How Historically Accurate is Medici Season 3?
The Medici is a series about the well-known Florentine family with the same name during the early Renaissance period. The third season takes place a few months after the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478, lasting until the 1480s or early 1490s. The season looks at how Lorenzo the Magnificent shaped the Medici family and the city of Florence during a time of city-state feuds and war that drew in the Papacy.
The Main Plot
In 1478, the Pazzi conspiracy failed to destroy the Medici family and its rule over Florence. However, the suppression of the conspiracy did not end problems for the Medici. In fact, the Pope (Sixtus IV), who was involved in the conspiracy, and Girolamo Riario, from a prominent family from Savona and nephew to the Pope, became involved in a conflict with Florence as they attempted to oust the family from power. The conflict took place over the early 1480s, with the Kingdom of Naples initially allied with Riario and the Pope. The war put great strain on Florence, as it was outnumbered and the Pope had excommunicated Lorenzo and the entire government of Florence. One important sub-plot was Lorenzo taking in his brother's (Giuliano) child (Giulio), who was an illegitimate child of the assassinated Giuliano (killed in Season 2). This would prove successful for the family, as Giulio would go on to be Pope Clement VIII, who helped advance the family's interests many years later. In the meantime, the conflict took a turn for the better for the Medici after Lorenzo went to Naples to make peace with the ruler (Ferdinand I) and became his prisoner. He was able to successfully get Naples to drop their war efforts with Riario, thereby weakening Riario's position. The war effort against Florence began to then collapse and Riario was then murdered in 1488, although the series depicts Lorenzo as killing Riario when in fact it was a rival family (House of Orsi) after his war efforts led to financial problems for the city of Forlì. While the war was raging, Lorenzo also began to show a more dictatorial side, as he dissolved the traditional council of Florence and established a council of ten, who were mainly his loyalists. The Medici bank during this time did become over-extended and was running out of funding. As Lorenzo led Florence, he neglected the Bank's finances. His mother was shown as running the bank, but she was taking money from Florence itself, which would later haunt the Medici family.
After the war with Riario, peace did settle in Florence, but new developments created problems for the family. A new friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who was initially supported by Lorenzo, became an important religious leader with a large following. He began to see the corruption of the Medici and, after Tommaso Peruzzi's death who was killed because he began to see the Medici likely took money from the city treasury, things took a turn for the worse for the family. Clarice Orsini, the wife of Lorenzo, died in 1488, while Lorenzo's health began to fail. Lorenzo did see that he needed to invest in the future of his family, mainly in its political interests and influence in Rome through the Papacy. He placed Giovanni de' Medici, the future Pope Leo X, and Giulio in Rome. His daughter Maddalena de' Medici was also betrothed to Franceschetto Cybo, who was a son of Pope Innocent VIII. This helped her brother Giovanni become a cardinal, despite being very young and with little experience. Meanwhile, Lorenzo was trying to get his son Piero more experience so he could rule Florence in the future, but he was shown as less like his father and seemed to be deeply affected by the corruption and killing of Tomasso. Lorenzo's health continued to get worse and after a conspiracy to assassinate Girolamo, Lorenzo was shown as repentant for his family's sins. Historically, Lorenzo died in 1492, with his son Piero soon taking the leadership role in Florence, although that did not last long and the Medici family was ousted and banished from Florence in 1494-1512. In fact, it was Pope Leo X, who was Giovanni Medici, that enabled the family to come back and rule Florence again. The ousting of the Medici in 1494 led to the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497, which was the destruction of works of art, books, and even personal items deemed to tempt people to sin. Girolamo led this destruction, who himself was executed by hanging and fire in 1498 as he took religious reform too far for many Florentines.
Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (The Magnificent): As with the previous season, Lorenzo showed great political skill in navigating the conflict with Rome and Riario. He also was skillful in placing his son and nephew in a position to eventually become two well-known Popes. However, he neglected the family bank and after his reign the bank went bankrupt. The Medicis also became unpopular after his reign and were ousted from the city for a period. He was also shown as an early patron of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The politics of the time also was shown as possibly influencing Niccolò Machiavelli in his late writings.
Pope Sixtus IV: He supported the conspiracy against the Medici and became involved in a conflict with the Medici. Ultimately, this conflict taught the Medicis they needed to have greater influence in the Vatican, leading to Lorenzo placing his son and nephew in Rome.
Girolamo Riario: Rival to the Medicis who supported the Pazzi conspiracy and became a leader in the war against them. He not only failed but lost his life due to the increasing unpopular reign of his leadership. The series shows that his obsession with the Medici caused him to lose much support, including committing mass atrocities.
Girolamo Savonarola: A friar in San Marco monastery that created difficulties for the Medici and even tried to end the support of the more secular arts and tastes in the period, including the use of cosmetics. He led religious revivals and, although he was initially supported by the Medici, he also preached for popular government and preached against Medici corruption and dictatorial rule. His religious zeal was comparable to the Protestant movements that occurred shortly after his death.
Clarice Orsini: While most of the Medici family were humanists and were great patrons of the art, she was more religious and while she supported her family she also became concerned with its corruption. She ultimately dies in an unexpected death perhaps strained by the stress of the family's style of rule.
The series does take some liberties with historical accuracy, mixing important events such as Riario' death and bringing in a character with little historical reference (Tomasso). It is not clear Lorenzo did try to assassinate Girolamo Savonarola, although he does become a thorn in the side of the family. The key events, the war with Riario, Pope Sixtus' excommunication of all of Florence's government, and increasing corruption of the Medici family did occur. Riario was shown to try to influence the selection of a new Pope after Sixtus died. The series shows that as unsuccessful but for a time Riario did have his way with the cardinals as he threatened them to make a favorable choice for him in the selection of a new Pope. The Medici bank's failure proved also to be a major blow to the family, but this was not widely portrayed in the series, as it focused more on the role of Savonarola and his role in pushing the people of Florence to dislike the Medici. There was surprisingly little focus on the famous artists in this period. This was a time that Botticelli, da Vinci, and Michelangelo all lived, with their experiences shaping what became the High Renaissance style. Nevertheless, the events that occur may have, in fact, shaped the young Machiavelli, although he was historically shaped more by the period when the Medici were banned from the city and Florence was ruled by a republic system.
The season focused on the political developments in Florence after the Pazzi conspiracy, depicting the Medici family as it governed and changed. The downfall of the family, at least for a period, was foreshadowed, although the series gives great credit to the Medicis for the role they played in supporting many important figures in the Renaissance. Some key historical events were mixed, including death of key characters, but the series proved to be highly entertaining and did help to show some of the key events that shaped the late 15th century in Florence.
- For more on Lorenzo, see: Kent, F. W. Lorenzo de’ Medici and the Art of Magnificence. The Johns Hopkins Symposia in Comparative History 24th. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
- For more on Sixtus, see: Lee, E. Sixtus IV and Men of Letters. Rome, 1978
- For more on Riario, see: Caesar, Mathieu, ed. Factional Struggles: Divided Elites in European Cities and Courts (1400-1750). Rulers & Elites, Volume 10. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2017, pg. 84.
- For more on Savonarola, see: Morris, Samantha. Girolamo Savonarola: The Renaissance Preacher. Place of publication not identified: MADEGLOBAL Publishing, 2017.