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Society and Individual in Renaissance Florence

  • by William J. Connell (Editor)
  • September 2002
  • First Edition
  • Hardcover
    $68.95,  £54.00
    $68.95,  £54.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 465
    ISBN: 9780520232549
    Trim Size: 6 x 9
    Illustrations: 2 b/w photographs, 2 line illustrations, 1 map, 1 table

Read Chapter 7
7. The War of the Eight Saints in Florentine Memory and Oblivion

David S. Peterson


Memory forgets, sometimes quite willingly. It is a process whereby individuals, groups, and entire societies conserve and record, but also filter, repress, and configure past experience to shape and accommodate their identities for presentation to self and others. The aims (or results) may range from explanation to concealment, self-congratulation to exculpation, self-justification and legitimation to the nurturing (construction, and elaboration) of grievances against others. Although memories may be preserved even fortuitously in texts and artifacts, their storage there can just as well be part of a deliberate and selective process. This is especially so when the objects concerned are carefully designed works of art, and the texts artfully composed narrative histories.

The memory of the Quattrocento Florentine Renaissance has long enjoyed an iconic status in narratives of Western civilization as a stage upon which its admirers have found enacted much of what they most prized in European culture and politics. Nor is this wholly accidental. The numerous vernacular memoirs (ricordi) of merchants like Giovanni Morelli, as well as the Latin histories of humanists like Leonardo Bruni and Poggio Bracciolini, reveal a society whose members were deeply self-conscious and historically minded. Much of the basis for accepting the notion of a Florentine Renaissance derives from the testimony of contemporaries like Matteo Palmieri and Giorgio Vasari that they were indeed having one, and on the determination of their fellows to furnish the necessary historical texts and artworks as proof. The Florentines' rediscovery of their ancient Roman ancestors carried in its train a recognition of themselves as an audience of modern posterity, making their Renaissance dialogue with the past an essential stimulus also to their own studied self-presentation to future generations.

Among the most notable examples of the Florentines' Renaissance are the works of art they commissioned for their churches and the texts composed by their humanist historians. Architects like Brunelleschi articulated a classicized Roman vocabulary of harmoniously balanced columns and rounded arches to solemnize the interior spaces of Florence's new cathedral and numerous other churches such as San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito that were rebuilt or remodeled in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Painters like Masaccio and sculptors such as Donatello in turn adorned these churches with images and objects whose classical realism and naturalism give them heightened spiritual poignancy. Meanwhile, the city's humanist chancellors and historians from Coluccio Salutati onward recalled to Florentine citizens the genealogy of their descent from the Roman Republic, celebrated their republican institutions and their embrace of civic duty in the defense of their liberty, and lauded the ambition and unabashed entrepreneurial acquisitiveness that made possible their civic and charitable benefactions.

But although Florentine artists and humanists alike deployed classical motifs, the projects in which they engaged were in fact quite different. Artists employed pre-Christian art forms in the city's churches not to subvert religious space but to sacralize the city's urban fabric. The humanists, on the other hand, used classical rhetoric and historiographical models not only to connect the city's republican present to its Roman origins but also to secularize the vision of its history that informed contemporary political discourse. Underscoring the particularity of Florentine history did not, to be sure, require detaching it entirely from Christianity's universal eschatology. Even Machiavelli, after all, concluded Il Principe crying out for a new Italian redeemer. But Florentine humanists no longer recounted events to manifest the providence of God working directly through human agents. They highlighted instead the causal agency of human protagonists themselves and inscribed into their actions the civic and republican values that they aimed to recall to their contemporary and future readers. Fortuna was not providentia Dei.

The result has been that subsequent historians, taking their cues from Quattrocento and Cinquecento Florentine historians, long tended to portray the society as a whole in secular hues. But if we turn back from these textual sentinels to reconsider the city's churches not simply as works of art but as historical artifacts with a documentary significance of their own, and begin, as historians recently have done, to incorporate the archival study of religion and the church into Florentine social and political history, a paradox emerges: while Florentines were secularizing and de-Christianizing the discursive realm of their civic politics in the early Quattrocento, they were simultaneously sacralizing and re-Christianizing their built civic environment.1 This is not to resurrect long discredited caricatures of the humanists as pagans, or to reposit a fundamental conflict (not even updated as "culture wars") between secularizing humanists and Christian reactionaries. Humanists from Petrarch onward were deeply Augustinian in their anthropology and attacked ecclesiastics not for their religion but for their lack of it. Nor is it necessary to pin religion and classicism on different elements of the social order. Leonardo Bruni wrote his classicizing republican panegyric and history of Florence to ingratiate himself with the same Florentine rulers who commissioned Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise; indeed, he helped select the biblical scenes to be represented.

Taken together, the written and material evidence furnished by Quattrocento Florentines points to a simultaneous rise of investment in a built Christian environment, concurrent with a surge of textual production that wrote secular values into the Florentine social and political world. The commemoration in Florentine churches of a Christian present contemporaneous with the textual recollection of a secular past that pointed directly to it suggests a fascinating instability of values. Societies, of course, need no more be consistent with themselves than are individuals. The Florentine case might simply be let stand as an example of mildly schizophrenic Renaissance self-fashioning. But because memory is the art also of selective (and collective) forgetting, and silences thus have histories of their own, it is worth excavating the documentary remains of those lying beneath Florence's ecclesiastical commemorations and historical recollections to see whether they do not converge at some point in the oblivion of a past that Florentines either chose to forget—or remembered very carefully.


In few societies have religion and politics been woven together so intimately—and conflictually—as they were in Renaissance Florence. As far back as the eleventh century, Florentine support under the Countess Matilda had been essential to the survival of the Gregorian reform movement, and from the formation of the Guelf entente in the 1260s down to the reigns of the Medici popes Leo X (1513-21) and Clement VII (1523-34) at the outbreak of the Reformation, no community in Europe was more vital to the economic and political fortunes (and misfortunes) of the papacy than its Tuscan neighbor, rival, and financier, Florence. Nor, in the two centuries from Dante's robust denunciation of the papacy in his Commedia down to Savonarola's project to fuse Christian and republican renovatio in a Florentine "New Jerusalem" that defied Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503), was any city so vigorous in condemning the papacy or so protean in generating new forms of religious thought and expression in artistic, political, and urban contexts.

The famous twenty-eighth maxim that Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) penned in the early sixteenth century appears to telescope the ambivalence many Florentines felt toward the church: "I don't know anyone who dislikes the ambition, the avarice and the sensuality of priests more than I do," wrote the papal governor of Modena and the Romagna. "Nevertheless, the position I have enjoyed with several popes has forced me to love their greatness for my own self-interest. Were it not for this consideration, I would have loved Martin Luther as much as I love myself."2 In his ensuing maxim Guicciardini specified the cause of his dilemma, explaining that the Florentines had "the church as a neighbor, which is powerful and never dies." Essential to Guicciardini's schematization of his Florentine codependence with the church was the manner in which he identified clergy at all levels with the papacy, both with political power, and the necessity he therefore felt to partition his religious convictions from his political interests. Like Machiavelli (1469-1527), Guicciardini wondered whether it was possible "to control governments and states, if one wants to hold them as they are held today, according to the precepts of Christian law," and concluded that it was not.3

There was much to justify these sentiments in the wake of Savonarola's late-fifteenth-century failure as an "unarmed prophet," when Renaissance popes had subverted the earlier efforts of conciliar reformers to curb their monarchical pretensions and had transformed themselves into ambitious Italian princes. But because Machiavelli's and Guicciardini's texts became the vehicles through which the preceding three centuries of Florentine history were synthesized and transmitted into the broader stream of European thought—and memory—historians in turn have read back out of the history of the Florentine republic the sixteenth-century identification of church with papacy, and the separation of religion from politics, that they wrote into it. Nor were these leanings without some foundation in earlier fifteenth-century humanist historiography. Leonardo Bruni (c. 1370-1444) and Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), upon whom they relied, embraced classical models that privileged political, military, and diplomatic narratives to focus their histories on Florence's development in its republican dimensions. In the process, they touched on local ecclesiastical or religious matters only so far as popes and prelates came on stage as players in Italian politics. The roles that religion and the local church played in shaping the Quattrocento Florentine cultural milieu that produced its foundational humanist historians were thus masked and obscured by the very selectivity and semiotics of the humanists' own narratives.


