Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence

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Alessandro de' Medici
Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici, duke of Florence, painted by Pontormo, oil on canvas, 101 cm x 82 cm, 1534-1535 ca., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia[1]
Duke of Florence
Reign1 May 1532 – 6 January 1537
PredecessorIppolito de' Medici
SuccessorCosimo I de' Medici
Born(1510-07-22)22 July 1510
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died6 January 1537(1537-01-06) (aged 26)
Florence, Duchy of Florence
(m. 1536)
IssueGiulio de' Medici (illegitimate)
Giulia de' Medici (illegitimate)
Porzia de' Medici (illegitimate)
FatherLorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, or Pope Clement VII
MotherSimonetta da Collevecchio

Alessandro de' Medici (22 July 1510 – 6 January 1537), nicknamed "il Moro" due to his dark complexion, Duke of Penne and the first Duke of the Florentine Republic (from 1532), was ruler of Florence from 1530 to his death in 1537.[2] The first Medici to rule Florence as a hereditary monarch, Alessandro was also the last Medici from the senior line of the family to lead the city. His assassination at the hands of distant cousin Lorenzaccio caused the title of Duke to pass to Cosimo I de Medici, from the family's junior branch.


Born in Florence, Alessandro was recognized by a plurality of his contemporaries as the only son of Lorenzo II de' Medici, grandson of Lorenzo de' Medici "the Magnificent".[3] Others believed him to be the illegitimate son of Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII), but at the time that was a minority view.[4] Scipione Ammirato, the court historian of the Medicean Grand Duchy writes that "...some whose authority is credible and that have obtained this secret from penetralia servants, think he was son of Clement, born of a servant of the house when he was a knight of Saint John."

Alessandro's nickname "il Moro" is attributed to his relatively dark pigmentation.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Some historians, such as Christopher Hibbert, present two hypotheses as to Alessandro de Medici's ancestry: he was "rumoured to be Cardinal Giulio's son by a Moorish slave or peasant woman from the Roman Campagna".[12][8] His mother was identified in documents as Simonetta da Collevecchio.[13] French author Jean Nestor reported in the 1560s that the claim of a slave origin was a false rumor first spread by Alessandro's exiled enemies in Naples. In his book, he confirmed that she was of African descent. [14] University of Florence historian Giorgio Spini too, described this rumour as unfounded, instead tracing Alessandro's mother to a peasant from the Roman countryside who would later go on to marry a carrier from Lazio.[15]

Emblem of Alessandro de' Medici, based on Dürer's Rhinoceros. Motto: "Non buelvo sin vencer" (old Spanish for "I shall not return without victory")[16] (From Paolo Giovio's Dialogo dell'imprese militari et amorose, 1557)

Early life[edit]

Alessandro spent his early childhood in Rome, where he received a humanist education by Valeriano, under the supervision of Pope Leo X and Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici.[17] During those years, a number of unexpected deaths occurred in the Medici family’s senior line: Giuliano de' Medici, Duke of Nemours (1516); Lorenzo II de' Medici, Duke of Urbino (1519); and eventually Pope Leo X (1521). This prompted Cardinal Giulio (then Gran Maestro of Florence, later Pope Clement VII), to relocate the remaining Medici heirs to Poggio a Caiano, near Florence: Alessandro; his half-sister Catherine, (later Queen Consort of France); and his cousin Ippolito, (later Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic Church).[18] In 1522, Cardinal Giulio purchased the title 'Duke of Penne' for Alessandro from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.[19][17]

When Cardinal Giulio became Pope Clement VII in 1523, he left leadership of Florence to Alessandro and Ippolito, under the regency of Papal representative Cardinal Silvio Passerini. Unfortunately, Alessandro and Ippolito were “alike in one respect only, their mutual hatred of each other.”[20] They openly feuded throughout their short lives.[21] Passerini was extremely unpopular with the anti-Medici faction in Florence, as well as with members of the Medici family such as Clarice Strozzi, daughter of Piero di Lorenzo ("the Unfortunate"). She disparaged not only Passerini but Alessandro as well, calling him unworthy of the family name. Outrage over the Medici-backed Passerini regency led to a popular revolt four years later.[22]

During the Sack of Rome in 1527, a faction of Florentines overthrew the Medici and installed a theocratic, Savonarola-influenced Republic.[23][22] Alessandro and Ippolito de' Medici were advised to leave the city with Cardinal Passerini. Many of the Medicis’ main supporters fled Florence; but eight-year-old Catherine de' Medici was left behind.[24] Alessandro lived in exile for the next three years.[25]

Duke of Florence[edit]

Portrait of Alessandro de’ Medici, by Giorgio Vasari (1534).

