The House of Medici was an Italian banking family that rose to become one of the most powerful political families at their time, beginning with Cosimo de’ Medici, in the first half of the 15th century. During that time, the Medici Bank was the largest in Europe, which allowed the family to become excessively influential and rise in political power. See just who the members of this legendary family were and how they used their pull to benefit themselves.
They’re Considered The “Godfathers Of The Renaissance”
The Medici came into power in Florence, Italy in 1434. At that point, Cosimo d’Medici began the family tradition of being a major patron of the arts of all kinds. He was one of the biggest supporters and patrons of the renowned sculptor Donatello, with many of his works still present in the city today.
Furthermore, Lorenzo the Magnificent, another notable member of the Medici family, was close to Michelangelo, who is considered to one of the greatest artists of all time. Under Lorenzo, Michelangelo got his start, with the Medici family being credited as having sparked the Italian Renaissance.
The Medici Bank Was One Europe’s Most Powerful Institutions Ever To Exist
Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici started the Medici Bank in 1397, a time when Florence was a premiere center for the banking of the gold coin known as the florin. Under Giovanni’s son, Cosimo, the bank became incredibly powerful during the 15th century with branches all across Europe.
With connections to the papacy and family’s incredible wealth, Cosimo was able to influence Italian politics, establishing the family as major political players. Although the bank suffered a decline after Cosimo’s death, the Medici dynasty was far from over and maintained significant control until the 1700s.
Two Medici Women Became Queens
Definitely not by chance, two Medici daughters became the Queen of France. These were Catherine de Medici and later, her cousin, Marie. Catherine gained a reputation as the Queen Mother and at times Queen Regent to her young king-sons during the Wars of Religion.
Eventually, Marie replaced Catherine’s own daughter, Marguerite as queen after Marguerite’s husband, Henri IV of France, annulled his marriage not long after his ascension to the throne. Yet, this was okay in the eyes of the family for the most part, as long as a Medici remained on the throne.
Michelangelo Lived With The Family
In his teenage years, Michelangelo was recommended to attend a sculpting school that had been established by Lorenzo de’ Medici. While at the school, Lorenz took a particular interest in the young artist, inviting him to live at the Palazzo Medici, where he lived as essentially a member of the family.
Michelangelo ended up living with the Medici family for four years before going on to create some of his most famous works, including “David,” “Pieta,” and painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Galileo Served As A Family Tutor To The Medicis
While the Medici family is noted for being one of the principal patrons of the arts, during the Renaissance, they didn’t shy away from the sciences either. In the early 1600s, astronomer, and physicist Galileo Galilee needed work and found himself employed as a tutor for Cosimo de Medici, who was the son of Ferdinando I, the Duke of Tuscany.
In 1610, Galileo would go on to publish “The Starry Messenger,” about his recent discovery with the telescope, naming the moons of Jupiter after the Medicis. He also dedicated the book to his former student, Cosimo, in which Cosimo later rewarded Galileo with the position of mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke.
The Collapse Of The Dynasty
The almost 300-year-long reign of the Medici family came to a close with the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the seventh Medici to serve as the Duke of Tuscany. Born in 1723, his life of debauchery left him with no heirs, therefore resulting in the end of the Medici family line.
Through an agreement with other European powers, Gastone was succeeded by Francis, Duke of Lorraine, that would eventually become the Holy Roman Emperor and father of Marie Antoinette. When Gastone’s sister, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last of the family line died in 1743, she willed the Medici’s extensive collection of art to the Tuscan state to ensure they remained in Florence.
One Friar Stood Up Against The Family
During the 15th century, a fundamentalist preacher named Girolamo Savonarola made a stand against the Medici family, condemning their practices as nothing more than tyranny and corruption.
At one point, Savonarola considered himself a Florence reform leader and in 1497, he and his supporters collected countless books, art, instruments, and other items considered as “vanities” and had them burned in a massive fire. Nevertheless, Friar Savonarola also challenged the pope, which resulted in his ex-communication from the church and his eventual hanging in 1498.
A Family Legend Involves The Slaying Of A Dragon
Legend has it that the Medici family roots can be traced back to one of Charlemagne’s 8th-century knights named Averado. As the story goes, Averado was riding around Florence when he encountered a giant that had been harassing the local population.
Averado then took it upon himself to slay the giant, which left his shield dented by the giant’s mace, establishing the Medici coat of arms which includes red balls on a golden shield. Although the story may be based in myth, it gave the Medici’s quite the reputation.
George W. Bush Is Distantly Related
While the Medici family may have been dissolved without any male heirs, Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen of France, had sons of her own. In fact, the genealogical chart tracing back to Catherine actually shows that former president George W. Bush is a distant relative of the Medici queen.
So, not only did the Medici’s once rule over Italy, but their bloodline can be traced to not just one but two of the Presidents of the United States, arguably, one of the most powerful positions in the world.
