The Pazzi Conspiracy was an important event in the history of the city of Florence, a center of the Italian Renaissance. The name comes from a wealthy banking family of Tuscany who traced their lineage to a famous eleventh-century crusader, whose bold fighting style during a siege of Jerusalem earned him the nickname of “Pazzo” (the Madman). In honor of their illustrious ancestor, each year the Pazzi struck a light from a stone of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, to relight the altar candles in the Duomo, the cathedral of Florence.
At a time when the Medici family ruled Florence, the wealthy and ambitious Pazzi were striving to usurp the Medici and take control of the city for themselves. To this end, they allied with Pope Sixtus IV, who was at odds with the Medici over contested territory between the Papal States of central Italy and Tuscany, the region dominated by Florence. A loan from the Pazzi bank allowed the pope to purchase strategic land and cities in exchange for granting the Pazzi a monopoly on valuable mines. Furious by this arrangement, Lorenzo de' Medici took his revenge by thwarting the pope's efforts to appoint Francesco Salvati, an ally of the Pazzi, as an archbishop in Tuscany.
With the pope's connivance, the Pazzi then allied with Salvati and Girolamo Riario, the pope's nephew, to kill Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano de' Medici during Sunday services in the Duomo. Federigo da Montefeltro, the Duke of Urbino, was brought into the plot and promised to bring a company of six hundred men to Florence in support of the Pazzi. During the solemn singing of Mass on the appointed day, April 26, 1478, a group of men fell on Giuliano de' Medici and brutally stabbed him to death, while his brother escaped to the sacristy of the church. Unable to reach Lorenzo through a locked door, the conspirators left the Duomo and then attempted to capture the Signoria (town hall) of Florence. They were captured by an angry mob of Florentine citizens and immediately lynched. Salviati himself was hanged from the wall of the Signoria, an execution captured in a famous sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. In revenge for the killing of the archbishop, the pope forbade Mass to be held in Florence, and enlisted the king of Naples to attack the city. Lorenzo de' Medici, however, voyaged to Naples to surrender himself to the king and dissuade him from this plan. The conspiracy resulted in the exact opposite of what it intended, laying low the Pazzi dynasty in Florence and in-spiring widespread support of Medici rule in Florence.
See Also: Medici, Lorenzo de'
Pazzi conspiracy (pät´tsē), 1478, plot against Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo il Magnifico) and his brother Giuliano, designed to end the hegemony of the Medici in the Florentine state and to enlarge papal territory. It was instigated by Pope Sixtus IV, his nephew Gerolamo Riario, Archbishop Salviati, and members of the Pazzi family, a wealthy Florentine family that rivaled the Medici. Actually, the Pazzi were tools in the conspiracy, which aimed not only at the death of the Medici, but at the elevation of Riario to power in Florence. Details of the plot were worked out by Salviati and the Pazzi while Riario and the pope remained in Rome. On Apr. 26, during High Mass at the cathedral, Giuliano de' Medici was stabbed to death, while Lorenzo escaped with a wound. The enraged Florentines seized and killed the conspirators. The Medici remained firmly entrenched in power.