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one faction will persecute the others. The form of gov-
ernment therefore is a matter of the first importance.
" Erudimini qui judicatis terram."

At this point the agitation of the preacher found vent
in an impassioned outburst to his hearers to believe him.
"Ah! if I could only express all that I feel within my-


self! I am like a new jar full of must which boils and
ferments within but cannot get forth. O Florence, if
you have been unwilling to believe me hitherto, believe
in me from this time forward. If you have believed,
believe more than ever this morning, but yet think not
of me, povero fraticello, omunculo inetto e pietio di peccati.
It is God, not I, who does it all. . . . Hear, O Florence,
what I say to you this morning. Hear what God has
inspired me to say."

First Florence must set her hand to the work of her
own reformation. So should the City become glorious
indeed, for blessings not spiritual only but temporal also
would follow. She should become richer, more powerful,
and would still farther extend her borders. From Flor-
ence the spirit of reform would extend to the whole
of Italy and beyond it. For Turks and pagans would
be converted and baptized " and many who are here
now shall see it ".

Reverting to his sermon of the previous Sunday he
proceeded again to protest against the doctrine that
States cannot be governed by paternosters, insisting that
it is only in the spirit of paternosters that States can be
well governed. Therefore the Signory must expel from
the City everything which was hostile to the " culto di-
vino ". Let the clergy be mirrors reflecting the good life
to the people. Let atrocious vices be suppressed by
drastic laws. Let gaming and licentious songs and
taverns be put down, and let the women reform the ill
manner of their dress. Good citizens should seek neither
state nor office, but if office is thrust upon them they
should exercise it in the public welfare. Taxation should
be justly assessed and imposed upon real property, not
arbitrarily but in accordance with a fixed scale. Dowries
paid by the State should be moderate in amount, never


exceeding 500 ducats, and in the case of artisans not
more than 300. In framing the new Constitution the
interests of the working classes should specially be con-
sidered, and while the greater offices of the State should
be filled by election the lesser should be filled by lot.
After a further invective against " tyrants," and a distinct
recommendation of the Venetian model, adequately
modified, for the new Constitution, the preacher emphatic-
ally promised " that if you do with all your hearts what
I tell you I promise you from God remission of your
sins and great glory in Paradise ". " God has constituted
Himself your Doctor. If you do as I tell you, you need
have no fear of your enemies for you will be more power-
ful than they. God will defend you Qui est benedictns in
scscula scEciiloruni!'

Before ending the sermon, however, Savonarola had
made one practical suggestion which was subsequently
carried out almost to the letter. He proposed that each
of the Sixteen Companies of the City should assemble
under its Gonfalonier, and independently formulate a
Constitution. Thus sixteen Constitutions would result.
The sixteen Gonfaloniers were then to meet and confer
upon the several schemes, finally selecting four for sub-
mission to the Signory. The Signory in turn, after the
Mass of the Holy Spirit, were, from these four, to select
the one to be adopted. This one would prove to be of
God, and since the Constitution of Venice was given to
the Venetians by God, it would turn out that the par-
ticular Constitution selected would be the one which ap-
proximated most nearly to the Venetian model. In the
course of the discussions which followed this Sermon of
14 December, Savonarola was frequently summoned to
the Palazzo to assist the Signory with his advice, and
within little more than a week a new constitution was


selected, very much on the principle which Savonarola
had recommended, and upon 23 December it received the
sanction of law.

As he had predicted it took the form of the Venetian
model. While the executive arrangements remained un-
changed the chief and final authority in the State was
now to be vested in a Coiisiglio Maggiore or Grand
Council which superseded the old Councils of the Com-
mune and of the Popolo. The Grand Council selected an
inner body, or Senate, of Eighty, the members of which
must have reached the age of 40, were to hold office
for six months, and were eligible for re-election. This
Senate was to act as an advisory body to the Signory, to
appoint ambassadors, and to have cognisance of such
matters as could not adv^antageously be discussed in full
Council. For the Consiglio Maggiore was to consist of
not less than 1500 members, and it was probable that in
time it would number as many as 3000. Its proceedings
were to have no validity unless a quorum of at least 1000
was present,^ The executive, except that it was rein-
forced by the Eighty, remained unchanged.

