The same old bullshit, for 2 hundred years. First it was the Catholics - German, Italian and Irish - and then Asians, and then Jews. Whose next?


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Friday, April 18, 2014


I find it perfectly logical that so much began in Florence. Wool from Europe and dyes from Asian ports met in Tuscany, which was far enough from Rome that religious strictures against profits could be stretched, and in a region so poor the nobility, the only people with any money, were willing to experiment with capitalism. A cultural and economic “rinascità”, or renaissance was set off. And riding the first wave in 1378 was Salvestro de'Medici, a black sheep of his clan.
Salvestro led the popolo minuto, the little people, the unskilled Ciompi textile workers in demanding the right to form their own guilds. Their rulers, the popolo grasso, the fat ones, initially gave in, but a month later, when the workers followed one of their own, Michele di Lando, in storming the Palazzo Vecchio, the textile makers closed their shops, and Salvestro remained silent. Within days hunger forced the unpaid workers to surrender. But the Medici family had established their reputation as defenders of the common man. And thanks to Salvestro they built a great fortune by using that populist image.
And on the heartless application of violence. One hundred years later, on 26 April 1478, as soon as Lorenzo Medici escaped from the cathedral, he dispatched forces to retrieve his brother's mutilated body, left to bleed out on the cathedral floor. From a second story window of his home Lorenzo then appeared to a crowd of supporters, showing he was still alive, if wounded. His survival inspired the Medici forces to strike back without pity.
Archbishop Francesco Salviati was already in custody in the Palazzo Vecchio. He was quickly joined by his brother, Jacopo Salviati, and his cousin, Bartolomeo Salviati. Both men had been in the cathedral during the murders of Guiliano Medici and Frecesco Nori. In addition, armed men were dispatched to the Pazzi home, where Francesco Pazzi, still bleeding, was arrested. They were all questioned at an rump trial by the eight members of the City Council. The results were, it might be said, per-ordained.
Within the hour Francisco Pazzi was stripped naked. A noose was thrown around his neck. Then he was pushed from the second story window of the Palzzo Vecchio. The drop was not intended to be far enough to break his neck. It was intended that he should slowly strangled for the amusement of the jeering mob gathered in the square. And while he still writhed at the end of the rope, Archbishop Salviati, also naked, was shoved out the window, to writhe in desperate agony until, as an observer noted, his eyes bugged out. Once both men were finally dead, the ropes were cut and the bodies dropped into the square, where the mob beat and dismembered the corpses. One enraged man, said a witness, even bit into the dead Francesco's chest.
Next out the window was the two Salviati cousins, to dance to the crowd's delight, who then vented their blood lust upon the dead bodies. Then the priests, Setefano da Bagnone and Antonio Maffei de Volterra, the pair who had attacked Lorenzo, had their noses and ears cut off, before being castrated. Then, they were thrown from the window, to dance for the mob. Now, eager to prove their loyalty to the Medici family and with their blood lust released, the mob tracked down as many Pazzi and Pergia supporters as they could find, breaking into private homes and public buildings, even churches, to kill them. At least eighty were butchered that Easter Sunday on the streets or in their homes, with many thrown from the Vecchio's clock tower. Guilt in the murder or the plot was no longer required. The Pazzi name was enough.
Jacopo Pazzi was trying to reach Pisa, but only managed to get as far as the tiny mountain village of Castagno, about seven miles west of Florence, before he was captured, beaten and returned to the city. He then flew out the Palazzo Vecchio window, like his nephew and sons. After he was buried in the family crypt, a drunken mob disentered his corpse, and dragged it through the streets. It was then reburied outside the city walls, but dug up again, this time by children, who used the head to pound on the Pazzi family front door. When no one answered, the rotted corpse was dragged to the river Arno and tossed into the water. It was last seen, decomposing in the shallows.
Those Pazzi males not killed outright were arrested. and confined in the new prison fortress in Volterra, twenty miles southwest of Florence. It was so secure, it is still being used as high security prison today. Guglielmo Pazzi, Francesco’s brother, was spared execution only because he was married to a Medici daughter. He was banished from Florence for life, along with all Pazzi females, old men and children. All Pazzi gold and silver in Europe were ordered seized, their homes, businesses and estates plundered and confiscated. No Pazzi was ever again allowed to hold public office in Florence. The family crest of two dolphins was removed wherever found, as were all images of Pazzi faces in paintings . So complete and absolute was the Medici revenge, that the name Pazzi became, in English, to define anyone who could be implicated in a crime - a patsy.
