Cosimo I de 'Medici

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Cosimo I (painting by Agnolo Bronzino )
Letter from Cosimo to the humanist Piero Vettori (1549) with his own handwritten signature
Coffin of Cosimo I in the princely chapel

Cosimo I de 'Medici (born June 12, 1519 in Florence ; † April 21, 1574 in the Villa Medici von Castello in Florence) from the Medici family was Duke of Tuscany from 1537 . His father was Giovanni dalle Bande Nere , his mother Maria Salviati . He was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece .

Seizure of power

Cosimo came to power after Alessandro de 'Medici was murdered in 1537 . Alessandro's only male descendant was five-year-old Giulio, an illegitimate son. His uncle, Cardinal Innocenzo Cibo , advocated that he should succeed the Florentine ruler in the hope of exercising power himself. At the city council, however, he could not prevail, and Francesco Guicciardini , Francesco Vettori and other leading citizens favored the choice of Cosimo, a son of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and thus a member of the younger Medici line . He was only seventeen, but ambitious and powerful thanks to the wealth of the Medici. At the time of his accession to the throne, the Florentines considered him to be of no use to young people, interested only in sports and games.

Cosimo was legitimate according to the Imperial Patent successor as Duke and was immediately of Charles V recognized. Contrary to the expectations of his supporters, despite his youth, he did not allow himself to be guided by others, but instead worked to establish himself as an absolute ruler who was little stopped by republican forms.

Battle of Montemurlo

When the exiles heard of Alessandro's death and the election of Cosimo, they saw the opportunity to break the Medici rule quickly. They had received money and promises of help from France and were supported by Filippo Strozzi and Baccio Valori . Strozzi, along with his wealth and power, brought in his son Piero Strozzi , an excellent military man. The exiles gathered their troops at Mirandola , including four thousand infantrymen and three hundred horses and members of the most important Florentine families under the leadership of Bernardo Salviati and Piero Strozzi. They moved to Tuscany towards the end of July 1537.

When Cosimo heard of the advance through his spies, he had Alessandro Vitelli immediately gather the best German, Spanish and Italian infantry troops that were available to him and march against the enemy without hesitation. With 700 selected infantrymen and a troop of 100 riders, who were joined by other Spanish foot soldiers on the way, Vitelli marched against Prato . At dawn on August 1, 1537, he launched a surprise attack on the vanguard of the exiles near Montemurlo , an old Nerli fortress that had been converted into a villa.

After he had put the vanguard to flight, he stormed Montemurlo, where Filippo Strozzi and some of his comrades had fled. After a few hours of desperate resistance, they had to surrender to the overwhelming numbers. The main part of the army had been held up because of heavy rains and the poor condition of the roads in the mountains, and when they heard of the defeat at Montemurlo the army withdrew. Alessandro Vitelli entered Florence victoriously with his prisoners, and Cosimo celebrated his first triumph.


Of the prisoners, who came from important families, four were beheaded on consecutive days in the piazza. After that, the Duke initially suspended the executions. Then Filippo Strozzi's son and nephew and Baccio Valori were beheaded on August 20, 1537 in the courtyard of the Bargello. Now Filippo Strozzi was left, who was being held prisoner in the Fortezza da Basso . He had numerous followers and enjoyed the protection of the French king. Still, Cosimo was only looking for a credible excuse to get rid of his enemy. He had him tried, but despite the torture, Strozzi denied all charges. That is why he was subsequently kept behind bars.

On December 18, 1537, however, he was found dead in the prison cell with a blood-stained sword by his side. On a piece of paper in his cell were Virgil's words exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor (An avenger shall rise from our bones). It was believed that he preferred to commit suicide rather than fall victim to the hangman. However, some historians have suggested that Cosimo had him murdered and thus tried to cover up the crime.