Such, in outline, was the famous Republican Constitu-
tion of 1494 which is so much identified with the name of
Savonarola. The current rumour, which Guicciardini re-
ports, may have been true that the Friar was incited to ad-
vocate popular government by Paolantonio Soderini as a
consequence of his disgust at being excluded from the

' The age limit for election to the Grand Council was 29. Only
those were eligible for election who had paid their taxes, and who
were benejiciati — i.e. had filled some official position as magistrate in the
Signoria or the Ten or the Sixteen, or whose father, grandfather or great-
grandfather had held such a position. But twenty-eight additional mem-
bers, not so qualified, might be elected annually if they could secure
a clear majority of two-thirds of the votes cast. That youth might not be
unrepresented a special provision enacted that a few citizens who had
reached the age of 24 were to be admitted from time to time.


provisional government of the Twenty. Soderini was
certainly an influential member of the Ten, and it was
the Constitutional scheme drawn up by the Ten which
carried the day over all rivals. He, as Florentine am-
bassador at Venice, had had opportunities of carefully
observing the workings of the Venetian system : in short
it may be freely admitted that the Florentine Constitu-
tion of '94 bears the stamp of Soderini upon it But
this is not to say that Savonarola's advocacy of it was —
to use a modern phrase — "a put-up job". Soderini's
views were undoubtedly in complete harmony with the
Friar's own political convictions ; the latter possessed
the influence, which Soderini did not, to get those
views carried into effect and embodied in concrete

Savonarola's Constitution then, for so we may design-
ate it, rested upon a basis of limited democracy. It was
not democratic in the sense that " the people" obtained a
greater share than before in the conduct of affairs. The
Guilds continued to be, as before, the ultimate source of
authority, and membership of the Grand Council was
almost exclusively confined to the official classes.
Savonarola had no belief in the doctrine that the voice
of " the people " is the voice of God. On the contrary
he was well aware of the ease with which a designing
politician could use the mob as the instrument of his
designs. Therefore he made it his special concern to
take away from the mob that power, of immemorial an-
tiquity, which even the " tyranny " of the Medici had con-
served, which they possessed through the Parlaniento.
The Parlamento, a mediaeval form of Referendum, was
a general assembly of all male citizens within the State
which met upon the summons of the great bell of Flor-
ence to give the force of full popular sanction or nega-


tion to proposals which a period of crisis had brought
forth. In Parlamento, over and over again, the people at
the very moment when they were claiming to be the sole
source of authority, had surrendered all authority, amid
shouts of popular acclamation, into the hands of a despot
or dictatorial clique. And this might happen again. The
fabric of the new Constitution so laboriously raised
might in a moment be shattered nominally by the
authority of the popular voice, but in fact by some con-
triving antagonist possessed of the arts by which a mob
is won. From the very day of the expulsion of the
Medici Florence was given over to factions. There were
the Medici partisans, the Bigi^ who looked and strove for
the restoration of the Medici regime. There were the
Bianchi, the party of oligarchical aristocrats who opposed
the Medici only that they might reconstruct the Medici
system in their own interests. There were the Piagnoni,
as the followers of Savonarola were called, more or less
fanatically attached to any system which he might sup-
port, while the Arrabbiati were his fanatical opponents.
Within these main factions others tended to generate
with strange involutions and reticulations which become
more complicated with the lapse of time so that they
almost defy analysis. The situation certainly afforded
opportunities for the manipulation of a Parlamento in the
interests of a party, and Savonarola was determined that,
should the opportunity arise, there should be no Parla-
mento to manipulate. Accordingly, with his usual
intensity of conviction and vigour of language, he set
himself to the task of totally abolishing the Parlamento.
It was, he declared, only a specious name for taking
government out of the hands of the people. On the
new Council Hall a tablet should be fixed with this in-
scription : —


Sappi che non vuol dir altro Parlamento

Che voler torre di mano al popolo il reggimento

— Sermon, 28 July, 1495.

