Following the Sack of Rome it had seemed that control of Florence would again escape the hands of the Medici, for the city had chosen almighty God its king and declared itself "Republic-city". But after less than three years Charles V of Spain brought the short-lived republic a duke, the bastard Alessandro, pephaps the illegitimate son of the pope when Clement was a cardinal. It was said that his mother was a negro or mulatto, a supposition born out by the pronounced, negroid features of the young Alessandro, which gave him his nickname "the Moor".
He was assassinated in January 1537 and, since, the principal branch of the Medici family, the Cafaggiolo, terminated the protagonists in the changing fortunes of the family and their struggle for power after Florence would be, henceforth, the cadet branch of the Medici, the "Popolani", descended from Lorenzo, the brother of Cosimo the Elder, who was nicknamed "Popolano" becouse of his undisguised sympathy for democracy.
The most outstanding of the Popolani was the son of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and Maria Salviati, Cosimo, who at this time preparing to assume control of the city. Cosimo was the first true duke of Florence, later created grand duke, by Pope Pio V, and it was he who laid the foundations of the Medicean principality that was to continue without interruption for the next two centuries. Cosimo extended his dominion to the whole of Tuscany; in April 1555, after a ruthless siege, he subdued his most implacable enemy, the Republic of Siena and when in 1559 Montalcino also surrended to him, his campaign was complete and Tuscany had become a single unified state.
His military conquests over, Cosimo proved his true greatness in his peacetime achievements. At his instigation work was begun on the construction of the port of Livorno (Leghorn); methods of agricolture were improved by the use of the most modern equipment then available; the country areas were repopulated, and even in the Maremma region redevelopment projects were attempted. New works of art and architecture enriched the cities of Tuscany, and not just Florence, the capital.
The Duchy of Florence became a Granduchy, by order of the emperor, and Cosimo established his absolute despotic control over the entire region: He was anything but a democrat and showed this most clearly by trasferring his court from the Medici palace on via Larga to Palazzo Vecchio, which had been since earliest medieval times the center of civic power. In 1539 he married Eleonora, the daughter of the viceroy of Naples, Don Pedro of Toledo who gave him a lot of children.
Chapter 5 - FRANCESCO I
Family Portrait: The Medici of Florence (back to index...)