The young prince's massacre of his prisoners cast a lasting shadow over his rule. From then on, however, it was clear that he was pursuing his plans resolutely and without scruples. In 1539 he married the 17-year-old Eleonora of Toledo in San Lorenzo in Florence. He then moved to the Palazzo Vecchio, which he considered safer. In him one saw the incarnation of Machiavelli's princes . Francesco Guicciardini , who exerted a certain influence on Cosimo, had to withdraw from public life and devote himself to his history in his villa in Arcetri . He died there in 1540, and the rumor soon arose that the duke had had him poisoned. This shows how Cosimo has now been assessed. During his reign, 140 men and 6 women went to the scaffold, not counting those who were murdered abroad by Cosimo's people.

He turned the old republican institutions into empty shells. He issued strict edicts against the rebels, in particular through the law called Polverina (after Jacopo Polverini who had proposed it). According to this law, not only the property of an exile but also that of his heirs could be confiscated, even if it had been acquired by them themselves. Cosimo ruled as the independent sovereign of a state, even if his empire was actually small and weak. When the dispute between Charles V and Francis I revived in 1542, he immediately sided with the emperor. He had to give various European rulers, especially Charles V , considerable loans and bribe the ambassadors with bribes. In addition, he waged wars for the expansion of his territory. Since neither his inherited wealth nor the confiscated goods were sufficient for all this, he blackmailed his people with taxes and thus gradually began to weaken his position.

Lucca and Siena

Cosimo harbored a particular grudge against the neighboring republics of Siena and Lucca . Although the former was occupied by Spaniards and the latter was small and insignificant, the free institutions of the republics served as role models for the Florentines who were dissatisfied with the new regime. Francesco Burlamacchi, an ambitious patriot from Lucca, even had plans to reestablish republican governments in all the cities of Tuscany. With the help of the emperor, Cosimo managed to have him sentenced to death.

While Lucca, as an insignificant state, did not develop any ambition to rival Florence, Siena was an old and irreversible enemy of Florence and had always given protection to the Florentine exiles. Now it reluctantly submitted to the Spanish garrison present, and encouraged by French promises, it rose against the occupiers and in 1552 drove the Spaniards out. Cosimo wrote to the emperor asking for permission to attack Siena and for military support.

Since there was no immediate answer, he faked negotiations with Henry II of France , whereupon he received a contingent of German and Spanish troops. Siena was besieged for fifteen months until the heroically defending residents, supported by Piero Strozzi , who was fighting under the French flag, surrendered due to a lack of ammunition and a famine. The honorable surrender conditions were shamelessly broken. Due to the siege and the large number of refugees, the population fell from forty thousand to eight thousand. Some republicans withdrew to Montalcino and held themselves until 1559 as the shadow republic of Siena (Repubblica di Siena riparata in Montalcino).

Cosimo now ruled the city and the territory of Siena in the name of Charles V, who always withheld sole ownership from him. After the emperor's abdication and the successor to Philip II on the Spanish throne, Cosimo finally received Siena and Porto Ferraio in exchange for a claim to 200,000 ducats from Charles V.

Grand Duchy of Tuscany

With the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559, Cosimo also gained power over the area of ​​Montalcino and formed the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, but he continued to rule the new state (i.e. the territory of Siena) separately from the old. His rule was skillful and despotic, but his enormous expenses caused him to raise large sums of money through measures that were unsuitable for the land and the people. From the beginning, the Grand Duchy had the roots of its future decline within itself.

Cosimo often delegated offices to men of lower origin, from whom he expected more docility. But he also loved to be surrounded by a court aristocracy based on the Spanish and French models. Since there was no longer any Tuscan aristocracy, he appointed new nobles and attracted foreigners with various feudal privileges. He founded the order of knights Santo Stefano, which was entrusted with the defense of the coasts against pirates and brought honor to the duke through his heroism. He also set up a small standing army to protect the borders; but generally he used German and Spanish troops for his wars and always had a foreign bodyguard.

At the beginning of his reign he opposed the popes in order to preserve the independence of his own state. However, he later submitted to them in many ways and even handed his own confidante Pietro Carnesecchi over to the Inquisition, who accused him of heresy and beheaded and burned him in 1567.

