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taste, but he was crippled by gout, and compelled by
physical disabilities to withdraw himself largely from
public view.

The duty of representing the family before Florence
and the Italian world was thrust upon the youthful
LorenzQ . son of Piero and grandson of Cosimo. Born in
1449, Lorenzo was only in his sixteenth year when his
grandfather died, but he had already been brought pro-
minently forward as the hope of the Medicean house,
and, through the illness of his father, he was called upon
to undertake important missions of ceremony and diplo-
macy, which widened his knowledge of men, of affairs and
of the world, and in turn accustomed the world to look
upon him as being in a special way the representative of
Florence. The fifteenth century was an age of precocity.
Boys of tender years were to be found then as captains
of armies and leaders in council. That he was only
thirteen was no bar to Lorenzo's son being made a cardinal.
Of the many examples of precocious youth which the age
presents Lorenzo himself is perhaps the most conspicuous.
We may deplore his early death, but, while deploring,
may reflect that he crowded into his brief span of forty-
three years the experiences of a long life-time. In 1469,
on the death of his father, he assumed the position for
which he had been prepared. His brother Giuliano was
associated with him in the direction of affairs, and it
seemed by no means unlikely that the Medicean ascend-
ancy might fall a victim to the experiment of a dual
sovereignty. This contingency was, however, averted,
first of all by reason of the unassuming character of
Giuliano himself and the ties of devoted admiration and
affection which bound him to his brother, and secondly
by his untimely death at the hands of the Pazzi conspir-
ators in 1478. The Pazzi conspiracy formed undoubtedly

STATE OF ITALY, 1 450-1 500 13

the crisis of Lorenzo's life. Private jealousies on the part
of rivals, public resentment against the infringement of
republican principles which his ascendancy represented,
Papal spite against the man who stood in the way of
the schemes of the Pontiff, all combined to mature a
dangerous plot, which resulted in the assassination of
Giuliano before the high altar of the Duomo, a fate from
which Lorenzo barely escaped. The punishment which
the Florentines summarily meted out to the conspirators,
their partisans, and families aroused the fury of the
thwarted Pope, who, on the pretext that ecclesiastical
personages had been put to death without a trial, declared
war against Florence, or rather against Lorenzo, and
found a powerful ally in Ferrante, King of Naples. The
hold which Lorenzo had already gained upon the affections
of the Florentines is significantly attested in this period
of his extremity. They refused to listen to the Pope's
suggestion that they could obtain peace at the cost of
surrendering Lorenzo. They made Lorenzo's cause their
own, and were ready to suffer to the last rather than prove
unfaithful to their most prominent citizen. The conduct
of Lorenzo was no less magnanimous. Determined that
the State should not suffer the horrors of war for his sake,
and trusting doubtless to those powers of fascination and
diplomacy with which he knew himself to be endowed,
he determined to risk the chances of a personal visit to
Ferrante. He was treated by the King of Naples with
much ceremony as an honoured guest, but it may be ques-
tioned whether very favourable results would have followed
from Lorenzo's romantic exploit, had it not been for the
Turks, who, now pushing westward as far as the very
shores of Southern Italy, were threatening the existence
of every Italian State. The imminence of common peril
reconciled for the moment the conflicts of Italy, The first


duty of the Pope, as head of Christendom, was to use all
his energies to repel the infidel invader. Sixtus IV made
peace with Florence, and Lorenzo and the Pope were
reconciled in 1480. From this date until his death, twelve
years later, his ascendancy was scarcely questioned. In

\ 1 48 1, Fra Girolamo Savonarola first came to Florence,
obscure, unnoticed, a failure. A strange contrast to the
situation of the two men ten years later when Lorenzo was
dying and Savonarola was about to occupy Lorenzo's
place as controller of the destinies of Florence! The
nature and character of Lorenzo's rule will sufficiently
appear in subsequent chapters. The brief career of
Savonarola as a power in the State was a continuous
protest against it.

We may therefore pass at once from Plorence to a
summary consideration of another of the five chief Italian
Powers at this time — to the position occupied by the
Papacy in the fifteenth century.

