Pazzi Conspiracy Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A plot to assassinate both Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici in the Florentine cathedral on Easter Sunday led to violent retaliation against the Pazzi family and their coconspirators.

Summary of Event

In the fifteenth century, Florence Florence;Republic of , along with Milan, Venice, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Naples, was one of the five centers of power in Italy. Smaller Tuscan city-states such as San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa, and Lucca were essentially controlled by Florence. Although Florence had long been a republic, wealthy families like the Medici ran the government without actually holding political office. Pazzi Conspiracy (1478) Medici, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Giuliano de’ Sixtus IV Salviati, Francesco Riario, Girolamo Pazzi, Francesco de’ Bandini Baroncelli, Bernardo Medici family Medici, Cosimo de’ Medici, Lorenzo de’ (1449-1492) Sixtus IV Riario, Girolamo Salviati, Francesco Pazzi, Francesco de’ Pazzi, Jacopo de’ Medici, Giuliano de’ Battista, Giovan Bandini Baroncelli, Bernardo Petrucci, Cesare Botticelli, Sandro Savonarola, Girolamo

During the fifteenth century, Florence enjoyed great economic growth in trade and finance and became a center of political, economic, educational, and artistic influence. Both Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) and his grandson, Lorenzo de’ Medici, were Humanists and patrons of the arts. Art patronage;Italy Artists such as Fra Angelico (c. 1400-1455) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) flourished under their patronage. One of the highlights of Florentine Humanism was the founding of the Platonic Academy in 1462 by Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), supported by both Cosimo and Lorenzo.

After Cosimo’s death, the Medici family essentially ran the government of Florence. They did this by carefully balancing their friends and their enemies and by curtailing the power of rival families, like the Pazzi. The Pazzi were a noble Florentine family, older than the Medici. They were well respected and wealthy with banking and merchant holdings all over Europe. Threatened by the potential power of the Pazzi, Lorenzo de’ Medici took repeated measures to thwart the family’s quest for power.

The Pazzi, frustrated and angry, retaliated financially and politically by courting and winning the favor of Pope Sixtus IV. The pope had his own grudge against the Medici. He would have liked to see Lorenzo out of Florence so that he could elevate his nephew Girolamo Riario to power. Furthermore, Sixtus was angry over Lorenzo’s failure to support the pope’s purchase of the city of Imola for Riario. Consequently, Sixtus canceled most of the financial arrangements he had with the Medici bank, transferred most of the papal monies to the Pazzi, and bought Imola with a loan from the Pazzi. Sixtus further insulted the Medici by appointing Francesco Salviati to the archbishopric of Pisa in 1474 without the approval of Florence. These events laid the foundation for the murder in the cathedral.

The chief conspirators, Francesco de’ Pazzi, Riario, and Salviati, with the tacit approval of Sixtus, persuaded the older Jacopo de’ Pazzi to assent to the plot. They planned to kill both Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici at lunch in the Medici Palazzo after Sunday Mass on April 26, 1478. When it was learned that Giuliano would not attend, however, the plotters quickly decided that the deed would take place during mass in the great Florentine cathedral.

A new problem arose when Giovan Battista, the count of Montesecco, a mercenary assigned to kill Lorenzo, refused to commit murder in a sacred space. Instead two priests, apparently with fewer scruples, willingly took his place. Another obstacle soon arose and almost thwarted the plot. Giuliano was not in the cathedral; suffering with a bad leg, he had remained at home. Two conspirators, Francesco de’ Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli, were sent to convince him to attend. Walking arm and arm with Giuliano along Via Larga, Francesco de’ Pazzi used the opportunity to put his arm around Giuliano in friendship and determine that Giuliano was unarmed.

During one of the most sacred moments of the mass, perhaps the elevation of the host, the attack began. Giuliano died quickly, stabbed nineteen times and so frantically by Francesco de’ Pazzi that Pazzi suffered a knife wound in his own leg. Lorenzo escaped with only a neck wound. Archbishop Salviati’s simultaneous plan to take over the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government, failed, in part because of the suspicion and quick response of the ganfaloniere, Cesare Petrucci. The Pazzi assumed the citizens of Florence would support them. Instead, when the bells of the city rang, the citizens ran to the Piazza, ignored Jacopo’s cry of “People and liberty!” and rallied around the Medici, shouting “palle, palle,” referring to the balls emblazoned on the Medici coat of arms.

