Death at the Duomo: The Pazzi Conspiracy

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Katie Lambert: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdey: And I'm Sarah Dowdey. Today, we are starting a new series.

Katie Lambert: A super series, if you will.

Sarah Dowdey: Yep. It's on the Medici, and we're hoping we're going to be able to connect it back around to our series on Elizabeth, specifically through Mary, Queen of Scots.

Katie Lambert: So you can puzzle on that one for a little bit and see if you can figure it out. We're starting today with the Pazzi conspiracy, a dramatic event that shook the city of Florence and also transformed the Medici's most illustrious family member into the man we know: Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Sarah Dowdey: So this is a suggestion from listener Nicollet who really tantalized us with her desecration. She wrote, "This plot consists of conspiracy, murder, betrayal, and a serious dose of retribution."

Katie Lambert: So if you're ready, we're just going to dive right in. Since we'll be spending a lot of time with the Medici family, we wanted to give you a little bit of background. You probably know them as patrons of the arts as well as Machiavellian game players, wealthy bankers, men of the people, but originally, they were Tuscan peasants.

Sarah Dowdey: Despite their later alliances with great royal families and their great wealth, they're not noblemen. They're bourgeois. They come to Florence sometime in the 12th century and make a fortune over the next hundred years. They work their way into becoming one of the city's leading families during a 1340s depression which bankrupts most of the rest of the city's elite.

Katie Lambert: But there are a few lines of powerful Medici. The one that concerns us today rose to power in the late 14th century with Giovanni di Bicci de Medici who inherited 'tis great business of banking and cloth manufacture, silk manufacture. His son is Cosimo who helped politicize the family. Cosimo's grandson is Lorenzo. That's Lorenzo the Magnificent, and he's the guy we're talking about today. So young Lorenzo is not so great at actually running the bank, but he's good at politics, and he's been bred to rule the city of Lorene along with his brother and co-ruler, Giuliano. So Florence is a republic, but the Medici have control over it through the allies and the council, some very wise marriage matches, and some underhanded payoffs as well.

Sarah Dowdey: That's what they're really good at, underhanded payoffs. They're not warriors. They make things happen with bribes, with money. Encyclopedia Britannica and the historian Francesco Guicciardini says that Lorenzo's regime was that of a benevolent tyrant in a constitutional republic. Plus, he's good at keeping bread prices low, having lots of festivals and parties, things that Florentines like.

Katie Lambert: Bread and circuses. That's key.

Sarah Dowdey: He's really good at that. To me, this sounds like an awfully good way to breed resentment among your peers.

Katie Lambert: Sarah, you are oh so very correct. We need to take a look at our conspirators, the people who have such resentment against Lorenzo de Medici. The Pazzi family is a great rival to the Medici family, and they would really like to see them fall, frankly. Lorenzo's been messing with the Pazzi family anyway. There was a woman who was supposed to inherit a great deal of money, and he maneuvered it in such a way that it was actually her cousin and not her that ended up with it.

Sarah Dowdey: And her Pazzi husband.

Katie Lambert: There's some personal stuff in there as well as money stuff.

Sarah Dowdey: So we have Francesco de Pazzi who is plotting a coup against the Medici, against Lorenzo who co-rules with his brother, Giuliano. It's interesting, though. The Pazzi patriarch is not part of this plan, even though we have this thing called the Pazzi conspiracy. The patriarch isn't into it.

Katie Lambert: One of the important Pazzis is not wanting to do this.

Sarah Dowdey: He only agrees to go along with it when he realizes that if they go ahead with the plot, he's going to be implicated regardless, so he might as well join in, try to make it happen.

Katie Lambert: The Pazzi have some very powerful allies, namely Pope Sixtus the Fourth. Since the Pazzi bank has assumed the business affairs of the papacy, this is again another beef the Medici and the Pazzi have together, because the Medici controlled most banking stuff, except for this.

Sarah Dowdey: The pope has his own personal beefs too, along with his nephew, Girolamo Riaro. That has something to do with the fact that this is a pope who has tremendous interest in temporal affairs, and he's trying to consolidate the poor of the papacy. The Medici are not helping very much. In fact, they're thwarting him.

Katie Lambert: Also on the ecclesiastical anti-Medici side, we have Francesco Salviati Riaro who was the archbishop of Pisa, but Lorenzo wouldn't recognize him, so burn, and archbishop.

