After a hundred years of growth and success, encouraged by the behind-the-scenes rule of the Medici, Florence was at a crossroads. The Medici family had become dissolute and debauched the further they grew from their beginnings in Cosimo and Lorenzo; and once Piero, Lorenzo’s son, took control, things fell apart pretty quickly.
You could say that Piero “the Unfortunate” was truly unfortunate, and a victim of bad timing. Or you could agree with the Florentines in thinking he was weak and foolish. Either way, the sight of twenty five thousand heavily armed men probably had a hand in his decision to allow the French King passage through Florentine lands, and allow him to billet troops in the city itself.
He also knew that any support his negotiations might have from Florence was already undermined by Savonarola. The monk, whose reputation was gaining momentum, had declared Charles VIII to be the hand of God, sent to return Florence to Republican rule – with Savonarola in charge of course. Many of the important families had fallen under Savonarola’s spell, so when Piero returned, with nothing to show but a French army at his back, he was promptly banished.
In a classic example of why you should be careful what you wish for, Savonarola was a terrible ruler, failing in most everything except to destroy the beautiful things Florentines held dear. What seemed like a great idea in principle turned out to be a disaster – Savonarola was burned at the stake on charges trumped up by the Borgias, and with wood collected by the Florentines.
In 1498, the state was in sad straits, but, with the combined efforts of Piero Soderini and Niccolò Machiavelli, Florence became a relatively honest republic – for the last time.
The Medici, angry in exile, plotted to return and become the ruling family of Florence once more. The seemingly endless wars up and down the Italian peninsular, beset with constantly shifting allegiances, gave them their opportunity. In 1512 the (Medici) Pope was able to convince the Spanish to overthrow Florence and reinstall his family.
Fast-forward fifteen years. Florence has calmed somewhat, but the Medici are either loved or hated depending on your viewpoint. The Republic is still functioning, although now as more of an oligarchy run by the Pope and his family. Coming over the horizon, though, is yet another foreign army, more dangerous and more rapacious than ever. And, having been beaten twice, Florence is a juicy target for such a rampaging horde.
The Florentine solution? Party like it’s 1499.
The people live as well as they possibly can – to excess if possible – and try to rekindle the republican spirit of Soderini, himself dead five years since, banished to Rome. Even Machiavelli is back from his exile in the country – on a job for the Medici Pope no less.
But the Emperor’s army isn’t going away, and they are heading towards Florence.