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    Chapter 49

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    Chapter 50
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    CHAPTER V

    Bernardo takes possession of Prato, but is not assisted by the
    inhabitants--He is taken, and the tumult appeased--Corruption of
    Florence--The duke of Milan in Florence--The church of Santo
    Spirito destroyed by fire--The rebellion of Volterra, and the
    cause of it--Volterra reduced to obedience by force, in accordance
    with the advice of Lorenzo de' Medici--Volterra pillaged.

    Cesare Petrucci held the office of Provost of Prato for the Florentine
    people, at this period. It is customary with governors of towns,
    similarly situated, to keep the keys of the gates near their persons;
    and whenever, in peaceful times, they are required by any of the
    inhabitants, for entrance or exit, they are usually allowed to be
    taken. Bernardo was aware of this custom, and about daybreak,
    presented himself at the gate which looks toward Pistoia, accompanied
    by the Palandra and about one hundred persons, all armed. Their
    confederates within the town also armed themselves, and one of them
    asked the governor for the keys, alleging, as a pretext, that some one
    from the country wished to enter. The governor not entertaining the
    slightest suspicion, sent a servant with them. When at a convenient
    distance, they were taken by the conspirators, who, opening the gates,
    introduced Bernardo and his followers. They divided themselves into
    two parties, one of which, led by Salvestro, an inhabitant of Prato,
    took possession of the citadel; the other following Bernardo, seized
    the palace, and placed Cesare with all his family in the custody of
    some of their number. They then raised the cry of liberty, and
    proceeded through the town. It was now day, and many of the
    inhabitants hearing the disturbance, ran to the piazza where, learning
    that the fortress and the palace were taken and the governor with all
    his people made prisoners, they were utterly astonished, and could not
    imagine how it had occurred. The eight citizens, possessing the
    supreme authority, assembled in their palace to consider what was best
    to be done. In the meantime, Bernardo and his followers, on going
    round the town, found no encouragement, and being told that the Eight
    had assembled, went and declared the nature of their enterprise, which
    he said was to deliver the country from slavery, reminding them how
    glorious it would be for those who took arms to effect such an
    honorable object, for they would thus obtain permanent repose and
    everlasting fame. He called to recollection their ancient liberty and
    present condition, and assured them of certain assistance, if they
    would only, for a few days, aid in resisting the forces the
    Florentines might send against them. He said he had friends in
    Florence who would join them as soon as they found the inhabitants
    resolved to support him. His speech did not produce the desired effect
    upon the Eight, who replied that they knew not whether Florence was
    free or enslaved, for that was a matter which they were not called
    upon to decide; but this they knew very well, that for their own part,
    they desired no other liberty than to obey the magistrates who
    governed Florence, from whom they had never received any injury
    sufficient to make them desire a change. They therefore advised him to
    set the governor at liberty, clear the place of his people, and, as
    quickly as possible, withdraw from the danger he had so rashly
    incurred. Bernardo was not daunted by these words, but determined to
    try whether fear could influence the people of Prato, since entreaties
    produced so little effect. In order to terrify them, he determined to
    put Cesare to death, and having brought him out of prison, ordered him
    to be hanged at the windows of the palace. He was already led to the
    spot with a halter around his neck, when seeing Bernardo giving
    directions to hasten his end, he turned to him, and said: "Bernardo,
    you put me to death, thinking that the people of Prato will follow
    you; but the direct contrary will result; for the respect they have
    for the rectors which the Florentine people send here is so great,
    that as soon as they witness the injury inflicted upon me, they will
    conceive such a disgust against you as will inevitably effect your
    ruin. Therefore, it is not by my death, but by the preservation of my
    life, that you can attain the object you have in view; for if I
    deliver your commands, they will be much more readily obeyed, and
    following your directions, we shall soon attain the completion of your
    design." Bernardo, whose mind was not fertile in expedients, thought
    the advice good, and commanded Cesare, on being conducted to a veranda
    which looked upon the piazza, to order the people of Prato to obey
    him, and having done which, Cesare was led back to prison.