In 1530, after a nearly ten month siege of Florence supported by Spanish troops, Alessandro was named head of state.[2] Pope Clement VII chose him for the position over Ippolito, who was made cardinal. Clement’s choice increased tension between the Medici cousins; for the rest of Ippolito’s life, he spoke openly about wanting to overthrow Alessandro and lead Florence.[26] Alessandro arrived in Florence to rule on 5 July 1531. Nine months later he was made hereditary Duke by Charles, as Tuscany was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire. This ended the Florentine Republic and started over 200 years of Medici monarchy.[27][28]

The Florentine Constitution of 1532 consolidated Duke Alessandro’s power.[29] While Clement lived, Alessandro ruled "with the advice of elected councils, trying to calm the nerves of the defeated republicans"; however, as his reign progressed he showed authoritarian tendencies.[30] In 1534, he ordered construction of Florence’s Fortezza da Basso, “to secure the Medici’s control of the city following their recent return after the Siege of Florence, and to provide lodging for a massive contingent of troops.”[31]

Duke Alessandro’s government drew both praise and criticism. His “common sense and his feeling for justice won his subjects’ affection”; and he “enjoyed some status as the champion of the poor and the helpless, as ballads and novelle record.”[26][17] He was also a patron of the arts, commissioning notable works by Giorgio Vasari, Jacopo Pontormo, Benvenuto Cellini, and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger.[32][33] Conversely, Florence’s vocal exile community judged his rule as harsh, depraved, and incompetent, an assessment debated by historians.[34] In 1535, the exiles enlisted Cardinal Ippolito to meet with Emperor Charles V to denounce Alessandro's government; however, en route to the meeting, Ippolito died under questionable circumstances. Rumors spread that he was poisoned on Alessandro's orders.[35] After the exiles voiced their complaints to Charles, Florentine diplomat Francesco Guicciardini responded, “his Excellency’s virtue, his fame, the opinion of him held throughout the city, of his prudence, of his virtuous habits, are a sufficient reply".[30] Emperor Charles dismissed the complaints, continuing to support Alessandro.

In 1536, Emperor Charles kept a promise to Pope Clement by marrying his daughter, Margaret of Austria, to Duke Alessandro.[36] He seems to have remained faithful to one mistress, Taddea Malaspina, who bore his only children: Giulio de' Medici (c. 1533/37–1600), who had illegitimate issue, and Giulia de' Medici.[37]


Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici in the Uffizi.
Margaret of Austria

In 1537, Duke Alessandro's distant cousin and close friend Lorenzino de' Medici, "Lorenzaccio" ("bad Lorenzo"), assassinated him.[38] The event is the subject of Alfred de Musset’s play Lorenzaccio; Alexandre Dumas’ play Lorenzino; and the basis for Thomas Middleton’s play The Revenger's Tragedy, among other works.[39][17]

On January 5/6, the Night of Epiphany, Lorenzino entrapped Duke Alessandro through the ruse of a promised sexual encounter with a beautiful widow.[40] As Duke Alessandro waited alone and unarmed, Lorenzino and his servant Piero di Giovannabate, also called Scoronconcolo, ambushed him and "stabbed Alessandro with a dagger several times while the Duke fought back to the point that he bit off a significant portion of one of Lorenzino's fingers. Eventually, Alessandro succumbed to his wounds and Lorenzino and Scoronconcolo fled from the palace – after locking the door to the chamber to prevent their crime from being discovered too quickly."[34][25]

For fear of starting an uprising if news of his death became public, Medici officials wrapped Alessandro's corpse in a carpet and secretly carried it to the cemetery of San Lorenzo, where it was hurriedly buried.[34] In Valladolid, Spain, at the imperial court of Charles V, a solemn funeral was held for Alessandro.[41]

Lorenzino, in a declaration published later, said that he had killed Alessandro to preserve the Republic of Florence. When Florence's anti-Medici faction failed to rise, Lorenzino fled to Venice, where he was killed in 1548 at the direct orders of Emperor Charles V.[42] Florence's Medici supporters – called Palleschi from the balls on the Medici arms – ensured that power passed to Cosimo, the first of the "junior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence.[2]

Alessandro was survived by two children: son Giulio (aged four at the time of his father's death) married to Angelica Malaspina, and daughter Giulia, married firstly to Francesco Cantelmo, the Duke of Popoli, and then to Bernadetto de' Medici, the Prince of Ottajano.