The anomaly presented by the Papacy in Renaissance
times is one of the most startling which history presents.
The Popes were the Vicars of Christ on earth — the spokes-
men and representatives of the Prince of Peace, of the

■ greatest of moral preachers. Yet the fifteenth century
gave to Christendom a series of Popes who seem succes-
sively to have been more and more blind to the spiritual

: and moral obligations imposed upon them by their posi-

* tion. Their election was governed by the intrigues of
the Sacred Conclave, and often secured by flagrant
simony and corruption. If their individual characters
approximated to our existing standard of morals that is
the utmost that can be said in their favour, and even this
can be said of few. In Alexander VI we find a man
who is on all hands admitted to be the abnegation in his
own person of every principle of morality, decency, or

STATE OF ITALY, 14 50- 1500 15

virtue. Even in the case of such Popes as Nicolas V or
Pius II, who were respectable in regard to private char-
acter (so much can be said of Pius during his tenure of
the Papal office), we see little if any sense of spirituality.
Brilliant, clever, astute, worldly, but utterly un-Christlike,
such is the by no means uncharitable verdict which must
be pronounced even against the most reputable of the
Renaissance Popes.

It is not enough, however, to point out the anomaly
and turn away with disgust and contempt from so much
loftiness of spiritual pretension united to so much which
was earthly, sensual, and devilish. It is necessary to
understand that there were special causes which produced
the conditions and as far as possible to grasp the nature
of those causes. The character of the Renaissance Pa-
pacy was largely determined not so much by the super-
fluity of naughtiness which we seem to find in Popes
like Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII or Alexander VI, as by
the anomalous and difficult position which the Church
occupied in the fifteenth century. An adequate present-
ment of the case demands the labour, scope and scholar-
ship of a Pastor or Creighton, but even a few paragraphs
may be sufficient to show the wisdom and sobriety which
is contained in the following words of the late Bishop of
London : " It is scarcely fair to isolate the Popes from
their surroundings and hold them up to exceptional
ignominy ; yet it is impossible to forget their high office
and their lofty claims. ... It seems to me . . . neither
becoming to adopt an attitude of lofty superiority over
any one who ever played a prominent part in European
affairs, nor charitable to lavish indiscriminate censure
upon any man."

The ideal which the Papacy set before itself in the
Middle Ages was as lofty as it was splendid. Popes like


Gregory VII and Innocent III stood for the universal
claims of spirituality, justice, and right in a lawless and
turbulent age. If the mediaeval Papacy exalted its office
as being superior to that of any temporal Power, it was be-
cause it held that the rule of Christ should predominate
over the government of any earthly sovereign. But in-
dividual Popes were apt to forget that they were not Christ,
but frail and very human men. It was almost impossible
that, invested with such attributes and powers, they
should not sometimes abuse both, that the ambition of
the man should not sometimes overmaster the zeal of the
representative. The claim to intervene in secular and
national affairs and to overrule the will of sovereigns and
of nations undoubtedly tended to confuse and dislocate
the order and government which sovereigns in their
various States were endeavouring to establish, and to
clash with that growing spirit of independent nationality
which it was the work of the Middle Ages to foster.

As the national spirit developed, the interference of
an external Power like the Papacy was less easily
tolerated, and Papal claims which, in the days of
Gregory VII or Innocent III, except to the sovereigns
individually affected, were in harmony with the spirit of
the age, were resented and repudiated as being out of
date when put forward at the end of the thirteenth cen-
tury by Boniface VIII. It had now become clearer to
the rulers in Europe that what purported in the Pope
to be spiritual fervour was in reality little more than the
overweening ambition of a rival. The Papacy had be-
come more secular, and Christendom had become more
secular too. Thus when the pretensions of the Papacy
were put forward by Boniface VIII (1294-1303) in their
most extreme form, they were resisted by the English
Edward I and the French Philip IV. In his contest

STATE OF ITALY, 1450-1500 17

with Philip, Boniface was worsted and died in a frenzy
of shame and indignation, and his successor, Benedict
XI, fared even worse. UaJ^iti