Sarah Dowdey: Yes. So far we've got the Pazzi family, the pope and his nephew, the archbishop. To bring in one more major conspirator, we have Federico da Montefeltro. You'd recognize him if you saw his picture, the famous dual portrait painted by Piero della Francesca. He's got this ridiculous hooked nose. Just Google his name! You'll find him. He commits 600 troops to this conspiracy effort hoping to bring down Medici control. We should make it clear here that this isn't just a plot against the two Medici brothers, the two co-rulers. To make it actually happen and to really seize control from the Medici family, a whole big thing is going to have to happen.

Katie Lambert: But before these armies can come in and unseat the Medici rule - bum, bum, bum - two men must die. So here's our plot.

Sarah Dowdey: Lorenzo de Medici is a pretty reckless dude considering his powerful position in Florence. One of the few things he agrees to though, to protect his own safety, is that he rarely appears in public with his brother. For this plot to work, both of the brothers need to be attacked and killed at the same time. If you go after one of them and the other gets wind of it, he's going to lock himself up in the Medici palace, and you're not going to see him for the next year. But Pope Sixtus the Fourth, despite being invested in this plot, isn't too keen on anyone being killed. According to a later confession from one of the conspirators who pulls out at the last minute, Giovan Battista, who's the count of Montesecco, who's also a mercenary. Sixtus says, "In no case will I have the death of anyone. It is not my office to cause the death of a man." But he's pope. He's gotta say something like that.

Katie Lambert: At least to have it on record, to make yourself look good.

Sarah Dowdey: But what does he think is going to happen? If you're trying to take down the Medici family, you've got to have the two brothers fall.

Katie Lambert: There will be blood. In the lead up to our Easter of 1478, our conspirators start trickling into Florence one by one. They're going to play it by ear, see if they can contrive some kind of opportunity for them to do what they need to do.

Sarah Dowdey: To bring the brothers together.

Katie Lambert: And kill them, and then seize control of important parts of the state and rally the people to their cause. Lorenzo seems pretty clueless about what's going on. He's not noticing all the strangers that are coming into town because lots of people are coming in for all the Easter festivities, and he's feeling like things might be thawing because his enemies are being really friendly to him.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah, he's welcoming all these men who are secretly plotting to kill him. He's welcomed Montesecco to his home, the mercenary. He's done such a good job. Lorenzo is such a game player that Montesecco is even having second thoughts because he likes him so much. He's invited and welcomed a kinsman of the pope, Raffaele Sansoni Riaro, who's the newest 17-year-old cardinal. We should say this pope was pretty big into nepotism. So maybe things are okay with Sixtus now too. Maybe the papal relations are thawing.

Katie Lambert: And he has entertained arch-conspirator Francesco de Pazzi at his own home for a pre-Easter luncheon, along with the archbishop of Pisa, so he's thinking, "Great. Maybe things are good with Sixtus. Maybe things are okay with the Pazzi. Things are looking up."

Sarah Dowdey: The plotters, though, are decidedly more freaked out than their intended victims. Lorenzo might not really understand what's going on, but the plotters are getting nervous, mainly because - like we said - it's hard to get Giuliano and Lorenzo together. They're scrambling to make it happen. The luncheon would've been pretty good opportunity to assassinate the brothers, except that Giuliano cancels at the last minute because of an eye infection, so the archbishop, trying to quickly stage a second get-together suggests that the Medici brothers show them all their finery at their Florentine mansions.

Katie Lambert: Sarah, you should come see my gold.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah. Lay out all your gold and silk, and I'll come over. So Lorenzo said, "Okay, that sounds like a good plan!" but before it can happen, he goes ahead and invites all the guests, a real gesture of goodwill here, invites them all to attend mass with him the next morning. Here we go. This is our opportunity. Both of the Medici brothers are going to be together at Easter mass. Time for a murder!

Katie Lambert: But Montesecco pulls out saying, "No way am I going to kill someone in church at Easter mass." Just think about that for a second. His replacements are two disgruntled priests. Let's set the scene. We are at the Duomo on Eastern morning. Lorenzo has walked to church arm in arm with Cardinal Raffaele, and he's swept up greeting friends as soon as he arrives and winds up standing about to the right of the alter, and priests with daggers position themselves behind him.

