Friday, 30 November 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 6 - The Siege of Forli

Gina Mckee as Caterina Sforza at the Siege of Forli

My last entry on Caterina Sforza was a while ago, and for that I apologise. The Renaissance in general has just taken over my life recently, and in particular the goings on in Florence as well as general Borgia stuff. So today, I thought I would combine Caterina Sforza and my most favourite of Borgia men - Cesare Borgia. Today's post is a rather big jump in time from my last entry which covered the events of 1488, the death of her husband and her holding of the fortress of Ravaldino against the Orsi family. Today we jump forward to 1499, and in particular December of that year, when Cesare Borgia rode into Forli and began to besiege the town.

On 19th December 1499, Cesare Borgia rode into the main square of Forli sat upon a white horse, his men carrying the banner of the Borgia Bull. Borgia had previously been a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church but after the unfortunate and untimely death of his brother Juan in June 1497 he was released from his vows. In 1498 he had travelled to France where he married Charlotte D'Albret and was given the Dukedom of Valentinois, which earned him the nickname of "Valentino". By the time Cesare had reached Forli in December 1499, he had already begun his quest to take over the States of the Romagna. The taking of Imola and Forli was the first step in this, and Imola proved no obstacle to Cesare. He took it without a problem on 11th December before riding to Forli which would prove an obstacle to the Captain General of the Papal armies. Why? Because Caterina Sforza was not going to give up her town without a fight. 

Paz Vega as Caterina Sforza in "Los Borgia"

Yet when Cesare entered the town on 19th December, he was so assured of victory that he rode with his lance at rest, a symbol of the victory he had supposed. He knew that Caterina would hold the castle, but the town proved to be no issue at all. He allowed his soldiers to do as they wished - plundering and raping - he made no effort to stop them despite the pleas from the townspeople, using the excuse that the soldiers were under the control of the King of France so he had no right to try and stop them. Instead, he promised the citizens of Forli that if he survived the upcoming battle with Caterina and her soldiers, he would give them back anything that they had lost due to the looting soldiers. 

But what were the reasons behind Cesare taking these cities? Not only did Cesare want these lands for himself, as a building block for his own principality but the Pope wanted to stamp out the resistance to papal rule. These lands were part of the Papal states and as such their rulers were required to pay an annual tithe to the Papal coffers. Alexander VI began to make out that these rulers hadn't been paying their tithes, and needed sorting out. Add into this an incident which would have turned rather nasty, and it ended up as a recipe for disaster. When Caterina first learnt that Pope Alexander was planning to confiscate her lands, she is said to have sent a messenger to Rome by the name of Tomasino de Forli. Johannes Burchard reported:

"On that evening (that Cesare left Rome), a certain Tomasino of Forli, one of the Pope's musicians, was seized with a companion and taken to the Castel Sant' Angelo where they were both imprisoned. Tomasino had come to Rome with some poisoned letters which he had rolled up in a reed to present to the Pope, on the excuse that they were petitions from the citizens of Forli seeking some reconciliation with His Holiness. Had the pope accepted the letters, he would, after a few days or even hours, with no hope of remedy, have succumbed and died...But the details of the conspiracy came to the pope's ears. On his orders, the two men were arrested and questioned, and they plainly confessed the whole plan."

Probably not Caterina's greatest moment, but she still refused to give up. And she had managed to rebuff Cesare on at least two occasions from the battlements of Ravaldino. On December 27th, having become frustrated by Caterina's refusal to listen to his demands and the growing respect that his troops were gaining for her, he ordered a tunnel be dug under the moat to the castle walls. He then ordered cannon to be placed around the keep of Ravaldino. He had had enough, and he would blast her out if he had to. 

Being given the poisoned letters in "Los Borgia"

On 28th December, Cesare gave the orders to begin bombarding the fortress of Ravaldino. The first phase of bombardment destroyed one of the fortresses defencive towers but Caterina still stood firm. She moved into the main keep and began returning fire, which devastated Cesare's troops and killed his artillery expert Constantino de Bologna. The death of this man really shook the morale of the troops and the french soldiers cried out that their king would give 10,000 ducats to bring Bologna back to life again. In the end, Cesare grew so desperate that he began offering a thousand ducats to any man who could bring him the corpse of Caterina's own artillery expert, or two thousand if the man was brought to him alive.

In a very clever ruse one January morning, a group of men dressed in cloaks came chanting through Cesare's camp. They said they were pilgrims on their way to Rome to celebrate the Holy Year and promised that they would pray for any who let them pass through in safety. The men made their way towards Ravaldino, the drawbridge came down and they went inside, giving Caterina another 40 men to defend the fortress. By now, the situation was getting dire for Cesare - he was waiting for money from his father to pay his troops and had received word that Giovanni Sforza had almost intercepted the chests of money. In response he concentrated all his firepower on the weakest section of the walls, the southernmost edge facing the mountains and he spent two days building trenches and fortifications to make sure he breached the wall. And as soon as the troops who had been inside the city returned from celebrating the feast of the epiphany, the assault began again. He battered the walls of the castle day and night, and slowly the walls began to crumble. But Caterina still held her ground, sending her men to try and repair the breaches as best as they could and worked at destroying the morale of Cesare's troops - even going so far as to paint insults on their own canon balls. But pieces of the walls kept on falling, creating a pathway across the moat.

