In a time of simmering class tensions and growing exploitation of the poor, Salvestro de’ Medici turns against his conservative comrades and declares he’s on the side of the downtrodden. On his political agenda? Backing an all-out war against the Pope.
In the spring of 1348, the Black Death reaches Florence, devastating its population but also clearing new avenues for the non-rich. In the aftermath, a moderately affluent landowner, Salvestro de’ Medici, embarks on a political career. Just how far can Salvestro make it, between siding with the conservative establishment against his own family’s populist sympathies and the antics of his violently unstable brothers?
Facing famine, plague, an unending war, and an economic recession, the Florentines resort to handing the keys over to a French nobleman with a glamorous but mostly empty title. Meanwhile the Medici, although still lurking in the shadows from our point of view, manage to establish themselves as populists during the chaos and violence to come.
Sometime before the dawn of the fourteenth century, a family named the Medici moved from a small village in the Mugello Valley in the Apennines to the bustling city of Florence. Eventually, they became successful bankers and one member was elected to the republic’s top office. They also jumped right into the city’s latest violent class and factional civil war.
With Florence free of foreign interference (for once), a medieval “class traitor” spearheaded reforms that severely weakened the nobility’s grip on the government and gave a lot of formal power to the city’s merchant and artisan guilds. In this episode, I delve into the nuts and bolts of how this guild regime operated. Also, I talk about whether or not we can talk about Florence as part of an “Italian nation”, even though a unified Italian nation state was still about 600 years from being born.
Starting out as an ill-advised prank at a party, the feud between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines in Florence forever changed the city’s history. It would wrap Florence up in the struggle between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, eventually toppling the city’s aristocratic republic and creating something rather new in its place, the Primo Popolo.
In our first tangent episode, we spend some time with Liutprand of Cremona, everyone’s favorite caustic bishop from the Early Middle Ages. Join us for his account of Queen Willa’s disastrous love affair with a well-endowed priest and his ill-fated visit to Constantinople in the time of the Macedonian dynasty.
Matilda of Tuscany, also known as “The Grand Countess”, helped weaken the Holy Roman Empire’s grip on northern Italy even further. However, it would be the plucky, self-governing cities of northern Italy who would ultimately give a bloody nose to one of the greatest emperors western Europe ever saw and inaugurate the age of the Italian city-states. We delve into how a European economic boom helped make all this possible, plus some juicy gossip on Matilda’s unlucky love life.
The theme music is “La Disperata”, composed by Vincenzo Ruffo (ca. 1510-1587) and performed by Jon Sayles.
In our inaugural episode and the first part of our prelude season, we look at how northern Italy went from being a single kingdom to a region full of small, rival states, a cutthroat environment in which families like the Medici would nonetheless thrive in. Join us as we look at how urban prosperity, a series of invasions, and a scandalous teenage pope all played a part in making northern Italy a shattered and divided kingdom under the weak sovereignty of a faraway emperor.
In this no-frills introductory episode, I explain why I want to do a podcast on a family, rather than a nation, a time period, or topic. Also, I explain why the Medici undoubtedly played a role in the modern Western world.