Table of Contents:
The Albizzi Family
The obsession with power among Florentine elites that revolved around a desire to enjoy political immunity and tax concessions defined the latter half of the Trecento. These elite aligned themselves in several ways, including through familial alliances, guilds, and political parties. The Albizzi family in particular rose to power during the last quarter of the fourteenth century through their increasing influence over bureaucratic offices and their perceived interest in the common good.
The Albizzi first moved to Florence from Arezzo in the twelfth century, and thanks to their acumen as wool merchants and financiers, by the beginning of the Trecento had established themselves as one of the most prominent popolano families. As a result, their political influence swelled in the second half of the Trecento. By the 1360s, two rival factions emerged: the Albizzi who represented the Parte Guelfa (who advocated for alliances with the Papacy and Naples) and the Ricci family who advocated for more popular representation. The rival factions fought bitterly until 1372 when the Florentine Signoria declared that the Albizzi were banned from holding public office for five years. During this ban one of the most prominent members of the Albizzi lineage, Maso degli Albizzi, first experienced the sting of political defeat as he was ousted from his first political role in Pistoia, a region under Florentine control. But his humiliation was short-lived, as Maso returned to lead the Florentine Signoria after the Ciompi Revolt ended in 1382.
The Albizzi managed to grab power in the city after a lengthy and at times violent period that followed the disastrous military campaign against the Papacy, known as the War of the Eight Saints (1375-1378), that had sucked the city’s revenues dry and imposed on the Florentine population unusually restrictive religious penalties that drained the population’s patience with its political representatives. In 1378, a coalition comprised of underrepresented laboring guilds and members of the sotto posti – people who did not belong to any guild at all – staged an uprising against the middle and upper guilds whose quasi-republican government had for decades disenfranchised these laborers by preventing their participation in the government. Curiously, these rebellious laborers – known by the collective term Ciompi – found allies in the leaders of the two rival factions of the Albizzi and the Ricci families, who saw in the revolt an opportunity to weaken the government’s power in a time of civil strife. This led to the so-called Ciompi Revolt of June 1378 which, in a watered-down form, lasted until January 1382. During this time, a more egalitarian system of civic representation was established in which merchants, artisans, and laborers held an equal proportion of offices with an equal share of power. The government was short-lived as alliances amongst laboring factions dissolved and a coalition of merchants, industrialists, and artisans suppressed civil the more progressive impulses of the Ciompi. By early 1382, the laborers and their leaders were under the control of the elites once again.
The oligarchic regime that governed Florence in the wake of the Ciompi Revolt moved to return the city’s politicaly system to one that favored the interests of the elites at the expense of laborers. This political machine was run by the patricians of the city who controlled both commerce and policy initiatiaves; at the helm of this machine was Maso degli Albizzi, an intuitive politician known for his personal charisma, charm, and diplomatic grace. Maso and his fellow patricians negated the egalitarian reforms created during the Ciompi period and reinstituted a structure that gave a greater voice (and a substantial majority in committees) to greater guildsmen. With Maso at the helm, a system was installed and maintained that increased the income disparity between the Haves and Have-Nots, realigned the city with the papal authority, and enhanced its military posture during the subsequent period of internecine Italian conflicts. It also overtly underrepresented the lower classes in the political process, and utterly excluded the sotto posti, people in surrounding territories of Florence, and the city’s most destitute constituents.
Maso’s control of the government lasted until his death in 1417, at which time his son Rinaldo degli Albizzi took control of the city until his faction’s demise at the hands of Cosimo de’Medici in 1434.
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Witt, Ronald G. “Florentine Politics and the Ruling Class, 1382-1407,” The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 6 (1976), 243-267.