When we think of bankers today, we usually think of stodgy men in business suits and carrying briefcases. In Renaissance Florence, however, banking could be a much more dangerous profession. On April 26, 1478, the Pazzi family, a prominent banking and political family in Florence, arranged for a brutal and fatal assault on their most powerful rivals in business and politics – the brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici.
By the date of the assault, Lorenzo had been Lord of Florence for just shy of a decade and held the city-state in the iron grip of his family. A very controversial figure, Lorenzo had helped to build Florence from a relatively provincial power to a world leader in banking and the arts. The Medici family was renowned for its patronage of famous artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli. However, they were also thoroughly despised by many Florentines. A once proud republic, Florence had been reduced to a de facto dictatorship under Lorenzo’s rule.
The Pazzi family, though still quite prosperous in banking, had seen better days by the Spring of 1478. They had given up their noble titles long ago to be able to participate in Florence’s republican experiment. Instead of holding political sway, they found themselves under the thumbs of their business rivals – the Medici. This was an unbearable situation.
On that fateful Sunday morning, in the Duomo, the Cathedral of Florence, the Pazzi assailants attacked the brothers as they sat at High Mass. Giuliano was stabbed numerous times and lay dying in a pool of blood on the cathedral floor. A seriously wounded Lorenzo was able to escape with the aid of his men and was hidden in the sacristy of the church.
Most of the conspirators were immediately caught and, instead of being exiled, as was the traditional punishment for such a crime, especially when committed by influential families, were summarily executed. Five of the murderers were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signora, now known as the Palazzo Vecchio overlooking the main square of Florence. As a result of this attack and the death of his brother, Lorenzo was able to consolidate his power even more and Florence was to be under Medici domination for the rest of the great man’s life.
A few years ago, the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, did an outstanding episode on the Pazzi Conspiracy. Check it out on their site!