The Renaissance was not all sweetness and light and was as populated by mercenaries and murderers as it was by scholars and artists – as these two studies show.


If you want to study “modern” history it does not start with the Reformation, the Renaissance nor the Enlightenment. It starts with the “need” for the state to arm itself for expansion. The only way to do this on a large scale was to use money and the only way to raise that type of money was to borrow it. The moneychangers that had been driven from the temple were perfectly at home in the corridors of power and when you clear away all the smoke and mirrors the Reformation provided the religious justification for doing away with the doctrine of usury, the Renaissance glorified what money could do for the arts in exalting man and the state and the Enlightenment provided the intellectual basis for our brave new world. We are now so steeped in this tradition that it is no wonder that both the right and the left wind up at the same conclusions with the same results.

The devil’s broker : seeking gold, God, and glory in fourteenth century Italy Frances Stonor Saunders New York  : Fourth Estate, 2005  Italy  History   1268-1492, Mercenary troops  Great Britain   Biography, Hawkwood, John, Sir, d. 1394  Hardcover. xviii, 366 p., [16] p. of  plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm.  Includes bibliographical references and  index.  Clean, tight and strong binding  with clean dust jacket. No highlighting,  underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

The second son of a minor Essex landowner, John Hawkwood chose to head south in 1360 after serving as a captain in the Black Prince’s wars against France. He and other freebooters beseiged the Pope at Avignon, and when they were paid to go to Italy, discovered that the threat of force could be very profitable indeed. The Italian city states – Florence, Milan, Sienna and Pisa – offered the richest pickings in Europe. Hawkwood became the most successful, clever and reliable mercenary leader of the time, leading the Italians to conclude that ‘the Devil is an Englishman’.

This is the story of an age when everything came to have a price – when the mercenary companies were vastly rich corporations, with their own accountants, lawyers and orators. But Frances Stonor Saunders’s book is also a glittering and hard-edged evocation of a time of cultural greatness, peopled by characters ranging from Chaucer, Petrarch, Boccaccio and St Catherine of Sienna to corrupt Popes and the Visconti tyrants of Milan. Above all, The devil’s broker is a brilliant illumination of one of the outstanding figures of English and European history.

April blood : Florence and the plot against the Medici Lauro Martines Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2003  Florence (Italy) History 1421-1737 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xviii, 302 p. : ill., maps ; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 282-292) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

One of the world’s leading historians of Renaissance Italy brings to life here the vibrant – and violent – society of fifteenth-century Florence. His disturbing narrative opens up an entire culture, revealing the dark side of Renaissance man and politician Lorenzo de’ Medici. On a Sunday in April 1478, assassins attacked Lorenzo and his brother as they attended Mass in the cathedral of Florence. Lorenzo scrambled to safety as Giuliano bled to death on the cathedral floor.

April Blood moves outward in time and space from that murderous event, unfolding a story of tangled passions, ambition, treachery, and revenge. The conspiracy was led by one of the city’s most noble clans, the Pazzi, financiers who feared and resented the Medici’s swaggering new role as political bosses – but the web of intrigue spread through all of Italy. Bankers, mercenaries, the Duke of Urbino, the King of Naples, and Pope Sixtus IV entered secretly into the plot.

Florence was plunged into a peninsular war, and Lorenzo was soon fighting for his own and his family’s survival. The failed assassination doomed the Pazzi. Medici revenge was swift and brutal – plotters were hanged or beheaded, innocents were hacked to pieces, and bodies were put out to dangle from the windows of the government palace. All remaining members of the larger Pazzi clan were forced to change their surname, and every public sign or symbol of the family was expunged or destroyed.

April Blood offers us a fresh portrait of Renaissance Florence, where dazzling artistic achievements went side by side with violence, craft, and bare-knuckle politics. At the center of the canvas is the figure of Lorenzo the Magnificent – poet, statesman, connoisseur, patron of the arts, and ruthless “boss of bosses.” This extraordinarily vivid account of a turning point in the Italian Renaissance is bound to become a lasting work of history.

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