In return for these signs of submission, the popes showed him their favor. On August 27, 1569, Pius V awarded him the long-awaited title "Grand Duke of Tuscany" in a papal bull and crowned him on February 18, 1570 in Rome, even if the emperor refused to give his consent to the end. It was not until 1575 that the title of Emperor Maximilian II was confirmed to Francesco de 'Medici . This made the Medici family one of the first families in Europe .

The most damaging measure for Tuscany was the tax system, which only aimed to squeeze out as much money as possible. The damage it caused to industry, trade and agriculture was enormous and, together with the damage from the war with Siena, led to ruin. On the other hand, Cosimo also took useful measures for the internal prosperity of the state. He rebuilt the University of Pisa , enlarged the University of Siena and carried out public works such as the Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence. During the great floods of 1557, he campaigned to support those in need.

The last few years

Bronzino : Eleonora di Toledo, around 1545

In 1539 he had married Eleonora of Toledo , the daughter of the Viceroy of Naples from the house of Álvarez de Toledo . In 1562 two of her sons died and soon afterwards their mother too while on a trip to Pisa. It was rumored that one of the boys, Don Garcia, murdered the other and then was killed by the enraged father. Cosimo was further accused of being responsible for the death of his wife, but just like the other claim, this is not supported by anything. It is more likely that all three died of malaria.

Meanwhile he was marked by illness. In 1564 he handed the government over to his eldest son, who initially acted as his lieutenant, so that in an emergency he could have regained power. In 1570 he married the young Camilla Martelli on the advice of Pius V. He died in 1574 at the age of 54 after a reign of 37 years.


Bia de 'Medici
Giovanni de 'Medici

His eldest daughter, Bia, was illegitimate and was born long before the wedding. Cosimo had ten children with Eleonora, to whom he was always loyal. With Camilla he had three more offspring. Most of his children died young. His two sons Francesco and Ferdinando successively succeeded him.


  • Bia (1536-1542)

With Eleonora di Toledo

  • Maria (April 3, 1540 - November 19, 1557)
  • Francesco (March 25, 1541 - October 19, 1587), Grand Duke of Tuscany
  • Isabella (born August 31, 1542 - † July 16, 1576)
  • Giovanni (September 28, 1543 - November 23, 1562), Bishop of Pisa and Cardinal
  • Lucrezia (7 June 1545 - 21 April 1562)
  • Pietro (Pedricco) (born August 10, 1546 - † June 10, 1547)
  • Garzia (July 5, 1547 - December 12, 1562)
  • Antonio (* / † 1548)
  • Ferdinando (July 30, 1549 - February 3, 1609), Grand Duke of Tuscany
  • Anna (* / † 1553)
  • Pietro (June 3, 1554 - April 25, 1604)

With Camilla Martelli

  • Daughter, deceased unbaptized (* / † 1566)
  • Giovanni (1567-1621)
  • Virginia (May 29, 1568 - January 15, 1615) ∞ Cesare d'Este , Duke of Modena


  • Elena Fasano Guarini:  COSIMO I de 'Medici, duca di Firenze, granduca di Toscana. In: Alberto M. Ghisalberti (Ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 30:  Cosattini – Crispolto. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 1984.
  • James Cleugh: The Medici Power and Glory of a European Family. Bechtermünz-Verlag, Augsburg 1996.
  • Michael Roth: Transfer of power out of political calculation. Grand Duke Cosimo I de 'Medici (1519–1574) and his feigned resignation from office, in: Susan Richter (Ed.): Renounced rule. Media staging of princely abdications in early modern Europe, Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2019, pp. 79–138.

Web links

Commons : Cosimo I. de 'Medici  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sheets for literary entertainment : A coronation by the hand of the Pope. Volume 1, p. 330, Leipzig 1853 , accessed on August 26, 2011
predecessor Office successor
Alessandro de Medici Duke of Florence
- Grand Duke of Tuscany
Franz I.