Had Girolamo Savonarola died before the French invasion of 1494 he would scarcely have been distinguished above other missionary friars, who throughout the fifteenth century strove faithfully to revive the flagging religion of Italy. The French King and the Italian Dominican were poles asunder in character and aims, yet their fortunes were curiously linked. On Charles VIII's first success Savonarola became a personage in history, and his own fate was sealed by the Frenchman's death. The Friar's public career was very short, less than four years in all, but, apostle of peace as he was, it was a truceless war. Nor did the grave bring peace. Savonarola's ashes were cast into the running Arno, yet they seem to be burning still. Twenty years after his death the old passions which his life had fired blazed up in Florence yet more fiercely; his followers held the town against Pope and Emperor without, against Medicean and aristocrat within. Until this very day Catholics and Protestants, Dominicans and Jesuits, men of spiritual and men of secular temperament, fight over Savonarola's memory with all the old zest of the last decade of the fifteenth century.
San Bernardino and Savonarola were both missionary friars; not half a century divided them; they made their homes in neighbour towns; their objects were similar or the same; neither could claim from the other the palm of personal holiness or unselfish sacrifice. Yet how very different were their ends, how different their fate in after history! The impersonal symbol of the one, the IHS, is set in its blue and primrose disc as in a summer sundown; the stern figure of the other, grasping the crucifix, stands out in its medal against a lowering sky rent by the sword of an avenging God. Why is the preacher of madcap Siena an admitted Saint, and why does the merest hint of the canonisation of the evangelist of sober Florence convert men of peace into fiery controversialists throughout Western Europe?
Savonarola's early life was as uneventful as that of most preaching friars. His grandfather, a Paduan, was a physician of repute at the court of Ferrara; his father a nonentity even for the hagiologist; his stronger characteristics have been attributed, as is usual, to his Mantuan mother. He thus had no inheritance in the keen, rarefied air from the Tuscan mountains, which is believed to brace the intellect and add intensity to the imagination of the dwellers in the Arno valley; he was a child of the north-eastern waterlands, more sluggish in intellectual movement but swept from time to time by storms of passion. Girolamo refused to enter his grandfather's profession for which he was brought up; he secretly left home to enter the Order of St Dominic at Bologna. He preached later at Ferrara, but was no prophet in his own country, and was thence ordered to Florence to join the convent of Lombard Dominican Observantists who had been established by Cosimo de' Medici in San Marco. Successful in teaching novices, he failed as a preacher until he found his natural gift of utterance among a more simple, less critical congregation at San Gimignano. His reputation was made at Brescia, and it is noticeable that in both these cases the fire of eloquence was kindled by a spirit of prophecy; the people were spell-bound by the denunciation of wrath to come. When he returned to Florence he stood on a different plane; the Florentines always gave a warm welcome to a reputation. In the following year (1491) he was elected Prior of San Marco. As this convent was under the peculiar patronage of the ruling house of Medici, Savonarola was in a position to become a leader of Florentine opinion.
The character of the new Prior had hitherto offered more features of interest than his career. He had been an unattractive, unchildlike child, shunning his playmates, poring over books often far beyond his years. He had no love for pleasure, for which Ferrara and its rulers lived; there is a tale that he was once taken to the palace and would never again cross its threshold. His peculiar characteristic was an overpowering sense of sin, a conviction of the wickedness of the world and more especially of the Church. He must have seen the festivities which greeted Pius II on his way to open the Congress of Mantua; it may have struck the serious child that they ill accorded with the sacred object of the Congress, the Crusade against the infidel. But after all, the court of Pius II was relatively decent. At all events in the most youthful of Savonarola's writings is expressed a loathing for the Court of Rome, a belief that throughout all Italy, and above all at Rome, virtue was spent and vice triumphant. The tribute which solitude exacts from those who court her is an abnormal consciousness of self. In Girolamo's letter to his father, excusing his flight from home, he urges that he at least must save himself. In his boyish poetical tirade against the Papacy, it is he who must break the wings of the foul bird; in praying for a new passage across the Red Sea, his own soul must traverse the waves which flow between the Egypt of Sin and the Promised Land of Righteousness.
In the conventual life of the fifteenth century absolute segregation was fortunately impossible. Savonarola's latent sympathies were awakened by contact with his fellows. He had the gift of teaching younger men; he was a good master. Occasionally in his later sermons he would inveigh against the futility of human knowledge; he would cry that a little old woman who held the faith knew more than did Aristotle and Plato. Nevertheless he was convinced of the merits of education, of the power of human reasoning. Reason justified his flying from his home; reason supported his attack upon astrology; his own prophecies found their proof in reason. His farewell letter to his father had concluded with the plea that his little brother might be taught, in order not to waste his time. Hereafter he was to urge the Florentines to have their children taught the art of grammar, and that by good masters. The old-fashioned Scholastic dialectics in which the Dominicans were trained were to Savonarola a real vehicle of thought; to the last he was always thinking, putting everything to the test of his own judgment; page upon page of his sermons form one long argument. Savonarola was in fact eminently argumentative. If the coarse and tightly compressed lips betokened obstinacy and self-assertion, sympathy shone in the expressive eyes. Savonarola held his audience with his eyes as well as with his voice. The small plain-featured Lombard with the awkward gestures and the ill-trained voice was early loved in Florence by those who knew him. Impatient of indifference or opposition, his sympathy readily went out to those who welcomed him, expanding into a yearning love for Florence, his adopted city, and her people. Sympathy and self-assertion are perhaps the two keys to his character and his career.
Until Savonarola steps into the full light of history the tales told by his early biographers must be received with caution. The temptation to exaggerate and ante-date is with hagiologists and martyrologists of all ages irresistible. The atmosphere of asceticism favours imagination, and the houses of the great Religious Orders were natural forcing-beds for legends relating to their members. Such legends, serving to edification, will be welcome to all but dry historians who are more perplexed by the unconscious exaggerations of devotees than by the deliberate falsehoods of opponents. Savonarola's party in 1497 destroyed the heads of the Medicean group; after the Medicean restoration of 1512 his name was indelibly stamped on the popular cause which had been overthrown; above all, his name became a watchword during the passionate struggle of the Second Republic. What then was more natural than to represent him as, from the moment of his settlement in Florence, promoting opposition to the Medici? The stories of his attitude of independence or incivility towards Lorenzo may or may not be true. The sermon which he preached before the Slgnoria on April 6, 1491, has been regarded as an attack upon the Medici. It is rather an academic lecture upon civic justice, which might have been appropriately preached before any European magistracy. Had the Friar been the recognised opponent of the ruling house, he would not have been invited to address the Signor'ia, the creatures of the Medici. Lorenzo, at the request, as it is said, 'of Pico della Mirandola, had summoned him back to Florence; without Lorenzo's favour he would scarcely have been elected Prior. Lorenzo was all-powerful both at Rome and Milan; a word from him would have relegated the preacher against tyranny to a distant Lombard convent.
For Savonarola's independence at this period there are two scraps of personal evidence. On March 10, 1491, he wrote to his friend Fra Domenico that magnates of the city threatened him with the fate of San Bernardino of Feltre, who had been expelled. He added, however, that Pico della Mirandola was a constant attendant at his sermons and had subsidised the convent; now Pico was one of Lorenzo's most intimate friends. In his last sermon on March 18, 1498, Savonarola stated that Lorenzo sent five leading citizens to dissuade him, as of their own accord, from his prophetic utterances; he replied that he knew from whom they came: let them warn Lorenzo to repent of his sins, for God would punish him and his: he, the alien Friar, would stay, while Lorenzo, the citizen and first of citizens, would have to go. For this tale there are several good authorities, though the sermon may be their common source: Guicciardini, the best of them, omits the Friar's reply. It is certain that Lorenzo took no further measures; the chronicler Cerretani expressly affirms that, while Lorenzo lived, Savonarola was entirely quiet.
It is well known that Lorenzo summoned the Dominican to his deathbed at Careggi. This has been represented by modern writers as though it had been a strange and sudden thought, the result of an agony of repentance. But no act could have been more natural. Savonarola was now without question the greatest preacher in the city; he was Prior of Lorenzo's own convent, in the garden of which he often walked; the rival divine Fra Mariano da Genazzano was not in Florence. Lorenzo with all his faults was no lost soul; he had a singularly sympathetic nature; he was keenly alive to religious as to all other influences. Whom should he better call from Florence to Careggi than the Friar whom he had brought back from Lombardy? The details of the deathbed scene as related by the Dominican biographers are difficult to accept; they rest on third-hand authority, contain inherent improbabilities, and are contradicted by contemporary evidence both direct and indirect. Neither in Savonarola's writings, nor in the letters of Lorenzo, Politian, or Ficino, nor in the despatches of ambassadors, is there any statement as to the Dominican's alleged hostility to the powers that be. Among his devotees were numbered Lorenzo's two chief confidants, Pico and Pandolfini, his friend and teacher, Marsilio Ficino, the favourite painter Botticelli, and the youthful Michel Angelo, who had lived in the Medici palace almost as a son. Giovanni da Prato Vecchio, the financial adviser who did much to make the Medicean administration unpopular with the masses, was Savonarola's personal friend.
Later writers, living under the terrorism of a restoration, neglected distinctions between the stages of Medicean rule; but contemporaries drew a strong line between the veiled and amiable despotism of Lorenzo and the overt tyranny of his son. The young Piero, they said, was no Medici, no Florentine. Born as he was of an Orsini mother, and wedded to an Orsini wife, his manners were Orsini manners, his bearing was that of an insolent Campagna lordling. With some of the purely intellectual gifts of his father's house, he inherited none of its capacity for rule, none of the sympathy which attracted the men of culture and the men of toil, none of the political courage which could avert or brave a crisis. Savonarola's future foe was a brutal athlete who had angered his father by his youthful brawls,—who, in Guicciardini's phrase, had found himself at the death of a man or two by night. He and his disreputable train would all day long play ball in the streets of Florence, neglecting.the business of the State, disturbing the business of the city. The weakness of the Medicean system stood confessed. An accepted monarchy may survive a weak and wicked ruler, but the Medici had no constitutional position, and were unprovided with props to a tottering throne, or with barriers to keep the crowd away. Their power rested only upon personal influence, upon the interests of a syndicate of families, on the material welfare of the middle classes, and the amusement of the lower. Even without the catastrophe of the French invasion Piero's government must have come crashing down.
From the outset of Medicean rule there had been a seesaw between monarchy and oligarchy. The ring of governmental families had admitted, not without some rubs, the superiority of Lorenzo; they showered upon Piero his father's honours, but were not prepared to concede his power. The ruling party began to split; the bureaucratic section, the secretaries, the financial officials, necessarily stood by the ostensible government, and, owing to the traditional maladministration of police and finance, determined popular feeling in its disfavour. The leading Medicean families, the younger branch of the House, and the Rucellai and Soderini connected with it by marriage, began to shadow forth an opposition.
It might seem as if Savonarola must now have chosen his side, but of this there is little sign. Cerretani relates that the heads of the opposition, fully conscious of his power over the people, tried to win him but completely failed. Savonarola himself has absolutely stated that he took no part in politics until after Piero's fall. In his sermons there is a passage against princes, but it was a cap that would fit royal heads of all shapes and sizes, and was intended, if for any in particular, for those of the rulers of Naples and Milan.
In 14-92 and 1493 Savonarola was much away in Lombardy. It has been assumed that he was removed from Florence by Piero's influence; but of this there is no evidence. Savonarola's journeys were in full accordance with the usual practice of his Order. On his return Piero energetically aided his endeavour to separate the Tuscan Dominican convents of stricter observance from the Lombard Congregation to which they had previously been united. The effect of this separation would be to confine Savonarola's activity to Tuscaiiy, and thus to give him permanent influence at Florence. Savonarola's chief, if not his only desire, was to restore the convents, over which he already exercised a personal influence, to the poorer and simpler life of the Order as founded by St Dominic; it is a libel to suggest that he had ulterior political motives. The separation of San Marco, which had been definitely re-founded within the century as a member of the Lombard Congregation, was a strong measure which cast reflection on the discipline of the parent body. The governments of Milan and Venice resisted the separation, which Piero warmly advocated. Savonarola became for the moment a figure of diplomatic importance. Alexander VI declared himself against the separation; but the story goes that when the Consistory had separated, the Cardinal of Naples playfully drew the signet ring from the Pope's finger and sealed the brief which he held in readiness. Piero's action makes it impossible to believe that Savonarola had assumed the role of a leader of political opposition. The only existing letter from the Friar to Piero expresses warm gratitude for his aid. Nevertheless the perpetual prophecies of impending trouble did undoubtedly contribute to political unrest, and Nerli ascribes Piero's fall in some measure to his placing no check upon the Friar's extravagant utterances.
At the moment of the French invasion (September, 1494) Savonarola was no politician, but a hard-working Provincial, throwing his heart into the reform of his new Congregation. This was no easy task, for he was thwarted by the particularist traditions of the larger Tuscan towns, where the Dominican convents resented subordination to that of the hated rival or mistress, Florence; they would more willingly have obeyed a distant Lombard Provincial. At Siena, Savonarola's failure was complete; the Convent of St Catharine's at Pisa was only united after the expulsion of the majority of the Friars. The new Congregation contained only some 250 members, whereas at the recent chapter at San Miniato more than a thousand Franciscans had been gathered.
