Today on April 26, 1478, a plan to assassinate members of the Medici Family, known as the Pazzi Conspiracy, was foiled at the Cathedral of Florence.
The Pazzi Conspiracy was one of the most dramatic events of the Italian renaissance. By the late 1400s, the House of Medici had become the most powerful and influential family in Florence. During the thirteenth century, Medici began accumulating wealth after setting up several commerce and banking ventures. In 1434, the family seized total control over the government in Florence under their first leader, Cosimo de Medici (posthumously nicknamed "Father of the Fatherland").
Forty years later, a coalition led by the Pazzi family — another well-established banking dynasty in Florence — moved to challenge their grip on power. The two families had long been political rivals and truly despised each other. The Pazzis gained support from other local factions, including the Salviati family (the Papal bankers in Florence). Even Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Girolamo Riario detested the Medici family and joined the plot. While the Pope would not openly sanction killing, he did clearly state his desire to remove the Medici and his willingness to work with anyone who replaced them.
The Pazzi Conspiracy centered on murdering the two leading Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano. The plan hinged on ambushing the brothers while they were attending a Sunday mass at the Cathedral of Florence (known as the Duomo). On the morning of April 26, 1478, the conspirators suddenly attacked the Medici while they were standing in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. Giuliano de' Medici was stabbed 19 times before Francesco de' Pazzi struck him in the head with his sword. While his brother bled out on the cathedral floor, Lorenzo managed to escape the scene with severe but not life-threatening wounds.
Other conspirators simultaneously tried to take control of key government offices across the city but failed to do so. The Pazzi conspirators severely underestimated the people's support and love for the Medici family. Most citizens of Florence rallied behind Lorenzo and helped him mercilessly hunt down his enemies, including the Archbishop of Pisa. Within hours the coup d'état had miserably failed.
Following the attack, Lorenzo de' Medici launched a war against the Papal States that lasted for another two years. The fight was costly for both sides and nearly led to the downfall of Florence. In the end, the Medici family survived and secured total control by eliminating all political resistance. They continued to rule over Florence for almost three centuries. In 1737, the dynasty ended when Gian Gastone died without a male heir. The Medici played a pivotal role in cultivating arts and culture during the renaissance. The family produced four Catholic Popes and married into several other prominent royal houses across Europe.