On January 12th, the pay for his men had arrived and morale had stepped up when he offered incentives to his men if they worked harder to take the fortress. They threw everything they had at the now super weak wall, tearing a massive breach. The debris that fell from the widening hole in the wall made it too difficult for the defenders to repair it, as did well timed and well placed shots from Cesare's own cannon. Following a lunch with his commanders in which he boasted he would soon have Caterina in his hands, he issued an order to take the fortress. And as his men poured into the fortress, no shots greeted them, and the defenders did not even dare to greet Cesare's men head on. They had begun to desert their countess, and one brave man climbed to the top of the fortress to replace Caterina's standard with that of the Borgia bull. Forli now belonged to Cesare Borgia.

But Caterina still would not be beaten. She strode out of her keep and fought side by side with her remaining men. As her commanders fell around her, she fought her way back to the keep and locked the doors behind her. And she began to prepare for a siege. Cesare however, now fully confident of his victory had his trumpet signalled, calling Caterina out to him for the third and final time. He acted concerned, begged her to stop this madness. She replied that if he was so concerned he should show mercy to her townspeople. But before she could say anything more, a hand fell on her shoulders and she was told that she was now a prisoner of the lord of Dijon. She had been betrayed by men who had been inside the walls of her own keep. 

Cesare now bided his time before entering the keep properly, waiting for the last remnants of his enemies to be subdued. But once he entered, the french captain demanded his reward from Cesare for capturing the countess. Cesare ordered that the man be paid 2000 ducats but the captain replied that Cesare had publicly promised 10,000 ducats. The captain then threatened to slice Caterina's throat if the full amount was not paid. Yves D' Allegre also pointed out that under French law no woman could be held as a prisoner of war which was what she would be if she was handed over to the Borgia. Cesare insisted however that she be handed over to him for safe-keeping and promised that she would be kept safe. Once she had been handed over however, Borgia bustled her out of the keep and through the carnage surrounding her castle.

She would then be taken to Rome where she would be held as prisoner but not before, it is said at any rate, Cesare held her in the castle of a local nobleman and raped her. This part of her history, along with her imprisonment in Rome, however is the next part of her story. But for now, the famous Tigress of Forli had been beaten by the Borgia Bull.

Further Reading

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Borgia Season 1

As I sit here this morning, I am feeling rather sorry for myself. For the past two days I've been off work with a nasty sicky bug and so am sat here wrapped up in my PJs with a massive mug of tea. It's not helping much and I feel like I should still be hugging the bowl I was hugging for the entirety of yesterday. Now, I realise that's really too much information but it has a point. As I was curled up on the sofa last night, hugging my bowl and running off to the toilet every so often to make best friends with it, I decided to finish watching Borgia. Before I started watching this series, I will admit I was a little put off by some of the reviews I'd read and the things people told me - "don't watch it Sam, it's really inaccurate", "It has Cesare and Lucrezia incest". I wish I had gone into watching the series with my eyes open as when I started watching it, I really wanted to hate it. However, after a few episodes it really did begin to grow on me and a few episodes after that I really started to enjoy it.

So, Borgia itself is a French/German production that was shown in 2011 on Channel + and stars Mark Ryder as Cesare Borgia, Stanley Weber as Juan Borgia, Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia Borgia and John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia. The story itself is, of course obvious - it is the story of the Borgia family, from Rodrigo Borgia's election to the Papacy in 1492 and onwards (I hope in future series) to the Pope's death and Cesare's own imprisonment and death. When I first began to watch the series I was a little unsure about the casting of the show, and the first thing that really got to me was the huge mix of accents - Rodrigo was American, Cesare was English (with the odd lilt of Irish coming through), Lucrezia German and Juan was French. It was kind of off putting for a while, but a few episodes in I was able to look past it. Other than this though, after a few episodes as well I found myself really liking some of the characters and really hating others - as you would expect in such a television programme. I had exactly the same issue when I watched The Borgias and Los Borgia, and I think when actors manage to make their viewers love the characters or hate them to such an extreme, then they are doing a good job.

Mark Ryder as Cesare

Mark Ryder is the young man playing Cesare Borgia (and I'm allowed to say young because I'm a little bit older than him!) and right from the get go you can really see that Ryder has done his utmost to step into Cesare's shoes and get right into the man's psyche. A consequent conversation with Mark Ryder on twitter the other evening lead to a discussion on books about Cesare which was awesome. Anyway, even in the first episode you can see the extreme emotions that haunt Cesare - one moment he can be having a laugh and the next he can be in a murderous rage, and these extremes get even worse as the series goes on, finishing up in Cesare committing murder right in front of his father and the college of Cardinal's and claiming that his name will echo throughout history and shouting that he is "CESARE BORGIA!" whilst just moments before he had been in floods of tears with his sister. In history, Cesare was well known for these extremes of emotion, I thought that Ryder did a really excellent job of showing this side of Borgia's personality. 

Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia

Lucrezia is played by Isolde Dychauk. The character of Lucrezia in this was one that I started out really disliking, probably because her parts of the story were really quite inaccurate. Saying that though, by the end of the series I had begun to like her - you see Lucrezia go from this innocent young girl to a woman with her own thoughts and minds, to a woman who will do anything to protect her family. Although her story was hugely inaccurate, I really loved how the script showed her change. Plus, when you compare Isolde to the representation of Lucrezia in Pintruccio's murals, they really did a very good job in casting her. 

