Alessandro de' Medici
Alessandro de' Medici (July 22, 1510 – January 6, 1537) called "il Moro" ("the Moor") was Duke of Penne and also Duke of Florence (from 1532), ruler of Florence from 1530 until 1537.
Despite the many portraits of this 16th century Italian Renaissance figure, his African heritage is rarely, if ever, mentioned. [Editor's Note: For more on this omission as it has occurred in the art world, read this January 2005 update.]
Alessandro wielded great power as the first duke of Florence. He was the patron of some of the leading artists of the era and is one of the two Medici princes whose remains are buried in the famous tomb by Michaelangelo. The ethnic make up of this Medici Prince makes him the first black head of state in the modern western world.
Alessandro was born in 1510 to a black serving woman in the Medici household who, after her subsequent marriage to a muleteer, is simply referred to in existing documents as Simonetta da Collavechio. Historians today are convinced that Alessandro was fathered by the seventeen year old Cardinal Giulio de Medici who later became Pope Clement VII. Cardinal Giulio was the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
On being elected Pope in 1523, Cardinal Giulio was forced to relinquish the lordship of Florence but he appointed a regent for his thirteen year old son Alessandro who had just been created Duke of Penna, and a nephew, Ipollito. Even though both were bastards, they were the last of what has come to be referred to as the elder line of the family.
Republicanism had grown in Florence under the regent and when Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, the Florentines took advantage of the situation to install a more democratic form of government and both Alessandro and Ipollito fled. When peace was finally made two years later between the Papal and the Imperial factions, Charles V agreed to militarily restore Florence to the Medici. After a siege of eleven months Alessandro was finally brought back as the Emperor's designated head of state.
The Medicis In 1532, the new Florentine constitution declared Alessandro hereditary Duke and perpetual gonfalonier of the republic. Though his common sense and his feeling for justice won his subjects' affection, those in sympathy with the exiled opposition hated Alessandro and accused him of using his power to sexually exploit the citizenry. However, only two illegitimate children with the possibility of a third, have been attributed to him and even these he fathered with one woman, Taddea Malespina, a distant cousin of his.
With the death of his father, the Pope, in 1534, the exiles attempted to oust the Duke Alessandro from Florence. But the Emperor decided to uphold Alessandro and in an obvious show of support, gave Alessandro his own illegitimate daughter, Margaret of Austria, as wife.
Despite the security this kind of support should have given him, Alessandro was finally assassinated a few months after his wedding by Lorenzaccio de Medici, a distant cousin who had ingratiated himself in order to win his confidence. According to the declaration he later published, Lorenzaccio claimed that he had executed Alessandro for the sake of the republic and that he had been able to disarm him of his personal bodyguards by setting up a sexual liaison for him as a trap. When the anti-Medici faction failed to use this occasion to overthrow the ducal government, Lorenzaccio fled in dismay. He was himself eventually murdered some twelve years later.
Although the initial reaction to the assassination on the part of the Ducal party had been to set up a regency for Alessandro's four year-old son, Giulio, they instead turned to Cosimo of the cadet branch of the family who as young man of seventeen they felt would be able to bring some equilibrium to the political instability that confronted them.
Since they were his cousins and since Cosimo had to consolidate the authority of the Medici family, Cosimo raised Alessandro's children in his own household and continued as their guardian until adulthood. Despite the awkward presence at his court of a potential pretender to the duchy of Florence, Cosimo apparently regarded his young wards with true affection.
Giulio married Lucrezia Gaetani in 1561 and a year later, Cosimo appointed him First Admiral of the Knights of San Stephano, an order especially founded to fight the Turks.
The Medicis Giulio's sister, Giulia, was first married to Francesco Cantelmo, the Count of Alvito and the Duke of Popoli. When her husband died unable to give her children a few years later, Cosimo then married Giulia off in 1559 to a first cousin of his, Bernardino de Medici. Apparently Giulia's pride in her Medici ancestry was intense. In the early years of her second marriage, her insistence that she be treated at court as the equal of Cosimo's wife caused a rift between herself and Cosimo. Eventually she and her husband moved to Naples where, at an enormous expense to themselves, they acquired both the title and lands of the principality of Ottaiano. (Click here for more on Giulia and "Giulia's Portrait." Also, read the November 2001 Washington Post article on the race issue controversy over a portrait of Giulia.)
The greater majority of the noble houses of Italy can today trace their ancestry back to Alessandro de Medici. And so can a number of other princely families of Europe.
Last Updated on Saturday, 16 May 2015 14:34
Written by Sage