This is nowhere more evident than in their treatment of the cataclysmic War of the Eight Saints that Florence fought against Pope Gregory XI (1370-78) in 1375-78. Climaxing in the outbreak of the papal schism and the revolt of Florence's downtrodden Ciompi clothworkers, the war unfolded in two phases and encompassed two corresponding clusters of issues. It began as a Florentine effort to check the menacing expansion of the papal state in central Italy that the Avignon popes had set as a condition for their return to Rome and was fueled by the antipathy many Florentine citizens felt toward their Guelf fellows whose personal ties to the Papal Curia threatened to subvert the commune's sovereignty. Florence enjoyed a series of early successes, sponsoring uprisings throughout the papal state that were hailed by the republic's newly appointed chancellor Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) as the triumph of Tuscan and Italian libertas over papal despotism. But as the war bogged down, the Florentines were confronted with rising military expenses that drove them to a momentous second step. Already under a papal interdict, the city's leaders determined in 1376 to finance the war by selling off local clerical property, and they proceeded to the most extensive liquidation of an ecclesiastical patrimony attempted anywhere in Europe before the Reformation. A war against the papacy was thus transformed into a referendum on the place of religion and the church within the Florentine community itself—again, one of the most literate and sophisticated in pre-Reformation Europe. The spoliation of the Florentine church, accompanied by efforts first to do without clerical ministrations, then, from 1377, to compel clergy to officiate and laity to attend services, turned the public sharply against the war. Flagellants took to the streets, the city's political leadership split bitterly, and Florence was forced to sue for peace. Gregory XI's timely death and the outbreak of the schism in the spring of 1378 enabled Florence to negotiate with the weak Roman pope Urban VI (1378-89). But there immediately ensued the revolt of the Ciompi. The war had a devastating impact on the Florentine church that shaped its politics and internal operations down to the mid-fifteenth century. And it impressed upon subsequent generations of Florentine rulers the vital importance of the legitimating power of the sacred in the city's economy of political interests, conditioning their policies not only toward papal Rome but, especially, toward the local Florentine church, even longer.


Guicciardini omitted the war almost entirely from his youthful Storie fiorentine, beginning immediately afterward with the revolt of the Ciompi. But he blamed the uprising itself on the Otto di balìa, a special commission of eight magistrates who had been charged with the war's prosecution, for recklessly catering to Florence's lower classes.4 He returned to the war twenty years later in his Cose fiorentine, written in the immediate aftermath of the Sack of Rome in 1527, on his return to a Florence in the last gasp of republican and messianic fervor. He prefaced his account with a speech by a confident Florentine councillor who favored the war "to preserve the dignity of our patria . . . [and] to maintain our liberty . . . undertaken not against the Church of God, nor against the vicars of Christ, but against evil pastors, against wicked governors."5 To this he contrasted the cautious Carlo Strozzi, who wondered how Guelf Florence could justify a war against the papacy, and predicted that the inevitable papal interdict would so traumatize the Florentines that "perhaps the greater part, on account of the damages and injuries of the war, will be disposed to return to the old faith."6 But from these suggestive interpretive poles Guicciardini proceeded to narrate a tightly focused account of the political infighting between Florence's Ricci and Albizzi factions, and of the movements of armies and embassies, touching only minimally on the broader domestic impact of the interdict and the expropriation of church property. The veteran statesman's dry verdict was that "it is not enough to undertake wars with justice and generosity, if these are not accompanied by prudence as well."7

Machiavelli touched only glancingly on the war in his Istorie fiorentine. Nevertheless, he paused to offer an encomium to the Otto for having administered it "with such virtue and with such universal satisfaction that . . . they were called Saints even though they had little regard for censures, had despoiled the churches of their goods, and had compelled the clergy to celebrate the offices—so much more did those citizens then esteem their fatherland than their souls."8 But though he lauded the Otto for their courage in placing devotion to the patria above fear of spiritual sanctions, Machiavelli nevertheless left open the possibility that their actions might indeed have been damnable. Recounting a meeting held just before the war of citizens concerned to end factional strife, Machiavelli inserted into the speech of their spokesman the lament that factionalism and the corruption of the city had arisen "because religion and fear of God have been eliminated in all."9 While he reveled in the blow dealt the papacy by the Otto, Machiavelli echoed in his Istorie the view he had set forth in the Discorsi, that "as the observance of divine institutions is the cause of the greatness of republics, so the disregard of them produces their ruin."10

Writing a century before Machiavelli and only decades after the War of the Eight Saints itself, Leonardo Bruni, the founder of Florentine humanist historiography, was even more reticent. He could scarcely ignore the rising new Florentine cathedral and the numerous other ecclesiastical building projects that were visible throughout early Quattrocento Florence. Thus, in his famous "Panegyric" (Laudatio) of 1403-4, he commended the Florentines' piety and paused in his description of the city to offer lavish praise of their churches: "Indeed," he wrote, "in all of Florence nothing is more richly appointed, more ornate in style, more magnificent than these churches. As much attention has been given to decorating sacred buildings as to secular ones, so that not only the habitations of the living would be outstanding but the tombs of the dead as well."11 At the same time, Bruni carefully circumscribed the churches' significance by inserting his description into a portion of the Laudatio devoted not to the city's history and institutions but to its architecture. Aiming to celebrate the republic, his parallel juxtapositions of buildings sacred and profane, of habitations for the living and the dead, effected an equality between the Florentine church and the republic, while separating the concerns of this world from those of the next.

Likewise, though Bruni celebrated the role of Florence's Parte Guelfa in championing the city's Roman republican ideals, he made only the briefest allusion to the Parte's origin as an alliance supporting the papacy.12 While he could trace the many wars that Florentines had fought against tyrants in defense of their libertas back to the famous Guelf victory over the Ghibelline leader Manfred at Beneventum in 1266, he made no reference whatsoever to the great war that Florence had fought immediately prior to its recent victory over Milan's Giangaleazzo Visconti in 1402—the War of the Eight Saints. The omission was scarcely casual. Florence's victory over Milan in fact served Bruni, as it did many other Florentines, not only as an occasion for celebrating the triumph of Florentine republican ideals but also as a means of canceling the memory of an earlier war for Florentine libertas—that of the Eight Saints—that had gone terribly wrong.

Several decades later, when he turned to writing his Historiarum florentini populi libri XII (begun by 1415), Bruni could no longer completely ignore it. Rather, he focused on the first year of the conflict, which he could easily frame as a defensive war against papal aggression. Thereafter, throughout its second, domestic phase, Bruni kept his attention fixed squarely on the movements of armies and diplomats, turning to Florentine civic affairs only to note that the renewals of the Otto "provoked great jealousy among many."13 Without ever mentioning Florence's assault on its local church and the political turmoil that ensued, he concluded his account by noting the outbreak of the schism, then partitioned the war from the city's internal life, and the Ciompi Revolt, with a chapter division.


The War of the Eight Saints had its ideological roots in a debate over ecclesiastical wealth and jurisdictions that had been intensifying throughout Europe for over a century. In sixteenth-century Italy, Machiavelli and Guicciardini took the temporal power of church and papacy for granted and distinguished both from true religion. But in the fourteenth century they were still conceivable as spiritual institutions, and it was the doctrine of papal plenitudo potestatis, upon which popes based their expanding claims not only to supreme authority within the church but also to myriad powers of intervention in temporal affairs, that occupied political theorists. It had inspired the growth of the radical Spiritual wing of the Franciscan order, and King Philip IV of France's challenge to clerical immunities from royal taxation and the courts, which elicited from Pope Boniface VIII the intemperate bull Unam sanctam (1302), strongly implying that all temporal rulers derived their authority from the pope and roundly designating all the faithful as his subjects. Unam sanctam became a rich target for critics that papal apologists like Giles of Rome actually widened by advancing fulsome claims for papal world dominium (lordship) that fused the issues of jurisdictions and property rights, thus effectively inviting opponents of papal authority to take aim at clerical wealth as well.