Marta Gastini as Giulia Farnese

The character of Giulia Farnese is the character who I probably hated the most in the whole series and right from the get go. Played by Marta Gastini, Giulia was shown as a nasty, manipulative little girl who came across as obsessed with keeping Pope Alexander to herself. In all of my reading on the Borgia family, I have come across very little on Giulia but what I did read pointed out that Giulia was actually quite a nice person and friends with Lucrezia. I have also never ready that Giulia used Pantisilea to try and manipulate Lucrezia and gain more love from Rodrigo. However Gastini did a really good job as coming across as nasty and manipulative and even though I despised her character, it takes a really good actress to make a viewer hate them quite that much.

John Bradley as Giovanni de Medici

Cardinal Giovanni de Medici played by John Bradley (Sam Tarley in Game of Thrones). I loved this casting from the outset. Giovanni de Medici was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and made a cardinal in 1492 and was known as a man who loved the pleasures of the table. Top notch casting here, and Bradley is a top notch actor too!

Mark Ryder as Cesare and Stanley Weber as Juan

Played by French actor Stanley Weber, I absolutely despised Juan Borgia in this adaptation. And I really think I was supposed to. Whereas in The Borgias I felt quite sorry for Juan, in Borgia I hated the man with a passion and thought he was the world's biggest derp. And it was awesome. Why? Because in history, Juan Borgia 2nd Duke of Gandia was a massive derp and a bit of a failure. There is no doubt that Cesare was the better man that he, and that if anyone should have been the one in Cardinal's robes, it was Juan. However, the series dealt with Juan's death really very well and (almost) sticks to the facts - you see him ride off in search of further pleasures with another man; and he is never seen again. His horse returns with the saddles cut, and a search begins in earnest. When they find his body floating in the Tiber with 9 stabs wounds and a slit throat, Pope Alexander flies into a paroxysm of grief and investigations begin into who killed Juan. Alright so in history we won't ever know who killed Juan, but historical investigation shows that the most likely candidate was the Orsini family who Juan really managed to piss off. It wasn't likely to have been Cesare but rumours abounded due to the apparent jealousy between the siblings; and whilst I was rather pleased they did not show Cesare offing his brother I was a little shocked that they showed Lucrezia as the guilty party. Still, well done to Weber for getting into the character of Juan and in my opinion, doing a damned good job of it!

John Doman as Rodrigo Borgia and Isolde Dychauk as Lucrezia

The last character I want to discuss in a bit more detail is Rodrigo Borgia/Alexander VI played by John Doman. When I first started watching the series I was a little taken aback by their portrayal of Rodrigo, mainly because of the whole accent thing. But like with many of the other characters, I soon found myself really liking their portrayal of him. He certainly looks a lot more like Pope Alexander than Jeremy Irons (although I adore Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander and he's become affectionately known as "Pope Irons"). Yet again, the extremes of emotion showed by Doman were second to none and I particularly loved his show of grief after the death of Juan - it was so well done that it almost moved me to tears.

The sets during the show were also top notch. I was particularly impressed with their depiction of the Sistine Chapel:

The Sistine Chapel

Having been to the Sistine Chapel I was really rather impressed in the set used here. They even got the ceiling correct, which in 1492 hadn't been worked on my Michelangelo, rather it was painted blue with stars. The detail shown in the chapel was just stupendous. In fact, the majority of the sets were done in such a way right down to the CGI of what Rome would have been like in 1492.

A brilliant CGI rendering of Rome as it would have been in 1492

The old basillica of St Peters, not the one that exists today

Beautiful set pieces

Alessandro Farnese at Orvieto

The churches and chapels were superbly done

Another brilliant CGI rendering of the approach to Rome

The Colosseum

Laocoon and His Sons - this wasn't excavated until much later (and Michelangelo was present) but I thought it interesting they put this in the show. And the copy of this amazing work is second to none!

Whilst the historical accuracy of parts of this series leaves a lot to be desired, I have to say that I am very pleased that they got the chronology of what happened mostly correct. Of course, you need to leave room for dramatic license and I can understand this there were a couple of parts that made me shake my head. First of all, and probably the biggest crunch for me was Cesare leaving his young son on a mountainside to die - dramatic license yes, but I have no idea where the writers got this idea from. Secondly, Cesare being raped by Marc Antonio Colonna. Well done yes, and done for dramatic license but again, I have no idea where they got this from. In my opinion, it added nothing to the story as this never happened. In the same way, although this is a tad more understandable, they have Juan's death in 1493. This actually happened in 1497. I can however understand why they have done this and at least they didn't have it happen after events that Juan was never at anyway. Such as the Siege of Forli which happened in 1498 - although The Borgias had it happen much earlier with Juan at the head of the army. Didn't happen. These little things however are easily able to be overlooked and I am really glad that I decided to watch this show. I was rather disappointed by the make-out session between Cesare and Lucrezia though - although the script makes it clear that this is based on rumours so they might as well prove everyone right. Thankfully it didn't go very far but I was cringing throughout that entire scene (and as you will know I have fought the NO BORGIA INCEST fight for a while, so anything that shows it just makes me go all fhjsdkhfjsdfhsdkfdsk).