In 1305 a Pope was elected, Clement V, who was _ _._-
little more than Philip's creature, and from this date,
for a period of more than seventy years, the Papal seat
was removed from Rome to Avignon and fell almost
completely under P'rench influence, its policy being
directed mainly by French interests. This Avignon
exile — this Babylonish captivity of the Papacy — deeply
undermined its position and authority in Europe. The
mediaeval Papacy ended with Boniface VIII. From the
beginning of the fourteenth century the Popes had to
be satisfied with other and less far-reaching aims than
those which had dictated the policy of the Pontiffs of an
earlier day. The weakening and secularization of the
Papacy which resulted from the Avignon exile was in-
tensified by the Great Schism of the West, when for
over forty years Europe was scandalized by the spectacle
of two and sometimes three Popes, each claiming ex-
clusively to be God's Vicar upon earth, each vituperating
and anathematizing the others as anti-Christ, each after
his election exerting himself to intensify and embitter
a contest which he had been elected purposely to com-
pose. The conscience and moral sense of Europe was
shocked by this spectacle. The opinion began to pre-
vail that the decrees of a General Council of the Church
Universal were superior in validity to the decrees of a
Pope. If this were so, Popes could be deposed and
elected by the decisions of such a Council. The Council
of Pisa, 1409, tended rather to increase than diminish
the scandal, for neither of the two rival Popes would
recognize its authority, nor that of the third Pope whom
the Council itself set up. Five years later the Council


of Constance met. Practically it succeeded in terminat-
ing the worst evils of the Schism, though rivals still con-
tinued to contest for St. Peter's chair until at length the
closing years of the Pontificate of Eugenius IV and the
accession of Nicholas V (1447) mark the full restoration
of the unity of the Papacy and inaugurate the series
of Renaissance Popes.

If the dictum is true that the mediaeval Papacy ended
with Boniface VIII, and that the Renaissance Papacy
began with Nicolas V, it follows that between these dates
there lies a period of nearly i 50 years during which the
Papacy was neither mediaeval nor Renaissance ; when in
fact it was in abeyance. It had not the spirit, power, nor
prestige to put forward its old claims with any prospect
of success, nor was it in a position to assert those local
prerogatives of Italian sov^ereignty which were the chief
care of the typical Popes of the Renaissance. The ter-
mination of the Great Schism gave to the Papacy once
more a position and a policy. Restored to Rome, it fell
to the lot of the Popes to rule over a turbulent city.
Restored to Italy, it was for them to consolidate the
Papal States and to make the influence of the Papac)'
felt in Italian politics. In view of the circumstances,
it would have been difficult for the best of men to
do more, and men distinguished for holiness and spiritu-
ality would have been strangely out of place among
the temporal despots of the Renaissance. The Papacy
was in this dilemma : if the Popes were successfully
to assert their authority as secular rulers, those saintly
qualities which befitted their spiritual office would have
stood fatally in the way of their design ; if they were
worthily to fill the place of Christ's Vicars, they de-
barred themselves ipso facto from fulfilling those duties,
as temporal rulers in Italy, which circumstances had

STATE OF ITALY, 1450-1500 19

imposed upon them. The anomaly presented by the
Renaissance Papacy is a logical outcome of its dual posi-
tion as at once a spiritual and a temporal Power.
It is to be remembered, however, that this position
was not one which the Popes of the Renaissance had
made for themselves, but one which they had inherited
from the past. The necessary antagonism between an
Italian despot and the representative of Christ was not
recognized nor realized. The Popes in their own persons
seemed to be living proof that such antagonism did not
exist, but from the fact of its existence, and the fact that
it was not realized, there sprang those strange and mon-
strous incongruities which we note with amazement in a
Sixtus or an Alexander, that union of the loftiest preten-
sions to an almost divine sanctity with the aims and
methods of a scheming and unscrupulous tyrant. With
each election the character of the office and of its occupant
seemed to deteriorate, until in 1492 a climax was reached
in the choice by the conclave of Roderigo Borgia who
desired to be designated by the name of " the invincible
Alexander," and who consequently assumed the title of
Alexander VI. This was the Pontiff against whom
Savonarola raised his protest, and the intrigues of Alex-
ander were largely instrumental in effecting the Friar's
downfall. What further commentary is needed upon the
character of the Renaissance Papacy, and of Alexander
VI in particular, will be supplied in this study of Savona-
rola's life and work.

The position and policy of Naples and Venice still need
to be indicated, but very briefly, for Venice was little, if
at all, associated with the drama of Savonarola, while the
association of Naples with that drama, though important,
was indirect.

