3 May 2020

3 May

Niccolò Machiavelli – writer and diplomat

Political scientist came up with the idea ‘the ends justify the means’ 

Statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the idea of political cunning, was born on this day in 1469 in Florence.  The ideas he put forward in his writing were to make the word ‘machiavellian’ a regularly used pejorative adjective and the phrase ‘Old Nick’ a term to denote the devil in English.  The son of an attorney, Machiavelli was educated in grammar, rhetoric and Latin. After Florence expelled the Medici family in 1494 he went to work for the new republic in the office that produced official Florentine documents.  Machiavelli also carried out diplomatic missions to Rome on behalf of the republic where he witnessed the brutality of Cesare Borgia and his father, Pope Alexander VI, as they tried to acquire large parts of central Italy.  He later became responsible for the Florentine militia and, because of his distrust of mercenaries, used citizens in the army. Under his command, Florentine soldiers defeated Pisa in battle in 1509.  But Machiavelli’s success did not last and in 1512 the Medici, using Spanish troops, defeated the Florentines at Prato. He was dismissed from office in Florence by a written decree issued by the new Medici rulers.  Read more…


Francesco Algarotti - writer and art collector

Philosopher and polymath with a playboy lifestyle

The multi-talented writer, philosopher and art connoisseur Francesco Algarotti, one of the most prominent and colourful individuals in 18th century intellectual society, died on this day in 1764 in Pisa.  Algarotti, who wrote many essays and a number of books, was something of a polymath in his breadth of knowledge on a wide number of subjects, including architecture and music as well as art. He was also a charismatic figure who became friends with most of the leading authors of his day, including Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens and Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis.  His urbane manner and suave good looks, combined with his considerable intellect, led him to acquire admirers of both sexes. Indeed, at one time he is said to have found himself at the centre of a colourful bisexual love triangle involving John Hervey, the English peer and politician, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the aristocratic travel writer, who became infatuated with Algarotti at the same time as Hervey, her one-time lover.  Algarotti was often engaged by the courts of European monarchs to acquire or commission paintings.  Read more…


Battle of Tolentino

Murat is defeated but ignites desire for Risorgimento

Neapolitan troops were defeated by Austrian forces on this day in 1815 near Tolentino in what is now the Marche region of Italy.  It was the decisive battle in the Neapolitan War fought by the Napoleonic King of Naples, Joachim Murat, in a bid to keep the throne after the Congress of Vienna had ruled that the Bourbon Ferdinand IV, King of Sicily, should be restored.  The conflict was similar to the Battle of Waterloo, in that it occurred during the 100 days following Napoleon’s return from exile.  Murat had declared war on Austria in March 1815 after learning about Napoleon’s return to France and he advanced north with about 50,000 troops, establishing his headquarters at Ancona.  By the end of March, Murat’s army had arrived in Rimini, where he incited all Italian nationalists to go to war with him against the Austrians.  But his attempts to cross the River Po into Austrian-dominated northern Italy were unsuccessful and the Neapolitan army suffered heavy casualties.  The United Kingdom then declared war on Murat and sent a fleet to Italy. Murat retreated to Ancona to regroup his forces, with two Austrian armies pursuing him.  Read more…


Raffaele Riario – Cardinal

Patron of arts linked with murder conspiracies

Renaissance Cardinal Raffaele Riario was born Raffaele Sansoni Galeoti Riario on this day in 1461 in Savona.  A patron of the arts, he is remembered for inviting Michelangelo to Rome and commissioning Palazzo della Cancelleria to be built. He was also embroiled in murder conspiracies which nearly cost him his life.  Although Riario was born in poverty, his mother was a niece of Francesco della Rovere, who became Pope Sixtus IV in 1471.  As a relative of the Pope he was created a Cardinal in 1477 and was named administrator of several dioceses, which gave him a good income at the age of 16, while he was studying canon law at the University of Pisa.  On his way to Rome in 1478, Riario stopped off in Florence, where he became a witness to the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici. The Pazzi family wanted to replace the Medici as rulers of Florence. They attempted to assassinate Lorenzo, who was wounded but survived, and his brother Giuliano, who was killed, while they were attending mass in the Duomo. The conspirators were caught and executed and Riario was also arrested because he was related to Girolamo Riario, his uncle, who was one of the masterminds behind the plot.  Read more…


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