Meanwhile all Florence was entranced by the eloquence of the Ferrarese Friar. What was the secret of his fascination? It consisted partly in the contagious force of terror. Italy had long been conscious of her military weakness, of her want of national unity. For fifty years her statesmen had nervously played with or warded off invasion; but, as the century closed, her generals were provoking the catastrophe. Disaster was in the air, and this atmospheric condition at once created the peculiar quality of Savonarola's eloquence, and the susceptibility of his audience. His confident forebodings gave definite expression to the terror which was in every heart, terror of storm and sack, of fierce foreign troopers who knew not the make-believe campaigns of Italy, of antiquated fortresses crumbling before the modern French artillery. The audacious attack upon the ecclesiastical hierarchy also fell upon willing ears. Abuse of the clergy has always been popular, even when ill-deserved; but with much reason Italy was ashamed of her priesthood and her Pope. The moral standard of the clergy was absolutely, and not relatively, lower than that of the laity. In every town, therefore, Savonarola's invectives might find a hearing; but at Florence the seed fell upon ground peculiarly well-prepared. Florentine wickedness has often been painted in sombre colours to render her prophet's portrait more effective. Nothing can be more unjust, more contradictory of Savonarola's own utterances. His permanent success was due to the moral superiority of Florence over other Italian capitals. For him, she was the navel and the watch-tower of Italy, the sun from which reform should radiate, the chosen city, the new Jerusalem. Florence was a sober God-fearing State after a somewhat comfortable, material fashion. There was much simplicity of life, a simplicity observed by travellers down to the eighteenth century. Private letters and diaries, which frankly relate such scandals as occur, testify to this. Her art and literature at this period compare not unfavourably with those of modern days. Accusations, when pressed home, usually reduce themselves to the lewd carnival songs; but the fetes of the city were altogether exceptional as a gross survival of medieval or pagan license. Florentines, who were neither prudes nor prigs, looked with horror on the corruption of the papal Court. Lorenzo de' Medici could warn his young Cardinal son against this sink of iniquity. The youthful Guicciardini spoke of the simony at Rome with all the disgust of a later Lutheran, and incidentally mentions the character of Cardinal Soderini as being "respectable for a priest." His father would not stain his conscience by making any one of his five sons a priest, notwithstanding the rich benefices which awaited them. The Florentines had recently been shocked at their Milanese visitors, who ate meat in Lent. The rulers of Florence had been religious men. San Marco had long set the standard of religion, and the Medici were deeply interested in its future. Both Cosimo and Piero were men of piety, notwithstanding political finesse, and occasional moral lapses. Lorenzo's mother was noted for her piety; her spiritual songs are among the city's heirlooms. Lorenzo, whatever his backslidings, had the potentiality of a religious nature. Paganism unabashed found scant favour at Florence. Platonism became a serious religion, shaking off the slough of materialism, and searching for union with Christianity. The whole city had worshipped Sant' Antonino; all upper-class Florence had lately been moved by the eloquence of Fra Mariano da Genazzano, an eloquence, indeed, of the polished, artificial type, enhanced by cadence and gesture, garnished with classical allusion and quotation. Yet this was the fashion of the day, and in matters intellectual Florence was at fashion's height. The vices of Florence were those of a rich, commercial city, extravagance in clothes and furniture, in funerals and weddings. Young bourgeois might think the brothel and the tavern the ante-chambers of gentility. Men of all classes gambled and swore. Dowries were high, and it was becoming difficult to marry. Yet in Florentine society there was a healthy consciousness that all this was wrong, and a predisposition in favour of any preacher who would say so. Savonarola's sympathetic nature, when once he had learned his method and his manner, touched this chord. The very novelty of his style was a merit with the Athens of the fifteenth century. The Florentines had forgotten the careful simplicity of San Bernardino of Siena, his fund of anecdote and his playful humour. Preaching was either too classical or too grotesque. Fra Mariano represented the former school, and there are hints that Savonarola's other rival, Fra Domenico da Ponzo, the Franciscan, was an exponent of the latter. The new preacher struck a middle note, captivating Florence by his directness, his naturalness, his fire. He abandoned the artificial division of the sermon into parts, a survival of the Roman art of rhetoric; his sermons are, indeed, lacking in composition; mystical flights often soar far beyond the subject of discussion. There are contradictions in his method, which receive curious illustration from two facts of his early life. Letters exist from the learned Garzoni of Bologna, which rally the youth on his revolt from the rules of Priscian, while his first teacher at Florence lectured him on his excessive subtlety in argument, and forced him to the simplicity which at the outset he exaggerated to a childlike "yea" and "nay." Such contradictions are explained by the preacher's impressionable nature; and this, combined with his power of expression, produced a contagious effect upon his audience. A thorough Dominican in his intellectual dialectic training and in the exposition of definite doctrine in his tracts, his sermons have much of the Franciscan style. The spirit of prophecy linked him closely to the Fraticelli of Monte Amiata, the believers in Abbot Joachim, and through them to the half-religious, half-political extravagances of B-ienzi in the second stage of his development. As we look forwards, it seems rather the apocalyptic preachers of early Anabaptism that have a right to claim him as a precursor, than the Lutheran divines. His enemies actually accused him of holding the Fraticelli doctrine of Spiritual Poverty. This he directly denied, but he approached perilously near Wyclif's theory of the Dominion of Grace, which was in popular estimation nearly akin to it. So again, though a trained Aristotelian and Thomist, he was in feeling a Platonist; he employed his Aristotelian method in the exposition of the relation between the upper and the lower worlds. This mystical quality won him the early favour of the Neo-Platonists, Pico, Marsilio Ficino, and others of Lorenzo's circle. On the other hand he could employ the devices by which popular preachers fixed the attention of their congregation. His flights of eloquence were varied by homely dialogues with G-od or angels, with imaginary enemies or timid friends. Above all he knew his Bible by heart, and next only to this Aquinas. From the Bible he always took his start, and to it he ever led his hearers back. This it is which gives the peculiar tone to the religion of the Piagnoni, which carries the reader from the benches of San Marco to the Galloway hillside.
The residuum of old-fashioned simplicity in Florence favoured his desire to simplify not only private, but religious life. The fifteenth century was everywhere marked by magnificence in ecclesiastical externals, in vestments and jewels, in banner, pyx and crucifix, in chapels built or restored by private families, with portraits frescoed and arms embossed upon their walls. Church music had been elaborated; the organist had become a personage, and might aspire to be a knight; weary men repaired to the Cathedral, not to worship, but to be soothed by the music of Orcagna, the greatest executant of his day. Against these jewels and broad phylacteries, against the monuments of family pride, against the substitution of sound for praise, Savonarola repeatedly inveighed. One of his few humorous passages describes the solo-singer with a voice like a calf, while the choir howled round him like little dogs, none understanding what they meant. His readers can still picture the abuses of society at church, the rows of gallants lining the nave, the ladies in their lowest and longest gowns filing between them, lending ear to unseemly jests and doubtful compliments. Savonarola would have none of this; in church or in street processions he kept the sexes separate.
After Lorenzo's death Savonarola's sermons became more outspoken. They were not as yet political, but two constant features might easily assume a political complexion-the one the invectives against the Church, the other the prophecy of immediate doom. The two were in close connexion. Not only the Neapolitan exiles but Alexander VTs enemy, the Cardinal della Rovere, had taken refuge in France; the French invasion therefore was aimed not only at the King of Naples, but also at the Pope, whose simoniacal election and scandalous life added fuel to the fire of Savonarola's diatribe. For Charles VIII Naples should be the stepping-stone to the recovery of Jerusalem. So too Savonarola had fondly dreamed that the reform of the Tuscan Congregation should be the pathway to the possession of the Holy Sepulchre. The objects of the French invader and the Dominican reformer seemed identical, their enemies the same.
Within Florence, too, the threatened invasion might well give a political bearing to Savonarola's utterances. Piero, deserting the traditions of his house, had abandoned the Milanese alliance, the keystone of its policy; he had flouted the friendship of France, the Guelfic ally of centuries; under Orsini influence he had flung himself into the arms of the King of Naples. The great Medicean families resented this light-of-love diplomacy, and clung to the Milanese alliance. The populace hated the Neapolitan dynasty, after having endured its cruelty as an enemy, and its insolence as a friend. The whole town disliked and feared the armed opposition to the formidable hosts of France. What then was more natural than that Florence should turn to Savonarola for his guidance? Here was the very terror from the north which he had predicted; the sword that should strike the earth, and that quickly; the chastisement that should purge Italy of sin and then renew the world! Who could so well conjure the phantom as he by whom it had been raised?
The French had now crossed the Apennines and were besieging the strong Florentine fortress of Sarzana. Before Piero set out on his fateful journey to the French King, discontent found expression in the very Seventy, the stronghold of Medicean power. Diplomacy had been the palladium of the Medici. Lorenzo knew this, when he made his perilous voyage to cajole the King of Naples. Piero knew it when, in conscious imitation, he slipped away to meet the King of France before Sarzana. He wrote himself, that he was being dragged to sacrifice. Lorenzo's success had saved the dynasty, and Piero's failure lost it. A crushing defeat could have sacrificed no more. With the fortresses of Sarzana, Pietra Santa, Pisa and Leghorn in French hands, Florence herself lay at the mercy of Charles. High and low scorned this base surrender by one who had no commission from the State. Piero's cowardice gave courage to his opponents. Hitherto they had stammered and stuttered in criticising his proposals. Now, in his absence, they sent envoys to the French camp. On the morning after his return the very magistrates, picked from the adherents of the house, shut the wicket of the Palazzo Pubblico in his face. As he rode sullenly homewards, the crowd shook their caps at him; the boys pelted the uncrowned King with stones and insulted him with cat-calls. His adherents of the lower class soon melted from his side. From the Palace windows issued cries of ' People and Liberty'; from the piazza were brandished nondescript weapons, long hung up to rust. Paolo Orsini, Piero's cousin, was at the gates with 500 horse, but he perceived that the game was up, and Piero fled; the dynasty of four generations had fallen without stroke of sword. Piero's young brother, the Cardinal Giovanni, alone showed courage. He rode towards the Palace, but the crowd pushed him back. Landucci saw him at his window on his knees, with his hands clasped in prayer. "I was much moved and judged that he was a good young man and of good understanding." A little later, and the future Leo X likewise fled, disguised as a Franciscan friar. Florence had let slip the really dangerous member of his house, for whom aristocrats and rabble, saints and sinners, Piagnoni and Arrablriati, were to prove no match.
Piero had in the first instance been resisted not by the democracy but by the aristocracy, by malcontent members of the Medicean ring. Young Jacopo Nerli had closed the Palace door in Piero's face; yet Jacopo's' brothers had dedicated the editio princeps of Homer, printed at their expense, to Piero as a boy. A few of the loyal Mediceans fled; the others, with the veteran statesman Bernardo del Nero, bowed to the storm. To the conquerors the spoils! The aristocrats intended to replace the rule of a single house by an oligarchy of a group of houses. But the people were excited; they sacked the Medici palace, ably assisted by French officers already in the town, on the improbable pretext that the Medici bank owed them money. The mob then burnt and plundered the houses of Piero's financial agents, but were drawn away to the piazza, where all ranks were shouting People and Liberty. Lungs pay no bills, and thus coinage and taxation are apt to be the first victims of revolution. The aristocrats felt obliged to make popular concessions. Francesco Gualterotti, an ardent Savonarolist to the end, sprang on the rlnghiera, the platform projecting from the Palace, and on the Signoria's authority declared the white farthings withdrawn from circulation. These white farthings, the Wood's halfpence of the Medi-cean dynasty, had been issued to replace a medley of base and foreign coins of varying value. But the State made its profit, for all duties had to be paid in the new coinage, which stood to the black farthings in the relation of 5 to 4. Nevertheless the mob was still idle and therefore dangerous; shops and factories were closed; the artisans restlessly roamed the streets; the French officers were chalking the doors for quarters; unmarried girls were being hurried off to distant convents or country cousins. Prophecy seemed nearing its fulfilment. Why should men work, when either the Millennium or the Cataclysm was upon them!
Savonarola was not in Florence when Piero was expelled. He was chosen on November 5 as one of the envoys who were sent to the French King at Pisa. This was his entrance into history. It may seem surprising that he should have been elected. Yet a better choice could scarcely have been made. Piero Capponi, one of the leading aristocrats, had proposed him because the people loved him, and would have confidence in his embassy. No envoy could be more acceptable to Charles VIII, whose easy victories he had foretold, whom he had set on high as the chosen instrument of God. Errands of peace had long been among the express functions of the Friars. For two centuries past they had reconciled house and house and town and town during the cruel conflicts by which Italy had been rent. It seemed natural enough that the Dominican should accompany the heads of the aristocracy in their mission for persuading Charles to respect the liberties of Florence, and to abandon his intention of restoring Piero. Savonarola now or later won the respect of the French King, but his eloquence could not shake the resolution to make no terms except in the great city.
Before Charles VIII moved up the Arno, two great events had befallen Florence. The Medici had been expelled, and Pisa was in full revolt. The lives of the Florentine envoys and officials were in no small danger. When Charles VIII at length entered Florence, Savonarola seems to have taken no part in the negotiations; the hero of the week was not the Friar, but the merchant, statesman and soldier, Piero Cap-poni, who tore the draft of the shameful treaty in two before the French King's face, crying, "Blow your trumpets and we will clang our bells." Yet the ultimate conditions were sufficiently humiliating, for all the Florentine coast fortresses were left in French hands, and the city was pledged to a huge subsidy. She had, however, at least escaped the restoration of the Medici, although she was forced to withdraw the price upon their heads. The main desire was to rid Florence of her dangerous guests. The treaty was signed on November 28; but on the 29th Charles showed no signs of stirring. Then it was that Savonarola went to warn him that it was God's will that he should leave. More efficacious, perhaps, were the arguments of the Scotch general Stuart d'Aubigni, who had led a French corps from the Romagna into the Arno valley. He very bluntly told the King that he was wasting time, and that he must push on to Naples. Thus on November 30 the French marched out, to their hosts1 infinite relief.