Then there was the case of Giovanni Batista da Montesecco, a cousin to the Duke of Urbano. He had originally been chosen to kill Lorenzo, but bowed out after realizing the murders were to occur in the cathedral during Easter services. But neither had he warned the Medici of the plot. Arrested after being implicated by the unfortunate Setefano and Antonio, Giovanni revealed how deeply Pope Sixtus' had been involved. In return for his testimony, he was merely beheaded. The man who had officiated at the Easter Mass and Sixtus' nephew, Cardinal Raphael Riario, was held incommunicado for a month before Lorenzo decided he was only naive, and allowed him to return to Rome.
Bernardo Bandini, who had helped Francesco Pazzi murder Guiliani Medici, managed to get as far away as Constantinople. But the Medici bank reached that far, and 18 months after the attack Bernardo was kidnapped and hustled aboard a fast ship back to Italy and Florence. Immediately after his arrival, on 29 December, 1479, Bandini also flew out the Palazzo Vecchio window, still dressed in his Muslim disguise Leonardo Di Vinci sketched him hanging there.
After the Easter Sunday massacre, all of Italy had to pick sides, and most either joined the Pope or chose not to support the Medici. The King of Naples, Ferdinand I, sent an army to lay siege to Florence. And while the King of France offered an army to Lorenzo, the surviving Medici son knew the cost of such support would be disastrous for the rest of Italy. And so in December of 1479 Lorenzo changed the rules of the game. He sneaked out of Florence, and took ship for Naples. He was instantly imprisoned by Ferdinand, but the monarch was convinced by Lorenzo's own wounds that the Pope had precipitated this crises. Also, Naples was clearly on the French wish list of Italian properties to grab, if an invasion was possible. Ferdinand forced Sixtus to reconcile with the Medici, and the war quickly came to an end. From that day forward, Lorenzo would be known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Sixtus (above left) would sit on Peter's throne for another six years, and be best remembered for this Easter Sunday attack, for the Sistine Chapel he had built, for two decrees approving of black slavery in the new world, and for appointing Tomás Torquemada (above right) as the Grand Inquisitor of the infamous Holy Office of the Inquisition. This worldly Pope died in 1484 a bitter and disappointed man.
Lorenzo Medici (above) ruled Florence for another fifteen years, gradually more openly as a dictator. .He tracked down the new born son his brother had fathered with Fioretta Gorini, and had the boy brought into the family home and raised and educated as a full Medici. When he died in 1492, Lorenzo de Medici would mostly be remembered for his wise rule, and the great public art works he commissioned, including the magnificent tomb containing his own and his brother' Guiliano's bones in the Church of San Lorenzo in Florence, a tomb designed and carved by Michelangelo.
But the ultimate Medici revenge of Sixtus came when Lorenzo's son, Giovanni de Medici, became Pope Leo X in 1513, and was succeeded by Giuliano's son, Giulio de Medici, as Pope Clement VII in 1523 It is said, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And the Medici of Florence did both.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I don't believe the rumors of a plan to poison Lorenzo and Guiliano de Medici in their family villa on the sun warmed slopes of Fiesole, four miles above Florence. First, how was the poison to be administered? If a member of the Medici staff had been subverted, why wait for the banquet in honor of Cardinal Raphael Riario, when everyone was on high alert, with enemies in their home? And poison was an uncertain weapon. It might merely sicken the victims. It seems likely to me the banquet was used to lull the Medici and their allies into complacency, and set the stage for the actual assassination to take place the next day, Easter Sunday, 26 April of 1478, inside the Basilica of Maria del Fiore,
There has been a church on this spot out side the city walls since the fifth century, earning it the Italian title “duomo”, meaning 'the bishop's former house.” By the end of the thirteenth century the Florence duomo was too small and decrepit for the growing city, so the council approved a new cathedral, the Church of Saint Mary of the Flowers, 500 feet long, 124 feet wide, with walls supported by Gothic arches soaring 75 feet above the floor, and capable of holding upwards of 12, 000 faithful. The first stone was laid in 1296. Delayed by the Black Death, the red dome was not finished until 1436. Wars would slow work on the facade, which would not be completed for another 500 years. And the decision to murder the two oldest Medici males in this sacred place, on this sacred day, was an act of the Pope's arrogance and desperation.
