The Pazzi Conspiracy: Murder at High Mass in Renaissance Italy

The Palazzo Vecchio or “Old Palace”. Those condemned to die were thrown from its windows, left to hang in full sight of the crowds below.

As the priest raises the Host before the High Altar, Francesco and Bernardo draw their daggers and dash at Giuliano. Bernardo drives the blade straight into his skull, killing him instantly, while Francesco stabs and slashes frenziedly at his lifeless body. He’s more ferocious than he is accurate, however, and amongst the blood and confusion, Francesco manages to drive the blade through his own thigh.

While Lorenzo looks on in horror, the two monks standing beside him, Antonio Maffei and Stefano da Bagnone, reach under their habits and draw daggers of their own. They try to stab Lorenzo in the back, but he turns around at the last minute and they manage only a glance to his neck. Using his cloak as a shield, Lorenzo draws his own sword, and his murderous rage and famed reputation as a swordsman cause his assailants to back away while a retinue forms around him.

Lorenzo’s companions grab their leader and begin pulling him towards the heavy bronze door of the sacristy and the safety beyond. Sensing the opportunity slipping away, Bernardo runs towards Lorenzo and lunges at him. But Lorenzo’s friend throws himself in the way, taking Bernardo’s sword through his stomach, as Lorenzo is dragged screaming into the sacristy. Its doors are shut and slowly the conspirators begin to trickle out of the church. After a few moments, Lorenzo follows, returning to the safety of his palace surrounded by his supporters.

Meanwhile, down the road at the government headquarters (the signoria in the Palazzo Vecchio) the second part of the plot is being hatched. Francesco Salviati, the Archbishop of Pisa and nephew of Pope Sixtus IV, has asked for a meeting with Florence’s figurehead ruler, the gonfaloniere Cesare Petrucci, in which he wants to deliver a message from the pope. With him are several rough looking figures, wearing armour and armed to the teeth; not the kind of company you’d expect an archbishop to keep.

That’s because they’re not in fact clerics, but hired mercenaries from Perugia. And Salviati has no intention of delivering a message from the pope, but intends to set his mercenaries on Petrucci, killing him, and securing the signoria. The gonfaloniere is just finishing his lunch, so Salviati and his companions are led to separate rooms and asked to wait. Noise and commotion from the piazza below alert Petrucci to the fact that something’s not right, and when he finally meets with Salviati he notices that the Archbishop’s hand is shaking and he’s stammering incomprehensibly.

Unable to take the pressure, Salviati makes a dash for the door and screams for his mercenaries. But they are locked away in the Chancellery, and despite their best efforts to beat down the heavy wooden door they will remain there until the plot is discovered and they’re butchered by Medici supporters. One of Salviati’s companions draws a knife and attacks the gonfaloniere, but he’s easily overpowered and disarmed by Petrucci who’s armed with a roasting spit. Guards then come and lead the gonfaloniere up to the safety of the tower where they ring a bell, alerting the city to the conspiracy.