Excellent casting, beautiful costumes and a story that tries as best it can to stick to the historiography. I will most definitely be watching Season 2 when it comes out. If you're interested in the Borgia family and looking at watching something on the family for a bit of drama, then I would highly recommend this. It's not perfect of course, but they give it a damned good go. 7/10.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli

I've had this sitting on my shelf for a while and never really gotten around to reading it until now. Honestly, I wish I'd sat down and read it before because this book is an absolute masterpiece. But first a little bit of background. The author of this work is one Niccolo Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat and politician from the fifteenth century, born in 1469 and contemporary to such Renaissance greats as Lorenzo de Medici, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (more on him soon!) and Cesare Borgia. The Prince is a political treatise written by Machiavelli in around 1513 after his imprisonment and torture, which he began when he went into retirement at his farm near San Casciano. Shortly after his retirement here, in around 1520 he was commissioned to write a history of Florence by Cardinal Giovanni de Medici (later Pope Leo X) which was finished in 1525. Machiavelli died shortly after this, after a very brief return to public life, in 1527.

And so to this extraordinary work. I will be clear from the outset, The Prince is certainly not all kittens and rainbows. Far from it. It is in fact an essay on how a Prince should act to gain loyalty and keep it. He lists all the good points that Prince must have to gain his loyalty but then turns around and gives a list of points when a Prince must resort to cruelty to keep said loyalty; and he gives examples of both past and present (at least his contemporary) rulers and princes to back these points up. When this treatise was published (at least in the Penguin Classics version) it includes a letter of dedication to Lorenzo De Medici, aka "Il Magnifico" which states that:

"So, Your Magnificence, take this little gift in the spirit of which I send it; and if you read and consider it diligently, you will discover in it my urgent wish that you reach the eminence that fortune and your other qualities promise you."

When I read the Penguin Classics copy, I wondered how on earth Lorenzo could have dedicated the book to Lorenzo. Lorenzo de Medici when the man died in 1492. This comes across as a printing mistake, and it is more likely that Machiavelli dedicated it to Lorenzo de Piero de Medici, Pope Leo X's nephew and grandson of Lorenzo the Magnifence. 

The book itself, as previously mentioned is his summary of how Princes can gain and keep their power. And the great thing about this book is that Machiavelli bases his treatise on first hand experience. Many of his contemporary examples come from men who he has met in his own life and there is one man who crops up time and time again:

Cesare Borgia.

Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, would have been a well known entity to Machiavelli. During his life time, Machiavelli met and dealt with Cesare on many occasions and, it seems to me at the very least, held a hell of a lot of respect for Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli mentions Cesare at many points during his work and uses his example to justify his points. And throughout his work he makes the point that it is better for a man to be a risk taker to gain popularity, and also that if popularity is not gained then he should be a risk taker to remain respect. Cesare is used throughout the work to make this point.

"I will never fear to cite Cesare Borgia and his actions. The duke entered Romagna with auxiliary arms, leading wholly French troops, and with these he took Imola and Forlì. But, such arms not seeming secure to him, he turned to the mercenary ones, judging that there be less danger in them, and engaged both the Orsini and the Vitelli. Later, managing and finding them doubtful, unfaithful, and dangerous, he extinguished them and turned to his own. And one can easily see the difference between these arms, considering the difference between the duke's reputation, when he had only the French and when he had Orsini and Vitelli, and when he was left with his own soldiers and on his own: and always one will find it increased; never was he so esteemed as when everyone saw that he was the total owner of his arms"

Throughout the book you get constant mentions of Cesare and the method of "criminal virtue" that he used to gain his power. Alas, Machiavelli also mentions that Cesare - despite his brilliant methods of gaining and keeping power (such as taking the towns of the Romagna and taking power easily because the people hating their leaders) - failed because of a few very simple reasons; the death of his father Pope Alexander VI, and his trusting in the new Pope Julius II. Such a shame, had Cesare not trusted in Julis then he could have gone on and ruled the Romagna. Alas, his failure lead to his imprisonment and eventual death.

Of course, Machiavelli doesn't always use Cesare's example. Just most of the time. He also uses examples of other Italian rulers such as Caterina Sforza and also rulers from history - listing in turn what they did right and the methods that made them fall. And as I said earlier, he doesn't make it all kittens and rainbows. Oh no, he is really quite blunt with his conclusions. And for that I love him.

There is one other thing I want to mention before I wrap this review up - Machiavelli's "Prince" really did away with the morality of the time and pretty much gave instructions to those from his own time (and ours) of how to gain absolute power. Because of this, the man came to be thought of an an instrument of the devil. When you hear the phrase "Machiavellian tragedy" from Jacobean drama, this is what it points to - someone who endeavours to take absolute power, and because of this the man (despite his brilliance) was for a very long time regarded as an agent of the devil. Reading it myself however, I wonder why people thought this of him because his work makes a lot of sense to me - he recognised the complicated nature of the political life of the time and realised that life wasn't all kittens and rainbows. Machiavelli certainly was a man before his time, and I defy anyone to read this and reject his statements as his words reflect even to our present life.

The man was a genius, despite his own flaws, and his works should in my opinion be read by every one. It really is a masterpiece and a must read for anyone interest in the political happenings of Renaissance Italy.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Review: Death in Florence by Paul Strathern

I picked this book up on a bit of a whim when I was off sick from work. I'd had a really rough couple of weeks and needed cheering up. Plus, I adore Paul Strathern's work on the Medici and thought his book on Cesare Borgia, Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli was top notch. When I saw this beauty on Amazon for less than a tenner I knew I just had to have it. I have to say that this book has also proven to be a rather excellent bible when it has come to working on my book. But anyway, I digress. I should be reviewing this book and not gushing about how it's been awesome for my own research.

