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Period Persona – Giacomo di Grassi


Giacomo di Grassi was a 16th century Italian fencing master. Little is known about the life of this master, but he seems to have been born in Modena, Italy and acquired some fame as a fencing master in his youth. He operated a fencing school in Trevino and traveled around Italy observing the teachings of other schools and masters. Ultimately di Grassi developed his own method, which he laid out in great detail in his 1570 work Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme (“Explanation of Striving Safely with Arms”). In 1594, a new edition of his book was printed in London under the title His True Arte of Defence, translated by an “I.G. gentleman” and published by an admirer named Thomas Churchyard.

While di Grassi’s teachings were arguably designed for the side sword, the English translation substitutes “rapier” for every mention of the sword. The translator explains – since English (of his time) distinguishes between “sword” and “rapier”, while Italian does not – that he has generally chosen to translate spada as “rapier”, because in Italy the rapier and dagger are carried, and not the sword (except in a military context), as is also the case with gentlemen in England.

Link to “His True Arte of Defence”


Period Persona – Cesare Borgia

220px-Cesareborgia Date of Birth: 13 September 1475 or 1476

 Died: 12 March 1507 (aged 31)

 Birthplace: Rome, Italy

Son of Cardinal Rodrigo de Lanzol y Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and his  mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, about whom information is sparse. The Borgia family  originally came from the Kingdom of Valencia, and rose to prominence during the mid-  15th century; Cesare’s great-uncle Alphonso Borgia (1378–1458), bishop of Valencia,  was elected Pope Callixtus III in 1455. Cesare’s father, Pope Alexander VI, was the first  pope who openly recognized his children born out of wedlock.

Cesare was initially groomed for a career in the Church. He was made Bishop of Pamplona at the age of 15. Following school in Perugia and Pisa where Cesare studied at Sapienza University of Rome, along with his father’s elevation to Pope, Cesare was made Cardinal at the age of 18.

Alexander VI staked the hopes of the Borgia family in Cesare’s brother Giovanni, who was made captain general of the military forces of the papacy. Giovanni was assassinated in 1497 in mysterious circumstances: with several contemporaries suggesting that Cesare might have been his killer. Cesare’s role in the act, however, has never been clear.

On 17 August 1498, Cesare became the first person in history to resign the cardinalate. On the same day, the French Louis XII of France named Cesare Duke of Valentinois, and this title, along with his former position as Cardinal of Valencia, explains the nickname “Valentino”.

 Duke of Valentinois

Duke of Valentinois

Cesare’s career was founded upon his father’s ability to distribute patronage, along with his alliance with France, in the course of the Italian Wars. Louis XII invaded Italy in 1499: after Gian Giacomo Trivulzio had ousted its duke Ludovico Sforza, Cesare accompanied the king in his entrance into Milan.

At this point Alexander decided to profit from the favourable situation and carve out for Cesare a state of his own in northern Italy. To this end, he declared that all his vicars in Romagna and Marche were deposed. Though in theory subject directly to the pope, these rulers had been practically independent or dependent on other states for generations. In the view of the citizens, these vicars were cruel and petty. When Cesare eventually took power, he was viewed by the citizens as a great improvement.

Cesare was appointed commander of the papal armies with a number of Italian mercenaries, supported by 300 cavalry and 4,000 Swiss infantry sent by the King of France. Despite being deprived of his French troops after the conquest of those two cities, Borgia returned to Rome to celebrate a triumph and to receive the title of Papal Gonfalonier from his father. In 1500 the creation of twelve new cardinals granted Alexander enough money for Cesare to hire the condottieri, Vitellozzo Vitelli, Gian Paolo Baglioni, Giulio and Paolo Orsini, and Oliverotto da Fermo, who resumed his campaign in Romagna. While his condottieri took over the siege of Piombino (which ended in 1502), Cesare commanded the French troops in the sieges of Naples and Capua, defended by Prospero and Fabrizio Colonna. On 24 June 1501 his troops stormed the latter, causing the collapse of Aragonese power in southern Italy. n June 1502 he set out for Marche, where he was able to capture Urbino and Camerino by treason. He planned to conquer Bologna next. However, his condottieri, most notably Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini brothers, feared Cesare’s cruelty and set up a plot against him. The fact that his subjects had enjoyed his rule thus far meant that his opponents had to work much harder than they would have liked. He eventually recalled his loyal generals to Imola, where he waited for his opponents’ loose alliance to collapse. Cesare called for a reconciliation, but imprisoned his condottieri in Senigallia, a feat described as a “wonderful deceiving” by Paolo Giovio, and had them executed.