Among the sharpest antipapal reactions came from Italians. Dante articulated in his Monarchia (c. 1310) an ideal Aristotelian vision of a new Roman Empire, in which all political authority would be concentrated in a single temporal world ruler: restricting the church to a purely spiritual role would secure humanity's common good by ending the destructive conflict between church and state. As he explained through Marco Lombardo at the center of his Commedia, all the evils of the world derived from misgovernment caused by a papacy which "striving to combine two powers in one, fouls self and load and all."14 In his Defensor pacis (1324), Marsilius of Padua added Roman corporation law to Dante's amalgam of Aristotelian and Franciscan arguments to propose reducing the church to purely spiritual powers and subjecting it to the supervision of a sovereign lay authority, the "faithful human legislator." Clergy would be subject to the penalties of the civil law and might, if necessary, be compelled by the state to perform services and to administer the sacraments.15 The legislator would supervise appointments to ecclesiastical offices and any necessary inquisitions, and would oversee the administration of ecclesiastical property. Superfluous clerical property would be subject to taxation just like that of the laity.16 Dante's Commedia became, of course, the cornerstone of Florentine literature, and an Italian translation (from the French) of the Defensor pacis circulated in Florence from 1363 onward, with numerous marginal arrows pointing to the passages on tithes and church property.17

Marsilius was soon joined at Ludwig of Bavaria's antipapal court by the brilliant English Franciscan heretic William of Ockham (c. 1285-c. 1347), who, followed by his Oxford countryman John Wycliff (d. 1384) later in the century, articulated political theories that also curtailed ecclesiastical jurisdictions and property rights, based not, however, on the church's presumed character as a spiritual institution but on its now evident forfeiture of that role. Wycliff wrote his De civili dominio (1378) with an eye on Florence's War of the Eight Saints, and the echo of his views in John Hus led to innumerable condemnations before (and after) the Czech's execution at the Council of Constance in 1415.18


Florence's rulers had been given a powerful incentive to acquiesce in the expansion of papal controls over ecclesiastical wealth and appointments by Pope Martin IV's confirmation of the Florentine bankers' right to collect papal taxes in 1281, and papal actions touching the Florentine church could in any case easily be mediated privately by Florentines at the Papal Curia itself. Nevertheless, in (frequent) periods of domestic crisis, when Florence's patrician rulers sought to augment their power by admitting members of the lesser guilds and novi cives to a greater share of political offices, these new people (gente nuova) tended to pursue stricter constitutional protections of the commune's sovereignty, both against papal meddling from outside and against aristocrats' use of local ecclesiastical institutions to augment their power within Florentine politics. Under the "popular" governments of the Primo Popolo (1250-60) and of Giano della Bella (1293-97), and in response to interventions such as those of the papal legate Cardinal Latino Malabranca in 1279-80, and of Pope Boniface VIII in 1301-3, the Florentine councils passed a series of laws that prohibited the appointment of Florentine "magnates" to the bishoprics of Florence and Fiesole (which might be used as seigneurial power bases); required that ecclesiastics claiming fiscal and judicial immunities verify their clerical status; and denied that excommunications of communal officials could be cited to disqualify their decisions.19 When, in the financial crisis of 1343-48 precipitated by the collapse of the Bardi and Acciaiuoli banking houses, Pope Clement VI (1342-52) used the inquisitor's office and an interdict to pressure Florentine bankers to treat ecclesiastical creditors preferentially, another broadly based government passed additional laws limiting clerical immunity from communal courts, restricting the inquisitor's power to investigate usury, and defying the interdict. At the same time, the Florentines also managed their fiscal crisis to a resolution by creating a funded public debt, the Monte, backed by papal juridical guarantees.20

Thereafter, the decades leading up to the War of the Eight Saints saw broad Florentine-papal collaboration on matters of finance and appointments to benefices, as well as light Florentine taxation of the clergy.21 But distrust began to grow when Pope Innocent VI (1352-62) dispatched Cardinal Egidio de Albornoz from Avignon in 1353 to recover control of the papal state in central Italy. Two factions emerged in Florence: the Albizzi family and their followers identified the city's interests with those of the papacy and the elite Parte Guelfa, while the Ricci and their supporters were more willing to countenance closer relations with Milan as a counter to the papacy's growing power on the peninsula and were more sympathetic to the gente nuova's mistrust of local ecclesiastical prerogatives.


Gregory XI came to the pontificate in late 1370 in a moment of calm and was personally congratulated by members of Florence's powerful philo-papal Albizzi, Corsini, Strozzi, and Alberti families.22 He was determined, however, to complete the papacy's consolidation of control over its central Italian Patrimony, and to subdue its neighbors, in order go bring the Curia back to Rome. Soon he was dispatching letters and embassies to neighboring Florence and other Tuscan cities with assurances that his assault on nearby Perugia portended no threat to their "Tuscan liberties," while he urged papal loyalists like Lapo da Castiglionchio and other members of the Parte Guelfa within the city to discourage any sharp Florentine response.23 Florentine councillors were deeply skeptical of the pope's motives. Gregory's increasingly indignant appeals for Florentine aid against Perugia, the Este of Ferrara, and Bernabò Visconti of Milan went unheeded or were minimally honored.24 But his use of indirect political as well as formal diplomatic channels to influence Florentine decision making facilitated erratic jumps of allegiance, such as Uguccione de' Ricci's spectacular defection to the Albizzi side in 1373, and fueled a crescendo of factional strife that overtook the city in the next few years.

The pope also intervened aggressively in local ecclesiastical affairs and pressed the issue of "ecclesiastical liberties" with Florence. In 1371 he replaced Fra Andrea of the popular Ricci family with his own man, Fra Piero di Ser Lippo of Florence, to head the Florentine inquisition, in a move that could not but have been perceived in Florence as shoring up the political power of local Guelf families.26 In 1373 Gregory deputed his own papal commissioners to reform the monasteries of the Florentine and Pisan dioceses, and he intervened aggressively in local ecclesiastical appointments.27 When Antonio di Luca Abbati, a member of the minor Tuscan aristocracy and Gregory's "serviens armorum atque familiaris," was summoned to appear before the communal courts, Gregory stridently protested this violation of ecclesiastical immunity.28 Subsequently, the Florentines uncovered a scheme among members of the Albizzi and Corsini families to secure the appointment of a complicitous abbot to the strategically located monastery of Vallombrosa in the Apennines to facilitate the advance of papal troops toward the city. As the chronicler Stefani observed, "This affair was said to have a very long tail."29

Florence's councils responded to these provocations by passing new laws limiting the rights of churches to offer sanctuary to criminals and by refurbishing older measures that limited clerical judicial immunities and regulated access to ecclesiastical benefices.30 The year 1375 revealed only further papal treachery to the Florentines. The city had been hit by a wave of plague and severe crop failures in late 1374, but appeals for permission to import grain from the papal lands around Bologna went unheeded. Rather, while Florence starved, Gregory ratcheted up his campaign in defense of ecclesiastical liberties by demanding now that the commune repeal its laws restricting the powers of inquisitors. For good measure, he fired some excommunications on this issue over the Florentine bow at the rulers of neighboring Pistoia.31 Then, in June, while papal envoys were in Florence seeking funds for the war against Bernabò Visconti, news arrived that the pope had secretly arranged a truce with the Milanese ruler. Papal troops led by the English mercenary John Hawkwood were now released from service and headed toward Florence, demanding a staggering 130,000 florins to spare the city from pillage. Later that month, a clerical plot was uncovered in Prato to yield the city to papal troops from Bologna.32

The clerics involved in the Prato plot were brutally executed, and Florence now organized for war. An executive priorate was drawn for the July-August term that contained an unusually large number of "new men" sympathetic to the antipapal leanings of the Ricci faction. Already the city had arranged a nonaggression pact with Hawkwood at a cost of 130,000 florins.33 Now, without mentioning the clergy directly, the councils approved the priors' creation of a special commission of eight citizens, who in fact came to be known as the Otto dei preti, or Eight Saints, charged to levy a one-year, 130,000-florin forced loan (prestanza) on the clergy of Florence and Fiesole to pay off Hawkwood.34 The old prohibition against Florentine magnates accepting the bishoprics of Florence or Fiesole was reinvoked, and a law was passed transferring jurisdiction over last testaments and usury cases from ecclesiastical courts to the commune's Monte officials.35 A month later, the councils approved the creation of another special commission, the Otto di balìa, empowered to make the military and diplomatic arrangements necessary to carry on a war against the pope.36 By late summer they had worked out an alliance with Florence's and the papacy's traditional enemy: Milan.37

Both sides had already launched a war of propaganda. In May, Florence's ambitious young new chancellor Salutati addressed an "apology" to the pope, meant to be read out in Consistory, that actually detailed Florentine grievances running back to the arrival of Cardinal Albornoz in 1353. Protesting Florence's long-standing devotion to the church, Salutati ostentatiously (but menacingly) denied the rumor that Florence was preparing to sponsor an uprising in the Patrimony: the papacy's "most devoted sons" would never attempt "such a sacrilege."38 Gregory responded with complaints of his own, notably of Florence's refusal to aid in the campaign against Bernabò Visconti and of its "tyrannical" violations of ecclesiastical liberties.39 He invited Florence's citizens to put away their pride and return to the "old road" of humility, threatening that otherwise he would do everything in his power to defend the church, "against which not even the gates of Hell can prevail."40


