Pazzi conspiracy

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Pazzi Conspiracy
Bronze medal with a portrait of Lorenzo and a depiction of the assassination attempt in the Duomo
Commemorative medal by Bertoldo di Giovanni, 1478, showing the assassination attempt (Staatliche Münzsammlung, Munich)
Native name Congiura dei Pazzi
Date 26 April 1478
Location Duomo of Florence
Also known as Pazzi Plot
Type Assassination attempt
Organised by
  • Giovan Battista da Montesecco
  • Antonio Maffei
  • Stefano da Bagnone
  • Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli
  • Jacopo di Poggio Bracciolini
Outcome partial failure
Convictions about 80
Penalty execution
1479 drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of hanged Pazzi conspirator Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli

The Pazzi conspiracy was a plot by members of the Pazzi family and others to displace the de' Medici family as rulers of Renaissance Florence. On 26 April 1478 there was an attempt to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici and his brother Giuliano de' Medici. Lorenzo was wounded but survived; Giuliano was killed. The failure of the plot served to strengthen the position of the de' Medici. The Pazzi were banished from Florence.

The conspiracy[edit]


Francesco della Rovere, who came from a poor family in Liguria, was elected pope in 1471. As Sixtus IV he was both wealthy and powerful, and at once set about giving power and wealth to his nephews of the della Rovere and Riario families. Within months, he had made Giuliano della Rovere (the future pope Julius II) and Pietro Riario both cardinals and bishops; four other nephews were also made cardinals.[1]:252[2]:128 He made Giovanni della Rovere, who was not a priest, prefect of Rome, and arranged for him to marry into the da Montefeltro family, dukes of Urbino. For Girolamo Riario, also a layman, – and who may in fact have been his son rather than his nephew – he arranged to buy Imola, a small town in Romagna, with the aim of establishing a new papal state in that area.[1]:252[2]:128

Imola lay on the trade route between Florence and Venice. Lorenzo de' Medici had arranged in May 1473 to buy it from Galeazzo Maria Sforza, the duke of Milan, for 100,000 fiorini d'oro, but Sforza subsequently agreed to sell it instead to Sixtus for 40,000 ducats, provided that his illegitimate daughter Caterina Sforza was married to Girolamo Riario.[1]:253

The Pazzi family were not the only instigators of the plot. The Salviati, Papal bankers in Florence, were at the centre of the conspiracy. Pope Sixtus IV was an enemy of the Medici. He had purchased from Milan the lordship of Imola, a stronghold on the border between Papal and Tuscan territory that Lorenzo de' Medici wanted for Florence. The purchase was financed by the Pazzi bank, even though Francesco de' Pazzi had promised Lorenzo they would not aid the Pope. As a reward, Sixtus IV assigned to the Pazzi bank lucrative rights to manage Papal revenues. Sixtus IV appointed his nephew, Girolamo Riario, as the new governor of Imola, and Francesco Salviati as archbishop of Pisa, a city that was a former commercial rival but now subject to Florence. Lorenzo had refused to permit Salviati to enter Pisa because of the challenge such an ecclesiastical position offered to his own government in Florence.

The plot[edit]

Girolamo Riario, Francesco Salviati and Francesco de' Pazzi put together a plan to assassinate Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici. Pope Sixtus was approached for his support. He made a very carefully worded statement in which he said that in the terms of his holy office he was unable to sanction killing. He made it clear that it would be of great benefit to the papacy to have the Medici removed from their position of power in Florence, and that he would deal kindly with anyone who did this. He instructed the men to do what they deemed necessary to achieve this aim, and said that he would give them whatever support he could.[1]:254 An encrypted letter in the archives of the Ubaldini family, discovered and decoded in 2004, reveals that Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, a renowned humanist and condottiere for the Papacy, was deeply embroiled in the conspiracy and had committed himself to position 600 troops outside Florence, waiting for the moment.[3]


On Sunday, 26 April 1478, during High Mass at the Duomo before a crowd of 10,000, the Medici brothers were assaulted. Giuliano de' Medici was stabbed 19 times by Bernardo Bandi and Francesco de' Pazzi. As he bled to death on the cathedral floor, his brother Lorenzo escaped with serious, but non life-threatening wounds. Lorenzo was locked safely in the sacristy by Angelo Poliziano. A coordinated attempt to capture the Gonfaloniere and Signoria was thwarted when the archbishop and head of the Salviati clan were trapped in a room where the doors were held by a hidden latch. The coup d'état had failed.