Anyway, from the moment this tome of a book arrived I devoured it. The book, in a nutshell, tells the story of Girolamo Savonarola - right from his early years up until his rather grisly death. Mixed in with that you have the stories of Lorenzo de Medici's death, Piero de Medici's flight from Florence (he never returned) and Charles VIII and his relationship with the Dominican friar. Right from the first sentence I was hooked, Strathern's writing style certainly doesn't fail to disappoint. He writes with an amazing fluidity and tells these most fascinating stories in an exceptional manner yet retaining that academic manner that makes his books so readable. 

What surprised me when I was reading this was how much was going on in the background of Savonarola's life, and how his life was so interconnected with the politics of the day. For instance, Girolamo decided to become a friar at a time when Ferrara was going to war with other Italian states. He also paid exceedingly close attention to Charles VIII of France and his invasion of Italy, even going as far as to meet up with Charles and convince the deformed little man that he would be the scourge of Italy. Sadly, Charles let him down and didn't prove that he would be the "New Cyrus" but Savonarola also kept abreast of political goings on in Florence and also had a close say in the new government after Piero de Medici's flight. And Strathern did a wonderful job of interweaving everything so the story ran smoothly, it was so interesting reading how Savonarola's life and work mixed in with everything else that was going on. It really was such an intricate web of politics at that time that it could have been so easy to make the story dry and boring, but Strathern did a really good job of telling the stories in an engaging manner.

Superbly written and engaging, I don't want to go into too much detail as you really need to read this book to understand that it really is a masterpiece. I'll say it til the cows come home, Paul Strathern is one of my favourite Renaissance historians (next to Christopher Hibbert) and he's just fantastic. Of course his works aren't perfect, but this one is as close to perfect as you can get. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of Renaissance Italy and in particularly, Renaissance Florence.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Pazzi Conspiracy

Giuliano de Medici by Sandro Botticelli

On 26th April 1478 the ruler of Florence Lorenzo de Medici made his way through his city to the grand Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore - more commonly known as The Duomo thanks to the great dome that topped the imposing structure. Lorenzo de Medici, known to almost everyone as Il Magnifico, ruled the city of Florence but not as a king; rather he insisted that he be called a simple citizen of Florence. Despite this though he was involved in the politics of the city, and nothing happened without his say so. Lorenzo himself really did live up to the name of Il Magnifico; he had taken over the reigns of power from his father Piero in 1470 and was a great patron of the arts - so much so that he ended up taking artists under his wing including Leonardo Da Vinci and the brilliant Michelangelo. He also made sure that the city was alive with parties and festivals. Topping this off, Lorenzo himself was an excellent poet, musician and swordsman with a love of philosophy and women - he wasn't exactly the best looking of men, but according to many of his biographers there was something about him that made him attractive to men and women alike. 

Bust of Lorenzo de Medici by Verroccio

The reason for his trip to the Duomo that day was the Easter Sunday service, and hundreds of Florentine citizens also flocked to the great cathedral including possibly a very young Niccolo Machiavelli and his family. Little were these people to know that they were about to watch one of the greatest conspiracies in Florentine history unfold before their very eyes.

Lorenzo's younger brother Giuliano had tried to make his excuses to not attend the service that day. He blamed ill health, and really his excuses should have held some sway as he suffered from a particularly nasty form of sciatica. But two of his friends, Francesco de Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini had insisted he come along and had even gone as far as helping him get out of the house and helping him to walk to the Duomo. What Giuliano did not know was that Francesco and Bernardo had done this deliberately - they had been planning this for months. And the younger Medici should have stayed in bed that day.

What was about to unfold would go down i history as the Pazzi conspiracy. The Pazzi family had long been living under the thumb of the Medici, both were ancient families and both were banking families but the Pazzi had begun to believe that it was about time the Medici were ousted from power, that their own family deserved some of the glory. The plot had originally been hatched in Rome, after Pope Sixtus had asked Lorenzo de Medici for a loan of 40,000 ducats so he could buy the city of Imola for his nephew Girolamo Riaro. Lorenzo had refused - it was a large sum of money that really his failing bank couldn't afford (Lorenzo hadn't really given much interest to the Medici bank) but not only that, he had hoped to buy Imola for Florence. Lending the Pope the money so it could fall into the hands of papal supporters wasn't exactly what Lorenzo had in mind. Pope Sixtus was furious, and so went to the Medici's rival bank for the funds. The Pazzi bank immediately granted the Pope his money, Sixtus gave Imola to his nephew and the Pazzi now had control of the Curia accounts. Relations between the Pope and the Medici grew even more strained when the Pope tried to oust Niccolo Vitelli from the town of Citta di Castello - this little town had been brought for Florence by Lorenzo's grandfather Cosimo and when Lorenzo raised a small army to help Vitelli, the Pope was seriously offended. War was barely averted. Lorenzo then offended the Pope even more by refusing to allow the Papal choice of archbishop for Florence into the city, and by starting an alliance between Florence, Venice and Milan which the Pope thought was aimed at himself. By the time 1477 rolled around there were a number of men in Rome who wanted to see the end of the Medici in Florence - Girolamo Riaro was one of them, Francesco Salviati (the archbishop who hadn't been allowed into Florence) and Francesco de Pazzi who believed it was time the Pazzi took power. 