But Florence's leaders, headed by members of the Ricci faction but including also many eminent Guelfs, were in no mood for the "old road." "Wake up!" Salutati exhorted the Pisans. Moving to frame the anomalous Florentine war against the papacy in a broad historical context, he reminded them of how the ancient Greek republics had lost their liberty to the Macedonians by quarreling among themselves.41 The dam burst on 11 November, when Città di Castello rose up against its papal governors. "Now indeed," crowed Salutati to Bernabò Visconti, "begins the ruin of the church!"42 Like dominoes, Viterbo, Perugia, and dozens of other cities of the Patrimony rebelled as well. They were joined in the spring by Bologna, the crucial northern anchor of the papal state. Reports coming into Florence almost daily were read out "in the name of God and victory" to excited crowds summoned to the Piazza Signoria by the ringing of church bells. Troops of the Tuscan League entered the liberated cities to cries of "Long live Florence and liberty!" and red banners, "like those of Rome," emblazoned with the motto "Libertas," were distributed to Florence's new confederates.43

Euphoric letters now streamed out of the Florentine chancery exalting the Italians' re-embrace of their ancient liberty as they cast off the tyrannical yoke of servitude so long imposed on them by the barbarism, greed, and despotism of the papacy's Gallic prelates and governors. "Remember," Salutati urged the Orvietans, "that you are of Italian blood, the nature of which is to rule others, not to submit to them, and mutually and in turn you should rouse each other for liberty."44 The war was not against the church, he assured Galeazzo Malatesta, but was "with barbarians, with foreigners who, born of the vilest parents and raised on filth," had been turned loose by the church to plunder misera Italia.45 But as the war developed, Salutati was obliged (and not only by the protests of Florence's French and Angevin allies!)46 to articulate a fuller and more complex vision of Italian liberty, one that went beyond the dictatores' older, simple juxtapositions of liberty and despotism, and that enriched earlier Aristotelian and corporate views that proposed securing peace, "sufficiency of life," and the bene comune as the aims of legitimate government.47 This was not a war simply for Florentine or Tuscan liberty but one fought to liberate all of northern Italy. Salutati had not only to address a variety of communities of differing traditions and political experience but also to enlist the support of foreign rulers. He was therefore inspired to elaborate a vision of liberty that went well beyond traditional communal ideals of self-rule and freedom from foreign domination in two new ways.

First, in soliciting the support of the Romans early in the war and, later, condemning their readmission of Gregory to the city, he articulated a new historical genealogy of Italian liberty. Reminding them of their "hereditary debt" (debito hereditario) as the "authors and fathers" of popular liberty,48 he offered the Romans ever fuller lists of examples of their ancient forbears' resistance to tyrants (Tarquin) and foreigners (Hannibal), and linked their history to that of Florence and Italy.49 By the end of the war, Salutati had developed a view of Roman liberty grounded in the rule of law. Its foundations had been laid under a dynamic republic, only to be extinguished subsequently by the Caesars themselves.50

At the same time, many of the cities in the Patrimony lacked such traditions and constituted in effect what Machiavelli would later describe as the problem of "new states." In the course of dispensing much practical advice to cities such as Città di Castello, Bologna, and Orvieto on how to choose rectors, avoid factional strife, and keep taxes low, Salutati was obliged to reflect on the roles and interests of nobles and plebs, merchants and artisans in civic affairs, and to develop a broad anthropology of liberty and its effect on human nature as the "magistra virtutum" that could be applied to Italian communities lacking clear republican traditions.51 In phrases that go well beyond older visions of the ben comune and that anticipate the republicanism of Bruni's Laudatio, Salutati praised liberty to the Bolognese as "[the] one thing alone [which], exalting cities, multiplies population immensely, enriches families, and adorns the status and majesty of the citizens with an air of ancient grandeur. . . . This is the teacher of virtues, since no one hesitates in his own republic which flourishes with liberty to demonstrate how much and what a virtuous man can do."52 As the propagandist of Florence's strategy to guarantee its own security by republicanizing central Italy, Salutati developed an anthropology of liberty that made its Roman genealogy accessible to all Italians in an ideology that was, at the same time, new and distinctively Florentine.


The war was immensely popular among the Florentines, even among some elements of the clergy. "Woe to those who are under you and don't rise up!" taunted the satirist Franco Sacchetti in a series of poems by turns sarcastic and enraged that he penned to Gregory XI, Pope "Guastamondo."53 The Augustinian canon and humanist Luigi Marsili ventilated his own anticlerical sentiments from Paris to his friend, the lanaiolo Guido Del Palagio, and assured him that excommunications by the likes of Gregory XI's "shameless" (sfacciati) Limousin legates meant nothing to Christ: "Christ sent them [priests] to preach: but I see nothing in the Gospel that says he sent them to rule."54 The Vallombrosan monk Giovanni dalle Celle likewise reassured Del Palagio that "no innocent person can be excommunicated. . . . You only have to beware not to vote that the pope should be taken or killed, and likewise for all other clergy and religious."55

"Never," exulted Salutati in February, 1376, "has it been so easy to raise money from our citizens!"56 The city's rulers were delighted with the war's progress. Even such "Archguelfs" as Lapo da Castiglionchio and Filippo Corsini now urged that the Otto "manfully pursue" what they had begun.57 It took Gregory until the spring of 1376 to recover from the shock of his losses in the Patrimony. He then summoned dozens of Florence's leaders to appear before him at Avignon. The priors took the summons remarkably seriously and deputed the lawyers Donato Barbadori and Alessandro dell' Antella to present the Florentine case. Salutati now sent letters to Florence's Cardinal Piero Corsini and to the College of Cardinals responding to Gregory's charge that Florence had deliberately instigated the rebellions in the Patrimony. Reciting the long history of Florence's Guelf devotion to the papacy, he argued that "the damages the church has received . . . are to be blamed not on us, but on the excesses of its own officials."58 The uprisings in the Patrimony were truly miracles, inspired by God's spirit, and would therefore be assessed by "divine judgment, not human counsel."59


Gregory, however, conceived the process not as a forum for debate but as a trial. The defense served up by Barbadori and dell'Antella was a breathtaking display of legal caviling that cannot have been meant to convince so much as to taunt, ridicule, and perhaps to generate sympathy for Florence among rulers north of the Alps. The lawyers began with a plea for postponement, then turned to twenty charges drawn up by the pope's advocate, Jacopo di Ceva, all of which they set out to refute. The charges were remarkably detailed, ranging from Florence's sponsorship of rebellion in the papal states to the formation of the commissions of the Otto di balìa and Otto dei preti, its execution of the Prato conspirators, passage of antiecclesiastical legislation, and unauthorized taxation of the clergy. But in each instance the lawyers argued provocatively that, lacking exact times, dates, and the names of all persons involved, the charges were "vague, obscure," and therefore legally inadmissible.60 And they did more than simply quibble. Though they made no attempt to invoke Florence's traditional Guelf allegiance to the papacy, neither did they use this forum as an opportunity to champion the heroic vision of republican libertas that Salutati had elaborated in support of the war.

Instead, they framed the Florentine defense from beginning to end with the stunning assertion that Florence was, and always had been, "subject to the most holy Roman Empire," and that it therefore could not recognize the jurisdiction of the Papal Curia.61 Florence indeed had renewed its privileges with Emperor Charles IV in 1369 and had been paying the emperor an annual census of 4,000 florins, a kind of ideological (and political) insurance policy that the lawyers now cashed in full.62 Not only, they declared, were the Florentines innocent of Gregory's charge that they had violated the terms of their alliance with the church; the pope lacked competence to judge, both because he could not be plaintiff and judge alike in his own case and because the Florentine community and citizens "are laymen, and immediately subject to imperial authority."63 Had they occupied the lands of Volterra, Pistoia, and other of their neighbors? On the contrary, argued the lawyers, Florentines served there as vicars of the emperor.64

Barbadori and dell'Antella did not, on the other hand, elaborate this new Florentine Ghibellinism into a bold vision of the prerogatives of the secular state along the lines set forth by Dante and Marsilius. Rather, they affected great respect for papal authority and the immunities of the church, while serving up denials of the papal accusations that were teasingly sophistic and mendacious. Responding to the charge that Florence had passed laws curtailing the freedom of the inquisitor and regulating access to ecclesiastical benefices, they first disputed the laws' existence, then denied that they had been enforced, then pointed out that the "clausula derogatoria" attaching to them explicitly prohibited transgressions of ecclesiastical liberty.65 Had clerics been tried and condemned in secular courts? Again they rejected the charge, adding, however, that these things had been done by Florence's podestà, a foreign official over whom they had absolutely no control.66 Had the clergy been taxed and molested? Again, no: besides, the pope had failed to specify the sums and clerics involved; anyway, these were strictly voluntary loans.67

And so it went. Not surprisingly, Gregory flicked aside the Florentine defense as "frivolous and inane." (Nor would Charles IV have been amused, having only days earlier ordered the Florentines to desist from disturbing the Patrimony.)68 In the interdict that he had ready for promulgation, Gregory compressed his condemnation of the Florentines into ten major (though quite detailed) counts, leaving himself ample space to elaborate on the economic penalties that, along with denial of access to the sacraments and the cult, were to be inflicted by the clergy and other Christians on these "impious sons of perdition" and their allies and abettors, the enemies of mother church and the Christian "respublica."69 On hearing the papal sentence, which was at once a judgment, a polemic, and a curse, Barbadori collapsed to his knees, reciting the Psalms and calling upon Christ and the apostles as witnesses to Florence's innocence.


