Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence

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Alessandro de' Medici
Jacopo Pontormo 056.jpg
Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo
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" ("the Moor") due to his dark complexion, Duke of Penne and the first Duke of the Florentine Republic (from 1532), was ruler of Florence from 1531 to his death in 1537.[1] 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 a 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 the majority of his contemporaries as the only son of Lorenzo II de' Medici, grandson of Lorenzo de' Medici "the Magnificent".[2] A few believed him to be the illegitimate son of Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII), but at the time that was a minority view.[3]

Alessandro's nickname "il Moro" ("the Moor") is said to derive from his physical features.[4][5][6][7] Some historians, such as Christopher Hibbert, believe that he had been born to a servant of African descent who was working in the Medici household, identified in documents as Simonetta da Collevecchio. French author Jean Nestor, writing in the 1560s, reported that the claim of a Moorish slave origin was a false rumor first spread by Alessandro's exiled enemies in Naples.[8]

The Emblem of Alessandro de' Medici, based on Dürer's Rhinoceros, with the motto "Non buelvo sin vencer" (old Spanish for "I shall not return without victory").[9] (From Paolo Giovio's Dialogo dell'imprese militari et amorose, 1557.)

Early life[edit]

During Alessandro's childhood, several senior members of the Medici family line died unexpectedly — Giuliano, Duke of Nemours (1516); Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino (1519); and Pope Leo X (1521) — leaving Cardinal Giulio (then Gran Maestro of Florence, later Pope Clement VII), to raise Alessandro; his half-sister Catherine, (later Queen of France); and his cousin Ippolito, (later Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic Church).[10] In 1522, Cardinal Giulio purchased for Alessandro the title Duke of Penne from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.[11]

In 1523, when Cardinal Giulio was elected Pope Clement VII, he left leadership of Florence to Alessandro and Ippolito, under the regency of papal representative Cardinal Silvio Passerini. Unfortunately for the Medici, "the papal representatives sent to oversee the boy were extremely unpopular with the anti-Medici faction [of Florence] as well as, again, elements within the family such as Clarice Strozzi, daughter of Piero di Lorenzo ("the Unfortunate"), who railed against Alessandro as being unworthy of the Medici family name and against his papal guardians as well... The status of Alessandro as Gran Maestro of Florence was largely nominal but wider events taking place in Italy would soon see him raised to a higher status, but not before enduring quite an ordeal." [12]

In 1527, when Emperor Charles V sacked Rome, a faction of Florentines took advantage of the turmoil In Italy to reinstall the Florentine Republic.[13] Both Alessandro and Ippolito de' Medici were banished from the city, along with Cardinal Passerini. Many of the Medici and their main supporters fled Florence; however, eight-year-old Catherine de' Medici was left behind.[14] Alessandro lived in exile for the next three years [15]

Michelangelo, then occupied in creating a funerary chapel for the Medici, initially took charge of building fortifications around Florence in support of the Republic. He later fled the city, fearing retribution. In the 1530s, Michelangelo reconciled with Clement, but never returned to work in the city under the leadership of either Alessandro or his successor, Cosimo I.[16]

Duke of Florence[edit]

Medici coat of arms

In 1529, Clement made peace with Charles, and in 1530, following a lengthy siege of Florence supported by Imperial troops, Alessandro was named the city's ruler.[1] Clement chose him for the position over Ippolito, who was made a cardinal. Alessandro arrived in Florence to begin his rule on 5 July 1531, and nine months later was made hereditary Duke of Florence by Charles, as Tuscany lay outside the Papal States. This signaled the end of the Florentine Republic, and the start of over 200 years of Medici monarchy. [17][18]

While Clement lived, Duke Alessandro ruled Florence "with the advice of elected councils, trying to calm the nerves of the defeated republicans"; however, as his reign progressed, he began to exhibit authoritarian tendencies.[19]

Duke Alessandro's many enemies among the Florentine exiles declared that his rule was harsh, depraved and incompetent, an assessment debated by historians.[20] In 1535, the Florentine opposition sent Duke Alessandro's cousin Ippolito to Emperor Charles V to lodge a protest against him; however, Ippolito died en route. Rumors spread that he was poisoned by orders of Duke Alessandro.[21] In reply to the exiles complaints, Francesco Guicciardini famously said to Emperor Charles, "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". [22] In 1536, Duke Alessandro married Charles's daughter, Margaret of Austria. [23] For his own inclinations, 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.[24]


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

In 1537 Duke Alessandro's close friend and distant cousin Lorenzino de' Medici, nicknamed "Lorenzaccio" ("bad Lorenzo"), assassinated him. [25] The event is the subject of Alfred de Musset's play Lorenzaccio. [26]

On the Night of Epiphany, Lorenzino entrapped Duke Alessandro through the ruse of a promised sexual liaison with a beautiful widow named Laudomia. [27] As Duke Alessandro waited alone and unarmed, Lorenzino and a hired assassin, 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." [28] [29]

For fear of starting an uprising if news of his death got out, Medici officials wrapped Duke Alessandro's corpse in a carpet and secretly carried it to the cemetery of San Lorenzo, where it was hurriedly buried. [30]

In Valladolid Spain, at the imperial court of Charles V, a solemn funeral was held for Duke Alessandro.[31]

Lorenzino, in a declaration published later, said that he had killed Alessandro to preserve the Florentine Republic. 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. [32] Florence's Medici supporters - called Palleschi from the balls on the Medici arms - ensured that power then passed to Cosimo I de' Medici, the first of the "junior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence.[1]

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


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ A. London Fell (September 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ George L. Williams (January 2004). Papal Genealogy: The Families And Descendants Of The Popes. McFarland. pp. 74–. ISBN 978-0-7864-2071-1. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. ^ Hibbert 1999, p. 236.
  6. ^ Rogers, J. A., World's Great Men of Color, Volume 2, p. 31 (Touchstone, 1996), ISBN 0684815826
  7. ^ Caroline P. Murphy, Murder of a Medici Princess, p. 9 (Oxford University Press, 2008), ISBN 978-0-19-531439-7
  8. ^ Jean Nestor, Histoire des hommes illustres de la maison de Medici, 1564.
  9. ^ *Bedini, Silvano A. (1997). The Pope's Elephant. Manchester: Carcanet Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-85754-277-6..
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Hibbert 1999, pp. 250–252.
  18. ^ Schevill 1936, pp. 482, 513–514.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Fletcher, Catherine (2020). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190092146.
  21. ^ Hibbert 1999, p. 254.
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Langdon, Gabrielle (2006). Medici Women: Portraits of Power, Love, and Betrayal. University of Toronto Press, p. 233. ISBN 0-8020-3825-5
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Fletcher, Catherine (2020). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190092146.
  30. ^ Fletcher, Catherine (2020). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190092146.
  31. ^ 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. 161–166. ISBN 978-84-8448-521-6.
  32. ^


  • Hibbert, Christopher (1999). The House of Medici, Its Rise and Fall.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Schevill, Ferdinand (1936). History of Florence.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • 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.
  • Fletcher, Catherine (2016). The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici.

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
Preceded by
new office
Duke of Florence
Succeeded by
Cosimo I