Sarah Dowdey: Giuliano again is a no-show. Remember, he was sick the day before with this eye infection.

Katie Lambert: He should've stuck with the eye infection.

Sarah Dowdey: I know. It could've been a little worse for him. So Francesco de Pazzi and another conspirator, Bernardo Bandini, go to collect him from his home. You've got to wonder what they say to him to make him get out of bed with his eye infection and go to church in the morning, but they convince him. On the walk to the cathedral, Francesco even puts his arm around Giuliano and says, "Your illness seems to have made you fat." He's really checking for armor, Giuliano. If your friend does this to you, beware.

Katie Lambert: Lesson. Please remember. So they arrive at church and Pazzi and Bandini position themes behind him. We've got the priests behind Lorenzo, and we've got Bandini and Pazzi behind Giuliano.

Sarah Dowdey: The Duomo is really chatty and loud. Everybody is having a good time, but everyone gets quiet right at the bell before the elevation of the Host, which is the agreed-upon signal for the conspirators. Right when that happens, the attackers strike. Bandini is the first to strike. He hits Giuliano shouting, "Here, traitor!" Pazzi begins to strike him as he falls, slashing so much that he cuts his own leg. Giuliano sustains 19 wounds.

Katie Lambert: Lorenzo is too far away to see any of this happening to Giuliano, but obviously everyone can hear it. One of the priests grabs Lorenzo before he actually tries to strike. Lorenzo shakes him off, whips around his clack to dodge the blow, and grabs his own sword, although he gets nicked in the neck.

Sarah Dowdey: The Medici friends immediately surround Lorenzo, whisk him off to the sacristy, which is secured by these massive bronze doors. Bandini keeps his head in all the chaos that's starting to happen and pursues Lorenzo knowing that if Lorenzo doesn't die too, this whole thing is not going to work. In his pursuit, he runs through one of Lorenzo's friends with his sword, and he gets to the sacristy right as their bolting the doors to protect Lorenzo. So Bandini flees town. Pazzi, who's hurt, limps home and retreats knowing the whole thing is lost, and probably that he's a dead man. The priests scurry out into the streets and alleyways.

Katie Lambert: The crowd is panicking. Some people are shouting that the dome is falling. We couldn't help thinking of Chicken Little. Lorenzo's friends fear that's he's been poisoned, and Antonio Rudolf actually sucks the wound to try to get the phantom venom out of it. It must've been quite the sight at the church that day.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah. But the murder and the murder attempt at the cathedral are just one piece of this conspiracy. At the same, the archbishop and the Perusian men intend to seize Palazzo Vecchio, which was an important seat of the government. You'd have to have it if you were about to take control of Florence.

Katie Lambert: But the Medici ally, they are suspicious. The archbishop turns out not to be a very smooth talker. They figure something's up. It ends up to be a scuffle snide the palace. The ar chbishop, of course, was supposed to secure the Palazzo Vecchio. We know that hasn't happened. The next part of the plan was for the Pazzi patriarch to come and rally the people, but when he comes riding into the square to join them and rally everyone, no one listens. It's made very clear that the people support the Medici.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah, he's shouting these old cries for Florence, and the people are just shouting cries for the Medici. There's one catch about supporting the Medici. The Medici have to still be alive, and people aren't sure if Lorenzo has survived this attack.

Katie Lambert: But he has. He's been spirited home by an armed guard, and he sends a note to Milan for help. Milan at this point is ruled by a regent whose husband had also been killed in a church. I don't know why everyone is killing people in churches. He appears to the people from his window, appealing for reason, and calmness, but the people want vengeance.

Sarah Dowdey: So we're going to give you a rundown of what happens to some of the major conspirators in the following days. The Perusians, who are locked up in the Palazzo Vecchio, are thrown from the window alive, one by one, and die on the steps.

Katie Lambert: Francesco Pazzi, who is seriously injured, is dragged from his bed, almost torn to pieces in the street, and then hanged naked from the Palazzo Vecchio's window.

Sarah Dowdey: The archbishop is also hanged from the window in his ecclesiastical robes. There's, I guess, an urban legend, kind of, that he bites Francesco de Pazzi on his way down. Wow. I don't know what else to say about that.

Katie Lambert: So we just won't, and we'll move on. There are 70 executions and lynchings over the next few days. Body parts start piling up in front of the Medici house. Lorenzo kind of stands on the sidelines for everybody except his sister's Pazzi husband! He interviews for him.