In his history of Florence, Leonardo Bruni made Gregory's trial and condemnation of the Florentines the centerpiece of his account of the war, inserting lengthy speeches into the mouths of Barbadori and Gregory to set out the Florentine and papal positions. But what was a good Florentine republican, or even a Guelf, to make of Barbadori's and dell'Antella's defense, framed as it was within an imperial jurisprudence that not only ignored, understandably, Florence's Guelf traditions but also neglected to articulate the ideal of libertas that Salutati had made the centerpiece of the Florentine cause, and that offered instead a defense which, in the age after civil lawyers like Bartolus of Sassoferrato (1313/14-57), was anachronistically servile even by Ghibelline standards in its complete forfeiture of Florentine sovereignty?

Bruni rewrote the speech entirely, expunging every reference to Florence's submission to imperial authority, as well as virtually every charge leveled by the pope against the Florentines for their abuse of the church. This was no homage to the ancient historiographical tradition of rhetorical summation but a deliberate excision from the historical record undertaken to purify and sanctify Florentine public memory. In Gregory's speech, Bruni allowed the pope to express indignation only at Florence's provocation of the uprisings in the Patrimony. Then, drawing on the charges advanced against the church by Salutati in his letters, Bruni moved Barbadori to the offensive, blaming the war squarely on the tyranny and abuses of the papacy's Gallic legates: "If your governors, your holiness, or let us say legates, had bothered to establish a benevolent government, rather than a tyranny frightful to all men, neither would you have reason to accuse us at present, nor we to defend ourselves."70

But having recounted the legates' abuses at length, and following Salutati closely, Bruni then diverged from the course suggested by the chancellor's own letters. For rather than have Barbadori advance from traditional Aristotelian denunciations of the despotism of the papal legates to an articulation of Salutati's affirmative new vision of the ideal of libertas, as the chancellor himself had frequently done, Bruni next inserted into Barbadori's speech a history of Florence's Guelf loyalty to the papacy that went back not simply to the time of Manfred but, indeed, to that of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa.71 Why, if Bruni was using Barbadori as a mouthpiece for the Florentine position, did he not exploit this rhetorical opportunity to highlight one of Salutati's greatest achievements? In part, he was simply following the line of argument that Salutati himself had directed to audiences like the College of Cardinals, rather than that which he had developed to encourage Florence's allies. But Bruni was now writing a history meant to illustrate the theme of Florence's devotion to the cause of liberty that he had set forth in his Laudatio. It was one for which Salutati's many letters provided evidence in abundance. Surely Bruni had no intention of suppressing his mentor's achievement in order to appropriate it himself—though neither here, nor anywhere else in his history, did he ever mention his predecessor.72

Going through the chancellor's letters, Bruni will have found that Salutati's most frequent correspondent was Bernabò Visconti (1323-1385), the uncle of Florence's mortal enemy Giangaleazzo (1351-1402). And he will have discovered Salutati greeting him "not just as a friend, but as a brother," with whom he felt united "not just in a single will, but in a single body."73 Bruni, of course, had written his Laudatio to celebrate the victory of Florentine libertas over Milanese despotism in the war of 1390-1402. Nowhere in his account of the War of the Eight Saints did he acknowledge Florence's crucial alliance with Milan. To have demonstrated that Guelf Florence had fought a war for libertas against a French pope was perhaps not terribly awkward. But to admit that the Florentines had actually justified that war, at the moment of truth, in Ghibelline terms, was impossible. To acknowledge, further, that his mentor and fellow Florentines had attained full historical awareness of their mission to champion the cause of libertas, not simply in a war fought against the papacy but as comrades-in-arms with Milan, was utterly unthinkable—indeed, not to be remembered. Barbadori's original speech to Gregory XI was consigned to the archives and erased altogether from Bruni's textual repository of Florentine civic memory.

Writing in the mid-fifteenth century, when Florentine relations with Milan were warming up as a result of the demise of the Visconti line of dukes (1447) and the rise of Francesco Sforza, Bruni's successor as chancellor and historian, Poggio Bracciolini, acknowledged in his account of the war that Florence indeed had allied with Bernabò Visconti. It had been a difficult but necessary choice forced on the Florentines by the need to defend their liberty against papal tyranny. And Poggio wholeheartedly framed the war as a Florentine struggle for liberty, praising the city's citizens in a manner that echoes Salutati and anticipates Machiavelli for "judging that the fear of religion is to be set aside when liberty is at stake, and that the censures of unfaithful men are not to be feared."74 At the same time he did so in a way that, like Bruni, entirely submerged Barbadori's original Ghibelline defense of the Florentine position. He may not even have known of it. And, again like Bruni, Poggio then narrated the subsequent course of the war as a purely military and diplomatic contest between Florence and Gregory. But there was also, in this second phase, a domestic history of the war that neither historian chose to touch upon.


After some hand-wringing, Florence's leaders proclaimed on 11 May 1376 that as a sign of Christian devotion the city would observe Gregory's interdict. The laity would be denied all sacraments save baptism, confirmation, and penance; priests were to withdraw from public religious processions, and to withhold the consecrated host from the sight of Florentines.75 The citizens' initial response was one of proud defiance: "But we see it in our hearts," declared an anonymous chronicler, "and God well knows that we are neither Saracens nor pagans; on the contrary, we are and will remain true Christians, elected by God, Amen."76 Florentine spirits were buoyed by the auspicious rebellion of Bologna, which the city marked with a feast devoted to Saint Benedict, and further festivities were sponsored in honor of the Otto di guerra. Salutati spent the spring sending letters around to the rulers of Europe thanking them for their support and cautioning them of what Gregory's ambitions portended for their own kingdoms. Although Florentine merchants were subject to harassment everywhere, Gregory exempted many leading families from the penalties of the interdict (provided they refused to pay Florentine taxes), and in Italy only Naples and Florence's doughty little enemy Lucca, beyond the peninsula only Castile, officially enforced the interdict.77

But as the summer wore on, so did the war. Bologna, Perugia, and other recently liberated cities in the Patrimony began to totter. When the Romans admitted Gregory to their city in October, Salutati bitterly chided them: "What are you doing, my good men. . . . Still expecting the messiah who will save Israel?"78 In Florence, voices had been raised since the spring in the deliberations (pratiche) of Florence's priors and their advisers, urging the Otto dei preti to tax the clergy more heavily "so that they contribute just as do other citizens," and "so that laymen are not taxed on account of clerics."79 In September a failed peace embassy produced rage and frustration in the councils. Salvestro de' Medici now advanced a radical proposal. "The bishops of Florence and Fiesole," he declared to the priors, "and all the prelates of the city of Florence, should be sent to the pope to get him to quit the war and make peace. And if not, all the goods of the clergy should be taken by the commune, and the war fought at their expense."80

On 25 September the councils brought this neo-Marsilian vision to life by creating yet a third commission of eight, the Otto livellariorum (or Otto dei livelli or livellari, the Eight of Rents), charged to survey the ecclesiastical patrimony and to expropriate clerical estates for sale to Florentine citizens. For the "defense of liberty and of the state," they promised that money could thus be raised "without inconvenience to anyone, and to the advantage of many."81 But the public response was hostile. Within a few weeks, the councils were obliged to pass additional measures reassuring citizens that the expropriations would touch only "superfluous" ecclesiastical wealth and promising that the clergy would "infallibly" be inscribed "as creditors of the commune" for reimbursement of their lost revenues at an annual rate of 5 percent on the assessed monetary value of their property. But they also empowered the Otto to compel citizens to purchase the estates "willingly or unwillingly."82


The Otto livellariorum proceeded to the most extensive liquidation of an ecclesiastical patrimony carried out anywhere in Europe before the Reformation. Hundreds of churches, monasteries, and hospitals suffered expropriations, and thousands of Florentines were forced to purchase ecclesiastical lands, many against their will. The hardest hit were the secular clergy and the older male religious orders. Fully 18,326 florins worth of episcopal estates, 87 percent of the bishopric's later 1427 catasto tax assessment, were sold to 585 purchasers, and virtually all of the cathedral chapter's property, 8,046 florins worth, was disbursed among 191 purchasers.83 Though poorer parishes in the city went largely untouched, the city's dozen collegiate churches, such as San Lorenzo and Santa Maria Maggiore, were stripped nearly bare. In the countryside, poorer parishes in the Apennines were also spared, but all the large baptismal parishes (pievi) close to the city and south of the Arno were heavily imposed upon. Among religious, the ancient Florentine Badia lost over half its estates, and even deeper expropriations were made from dozens of other Benedictine, Camaldoli, and Vallombrosan monasteries. Mendicant houses and nunneries, on the other hand, suffered only token expropriations. Among hospitals, the city's flagship institution, Santa Maria Nuova, though more heavily endowed than the bishopric itself, escaped untouched. But from one-third to one-half of the estates of the Bigallo, the Misericordia, and San Paolo were taken, and even orphanages like San Gallo and La Scala suffered comparable expropriations.

