to become a banker. Before his birth, Cosimo had worked with his father, Giovanni, to expand the Italian Medici bank into several European branches. Due to Cosimo’s cunning and business savvy, the Medici bank became the best banking institution in Europe. Over the years, many kings and popes would utilize the Medici’s services. As a result of his success, the Medici family gained massive wealth and political influence.

As Piero de’ Medici grew, Cosimo solidified his control over Florence. In 1433, Cosimo became the unofficial Lord of Florence. In public, the elder Medici gave the appearance of being a politically unambitious citizen. Alarmed by the Medici’s growing political power, an anti-Medici party formed that forced Cosimo into exile. However, the loss of Medici wealth in Florence caused Cosimo’s exile to end, returning in 1434. For the last 30 years of his life, Cosimo maintained his position as Lord of Florence with little resistance.

In 1444, Piero de’ Medici married Lucrezia Tornabuoni, a highly intelligent noblewoman. Through their union, the couple had five children. Piero and Lucrezia ensured that all of their children received fine educations with focuses on literature and art. Piero’s eldest son, Lorenzo, would be groomed by his father to one day succeed him. Seeing his son’s intelligence, Piero sent his teenage son on diplomatic missions throughout Europe to increase the Medici’s prestige.

Lord of Florence

On August 1, 1464, the elderly Cosimo died from natural causes. Upon his death, Piero de’ Medici succeeded his father as head of the Medici family and Lord of Florence. Despite being his father’s heir, Piero spent much of his life dealing with illness rather than banking. The lord had inherited gout, a medical condition characterized by joint pain and swelling. Piero suffered from frequent attacks of gout, which left him bedridden and unable to move. Due to his perception as a sickly invalid, Piero gained the nickname “the gouty.”

As Lord of Florence, Piero de’ Medici established his office in his bedroom. Next, the lord ordered a financial review of the Medici bank. After seeing several loans that Cosimo had let stand, Piero decided to call them in. As a result, many Medici supporters went bankrupt. Enraged at being financially ruined, former supporters began plotting the Medici’s downfall.

Attempted Coup

In August 1466, word reached Piero de’ Medici that there was a planned coup against him. Lorenzo had returned to Florence after being sent on a diplomatic mission by his father. Upon his return, Lorenzo encountered a roadblock manned by some of the conspirators. Unrecognized by the men, Lorenzo slipped past and warned his father of the threat. Gathering his strength, Piero rose from his bed and rallied his army. The Medici’s show of force overcame the conspirators and cemented Piero’s position as Lord of Florence.

Final Years

In 1467, Venice declared war on Florence. Venice had been a part of the failed coup against the Medici the year prior. To counter Venice’s aggression, Piero de’ Medici made alliances with Milan and Naples. With their backing, Florence overcame Venetian forces at Imola. As part of the peace treaty, Florence gained Sarzana and Sarzanello. Piero would maintain peace in Florence until his death from gout on December 2, 1469.

Conclusion

Piero de’ Medici spent his short reign suffering from gout and confined to his bed. His enemies viewed his illness as a weakness and underestimated the lord’s capabilities. However, Piero’s frail body hid a sharp mind. Through his cunning, the lord overcame a coup, crushed his enemies, and secured the Medici’s position in Florence. By the time he died in 1469, Piero successfully passed on the family’s lordship to the next generation.

Sources

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 Cosimo de’ Medici. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 13, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Piero-di-Cosimo-de-Medici.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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