{Know that to talk of Parlamento means nothing else
than a desire to take government out of the hands of the

At the sound of the summoning bell, therefore, the people
must rise and draw their swords against the Parlamento.
If it be one of the Signory who has caused it to be rung
an informer against him should receive 3000 ducats, a
less sum in proportion to the official rank of the culprit.
If of the Signory the culprit should be executed, if of
lower rank he should be declared a rebel, and all his pro-
perty confiscated. All Gonfaloniers must swear that on
the sound of the bell they will sack the houses of the
Signory, a quarter of the plunder going to the Gonfalonier,
the rest to his Company. Should the Signoria as a body
succeed in calling a Parlamento they ipso facto ^ cease to
be Signori the moment they set foot upon the ringhiera,
and any one may cut them to pieces without penalty.

The substance of these recommendations of July was,
with modifications, embodied in a statute in the early
days of August, and with the abolition of the Parlamento
the last pretence that the government of Florence rested
ultimately upon a genuinely popular basis was destroyed.
" Thus the middle classes deprived the lower of even the
semblance of a share in government. The Parlamento
which abolished the Medici regime had shouted away its
own existence. Hitherto every insignificant Balia had
required the assent of this popular assembly ; but the
sweeping change which established the new republic had

' The people assembled, for a Parlamento, in the Piazza del Signoria
adjoining the Palazzo Publico. (Savonarola was executed on the Piazza.)
The ringhiera was the raised platform reserved for officials abutting on
the Palazzo, which commanded the Piazza.


never received its sanction. The time might come when
even this faint echo of the people's voice might be re-
gretted." 1

Still, Savonarola is scarcely to be accused as an enemy
to the liberties of the common people because his sense
of the realities of things led him to abolish a transparent
sham. He felt within himself that in opposing the ap-
pearance of popular rights he was in fact disarming
despotism of one of its most insidious weapons. But be-
tween hostility to the people and distrust of their capacity
to govern there are infinite degrees. Distrust of the
people, however, is a phrase which is scarcely applicable
in the case of Savonarola and his contemporaries. It
implies a due consideration of popular claims to a share
in government and the deliberate rejection of those claims.
To the governing class, at the end of the fifteenth century,
any such claims would have appeared too extravagant
and fantastic to deserve a moment's attention. To them
political rights meant the rights of those who were quali-
fied by experience, property, or education to exercise
them, and democracy therefore meant to them not govern-
ment by the people in the mass, but government by the
fit, in the interests of all, to the exclusion of the despotism
either of a tyrant, or a clique, or a mob.

In this sense Savonarola was a democrat. He sought
to secure the interests of all, and gave continuous proofs
of his care and concern for the masses, but in his view
the general interest depended on government vested in
the hands of the middle classes. It was on the middle class
that his strength rested and he was strong in proportion to
their support. Though he may seem to have some roots in
the aristocracy, yet, as a body, the aristocracy was ready
to use him as long as he served its political purposes

1 E. Armstrong, " Cambridge Modern History," vol. I, p. 162.


rather than to place effective confidence in his leadership.
As the prophet and wonder-worker he appealed to the
superstition of the mob and gained an ascendancy over its
imagination. But such ascendancy rested on the perilous
foundation of successful prediction and would last only
as long as his prophecies proved true. A suspicion that
they had been tricked would be sufficient at any moment
to let loose the mob upon Savonarola and all his works.

At the moment, however, the star of Savonarola was
in the ascendant. The sword which he had foretold had
fallen upon the land. Florence, though severely smitten
for her sins, was still Florence with a golden future before
her. For the reign of tyrants was ended. The old re-
publican glories of the city were revived. A new Con-
stitution, of almost Divine origin, gave an established
guarantee for the permanence of her newly won liberties.
And if some territory had been lost in the confusion
of the French invasion, if the allegiance of some subject
States was wavering, and if Pisa was in open revolt, these
were God's judgments upon the sins of Florence in the
past, and there was the prophet's confident assurance
and the people's confident conviction that these troubles
would soon be ended, and that Florence would emerge
from them more powerful and more splendid than before.