Sarah Dowdey: Old Pazzi is hunted down, captured, also hanged from the widow. His body is exhumed twice.

Katie Lambert: Exhumation.

Sarah Dowdey: Yeah. Our favorite theme! Kids drag it around the city, and it's eventually throwing into the river.

Katie Lambert: The priests are found hiding in the monetary, and their noses and ears are cut off before they're executed.

Sarah Dowdey: Montesecco, the mercenary who pulled out at the last minute, he cooperates, confesses, and for his pains, gets to be beheaded instead of hanged from the window.

Katie Lambert: Bandini escapes to Constantinople, but that is not far enough. Lorenzo has the sultan send him home where he is also hanged from the window.

Sarah Dowdey: One year later. So, guys, it's pope time. He's really angry, but he can't punish someone for not dying in a plot. That's not a really good way to go after Lorenzo. Also, he's in an awkward position. Basically everybody knows the pope sanctioned this plot, but they can't say it because he is, after all, the pope. So he's looking for a way to punish Lorenzo, and he finds one for the lynching of the archbishop in his ecclesiastical robes, which made it doubly bad, apparently, on a Sunday. The archbishop should've been subject to ecclesiastical courts, not just hanged from the Palazzo window.

Katie Lambert: Biting people no less. Lorenzo's in a tight spot. At first, he says something along the lines of, "Okay. I will give myself to them," but the people take pity on them and say, "No. We love the Medici." So instead, he decides to make this peace gesture to the point by returning his nephew, Cardinal Raffaele, who' been held hostage to maintain his popular support while at the same time, he hopes he'll be appeasing the pope.

Sarah Dowdey: To take the upper hand. The pope, though, is really not grateful about this very nice gesture. Lorenzo is excommunicated the next day, so clearly, Sixtus is really angry about this whole thing.

Katie Lambert: But the pope's problem is with the Medici, and not with Florence and the people of Florence, so he hopes to wear the city down with a war of attrition with his ally, Naples', army.

Sarah Dowdey: Eventually he's hypothesizing the people of Florence will get so tired of the countryside being pillaged and just all the problems of a war that strengths on for two years, that they'll get sick of Lorenzo and decide to stop protecting him.

Katie Lambert: He also wears them down spiritually be placing the city under interdict, which suspends public worship and threatens Florentine souls. There are all kinds of rituals and religious ceremonies that you aren't allowed to perform if you're under interdict.

Sarah Dowdey: It's kind of the equivalent of excommunication, except for a city. But this doesn't work very well because it's not just the Florentine public that support the Medici. The Florentine priests are behind them as well. They say, "No. We're worshiping anyway." Is an important thing for this city and countryside that's about to go into warfare for the next two years, that they have their religious solace.

Katie Lambert: So the war stretch out for two years, as me mentioned. Lorenzo isn't soldier, so he's very good at this. He's all of a sudden got way too much on his plate. He's ruling a city. He's dealing with business affairs, and he misses having his brother and co-ruler around as well. He also starts to nip at the public money funds, which is something that will haunt him later.

Sarah Dowdey: Eventually he realizes enough is enough. He's probably starting to realize that with the threat of plague on Florence and, as we said, two years of this war of attrition, he's probably not going to be able to count on the support of the people much longer. On December 7th, 1479, he decides he'll go to Naples since he's the guy they have a problem with. This is a bold move because the king of Naples is a sadistic guy. But the two of them talk, and they start working out some slow negotiations. I think Ferdinand, the king, is pretty impressed the Lorenzo would have show up. Or at least if not impressed, taken aback by it! Eventually, they come to peace. Lorenzo returns in triumph, and the pope is forced to give up his vendetta without the Army of Naples to support it.

Katie Lambert: So Lorenzo comes out of the Pazzi conspiracy with his worst enemies dead, and the unquestionable support of the Florentine people. His brother Guilliono turned to to have had an illegimate son right before he was killed. Lorenzo raises the boy, Giulio, as his own, and he grows up to become Pope Clement the Seventh.

Sarah Dowdey: So this is the start to our Medici series. It's the event that made the man who kind of makes the family.

Katie Lambert: And look forward to our next episode on Girolamo Savonarola. In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about the papacy, you can come to our home page and look for the article, "How the Papacy Works," at

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