Pazzi conspiracy

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Portrait of Giuliano de 'Medici by Sandro Botticelli late 15th century.

The Pazzi conspiracy was an agreement not only within the Florentine patriciate to overthrow the ruling Medici family as de facto rulers of Tuscany through the murder of their head Lorenzo il Magnifico and his brother and co-regent Giuliano di Piero de 'Medici . The Medici were to be replaced by Francesco de 'Pazzi and Girolamo Riario , a nephew of the then Pope Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere). The assassination attempt was carried out on April 26, 1478 , but only Giuliano de 'Medici fell victim to it.

Political situation

The Pazzi family was not the originator of the conspiracy; this role belongs to the Salviati , the papal bankers in Florence. Pope Sixtus was an enemy of the Medici; he had gained control of the fortress Imola on the border between Tuscany and the Papal States, which Lorenzo wanted in turn for Florence. The acquisition was financed by the Pazzi Bank, although Francesco de 'Pazzi had promised Lorenzo not to support the Pope. In return, Sixtus had promised the Pazzi the monopoly for the alum mines of Tolfa - alum was an important pickling agent in textile dyeing, which in turn was an important part of the textile trade and thus the Florentine economy; in addition, he had granted the Pazzi Bank lucrative rights to papal asset management. Sixtus appointed his nephew Girolamo Riario as governor in Imola and Francesco Salviati as archbishop of Pisa , a former economic competitor and now subordinate of Florence. Lorenzo in turn ordered Pisa to lock Salviati out of his bishopric.

The Conspiracy

Salviati and Francesco de 'Pazzi came up with the plan for the murder of Lorenzo and Giuliano. Riario himself stayed in Rome . The plan was widely known, the Pope is said to have said: “I support it - as long as no one is killed.” In 2004, Marcello Simonetta, a historian at Wesleyan University in Connecticut , found and deciphered an encrypted letter in the archives of the Ubaldini family . He revealed that Federico da Montefeltro , Duke of Urbino , a papal condottiere , was deeply involved in the conspiracy: he had promised to deploy 600 soldiers outside Florence to wait for the appropriate moment to intervene.

The attack

On April 26, 1478, Easter Sunday , during high mass in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore , Giuliano de 'Medici was stabbed by a group, including a priest; he bled to death on the cathedral floor while his brother Lorenzo escaped wounded and was locked in the sacristy by the humanist Angelo Poliziano . The attempt to occupy the office of Gonfaloniere and Signoria was foiled when the archbishop and the head of the Salviati family were trapped in a room whose doors had hidden bolts. The coup failed.

Stand trial to the conspirators

Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli is hanged on December 29, 1479 (sketch by Leonardo da Vinci )

The enraged Florentines killed whatever conspirators they could seize. Jacopo de 'Pazzi was pushed out of a window, picked up by the crowd, pushed naked through the streets of the city and thrown into the Arno . The Pazzi family were stripped of their Florentine possessions and all traces of their names were erased. Salviati, although Archbishop, was hanged on the walls of the Palazzo della Signoria . Although Lorenzo appealed to the crowd, in addition to the conspirators, many who were only accused of conspiracy were killed. Lorenzo managed to save Cardinal Raffaele Riario , a nephew of the Pope who almost certainly had nothing to do with the conspiracy, as well as two relatives of the conspirators. Those involved were chased across Italy. However, further punishments that Lorenzo is said to have ordered (including allegedly hundreds of executions ) have not been historically recorded.


As a result of the so-called Pazzi conspiracy, Florence was placed under Interdictum by the Pope for the killing of the archbishop , so that reading of mass and communion was forbidden. Sixtus obliged the Pope's traditional military arm to attack the King of Naples , Ferdinand I (Ferrante), Florence. Receiving no help from his usual allies, Bologna and Milan , Lorenzo was forced to use skilled diplomacy to save himself through the day. He sailed for Naples and fell into the hands of Ferrante, who held him prisoner for three months before he set him free with presents. Lorenzo's courage and his Machiavellian realpolitik showed Ferrante what the Pope would do if he were too successful on his campaign in the north.



"Pazzo" (plural "pazzi") means "crazy" in Italian. Because of the similarity of the words, it is often claimed that the Italian word for "crazy" goes back to the Pazzi family in Florence. However, this is not the case.


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