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Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
He came to power when Alessandro de' Medici was assassinated in 1537 because Alessandro's only male issue was illegitimate. He was from a different branch of the family, but many of the influential men in Florence favored him, in some cases perhaps hoping to rule through him, since he was only 17. However, he proved strong-willed and ambitious and was immediately recognized by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He restored the power of the Medici, who thereafter ruled Florence until the last of the Medici Grand Dukes, Gian Gastone de' Medici (1671-1737). The governmental structures he set up endured beyond that to the time when the grand duchy was absorbed into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
When the Florentine exiles heard of the death of Alessandro, they marshaled their forces with support from France and from disgruntled neighbors of Florence. Toward the end of July 1537, they marched into Tuscany under the leadership of Bernardo Salviati and Piero Strozzi. When Cosimo heard of their approach, he sent his best troops under Alessandro Vitelli to engage the enemy, which they did at Montemurlo, a fortress that belonged to the Nerli. After defeating the exile's army, Vitelli stormed the fortress, where Strozzi and a few of his companions had retreated to safety. It fell after only a few hours, and Cosimo celebrated his first victory. The prominent prisoners were subsequently beheaded on the Piazza or in the Bargello. Strozzi's body was found with a bloody sword next to it and a note quoting Vergil, but many believe that his suicide was faked.
Cosimo next turned on his neighbors of Lucca and Siena. With the support of the Emperor, he laid seige to Siena, even though it was occupied by Spanish troops. In 1557, after a 15-month siege, he finally took the city, although its population had been diminished from forty thousand to eight thousand.
In 1559, he added Mantalcino to his territories and formed the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. He was a despotic ruler and also found it necessary to lay heavy tax burdens on his subjects, thus laying the groundwork for the future dissatisfaction and rebellion that eventually brought about the downfall his successors. Despite his economic difficulties, he was a lavish patron of the arts and also developed the Florentine navy, which eventually took part in the Battle of Lepanto.
In the last 10 years of his reign, he gave up the active rule to his son and successor Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Cosimo and the arts
Among his many accomplishments was the creation of the Uffizi, originally intended to house the government, now one of the world's great art galleries. He also finished the Pitti Palace as a home for the Medici and created the magnificent Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti. He was a great patron of the arts, supporting, among others, Vasari and Cellini.
Marriage and family
In 1539, he married Eleonora of Toledo (1519-1562), the daughter of Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo, the Spanish viceroy of Naples. Her face is still familiar to many because of her solemn and distant portraits by Agnolo Bronzino. The most famous of them, with her son Giovanni , hangs in the Uffizi Gallery. She provided the Medici with the Pitti Palace and eight sons to ensure male succession and three daughters to connect the Medici with noble and ruling houses in Italy. She was a patron of the new Jesuit order, and her private chapel in the Palazzo della Signoria was decorated by Bronzino, who had originally arrived in Florence to provide festive decor for her wedding. She died, with her sons Giovanni and Garzia, in 1562, when she was only forty; all three of them were struck down by malaria while traveling to Pisa.
Their children were:
- Francesco (March 25, 1541 – October 19, 1587)
- Isabella, who was murdered by her husband Paolo Giordano Orsini because of her infidelity.
- Piero, who murdered his wife for the same reason.
- Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (July 30, 1549 – February 17, 1609)
In 1570, he married a second time to Camilla Martelli.
- Konrad Eisenbichler, editor, The Cultural World of Eleonora di Toledo
Duchess of Florence and Siena. 2004. Essays.
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