The next task was the reform of the constitution. The Palace bell summoned a Parlamento, a mass meeting of the people, to the great piazza, and the Signoria from its platform proposed a BaTia, or provisional government. The Medicean institutions, the Councils of the Hundred and of the Seventy, and the Otto di Pratica, a standing Committee for State affairs, which had already been suspended, were now abolished, while the members of the Otto di BaTia, the Ministry of Justice, were deposed. A board of Twenty was nominated to select the Signoria for one whole year; under the title of the Ten of War a commission was to be appointed for the subjection of Pisa. Within the year a register was to be drawn up of all citizens qualified for office, and at its expiration the popular traditional practice of appointing to all magistracies by lot should be resumed. This provisional government was virtually the substitution of oligarchy for monarchy; a group of aristocrats now held the power which Lorenzo de' Medici had striven to secure. Nevertheless the proposal was passed by acclamation in the Parlamento, and confirmed by the two older Councils of the People and the Commune.
It was impossible that such a piece of patchwork should stand the wear and tear of a restless people. The Councils of the Hundred, and of the Seventy, and the Otto di Pratica had been successively introduced, not merely for family or party purposes, but to strengthen administrative efficiency. The old municipal constitution was unequal to the needs of an expanding territory and of complicated international relations. This had been the justification for the rule of a family, or of groups of families who had no official place in the Constitution, of the Parte Guelfa, the Albizzi, the Medici. All the really operative elements in the State, whether official or non-official, were now removed; the normal constitution would be worked by twenty individuals with no coherence, and not much experience, divided by family and personal rivalries. Oligarchies, wrote Aristotle, fall from internal divisions, and almost invariably one section will appeal to the people for support against its fellows. It was certain from the first that this would happen at Florence, where in spite of monarchy or oligarchy there was a democratic atmosphere, and where, in the absence of soldiers or efficient police, public opinion could at any crisis find expression. Even before Piero's fall some of the aristocracy had paid their addresses to the people. And now the populace was in a dangerous state; unsatisfied with fire and plunder, it pleaded for blood; none had been let in Florence since the short fever of the Pazzi plot. The oligarchs sacrificed one of the Medicean government officials, Antonio di Bernardo, who was hanged from a window above the great piazza. His hands were clean, but his origin low, his manners rough, and his office-that of the public debt- the most unpopular in Florence. Others were condemned to imprisonment for life. To flatter the ingrained love of equality, the Twenty nominated insignificant persons to the chief magistracy, the Gonfaloni-erate of Justice. So again, men of no repute were sent on important embassies; Ludovico il Moro gibed at the diplomatic methods of the new republic. But all this was not enough; the oligarchs must satisfy not only the populace but each other, which was indeed impossible. One of the cleverest, the most experienced, the most ambitious aristocrats, Paol' Antonio Soderini, had been excluded from the Twenty, probably by the influence of his rival Piero Capponi. On the death of Lorenzo de1 Medici he had tentatively resisted the advance of the monarchy, but when young Piero showed his teeth he shrank from the encounter. He now intrigued for the fall of the Twenty; and it was no difficult task to make the provisional government impossible. Soderini had just returned from an embassy to Venice; it was natural that he should sing the praises of her constitution. The cry caught up in the street was echoed from the pulpit. Soderini, it is said, first persuaded Savonarola to advocate a popular government on the Venetian model. It need not be assumed that Soderini was a hypocrite. He was virtuous and serious; but virtue and sobriety cast fantastic shadows which assume the forms of ambition and intrigue.
During and after the French occupation Savonarola had been untiring in preaching for the poor, especially for those who were ashamed to confess their poverty. He implored the idling artisans to return to work. Unity, peace, and mercy were his perpetual theme. The people, however, threatened to extend their vengeance from the financial officials to all adherents of the Medici. The more moderate aristocrats became alarmed; already exiles were returning, the victims of themselves or of their fathers; and titles to property confiscated in the past were endangered. The exiles might well bid for popular support. It was felt that the new oligarchy, the Whites, must stand by the Greys (Bigi), the families who still had Medicean proclivities. But these oligarchs could not stay the flood of popular hatred; if they stemmed it, they would be swept away in their turn. Their leader, Piero Capponi, turned for aid to Savonarola, and the Friar succeeded where others must have failed. Of all his claims to the gratitude of his adopted city this is the strongest.
Savonarola now fairly entered into politics. He had striven as a Ferrarese, he declared, to have nothing to do with the Florentine State; but God had warned him that he must not shrink, for his mission was the creation of the spiritual life, and this must have a solid material edifice wherein to dwell. To his political sermons he summoned the magistrates, admitting none but men. He sketched not only the form of the new constitution but the main lines of legislation, ethical and economic. Monarchy, he admitted, might be the ideal government, but it was unsuited for people of temperate climates, who had at once too much blood and too much cleverness to bear a king,—unsuited above all to high-spirited and subtle Florentines, for whom the Venetian popular government was the natural type. He suggested that the citizens should gather under their sixteen companies (gunfaloni), that each company should draft a scheme, that of these the sixteen gonfaloniers should select four, and from them the Slgnoria should choose the best: this, he assured his congregation, would be after the Venetian model.
In official circles there was resistance, but popular opinion was overwhelming. The aristocrats had overthrown the Medici, but the people claimed the spoils. After long debate the several magistracies, the Sixteen gonfaloniers, the Twelve bttonitomini, the Twenty, the Eight, and the Ten of War each presented constitutions, and of these that of the Ten, to which Soderini belonged, was chosen. The old Councils of People and Commune were replaced by a Grand Council, which became the sovereign authority of the State. Membership was confined to those who had at any time been drawn for the three chief offices, the Signoria, the Twelve, and the Sixteen, or whose ancestors within three generations had been so drawn: the age limit was twenty-nine, and no one could be a councillor who had not paid his taxes. A small number of citizens, otherwise qualified, above the age of twenty-four was admitted, and in each year twenty-eight additional members, unqualified by office, might be elected; few of these, however, obtained the requisite majority of two-thirds of the votes. The chief function of the Council was electoral. Electors drawn by lot nominated candidates for the more important offices, and of those who secured an absolute majority of votes he who polled the highest number was elected. For the minor offices members of the Council were drawn by lot. The Council chose a Senate of eighty members, who sat for six months but were re-eligible; their duty was to advise the Signoria and to appoint ambassadors and commissioners with the army. The executive remained unchanged; at the head was the Signor'w, the Gonfalonier of Justice and the eight Priors, holding office for two months. Its consultations were aided by the College, the Twelve r and the Sixteen; the Ten of War and the Eight of EaTia continued to exist. Every legislative proposal, every money-bill, every question of peace and war, was initiated in the Signoria, passed through the College to the Senate and received completion in the Council. This was expected to number about 3000 members, and, until a large hall in the Palace could be built, it was divided into three sections which sat in turn.
This was a bold constitutional experiment, the boldest that had yet been tried at Florence. It was not exactly the transplantation of an exotic constitution which had matured under different conditions of soil and climate, but rather an attempt to hybridise the Florentine executive with the Venetian elective system. To all Italian statesmen it seemed clear that Venice possessed the ideal constitution, but the essence of this perfection was not so obvious. The academic explanation was that it was mixed, combining the merits of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Consequently Venice could serve as a model to artists of very different schools. Lorenzo de1 Medici, convinced of the weakness of the Florentine system for diplomacy and war, had, in creating the Seventy and the Committee of Eight, looked to the Senate and the Ten, which were essentially the motive powers of the Venetian constitution. His last political act, the creation of a baTia of Seventeen, was probably another adaptation of the Venetian Ten, applied to the purposes most essential to Medicean power, elections and finance; it is at least a curious coincidence that the so-called Ten consisted really of seventeen members. His intention is believed to have been that he should be elected life-Gonfalonier, or Doge; this would have legalised his irregular position, and given him permanent influence in every department. Lorenzo, however, while making a selection from both the aristocratic and monarchical elements of his model, left out of sight its broad popular basis. At Venice, the Grand Council was eminently the elective body, and the electors could tolerate the supremacy of their representatives. Lorenzo had entrusted elective functions above all to oligarchical councils and committees.
The cry of the Florentines now was, People and Liberty. Overlooking therefore the administrative excellence of Venice, they gave exclusive attention to the Grand Council, which had been, indeed, rather the declining partner in the Venetian Constitution. They believed, not unnaturally, that by directly interesting a large number of citizens in the constitution they would shake off once for all the extra-legal influences, which had for so long dominated the elections and through them the administration; thus would cease the curious dualism between the real and the apparent government, the cause of some oppression and much heart-burning. There was, however, this great difference, that at Florence every legislative question and every important question of policy ultimately came before the Council, whereas at Venice almost all received their decision in the Senate. Thus while at Venice, if the Ten be momentarily set aside, the Senate was the determining body, at Florence it exercised little weight in the fortunes of the coming years, and was, indeed, overshadowed by the influence of the Pratica, an excrescence on the constitution, of which more anon. It is clear from this alone that in diplomacy and war, when speed, secrecy, and trained experience were required, Florence would be at a disadvantage. At Venice, again, the executive was more highly developed, there was greater differentiation. Each, for instance, of the Savi da terra firma had his own department, while the functions of the board differed from those of the Savi da mar. At Florence the Signoria with its consultative associates, the Twelve and the Sixteen, had undergone no process of evolution. Even between the Signoria and the two chief executive committees, the Ten and the Eight, there was no clear demarcation; conflicts of authority might and did arise. Moreover, Florence had no trained pilot; very ordinary seamen took their place on the bridge almost in turn. The Venetian Doge is traditionally called a figure-head, but this metaphor gives a false impression of his relation to the ship of State. He was, it is true, hemmed in by every precaution against absolutism, but he was usually elected as a citizen of high position and long experience. Chosen for life, he sat among officials most of whom were elected for short terms; he was in the closest touch with every branch of the administration; nor did his fortunes depend on the popularity of his opinions. His influence might not be obvious but it was all-pervading; every great movement in Venetian policy will be found to associate itself with the personality of a Doge. How different was the position of a Florentine Gonfalonier of Justice elected for two months, and welcomed by the citizens in proportion to his insignificance! Finally, at Florence there was no attempt as yet to emulate the Venetian judicial system with its three courts of forty citizens, and its admirable supervision of local justice by itinerary commissions from the capital. It was this organisation, partly representative and popular, partly expert, which made Venetian justice acceptable to the mainland cities and respected at home. Florence was left with her old faulty system, at once weak, cruel and partial, inspiring neither affection nor respect. The controlling dynastic power was now withdrawn which had at least striven to give some efficiency and regularity to justice. This was certain to become the sport of the political passions of the moment.
In spite of these defects the new constitution was popular, for it gave a constant interest in government to a larger number than had previously been the case. In this sense it may be termed democratic; it is frequently called the Florentine democracy even by those who stigmatise its Venetian model as a narrow oligarchy. This is so far correct, that the more democratic features of the model had been adopted, while the Florentine executive retained the democratic principle of rapid rotation, of ruling and being ruled in turn. The term nobility as applied to the ruling class at Venice created some little difficulty; it was explained that this was a misnomer,—that it implied only an official distinction, involving no personal rights over other men. Soderini indeed declared that as many possessed citizenship at Venice as were fit to enjoy it at Florence. The origin of the two systems was more alike than the Florentines probably knew. At the date of the "Closing of the Grand Council" at Venice (1296) a reform of the constitution had become imperative; and then, as at Florence in 1494, the alternative, lay between an oligarchy and a more popular form, between a group of families and a considerable section of the citizens. In both cases it was decided in favour of the latter; in both, the new citizenship had an official basis, for at Venice membership of the old Council during several generations corresponded to the Florentine qualification of past office in the three greater magistracies. In both, all classes which had not previously enjoyed power were, subject to insignificant exceptions, permanently excluded. There was however this important difference, that in Florence the noble houses had, since the Ordinances of Justice, been disfranchised. The Medici had done much to break down this antiquated distinction, but many families still remained almost outside the State, some of them enjoying great social, and indirectly no little political influence. Hitherto there had been possibilities of recovering qualification through membership of the Arts; this avenue was now closed. Hitherto they could at all events belong to the Council of the Commune: this Council was now abolished. Thus, a wealthy and influential class was placed in inevitable opposition towards the new government.
If the highest class lost by the constitutional change, the lower classes did not gain. There was no extension of the franchise in the modern sense; no new class obtained a share in government. Citizenship still depended on membership of the Artl (the Greater or the Less); in each magistracy the former were represented in the proportion of three to Even in the Council, a little consideration will show that the same one. proportion must have been approximately maintained, unless it be urged that three generations of a poorer class will produce more children than three of a richer. Government was left, as before, in the hands of the upper middle classes, with a preponderance in favour of the uppermost.
The name of Savonarola has been indissolubly connected with this constitution. He did not probably first propose it, nor had he, as far as is known, any share in drafting its actual provisions. But unquestionably he created an overpowering public feeling in its favour. Henceforth he regarded the Grand Council as his offspring, whose life it was his most solemn duty to safeguard. His influence too induced the Twenty to resign before their term of office had expired, and from June 10, 1495, the Council assumed full sovereign authority. Even before this date his sermons had directly affected legislation. The first Act carried by the Council was an amnesty for the past; this was followed by a measure granting an appeal to the Council to any citizen qualified for office, who, for a political offence, had been sentenced by a vote of two-thirds of the Slgnoria or the Eight. This question of "appeal from the Six Beans" was the first which seriously agitated the new republic, and ultimately gravely affected Savonarola and his party. The SigTioria and the Eight possessed by law an unlimited power of punishment. This they were usually too timid to exercise on their own responsibility, but they might easily be made the tools of a dominant faction for party purposes. Political opponents might be proscribed under legal forms without the chances afforded by delay or by an appeal to popular feeling. Hence this appeal to the Council was proposed and was warmly debated in that peculiar Florentine institution termed a Pratica.