Although he was an immensely capable general and statesman, Cesare would have trouble maintaining his domain without continued Papal patronage. Niccolò Machiavelli cites Cesare’s dependence on the good will of the Papacy, under the control of his father, to be the principal weakness of his rule.

The news of his father’s death (1503) arrived when Cesare was planning the conquest of Tuscany. The new pope, Pius III, supported Cesare Borgia and reconfirmed him as Gonfalonier; but after a brief pontificate of twenty-six days he died. Borgia’s deadly enemy, Giuliano Della Rovere, then succeeded by dexterous diplomacy in tricking the weakened Cesare Borgia into supporting him by offering him money and continued papal backing for Borgia policies in the Romagna; promises which he disregarded upon election.

Cesare Borgia, who was facing the hostility of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was betrayed while in Naples by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a man he had considered his ally, and imprisoned there, while his lands were retaken by the Papacy. In 1504 he was transferred to Spain and imprisoned first in the Castle of Chinchilla de Montearagón, but after an attempted escape he was moved to the Castle of La Mota, He did manage to escape from the Castle of La Mota with assistance, and he made it to Pamplona on 3 December 1506, and was much welcomed by King John III of Navarre who was missing an experienced military commander, ahead of the feared Castilian invasion (1512).

He recaptured Viana, Navarre, in the hands of forces loyal to the count of Lerín, Ferdinand II of Aragon’s conspirational ally in Navarre, but not the castle. In the early morning of 11 March 1507, an enemy party of knights fled from the castle during a heavy storm. Outraged at the ineffective siege laid on the castle, the Italian commander chased them only to find himself on his own. The party realized that, and Borgia got trapped in an ambush, receiving the injury of a fatal spear. He was then stripped of all his luxurious garments, valuables and a leather mask covering half his face, disfigured possibly by syphilis during his late years, and left lying naked.

Period Persona – John Duns Scotus


Date of Birth: Between 23 December 1265 and 17 March 1266

Died: 8 November 1308

Birthplace: Duns, County of Berwick, Kingdom of Scotland

Little is known of Duns Scotus apart from his work. Duns Scotus’ age is based on the first certain date for his life, that of his ordination to the Catholic priesthood at the Church of Saint Andrew in Northampton, England, on 17 March 1291. The minimum canonical age for ordination to the Catholic priesthood is 25 and it is generally assumed that he would have been ordained as soon as it was permitted. According to tradition, Duns Scotus was educated at the Franciscan studium at Oxford, a house behind St Ebbe’s Church. Duns Scotus appears to have been in Oxford by 1300, as he is listed among a group of friars for whom the Minister Provincial of the English Province (which included Scotland) requested faculties from the Bishop of Lincoln for the hearing of confessions.He took part in a disputation under the regent master, Philip of Bridlington. He began lecturing on Peter Lombard’s Sentences at the prestigious University of Paris towards the end of 1302. Later in that academic year, however, he was expelled from the University of Paris for siding with Pope Boniface VIII in his feud with King Philip IV of France over the taxation of church property.

Scotus’ great work is his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which contains nearly all the philosophical views and arguments for which he is well known, including the univocity of being, the formal distinction, less-than-numerical unity, individual nature or ‘thisness’ (haecceity), his critique of illuminationism and his renowned argument for the existence of God. His commentary exists in several versions. The standard version is the Ordinatio (also known as the Opus oxoniense), a revised version of lectures he gave as a bachelor at Oxford. The initial revision was probably begun in the summer of 1300 – see the remarks in the Prologue, question 2, alluding to the Third Battle of Homs in 1299, news of which probably reached Oxford in the summer of 1300. It was still incomplete when Scotus left for Paris in 1302. The original lectures were also transcribed and recently published as the Lectura.