  1. ^ "Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici". Retrieved 7 May 2023.
  2. ^ a b c "Africans in Medieval & Renaissance Art: Duke Alessandro de' Medici". Victoria and Albert Museum. 13 January 2011. Archived from the original on 5 January 2019. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  3. ^ A. London Fell (1993). Origins of legislative sovereignty and the legislative state: Modern origins,developments, and perspectives against the Background of "Machiavelism".Book I: Pre-Modern "Machiavelism". Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-93975-5. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  4. ^ Catherine Fletcher, The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici (London: Bodley Head, 2016), pp. 16, 280–81.
  5. ^ Christopher Hibbert (2003). The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. Harper Perennial. pp. 151–. ISBN 0-688-00339-7. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  6. ^ George L. Williams (2004). Papal Genealogy: The Families And Descendants Of The Popes. McFarland. pp. 74–. ISBN 978-0-7864-2071-1. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  7. ^ "The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families: Alessandro De Medici". Frontline. c. 1995. Retrieved 22 October 2022.
  8. ^ a b "The Blurred Racial Lines of Famous Families: A View on Race: A View on Race and the Art World". Frontline. 14 January 2005. Retrieved 22 October 2022.
  9. ^ Hibbert 1999, p. 236.
  10. ^ Rogers, J. A., World's Great Men of Color, Volume 2, p. 31 (Touchstone, 1996), ISBN 0684815826
  11. ^ Caroline P. Murphy, Murder of a Medici Princess, p. 9 (Oxford University Press, 2008), ISBN 978-0-19-531439-7
  12. ^ Christopher Hibbert (2003). The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall. Harper Perennial. pp. 236–. ISBN 0-688-00339-7. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  13. ^ So named because for being a native or living in Collevecchio, a small town in the historical region of Sabina, in the Papal States
  14. ^ Jean Nestor, Histoire des hommes illustres de la maison de Medici, 1564.
  15. ^ Spini, Giorgio. "ALESSANDRO de' Medici, primo duca di Firenze". The Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  16. ^ Bedini, Silvano A. (1997). The Pope's Elephant. Manchester: Carcanet Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-85754-277-6..
  17. ^ a b c d Gallucci, Mary (Summer 2015). "Mistaken Identities?: Alessandro de' Medici and the Question of "Race"". Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies. 15 (3): 44. doi:10.1353/jem.2015.0023. S2CID 153239187.
  18. ^ Fletcher, Catherine (2016). The Black Prince of Florence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 33–40. ISBN 9780190612726.
  19. ^ "The Mad Monarchist: Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence". March 2016. Archived from the original on 28 January 2021.
  20. ^ Staley, Edgcumbe. The Tragedies of the Medici. Project Gutenberg.
  21. ^ "The Tragedies of the Medici, by Edgcumbe Staley".
  22. ^ a b "The Mad Monarchist: Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence". March 2016.
  23. ^ "Alessandro". Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  24. ^ "Queens of Infamy: The Rise of Catherine de' Medici". 27 September 2018.
  25. ^ a b Tracy E. Robey (2012). Glory and Infamy: Making the Memory of Duke Alessandro de' Medici in Renaissance Florence (PhD thesis). The City University of New York. p. 10.
  26. ^ a b "Alessandro | duke of Florence".
  27. ^ Hibbert 1999, pp. 250–252.
  28. ^ Schevill 1936, pp. 482, 513–514.
  29. ^ "History of Florence".
  30. ^ a b "The Mad Monarchist: Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence". March 2016.
  31. ^ "Fortezza da Basso". Archived from the original on 26 September 2021. Retrieved 16 April 2023.
  32. ^ "Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence – the Medici Family".
  33. ^ "Alessandro de' Medici, 1512-1537, 1st Duke of Florence 1523 [obverse]".
  34. ^ a b c Fletcher, Catherine (2020). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190092146.
  35. ^ Hibbert 1999, p. 254.
  36. ^ "Alessandro | duke of Florence". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  37. ^ Langdon, Gabrielle (2006). Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal. University of Toronto Press, p. 233. ISBN 0-8020-3825-5
  38. ^ "Lorenzino de' Medici | Italian writer and assassin".
  39. ^ Marks, Peter (25 January 2005). "'Lorenzaccio': Murder Most Medici". Washington Post./
  40. ^ Baker, Nicholas Scott. 2010. "Power and Passion in Sixteenth-century Florence: The Sexual and Political Reputations of Alessandro and Cosimo I De' Medici". Journal of the History of Sexuality 19 (3). University of Texas Press: 432–57.
  41. ^ Cfr. Pascual Molina, Jesús F. (2009). "Alexander Florentiae Dux: el primer duque de Florencia y el Imperio. Muerte, política y arte" en Parrado del Olmo, J. M.ª y Gutiérrez Baños, F. (coords.), Estudios de historia del arte. Homenaje al profesor De la Plaza Santiago. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid. pp. 161–66. ISBN 978-84-8448-521-6.
  42. ^ Leeds, University of. "A Renaissance Mystery Solved: Lorenzino de' Medici's assassination was ordered by the Emperor Charles V Habsburg". PRLog.


  • Hibbert, Christopher (1999). The House of Medici, Its Rise and Fall.[ISBN missing]
  • Schevill, Ferdinand (1936). History of Florence.[ISBN missing]
  • Brackett, John (2005) "Race and Rulership: Alessandro de' Medici, first Medici Duke of Florence, 1529–1537," in T.F. Earle and K.J.P. Lowe, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe.[ISBN missing]
  • Fletcher, Catherine (2016). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici.[ISBN missing]

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
new office
Duke of Florence
Succeeded by