After various delays and frustrations, the plotters struck in the Duomo in Florence during the service on Easter Sunday, April 26th 1478, but they were only partially successful, as the two Medici brothers stayed in different parts of the cathedral during the service. Giulano was caught unawares by Francesco de' Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli, who together managed to strike him nineteen times with their daggers as he fell to the floor. The attack was so frenzied that at one point Francesco missed Giuliano completely and drove his dagger right through his own thigh. Lorenzo was luckier. Attacked by two priests inexpert in the use of weapons (Antonio Maffei and Stefano da Bagnone), he was forewarned when Maffei grasped his shoulder to ready his blow, and Lorenzo only received a superficial wound to the neck as he turned, drew his sword and fought them off.
To coincide with the attack, Archbishop Salviati had arrived at the Palazzo della Signoria (the seat of government) with another accomplice, Jacopo di Poggio Bracciolini, and a group of Perugian mercenaries disguised as the Archbishop's entourage. He was to deliver an ultimatum from the Pope to the Gonfaloniere di Giustizia, the standard-bearer of the Republic. The mercenaries were to kill anyone who resisted. The increasingly-nervous Salviati was first forced to wait for the Gonfaloniere to finish his lunch, and then when he was finally able to deliver his message, the Gonfaloniere attacked him with a cooking spit and then ordered that the great bell of the Palazzo be rung to sound the alarm. The Pazzi and their supporters still tried to raise a popular revolt against the Medici, but they failed spectacularly. The people rose instead in support of the Medici, and Francesco de' Pazzi - bleeding heavily from his self-inflicted wound - was dragged to the Palazzo della Signoria and hanged from a window, along with Archbishop Salviati and Bracciolini. Two of Salviati's companions were strangled and their bodies also left hanging. The Perugian mercenaries were butchered inside the Palazzo, their heads and hands carried outside held aloft on the points of swords and spears. Despite Lorenzo's calls for restraint, the furious citizens seized and killed many supporters of the Pazzi faction. All the main conspirators were eventually caught and executed. The two priests who had tried to kill Lorenzo were castrated before they were hanged. Jacopo de' Pazzi, the head of the family, was captured after fleeing the city. He was brought back to Florence, tortured, and later hanged from the window of the Palazzo della Signoria alongside the rotting remains of the others. After burial, his corpse was disinterred by a mob of Florentines and dragged to the Palazzo Pazzi, where they used its decomposing head as a door-knocker, shouting that the master of the house wished to enter. The body was then thrown into the Arno.
Gian Battista da Montesecco was another mercenary involved in the plot. He had been supposed to kill Lorenzo, but found himself unable to murder a man he personally found amiable and charming. When taken, he revealed the entire plot under torture. He was then beheaded. Luckily for Florence, the military leadership of Federico da Montefeltro had been denied the conspirators when Federico broke his leg in an accident, falling through a wooden floor. The mercenary troops that had been held in readiness to enter the city on the deaths of the Medici did not intervene after the failure of the coup.
Looking carefully at the torso of the figure of the young Magus Caspar, you can make out a line running up from the stomach to come to a point over the sternum, which conforms to the position of the outer breastplate of an armour (the ‘plackart’). In addition, looking at his abdomen, careful examination shows a series of horizontal lines betraying the presence of the hooped articulated 'fauld' of a cuirasse. The bottom edge of it is concealed by the elaborate belt Caspar wears. A fauld is shown even more clearly on the sky-blue garment that a figure identified as Giuliano wears in the fresco on the opposite wall. Lighter cuirasses covered with fabrics were known as ‘corazzine’ (‘little cuirasses’), and we find various examples in the Medici inventory. In Lorenzo's bedroom were:
"iii corazzine di raso di più ragioni e dommaschino"
"3 corazzine of different sizes, covered with silk and damask"*
*Damask is a figured fabric with the design woven into it.
In the room which had been the armoury of Lorenzo's father Piero were:
"ii corazzine coperte una di velluto pagonazzo l'altra di velluto tané"
"2 corazzine, one covered with 'peacock' velvet [a type of purple], the other with ‘tané’ velvet [a type of dark chestnut brown]"
"i farsetto di domino nostro pieno di maglie"
"1 doublet of our lord [Lorenzo] lined with mail"
Mail was flexible enough to be easily sewn into the lining of clothes, but was not as effective as plate steel, and sure enough, we find an example of that as well in Lorenzo's bedroom:
"...et uno farsetto di lame milanesi belle"
"...and a doublet lined with fine Milanese lames"
Milan was the city where the finest Italian armour was made. The inventory is specific when listing the place of manufacture of arms and armour, so where no city is specified, we may assume the items mentioned were produced locally: Florence had its own community of armourers and weapon makers.
This use of armoured clothing explains Francesco de' Pazzi's behaviour on the morning of the attempted coup. Giuliano had decided not to go to mass in the cathedral, as he had injured his leg in an accident some days before, and it was still troubling him. The plotters had to make sure the two brothers were disposed of together, and when Giuliano didn't arrive, Francesco had to go to the Palazzo Medici to see him and persuade him to come to mass. As Giuliano limped down the street towards the cathedral, Francesco put his arm round him and gave him a friendly squeeze, joking that he was getting fat from being off his feet since the injury. What he was actually doing was making sure that Giuliano wore no armoured clothing. Perhaps because of the hurry to go out, or because of his injured leg, Giuliano had unwisely not worn any armour. Nor was he wearing a sword. You may have been surprised by the fact that Lorenzo was openly wearing a sword when he went to mass, and that may have been a privilege of his rank, but it was common practice for men to carry daggers for their own protection, so the weapons carried by the assassins would not have excited comment.
Francesco had been present when Giuliano left the family palazzo, so he may also have been certain that Giuliano was not wearing another item of armoured clothing: even hats could have steel armour hidden within them. In a small room on the ground level of the Palazzo Medici was:
"Una beretta di piastre"
"A hat armoured with plates"
And the wound that was immediately fatal to Giuliano was a downward blow that practically split his skull in two: he was wearing no protection for his head. Lorenzo was another matter, however. Not knowing whether he was wearing armoured clothing of any kind may explain why Lorenzo's inexpert attackers went for his neck. They may have been instructed to go first for areas that were obviously vulnerable, to avoid warning him with a blow that might be turned by hidden armour. As it turned out, the hand Maffei put on his shoulder gave him the warning he needed.
So as beautiful as the clothes in Gozzoli’s frescoes are, most viewers are completely unaware that they are looking at a group of people who are not just dressed to impress, but also dressed to survive the realities of Florentine power-politics in the 15th century.
NB: The Cappella Medici is in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Via Cavour 3, Florence. Open daily 8.30AM - 7.00PM, closed Wednesdays. Admission Charge.
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