Cardinal Raphael Riario entered the church with the man the Medici had preferred as archbishop of Florence, Rinaldo Orsini, and with Pope Sixtus' original choice for that chair, the visiting archbishop of Pisa Francesco Salviati. Accompanying them was Lorezo de Medici and his close friend Frecesco Nori. Lorenzo took a pew in the front, and since his brother Guiliano had not appeared, Nori sat next to him. The cardinal would officiate at the mass, assisted by priests, and the two archbishops sat next to each other, in chairs near the alter. Before them the great space of the cathedral filled with 10,000 penitents.
At about noon priest Francesco de Pazzi and Bernardo Bandi appeared at Guiliano de Medici's home, seeking to accompany Guiliano to the service, arguing their joint entrance would show unity on this holy day. Perhaps Guiliano ( above) was still ill, or perhaps the visitors plied the rakish young man with wine, or perhaps their argument took time to be effective. In any case the three men left together and were late in arriving at the duomo. They were forced to take seats near the rear of the cathedral, with Guiliano sitting directly in front of Francesco and Bernardo. This late arrival separated the intended victims, but it also separated the assassins.
Cardinal Riaro began the mass at one in the afternoon, with the blessing in latin, “May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his paschal praise worthily and well, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” While the mass continued, other pieces of the conspiracy were falling into place. Outside of the city, the Duke of Urbano (above) and an in-law to Pope Sixtus, had gathered 600 mercenaries, prepared to storm the city at word the assassinations had taken place. Missing from the ceremony in the cathedral, if any Medici had taken note, was the old man, Jocopo Pazzi. He had gathered about 150 supporters , mostly members of the Perugia clan, in the surrounding streets. These forces were primed to murder the mayor and seize the city hall. But everything had to wait until the murders about to take place during the Easter Service.
Slowly, the mass progressed toward its climax, as Riaro raised the host to be blessed. This motion was a signal for the bells to be set off in the tower. And also for Archbishop Salviati.to rise silently from his chair and quickly move toward toward an exit, and, in the back of the cathedral, for Francesco de Pazzi to pull a knife from his priestly robes. He stood. He raised his arm, screaming, “Take it, traitor!" And with all the force he could muster he drove the blade deep into the top of Guiliano de Medici's skull (above). In its first instant the Pazzi conspiracy had achieved half of its goals.
Despite the loud tolling of the bells, there were screams and shouts of murder heard from the rear of the great cathedral. The two who had been assigned to murder Lorenzo de Medici, the priest Setefano da Bagnone and the vicar-in-training Antonio Maffei de Volterra, must have thought since Guiliano was absent the assignation had been postponed again. But now, as Lorenzo turned to investigate the clamor, one of them drew his dagger. Lorenzo saw the movement and staggered to his feet. The blade sliced across his throat, slicing into the skin and muscle, drawing blood. Lorenzo fell backwards into the aisle, where he could draw his own knife.
In the center of the insanity, and blocking the main entrance door, Francesco de Pazzi had thrown himself upon Guiliano Medici in such a frenzy, he stabbed himself in the leg, without noticing the wound. Bernardo Bandi could do little more than ward off any who were inclined to intervene. None were and Guiliano suffered 19 separate knife wounds before Francesco paused to catch his breath.
At the front of the sacred hall, Frecesco Nori drew his own knife and moved to block the attackers, as other Medici allies hustled Lorenzo from the nave and into the sacristy, where the priests robed before and after services. The Medici supporters blockaded the only door, and the two attackers, Stefano and Antonio had to satisfy themselves with cutting down Lorenzo's friend, Frencesco .
Parishioners were climbing over pews to escape the church, and were now streaming out every exit they could find. Families huddled to protect their children. The old and blind were abandoned in the general panic. The bewildered Cardinal Riaro was pinned against the alter by pro-Medici priests who a moment before had been assisting him. They would later insist he made no attempt to take part in the violence.
Archbishop Francesco Salviati, still dressed in his robes, walked quickly from the duomo, In the streets outside he was met by the 150 Pazzi and Pergia, headed by the Pazzi patriarch, Jocopo. Together they marched the less than a quarter mile south to the city hall, the old palace, the Palazzo Vecchio. By the time they arrived, the bloodshed at the cathedral had already ended, and Francesco Pazzi, bleeding from his self inflicted leg wound, and realizing that Lorenzo was still alive, was himself staggering toward the Palazzo Vecchio.