They Were A Household Of Popes
During the reign of the Medici family, there was not one but four popes that came out of the bloodline. In order, the family held the papacy beginning with Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV, and Leo XI.
Although many of the Medici family popes made significant changes to both the religion and culture at the time, the final Medici pope, Leo Xi, was the head of the Catholic religion for less than a month, marking him as the shortest-serving pope of all time.
Their Reign On Florence Lasted Around 300 Years
The Medici family’s influence over Florence lasted for an incredible 300 years. While the family may have started as nothing much than poor farmers, they rose to become one of the most powerful families in history.
This is due in part to their well thought out marriage pacts, which allowed the Medici family to make alliances that would not only grant them power but put them in positions of power. By 1532, the Medicis were Dukes of Florence up until the late 1700s. So, it’s estimated the Medicis were in power for around 300 years.
Don’t Try And Kill The Medicis
Back in 1478, an equally powerful family, the Pazzis, made a move to remove the Medicis as the powerhouse in Florence. However, they had to have a plan. Their ultimate goal was to assassinate the Medici princes, which included Lorenzo and his brother Guiliano.
Unfortunately for the Pazzi clan, only Guillano died from his wounds. The Pazzis paid for this attempt to overthrow the Medicis and were publicly executed or “mercifully” exiled for their attempts on the Medici family.
“Exile” Was Not An Uncommon Word In The Family
Although the Medici family is closely related to the complete domination of Florence, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t fall on hard times. Numerous members of the Medici family spent their fair time in exile. One example of this was Piero II, who proved to be an unworthy leader, and was exiled in Florence in 1492.
Regardless of Piro II’s offenses, less than five years later, a revolt in Florence resulted in the exile of the entire family. Of course, the family came back into power by 1512, only to be exiled once again in 1627.
They Didn’t Build Their Empire By Themselves
While the Medici name may be famous throughout history, that doesn’t mean that they were able to accomplish all they did on their own. Although Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici may have founded their lucrative establishment, he needed help.
He required the assistance of his first wife, and his close relationship with the pope at the time, Pope Giovanni XIIII. With his close relationship with the pacy, not only did the Medici bank get the right to collect taxes from the Vatican, but the papacy made off equally as well.
Not The Healthiest Of Families
While Cosimo may be remembered as one of the greatest men of the Renaissance-era, depending on who you talk to, his lineage was fraught with physical ailments. Although Cosimo may have been great and powerful, he produced a sickly on named Pierol di Cosimo.
His son was given the nickname of “the gouty,” for the illness which he suffered from which was gout. Of course, he is one of the less-discussed members of the family, as their ailment made their lineage appear to be weak.
A Newly Discovered Piece Of Medici Jewelry
One of the most well-known members of the Medici family, Catherine de’ Medici, the 16th Queen of France, left something interesting for historians to discover. Although much of her actual wealth remains unknown, recently, something was discovered that gives us somewhat of an idea.
In 2012, a monogrammed gold hairpin was discovered hundreds of years after it was believed to be lost in no place other than the communal toilets of Fontainebleau Palace. Historians are still baffled to this day why such an item would be in an ordinary place.
Catherine De’ Medici Was A Fashionista
Much to her family’s reputation, Catherine de’ Medici was all about making appearances. For example, she was one of the first women in Europe to ever adopt the style of high heels, even commissioning a pair specifically for her wedding.
Furthermore, she also introduced the side-saddle of riding horses to France. Not only was this unique, but it also resulted in the development of female underwear, as riding a horse in that fashion could be exposing.
They Had Their Own Garden For Poison
Although it hasn’t been entirely confirmed, rumor has it that the Medici family had their own garden with the purpose of growing plants that could specifically be used to produce poison. While few people doubt that the Medicis were bold enough for such an operation, the lore inspired others.
At one point, Jane Percy, the Duchess of North Umbria, made a point to replicate the Medici’s supposed garden and successfully did so. By no means was this close to the Medici’s, as her garden was in existence in 2005.
Clash Of Clans
Unknown to most, the Houses of Albizzi and the Medici were close friends at once, with, according to some accounts, the Albizzi’s being far wealthier. At the time, the Albizzis ruled Florence, and Italy during the period that the Medicis were in exile.
Yet, in the Medici fashion, when the family returned to power, one of their first orders of business was that the Albizzi family would be sent into exile. They succeeded in their goal.
The Family Produced Two Queens
During their reign over Italy, two of the women in the Medici family became royalty through marriage. The first was Catherine de’ Medici, who became Queen to the King of France at the time, Henry II.
Then, more than fifty years later, Marie de’ Medici became the Queen of France after marrying King Henry IV. Surprisingly, in 1616, her own son, King Louis VIII banished her from the court for two years. Looks like the family bond didn’t mean all that much!