Venice, in an age of despotisms, boasted of the freedom


of her constitution and the character of independence
which attached to her institutions. Like Florence, Venice
in theory was free, and in truth she was almost alone
among the States of Italy in refusing to submit herself to
the rule of a single tyrant. But the despotism of an
aristocratic oligarchy took the place in Venice of the
unrestricted rule of an individual. Her geographical
position in relation to the sea had long secured for her
supremacy over the commerce of the world ; her wealth,
luxury, and refinement were the envy and admiration of
the nations. Internally the Venetian territories were
more self-contained, and their boundaries were more dis-
tinctly defined, than was the case with those of other
States, owing to the many rivers which water the north-
eastern regions of the Italian peninsula. These natural
frontiers, while guaranteeing the integrity of her State,
were yet no barrier to her own ambition nor to her desire
for territorial aggrandisement. At one time we find her
casting her eyes westward with designs upon the Milanese
— at another extending herself southward by annexa-
tions in Romagna filched from the hands of the Papacy
in the days of its weakness. Rich, strong, grasping,
astute, aloof and utterly selfish, Venice was very much
the unknown and incalculable factor in Italian politics.
One thing alone was certain, that Venice would pursue
her course, regardless of abstract ideals, enthusiasms,
crusades or Italian aspirations, bent, in all her policy,
upon one single end, the exaltation and enhancement of
the Venetian State. This indeed was the end which each
State pursued, but Venice could not offer the excuse for a
policy of pure self-interest which could plausibly and with
some justice be put forward by others. There were no
disputed claims to Venice, as was the case in Naples and
Milan. There was not that vagueness as to the limits

STATE OF ITALY, 1450-1500 21

and extent of her territorial jurisdiction which is to be
found in the case of the States of the Church. There
were none of those generous illusions, but half illusions
after all, which we find in Florence, that Florence was the
natural rallying point for a united Italy, the natural
centre of all that was most scholarly and cultured in
Italian life — that the enhancement of Florence was for
the ultimate good of Italy at large. Venice coldly and
indifferently pursued her own course, and the punishment
which eventually overtook her was the due reward of a
sordid policy of calculated self-interest. It was in this
spirit that Venice watched the affairs of Florence after
the death of Lorenzo during the ascendancy and ecHpse
of Savonarola. She viewed with interest the political
difficulties of a rival State, but the prophecies and denun-
ciations of an excitable monk were in themselves matters
of no concern to her.

If Venice stands entirely aloof from the Savonarola
tragedy, Naples on the other hand exercised upon it,
though unconsciously and indirectly, a deciding influence.
Eventually reduced to order, after the turmoils following
upon the disruption of the Roman Empire by Norman
adventurers, the kingdom of Naples became the scene
of the brilliance and the tragedy of the illustrious House
of the Hohenstaufen. From them it was wrested in
1266 by Charles of Anjou, brother of St. Louis of
France. In 1435 Queen Giovanna of Naples, who re-
presented the Angevin House, but whose title as against
other members of the same house had always been
dubious, died without issue, and the claims to Naples
were disputed between the elder representatives, who
were descended from Louis of Anjou, brother of Charles
V of France, and the younger who were descended from
James of Aragon who had married the granddaughter of


Charles of Anjou, first Angevin King of Naples. In
Alphonso, the Aragonese representative, there also ran
the Hohenstaufen blood, and thus he stood for the re-
conciliation of the claims of the rival Houses. Matters
were still further complicated by the pretensions of the
Popes who asserted that Naples was a Papal fief, that
any King of Naples was a Papal vassal liable to pay
tribute to the Holy See, and that a title to the throne of
Naples was only valid by reason of Papal investiture.

