The House of Medici ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany for nearly two hundred years, produced four popes, two regent Queens of France and established the largest bank in Europe. They presided over the birth of the Italian Renaissance, developed 'double entry bookkeeping' and were for a while the wealthiest family in Europe.
The family originally came from the Tuscan village of Cagaffiolo and they moved to the city of Florence some time in the thirteenth century. They established themselves in Florence society through their business activities and strategic marriages over the years but their involvement in several unsuccessful plots led to the family being banned from politics for twenty years.
Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, established the Medici bank in the early 15th century and with it the origins of the Medici dynasty. His son, Cosimo the Elder, took over control of the bank in 1434, and he, and his descendants ruled Florence for nearly 100 years.
Bust of Bicci by Romeo Pazzini
Cosimo the Elder used his immense wealth to good effect, sponsoring the architect, Brunelleschi, to complete the fabulous 'Duomo' in Florence.
Piero the Gouty made enemies by calling in several loans owed to the Medici bank, and bankrupting several Florentine businesssmen in the process. in 1467 he went to war against the Venetian Republic, defeating them with the help of Naples, Milan and the Papal States.
Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, sponsoring both Botticelli and Michelangelo. During his reign Florence became the most important cultural centre of Europe and his death brought an end to the 'Golden Age of Florence'.
Lorenzo de' Medici by Girolamo Macchietti
On his death, his son, Piero II came to power. Soon afterwards King Charles VIII of France crossed the Alps to claim the Kingdom of Naples. As he approached Florence, Piero immediately surrendered, giving Charles everything he wanted. His cowardice and incompetence led to the Medicis being expelled from Florence from 1494 to 1512.
However, the Medici's power base was not limited to Florence. Popes, Leo X and Clement VII were both Medicis, extending the family's power to Rnome and across Italy.
The Medicis returned to Florence in 1512 and apart from another short break in 1527, continued to rule until the assassination of Alessandro in 1537. Control then passsed to another branch of the family, the descendants of Cosimo the Elder's brother, Lorenzo the Elder.
Cosimo I took the family to even greater heights, developing their banking business alongside other manufacturing businesses. At this time the Medicis effectively 'employed' over half of the population of Florence in their various activites.
Francesco was a despotic leader who's allegiance lay more with the Holy Roman Empire than with Florence. There is a suspicion that both he and his wife were poisoned.
Ferdinand was the opposite of Francesco. Kind and considerate, he genuinely cared for his subjects and increased the prosperity of Florence as well as regaining its independence.
Cosimo II is best remembered as the sponsor of Galileo Galilei, who had been his tutor as a child.
The Medici dydnasty finally came to an end in 1737 with the death of Gian Gastone, who died without an heir.
The Medici Coat of Arms
The lasting legacy of the Medicis comes from their sponsorship of art, achitecture and science. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Boticelli and Galileo were all sponsored by the Medici. The famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence is now home to many of the great Renaissance-era treasures that were amassed by the Family.