By Victoria Loucks
The Future of History: An Undergraduate Journal, Vol.2 (2007)
Introduction: Lauro Martines opens his book on the 1478 Pazzi conspiracy, April Blood, with the claim that “no ‘real’ historian had ever written a book on the famous plot to murder the Medici”, and, furthermore, that to do so would carry with it “a strong whiff of sensationalism”. In making this claim, Martines seems to be suggesting that even some five hundred years after the birth of the Pazzi conspiracy, there is still some kind of taboo surrounding the 1478 plot. While this may be something of an exaggeration, there was – at least in 1478 – a degree of sensationalism attached to the attempted murder of Lorenzo de’ Medici and the actual murder of his brother Giuliano. Whether or not the Medici were as widely loved at this time as later historians would suggest, they were widely regarded as pre-eminent in Florentine society. And given the very public nature of the attack, the conspiracy did not and could not have gone unnoticed or un-remarked upon. Had the conspiracy been successful, it would have marked not just the effective end to the house of Medici, but a sharp turn in the path of Florentine history.
The Pazzi conspiracy cannot be seen merely as the perpetration of private revenge, but must instead be viewed as an act of political violence, which it was certainly intended to be. The double murder of the Medici brothers would not have affected the Medici kinship network alone, but the whole city of Florence. The Medici were too public figures, and the plot too politically charged, for the conspiracy not to have touched other branches of Florentine society. That society may not have crumbled had the conspiracy succeeded, but it would have been irremediably changed. This fact was not lost on chroniclers of the era. Indeed, Angelo Poliziano described the conspiracy as an act that “very nearly overthrew the whole Florentine Republic.” In this sense, then, the Pazzi conspiracy did carry with it the decided odour of sensationalism. It attracted immediate attention and commentary, all of which was necessarily partisan and sensationalist. But that attack in the Florence Duomo in 1478 was shocking not just because of its victims, but because of where it took place. To attack and murder one of the Medici brothers would have been sensational enough – but to do so in the cathedral brought an entirely new dimension to the conspiracy. It was no longer a simple attack on the primacy of the house of Medici, but an attack on the sanctity of the cathedral, and, by extension, an attack on God. By placing the action in the cathedral, the violence of the conspiracy was magnified: it was not merely politically-charged homicide, but impious as well.
The Pazzi conspiracy was essentially political, and most contemporary writers recognised that fact. Their primary concern was that fact. Their primary concern was that this was a plot against the Medici, and, by extension, the Florentine government. Although Lorenzo de’ Medici had no official power within the framework of the Florentine republic, he was recognised by many as the de facto ruler of the city – and that the conspiracy targeted him specifically makes this fact rather self-evident. Giuliano, on the other hand, had not even the same tacit power as Lorenzo; but he seems to have been no less important for that. According to Guicciardini, Giulano was perceived to be an “obstacle” to the success of the conspiracy, and “to leave him alive was equivalent to accomplishing nothing, for he was very well liked by the people.” Thus, at least part of the outcry following the failure of the conspiracy was due to popular support for the Medici. They were well-liked, and well-respected, and clearly the Pazzi and their co-conspirators knew it.