Scotus wrote purely philosophical and logical works at an early stage of his career, consisting of commentaries on Aristotle’s Organon. These are the Questions on Porphyry‘s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories, Peri hermeneias, and De sophisticis elenchis, probably dating to around 1295.[15] His commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics was probably written in stages, the first version having started around 1297,[13] with significant additions and amendments possibly after the completion of the main body of the Ordinatio.[16] His Expositio on the Metaphysics was lost for centuries but was recently rediscovered and edited by Giorgio Pini.[17]

Perhaps the most influential point of Duns Scotus’ theology was his defense of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Today, Scotus is considered one of the most important Franciscan theologians and was the founder of Scotism, a special form of Scholasticism. He was known as “Doctor Subtilis” because of the subtle distinctions and nuances of his thinking. Later philosophers in the sixteenth century were less complimentary about his work, and accused him of sophistry. This led to his name, “dunce” (which developed from the name “Dunse” given to his followers in the 1500s) to become synonymous for “somebody who is incapable of scholarship”.

More information:

Period Persona – Jerome of Prague

Jerome of PragueJerome of Prague

Date of Birth: 1379 AD

Died: 30 May 1416

Birthplace:  Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic)




He was a philosopher, theologian, university professor, and church reformer who dedicated his life to eradicate those church doctrines and dogmas he found to be corrupt. He was constantly in and out of jail. His radical ideas eventually brought about his death by execution as a heretic to the church, but made him a martyr for the Protestant Reformation and followers of Jan Hus (known as Hussites). He was well-educated and spent most of his life traveling, trying to incite religious reform in various cities. It was for his criticisms rather than heresy that he was martyred.

Early Life

Jerome spent time teaching at the universities of Paris, Cologne, and Heidelberg, but was accused of heresy at all these universities and forced to return to Bohemia. He spent much of his life traveling about various universities, but frequently returned to Bohemia where he was virtually safe from any prosecution. He earned popular renown, as his rhetoric and oratory skills were acclaimed and often roused the public into demonstrations against the church, although they sometimes ended badly. In 1402 visited England, where, at Oxford University, he copied out the Dialogus and Trialogus of John Wyclif, and thus evinced his interest in Lollardry. He became an ardent and outspoken advocate of realism and, thereafter, of Wyclifism; charges of which were constantly getting him into trouble. In 1403 he went to Jerusalem, in 1405 to Paris. There he took his Master’s degree, but Jean Gerson drove him out. In 1406 he took the same degree at the University of Cologne, and a little later at the University of Heidelberg. In 1407 he returned to Prague and took the same degree again. Early in January 1410, he made a cautious speech in favour of Wyclif’s philosophical views, and this was cited against him at the Council of Constance four years later. In March 1410, a Papal Bull against Wyclif’s writings was issued, and on the charge of favouring them, Jerome was imprisoned in Vienna, but managed to escape to Moravia. For this he was excommunicated by the bishop of Kraków. Returned to Prague, he appeared publicly as the advocate of Hus. Popular legend attributes to Jerome leadership of a protest in which papal bulls were first strung around the neck of a prostitute in a cart and then carried to the pillory in Prague to be publicly burned, but the leader was actually Wok of Waldstein.

Middle Life and Teachings

Jerome tended to teach radical ideas pertaining to Roman Catholic doctrine, namely that God’s teachings were directly accessible to a Christian without need for the church or church officials. He taught that one should obey the direct teachings of Jesus, even when they conflicted with those of the Catholic Church. He was largely a follower of the ideologies of both church reformers John Wyclif and Jan Hus. Because his teachings were at odds with the Catholic Church, Jerome was constantly on the run. Jerome incited public demonstrations in Paris, Vienna, Prague, and everywhere in between; most of these demonstrations took place in cities with universities where Jerome taught.

Trial and Death

When, on 11 October 1414, Hus left for the Council of Constance, Jerome assured him that if needed, he would come to his assistance, contrary to the wishes of Hus. Hus was tricked into attending the Council of Constance by means of a letter promising immunity, and upon his arrival in the city he was arrested and imprisoned. Jerome kept his promise, even though Hus and other friends of Jerome warned him not to come. On 4 April 1415, he arrived at Constance. Predictably, he created a stir in the town.

As he had, unlike Hus, come without a safe-conduct, Jerome’s friends persuaded him to return to Bohemia. But on his way back he was arrested in Hirschau on 20 April and taken to Sulzbach where he was imprisoned, and was returned to Constance on 23 May.