Some Florentines exulted in the fleecing of the clergy. Jacopo Sacchetti urged the Otto livellariorum to squeeze them "down to the dregs," and the expropriations continued even after the death of Gregory XI in March 1378, beyond the election of Pope Urban VI in April, and down to the official proclamation of peace in July 1378.84 Nevertheless, more than Gregory XI's imposition of the interdict itself, it was the decision by the Florentine government—now clearly in the grip of its radical elements—to proceed with the spoliation of their local church that turned much of the Florentine populace against the war. It split the republic's leadership as well, alienating many of those Guelfs who had originally been willing to countenance the war only to check Gregory's territorial ambitions. Additional measures had to be passed compelling communal accountants to carry out their tasks and forcing citizens to accept assignment to the magistracy of the Otto livellariorum.85

This was scarcely the first time that a temporal power had gone to war with the papacy, and Florence had been interdicted over half a dozen times before.86 But this interdict now gripped with exceptional force. Its impact cannot be credited simply to the financial and spiritual penalties inflicted on the Florentines, much less to the stature of the pope who imposed them. Temporal rulers since the time of Emperor Henry IV (1056-1106) in the investiture conflict and, more recently, King Philip IV the Fair of France (1285-1314) in his confrontations with Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) had found natural allies against the papacy among their own clergies, who resented the encroachments of centralizing papal administration on their own local prerogatives. The Florentine government's financial punishment of the Florentine clergy for the pope's offenses proved a colossal political blunder that forfeited the possibility of local clerical support. And turning a war against the papal state into an assault on local ecclesiastical institutions shifted public attention from Gregory XI's aims to the pretensions of Florence's own rulers. It required extending the state's coercive power not only over ecclesiastics but also over citizens. Florentines were now forced to comply with the profanation of a sacred ecclesiastical patrimony that they had endowed themselves, carried out in violation of what even the most cynical regarded as fundamental property rights. They had been assured that an interdict and denial of the cult by a manifestly evil pope and prelates meant nothing to Christ: but what if they were truly guilty of assaulting his shepherds?


No sooner had the expropriations begun than the priors were forced to confront a surge of public penitential processions. The chronicler Marchionne di Coppo Stefani, who himself served in these months as a member of the Otto dei preti, observed that throughout the city and the contado "it seemed that a compunction overcame all the citizens, and every night, in almost every church, lauds were sung."87 Every day there were processions of upwards of twenty thousand people, with relics and songs, "and all the people following behind."88 Lay confraternities now formed groups of flagellants, recruiting members down to the age of ten, and in all five thousand. Wealthy young nobles were among their most enthusiastic recruits, and they took to dispensing alms, fasting, preaching by day, and sleeping out unsheltered by night. Stefani noted the paradox that "it seemed indeed that they wanted to defeat and humiliate the pope, and that they wanted to be obedient to the church."89 The city's leaders directed the Dieci di libertà, a political police force, to investigate the meetings of the flagellants, while urging the Otto livellariorum to push on with the expropriations.90 An atrocious massacre of civilians by Gregory's Breton mercenaries at the town of Cesena in early 1377 gave Chancellor Salutati a rich source of antipapal propaganda to broadcast to the rest of Europe, but it provoked only an increase of penitential processions in Florence itself.91

Gregory now had the upper hand in the war and was demanding over a million florins for a settlement. "He doesn't want to make peace," protested Salutati to Louis of Hungary, "he wants to sell it!"92 That summer Bologna capitulated to papal forces, and that autumn Gregory raised the stakes further by condemning Florence's rulers for heresy.93 They responded with a further act of defiance, accompanied by measures demanding complicity of all citizens. In October 1377, "in order that by attending masses and the clergy's other divine offices and orations, devotion and orthodoxy may grow," the councils passed a law requiring Florentines now to violate the interdict.94 Not only would the priors attend mass daily in their private chapel: the podestà and Captain of the People were to compel clergy to officiate throughout the city, and laity to attend mass at least on Sundays and feast days.

But Bishop Ricasoli and other Florentine prelates had already fled the city.95 Andrea Capponi, speaking for the government's Standard Bearer of Justice (Gonfaloniere di giustizia), denounced them as "rebels of the republic, and public enemies."96 The mystical ascetic and church reformer Catherine of Siena, instead, who before the war had chided Florence's Bishop Ricasoli to "wake up from the sleep of negligence," now praised him for his "virile" resistance, while she condemned collaborative clerics for their "servile fear of men."97 Gregory deputed her on a peace mission to Florence in the winter of 1377, believing, as he told her Dominican confessor and biographer Raymond of Capua, that "they would not molest her; she is a woman, and besides they hold her personally in high esteem."98 At meetings of the Parte Guelfa, Catherine encouraged the politically divisive purges from public office (ammonizione) of accused Ghibelline sympathizers that the Parte was now promoting as a means of overturning the radical government and unblocking the path to peace. But according to Raymond, she was shocked by the political vendetta that in turn swept the city in the spring of 1378.99 Stefani reported more dryly that "on that account she was regarded almost as a prophetess by those of the Parte, and by others as a hypocrite and evil woman."100 That summer Catherine was among those obliged to flee the city by the July tumult of the Ciompi.


Civic conflict, military reverses, and popular resentment of the war forced the government to sue for peace in March 1378. Gregory's sudden death on 27 March enabled the city to negotiate terms with the weak Roman pope Urban VI (el. 7 April), who, with the outbreak of the schism, was soon seeking Florentine support against his rival Clement VII (20 July 1378-1394) of Avignon. At the end of July, Florence agreed to pay Urban an indemnity of 250,000 florins (it had agreed to pay Gregory 800,000), to restore all church property confiscated since October 1375, and, after some hesitation, to repeal its laws touching the inquisition.101 But the treaty was not formally signed in Rome until 28 August,102 and Salutati spent September and October pleading with Florence's Roman ambassadors to secure an official bull of absolution to calm the religious crisis that had helped precipitate the Ciompi Revolt and upended the city's politics.103

The delay was caused by haggling over the first installment of Urban's indemnities. The broadly based guild regime (1378-82) that recovered control of Florence from the Ciompi promptly complied with the treaty by formally repealing the city's antiecclesiastical legislation in September. But the councils explicitly excepted all ordinances touching the Monte and thus preserved the republic's important fiscal claims against ecclesiastical courts in matters of contract and usury.104 And Urban, though he counted heavily on the indemnities, never received much more than 30,000 florins. Only the Florentine populace's hatred of the "butcher of Cesena," Robert of Geneva, now Pope Clement VII, prevented the post-1382 Albizzi regime from accepting his offer to cancel them entirely, and from following Florence's Cardinal Piero Corsini into the lucrative Avignon camp.105 But the Roman pope Gregory XII's (1406-15) revival of the claims was one of the reasons Florence withdrew allegiance from him on the eve of the Council of Pisa in 1408.106 Among the first demands the city made of the newly elected Pisan pope Alexander V (1409-10) was the abrogation of the treaty, which he prudently granted.107

Restoring the clergy's confiscated property proved a longer and more complex process that for decades left ecclesiastics dependent on the (often inadequate) interest payments of their Monte shares and forced many laypeople to choose between restoring at a financial loss the property they had been compelled to purchase or retaining it against their religious consciences. Not until the civil disturbances had subsided in 1380 did the councils, under pressure from ecclesiastics and "many officials and wise citizens, merchants, and artisans," pass into law a quintessentially Florentine scheme for making restitution.108 Clergy would be issued 5 percent interest-bearing shares in the Monte for sums equal to the purchase price of the property they had lost.109 Restitution itself would be made in accordance with drawings held twice annually. Citizens whose names were extracted would be repaid the price of the property they had purchased, which would then be restored to its original clerical owners. The clergy, in turn, were forbidden henceforth to deny laity who had not yet made restitution the last rites and ecclesiastical burial.110

Unfortunately, the government could afford to budget only 25,000 florins annually for the restitutions.111 The drawings did not get well under way until 1383, and soon, from the late 1380s through the war against Milan to its climax in 1402, the government was frequently obliged to suspend the drawings, and later even the interest payments on the clergy's Monte shares, to free up funds to meet new war expenses "for the defense of Florentine liberty."112 Only in the 1420s, with the reunification of the papacy under Martin V (1417-31), did the government press to complete the process, making possible in turn the compilation of Florence's new tax inventory of lay and clerical wealth, the catasto, begun in 1427.