The Pratica was no formal element in the constitution new or old, and yet so strong were its traditions that, when in later years the Gonfalonier Piero Soderini preferred to consult the regular magistracies, the innovation was almost regarded as unconstitutional. The upper magistracies and committees sometimes composed the Pratica, but on important occasions the executive added a considerable number of leading citizens and legal luminaries. The timid executive thus widened the area of responsibility, and obtained a preliminary test of the drift of public opinion. A Pratica was the only assembly in which questions were freely debated; hence it somewhat threw into the shade not only the Eighty, but the Council itself. In Savonarola's career, on the three most critical occasions, the interest centres in the debates of the Pratica.
The final vote in favour of appeal was large both in the Eighty and the Council, but during the discussion the result had seemed very doubtful. The aristocrats, who had hitherto manipulated the Signoria, could show that such a measure would still further weaken the already feeble executive. A section of them had, however, become aware that henceforth the executive would be wielded by the people, and that, after the Medicean leaders, the prominent oligarchs might be the victims of a sudden sentence: delay would be in favour of men of position, who in the Council would not be without adherents. On the other hand those who were irreconcilable with the Medici urged that the executive was the sword of the people, and that to blunt its edge was to weaken the people's power. Savonarola had previously proposed an appeal, not to the Council, but to a smaller body. He seems however to have attributed no importance to the distinction, and preached earnestly in favour of the government proposal. Against the Dominican his opponents set up the eloquent Franciscan Fra Domenico da Ponzo, and the populace flocked from San Marco to Santa Croce and back again, to be taught its politics from the pulpit. The triumph of the government was complete, and the law was carried; time only could show whether, amid party passions, it would be observed. Savonarola's share in this law has recently been denied; but contemporary friends and enemies ascribed to him its initiation and success. His panegyrists have no need to be ashamed of a measure which rightly gave the power of pardon to the sovereign authority. In a democracy, wrote Aristotle, the people should have the power of pardoning, but not of condemning. Savonarola's reputation was afterwards injured, not by the law of appeal, but by the failure of his party to observe it.
In a kindred proposal to pare the claws of the executive, Savonarola had a yet more direct share. From the pulpit of San Marco was uttered the death-warrant of the primeval Florentine assembly, the Parlamento. This was a curious survival of the old municipal life of a comparatively small city, in which the people at large was the ultimate resort on any change of government. Under altered conditions it was doubtless an abuse. Each dominant party could induce the Signoria, which was its nominee, to summon a Parliament, and there propose measures of greater or less importance, with the purpose of prolonging or enhancing its own authority. By this simple expedient the constitution was more than once suspended. Savonarola saw that a single Signaria with an aristocratic or Medicean majority might, through such a plebiscite, overthrow in an hour the fabric of the new republic. On no political subject was his language more intemperate. There was now, he cried, no need of Parliaments: the sovereignty of the people was vested in the Council, which could make every law that the people could desire: Parliament was the robbery of the people's power. He warned his congregation, if ever the bell of the Palazzo rang for Parliament, to hack to pieces every Prior that stepped upon the platform: the Gonfaloniers of the companies must swear that on the first stroke of the bell, they would sack the Priors' houses, and of each house sacked, the Gonfalonier and his company should divide the spoils. Within sixteen days of Savonarola's sermon this ferocious proposal, though modified in its penal details, became law. Thus the middle classes deprived the lower of even the semblance of a share in government. The Parliament which abolished the Medici regime had shouted away its own existence. Hitherto every insignificant bafia had required the assent of this popular assembly; but the sweeping change which established the new republic had never received its sanction. The time might come when even this faint echo of the people's voice might be regretted.
In these two deliberate attempts to weaken the executive, Savonarola was probably less influenced by theoretic democratic considerations, than by feverish anxiety to fend off the immediate danger, a recrudescence of party strife and proscription executed under legal forms. But his dislike of the rabble as a political power was genuine. He had all an Italian's respect for family; he dwelt with complacency on the fact that many of his novices were scions of the best Florentine houses. He knew, or soon learned to know, the defects of a weak executive. During his trial he confessed his wish to imitate yet further the Venetian constitution, by the appointment of a Doge, a Gonfalonier for life. After his death, this very method was adopted from sheer despair at the incompetence of the republican administration. So again he opposed the most durable democratic principle which flattered Florentine love of equality, election by lot. When a combination of aristocrats, who wished to discredit the Council, and of extreme men, who would carry democratic principles to their logical conclusions, strove to eliminate nomination, and to substitute a bare for an absolute majority, Savonarola preached against this enfeeblement of administrative efficiency.
Savonarola taught his congregation that every vote entailed a solemn responsibility; he amplified San Bernardino's warning that a single bean wrongly given might prove the ruin of the State. The elector, he preached, must have in view the glory of God, the welfare of the community, the honour of the State: he ought not to nominate a candidate from private motives nor reject one who may have wronged him: a candidate should be both good and wise, but if the choice lie between a wise man and one who is good but foolish, the interest of the State required the former: no man should be elected to an office by way of charity, his poverty must not be relieved to the detriment of the public service: the elector should not from temper or persuasion vote against a candidate or throw his nomination paper on the ground, nor yet support any who had canvassed him, nor ever give a party vote: in cases of reasonable doubt let the elector pray, and then without looking give the black bean or the white, for God would guide his hand. This last characteristic reference to divine guidance was followed by a remarkable instance of reliance upon miracle. There were rumours that the new great hall of Council was unsafe, and nervous electors feared to take their seats. Let them not fear, exclaimed the preacher, for if the building were not sound, God would hold it up!
On the expulsion of the Medici, their financial system as well as their constitution was cast into the melting-pot. The progressive tax on all forms of income, which had been their favourite expedient, shared in their unpopularity. Savonarola was prepared not only with a constitution but a budget. He preached that direct taxation should be limited to a tenth on immovables, and that this should be levied once only in the year. It was argued that such a tax was not liable to the arbitrary assessment, which had been the curse of Florentine finance; a tax on land was easy to collect and had solid security behind it; it entailed no inquisitorial prying into credit, it suffered merchant and artisan to ply unhindered those occupations which made the wealth of Florence; for she was poor in land but rich in commerce. The proposal became law, and a committee of sixteen was elected to assess- all landed property in Florence and its territory. Apart from its being limited to immovables, the new tax differed from its predecessors in being regarded technically as a gift, and not as a loan. Extraordinary taxes had previously been credited to the tax-payer in the State-debt and nominally bore interest; the new tax was subject to no repayment.
For this suggestion Savonarola has won the fame of a great financier, and it is true that the tenth had a long life, when once its delicate youth was past, for it formed the basis of taxation under the Medici Grand-dukes. Yet the proposal was neither wise nor novel. Taxes had long been levied on revenue from land, and the limitation was but a return to earlier practice. The wealth of Florence, the source of luxurious expenditure, was commerce; the landed classes might live in easy circumstances, but not in state; yet commerce was now exempt. The arbitrary taxation of individuals was remedied by shifting it to the shoulders of a class. The new tax fell hardly on the nobles who were unrepresented in the State; it was therefore popular with the ruling middle-classes, who were jealous of their social influence. The French were still in Italy, while Pisa was in full revolt, and Florentine territory exposed to depredation. Yet the source of income taxed was that which was least protected; the lower classes would necessarily feel the pinch, for the impost would inevitably, in spite of State regulation, raise the price of grain and oil and wine.
Savonarola's financial scheme was predoomed to failure, for it was totally inadequate to its purpose. Even the assessment was not completed until the year of his death, and then only for the inhabitants of Florence. The republic from the first resorted to the old tainted sources of supply-forced loans from richer or less popular citizens; it still, as was said of Cosimo de1 Medici, used the taxes instead of the dagger. The arbitrio, an impost on the profits of trades and professions, reappeared; and the duties on articles of consumption rose and rose again. Even before Savonarola's death it was proposed to restore the progressive tax, which could be levied several times within the year. The white farthings, the withdrawal of which had been the first concession to the populace, were reissued. The finances were incompetently and extravagantly administered; there was no permanent control, no subordination of private to public interests. Under the Medici a limited number had benefited from corruption; under the Republic each fresh group which came into momentary power, felt bound to gratify its adherents by the superfluous creation of commissaries and envoys. It became difficult to pass money-bills through the Council, and the consequent delay came to cost the State a hundred times the sum originally needed. So entire was the decay of the Florentine marine, that towards the close of the Pisan War, Florence was reduced to hiring a Genoese pirate with a brigantine or two to blockade the outlets of the Arno.
The defects of Florentine justice did not escape Savonarola's ken. His recommendation that the chief commercial court, the Mercatanzia, should be reformed by means of a representative committee, was carried out as far as statute went. Politicians however continued to manipulate the court through the agency of its permanent secretary, and this afterwards brought about a split in the liberal party, even as it was alleged to have caused the original breach between Medici and Albizzi. The Friar also proposed a new criminal court, which he called Ruota, composed of citizens sufficiently wealthy and well-paid to stand above fear or favour. A Ruota was after his death established, but bore no resemblance except in name to his proposal, which was undoubtedly borrowed from the admirable Venetian courts named Quarantle. When, still later, a Quarantia was introduced at Florence, it was a mere temporary criminal commission to ensure the condemnation of the over-mighty subject.
Savonarola's political programme might now seem complete, but he well knew that the constitution was not perfect. He stated plainly that time would show the defects and make them good; the essential was to establish the local popular base at once. Even this he came to see might need amendment; in a remarkable sermon preached in 1497, he hinted that the Grand Council itself might need a purge. He had to learn that there was no panacea for the inherited hysteria of a State. Not entirely without reason the hostile chronicler Vaglienti wrote that little reliance could be placed in what the Commune of Florence did, since what was done to-day was undone to-morrow; that truly Dante had said
Quante volte nel tempo che rimembre Legge, moneta ed ufficio e costume Hai tu mutato, e rinnovato membre.
Notwithstanding Savonarola's political activity, politics were for him solely subordinate to ethics. The form of government was not an end in itself, but the means to moral purification; tyrants must be expelled, not because they were oppressive, but because they were morally perverting. He preached against Cosimo de' Medici's maxim that a State could not be governed by paternosters: the more spiritual a polity, the stronger it was: where there was grace, there were unity, obedience, sobriety, and therefore strength: riches followed grace and enabled the citizens to help each other and the Commune in times of need: in a State that kept its word, the soldiers were braver and more regularly paid: enemies feared the city that was at unity with itself, and friends more readily sought its alliance. For Savonarola the State was coextensive with the citizens' moral and religious welfare. His aim may almost be termed a system of State socialism applied to ethics rather than to economics. His programme was set out in four clauses-the fear of God-the common weal-universal peace-political reform. He confessed that Florence had begun at the end, but hoped that she would work backwards. Politics and ethics were so closely dovetailed, that he regarded opposition to his political views as involving sin; and herein lies his justification for his unmeasured denunciation of his opponents.
The Friar's influence upon the new government is proved by its first legislative acts, especially by the terrible penalties attached to unnatural vice. The deadly canker of Florentine life he, like other friars before him, believed to be gambling. To eradicate this, he was prepared to violate the privacy of family life, destroy individual liberty, and make the servant an informer against his master. Gambling he would punish with torture, blasphemy with piercing of the tongue. The dress and the hair of women and children were made the subject of legislation. The establishment of monti di pieta, State pawnbroking offices, would nowadays be regarded as an economic measure; in Savonarola's eyes it was mainly ethical, a form of State charity and a protest against usury; indeed, he at first proposed that the State should lend free of interest. His success in this measure proved his strength; for again and again Franciscans had advocated this check upon usurious Jews, who in bad seasons gained a hold upon the poor. Invariably they had been shown the city-gate by the upper citizens, themselves, as was believed, not averse to usurious interest. Quite of late Piero de' Medici had favoured a monte di pietd, but had found the opposition insuperable. Savonarola was no professed Anti-Semite; he expressed in print his sympathy for the Jews and his desire for their conversion; but for all that he virtually rid Florence of them.
His enemies accused Savonarola of leading the poor to idle. The general sense of excitement and unrest was no doubt intensified by prophecy. Nevertheless he consistently preached the gospel of labour for rich and poor. He had made every member of his own convent toil for its support; from the pulpit he implored artisans to return to work, and the employers to find them labour; to give work, he repeated, was the best form of charity; no one need fear starvation who lived a godly and industrious life. The rich, he preached, should labour even as the poor; he denounced the princes who lived on their subjects without protecting them, the wealthy who cornered grain, who scraped away the wages of the poor, who would give their worn-out shoes in lieu of money. But in the financial crisis through which Florence was passing an exhortation to work was not enough; crowds of peasants were driven into the towns by war and famine; wages must be supplemented by public and private charity. Collections were raised in the churches, in the processions, at the street corners, by house to house visitation; the government was urged to buy up grain from abroad, to open a relief office, to write off old arrears of taxes.
