Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence
One of the most unfortunate members of the Medici family to rule over Florence was Duke Alessandro, the recognized only son of Lorenzo II de‘ Medici. There has been some speculation as to his actual parentage and the identity of his mother is not known for certain at all. In any event, he was the recognized son and heir of Lorenzo II, Duke of Urbino which, as far as the law was concerned, is all that matters. He was born on July 22, 1510 but though he was the first to come to rule Florence based on heredity, as a monarch, that did not happen immediately after the death of his father in 1519. Rather, power effectively passed to the Medici who held the highest office of all Pope Clement VII who appointed Alessandro’s cousin, Ippolito de’ Medici, to rule Florence on his behalf. It was also Pope Clement who had arranged the marriage of Alessandro’s (legitimate) half-sister Catherine to King Henri II of France. Many accounts describe Alessandro as unprepossessing but not in a flattering way and he was the focus of a great deal of criticism both from within his own family as well as the republican and overall anti-Medici forces in Florence.
That campaign culminated in the 1527 “Sack of Rome” which must rank as one of the most horrific acts of rampant savagery and horror in all of human history. The accounts are numerous and often too lurid to repeat such that the imagination itself would be overwhelmed in describing the barbarity that occurred. The Emperor himself, who was not present of course, was shocked but not so shocked as to fail to take advantage of the situation and force the Pope into submission. Likewise, in the city of Florence, the anti-Medici elements saw the sacking of Rome and the violent destruction of the power of the Pope as their great moment of opportunity. They took to the streets shouting slogans and singing songs in thanks to the downfall of the Pope. The papal envoy, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, took the Medici family and children, Alessandro as well as Ippolito, but leaving little Catherine behind for some reason, and quickly fled Florence for safer environs. An effigy of Pope Clement VII was torn to pieces in the street and a republican government was restored under a new anti-Medici leader.
That was good news for Alessandro, but he looked likely to have been in for a soft landing in any event as Emperor Charles V had entertained another ducal throne for him. The Sforza Duke Francesco II of Milan had been appointed to that position by the Emperor when the Emperor’s Spanish forces had driven out the French in the Italian Wars. However, Francesco II had turned against the Emperor in the latest unpleasantness, allying with Florence, Papal Rome, the French and so on. As a result, once his forces were victorious, the Emperor had considered placing Alessandro de’ Medici on the ducal throne of Milan but the Republic of Venice objected to the idea and, after paying the Emperor a considerable bribe, Francesco II was allowed to return. So, it was back to Florence after all for Alessandro but he would have an equal rank anyway. First, of course, was the detail of actually taking the city which was the last of the Italian states still holding out in opposition to the Emperor.
At first, Duke Alessandro acted with the advice of elected councils, trying to calm the nerves of the defeated republicans. However, he soon showed that he was not about to forget all that had transpired. He disarmed the populace, confiscating all weapons even if they were purely ornamental, and built a large new fortress to help ensure that he would not be chased out of town again. The large bell which had symbolized the republic in Florence (Americans might think of it as being in the same vein as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) was melted down and, you have to love this, cast into medals showing the figures and symbols of the House of Medici. The republican opposition, needless to say, became increasingly furious and just exactly what sort of man Duke Alessandro was depends almost entirely on whose side of the story you choose to believe.
Historians have, themselves, debated which image of Alessandro is more correct. Emperor Charles V, if deemed a sufficient judge of character, seems to have found no merit in the accusations made by the critics of Alessandro. Not only were their charges not accepted but the Emperor fulfilled the wish of the late Pope Clement and agreed to have his fourteen-year old daughter Margaret married to Duke Alessandro; an illegitimate Hapsburg for an illegitimate Medici. The two were married in 1536 and, based on her later life, she might have been just the sort of woman Alessandro needed. However, the two would not have a long, married life together. As far as his private life was concerned, Alessandro had one mistress who gave birth to his three children, and was allegedly lured away by the promise of a romantic rendezvous with a famously beautiful widow, Laudomia, by her brother, Lorenzino de’ Medici (a distant cousin of Alessandro) who then assassinated Alessandro on January 6, 1537. He was only 26-years old but had lived quite a colorful life. Lorenzino said he had done the deed to restore the republic but, if genuine, it certainly did not work and he was killed in Venice several years later.