On Giovanna's death the House of Aragon prevailed
in Naples, and Alphonso V of Aragon became King
under the name of Alphonso I ; but the descendants of
Louis of Anjou still continued to assert their rights,
though the Troubadour King Rene of Provence, grand-
son of Louis of Anjou and representative of the Angevin
claims, was too much of a poet and a dreamer to press
those rights with vigour and resolution. On Rene's
death in 1480 his claims passed to his nephew, Charles,
Count of Maine, but he died in the following year, leaving
a will by which he bequeathed both his dominions and his
claims to Louis XI, King of France. Thus the reigning
French sovereign was formerly invested with a title on
his own behalf to Naples which he might vindicate at
leisure. Louis XI himself was too much occupied with
the internal affairs of his kingdom to undertake an
expedition beyond the Alps, but at the close of the
fifteenth century the French stood at the gate of Italy,
with an Orleanist claim to Milan and an Angevin claim
to Naples, ready to intervene actively in Italian affairs.
In 1494 the Italian campaign of Charles VIII (son of
Louis XI) began, and on his way to Naples Charles
passed through Florence.

The power of the House of Medici fell before him.
Savonarola recognized in him the scourge of God, the

STATE OF ITALY, 1450-1500 23

instrument which heaven had raised up to punish Italy
for her iniquities and to restore liberty to Florence so '
long enslaved. It was the expedition of Charles VIII to i
Naples which brought about the ascendancy of Savonarola '
in Florence. It was Savonarola's French proclivities '
which were a main cause of his eventual overthrow. I

With the active intervention of the French in Italy a
new epoch dawned for the country. It was an epoch of
shame and humiliation, for divided as she was, and with
no instinct for nationality, Italy fell an easy victim to the
selfishness of her own rulers and the rapacity of the
foreigner. Italy, who for long had looked with superb
contempt upon the " barbarians " who dwelt beyond her
mountains, Italy, who had regarded the French claims
merely as a pawn to be played in the complicated game
of inter-state politics, was soon to find herself the sport
of the stranger, her fair land the battle-ground on which
those barbarians decided their own quarrels independ-
ently of her. By their intrigues, by their complete
indifference to the interests of Italy as a whole, the des-
pots of Italy brought doom upon themselves, and upon
her the dominion of the foreigner. Savonarola was the
prophet of this doom. With a clearer insight than his
contemporaries possessed, he foresaw the inevitable con-
sequences of the political and moral corruption which
prevailed in the country. He stood, almost alone, im-
pressed by the sense of coming catastrophe, confident
that God would punish Italy for her sins, but as uncon-
scious as the rest of Italian statesmen of the particular
form which that catastrophe would assume. It is this
premonition of vast and far-reaching changes, soon to
come, which invests Savonarola with most of the interest
which he arouses in the philosophic student of his age.
The man who could read, even though imperfectly, the


signs of the times must necessarily stand out as a con-
spicuous figure among the purblind statesmen of Italy,
who were precipitating their own ruin by the very policy
from which they expected to gain their individual ad-

But the interest which attaches to Savonarola the
politician has been largely absorbed by the more personal
and sensational interest which is felt in Savonarola the
prophet and moral reformer. His claims as a prophet
were perhaps based largely on illusion ; his work as a
reformer was transient, yet the instinct is correct which
leads us to examine his pretensions with respect and
closely to follow his career. For the sins of Italy which
brought destruction upon her were not political sins alone.
The Italian people could not urge that their undoing was
the consequence of political mistakes on the part of their
rulers with .which they had nothing to do. The moral
tone of the Italians was hopelessly corrupted, and the
moral degradation of the people was only too faithfully
reflected in the Popes and despots who held sway in
the land.

Intellectually the Italians were far in advance of
Europe. While the energies of other nations were con-
centrated upon nationality, Italy deliberately neglected
nationality and devoted herself to culture and the ac-
cumulation of wealth. The ideal of chivalry which arose
out of feudal institutions had little hold upon a country
where feudalism had no roots. Instead of the chivalric
ideal, the commercial ideal preponderated. An atmo-
sphere of luxury, refinement and cultivated ease permea-
ted Italy at a time when the rest of Christendom was
absorbed in warfare and socially but little removed from
barbarism. Elsewhere a man carved his way to fortune
by the prowess of his strong arm. In Italy a man stood

STATE OF ITALY, 1450-1500 25

out above his fellows by virtue of his superior intellectual
capacities. Ability was the test by which character was
tried, and it was not considered necessary that ability
should be too much fettered by scruples. To achieve

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Online LibraryE. L. S. (Edward Lee Stuart) HorsburghGirolamo Savonarola → online text (page 2 of 23)