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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Ruin of Florence and its Republic: 1530
By Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842)
 
From ‘A History of the Italian Republics’

A PERIOD of three centuries of weakness, humiliation, and suffering in Italy began in the year 1530: from that time she was always oppressed by foreigners, and enervated and corrupted by her masters. These last reproached her with the vices of which they were themselves the authors. After having reduced her to the impossibility of resisting, they accused her of cowardice when she submitted, and of rebellion when she made efforts to vindicate herself. The Italians, during this long period of slavery, were agitated with the desire of becoming once more a nation: as, however, they had lost the direction of their own affairs, they ceased to have any history which could be called theirs; their misfortunes have become but episodes in the histories of other nations. We should not, however, look upon the task we have imposed on ourselves as concluded, if we did not distinguish amidst this general subjugation, the particular calamities which closed the existence of the republics which still remained independent after the coronation of Charles V.  1
  The Florentines, who from 1512 had been victims of all the faults of Leo X. and Clement VII.,—who had been drawn into all the oscillations of their policy, and called upon to make prodigious sacrifices of money for projects with which they had not even been made acquainted,—were taught under these popes to detest the yoke of the Medici. When the Constable of Bourbon approached their walls in his march to Rome, on the 26th of April, 1527, they were on the point of recovering their liberty: the Cardinal de Cortona, who commanded for the Pope at Florence, had distributed arms among the citizens for their defense, and they determined to employ them for their liberation; but the terror which this army of brigands inspired did the cardinal the service of repressing insurrection. When, however, they heard soon after of the taking of Rome, and of the captivity of the Pope, all the most notable citizens presented themselves in their civic dress to the Cardinal de Cortona; declared firmly, but with calmness, that they were henceforth free; and compelled him, with the two bastard Medici whom he brought up, to quit the city. It was on the 17th of May, 1527, that the lieutenant of Clement obeyed; and the constitution, such as it existed in 1512, with its grand council, was restored without change, except that the office of gonfalonier was declared annual. The first person invested with this charge was Nicolo Capponi, a man enthusiastic in religion and moderate in politics: he was the son of Pietro Capponi, who had braved Charles VIII. In 1529 he was succeeded by Baldassare Carducci, whose character was more energetic and opinions more democratic. Carducci was succeeded in 1530 by Raffaele Girolami, who witnessed the end of the republic.  2
  Florence, during the whole period of its glory and power, had neglected the arts of war: it reckoned for its defense on the adventurers whom its wealth could summon from all parts to its service; and set but little value on a courage which men without any other virtue were so eager to sell to the highest bidder. Since the transalpine nations had begun to subdue Italy to their tyranny, these hireling arms sufficed no longer for the public safety. Statesmen began to see the necessity of giving the republic a protection within itself. Machiavelli, who died on the 22d of June, 1527, six weeks after the restoration of the popular government, had been long engaged in persuading his fellow-citizens of the necessity of awakening a military spirit in the people: it was he who caused the country militia, named l’ordinanza, to be formed into regiments. A body of mercenaries, organized by Giovanni de’ Medici, a distant kinsman of the Pope’s, served at the time as a military school for the Tuscans, among whom alone the corps had been raised: it acquired a high reputation under the name of bande nere. No infantry equaled it in courage and intelligence. Five thousand of these warriors served under Lautrec in the kingdom of Naples, where they almost all perished. When, towards the end of the year 1528, the Florentines perceived that their situation became more and more critical, they formed among those who enjoyed the greatest privileges in their country two bodies of militia, which displayed the utmost valor for its defense. The first, consisting of three hundred young men of noble families, undertook the guard of the palace, and the support of the constitution; the second, of four thousand soldiers drawn only from among families having a right to sit in the council-general, were called the civic militia: both soon found opportunities of proving that generosity and patriotism suffice to create, in a very short period, the best soldiers. The illustrious Michael Angelo was charged to superintend the fortifications of Florence: they were completed in the month of April 1529. Lastly, the ten commissioners of war chose for the command of the city Malatesta Baglioni of Perugia, who was recommended to them as much for his hatred of the Medici, who had unjustly put his father to death, as for his reputation for valor and military talent.  3