Though the general principles of the new Constitution
were determined and embodied in law before the end of
1494, there still remained many points of detail to be de-
cided, and to the satisfactory settlement of such details
Savonarola vigorously applied himself in 1495. There
were, for example, the questions of taxation, of amnesty,
and of the right to appeal.

It has been seen that in his thirteenth sermon on
Haggai Savonarola had already touched upon his views
as to taxation, and had suggested a tax on land as being


the most suitable source of revenue. The proposal in-
volved the abolition of a large part of the Medici system
of taxation, such as the poll tax, and the tax on movables
and earnings. An exclusive land tax naturally com-
mended itself to the commercial class in Florence which
found itself thereby exempted from taxation upon the
profits of trade. But such a tax was inequitable inas-
much as it tended to throw the whole burden of taxation
upon a class, and inexpedient inasmuch as the true
sources of Florentine wealth contributed little or nothing
to the revenue. Thus there was the danger of continual
deficits, and of hand-to-mouth expedients invented to
relieve them, and of an abiding sense of grievance and
injustice among the landed, and least protected, interest
in the community. There was also the diiificulty of ar-
riving at any satisfactory valuation of the land. These
objections, however, gave way before the advocacy of
Savonarola and his supporters. By the law of the
'■'^ Decimal' proposed and carried in February, 1495, all
citizens were to pay ten per cent on income derived from
real property, and a special office was created for the
just valuation of such property.

Scarcely less important than the question of taxation
was that of amnesty for past political offences, and of
securing a fair trial for those accused of such offences in
the future. It had long been customary in Florence to
follow up a political crisis by wholesale penalties of death,
banishment, and confiscation against the defeated party,
and the partisans of the fallen Medici were now in hourly
expectation of such a fate. Savonarola was insistent on
the necessity of forgiving and forgetting. The old era had
passed away : all things were being made new. Let the
new epoch be inaugurated with a measureof leniency and
reconciliation. In the first of a series of sermons upon the


Psalms, begun in January, 1495,^ he advocates the cause
of universal peace, and repeats to his congregation the argu-
ments which, he says, he had already urged in the Palazzo
on " S. Silvester's Day ". He gives eight reasons based on
natural law for amnesty, of which the sixth has a melan-
choly bearing upon his own case : " Unless universal
peace be brought about you will provoke God against
yourselves, for those will be accused who are innocent,
and under torture you will make them confess things
whicJi they have not done : you will punish them for no
fault that they have done, and so you will provoke the
wrath of God against you, for there is nothing which
provokes the. wrath of God more than this ". The one
aim of Florence should be to put aside rancours and party
spirit, for it is the existing rancours which prevent the
capture of Pisa. " I tell you of a truth that Pisa is not
yours, not because of the maUgnity or power of the
Pisans, but because of your rancore e ingratitudine."

In the same sermon he touched upon the question of
an appeal in criminal cases from the decision of the Sig-
noria to some ultimate tribunal, and for the next three
months the law " of the Six Beans" became the burning
political question of the day.

The constitutional importance of this measure how-
ever would not entitle it to any extended consideration
here were it not that Savonarola's reputation, and even
to some extent his fate, came to be involved in this
matter of the appeal. A brief statement in anticipation
of the narrative which is to follow may therefore be
timely. It has been charged against him that, having
strongly advocated the right of appeal, Savonarola, to
suit his own purposes, denied this right to certain accused

1 Villari and Casanova say on the 6th. The 6th was a Tuesday. The
sermon was almost certainly delivered on Sunday, 4 January.


persons, Bernardo del Nero and others, who had been
convicted before the Signory of treason to the republic,
and that, to quote Macchiavelli,^ " this disclosure of the
Friar's ambitious and partisan temper deprived him
of his reputation and gave him much trouble". The
necessity for the law therefore, its provisions, and Savona-
rola's attitude in regard to it, become matters of much

