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Who was the Medici Family? A Historical Masterclass with Author D. V. Bishop

Prepare the party poppers, slice the sandwiches, and roll out the red carpet as we are delighted to be welcoming author D. V. Bishop back to the Imagining History Blog.


David has become something of a regular over the last few years; telling us about about his superb 'Cesare Aldo' Historical Fiction series back in 2022, as well as providing us with a handy guide to survive in Renaissance Florence a year later. To celebrate the release of his latest book, 'A Divine Fury', David has returned to regale us with the story of the infamous Medici Family!


Read on dear reader - oh, and don't forget to get your order in for 'A Divine Fury'!


Author D. V. Bishop. Image courtesy Felix Mosse.
Author D. V. Bishop. Image courtesy Felix Mosse.

Hey David, thanks for chatting with us again. Could you tell our grown-up readers a little about the new book in your fantastic Cesare Aldo series, ‘A Divine Fury’?

A Divine Fury opens with my detective, Cesare Aldo, demoted to constable and stuck on night patrols. He discovers a strangled corpse in the main piazza of Florence, put beneath Michelangelo’s statue of David to look like Christ on the cross. When a second body is found the next day laid out the same way, it is clear the killer has a religious motive. The evidence points to the Church of San Felice, where exorcisms are carried out, but the diocese refuses to let Aldo investigate. He races to identify and stop a serial killer they claim any more lives…


 

We’d like to pick your brain (not literally, as that would be weird and possibly criminal) to find out more about the Medici Family. So, erm, in broad brushstrokes, who were they?

The Medici family were among the greatest influencers of the 15th and 16th Century. After getting rich in banking, they became a political dynasty when Florence was still a republic. The Medici reach extended far beyond their native city, providing four popes and two queens of France over the centuries. Think of them as the Kardashians of the Renaissance.

 

A portrait of Cosimo I by Bronzino
A portrait of Cosimo I by Bronzino

Who were the most famous members of the family?

The first Cosimo de’ Medici (with whom I share a birthday, as it happens!) established his family as key figures in Florence during the 15th Century, effectively ruling the city. He was a patron of great artists like Donatello and founded the city’s first public library. His money and influence helped Florence to become the crucible of the Renaissance.


His grandson Lorenzo took up that mantle, sponsoring Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (the artists, not the Ninja Turtles) amongst others. Such was his patronage he became known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was a statesman, but made many enemies. The Pazzi family conspired to kill him at church, but Lorenzo escaped – his brother Giuliano did not.


My novels feature Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Florence. He came to power after a plot to overthrow his predecessor, and stabilised the city when it was endangered by enemies both inside and outside the city walls. This Cosimo – a great-grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent – would rule Florence for 37 years.

 

That's a long time! Particularly as, on average, people lived much shorter lives in the 15th Century. Some residents of Florence would have only known Cosimo as being the boss. Talking of people in charge, a whole lot of Popes came from the Medici Family, right?

Yes, four of them! Leo X was the first Medici pope, becoming pontiff in 1513 and remaining so until his death eight years later. Soon after, one of Leo’s cousins became pope in 1523, taking the name Clement VII. He led the Church for eleven years. There was a gap before the third Medici pope – Pius IV – was chosen in 1559. He spent six years as pontiff, but was only a distant relation of his Medici predecessors. The last of the family to become pope was Leo XI in 1605. He reigned for just 27 days, but this only ties him for eighth place on the list of shortest reigns as pope.

 

Raphael's painting of the first Medici Pope, Leo X
Raphael's painting of the first Medici Pope, Leo X

Gosh, makes recent Prime Ministers reigns look long-lasting in comparison! What good things were the Medici Family responsible for?

Arguably the most lasting achievement of the Medici family is using their wealth to sponsor artists, architects, philosophers, writers and scientists to do great work. This helped foster the Renaissance, a blossoming of arts, crafts and thinking that brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and which still influences how we live today. 

 

And what bad things?

With great power comes great responsibility, but the Medici didn’t always grasp that. They effectively ended the city of Florence being a republic, removing power from the people. In reality, a few hundred men had jealously controlled everything in a city of 60,000, but the Medici reduced that to one man: the Grand Duke. Throw in back-stabbing, assassinations, ruthlessly crushing dissent and worse… well, the Medici were not exactly saints.

 

Great characters for a story though! How did you integrate the family into your books?

The Medici are part of most novels in the Cesare Aldo series. For example, the first book, City of Vengeance, focuses on the plot to overthrow the Medici ruler of Florence. The third novel, Ritual of Fire, sees an enemy stirring up religious mania during a heatwave that threatens the future of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. My new Aldo thriller, A Divine Fury, introduces Venice’s spymaster in Florence, a mighty mischievous woman called Contessa Valentine Coltello; she is going to cause Aldo and Duke Cosimo all kinds of trouble.

 

During your research, what is the weirdest fact about the Medici you have come across?

The father of Cosimo I de’ Medici was a beloved soldier called Giovanni delle Bande Nere. Various accounts claim that Giovanni came home from battle when his son was still an infant. Seeing a nurse caring for the baby by a first-floor window, Giovanni insisted she drop the child down for him to catch! The nurse refused but he ordered her to do so. The nurse threw the baby – and Giovanni caught the infant Cosimo. Had that gone wrong, it is impossible to know who might have ruled Florence from 1537 onwards!


Thank you David!


Be sure to pre-order 'A Divine Fury' by clicking here!







Also, keep in touch with D. V. Bishop using these helpful links:


Insta & Threads: @CesareAldo

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