Alessandro de’ Medici

Alessandro de’ Medici


Collevecchio?, 1511/12?


Florence, 6 January 1537

Alessandro de’ Medici

The origin of Alessandro de’ Medici is mysterious, in the sense that he was never recognised by the family before the death of his putative father Lorenzo de’ Medici duke of Urbino (who died of syphilis in 1519). According to other rumours he was the secret son of Pope Clement VII, or possibly the son of a carter; what is certain is that none of these theories is supported by hard evidence, therefore it is much more logical to follow the official version, according to which he was the stepbrother of Caterina de’ Medici (whom he referred to as “sister”). It is much more difficult to work out who his mother was; most likely it was one of Alfonsina Orsini's maids in the villa at Collevecchio, called Simonetta. In any case, it is practically impossible, today, to say whether she was a local member of the house staff or a coloured servant, as expressly affirmed by later sources, essentially hostile: this question is hard to answer and historiography, especially Anglo-American scholars, has been studying it for decades. Following the death of the various candidates to the role of progenitor, Alessandro was welcomed into the family and, with his older cousin Ippolito di Giuliano, sent to Florence in the mid-1520s. The last time the Medicis were overthrown he was directly affected. In exile, Ippolito was appointed Cardinal, which meant that - when the situation appeared once again favourable for Clement VII, Alessandro turned out to be the sole candidate available to form a "secular" government: the treaty of Barcelona (1529) entrusted him in perpetuity (with hereditary transmission) the government of Florence (once the city had been reconquered), and arranged his marriage to a biological daughter of Charles V, Margaret of Austria. Soon after the capitulation, Alessandro was permanently appointed to lead all magistratures and offices in the city; an Imperial diploma then officialised what had been established in Barcelona; finally the Ordinances of 27 April 1532, a new “constitution” approved by the citizens of Florence (about two hundred loyals supporters of the Medicis and of the Pope), appointed Alessandro first “Duke of the Florentine Republic”. The repression and safety measures, including the disarming of Florentines and the creation of a militia of farmers and cities of other subjected cities or the constructio of the Fortezza da Basso, all meant that the princedom of Alessandro has gone down in history as a tyranny. The large-scale trial organised agains him in Naples before Charles V, in the winter of 1535-1536 ended with his acquittal and marriage to Margaret. On the night between 5 and 6 January 1537, however, Alessandro was killed by a relative, Lorenzino (or Lorenzaccio) de’ Medici, who leveraged on the Duke's proverbial lussuria and led him into into a room where a killer was waiting for him. This was presented as tyrannicide, however in Florence there was no insurrection as a result (also because Lorenzino escaped, instead of making his gesture public).

Bibliography and sources:

Catherine Fletcher, Il principe maledetto di Firenze. La spettacolare vita e l’infido mondo di Alessandro de’ Medici, Roma, Newton Compton, 2016
Alessandro Lo Bartolo, Alessandro de’ Medici e il Dominio. Per una rilettura degli inizi del principato (1530-1537), in «Archivio storico italiano», 179, 2, 2021, pp. 309-336

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