His condemnation was predetermined in consequence of his general acceptance of the views of Wyclif and his open admiration for Hus. The conditions of his imprisonment were so horrid that he fell seriously ill and so was induced to recant at public sessions of the council held on 11 and 23 September 1415. The words put into his mouth on these occasions made him renounce both Wyclif and Hus. The same physical weakness made him write in Bohemian letters to the king of Bohemia and to the University of Prague, which were declared to be entirely voluntary and to state his own opinions, in which he announced that he had become convinced that Hus had been rightfully burned for heresy. (Hus had been burned at the stake while Jerome was imprisoned.) However, the Council of Constance kept him imprisoned as they doubted his sincerity and wanted a more incriminating confession. On 23 May 1416, and on 26 May, he was put on trial by the Council. On the second day he withdrew his recantation, and on 30 May he was condemned and burned. In this way, Jerome became the first official martyr for the Hussite reform cause.


Period Persona – Hereward the Wake

hereward the wake.l

Hereward the Wake

Born: c. 1035

Died: c. 1072

Also known as Hereward the Outlaw or Hereward the Exile. was an 11th-century leader of local resistance to the Norman conquest of England.

Hereward is an Old English name, composed of the elements here “army” and weard “guard” (cognate with the Old High German name Heriwart). The epithet “the Wake” is recorded in the late 14th century, and may mean “the watchful”, or derive from the Anglo-Norman Wake family who later claimed descent from him.

The existence of Hereward is not generally disputed, though the story of his life, especially as recounted in the Gesta Herewardi almost certainly contains exaggerations of his deeds and some outright fictions. The Gesta Herewardi is a Middle Latin text, probably written around 1109-31.

The earliest references to his parentage make him the son of Edith, a descendent of Oslac of York, and Leofric of Bourne, nephew of Ralph the Staller. Alternatively, it has also been argued that Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his wife Lady Godiva were Hereward’s real parents, however it is improbable that if Hereward were a member of this prominent family, his parentage would not be a matter of record.

According to the Gesta Herewardi, Hereward was exiled at the age of eighteen for disobedience to his father and disruptive behaviour, which caused problems among the local community. He was declared an outlaw by Edward the Confessor. At the time of the Norman invasion of England, he was still in exile in Europe, working as a successful mercenary for the Count of Flanders, Baldwin V.

Hereward returned to England in late 1069 or 1070. The Gesta says that he discovered that his family’s lands had been taken over by the Normans and his brother killed with his head then placed on a spike at the gate to his house. Hereward took revenge on the Normans who killed his brother while they were ridiculing the English at a drunken feast. He allegedly killed fifteen of them with the assistance of one helper. He then gathered followers and went to Peterborough Abbey to be knighted by his uncle Abbot Brand. He returned briefly to Flanders to allow the situation to cool down before returning to England.

In 1070 Hereward certainly participated in the anti-Norman insurrection centred on the Isle of Ely. In 1069 or 1070 the Danish king Sweyn Estrithson sent a small army to try to establish a camp on the Isle of Ely. Hereward appears to have joined them. Hereward stormed and sacked Peterborough Abbey in company with local men and Swein’s Danes. His justification is said to have been that he wished to save the Abbey’s treasures and relics from the rapacious Normans led by the new Norman abbot who had ousted his uncle Brand.

The epithet “the Wake” is first attested in the late fourteenth-century Peterborough Chronicle, ascribed by its first editor, Joseph Sparke, to the otherwise unknown John of Peterborough. There are two main theories as to the origin of the tag. The usual interpretation is that it means “the watchful”. A second theory claims that the name was given to him by the Wake family, the Norman landowners who gained Hereward’s land in Bourne, Lincolnshire, after his death, in order to imply a family connection and therefore legitimise their claim to the land. The family claimed descent from Hereward’s daughter by his second wife, Alftruda.

The existence of Hereward is not generally disputed, though the story of his life, especially as recounted in the Gesta almost certainly contains exaggerations of his deeds and some outright fictions. The fact of Hereward’s participation in the events at Ely is attested in early documents such as the annal for 1071 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Another text of the Chronicle also tells of his involvement in the looting. Early sources say nothing about him other than the fact that he was at Ely and that he led the last band of resisters. Hereward nevertheless remained a minor figure until the Victorian period, when the idea of native Anglo-Saxon heroism became popular.