The restitutions not only were protracted over half a century but also created in the meantime tremendous inequities among the clergy and friction with the laity. As late as 1420, a quarter of the episcopal estates remained in lay hands.113 Though all of the city's smaller parishes had received their goods by 1407, most of the larger collegiate churches had to wait until 1427. Small institutions, whose possessions had been distributed among only a few purchasers, might receive all of them back within a few drawings—or be left waiting for decades. Among hospitals, the Misericordia and San Paolo had recovered all of their property by 1405 and 1408: the Bigallo waited until 1426, as did most monasteries, whose estates had been apportioned among numerous purchasers.114 Nor were the restitutions always neat and straightforward: there was frequently an afterlife of litigation. Some properties had been improved by their lay owners, others allowed to deteriorate; some had been passed on whole in testaments, others sold or divided up among several new owners. There were myriad disputes over bookkeeping and interest payments. Hundreds came before the Monte officials; dozens were appealed to the councils and the priors themselves. The last case was not resolved until 1454.115


The war fundamentally transformed the financial relations between Florence, the papacy, and the Florentine clergy. Beforehand, Florence had needed the papacy to serve as the judicial guarantor of the Monte. Now the relationship of dependence was reversed. Popes from Urban VI (1378-89) to Gregory XII (1406-15) relied on (meager) Florentine indemnity payments to keep their finances afloat, and after the schism Popes Martin V (1417-31) and Eugenius IV (1431-47) both sought to bolster papal finances by investing heavily in the Monte.116 Through their Monte shares, the financial interests of the local Florentine clergy also became tied to those of the Florentine state. During the process of restitution, clergy depended on Monte interest for their livelihood. Afterward, though occasional calls in the pratiche for new expropriations of clerical property went unheeded,117 offers of Monte shares were used to secure approval and prompt payment of further clerical taxes down to the mid-fifteenth century, while threats to withhold interest payments if cooperation was not forthcoming were made good against Pope Eugenius IV in 1446 and the Florentine clergy in 1452.118 The detailed inventories of ecclesiastical wealth generated by the Monte officials and, from 1427, the catasto tax officials were used not only to carry out direct levies on the clergy but also to monitor the movement of benefactions from laity to ecclesiastical institutions, and even to appropriate the revenues of nonofficiating (absentee) clergy.119 The Monte and the catasto thus became the basic bureaucratic instruments whereby Florence circumscribed, supervised, and manipulated the financial operations of the church within its expanding territorial state. The republic was still using Monte shares and interest as levers on the clergy when Pius II (1458-1464) assumed the pontificate.120

Further, the financial devastation wrought by the war did to church government in Florence what the schism did to the papacy: it precipitated a constitutional struggle that lasted beyond the schism to the mid-fifteenth century, in which the traditional principle of episcopal hierarchical authority was challenged by clerical experiments with corporate self-government. After decades of weak episcopal leadership, in the aftermath of the Council of Constance (1414-1418) that ended the schism, the secular clergy of the diocese took matters into their own hands by fusing conciliar and republican principles to form a self-governing corporation that challenged the hierarchical authority of Bishop Amerigo Corsini (1411-35; after 1419, archbishop) in order to defend themselves against Florentine and papal tax officials.121 Only at midcentury was the reforming Dominican archbishop Antoninus (1446-59) able to intervene between Florence and the papacy to defend the clergy within the Florentine territory. Providing them with long-sought financial relief, he was able in turn to reimpose his own episcopal hierarchical authority over them.


Looking back, few Florentines doubted the justice of their city's war against Pope Gregory XI. In the view of the contemporary Stefani, the Otto di balìa "performed the greatest deeds that had ever been carried out down to that day."122 Two decades later the pious, prosperous, but politically emarginated dyer Giovanni Morelli praised them in the Ricordi he wrote for his son as "the most famous, sagacious and valiant men ever seen in Florence."123 Filippo Rinuccini, whose uncle Francesco had been forced to purchase estates from the monastery of Vallombrosa, likewise believed they had "conducted themselves valiantly" (portoronsi valentmente),124 and his son Alamanno referred in his 1479 dialogue "On Liberty" to Florence's "greatest and most expensive war, the one against the terrible governors of the Papal States."125

But the humble Morelli also recalled another side of the war. "Our Lord God desired that his pastors be chastised," he explained, "but because that was not properly our task, since we are sinners ourselves as well, God chastised us in turn."126 Even before the interdict was lifted, the Ciompi had risen in July 1378. The purges (ammonizioni) of suspected Ghibellines had opened up a power struggle among Florence's ruling orders between resurgent partisans of the Parte Guelfa and supporters of the Otto, while the government's assault on local ecclesiastical institutions had had the broad effect of destabilizing all public authority, lay as well as clerical, opening the way for the popolo minuto now to make a bid for political power. In July, half a dozen strategically located churches were used as centers of Ciompi operations: their leaders in fact styled themselves the "Eight Saints of the Balìa of the People of God."127 Though their demands were more strictly political and economic than religious, Florence's traditional rulers viewed the Ciompi with horror and interpreted the uprising as a direct result of the war and, more specifically, of the city's assault on the local church. "For the sin committed against the holy church of God," noted the Florentine prior Alamanno Acciaiuoli in his chronicle of 1378, "having been led by evil Florentine citizens to make an assault [impresa] upon it, and to provoke so many cities and castles to rebel . . . and then, subsequently, for having sold the possessions and goods of ecclesiastics, carrying away so much money; and for the opprobrium, vituperation, and offenses that were inflicted daily on ecclesiastical persons, God promised to impose this punishment [disciplina] on this our city."128 Chancellor Salutati explained to Prior Ubaldino Buonamici of the church of Santo Stefano that God had visited the schism on the papacy for its assault on Florentine libertas (and for the massacre at Cesena), the rebellion of the Ciompi on Florence for its liquidation of the clerical patrimony.129


Salutati spoke for the members of the Guelf reggimento that returned to power in 1382 and found its political center in the Albizzi family. Thus, while they developed the use of institutions such as the Monte and the catasto to control the church in their expanding territory, they also articulated a variety of strategies aimed at pacifying society, and legitimizing their regime, not simply by reviving old papal Guelfism but by appropriating the legitimizing power of local religious life and ecclesiastical institutions. Embracing and shaping key (and acceptable) strains of public devotion, they made themselves stewards of a project to resacralize a city that had recently profaned itself.

The religious trauma of the war, followed by the outbreak of the schism, had stimulated a rise in the activities of fraticelli heretics and prophets; but it also generated a surge in confraternal foundations, new hospitals, ecclesiastical building projects, and lay benefactions to ecclesiastics. The regime turned first to coercion, and set boundaries, by passing a law in 1382 that condemned the fraticelli and required Florentine officials to carry out the orders of the inquisitor. Aimed at disciplining flagellants, prophets, and aristocrats of radical bents who had surfaced over the last few years, the measure also put an ideological brand on the upstart popolo minuto and distanced the regime from the Marsilian policies of the government of the Otto that had preceded it.130 But executions in 1384 and 1389 provoked worrying public revulsion. More persistently, therefore, the government sought to shape and identify with, rather than repress, public expressions of religious sentiment. In the century down to 1450, sixty new confraternities were created in the city, the bulk of them penitential societies of disciplinati.131 Though the government kept a wary eye on them,132 confraternities provided an important release of social tension. The Albizzi regime actively encouraged the musical development of the laudesi and incorporated confraternities and sacre rappresentazioni into a ritual calendar of public religious holidays and dozens of new civic oblations to key religious institutions that it expanded dramatically over the next several decades.133 When, in 1399, the great movement of Bianchi penitents reached the city gates, Florence's priors, unlike their counterparts in Milan and Venice, welcomed them into the city and organized additional processions throughout the surrounding countryside.134