The reform of the public holidays was a natural consequence of the political and moral revolution, for the Medici had closely associated themselves with these, and their return was to be marked by a revival of the old magnificence. Savonarola knew, as all earnest reformers know, that such holidays not only contain possibilities of irreparable evil in themselves, but taint the preceding and succeeding months, and permanently lower the standard of national purity and sobriety. He insisted on the suppression by the State of the horse-races, the bonfires and allegorical processions, the gross carnival songs, which would have been tolerated at no other season; in the country-towns the podesta was to forbid the public dances. His enemies accused him of imposing total abstinence on Florence; a Sienese satirist has jeered at Florentine teetotalism. But this was an exaggeration, based apparently on recommendations for a short fast in time of national humiliation. Savonarola was aware that men and children cannot live without amusement, and hence the processions, the religious dances, the burning of the vanities, which have become so celebrated. Bands of urchins had been wont to stretch poles across the streets and levy black-mail upon the passers-by. The proceeds were expended on a supper, while faggots and brooms were piled around the pole, and the stack converted into a bonfire, after which the rival bands would stone each other throughout the night, leaving some dead upon the square. Savonarola stopped this disgraceful custom; the children used their poles with offertory-bags suspended to collect alms; and marched through the streets in thousands bearing crosses or olive-branches. These bands of hope were organised into a moral police. Gamblers fled at their approach; they freely tore veils, which they thought immodest, from girls' heads; no lady dared flaunt her finery in the street. They visited houses to collect materials for the great public bonfires, known as the Burning of the Vanities. This latter was no new custom; it had been a common practice with mission friars; so lately as 1493 Fra Bernardino of Feltre had made a bonfire of false hair and books against the faith. Savonarola's bonfires have become more celebrated, because they replaced the great public feasts, and the process of collection was more elaborate and inquisitorial. All the implements of gambling, false hair, indecent books and pictures, masks and amulets, scents and looking-glasses were cast into the flames. It is impossible to decide whether objects of permanent value were destroyed. Savonarola had some love for poetry and much for art; his denunciations against the realism of contemporary art referred usually to the introduction of portraiture or of nudities into sacred subjects, representations of which should be the picture-books by which to teach the young; among his devotees were several of the leading artists. On the other hand, there is a passage which urges the destruction of objects representing the pagan deities. Drawing from the life had lately been the chief novelty in the development of Florentine art; precisians could scarcely as yet accept this as a matter of course; it would not be surprising if among the indecencies were included scientific studies from the nude; two of Savonarola's artistic followers, Bartolommeo della Porta and Lorenzo di Credi, had, as is known, devoted themselves to the new study, and yet the examples that survive are extremely rare. In literature Burlamacchi, the Friar's biographer, speaks with delight of the destruction of Pulci and Boccaccio; and this sacrifice Savonarola's own sermons might lead us to think possible. The idea of the dances was perhaps derived from the well-known pictures of the Dominican artist, Fra Angelico. Three rings of dancers, novices with boys, young friars with young laymen, priests with aged citizens, tripped it round the square with garlands on their heads. Folly, Savonarola preached, had its proper seasons; had not David danced before the ark? There was in this some fantastic exaggeration which did the cause of righteousness no good; all Italy laughed, and this was a pity, for the Florentines were of all Italians the most sensitive; they were too clever to bear ridicule.
No one has questioned the moral transformation wrought by Savonarola. For many, no doubt, it was the beginning of a new life; many resisted the disillusion caused by the tragic circumstances of his end. Nevertheless in a city, where individual liberty was highly prized, the methods of transformation were not always welcome. Street urchins are no trained judges as to what luxuries are meet food for flames; it is not surprising that young bloods jostled the boys in their processions, and threw their crosses into the river. The savage penalties proposed for gambling affected a large proportion of the citizens; the very suggestion that slaves, who turned informers, should be liberated by the State, disturbed the peace of many a fairly decent household. All satirists and reformers believe that their own is an age of decadence, that luxury and vice are the mushroom growth of their own short day. Had Savonarola read his Dante, he would have found his own invectives applied to the golden age of Florence. The effective scene-painting of sin had been the task of generations of mission-friars. But in Savonarola's character there had been from childhood an element that was at once morbid and quixotic. His early isolation from his fellows, his vivid imagination, his premature and phenomenal horror of sin, his knowledge of the world through the confessional, all caused him to exaggerate the wickedness of his time. There was, moreover, in the religious exaltation of Florence an element of hysteria. The oft-repeated statement, that Savonarola broke up families by encouraging married women to enter nunneries, rests upon a single passage in a Mantuan ambassador's report, which has been strangely misunderstood. But it would seem true that women would rush at night to the Cathedral to struggle with the Friar's opponents, and that they saw in him the true light that was to come into the world. At the convent of Santa Lucia there was an epidemic of religious mania among nuns of good family; even Savonarola on his trial laughed at the memory of one who snatched away his crucifix and so belaboured him that he could scarce escape her clutches. At San Marco there was a case of hysteric epilepsy, while there can be small question that the fantastic visions of the somnambulist Fr& Silvestro obscured, as time went on, the sounder sense of Savonarola himself.
A not unnatural reaction against the new puritanism showed itself, whenever Savonarola temporarily withdrew or lost his influence. Then the gambling-hells, the taverns, the brothels drove a roaring trade; and Savonarola's death was followed by scenes of profanity such as Florence had never before witnessed. It was a necessary result of the fusion of ethics and politics that the reformer regarded opposition to his political views as involving sin. Thus the dividing line in politics produced cleavage in morals and religion, and vice versa. Serious political opponents became confused with men of pleasure, and, indeed, scents and silks and sin were too apt to be the outward signs of the party loyalty of the Arrabbiati. Florence on a small scale prefigured our own Commonwealth and its results.
Although Savonarola seemed for a time all-powerful, yet from the first there were elements of opposition. Florence had been saved from bloodshed but not from discord; as the chemist Landucci put it, "some would have it roast and others liked it boiled"; there were those who muttered, "this dirty friar is bringing us to grief." Parties began to shape themselves. It was scarcely a conflict of class against class, though as yet Savonarola could usually rely upon the middle, and, perhaps, upon the lower classes. Most of the aristocrats who had been instrumental in Piero's expulsion were opposed to the Friar who had robbed them of their reward. Less moderate than their leader Piero Capponi were the Nerli, the Pazzi, the younger line of Medici, and the clever lawyer Vespucci, the more pronounced of whom were nicknamed Arrabbiati. But Francesco Valori, a leading member of the Twenty, after some hesitation became the recognised head of the Savonarolists, who were christened Piagnoni (snivellers) or Colletorti (wry-necks). They could boast of other members of good family, who before or afterwards played leading parts. Such were Paol' Antonio Soderini, Giovanni Battista Ridolfi, Luca Albizzi, Alamanno and Jacopo Salviati, and Piero Guicci-ardini, the historian's father. The remnants of the Medicean party lay low, thankful to have escaped with a sound skin, or attached themselves to the other groups. The Savonarolist party, writes Parenti, included many Mediceans who had owed their lives to him; and it was a common accusation against the Friar that he was a secret adherent of the Medici.
Family solidarity was the most permanent feature of Florentine life, yet so intense was the excitement that families were riven asunder, father standing against son and brother against brother; the Ridolfi, the Salviati, the Soderini were divided. It was said, indeed, that Paol' Antonio Soderini made the family fortunes safe by inducing his son to join the Compagnacci, a dining club of young bloods and swashbucklers irreconcilable to reform. The line of demarcation was as much ethical as political. Guicciardini has admirably analysed the parties: behind Capponi were ranged aristocrats who hated popular government, sceptics who disbelieved in prophecy, libertines who feared molestation in their pleasures, devotees of the Franciscans and other Orders. Against these Valori led an equally heterogeneous force; serious men who believed in Savonarola's prophecies or welcomed his good works, hypocrites who drew a mantle of sanctity round secret sin, worldlings whose avenue to popularity and office lay through the stronger party. The outward test was foreign policy. Here the line was hard and fast. The Plagnoni steadfastly looked to France for terrestrial salvation. The Arrabbiati, in the phrase of the Spanish Pope and the Austrian Maximilian, would be "good Italians'"; they would join the Italian League and close the Peninsula to the foreigner; they courted the Pope and the Duke of Milan, whose ambassador Somenzi became the receptacle or the source of all the scandal and intrigue against the Friar. It was certain that sooner or later foreign politics would help to decide the issue. All depended on the realisation of prophecies as to the recovery of Pisa. Florence could not permanently remain in isolation. Prophecy, unfortified by French aid, would prove a stimulant with inevitable reaction.
If Savonarola, in Machiavelli's words, was an unarmed prophet, the chosen city was a weak military State. The rebellion of Pisa tasked her whole strength for many years to come. When Charles VIII retired from Naples, Savonarola met him on the Florentine frontier at Poggibonsi (June, 1495),—and this on no public mission, but as one directly inspired by God. The King was threatened with the condign punishment of heaven if he did not behave honestly towards Florence. The prophecy seemed to receive fulfilment in the death of the King's children, but this was slight consolation to the injured town. Charles, indeed, avoided Florence, but he demanded the third instalment of his subsidy, and dismissed the prophet with vague promises. Indignation was already expressed against the folly of clinging to France at the instigation of a "foreign Friar." "Believe now in your Friar," men cried, "who declared that he held Pisa in his fist!" No sooner had Charles left Italy, than the French commandants, corrupt and insubordinate, sold the fortress of Pisa to its inhabitants, and Lorenzo de1 Medici's conquests, Sarzana and Pietra Santa, to the Genoese and Lucchese respectively. Beaumont, governor of Leghorn, alone restored his charge. Thus Florence had lost her seaboard from the mouth of the Magra to the Pisan marshes, while the natural road northwards was blocked by unfriendly States. Nor was this all; in the far south Montepulciano revolted to Siena, whilst beyond the Apennines the protectorate of Faenza was abandoned and control lost of the well-worn route to the Adriatic by the Val di Lamone. On the tableland of the Mugello, in the mountain basin of the Casentino, in the subject city of Arezzo and all down the Chiana valley, Florence had to fear a revival of local autonomy or lingering attachment to the Medici. From furthest North to extremest South, from the Pisan littoral to the backbone of the Apennines, the State was threatened with disintegration. The League, which in March, 1495, had been formed against the French, took Pisa under its protectorate; Ludovico il Moro, indeed, soon withdrew his troops; he had no wish to exasperate the Florentines. His aim was the erection of an oligarchy which would re-connect the chain of Florentine-Milanese alliance, snapped by Piero. But Venice had come to stay. By her settlements in Romagna and Apulia she was making the Adriatic a mare clausum; Pisa should be a stepping-stone to the monopoly of the Tuscan Gulf.
The Pisan volunteers were now stiffened by the seasoned mercenaries of Venice, whose trained engineers strengthened the defences which her artillery could arm. Her incomparable Stradiot light-horse, swimming rivers and treating mountain watercourses as highroads, pushed far into Florentine territory, raided down the line of the modern railway towards Volterra, wasted the rich corn-lands of the Elsa, threaded the intricate hill country towards the Nievole, endangering Florentine communications with Pistoia. In 1509 their ubiquity was to be the bugbear of the finest French and Imperial troops; it is small wonder that they caused embarrassment to the inexperienced Florentines. Pisa controlled a large territory; she was protected to west and south by stagnant side-channels of the Arno and miasmatic marshes; to east and north-east lay a mass of tumbling hills. The Pisan peasantry fought desperately, and every hill-village became a fortress. Pisa could not be starved, for the sea was open to Genoese and Corsican cornfactors; Lucca afforded a ready market for the sale of Pisan property; through Lucchese and Pisan hills wound convoys, whose local knowledge enabled them to baffle the vigilance, or utilise the somnolence, of the Florentine condottieri.
Savonarola staked the truth of his inspiration on the recovery of Pisa; all that Florence had lost should be restored, and much that she had never possessed should be her prize. The prophet's reputation would necessarily rise or fall with every turn in the Pisan war. Amid all the new-born enthusiasm for liberty at Florence there was no sympathy for the Pisans, who so bravely asserted theirs. Sympathetic as Savonarola was by nature, while he had not been born to a share in the old Florentine hatreds, not a word escaped his lips on behalf of the revolted town. Towards the close of the war Florentines of the upper classes felt for the ruined peasantry and the women and children a pity which they scarcely dared express; but, when at this earlier stage a solitary canon of the Cathedral asserted that Pisa had a right to liberty, he was severely punished by the Piagnone government. The idea of liberty stretched but a yard beyond the four quarters of Florence, and even there its currency was conditional on its being stamped with the hallmark of her guilds; in the new constitution no reforms bettered the condition of her extensive territory.
Charles VIII had left Italy never to return, but the autumn of 1496 witnessed another flying royal visit. The King of the Romans had been induced by Milan and Venice to enter Italy in favour of the League. He came, however, as little more than Ludovico Moro's condottiere; he had few troops and less money; "he had sailed," as the saying went, "with a short supply of biscuit in his galley." His wider schemes shrank to the relief of Pisa. In welcoming a King of the Romans the Pisans felt a glow of their old Ghibelline enthusiasm. They had thrown the Florentine lion from their bridge into the Arno, and a statue of Charles VIII was reigning in its place; they now served the French king as they had served the lion. From Pisa Maximilian sailed to take Leghorn; its capture must have sealed the fate of Florence, for it was her last port, the last gate open to her French allies. But Leghorn was stoutly held. From the village of Impruneta was brought to Florence the sacred figure of the Madonna, and, as it reached the Ponte Vecchio, a horseman brought the news that a storm had scattered Maximilian's ships, and that a French squadron with supplies had broken the blockade. To Florentine imagination, kept at fever-heat by prophecy, this seemed a miracle wrought by Savonarola's intercession; and the belief became a certainty, when it transpired that the French had left Marseilles on the very day on which the Florentines had sent to Impruneta. The French alliance recovered its popularity; Maximilian hurried back to Tyrol, leaving Italy to wonder or to laugh.