    The weakness of the conspirators was obvious; and many Florentines
    residing in the town, assembled together, among whom, Giorgio Ginori,
    a knight of Rhodes, took arms first against them, and attacked
    Bernardo, who traversed the piazza, alternately entreating and
    threatening those who refused to obey him, and being surrounded by
    Giorgio's followers, he was wounded and made prisoner. This being
    done, it was easy to set the governor at liberty and subdue the rest,
    who being few, and divided into several parties, were nearly all
    either secured or slain. An exaggerated report of these transactions
    reached Florence, it being told there that Prato was taken, the
    governor and his friends put to death, and the place filled with the
    enemy; and that Pistoia was also in arms, and most of the citizens in
    the conspiracy. In consequence of this alarming account, the palace as
    quickly filled with citizens, who consulted with the Signory what
    course ought to be adopted. At this time, Roberto da San Severino, one
    of the most distinguished generals of this period, was at Florence,
    and it was therefore determined to send him, with what forces could be
    collected, to Prato, with orders that he should approach the place,
    particularly observe what was going on, and provide such remedies as
    the necessity of the case and his own prudence should suggest. Roberto
    had scarcely passed the fortress of Campi, when he was met by a
    messenger from the governor, who informed him that Bernardo was taken,
    his followers either dispersed or slain, and everything restored to
    order. He consequently returned to Florence, whither Bernardo was
    shortly after conveyed, and when questioned by the magistracy
    concerning the real motives of such a weak conspiracy, he said, he had
    undertaken it, because, having resolved to die in Florence rather than
    live in exile, he wished his death to be accompanied by some memorable
    action.

    This disturbance having been raised and quelled almost at the same
    time, the citizens returned to their accustomed mode of life, hoping
    to enjoy, without anxiety, the state they had now established and
    confirmed. Hence arose many of those evils which usually result from
    peace; for the youth having become more dissolute than before, more
    extravagant in dress, feasting, and other licentiousness, and being
    without employment, wasted their time and means on gaming and women;
    their principal study being how to appear splendid in apparel, and
    attain a crafty shrewdness in discourse; he who could make the most
    poignant remark being considered the wisest, and being most respected.
    These manners derived additional encouragement from the followers of
    the duke of Milan, who, with his duchess and the whole ducal court, as
    it was said, to fulfill a vow, came to Florence, where he was received
    with all the pomp and respect due to so great a prince, and one so
    intimately connected with the Florentine people. Upon this occasion
    the city witnessed an unprecedented exhibition; for, during Lent, when
    the church commands us to abstain from animal food, the Milanese,
    without respect for either God or his church, ate of it daily. Many
    spectacles were exhibited in honor of the duke, and among others, in
    the temple of Santo Spirito, was represented the descent of the Holy
    Ghost among the apostles; and in consequence of the numerous fires
    used upon the occasion, some of the woodwork became ignited, and the
    church was completely destroyed by the flames. Many thought that the
    Almighty being offended at our misconduct, took this method of
    signifying his displeasure. If, therefore, the duke found the city
    full of courtly delicacies, and customs unsuitable to well-regulated
    conduct, he left it in a much worse state. Hence the good citizens
    thought it necessary to restrain these improprieties, and made a law
    to put a stop to extravagance in dress, feasts, and funerals.

    In the midst of this universal peace, a new and unexpected disturbance
    arose in Tuscany. Certain citizens of Volterra had discovered an alum-
    mine in their district, and being aware of the profit derivable from
    it, in order to obtain the means of working and securing it, they
    applied to some Florentines, and allowed them to share in the profits.
    This, as is frequently the case with new undertakings, at first
    excited little attention from the people of Volterra; but in time,
    finding the profits derived from it had become considerable, they
    fruitlessly endeavored to effect what at first might have been easily
    accomplished. They began by agitating the question in their councils,
    declaring it grossly improper that a source of wealth discovered in
    the public lands should be converted to the emolument of private
    individuals. They next sent advocates to Florence, and the question
    was referred to the consideration of certain citizens, who, either
    through being bribed by the party in possession, or from a sincere
    conviction, declared the aim of the people of Volterra to be unjust in
    desiring to deprive their citizens of the fruit of their labor; and
    decided that the alum-pit was the rightful property of those who had
    hitherto wrought it; but, at the same time, recommended them to pay an
    annual sum by way of acknowledgment to the city. This answer instead
    of abating, served only to increase the animosities and tumult in
    Volterra, and absorbed entire attention both in the councils and
    throughout the city; the people demanding the restitution of what they
    considered their due, and the proprietors insisting upon their right
    to retain what they had originally acquired, and what had been
    subsequently been confirmed to them by the decision of the
    Florentines. In the midst of these disturbances, a respectable
    citizen, named Il Pecorino, was killed, together with several others,
    who had embraced the same side, whose houses were also plundered and
    burned; and the fury of the mob rose to such a height, that they were
    with difficulty restrained from putting the Florentine rectors to
    death.