Entering the palace by the Sala dei Duecento, the hall of the two hundred, Jacopo and Salviati, in front of 150 angry looking men, demanded the guards take them to Cesare Petrucci, the Gonfloniere, or mayor, who lived in the palace. It was an unusual request for a Sunday morning, particularly from Salviati, who was supposed to be at the Easter Services. His guard already up, Cesare, a Medici supporter, agreed to speak to with Salviati only. The problem, for the Pazzi, was that the hall had originally been the city council or Signoria, meeting room, and the doors originally only led to rooms were ballots were counted. Because of this the door handles were cleverly recessed and hidden. Once Salviati entered the palace proper, he was cut off Jacopo and his soldiers, who could not find a door they could open.
Trying to convince Cesare to step outside to speak to Jacopo,  Salvati suddenly found words difficult. He was excited, and clearly worried, and Cesare responded by having his guards put the archbishop under arrest. At about the same time, the blood stained Francesco had made it to the Palazzo, and gave his uncle the bad news. Lorenzo de Medici still lived. Their only hope left was the 600 soldiers waiting outside the city under the Duke of Urbano.   Francesco, weak from blood loss, decided to return home. Jacopo decided to leave town. And the Pazzi and Pergia supporters who had done nothing but follow orders, were abandoned to fend for themselves. No one gave word to the Duke, to enter Florence.
The Pazzi Conspiracy, backed and funded by Pope Sixtus, had collapsed after murdering one unarmed man in the middle of a holy Easter service. And now the bill for that murder had to be paid.
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Sunday, April 13, 2014


I believe the bloody Easter Sunday murder in a crowded Tuscany church was set in motion twenty-five years earlier, in 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman empire. The loss of Byzantine middle men tripled the price Christians had to pay for a volcanic rock called alunite, used in tanning animal skins and fixing dyes into cloth. The resulting inflation threatened to blow up the entire European economy. So the Catholic church was over joyed when eight years later, a huge source of alunite was discovered in the Tolfa Mountains, just 50 miles north of Rome. Pope Pius II quickly annexed the mountainous region into his own Papal States, and immediately leased the mineral rights to the people who could pay him the most, the Vatican bankers, the House of Medici.
It was Cosimo de Medici who firmly established the family fortune by courting members of the 51 guilds who held the public political power in the Republic of Florence; The Guild of Wool, the Guild of Silk, The Guild of Doctors and Apothecaries, the Guild of Ferrirers and Skinners, Masters of Stone and Wood, etc. But behind the scenes Cosimo actually controlled the city by following a simple motto: “Envy is a plant you must not water.” As his biggest fan Niccolo Macchiavelli noted, “Never did he exceed the modest behavior of a citizen.” What others in Florence spent on personal luxury, guards and body armor, Cosimo de Medici spent on charity and bribes and gifts of public art by Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli. He depended on the loyalty of the guilds and masses to support and protect his family's massive fortune.
But when Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, became head of the family in 1469, the empire seemed in decline. In five short years Lorenzo's father Piero the gouty, had emptied the family coffers of the modern equivalent of $460 million. True, along with his younger brother Giuliano, Lorenzo still guided a sprawling financial empire, with bank branches in Rome, Florence, Pisa, London, Bourges and Constantinople. But Lorenzo was only twenty years old and not that interested in banking, He had already acquired the look of a man who smelled something unpleasant.
In 1471 a bank in the Medici client town of Volterra, about twenty miles south west of Florence, refused to invest in the Medici alunite mines. So in June of 1472 an army of Medici mercenaries laid siege to Volterra, murdering, raping and looting the town for three days. They were stopped before any permanent damage was done, and once the smoke had cleared, Lorenzo publicly apologized and paid “blood money” to the survivors. But behind the scenes the offending bank now reversed itself and invested in the Medici mines. And that was what mattered in Florence.
A more difficult problem developed in Rome when 57 year old Francesco della Rovere was elected Pope, also in 1471. The ambitious man adopted the name of Sixtus IV, and quickly began promoting his family members to positions of money and power. He made six of his nephew's cardinals, and in 1472, married one of them, Giovanni della Rovere, to the lovely and wealthy Giovanna da Montefeltro, of Urbano. Her dowry was the fortress town of Imola, about forty miles northeast of Florence, and Sixtus decided to match it with a title and local office for his nephew, asking his banker, Lorenzo de Medici, to loan him 40,000 Florintine ducats for the title.
Except Lorenzo was not so foolish as to willingly help the Pope extend his power into Florence's backyard. It was like asking him to pay for his own execution. After getting promises of support from the 32 other banking families in Florence, Lorenzo turned the Pope down. Then, unexpectedly - at least to Lorenzo - one of those bankers pulled a double cross; Jacopo Pazzi.
