The Pazzi Palace once again displays the family coat of arms on the corner, but as Mona Niccolosa tells us, it had been stripped away after the Pazzi’s failed conspiracy against the Medici in 1478. Their name was not just erased from the Palazzo, the surrounding streets, and public records – the Medici even required that those bearing the family name of Pazzi change it.

These were the high stakes of Florentine elite politics, and the Medici were the ultimate survivors. For they too had been imprisoned, exiled, and written off decades before in the 1430s. Even though they came back and dominated under Cosimo and his grandson Lorenzo, there were significant plots against them every decade.  In 1494, Lorenzo’s son Piero and the whole family would be expelled from the city. The Medici would return and then fall again from power twice more in the decades following, and only gain a firmer grip when a new Cosimo, only 18 years old, seized power as Duke in 1537. He was so effective in securing power that the Medici would only relinquish it again when the last duke died 200 years later.

All of that is in the future. As Mona Niccolosa walks us down one of the city’s oldest main streets dating to Roman times, she brings us into the spatial realities of Florentine politics. Power in city councils was always based on holding a neighbourhood as patrons, employers, builders. The Pazzi had held this neighbourhood because they had built their houses here, had sponsored churches and convents here, offered charity, arranged local marriages. When Niccolosa’s husband Antonio married her, it was all part of the same strategy, since she too was of a noble and wealthy local family that lived just down the street, and the two together were a neighbourhood power couple.

The Pazzi conspiracy took shape long after Niccolosa’s husband died, and it overturned this careful strategy. The Medici answered blood for blood, hanging Francesco dei Pazzi, the Archbishop of Pisa and some other conspirators from the windows of the Palazzo Vecchio, and sending assassins after the rest till all were dead. Niccolosa had returned to her family home decades before, and from there she had continued to help the local poor and needy and to fulfill her obligations to Christ, to the City, and to her neighbours as Antoninus had taught.

Nicholas Terpstra


To cite this essay, we suggest:
Nicholas Terpstra, ‘Politics as a blood sport’ published online 2019, in ‘Hidden Florence’, The University of Exeter,

Further Reading

Nicholas Eckstein, The District of the Green Dragon: Neighbourhood Life and Social Change in Renaissance Florence. Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1995.

Natalie Tomas, The Medici Women: Gender and Power in Renaissance Florence. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.

Saundra Weddle, “Identity and Alliance: Urban Presence, Spatial Privilege, and Florentine Renaissance Convents,” in R.J. Crum & J.T. Paoletti, Renaissance Florence: A Social History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006: 394-412.