The restitution of ecclesiastical property was accompanied by a surge of lay benefactions to ecclesiastical institutions that continued through the fifteenth century.135 The completion of the cathedral, the decoration of Orsanmichele, and the rebuilding of such churches as Santa Trinita, San Lorenzo, and Santa Croce were but the most notable of numerous projects that conjoined art and power in a display of wealth and piety, carried out by opere that linked the city's priors, guildsmen (or, increasingly, leading parishioners), and ecclesiastics to rebuild, repair, or redecorate the city's churches and monasteries. The government's strategy of apportioning new ritual oblations to favored ecclesiastical institutions was replicated in the distribution of gabelle exemptions, fiscal subventions, and communal assistance in the judicial pursuit of testamental revenues to churches, monasteries, and especially hospitals. As Poggio's De avaritia attests, the aftermath of the war saw the birth in Florence of modern charitable philanthropy. A comparable process unfolded in the sphere of Florentine sumptuary legislation. In the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Florentine government superseded the episcopal court in the regulation of such life-cycle sacraments as baptisms, marriages, and funerals, as well as in enforcing laws regulating women's dress, gambling, and sexual conduct (including the supervision of nunneries).136 Even hosting the Council of Pisa in 1409 was embraced as an opportunity not only to legitimize one of Florence's most recent territorial acquisitions but also to connect the sanctification of the republic to the broader effort to reunite a universal church whose own sanctity, and legitimacy, had been located by conciliar theorists in the community of the faithful. "Nothing," declared Antonio di Alessandro degli Alessandri to the priors, "would bring our republic greater merit before God, and fame among men."137


Bruni thus articulated his secularizing vision of Florentine republican history not only in the aftermath of the city's triumph over Milan in 1402, nor simply against a broad cultural backdrop of waning or merely persisting medieval religious sentiment. Florence in the early Quattrocento was a deeply penitential society, engaged in a process of civic resacralization in atonement for the profanation it had inflicted on its church during the War of the Eight Saints. The evidence of heightened Florentine religious sensibility abounds, as Bruni noted in his Laudatio, in the city's built environment. Bruni aimed not to contest but to complement this lavish display of Florentine piety. Though he has been lauded for his modern, critical approach to sources and documents, more lay behind his narrative selections (and omissions) than critical method, classical historiography, and rhetorical schematization.

Bruni would have been writing his account of the War of the Eight Saints in book 8 roughly in the years 1434-36. He had begun the Historiarum florentini populi libri XII upon his return to Florence in 1415 after a decade's service in the Papal Curia, and by the time he completed the first six books (to 1343) in 1429, his assumption of the chancellorate in 1427 had given them official status.138 Hostilities with Milan had resumed under Giangaleazzo Visconti's son Filippo Maria (1392-1447) in 1423, and in 1436 Pier Candido Decembrio challenged republican Florence—and Bruni—by issuing his own imperial panegyric of Milan. In the biography of Dante that he wrote that year, Bruni disparaged the poet's Ghibelline Monarchia and, as we have seen, he omitted entirely from his history of the Eight Saints the Florentines' Ghibelline defense of their policies before Pope Gregory XI in 1376. At a time when many Florentines still wondered whether the destruction of papal power in central Italy had not in fact opened the door to Milanese aggression,139 and when Florence had just joined Pope Eugenius IV in engaging the condottiere Francesco Sforza against Milan (1434), Bruni likewise deemed it inopportune to highlight the birth of Salutati's new historical vision of libertas in the war Florence had fought alongside Milan against the papacy. Rather, the triumph of Florentine republican libertas remained attached, in Bruni's historical narrative, to the Florentine victory over Milan in a manner that canceled the failures of its earlier conflict with the church.

Nor was this the moment to open up the domestic history of the war. In 1434 Pope Eugenius IV was forced to flee from Rome to Florence, where he found shelter for nearly a decade. But it was scarcely to appease this weak pope that Bruni suppressed from his account of the war every reference to the city's spoliation of its ecclesiastical patrimony. Rather, it was the religious sensibilities, anxieties, and memories of the Florentine public that he sought to assuage. Two years after Eugenius's arrival in the city—again in 1436—at great Florentine expense and with lavish ceremony, the pope consecrated the newly completed Florentine cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, which had been erected on the site of the old Santa Reparata, demolished in 1375. This was the capstone of that entire process of religious commemoration and civic resacralization that had been under way since the end of the War of the Eight Saints, one which the Albizzi regime had embraced and overseen, and which Florence's new Medici rulers aimed to inherit.140 Two years later they underwrote the Council of Florence (1438-39), again to connect the resanctified republic to a broader project to unify Christendom. Bruni chose not, in his history, to point back to the spoliation of its ecclesiastical patrimony that Florence had carried out during the war, and to the subsequent decades of restitution, that had necessitated this project. If the memories now being inscribed into the city's sacred urban fabric were to be piously conveyed to posterity, the legitimizing narrative of the Florentine republic would have to be detached from much of the history of its own church. The artistic commemoration of a Florentine respublica christiana entailed the construction of a purified, expurgated—and thus, secularized—narrative of the respublica florentina. The sacralization of Florentine space—and memory—required the textual secularization of Florentine history, and time.

The Florentine response to the War of the Eight Saints offers a remarkable study in the calculated disjunctures between historical events, historical writing, and public memory. Without the archival documents, it would be impossible to hear the silences in Bruni's and his successors' humanist texts. Those silences, in turn, echo the trauma of events willingly forgotten. Bruni was buried with a copy of his history: in his eulogy, Poggio praised it as a work "through which the fame and name of Florence will certainly come down to posterity and even into eternity," and an anonymous panegyric noted that Bruni "embellished a history in twelve books by which he kept alive the memory of many things done by Florence which were already being forgotten."141 The reverse was also true. Bruni's authoritative history successfully reconfigured Florentine memory by attaching the theme of republican libertas to the war against Milan, while consigning the moment of Florentine Ghibellinism and sacrilege—and much of Florence's religious history since the Eight Saints—to oblivion.


But the clergy remembered, and it fell to Archbishop Antoninus, who at midcentury supervised the last stage of the restitutions and reordered the clergy's finances and government, to recount the domestic history of the War of the Eight Saints and the city's assault on its church. In his universal Cronica, less widely circulated than his Summa theologica, and much less so than Bruni's history, Antoninus willingly acknowledged his debt to the humanist's work.142 But Antoninus well knew the history of the Florentine church and was unwilling to accommodate the construction of a civic self-image that silently wrote it out of republican memory and into pious oblivion. Thus, where Bruni turned in his narrative to the movements of troops and diplomats, the archbishop instead brought the penitents and prophets back into the city's streets. He offered a full account of the Florentines' expropriation of clerical property, "so that all the while with the goods of the clergy they could fight against the church," explained in detail the restitution process, and noted that "nevertheless, many of [these goods] were lost, either through negligence, or in the oblivion and passage of time."143 And, unlike Bruni and Poggio, Antoninus revived the views of Acciaiuoli and Salutati by connecting the war and the expropriations directly to the revolt of the Ciompi—and to God's chastising judgment on the city. The Florentines had spent "infinite" sums of money and had been interdicted and excommunicated while their enemies grew stronger. Then had come civic strife, the struggles between citizens and the popolo minuto, and finally the domination of the "vilissima plebs," the Ciompi. Thus, reminded the strict archbishop, "the Florentines did not walk away unpunished."144

Antoninus's episcopal reforms enabled him to reassert ecclesiastical control of the sacred in Florentine life and gave him political capital that he spent defending the republic. Like their Albizzi predecessors, the Medici pursued a policy of cultivating religious legitimation that was a legacy of the "Eight Saints." But when they moved to consolidate their power in 1458 by pushing for the abolition of secret balloting in the city's councils, Antoninus threatened their partisans with excommunication.145 They were obliged to abandon quiet subversion and to resort instead to an open coup (parlamento), at the same time choosing political power over the trappings of legitimacy. Thereafter, although Lorenzo de' Medici lavishly underwrote public religious festivals and married members of his family into families of the Papal Curia, the widening gap between private religious sensibility and ostentatious public display became a staple of late-fifteenth-century Florentine discussion.

At the end of the fifteenth century, Savonarola, reaching deep into the city's civic memory, cited Antoninus as a precedent for his own efforts to revive Florence's republican and religious traditions.146 But given the historiographical tradition they had inherited from Bruni, it was natural that neither Machiavelli nor Guicciardini should regard the prophet as other than an anomaly, or even notice his ties to the reforming Antoninus. In the wake of Savonarola's execution in 1498, with the Medici restored to Florence by their kinsmen Popes Leo X and Clement VII in the early sixteenth century, Machiavelli turned to ruminate on the possibility of exercising political power in a state without credible "divine institutions." Guicciardini, in turn, arranged his personal life and writings around that historical partition between politics and religion that he had inherited from his Quattrocento humanist predecessors. It has remained a staple of the European memory of the Renaissance virtually to this day.