“I dislike these Ultramontanes and barbarians beginning to interfere in Italy. We are so disunited and so deceitful that I believe that nothing but shame and loss would be our lot; recent experience may serve to foretell the future.”
Featuring Oliphant Smeaton from his book The Medici and the Italian Renaissance published in 1901.
Previously on Lorenzo de Medici and Florence’s Renaissance. Now we continue.
Time: 1449 – 1492
This, however, was Lorenzo’s last great war. True, he was implicated in the prolonged quarrel between the papacy and King Ferrante of Naples, yet it was more as a mediator between the two antagonists than as the ally of the last-named that he took part in it; although, as Armstrong points out, he paid for the services of Trivulsio and four hundred cross-bowmen, that by enabling the Neapolitans to check San Severino, the leader of the papal-Venetian troops, he might induce Innocent VIII to lose heart and retire from the struggle.
Lorenzo, during the last six years of his life, or, to speak more definitely, after the peace of Bagnolo, had become in Italian, as he was rapidly becoming in European, politics the master-spirit that inspired the moves on the diplomatic chess-board. In the mind of the historical student whose attention is directed to this period, admiration and wonder go hand-in-hand as we contemplate the marvelous sagacity and prevision of the man, together with the skill wherewith he made Florence—the weakest from a military point of view of the five greater Italian powers–the one which exercised the most preponderating influence upon the affairs of the peninsula. His supreme genius conceived and consummated the great scheme for ensuring the peace of Italy by a triple alliance of the three larger states–Florence, Milan, and Naples—against the other two, Venice and the papacy.
As showing how entirely it was dependent upon him, the alliance was operative only so long as he was alive to bind the antagonistic forces of Naples and Milan together by the link of his own personal influence. He, in a word, was the subtle acid holding in chemical combination many mutually repellent substances. When his influence was withdrawn by death, within a few months they had all fallen apart, the triple alliance was forgotten and Italy was doomed. Even by those with whom he was nominally at war he was resorted to for advice. He it was that kept Innocent VIII from taking up a position that would have rendered the papacy ridiculous in the eyes of Europe, when he sought to threaten Naples with consequences he was powerless to inflict.
Many writers have accused Lorenzo of cowardice, of pusillanimity, of want of political resolution on account of this very course of action, namely, that he assisted the enemies of Florence to extricate themselves from their dilemmas. Such criticism fails entirely to understand both the aim and the scope of his policy. He desired to keep Italy for the Italians. His clear-sighted sagacity saw nothing but danger in the plans of Ludovico of Milan to invite the French King into Italy, or in those of Venice to encourage the Duke of Lorraine to press his claims upon Milan. The intervention of either France or Spain in Italy was, in his idea, fraught only with dire disaster. Fain would he have patched up the quarrel between Naples and the papacy by mutual concessions, because he foresaw what would happen if the colossal northern powers had their cupidity aroused regarding Italy, and learned how defenseless she really was. Because he foresaw so clearly the horrors of the invasion of 1494 and 1527, he acted as he did, even toward those who were enemies of Florence. His alarm appears in the letter, dated July, 1489, which he addressed to his ambassador in Rome: “I dislike these Ultramontanes and barbarians beginning to interfere in Italy. We are so disunited and so deceitful that I believe that nothing but shame and loss would be our lot; recent experience may serve to foretell the future.” How true a prophet he was, the subsequent course of Italian history revealed!
Anxious though the situation was, crucial though many of the problems he had to solve undoubtedly were, yet the statement may be accepted as approximately true that the last three or four years of Lorenzo’s life were spent amid profound peace–at least as far as Florence was concerned. Roscoe’s picture is highly colored, but not overcolored:
“At this period the city of Florence was at its highest degree of prosperity. The vigilance of Lorenzo had secured it from all apprehensions of external attack; and his acknowledged disinterestedness and moderation had almost extinguished that spirit of dissension for which it had been so long remarkable. The Florentines gloried in their illustrious citizen, and were gratified by numbering in their body a man who wielded in his hand the fate of nations and attracted the respect and admiration of all Europe; the administration of justice engaged his constant attention, and he carefully avoided giving rise to an idea that he was himself above the control of the law.”
And Guicciardini adds: “This season of tranquility was prosperous beyond any that Italy had experienced during the long course of a thousand years. Abounding in men eminent in the administration of public affairs, skilled in every honorable science and every useful art, it stood high in the estimation of foreign nations; which extraordinary felicity, acquired at many different opportunities, several circumstances contributed to preserve, but among the rest no small share of it was by general consent ascribed to the industry and the virtue of Lorenzo de’ Medici, a citizen who rose so far above the mediocrity of a private station that he regulated by his counsels the affairs of Florence, then more important by its situation, by the genius of its inhabitants, and the promptitude of its resources than by the extent of its dominions, and who, having obtained the implicit confidence of the Roman pontiff Innocent VIII, rendered his name great and his authority important in the affairs of Italy.”
Though he had never allowed the demands of civic affairs to interfere with his interest in the progress of the Renaissance, war-time, as we have said, is not favorable to the cultivation of letters. While the connection between the states during the course of hostilities undoubtedly promoted the increase of mutual interest in each other’s intellectual development, the fact that the Magnifico had to disburse enormous sums for the prosecution of the campaigns necessarily limited his ability to extend the same princely patronage to the cause of learning. But with the conclusion of peace he resumed the original scale of his benefactions, and the last four years of his life were, perhaps, the most fruitful of all in sterling good achieved in the fostering of the Renaissance.