Savonarola's fame was doubled by the salvation of Leghorn, and the close of the year 1496 was perhaps its zenith. In the previous spring a group of aristocrats of secondary importance had formed an electoral ring to reject all opposition candidates. This in Florence was a criminal offence; they were condemned by the Eight, and appealed to the Council without success, while their leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment. Then died Piero Capponi, shot before a paltry fortress in the Pisan hills. So fierce was faction that the people rejoiced at Capponi's death. Yet he was the hero of 1494, a passionate champion against French and Medici, the most, perhaps the only, capable soldier and statesman in the city. Nor was he an uncompromising opponent; he had cooperated with Savonarola in saving the Mediceans, and his attitude towards the Friar had not been consistently unfriendly. But marked character and high ambitions the Florentine love of equality could not brook; the ideal was a citizen who did everything that he was asked to do, and nothing very ill or very well.
Capponi's death disorganised his party, and the year closed with triumph for the Piagnoni, for Francesco Valori was elected Gonfalonier for January, 1497. In the long run Valori's leadership was no blessing to his party, but as yet he was the people's darling. One of the few citizens above suspicion of corruption, he was devoted heart and soul to the service of the State. He had no children; his leadership could not found a dynasty. It mattered little to humbler citizens that he was violent and eccentric, that his tongue was biting and abusive, and his temper impatient of contradiction; inasmuch as the victims of these qualities were their opponents. Valori used his two months of office without stint or scruple in the Piagnone cause. None but Valori's partisans were elected to salaried offices, or allowed to address the Council; every measure prepared by the Valori group must pass, however unpalatable to the public. The malcontents who had not paid their taxes were excluded from the Council; the age-limit was lowered to twenty-four in the hope that younger men, who had not tasted the loaves and fishes of the Medici, would favour the righteous cause. Many of the Franciscans who had preached against Savonarola were summarily expelled. Severe penalties were imposed upon priests and gentry who should hold intercourse with the Cardinal de1 Medici at Rome.
Valori overshot his mark. Under the existing system of election the composition of the Signoria would immediately reflect the current of opinion in the Council, and from the close of Valori's term of office there were unmistakable signs of reaction. His successor was Bernardo del Nero, who had succeeded Capponi in the leadership of the aristocrats. This had a peculiar significance, for Bernardo was a veteran Medicean, opposed indeed to Piero's methods, but devoted to the house. The leaders of the Bigi had been regarded with as much hostility by the Arrabbiatl as by the populace; but on Capponi's death the former, having no chief equal in talent to Valori, had turned to Bernardo. The union was still very far from complete, but it was a symptom that the oligarchy might be driven back to the monarchy for shelter against the people. Valori's character and conduct, which even alienated other Savonarolist leaders, had not, perhaps, been the only cause of the reaction. Pisa seemed as far as ever from recapture; the last French troops were leaving Italy; pitiless rain had fallen for eleven months, and the harvest of 1496 had been a total failure. In the early months of 1497 people dropped dead of famine in the very streets. The government did its best to supply grain to the poor; but once and again women were crushed to death in the throng that besieged the relief-office. Plague trod on the heels of famine. Savonarola's sanguine prophecies seemed a mockery to the poor. The rest of Italy, he repeated, would be scourged, but Florence, the elected city, would be saved. Now that the barbarian had retired, Italy had resumed her normal aspect; the Pope and the tyrants were enjoying their escape; only Florence had suffered from the flood, only Florence was shorn and starving.
The ruling classes, whether Arrabbiati or Piagnoni, were so occupied by faction that they forgot the possibility of a Medicean revival. There was no Medicean party, no appreciable number who would actively move in Piero's favour; but while the upper classes resented Valori's drastic methods, the poor were saying that under the Medici they had been better off. The hospitable house of the genial Cardinal was open to all Florentines who visited Rome on business or for pleasure; Valori had failed to check this practice, which slowly but surely sapped the republicanism of the aristocracy. A handful of citizens believed that they could work upon the general discontent, and invited Fra Mariano, the Augustinian, to Florence to preach against Savonarola and to act as intermediary between Piero and his friends. The conspirators relied upon the support of the League. Ludovico il Moro indeed drew back, feeling that there could be no sure friendship between himself and Piero. Venice however gave support, in the hope of procuring the cession of Pisa. Piero, sanguine as all exiles are, believed that indefinite discontent with the republic implied definite loyalty towards himself, and with some 1300 troops, led by the Orsini captain Alviano, moved from Siena upon Florence; but for heavy rain he might have surprised the Porta Romana at early dawn (April 29, 1497). Bernardo's term of office was just closing, and the new Signoria was hurriedly elected as being more trustworthy. The reported Medicean partisans jwere secured in the Palazzo Puhblico, the gates were guarded, the condottieri set in motion. Piero, hearing no rumours of a rising, retired upon Siena. No favour had been shown to the Medici, but few obeyed the order to join their companies; only the personal enemies of Piero took up arms, and that when he was already retreating. The citizens at large were too indifferent to risk their interests, when either aristocrats or Medici might prove victorious.
The Signoria for May and June, 1497, contained a majority of Arrab-biati; and Savonarola's position became critical. Under pretext of the plague, it forbade preaching in the Cathedral after Ascension day. The Compagnacci were gaining courage; they openly wagered that Savonarola should not preach the Ascension sermon. In the night they befouled the cathedral pulpit. Savonarola, undeterred, began to preach, when one of his enemies dashed a heavy alms-box to the ground. Amid cries of "Jesu, Jesu!" the terrified congregation rushed to the doors, while the Compagnacci shouted and hammered on the desks. The brawlers, including two members of the Eight, the very Ministry of Justice, made for the preacher, but were beaten off. At length the Piagnoni, returning with arms, escorted Savonarola to San Marco; but the convent was now from time to time surrounded by a howling mob. The Piagnoni and Arrabbiati boys stoned each other in the streets, and even an ex-Gonfalonier forgot his dignity, and became again a boy and stone-thrower. The Gonfalonier took advantage of the scandal to propose the Friar's dismissal as the only means of healing these passionate dissensions. The proposal was lost by a single vote; for five of the Signoria were for, and four against, and a majority of two-thirds was requisite. The government had a heavy responsibility to face; there was no police force which could control the Compagnacci; unless Savonarola could be silenced, civil war seemed certain.
Silence was soon imposed, not, indeed, from Florence but from Rome. In June arrived the brief of excommunication, which Savonarola at first obeyed. Other circumstances contributed to lull the popular excitement. The plague was raging; all who had the means left the city, and the younger Dominicans were sent to the hill convents. Either the violence of the Compagnacci or resentment at papal interference turned the tide of feeling. The Signorle until the close of 1497 were favourable to Savonarola, while public attention was diverted to an incident in which he had no direct part. Piero's attempt on Florence had been a farce, but its sequel was a tragedy. In August a disappointed Medicean agent, Lamberto della Antella, disclosed the details of the plot. Several leading citizens were arrested and others fled. It was proved that Bernardo del Nero, though Gonfalonier, was privy to the plot, together with at least two members of his Signorla, one of whom, Battista Serristori, was, curiously enough, a pronounced Savonarolist. The issue finally narrowed itself to the fate of five citizens, whose position well illustrates the composition of the Bigi. Bernardo had not, perhaps, favoured the conspiracy; he would have preferred an oligarchy with the younger line of Medici at its head; but he had information of the plot and would not betray his close associates. The soul of the attempt was Lorenzo Tornabuoni, a young man of thirty-two, the darling of Florentine society. Closely related to the Medici, he was well-nigh ruined by the revolution, but above all feared the apparently inevitable oligarchy; for he had been chief among the dandies who had been the personal rivals of Piero de' Medici's cousins. Of the others Niccolo Ridolfi was father-in-law to Piero's sister, and hoped for high position under a Restoration: Giannozzo Pucci belonged to the parvenu family in which the Medici had long found their cleverest and least scrupulous supporters: Giovanni Cambi was ruined by the Pisan war, for he had speculated in the Medicean syndicate for the development of land near Pisa. Money had been supplied by Lucrezia Salviati, Piero's sister, who frankly confessed that she wished her brother back.
The executive in Florence was notoriously timid in punishing criminals of high family; the term of office was so short that vengeance might speedily overtake the judge. Both Slgnoria and Eight hesitated to sentence the conspirators, and threw the responsibility on a large Pratica. Here opinion was almost unanimous in favour of death, and sentence was duly passed; whereon the friends of the accused demanded the right of appeal to the Council. The Signoria was divided, and once more referred the question to a Pratica, This meeting, with less unanimity than before, reported that delay was dangerous and that the safety of the State demanded a refusal of the appeal. Five of the Priors refused to break the law, but were threatened with personal violence by members of the Pratica. Valori, thumping the ballot box on the table, swore that either he or the prisoners should die, while Carlo Strozzi took Piero Guicciardini round the waist and tried to throw him from the window. Two of the five Priors were intimidated, and thus the appeal was rejected by six beans, Guicciardini and two colleagues courageously protesting to the end. On the same evening the sentenced men were executed.
The appeal would certainly have failed; it was merely a forlorn expedient to catch at the chances which time might offer. Yet when popular passion had cooled, men reflected that a fundamental law of the new constitution had on the supreme question of life or death been broken, and this threw discredit upon those concerned. It had hardly been a party issue. Valori and his Savonarolist followers shared the attack with aristocrats who had reason to fear Piero's restoration. For the defence Vespucci and the Nerli were most active because they regarded Bernardo as their party leader. Others were moved by friendship or relationship or the fear of giving the people a taste for blood. Piero Guicciardini, who throughout was opposed to extreme measures, was a moderate Savonarolist, and both the Priors for the Lesser Arts originally supported him. Two Savonarolist diarists, Landucci and Cambi, regard the sentence as cruel, and the historian Guicciardini condemns the refusal of appeal. Of Savonarola's attitude nothing certain is known; he was under excommunication, and not at this time preaching. After Piero's fall his entreaties had saved these very citizens; the law of appeal was universally regarded as his peculiar work. In the course of his own trial he confessed that he should have preferred Bernardo's exile; that he had recommended Lorenzo Tornabuoni to Valori, but in cold terms such as he was not wont to use when he wished his requests fulfilled.
A revulsion in public sympathy was only natural. Ordinary citizens had from the first resented the application of torture to the best blood of Florence. The well-known figure of the bright young Tornabuoni was soon missed; men remembered the brilliant marriage-feast, when he had led home the pride of Florence, the beautiful Giovanna d' Albizzi. The loss of territory and trade, the famine, the faction, the ferocity of the new republic were contrasted with what men began to call the joyous times before 1494. The responsibility for the judicial crime was fixed upon Valori; he desired, it was said, to lord it over the Council,, and he struck down Bernardo del Nero because he alone was sufficiently able to withstand him. He would, indeed, gladly have saved Tornabuoni; but then his own rival would have escaped. The practice of old Roman proscription had prevailed-friends must be sacrificed that enemies might die. Meanwhile Valori alone profited; until the close of 1497 his will was law. Lorenzo de1 Medici had been called a tyrant because, after his brother's murder, the State had voted him an escort of outriders. The dominant republican party now established a standing guard in the Piazza to protect itself, and there it stayed until Savonarola's death.
Henceforth the interest of Savonarola's career is rather ecclesiastical than political; the attack upon him is directed not from Florence but from Rome. Nevertheless the scourge which was manufactured in the Vatican was composed of several strands,—strands social and constitutional, moral and religious, personal and political,—all twisting in and out in the rope-walk of Italian diplomacy. Alexander VI has rightly left so terrible a repute that every act of his is exposed to a sinister interpretation. He had, perhaps, no positive virtues, but he was not entirely a conglomerate of vices. Abstemious in meat and drink, he had an equable temper; a healthy animal, he was not irritated by personalities; scandal has few terrors for those who habitually live in sin. Alexander was not cruel, if his immediate gratification were not concerned; in his official duties he had been regular and hardworking; he possessed a perfect knowledge of the etiquette and business of the Vatican, nor were the ecclesiastical interests of the Christian world neglected. It would be rash to assume that Alexander VI was actuated by personal hostility to Savonarola, although such hostility would have been only human. Under the zealous Popes of the Catholic Revival Savonarola would have met with less consideration, had their ideas and his been found in conflict.
Alexander VI was fully conscious that he would not a second time escape so lightly from the consequences of a French invasion. His personal enemy, Cardinal della Rovere, was influential at the French Court and, together with Cardinal Brissonet, would gladly make the Pope's simoniacal election a pretext for his deposition. He was thus the natural ally of Ludovico il Moro, who had everything to fear from French vengeance; the Duke's brother, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, was still the leading figure at the Vatican. The refusal of Florence to abandon the French alliance and join the Italian League kept the peninsula in a condition of nervous agitation; it was known that Savonarola's party looked forward to a new invasion; it was guessed that he was himself corresponding with the French Court. Thus the Medici plots were hatched at Rome, but the Pope had no special interest in the Medici. Ludovico, as has been seen, was definitely opposed to a Medicean restoration. Alexander VI, on the other hand, would use the Medici, as he would use any other instrument, to embarrass a government which was a standing danger to himself, although it might be impolitic needlessly to exasperate the Republic, for this might only hasten an invasion.