Francesco de Pazzi then took the ideas for the coup d'etat to his relative, Jacopo de Pazzi of Florence. Jacopo was an old man and incredibly tight fisted when it came to money, but when Francesco approached him he said that the whole idea wouldn't work. He was also reluctant to show his support because one of his nephews was Lorenzo de Medici's brother in law. To convince Jacopo, Francesco decided to garner military support. And when Jacopo recruited a well known condottiero, Gian Battista de Montesecco, to the cause it seems all was on track. Unfortunately as this condottiero was also in the employ of the Pope, he said he couldn't do anything without papal support. Francesco convinced the man he was working for the good of the papacy and the condottiero agreed to help as long as they had the pope's blessing. This was duly given by the Pope:

"I do not wish the death of anyone on any account since it does not accord with our office to consent with such a thing. Though Lorenzo is a villain, and behaves ill towards us, yet we do not on any account desire his death, but only a change in the government."

Despite the fact that the Pope had said he did not desire any blood shed, the men left the audience convinced that Sixtus would consent to the murder of the Medici if they deemed murder necessary. Montesecco then rode to the Romagna to raise his troops before heading to Florence to speak with Jacopo. When Montesecco told Jacopo of the Pope's consent his mood towards the whole thing changed, and he agreed to help. The plot was then hatched. To start with, it was decided that they would invite Lorenzo to Rome and kill him and his brother there. But when Lorenzo headed to Rome, his brother wasn't with him due to his ill health. The plot was postponed.

It was then decided that the assassination would happen in Florence. Cardinal Raphael Riario had asked Lorenzo if he might be able to see the famous Medici treasures he had heard so much about, even going as far as to say he would be in Florence the following Sunday - he would combine his visit to the Palazzo Medici with High Mass at the Cathedral. When Lorenzo agreed and began plans to throw his distinguished guest a sumptuous banquet, plans for the murders began to take shape. It was decided that the time and the place would be during Mass at the Santa Maria del Fiore, as the brothers would be together at such an occasion. Monstesecco began to get cold feet and said his conscience would not allow him to kill the men in a place where God could see him, so instead the conspirators brought in two anti-Medici priests who were more than happy to help. They agreed on a signal, as the bell rang to signal the elevation of the Host they would strike. It would provide the best opportunity as everyone would be busy praying, they could dispatch their victims and get out quickly.

Unfortunately for the conspirators, it didn't go quite to plan.

As Giuliano was accompanied to the Cathedral by Francesco and Bernardo, Francesco hugged Giuliano in a friendly manner (a cover to frisk for weapons), and they continued on amicably. As they reached their destination, Giuliano took his place by the door of the Cathedral (he was too late to take his place at the front) and Lorenzo was already in place by the altar. Mass begins and the congregation falls silent and as the priest raises the host and the bell rings, all hell breaks lose in the cathedral. By the door, Bernardo Baroncellui had shouted "TAKE THAT, TRAITOR!" and stabbed Giuliano hard in the head. Francesco de Pazzi had then stabbed Giuliano over and over in a frenzy, and managed to stab himself in his leg as he was doing so. Giuliano fell to his knees as Francesco kept stabbing him, before he fell down dead with nineteen stab wounds. By the altar, the two priests who had been brought in at the last minute drew their daggers. One of them placed a hand on Lorenzo's shoulder as if to steady himself (a bit of a silly move really) and as the priest moved to stab Lorenzo in the back, Lorenzo turned around. Realising what was happening he jumped back, the blade only lightly wounding his neck. He then drew his sword and used his cloak as a shield before escaping into the sacristy.

As all hell broke lose in the cathedral, and following Giuliano's murder, many of the killers melted away into the crowds. Salviati had meanwhile managed to get an audience with the signoria, saying he had a message from the Pope. But the archbishop was nervous, and Petrucci (the gonfaloniere) called the guards after a couple of minutes having been made suspicious. Salviati then fled the Signoria, shouting that the time to strike had come. As in the Duomo, all hell broke lose in the Signoria but the massive bell began to ring , calling the citizens to the main square. Members of the Pazzi family tried to shout for support with their cries of "Liberta!" but when no support arrived, they filtered away. 

News of Giuliano's murder had by now reached the Signoria. And in swift, decisive reprisals, the Signoria threw a rope around Salviati's neck and chucked him out of one of the Signoria windows. They did the same to others who had tried to take over the Signoria. Francesco de Pazzi had escaped to the family home, but was dragged out still bleeding from his thigh and stripped naked. He too was hung from a window. The citizens of Florence raced to the Palazzo Medici and demanded to see Lorenzo, who stood at a window with a bandage around his neck. He begged the people to calm down, and not attack those who they merely suspected of murder. It was more important for them to help catch the real villains. The people took no notice though and rampaged through the streets, picking people at random who they wanted to have been involved and murdering them. 