    After the first outrage, the Volterrani immediately determined to send
    ambassadors to Florence, who intimated, that if the Signory would
    allow them their ancient privileges, the city would remain subject to
    them as formerly. Many and various were the opinions concerning the
    reply to be made. Tommaso Soderini advised that they should accept the
    submission of the people of Volterra, upon any conditions with which
    they were disposed to make it; for he considered it unreasonable and
    unwise to kindle a flame so near home that it might burn their own
    dwelling; he suspected the pope's ambition, and was apprehensive of
    the power of the king; nor could he confide in the friendship either
    of the duke or the Venetians, having no assurance of the sincerity of
    the latter, or the valor of the former. He concluded by quoting that
    trite proverb, "Meglio un magro accordo che una grassa vittoria."[*]
    On the other hand, Lorenzo de' Medici, thinking this an opportunity
    for exhibiting his prudence and wisdom, and being strenuously
    supported by those who envied the influence of Tommaso Soderini,
    resolved to march against them, and punish the arrogance of the people
    of Volterra with arms; declaring that if they were not made a striking
    example, others would, without the least fear or respect, upon every
    slight occasion, adopt a similar course. The enterprise being resolved
    on, the Volterrani were told that they could not demand the observance
    of conditions which they themselves had broken, and therefore must
    either submit to the direction of the Signory or expect war. With this
    answer they returned to their city, and prepared for its defense;
    fortifying the place, and sending to all the princes of Italy to
    request assistance, none of whom listened to them, except the Siennese
    and the lord of Piombino, who gave them some hope of aid. The
    Florentines on the other hand, thinking success dependent principally
    upon celerity, assembled ten thousand foot and two thousand horse,
    who, under the command of Federigo, lord of Urbino, marched into the
    country of Volterra and quickly took entire possession of it. They
    then encamped before the city, which, being in a lofty situation, and
    precipitous on all sides, could only be approached by a narrow pass
    near the church of St. Alessandro. The Volterrani had engaged for
    their defense about one thousand mercenaries, who, perceiving the
    great superiority of the Florentines, found the place untenable, and
    were tardy in their defensive operations, but indefatigable in the
    constant injuries they committed upon the people of the place. Thus
    these poor citizens were harassed by the enemy without, and by their
    own soldiery within; so, despairing of their safety, they began to
    think of a capitulation; and, being unable to obtain better terms,
    submitted to the discretion of the Florentine commissaries, who
    ordered the gates to be opened, and introduced the greater part of
    their forces. They then proceeded to the palace, and commanded the
    priors to retire to their homes; and, on the way thither, one of them
    was in derision stripped by the soldiers. From this beginning (so much
    more easily are men predisposed to evil than to good) originated the
    pillage and destruction of the city; which for a whole day suffered
    the greatest horrors, neither women nor sacred places being spared;
    and the soldiery, those engaged for its defense as well as its
    assailants, plundered all that came within their reach. The news of
    this victory was received with great joy at Florence, and as the
    expedition had been undertaken wholly by the advice of Lorenzo, he
    acquired great reputation. Upon which one of the intimate friends of
    Tommaso Soderini, reminding him of the advice he had given, asked him
    what he thought of the taking of Volterra; to which he replied, "To me
    the place seems rather lost than won; for had it been received on
    equitable terms, advantage and security would have been the result;
    but having to retain it by force it will in critical junctures,
    occasion weakness and anxiety, and in times of peace, injury and
    expense."

    [*] A lean peace is better than a fat victory.
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