Savonarola's relations to the Pope have hitherto been left unnoticed, because until the summer of 1497 they had little effect upon his action. They had opened with the brief of July 21, 1495, which summoned the Friar to Rome, and they reached a climax in the brief of excommunication. The points of attack were the alleged gift of prophecy, the public invectives against Rome which brought the Papacy into contempt, "and the artifices by which the separation of the Tuscan Congregation had been obtained. Savonarola defended himself point by point with great ability. He excused himself from visiting Rome on the plea of weak health, which was forcing him to abandon the pulpit, and of the danger from Milanese assassins on the road. He submitted his doctrines to the judgment of the Church, referring the Pope to his Compendium Revelationum for his defence of prophecy; his Holiness, he constantly repeated, had been deceived by the slanders of his enemies. Alexander vacillated; he was pressed on the one side by Ludovico il Moro and the Friar's Florentine enemies, on the other by the government and by the several Florentine envoys, all personally devoted to Savonarola. He was perhaps genuinely unwilling to take a decisive step against one whose holiness he respected; for sinners are not unable to value saints. In September, 1495, he adopted an obvious method of removing the Dominican from Florence by re-uniting the Tuscan to the Lombard Congregation. In answer to Savonarola's remonstrances he abandoned this intention, but in November, 1496, he ordered the union of all the Tuscan Dominican convents under a new Tusco-Roman Congregation. Even this brief contained no patent evidence of hostility. The papal consent to the independence of the Tuscan Congregation had been won almost by a trick; the Congregation had not proved an entire success, owing to the resistance of the larger Tuscan towns; even the union of the convent at Prato had only just been effected, and not without difficulty. The smallness of the Congregation virtually confined Savonarola's ministrations to Florence, which was most unusual. No previous hostility existed between the Roman and Tuscan Dominicans, like that which animated the latter against their Brethren of Lombardy; the new Vicar-General, the General, and the Protector of the Order were all of them Savonarola's friends. The Roman authorities might reasonably have doubted whether his temporary withdrawal from the city would prove an unmixed evil, either for Florence or for himself.
To this brief Savonarola's reply from the pulpit was almost a declaration of war. For he hinted not obscurely, that there were limits to obedience; that if a brief of excommunication were brought into the city on a spear-head he should know how to reply; and that his answer would make many a face turn pale. His Apology of the Brethren of San Marco was a formal appeal from the Pope to the public. Yet of Savonarola's resistance Alexander took little notice, until he felt assured that there were signs of a reaction within Florence. Then, he launched his brief of excommunication, which was solemnly read between lighted torches in the Florentine churches on the evening of June 18, 1497. To the clauses of the brief which condemned Savonarola for disobedience in not visiting Rome and for doctrinal heterodoxy, he could readily reply that his excuses had been accepted, and that his doctrines had been submitted to the judgment of the Church; in further proof of his orthodoxy he now coiyposed his most elaborate work, the Triumphus Crticis, a noble tract on which his reputation as a theological writer mainly rests. The gist, however, of the brief was the Friar's resistance to the Tusco-Roman Congregation, to which charge a reply was not so easy. If the Pope possessed the power to separate the Tuscan from the Lombard Congregation, in spite of the protests of the latter, he could clearly unite the Tuscan to the Roman. But Savonarola was not daunted; in letters addressed to the public he opposed a non volumus in the form of a non possumus, protesting that it was not in his power to compel his Brethren, and that they were fully justified in their resistance. His answer implied that the Pope had no powers in such a matter of discipline, if his command were contrary to the wish of those affected; he forgot that in 1493 the union of St Catherine's at Pisa with his own Congregation had been effected against the declared wish of the great majority of the Brethren.
The brief after all seemed likely to fall harmless. It was doubtful how far the Pope was yet in earnest; more than a month had elapsed between the dating and the publication of the sentence. On June 14 occurred the mysterious murder of the Duke of Gandia. Alexander, in his passionate grief and remorse, initiated a project of reform such as Savonarola would have welcomed. It was a moment of strange concessions. The excommunicated man wrote a letter of condolence on the death of the Pope's bastard, tenderly urging him to lead a new life, while Alexander assured the Florentine ambassador that the publication of the brief had never been intended; the belief was current that he would willingly withdraw it, if only the Friar would come to Rome. From July, 1497, onwards until the spring the Florentine government and its envoys pleaded ceaselessly for pardon. Testimonials of the Prior's orthodoxy were forwarded by the Brethren of San Marco and by five hundred leading citizens; Savonarola himself in October addressed a humble letter to the Pope praying for reconciliation. For six months he never preached; the excitement both at Rome and Florence had subsided.
On Christmas day Savonarola committed his first act of open disobedience. He celebrated mass at San Marco, and then led a solemn procession round the square. This act scandalised many zealous supporters; but from Rome it provoked no violent protest. The Pope's interest was political; he would withdraw his brief for an equivalent- the adhesion of Florence to the League. On February 11,1498, Savonarola broke silence. He preached in San Marco on the invalidity of the excommunication, declaring that whosoever believed in its validity was a heretic: that the righteous prince or good priest was merely an instrument of God for the people's government, but that, when grace was withdrawn, he was no instrument but broken iron: that if any Pope had spoken against charity he too was broken iron. "If, O Lord," he cried, "I should seek to be absolved from this excommunication, let me be sent to hell; I should shrink from seeking absolution as from mortal sin." This sermon contains a summary of his correspondence with the Pope; Alexander, he concludes, resembled a podesta of Brescia who always agreed with the last speaker; he was like the king at chess, who moved backwards and forwards from square to square whenever check was called.
These utterances, followed by others fully as audacious, forced Alexander to a resolution. He demanded, under pain of interdict, that either the government must place Savonarola in his custody, subject to a promise that he should not be hurt, or at least confine him to his convent and prevent his preaching. The envoys assured the Signoria that the Pope was now in earnest, and after much debate Savonarola was ordered not to preach. On receiving this decision, the Friar preached his farewell sermon; he was willing to obey the State, for he could not force virtue upon the city against its will. This sermon contained his fiercest diatribe against the Roman Court; none could misunderstand the allusions to Alexander's concubines and children. It was time now, cried the preacher, to appeal from the Pope to Christ; the Power ecclesiastic was ruining the Church, it was therefore no longer Power ecclesiastic, but Power infernal, Power of Satan. Henceforth, if Savonarola was silent, he was not idle. In his seclusion he prepared an appeal to a General Council, and drafted letters calling upon the European princes to depose the Pope, who was no Pope, for his election was simoniacal, he was a heretic and unbeliever, since he disbelieved in the existence of God- the deepest depth of unbelief. Had his cause been as strong in Florence as of yore, had succeeding Signorie been as bold as that of January, 1498, a formal Schism must have followed; and who can say that the revolt would have been limited to Florence, or that it would not have overstepped the frontier of discipline and doctrine? But the issue was to be decided by internal rather than by external politics, and the final conflict was provoked by circumstances almost accidental.
Savonarola's brethren were still preaching, and perhaps exaggerating, the apocalyptic features of his doctrine. From prophecy to miracle was but a step; an appeal to supernatural agency became almost a form of speech; it was boldly asserted that miracle, if necessary, would support prophecy. At length, on March 25, 1498, a Franciscan in Santa Croce threw down the challenge; he would pass through fire if Savonarola would do likewise: he knew that he should himself be burnt, but the Dominican would also perish, and the people would be freed from its delusion. Savonarola was averse to forcing a miracle from God; the Court of Rome expressed its abhorrence at this tempting of the Divine Power. The government, however, yielded to popular clamour; it was willing to clutch at any remedy for the civil conflict, which was wasting the life of Florence. Above all the Piagnoni were eager for the ordeal; the more zealous offered to enter the fire in full reliance on a miracle, while those who wavered thought that the prophet's success would render his cause triumphant or his failure justify secession.
Neither Savonarola nor the Franciscan challenger, Francesco da Puglia, were the champions of their Orders. Domenico da Pescia, Savonarola's right hand, represented the Dominicans, and Fra Ron-dinelli the Franciscans. The painful tale of the ordeal is too well known to bear retelling in detail. The Franciscans were gathered in the Loggia, and the huge pile was laid in the great Piazza, when the Dominicans entered in procession, two by two, amid lines of torch-bearers, followed by Fra Domenico bearing the Host, and his Prior bearing the Crucifix. Their chant "Let God arise and let his enemies be scattered" was caught up by the faithful on every side. The square was free but for the armed bands of the government, and the groups of the leading supporters of each party; but every window and every roof was dark with eager onlookers, hungering for miracles or horrors. Then followed the unseemly wrangles between the Orders, Franciscans insisting that Fra Domenico must be stripped of his robes for fear they should be enchanted, Dominicans refusing to send their champion to the flames without the Host. Then came the drenching thunderstorm, and their wrangles again till eventide, when the Signoria dismissed the Friars to their convents. The Dominican procession reached San Marco amid the yells and threats of a disappointed mob.
The populace, long wavering, had made up its mind. Some were angry at their own credulity, others at the proposal to endanger the Holy Sacrament. Many were disgusted at losing a spectacle for which they had waited wet and weary; others had hoped that the Dominican's death by fire would purify the State from faction. Savonarola preached to his disciples that he had won the victory; but in their hearts they doubted it, for they gathered to defend the convent in expectation of an onslaught. This was not slow in coming. On the following day, Palm Sunday, the Compagnacd shouted down a Dominican preacher in the Cathedral, and amid cries of "To San Marco" led the mob against the convent. Valori escaped to rally adherents round his palace and to attack the enemy from without. But the assailants were too quick; Valori reached his house with difficulty and hid himself; his wife, looking from an upper window, was killed by a cross-bow. Then came officials of the Signoria and took him from his hiding-place towards the Palazzo. The weak escort was overpowered; a Ridolfi and a Tornabuoni hacked the Piagnone leader down, in vengeance for their relation's death, and so the greatest citizen in Florence died unshriven in the street. Meanwhile San Marco was gallantly defended. The bell was tolling to rally the Piagnoni, who, however, were isolated in the churches or in their houses in blank dismay. Women were gathered in the nave in prayer, while Savonarola stood before the altar, Sacrament in hand, with his novices around him, expecting martyrdom, for the convent doors were burnt and the enemies crowding in. It was high time that the Signoria should interfere in the cause of order. All lay citizens were commanded on their allegiance to leave the convent within an hour. Further resistance was hopeless. Savonarola and Fra Domenico surrendered under promise of safe conduct. For the last time the Prior gathered the Brethren in the library, and besought them to abide in faith, in prayer, in patience. The officers led their prisoners out into the street, and thence to the Palace, through the surging, howling ,mob, spitting, kicking and striking at its victims. On the following day Fra Silvestro left his hiding-place and was given up.
From the moment of Savonarola's arrest, his execution became a necessity of State; nothing else would satisfy the people, who would otherwise have clamoured for a proscription of his party; nothing else would have healed the divisions among the governing class. The religious strife had not only cleft the city in twain; it was making her alliance worthless to any foreign power. The news" of Charles VIII's death had arrived, it seemed certain that Pisa could only be recovered through the League, and this would give no aid while Savonarola thundered from the pulpit against the Pope. Exile was an alternative to death, but exile would have removed the danger to a foreign and almost necessarily hostile State; the Piagnoni would never rest, while there was a possibility of their leader's return. The Pope at once urged the transference of the prisoner to Rome; the government, as a reward for silencing the prophet, pressed for a tithe upon the clergy for the Pisan war. Florentine independence declined to play the sheriff's officer for Rome, and Savonarola's extradition was refused; as a compromise the Pope sent commissioners to aid in his examination.
The trial of the three Friars lasted from April 9 until May 22. Their depositions and those of other citizens are not necessarily worthless, because they were extracted under torture. Torture was invariably applied, and such a view would invalidate, for instance, the whole of the evidence on which the Medicean conspirators were condemned. Savonarola was, however, a bad subject. His nervous, highly-strung constitution, weakened by asceticism and anxiety, shrank from physical pain. Though never abandoning his duty, he had always been haunted by the fear of personal violence; he frequently referred to his providential escapes from the poison or the dagger of Ludovico il Moro, although successive governments devoted to the Friar never contrived to arrest one of these Milanese agents, with whom he believed Florence to be teeming. The prosecution admitted that Savonarola retracted the confessions made under torture, and these retractations are set down in black and white. Not all of the Florentine Commission were pronounced enemies; and of the two Papal Commissioners, the General of the Dominicans, Turriani, had, until Savonarola's final act of disobedience, been his consistent friend. More difficult is the question of the additions, alterations, and omissions attributed to the notary Ser Ceccone, a renegade; although, had this "editing" been absolutely unscrupulous, the confessions of the accused would have been more compromising. The depositions of Fra Domenico, whether in their original form or in the official copy, bear out the general authenticity of the evidence, as do even those of the hysterical somnambulist Fra Silvestro, who was believed by many to be more knave than fool, and with whom, it was suspected, the less scrupulous leaders of the Piagnom conducted their political correspondence.
The Florentine commissioners directed the examination mainly to the gift of prophecy and political relations. It was essential to extort from Savonarola a denial of his prophecies; for nothing would so effectually alienate the large numbers who still silently clung to him. At first he stoutly asserted the divine origin of his gift, but under the strain of torture he broke down, and henceforth his answers were contradictory or confused. He was perhaps at war within himself on this mysterious subject, on which even his pulpit utterances are not consistent; in his agony of mind he now cried out that the spirit of prophecy had departed from him. The prosecution represented him as admitting that his alleged gift was an imposture, the result of ambition, of the desire to be thought wise and holy. He strenuously denied that his prophecies were founded on confessions made to Fra Silvestro or himself. With regard to his interference in party politics the depositions of the three Friars were very colourless. It was the wish of the government to narrow the issue to San Marco, and not to mark leading citizens out for popular vengeance. Even those who were arrested and tortured were soon released. Not Savonarola's old aristocratic enemies, but the people were the most vindictive. Parenti, whose own opinions are typical of the changes in public feeling, affirms that, to satisfy the people and to save the heads of the Savonarola party, the government replaced four of the Friar's judges, who might possibly be too favourable to his cause. The aristocracy could escape a revolution only by his condemnation. Valori and his associates, it was confessed, frequently visited the convent, as did other believers high and low; the Friars had heard their visitors speak of the prospects of the coming elections; their prayers had been sometimes asked in the cause of righteousness, but there had been nothing in the nature of an electoral organisation. Savonarola clearly avowed that he had supported the popular government, but had not meddled with its workings. Both he and Fra Domenico mentioned their design for a life-Gonfalonier or Doge. Their thoughts had naturally turned to Valori, but his violent and eccentric character made them hesitate; the excellent Giovanni Battista Ridolfi had been mentioned, but his large family connexion might lead to the predominance of a single house; Savonarola had protested against the tendency to form an oligarchical ring within his party. In all this there was no implication of any political association, nothing to compel the Signoria to extend enquiry further.