Reprisals did however come to those who had been involved. Jacopo de Pazzi escaped but was brought back to Florence where he was tortured and hung out of one of the signoria windows. He was buried in the church of Santa Croce but not long afterwards he was removed from his tomb and dragged through the streets, his body was then thrown into the Arno, fished out and hung over a tree where children beat the body before throwing him back into the river. The two priests were found hiding, and were arrested. They were then castrated and hanged. Renato de Pazzi, although his part in the ordeal was never truly established was also hanged. Other members of the Pazzi family were sentenced to life imprisonment. Montesecco was the last to be caught - he was tortured and he gave his torturers a very detailed account of the whole conspiracy before he was beheaded. Baroncelli did manage to escape and made it to Constantinople before being recognised. He was brought back to Florence in chains and duly executed. 

As a lasting reminder of the conspiracy and what happened to those who had tried to murder the Medici, Lorenzo ordered an artistic representation be made of the whole ordeal. Sandro Boticelli was drafted in to create a huge mural which would show eight portraits of the leading conspirators. Those who had been caught would be painted with ropes around their necks, while Baroncelli (who at that point was still at large), was to be painted hung upside down hanging by his foot. And underneath each portrait, Boticelli would paint a short, mocking verse. Six months later, at the request of Pope Sixtus, the portrait of Salviati was obliterated. When Baroncelli was eventually caught and brought back to Florence, Leonardo Da Vinci was drafted in to repaint the mans portrait. Leonardo even did sketched of Baroncelli hanging in his famous notebooks. All Pazzi arms were also ordered to be removed from buildings and their property confiscated and no man who had married a Pazzi was ever again allowed to hold public office. The family had been completely and utterly disgraced, and the city of Florence would forever remember that the Pazzi family had been the ones who tried, and failed, to bring down the Medici family.

Drawing of Baroncelli by Leonardo Da Vinci

Further Reading

Monday, 19 November 2012

Happy Birthday Charles I

Today in 1600, a young prince was born to King James I and his wife Anne of Denmark. This prince, the couple's second son, would go on to become one the most famous monarchs that England had ever known - King Charles I. He would go on to declare war on Parliament in 1642 and would eventually be executed for treason on 30th January 1649. Charles has long fascinated me and during my University days I spent much of my time researching the English Civil War and the role that the Royalist army played, eventually concentrating solely on the Battle of Cheriton in 1644. For my sins I was also a part of the Sealed Knot and "fought" for the Royalist regiment, Henry Tilliers Regiment of Foote.

Charles I is an interesting character in many respects, not only for his role in the English Civil War. He was never supposed to become King in the first place, that was the role meant for his elder brother Henry Stuart. Sadly though, Henry died in 1612 and the young Duke of York became heir to the throne. Poor little Charles wasn't exactly the most healthy child, he was sickly and had problems walking, and apparently had a speech impediment too. He had spent his childhood in the shadow of his brother Henry, who he loved and tried his best to emulate but unfortunately as a child could never really live up to his brother. In fact, little Charles did not start walking properly until he was at least four years old thanks to the weakness in his legs. At the age of 16 it is recorded that he suffered from "green sickness", a rather odd illness for an adolescent young man to suffer from as it was normally said to affect young ladies! However by the time he reached his early 20's he seems to have left most of his physical illnesses behind although he apparently never really had the intellectual capacity of other young men of his age.

Charles also became bosom friends with his fathers supposed paramour George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In George, Charles found a surrogate older brother who encouraged Charles to start looking at women (and noticed that Charles was very slow on the uptake with romance!), and even took the young heir incognito to Spain to woo the Spanish Infanta. When James I died in 1625, Charles married Henrietta Maria if France yet held Villiers above her in his affections. It wasn't until Villiers was assassinated in 1628 that Charles began to take decent notice of his wife and the two of them ended up falling head over heels in love with each other.

Charles never really had a very good relationship with parliament, and ended up taking personal rule of the country from 1629. The next eleven years were known by parliamentarian supporters as the "eleven years tyranny". In 1640, Charles recalled parliament - he needed money to fight the second bishops war. Less than a month later, this parliament was dissolved by Charles because he wasn't going to listen to their ideas for reform. In November that year, Charles again called Parliament, again needing more money and this became known as the Long Parliament. In this one, tensions soon rose when Parliament wanted to impeach various members of the court and they also passed an act to prevent the King from dissolving parliament. In March 1641 they impeached Lord Stafford and he was placed on trial for High Treason. Charles however refused to sign the bill of Attainder but in parliament this bill went unopposed and Charles signed the bill in fear for his family's safety. Stafford was executed. In May of the same year parliament made ship money and various forms of taxation illegal - all of which had proven unpopular when the King had forced these taxes previously.

All of this lead to Charles and Parliament fighting for control - Charles believed that as King of England he should have control, Parliament believed that the King should work with them or not at all. Charles then tried to have five prominent members of parliament arrested on 4th January 1642 when he tried to take parliament by force of arms. The five men had already left. And this was the beginning of the end for Charles Stuart - Parliament seized London and in January 1642, Charles fled London.

Civil War was declared in August 1642 and Charles raised an army. Parliament did the same and it lead to a bitter 7 year period of fighting. The best known part of the civil war lasted until 1646 when Charles was arrested and imprisoned by Parliament. The second civil war was fought in 1648-9, finishing with the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 and the third civil war lasted from 1649-51 and was fought between parliament and supporters of Charles II. Following Charles I's execution in 1649, the country was run by Oliver Cromwell and the interregnum lasted until the death of Cromwell and the failure of his son Richard - leading to the Restoration of Charles I's son Charles II as monarch.