  Clement VII. sent against Florence, his native country, that very Prince of Orange, the successor of Bourbon, who had made him prisoner at Rome; and with him that very army of robbers which had overwhelmed the Holy See and its subjects with misery and every outrage. This army entered Tuscany in the month of September 1529, and took possession of Cortona, Arezzo, and all the upper Val d’Arno. On the 14th of October the Prince of Orange encamped in the plain of Ripoli, at the foot of the walls of Florence; and towards the end of December, Ferdinand de Gonzaga led on the right bank of the Arno another imperial army, composed of 20,000 Spaniards and Germans, which occupied without resistance Pistoia and Prato. Notwithstanding the immense superiority of their forces, the imperialists did not attempt to make a breach in the walls of Florence: they resolved to make themselves masters of the city by blockade. The Florentines, on the contrary, animated by preachers who inherited the zeal of Savonarola, and who united liberty with religion as an object of their worship, were eager for battle: they made frequent attacks on the whole line of their enemies, led in turns by Malatesta Baglioni and Stefano Colonna. They made nightly sallies, covered with white shirts to distinguish each other in the dark, and successively surprised the posts of the imperialists; but the slight advantages thus obtained could not disguise the growing danger of the republic. France had abandoned them to their enemies; there remained not one ally either in Italy or the rest of Europe; while the army of the Pope and Emperor comprehended all the survivors of those soldiers who had so long been the terror of Italy by their courage and ferocity, and whose warlike ardor was now redoubled by the hope of the approaching pillage of the richest city in the West.  4
  The Florentines had one solitary chance of deliverance. Francesco Ferrucci, one of their citizens, who had learned the art of war in the bande nere, and joined to a mind full of resources an unconquerable intrepidity and an ardent patriotism, was not shut up within the walls of Florence: he had been named commissary general, with unlimited power over all that remained without the capital. Ferrucci was at first engaged in conveying provisions from Empoli to Florence; he afterwards took Volterra from the imperialists: and having formed a small army, proposed to the signoria to seduce all the adventurers and brigands from the imperial army, by promising them another pillage of the pontifical court; and succeeding in that, to march at their head on Rome, frighten Clement, and force him to grant peace to their country. The signoria rejected this plan as too daring. Ferrucci then formed a second, which was little less bold. He departed from Volterra; made the tour of Tuscany, which the imperial troops traversed in every direction; collected at Leghorn, Pisa, the Val di Nievole, and in the mountains of Pistoia, every soldier, every man of courage, still devoted to the republic; and after having thus increased his army, he intended to fall on the imperial camp before Florence, and force the Prince of Orange, who began to feel the want of money, to raise the siege. Ferrucci, with an intrepidity equal to his skill, led his little troop from the 14th of July to the 2d of August, 1530, through numerous bodies of imperialists, who preceded, followed, and surrounded him on all sides, as far as Gavinana, four miles from San Marcello, in the mountains of Pistoia. He entered that village about midday on the 2d of August, with 3,000 infantry and 500 cavalry. The Prince of Orange at the same time entered by another gate, with a part of the army which besieged Florence. The different corps which had on every side harassed Ferrucci in his march poured in upon him from all quarters: the battle instantly began, and was fought with relentless fury within the walls of Gavinana. Philibert de Challon, Prince of Orange, in whom that house became extinct, was killed by a double shot, and his corps put to flight; but other bands of imperialists successively arrived, and continually renewed the attack on a small force exhausted with fatigue: 2,000 Florentines were already stretched on the field of battle, when Ferrucci, pierced with several mortal wounds, was borne bleeding to the presence of his personal enemy, Fabrizio Maramaldi, a Calabrese, who commanded the light cavalry of the Emperor. The Calabrese stabbed him several times in his rage, while Ferrucci calmly said, “Thou wouldst kill a dead man!” The republic perished with him.  5
  When news of the disaster at Gavinana reached Florence, the consternation was extreme. Baglioni, who for some days had been in treaty with the Prince of Orange, and who was accused of having given him notice of the project of Ferrucci, declared that a longer resistance was impossible; and that he was determined to save an imprudent city, which seemed bent upon its own ruin. On the 8th of August he opened the bastion, in which he was stationed, to an imperial captain, and planted his artillery so as to command the town. The citizens, in consternation, abandoned the defense of the walls, to employ themselves in concealing their valuable effects in the churches; and the signoria acquainted Ferdinand de Gonzaga, who had succeeded the Prince of Orange in the command of the army, that they were ready to capitulate. The terms granted (on the 12th of August, 1530) were less rigorous than the Florentines might have apprehended. They were to pay a gratuity of 80,000 florins to the army which besieged them, and to recall the Medici. In return, a complete amnesty was to be granted to all who had acted against that family, the Pope, or the Emperor. But Clement had no intention of observing any of the engagements contracted in his name. On the 20th of August he caused the parliament, in the name of the sovereign people, to create a balia, which was to execute the vengeance of which he would not himself take the responsibility: he subjected to the torture, and afterwards punished with exile or death, by means of this balia, all the patriots who had signalized themselves by their zeal for liberty. In the first month one hundred and fifty illustrious citizens were banished; before the end of the year there were more than one thousand sufferers: every Florentine family, even among those most devoted to the Medici, had some one member among the proscribed.  6
 
 
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