Rise to Prominence of the Medici’s The House of Medici was a political dynasty, banking family and later royal house who essentially ruled the Republic of Florence through economic power and personal influence. 1 The Medici are one of the first dynasties to obtain their status not through warfare, marriage or inheritance but through economic means (commerce). 2 They originated from the rural countryside of Mugello, north of Florence during the 12th century and rose to prominence when they founded the Medici Bank. The bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century, which allowed the Medici to gain power in Florence. 4 The Medici were created Dukes of Florence by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1531 and later on Dukes of Tuscany by Emperor Maximilian II in 1575. 5 The House of Medici also produced 4 Popes of the Catholic Church and 2 acting queens of France but what allowed for the Medici to rise to prominence?
In my opinion, the Medici’s rose to power because they were; in charge of the largest bank in Europe which allowed them to access an incredible amount of funds; they were notorious for their cut- throat tactics and how to get ahead of the competition and stay ahead; and finally because of their geographical location: Florence which was the center of the renaissance. The Medici Bank was possibly the most prosperous and was definitely one of the most well respected institutions of its kind in all of Europe and it was most powerful financial institution during 15th century Europe.
The Medici Bank was setup in 1397 by Giovanni di Becci de’ Medici who managed the bank in Rome before moving to Florence. 6 The Medici Bank used newly developed techniques such as records, double entry book keeping, bills of exchange and book transfers. 7 They held deposits, made loans, dealt in bills of exchange, changed money and conducted business abroad. 8 They were also aggressive in expanding as they had nine branches outside of Florence and although the Bardi and Peruzzi banking houses possibly had more branches- the Medici Bank was more international and the was the source of their power.
They used this network of branches across Europe for the most powerful institution of the day: the Roman Catholic Church. The bank collected “taxes” (indulgences) that were due to Rome from all parts of Europe. For an extremely long period of time, the Medici were in charge of all Papal finances and for a while, more than half of all their revenue generated originated from their connection with the Vatican as everyone wanted to have an account with the Pope’s “personal” bank. They were also able to participate in church matters and politics and on one occasion, records indicate that the bank was able to delay the elevation of a cleric to a bishopric until his father, who was a cardinal had repaid both their debts. 10 The Medici were also able to rise to the position of Pope: Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici and Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici. Due to its connection with Rome and the Vatican, the Medici Bank was able to gain not only immense financial power but also power of the church and this in turn enabled the Medici House to rise to power in Florence.
The Medici were notorious for their cut- throat tactics- as all powerful families were and still are. They did not’ start out as the most powerful family in Italy, or even Florence. Other families of their time were rich and ambitious as well, but the Medici knew how to get ahead and stay ahead. In Florence society, it was humiliating to receive a “loss of face” in society. During this period in time, the prospect of public humiliation was weighted on every choice, argument and decision and the Medici knew how to use this against their enemies.
In 1430, during the Medici’s feud with the Albizzi, a poet named Filefo, who was friend to the Albizzi spread rumours about Cosimo ( leader of the Medici). Filefo’s words caused the government to turn against Cosimo, but once Cosimo was restored to power, Filefo was allowed to live. Fortunately, Filefo eventually received justice as he was attacked, receiving a wound across his face from ear to ear. The Medici were masters of the “Che brutta figura”- humiliation as revenge.
They were also know to use whatever means necessary for their advantage. When Pope Leo X came to power, he had a young boy painted gold parading the streets of Florence, implying the golden age under the rule of the Medici had returned. Unfortunately, the boy did shortly after, poisoned from the gold paint. Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France also employed underhanded tactics as she always made sure she was well informed of all the happenings by using a group of young women who would engage gullible men into pillow talk.
Finally, the Medici killed their enemies who truly wished to harm them with such a brutality that it sent a warning to all others. Possibly the most infamous renaissance murder was that of Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici. Giuliano was murdered in from of 10 000 people in the Florence Cathedral. The Pazzi family had mistakenly believed that a public murder would strike fear into the Medici and allow them to claim power over Florence however, Lorenzo escaped.
Led by the Medici, the people of Florence had the Pazzi stripped, beaten and strung up and flung from the Palazzo Vecchio and were left to swing in the sun, the ultimate “brutte figure”. Once they had died, the decomposing corpses were ripped from their graves and dragged through the streets of Florence, until they were propped against the doors of the Pazzi Palace with the heads as the door knocker. The Medici were ruthless and used many tactics to always get ahead and they always protected their own.
They were the Godfather’s of the renaissance. The Medici was a banking family and being situated in Florence helped them expand their power. Florence was one of the wealthiest areas in Italy during the renaissance. This was because Florence was where the renaissance itself first started. There is no definite reason as to why the renaissance started but scholars have noted several unique features to Florentine cultural, and the coincidence that great renaissance men were born there and the rising middle, merchant class.
This was highly important to the Medici because along with being a banking family, they were also a trading family. Florence at this time, was a major trading route because of its geographic location and it was a very active commerce centre. A growing middle class meant that there was a growing market to buy, sell and trade thus expanding their financial wealth. Florence was a booming economy at this point in time and the Medici benefited from it greatly.
One of the greatest families during the renaissance, they are considered the Godfather’s of Florence and the renaissance itself. The Medici rose to power, not through mere luck but through their bank, their ruthless tactics and lastly because they were situated in area that allowed them to prosper. For over four hundred years, they “ruled” Florence with some of its own becoming members of the government, head of guilds, Dukes, Queens and even Pope himself. Even though they eventually declined and their power waned, the name Medici will forever be associated with Florence.