In Italian the word “pazzi” means madman, and it was said the family patriarch earned that title in 1099 by being one of the first soldiers over the walls in the capture of Jerusalem in the first Crusade. True or not we do know this 11th century lunatic brought back to Florence a stone from the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. For this feat of fidelity the family received their new surname and a title, and the right to provide the spark used to reignite the cities' flame every Easter Sunday. Some of the luster went out of the honor in the 12th century when laws blocked nobility from holding elective office, and the Pazzi were forced to renounce their title. They kept their land and money, and never stopped trying to get the title back. Which made it all the more insulting when Cosimo de Medici pushed through taxes on the wealthiest citizens of the Republic to help feed and cloth the poor. In response, the Pazzi took a self imposed exile from their city. Like all who see themselves as entitled, the Pazzi were offended when titles came with obligations.
The aging Jacopo Pazzi, head of family bank in the winter of 1472, was still sharp enough to seize an opportunity by the throat. He had finally returned to Florence after the death of Piero, but his hatred of the Medici had not abated. . So he had no compunction about betraying his promise to Lorenzo. And even though it went against his penny pinching nature, and it almost bankrupted his bank, he now granted Pope Sixtus the 40,000 ducats denied him by the House of Medici. The grateful Sixtus transferred all the Papal Curia accounts from the Medici to the Pazzi bank, reinvigorating Jacopo's fortune. Sixtus also granted the Pazzi a monopoly for refining the alunite clawed out of the Medici mines, cutting even further into Medici profits.
Lorenzo responded by supporting anyone willing to resist the Pope. When Sixtus sent an army under another of his nephew cardinals, Giuliano della Rovere, to force a Medici ally, Niccolo Vitelli, out of his stronghold in the village of Citta di Cadello, about 40 miles south east of Florence, Lorenzo began to assemble mercenaries to lift Guiliano's siege. The nephew was not a soldier, and Sixtus was forced to order Guiliano's army to return to Rome, for the time being.
And then there was the matter of religious appointments Sixtus chose a favorite Francesco Salviati,, as the new archbishop of Florence. But Lorenzo was not willing to have Papal spy in his own city, and signed an allegiance with Venice and Milan, making it clear Salviati's appointment would mean open war. Sixtus was again forced to back down. As a consolation prize, he named Salviati the Archbishop of Pisa, 40 miles west of Florence. But Pisa was also a Medici client city, and Lorenzo ordered the city gates locked against Salviati, preventing him from presiding over his new parish for almost a year. After contemplating these insults, and a dozen others real and imagined, Sixtus decided he needed to remove the Medici entirely. There is no record Sixtus ever actually ordered Lorenzo's or Giuliano's de Medici's muder. In fact he was on the record as saying he supported a plot - “as long as no one is killed.” But no one in Italy could have believed the Medici would be stopped, short of their deaths.
The conspiracy now passed to the younger, more active hands of Jacopo's nephew  the priest Francesco Pazzi, and Jacopo's sons Andea and Poero Pazzi., and the young handsome Guflielmo Pazzi, who was also married to Bianca de' Medici, yet another peace offer the Pazzi had refused. Francesco's first plan was for the Pope to invite both of the Medici brothers to the Holy City for reconciliation talks. In Rome, isolated from friends and allies, both brothers would be murdered. At the same time in a coup d'etat, Pazzi conspirators back in Florence would seize the city hall, the Plaza del Vecioo, and execute any of the remaining Medici family who were still a threat. The plan failed because Lorenzo made the trip, but the younger intended victim, Giuliano Medici, excused himself because of illness.
But at the winter meetings in Rome, the 17 year old Raphael Riario (above), another of Sixtus' nephews, had engaged Lorenzo in a discussion about their shared passion for the arts. Although made a Cardinal the year before, Raphael was not yet ordained as a priest, and was tightly controlled by his mother Catherine, who rarely let him out of her sight. But this day, Raphael managed a private conversation with Lorenzo, and confided he had heard of the art collection the Medici kept hidden in their a villa in Fiesole, just outside of Florence. Raphael pointed out he would be in Florence in the spring, to deliver the Easter Mass in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore (Church of Saint Mary of the Flowers). Could he impose on Lorenzo to show him the paintings? Charmed by the young man's innocence, and seeking to smooth things over with the boy's uncle, Lorenzo offered to not only to welcome Raphael into his home, but to throw him a banquet. In gratitude the boy spontaneously invited both Medici brothers to attend the Easter Mass as his personal guests.
And thus, almost by accident, the focus of the conspiracy shifted back to Florence, the Medici home court. And in the end, that would make all the difference.
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