Most of the conspirators were soon caught and summarily executed; five, including Francesco de' Pazzi and Salviati, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria.[2]:140 Jacopo de' Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back. He was tortured, then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. He was buried at Santa Croce, but the body was dug up and thrown into a ditch. It was then dragged through the streets and propped up at the door of Palazzo Pazzi, where the rotting head was mockingly used as a door-knocker. From there it was thrown into the Arno; children fished it out and hung it from a willow tree, flogged it, and then threw it back into the river.[2]:141 Although Lorenzo appealed to the crowd not to exact summary justice, many of the conspirators, as well as many people accused of being conspirators, were killed. Lorenzo did manage to save the nephew of Sixtus IV, Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was almost certainly an innocent dupe of the conspirators, as well as two relatives of the conspirators. The main conspirators were hunted down throughout Italy. Between 26 April, the day of the attack, and 20 October 1478, a total of eighty people were executed.[4]:456 Baroncelli, who had managed to escape to Constantinople, was returned in fetters by the Sultan and was executed in the Bargello[2]:142 in 1479.[2]:142 There were three further executions on 6 June 1481.[4]:456

The Pazzi were banished from Florence, and their lands and property confiscated. Their name and their coat of arms were perpetually suppressed. The name was erased from public registers, and all buildings and streets carrying it were renamed. Their shield with its dolphins was everywhere obliterated. Anyone named Pazzi had to take a new name; anyone married to a Pazzi was barred from public office.[2]:142 Guglielmo de' Pazzi, husband of Lorenzo's sister Bianca, was merely placed under house arrest.[2]:141


In the aftermath of the "Pazzi" conspiracy, Pope Sixtus IV placed Florence under interdict, forbidding Mass and communion, for the execution of the Salviati archbishop. Sixtus enlisted the traditional Papal military arm, the King of Naples, Ferdinand I (also called Don Ferrante), to attack Florence. With no help coming from Florence's traditional allies in Bologna and Milan, Lorenzo was faced with dire prospects and adopted an unorthodox course of action: he sailed to Naples and put himself in the hands of the King Don Ferrante, in whose custody he remained for three months. Lorenzo's courage and charisma convinced Ferrante to support Lorenzo's attempts at brokering a peace and intercede, albeit ineffectually, with Sixtus IV.[5] The events of the Pazzi conspiracy affected the developments of the Medici regime in two ways: they convinced the supporters of the Medici that a greater concentration of political power was desirable and they strengthened the hand of Lorenzo de' Medici who had demonstrated his keen ability in conducting the foreign affairs of the city. Emboldened, the Medicean party carried out new reforms.[6]:223

In 1494, however, with the overthrow of Piero de' Medici, the Pazzi family, and many other political exiles, returned to Florence to participate in the popular government.

In culture[edit]

The conspirators, Francesco de' Pazzi, Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, Archbishop Salviati, Renato de' Pazzi, Messer Jacopo de' Pazzi, Antonio Maffei and Stefano de Bagnone, were depicted in a painting by Sandro Botticelli on either a wall of the Bargello or a wall of the Dogana, part of the government-complex. The Pope Alexander VI pressured Florence to remove these lifelike pictures, and they were eventually destroyed in 1494 after the overthrow of the Medici.[5]:135

Vittorio Alfieri's play La congiura de' Pazzi (first performance 1787, first published 1789) is a version of the story of the conspiracy, as is the opera I Medici by Ruggero Leoncavallo.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Vincent Cronin (1992 [1967]). The Florentine Renaissance. London: Pimlico. ISBN 0712698744.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Christopher Hibbert (1979 [1974]). The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin. ISBN 0140050906.
  3. ^ Marcello Simonetta, The Montefeltro Conspiracy: A Renaissance Mystery Decoded, Doubleday (2008) ISBN 0385524684
  4. ^ a b Nicholas Scott Baker (2009). For Reasons of State: Political Executions, Republicanism, and the Medici in Florence, 1480-1560. Renaissance Quarterly 62 (2): 444–478. (subscription required).
  5. ^ a b Lauro Martines (2003) April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195176094. pp. 187-196. Tobias Daniels: La congiura dei Pazzi: i documenti del conflitto fra Lorenzo de’ Medici e Sisto IV. Le bolle di scomunica, la “Florentina Synodus”, e la “Dissentio” insorta tra la Santità del Papa e i Fiorentini. Edizione critica e commento, Edifir, Florence 2013, ISBN 978-88-7970-649-0
  6. ^ Nicolai Rubinstein (1997) The government of Florence under the Medici (1434-1494). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Michele Girardi. Medici, I. In: Stanley Sadie (ed.) The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed May 2015. (subscription required).