The retaliation against the conspirators was swift and brutal. Francesco de’ Pazzi was ignominiously hanged naked from the Palazzo Vecchio; alongside him hung the archbishop. Throughout the day, people were hanged, either from the Palazzo Vecchio or the Bargello, fortress of the police. The two priests were castrated and then hanged. Many bodies were thrown into the Piazza Signoria or cut down after being hanged and then stripped and hacked. For days, people marched around with body parts. In a macabre incident, the body of Jacopo de’ Pazzi was exhumed three weeks after his death and dragged around the city by the very rope with which he had been hanged. His body was eventually thrown into the river Arno. Montesecco, after giving a confession, was allowed to be beheaded rather than suffer the humiliation of being hanged.

By the end of the first day, more than sixty people had been killed, and before the revenge ended, two hundred had been executed. Baroncelli had escaped, but he was tracked down in Constantinople and returned by the sultan to be hanged out of the window of the Bargello. As a reminder of the plot, Lorenzo commissioned the painter Sandro Botticelli to paint the figures of the conspirators as they hung. Lorenzo wrote a versed epitaph to accompany each picture. These were publicly displayed until 1494, when the Medici were exiled from Florence and the paintings were destroyed.

The houses of the Pazzi and Salviati were sacked. The wealth of the Pazzi was seized, and the Medici and the government of Florence passed laws to obliterate the Pazzi family. All remaining Pazzi had to change their names and their coats of arms. All symbols of the Pazzi, such as their sign of the dolphin, were removed from Florence. The Pazzi name was removed from the tax records. Any man who married a Pazzi woman was discredited. Furthermore, the remaining Pazzi men were imprisoned in Volterra.

Lorenzo de’ Medici weathered the attack and strengthened his position, particularly by traveling to Naples in 1479. After ten weeks, he negotiated an end to hostilities with the pope and Ferdinand I of Naples, hostilities that had resulted from the failed conspiracy. He was only twenty-nine years old at the time. Lorenzo continued to control Florence until his death in 1492, always surrounded by an armed guard. Eventually, he let the Pazzi women marry. He also released the Pazzi men from prison in Volterra; however, they had to live outside Florentine territory. He worked to maintain peace until he died and had such great influence with Sixtus’s successor, Pope Innocent VIII, that some felt he directed the policies of Rome. He continued his Humanist activities and his patronage of the arts and letters, attracting men of learning to Florence, thereby ensuring that the city continued to flourish as a center for the arts.

Two years after Lorenzo’s death, his son Piero, unable to hold on to Florence in the face of a threatened invasion by France, fled the city. It was at this moment that the republic was reinstalled, in part encouraged by Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), who had originally been invited to Florence by Lorenzo in 1489. From his pulpit in the church of San Marco, Savonarola preached against the excesses of Florence and the Medici while also arguing for a republic. With Lorenzo’s forceful hold on Florence gone, Savonarola’s wishes were realized. He held great sway over the city, but he himself was burned at the stake in 1498 when the Medici once again returned to power.


The Pazzi Conspiracy revealed the power that the Medici had over Florence and its territories, most particularly under Cosimo and Lorenzo. The anger that fueled the conspiracy and sparked the Pazzi and their allies to try to overthrow Medici control was shared by many in Italy. However, the aftermath of the conspiracy and the Medici family’s return to power in 1498 revealed that the family had the intellectual, political, and financial resources to control Florence for many years to come.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Acton, Harold. The Pazzi Conspiracy: The Plot Against the Medici. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979. Concise history of the conspiracy including preceding history and aftermath.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Connell, William J. Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Collection of essays that considers the role of the individual in the Renaissance, including the merchant elite of Florence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hibbert, Christopher. The House of the Medici: Its Rise and Fall. New York: William and Morrow, 1974. Thorough history of the Medici family with careful consideration of Lorenzo and the conspiracy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Machiavelli, Niccolò. Florentine Histories. Translated by L. F. Banfield and H. C. Mansfield. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988. Contemporary narrative of the events, originally published in 1532.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martines, Lauro. April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Thorough history and analysis of the conspiracy with new material.

Apr. 9, 1454: Peace of Lodi

1462: Founding of the Platonic Academy

1469-1492: Rule of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Sept., 1494-Oct., 1495: Charles VIII of France Invades Italy

July-Dec., 1513: Machiavelli Writes The Prince

Categories: History