Commynes, Philippe de: Florence and the Medici


From: James Harvey Robinson Readings in European History, The Atheneum Press, Boston, 1906

SOMETHING MUST NOW be said of the Florentines, who sent two embassies to the king of France before his setting out upon this expedition; but their design was only to dissemble with him. … Our demands were only that they should grant us passage for our troops, and furnish us an hundred men at arms, to be paid by them after the Italian rate (which is but ten thousand ducats a year).

The ambassadors replied according to the instructions that were given them by Piero de’ Medici, a young man of no extraordinary parts, son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, lately deceased, who had been one of the wisest men of his time, had governed the city almost as a prince. and left it to his son. Their house had already existed two generations, during the lives of Piero, the father of this Lorenzo, and of Cosimo, who founded it, a man worthy to be reckoned among the chief of that age. Indeed, in their profession, which was merchandising, I think this family was the greatest that ever was in the world; for their agents had so much reputation on account of this name of Medici that the effect of it in England and Flanders, as I have myself seen, is scarce credible.

I saw one of their agents, Gerard Canisiani, who kept King Edward IV upon his throne, almost upon his own credit, during the time of the great civil wars in that kingdom; for he furnished the king at different times with more than six-score thousand crowns, -little to his master’s advantage, though in the end he got his money back again. I knew also another, named Thomas Portinari, who was security between King Edward and Charles, duke of Burgundy, for fifty thousand crowns, and at another time for eighty thousand. I cannot commend merchants for acting thus;, but it is highly commendable in a prince to be punctual with them, and keep his promise exactly; for he knows not how soon he may want their assistance, and certainly a little money sometimes does great service.

This family of Medici seem already to be in declining condition -as happens in all kingdoms and governments- for the authority of his predecessors has been hurtful to Piero, though indeed Cosimo, the first of the family, was mild and gentle in his administration, and behaved himself as he ought in a free city.

Lorenzo, the father of that Piero of whom we are now speaking, upon occasion of the difference, mentioned in a former part of this book, betwixt him and the Pisans, in which several of them were hanged, had a guard of twenty soldiers assigned him, for the security of his person, by an order from the city council, which at that time did whatever he commanded. However, he governed very moderately; for, as I said before, he was a wise man.

His son Pierro, on the contrary, thought that a guard was his due, and, what is more, he employed it to the terror and vexation of his people, committing great injuries and insolence by night, and invading the common treasure. His father had indeed done this before him; but he managed it so prudently that the people were almost satisfied with his proceedings…

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