If I'm honest, the life of Charles I deserves much much more than this super brief overview. His life was really very interesting and he did so much in his reign - not all of it clever! Though that seems to be a bit of a pattern with Stuart monarchs (maybe that's why I'm so fascinated with them, really they just seemed to make life difficult for themselves). One of these days I'll do a series of posts on this most fascinating monarch, but I hope this overview has given you all something to mull over. And to finish off - Happy Birthday Charles I!

Further Reading

Frederick Holmes - The Sickly Stuarts
Dianne Purkiss - The English Civil war: A People's History
Katie Whitaker - A Royal Passion
C.V Wedgwood - A King Condemned
Tristram Hunt - The English Civil War At First Hand
David Starkey & Christopher Hibbert - Charles I: A Life of Religion, War and Treason

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Los Borgia

This evening I sat myself down with a large glass of pink lemonade, and curled up to watch Los Borgia. I've been a fan of The Borgias pretty much ever since it first started and although I love the series more than anything the lack of historical accuracy in the series has been known to make me rage and scream at my television. For instance, in season 2 of The Borgias you see Juan Borgia at the Siege of Forli - now, the siege of Forli happened in 1499 when Juan had been dead for two years, and it was Cesare who commanded the armies and who took Caterina Sforza prisoner. Oh, and Caterina didn't do the whole "ten more sons" thing at the siege in 1499 either, she apparently said it in 1488 after the death of her first husband Girolamo Riario.  Both series 1 and 2 tend to do this, and the mistakes in the historiography are just too many to count. Now, I know it's a drama series and made to give that dramatic kick in the balls to make the whole thing seem much more exciting but honestly, the story of the Borgia family really doesn't need any fabrication or stuff changing around.

Now then, when I first heard about Los Borgia I was a little put off as it is entirely in Spanish. However, having sat down and watched it I am so, so glad I did. I will start by saying that the casting was almost perfect. The young man who played Cesare, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, was nigh on perfect and really captured the essence of Cesare Borgia. As the programme went on you saw him change from a young man who didn't want to wear cardinals robes to a man growing into his role as soldier and general, his obsession with glory. Each and every actor or actress brought something to their characters that made you feel something for the character - I adored Lucrezia and her innocence, Juan was ambitious and arrogant as I imagined him in history, Caterina Sforza was like a tigress. To me, the cast was almost flawless. 

What was even better was that the script kept as close to the history as it could. Alright so there were things that had to be glossed over or missed out due to the 2 hour timescale, but they showed each and every one of Lucrezia's marriages (with none of these ridiculous random suitors like in The Borgias) and Alfonso of Aragon was actually the correct guy in this one (in The Borgias, Sancia's brother gets horrifically murdered by Charles VIII and Alfonso D'Aragona ends up being someone completely different when in reality he was actually Sancia's brother), Juan isn't shown as stabbed and chucked in the Tiber by his brother - rather you see him ride away with a masked man and then found in the river the next day, The Siege of Forli is shown with the correct brother heading the army and at the correct time and the script made it clear that the rumours saying Juan was killed by Cesare were rumours; and made sure that the audience knew the incest thing is based on vile rumour also. As well as this, I thought they dealt with Cesare's death exceptionally well, sticking as close to what actually happened as they possibly could - he ended up alone, dressed in light armour, and was ambushed. He was stabbed from all sides and then stripped and left naked and bleeding. The men who killed Cesare had no idea it was actually him, until Cesare's squire was shown his armour and the young lad burst into tears. The script dealt with his death really well, and the show finished with a shot of Cesare lying dead, pierced by spears and holding a necklace given to him by his sister. Brilliant cinematography that had me reaching for the tissues.

If you are interested in the Borgia family and want to watch a television show about them that is a lot more historically accurate and less dramatised than The Borgias (which I do adore by the way), then I would wholeheartedly recommend Los Borgia.

And now for some screencaps. Enjoy!


Cesare, Jofre, Lucrezia and Juan

Cesare sparring with Micheletto

Cesare and Juan eyeing up Sancia

Juan, about to go off and be a rubbish soldier

Lucrezia and Cesare

Cesare with the body of Juan's groom, who was stabbed on his way to fetch Juan's armour

The body of Juan Borgia, 2nd Duke of Gandia

Pope Alexander VI and Lucrezia


Cesare's sword was inscribed with the words Caesar Aut Nihil which meant "Caesar Or Nothing"

Cesare and his sword

Cesare, about to head off and be an awesome soldier

Lucrezia giving her brother a helmet

The Pope, about to be handed letters infused with Cantarella from Caterina Sforza. In reality, these letters had been infused with the plague.

Cesare, being an awesome soldier

Caterina Sforza defending Forli

Cesare and Lucrezia

The Pope

The funeral of Alfonso D'Aragona

Vanozza Cattanei

Lucrezia basically telling Cesare to go away because he killed her husband

Cesare suffering from the same illness that killed his father, and Lucrezia (who is in Ferrara) all worried

The death of Alexander VI

Pope Julius II

Cesare looking across the hills of Navarre, Spain

Cesare is said to have worn this mask to disguise the deformities on his face from syphillis

Cesare and his young groom

Cesare and his groom

Taking on the soldiers, ON HIS OWN


The death of Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and Duke of the Romagna