Hitherto the decision of the Signoria in political and
criminal cases tried before it had been final. The Signoria
consisted of nine individuals, and a two-thirds majority
was necessary for condemnation. Hence six votes, or
six beans placed in the voting-box, secured a verdict.
There was at this time a strong body of opinion that
a right to appeal ought to lie from the Signoria to some
other court, but the difficulty was felt of specifying or
creating such a court, and some apprehensions were also
entertained that any appeal from the decisions of the
chief magistrates would tend to impair the authority and
prestige of the executive. The question was further
complicated by the ever-shifting hopes and fears of the
various factions as to the effects of a right to appeal upon
their party interests. Each Signoria held office only for
two months, and such constant changes in the executive
produced almost equally constant changes in its political
complexion. Thus when a faction had successfully
manoeuvred to secure a Signoria favourable to it, that
faction would naturally resent any appeal from the au-
thority of its nominees : but equally it would advocate
an appeal from the nominees of a rival faction which
in its turn had got the upper hand. Apply this
general principle to the particular faction of the Bigi or
Mediceans. As long as they remained out in the cold

^ " Discorsi," I, c. 45.


and subject to the persecutions of power they would
favour an appeal from the verdict of their opponents.
As soon as there was the smallest prospect of installing
a Medicean Signoria in office, they would begin to be
doubtful as to the advisability of an appeal.

In the state of faction by which Florence was at this
time torn it is not difficult to conceive the agitations and ex-
citement which this question aroused. Scarcely any one
felt quite sure of himself in regard to it and Savonarola
dominated the situation. As for him, he entertained no
doubts whatever. " We must," he says in this sermon
of January, " modify a little the authority of the Six Beans.
For they are all powerful to banish, to 'admonish,' and
even to call a Parlamento. Those, therefore, who may be
condemned by the Six Beans should have a right of appeal
to a Council of Eighty or a Hundred composed of mem-
bers of the Grand Council." ^ Thus the excitement
generated by the question centred round the person of
the Friar. To the supporters of the measure he was an
indispensable ally, a tower of strength ; to its opponents
he was the one man they had to fear. If his influence
were removed they would almost certainly carry the day.
At this juncture popular agitation reached a climax when
it was understood that Savonarola was going to Lucca to
preach the Lent sermons there.

1 The right to " admonish " (ammonite) was a political weapon in the
hands of the executive which could be used, like exile and taxation, for the
destruction of opponents. Savonarola's exact meaning in this passage is
unfortunately not quite clear. Did he mean his appeal court to be the
Consiglio dell' Ottanta — the Council of Eighty set up by the new Constitu-
tion — and that that body should add to its duties the functions of a court of
appeal ? Or did he mean that in each case as it arose the Grand Council
should appoint eighty or a hundred of its members ad hoc to act as a final
court of appeal? The loose phrase "eighty or a hundred" might cover
either supposition, for the Consiglio delV Ottanta did not consist of Eighty
members precisely, but of about eighty.


From the circumstances of the situation there is a
natural disposition to suppose that this proposal was a
manoeuvre, insidiously contrived by his political oppo-
nents in order to get him out of the way. Professor
Villari is of this opinion, for he tells us that as a conse-
quence of a Sermon ^ preached on 1 3 January upon the
reformation of the Church, Savonarola's enemies so
worked matters at Rome that he was ordered to spend
the season of Lent at Lucca. A series of letters, how-
ever, unearthed by Guasti and published by him in the
" Giornale Storico degli Archivi Toscani " goes to show
that the initiative in this proposal originated from Lucca,
that the invitation reached Savonarola several weeks
before any of his January sermons were preached, that on
28 December and again on 8 January urgent letters were
dispatched to Rome by the Florentine authorities implor-
ing the Pope to permit Savonarola to preach the Lent
course in Florence, and to forbid him to set foot outside.^

It seemed, however, that these exhortations would
prove fruitless, for on 25 January, Savonarola took leave of
his people in his Seventh Sermon on the Psalms, and fore-

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Online LibraryE. L. S. (Edward Lee Stuart) HorsburghGirolamo Savonarola → online text (page 11 of 23)