On the arrival of the papal commissioners the examination turned on Savonarola's appeal to a General Council; it was conducted chiefly by the Spanish lawyer Romolino, Bishop of Ilerda. Savonarola confessed that, having no friend in Italy, he had turned to foreign princes, and especially to those of France and Spain: he hoped for the aid of Cardinals Brissonet and della Rovere, both enemies of the Borgia; Matthseus Lang, Maximilian's confidential adviser (afterwards Bishop of Gurk and Cardinal), had spoken ill of Alexander in the Friar's presence, while the scandals of the Curia were odious to the Spanish sovereigns who could influence the Cardinal of Lisbon. In vain the commissary pressed for evidence to implicate the Cardinal of Naples; for confessions extracted by torture were afterwards withdrawn. The victim declared that he had no wish to be Pope or Cardinal; his reward would be enough, if by his agency so glorious a work as the reform of the Church could be effected.
Extorted and garbled as they were, these depositions showed no proof, in Guicciardini's words, of any fault except ambition. And who can say that in his last agony Savonarola himself may not have been conscious of past ambition, of the parasite which clings most closely to monastic walls? Pride was the fault which from the first Alexander VI had fixed on his future enemy.
The result of the trial was less the condemnation of Savonarola than that of the popular government on which he had pinned his faith. It would be vain to seek under Medici or Albizzi so violent a strain on the constitution, so shameless a disregard for individual rights. It was pitiful that the free constitution, the panacea against tyranny, should have been guilty of the worst crime with which Florence can be charged. Of physical or political courage there was none, save in the small band which in the heat of fight had held the convent. Only a short time before, the Milanese ambassador had assured his master that Savonarola controlled the great majority of the town; yet now no Piagnone dared mention his prophet in the streets. The Eight and the Ten were known to have Savonarolist sympathies; in defiance of the most fundamental constitutional traditions, without even the pretence of a bafia, they were dismissed before their office had expired. There was no protest from these lawfully elected bodies, and none from the Council which had given them their commission. When the new Signoria was elected, the well-known Piagnoni were forcibly excluded; the qualification for office became cowardice or party hate. The Council itself suffered the garbled depositions to be read, and did not insist on the appearance of the accused, because a Signoria, notoriously hostile, stated that he was voluntarily absent from fear of stoning. In the Council and in the magistracies, Savonarola, as was afterwards proved, must have numbered hundreds of secret adherents. Yet one citizen only, Agnolo Niccolini, dared to suggest that death should be commuted for perpetual imprisonment, so that posterity might not lose the fruits of the invaluable works which Savonarola might write in prison. The Florentine constitution was still a sham; there was still no correspondence between real and nominal power; the mandatories of the people were swayed by a ferocious faction, as they had been swayed by a cool-headed dynasty. It is small wonder that the hybrid constitution withered in the first fierce heat; that when a few thousand famished Spaniards rushed the walls of Prato, two audacious youths dragged the chief magistrate of the Florentine Republic from the Palazzo Pubblico, and condescendingly gave him their escort to his home.
In the sentence pronounced on May 22, 1498, Church and State concurred. Savonarola and his companions were declared heretics and schismatics, because they had denied that Alexander was true Pope and had compassed his deposition; because they had distorted Scripture and had revealed the secrets of the confessional under the pretext that they were vouchsafed by visions. Against the State they had sinned in causing the useless expenditure of countless treasure and the death of many innocent citizens, and in keeping the city divided against herself. Unity between the city and the Pope was now complete; Florence obtained the grant of three-tenths of Church revenues; the price, observed the Piagnoni, of them that sold innocent blood was three times ten. Even to the three Friars Alexander sent his absolution. On the morrow came the end. Unfrocked and degraded by the Archbishops Suffragan, condemned as heretics and schismatics by the Papal Commissaries, Savonarola and his Brethren were handed over to the secular arm, the Eight, who passed the formal sentence. Led from the ringhiera along a raised platform to the scaffold, they were hanged from the gibbet, and when life was extinct the pile was lit. The boys of Florence stoned the bodies as they hung. Four years ago they had stoned Piero de' Medici; then, in an access of righteousness, they had stoned notorious sinners. Now they stoned their prophet, and lastly they were to stone to death his executioner. The bodies were cut down into the flames, the ashes carefully collected and thrown into the Arno. The Piazza had been thronged with onlookers, for whom barrels were broached and food provided at government expense. For the crowd it was a vast municipal picnic; the burning of the Friars replaced the burning of the Vanities, even as this had superseded the fireworks and pageants of the Medici.
The horror of the tragedy lies not only in the character of the victims, but in its contrast to the high civilisation of the city which destroyed them. From the rising and suppression of the Ciompi until the fall of Piero, that is, in more than a century, no notable act of violence had been witnessed, save when the Signoria hanged from the palace windows, red-handed, the Pazzi conspirators who had murdered Giuliano de' Medici in the Cathedral and attempted to storm the palace. The next four years saw first the arson and bloodshed which followed Piero's fall, then the irregular condemnation of five chief citizens; then, the storming of San Marco and the murder of Valori and his wife; and now the fever of political passion reached its climax in Savonarola's death. The republican experiment cost Florence very dear, alike in territory, blood and treasure.
The tragedy had become inevitable. It is never easy to screw up the moral standard of a people. Yet in Florence there was such a genuine and permanent element of what may almost be called puritanism that, had she stood by herself and enjoyed a period of profound peace Savonarola's system might have been partially successful. It would have needed, perhaps, no very professional knowledge to administer the State; the good man might have been not only the good citizen but the good ruler. The experiment was, however, tried at a crisis of peculiar complexity, when the elements of violence abroad and at home were unusually strong-when ethics and politics had least chance of fusion. For such a task a novice in the art of government must needs prove unequal; he must consciously or unconsciously hand the reins to those who had the experience which he lacked.
The Pope and the Duke of Milan doubtless hastened the catastrophe, and Savonarola was in a measure the victim of his party's foreign policy. Causes, however, should not be multiplied without reason, and within Florence there was cause sufficient for the tragedy. If she were a good subject for ethical reform, it was otherwise with politics. It is easier to change the constitution than the character of a people. The Florentines, said Guicciardini, possessed two characteristics in apparent contradiction, the love of equality and the desire of each family to lead. If the new constitution could satisfy the former, it could not assuage the latter. The influence of family rivalry was the vital distinction in the working of the Venetian and Florentine republics. At Venice family jealousies rarely influenced the State; at Florence they overmastered and corrupted public life. In vain Savonarola, like San Bernardino before him, inveighed against the party nicknames which would surely bring back the horrors of the strife of Guelf and Ghibelline. He became himself the very subject of these factions; he could not shake himself free from a Valori or a Soderini; his opponents regarded him as the dangerous tool of the most ambitious of their rivals. To gain admirable ends he was forced to work through agents who were compromised. Disavowing democratic principles, it was only a question of time to which branch of the aristocracy he would attach himself; his religious achievements might have been greater under the unquestioned rule of the Medici. This impossibility of detachment from family strife is the tragedy of Savonarola; he fell because he was believed to be Valori's tool. The Florentines perhaps exaggerated the closeness of his intimacy with the party chiefs. In his sermons on Amos and on Ruth he implored his congregation to leave himself and his friars alone, and not to pester them with legislative proposals, with this or that man's candidature,—questions for magistrates and citizens, and not for friars. He repeated that he was no politician, that he had no finger in their government, nor in their foreign relations. Yet in these very sermons he stated that he was accused of constant interference; and the visits of the party leaders to San Marco seemed to support the accusation. His enemies not unnaturally thought that the midnight meetings of Medicean days on the eve of elections had been but transferred from the palace in the Via Larga to the parlour of San Marco. Parenti describes in detail the passage of ValorTs measures from their initiation in San Marco to their consummation in the Council. The biographer Burlamacchi incidentally gives some slight colour to the charge of close intercourse with Valori, writing that Savonarola would not be interrupted in his prayers even when Valori called. The Friar himself protested to the Pope in 1495 that he could not obey the call to Rome because the new government needed his daily care. The pulpit was performing the functions of the modern press; its importance was heightened by the absence of debate in the assembly. If one party used this medium, the other was sure to follow. The pulpit of San Marco became the organ of the Piagnoni, that of Santa Croce the organ of the grandees.
It is not easy to time precisely the flow and ebb of public opinion towards and away from Savonarola. So early as June, 1497, a private letter written to Venice describes the populace as Medicean, the citizens as inclined towards Milan. From the early spring of 1498 the feeling against him had been strong. His preaching while under excommunication had scandalised earnest disciples; the threats of interdict were doubtless a terror to many more. Florence was not prepared for a breach with the visible head of her Church even at the bidding of her prophet. When the end came, the number of avowed supporters was not large; the pronounced Piagnoni whom the government excluded from the Council numbered sixty at the most. The lower classes had long been turning; with them Savonarola's constitution had found no place; they had lost the amusement and sense of importance which an occasional Parlamento provided. The puritanism which replaced the extravagant splendour of Florentine festivities entailed a diminution both of work and pleasure. Many of the poor were of course dependent on the great houses, most of which were opposed to Savonarola. The East end of Florence, the poorest quarter, had long been a Medicean stronghold; sooner or later it must feel the loss of Medicean charities. The great square of Santa Croce, the playground of the poor, missed the fetes which had drawn thither the beauty and fashion of Florentine society. Life had now left it for the religious centres of the Cathedral and San Marco. Monti di pieta and burnings of the Vanities were poor substitutes for panis et Circenses. From the great Franciscan church the friars perpetually thundered against the rival Dominican; the Franciscans were after all the peculiar Order of the poor, and they gradually regained the influence which the eloquence of Savonarola had temporarily filched away from them.
The ordeal had decided all but zealous adherents, and the faith of these was widely, if only temporarily, shaken by the alleged confessions. This is clear from the piteous expressions of Landucci, who describes his grief and stupefaction at the fall of the glorious edifice built on the sorry foundation of lying prophecy, at the vanishing of the New Jerusalem which Florence had expected, and from which were to issue a code and an example of holy living, the renovation of the Church, and the conversion of the infidels. The disillusion was completed by Savonarola's silence at the stake and by the Divine refusal of a miracle to save him. Among thinking men it is unlikely that Marsilio Ficino, the Platonist, and Verino, the Humanist, should have been alone in deserting him, although they were no doubt the most distinguished of their class. It is needless to brand them as hypocrites and turncoats. Marsilio at least had led a blameless life; his devotion to Savonarola was of long standing; they had much in common in their speculative mysticism, in their groping after the unseen world. Marsilio was no politician; he could gain or lose nothing by the change of front, which he himself ascribed to the fierce family divisions produced by Savonarola's influence. The desertion of the Prior by the Brethren of San Marco must not be judged too harshly. Something was doubtless due to cowardice, the result of the fierce fight round the convent. But monastic life is subject to contagious waves of feeling; the belief might well run through the convent that its inmates had been befooled and duped by the saintly exterior and passionate eloquence of their Prior. The reaction from the spiritual excitement raised by prophecy brings with it the abandonment of the very foundations of belief. To Savonarola's modern biographers no language has seemed too hard for Fra Malatesta who headed the apostasy, and who had witnessed Savonarola's signature of the depositions. But he too had borne a spotless character; he was a man of high birth, a Canon of the Cathedral, who from genuine devotion had joined San Marco, abandoning a fine income and the certainty of advancement. Men of this type may in a moment of physical and spiritual disturbance be weak, but they seldom then begin to be deliberately wicked. Even Fra Benedetto, who spent the rest of his life in restoring his master's memory, for the moment fell away.
The passionate hatred which Savonarola had excited may seem hard to explain. It was otherwise with Sant' Antonino, who had laboured not less earnestly in the field of morality and religion, or with San Bernardino, who had found favour both with Guelf and Ghibelline. Saints are not necessarily unpopular. The cause may, perhaps, be sought in Savonarola's self-assertion, in his perpetual use of the first person, in the reiteration of all that he had done for Florence, of all the prophecies that had been fulfilled or were to be fulfilled, at the expense of those who would not listen. Whoever will force himself to read one of his more emphatic sermons from an opponent's point of view may find the key to the final verdict of the city. The child had grown into the man. Savonarola had striven to break the wings of the foul bird, and the bird had struck him with its talons; he had lifted his rod to part the waters, and the Red Sea had overwhelmed him.
The fascination which Savonarola exercised is almost as living to-day as it was when his congregation sat spell-bound round him. The object of these pages has been to discuss his influence upon political and constitutional history; but this is only one aspect of his career and to himself the least important. He was, perhaps, no skilled statesman, no wise political leader; but, as a spiritual force whose influence long survived him, he has had few equals. Those who would study this side of his character must leave the chroniclers, the despatches of ambassadors, and the biographies, and turn to his letters, his sermons, and his tracts. His zeal for righteousness, his horror of sin, his sympathy for the poor, his love of children appeal to the earnest and loving of all ages. There is little question that for most foreigners, certainly for those of the English-speaking race, the very thought of Florence centres in Dante, the exile of Ravenna, and in Savonarola, the alien of Ferrara.