Period Persona – Fulk III, Count of Anjou


Fulk III (972 – 21 June 1040), called Nerra (that is, le Noir, “the Black”) after his death, was Count of Anjou from 21 July 987 to his death.

Fulk III was the son of Geoffrey Greymantle and Adele of Meaux. He was less than seventeen years old when his father died and Fulk came to power.

Fulk was widely known for a violent but also pious temperament. He was partial to acts of extreme cruelty as well as penitence. In his most notorious act, he allegedly had his first wife, Elisabeth of Vendôme (c.970 – 999), burned at the stake in her wedding dress, after he discovered her in adultery with a farmer in December 999. On the other hand, he made four pilgrimages to the Holy Land in 1002, 1008, and 1038 and, in 1007, built the great abbey at Beaulieu-lès-Loches.

Fulk fought against the claims of the counts of Rennes, defeating and killing Conan I of Rennes at the Battle of Conquereuil on 27 June 992. He then extended his power over the Counties of Maine and Touraine.

Fulk’s enterprises also came up against the no less determined and violent ambitions of Odo II of Blois, against whom he made an alliance with the Capetians. On 6 July 1016, he defeated Odo at the Battle of Pontlevoy. In 1025, after capturing and burning the city of Saumur, Fulk reportedly cried, “Saint Florentius, let yourself be burned. I will build you a better home in Angers.” However, when the transportation of the saint’s relics to proved difficult, Fulk declared that Florentius was a rustic lout unfit for the city, and sent the relics back to Saumur.

Fulk also commissioned many buildings, primarily for defensive purposes. While fighting against the Bretons and Blesevins, he had more than a hundred castles, donjons, and abbeys constructed, including those at Château-Gontier, Loches (a stone keep), and Montbazon. He also had built the donjon at Langeais (990), which is one of the first stone castles.

Fulk died in Metz while returning from his last pilgrimage. He is buried in the chapel of his monastery at Beaulieu.

By his first wife, Elisabeth, he left one daughter:

  • Adela

By his second wife (1001), Hildegard of Sundgau, he had two children:

  • Geoffrey Martel, his successor
  • Ermengarde-Blanche (an ancestress of Geoffrey Plantagenet and the Plantagenet kings of England.)

Period Persona – Pepin the Younger

King Pepin the Short (1)Born: AD 714

Died: AD 768

Pepin the Younger, also known as Pepin the Short or PepinIII, was the King of the  Franks and the first of the Carolingians to become King.

The younger son of Frankish strongman, Charles Martel, Pepin’s upbringing was distinguished by the ecclesiastical education he had received from the monks of St. Denis. When Pepin’s father Charles Martel died in 741, the Frankish Kingdom was divided between Pepin and his elder brother, Carloman, his surviving sons by his first wife. Carloman became Mayor of the Palace of AustrasiaAlemannia and Thuringia, Pepin became Mayor of the Palace of NeustriaBurgundy, and Provence. Grifo, Charles’s son by his second wife, Swanahild (also known as Swanhilde), demanded a share in the inheritance, but he was imprisoned in a monastery by his two half-brothers. In 743 the brothers chose Childeric III, a Merovingian, as nominal king of all the Franks. With their help St. Boniface effected far-reaching reforms that strengthened the Frankish church and advanced the conversion of the Saxons. In 747 Carloman either resolved to or was pressured into entering a monastery.

Anointed a first time in 752 in Soissons by the archbishop of Mainz, Pepin added to his power after Pope Stephen II traveled all the way to Paris to anoint him a second time in a lavish ceremony at the Basilica of St Denis in 754, bestowing upon him the additional title of Patricius Romanorum (Patrician of the Romans) and is the first recorded crowning of a civil ruler by a Pope. After lobbying Pope Zachery and asking if it were proper that he, being annointed by the Pope and holding the true power, should be subject to the decisions of Childeric III. Being hard pressed by the Lombards, Pope Zachary welcomed this move to end an intolerable condition and to lay the constitutional foundations for the exercise of the royal power. The Pope replied that such a state of things is not proper: the de facto power is more important than the de jure power. After this decision the throne was declared vacant. Childeric III was deposed and confined to a monastery. He was the last of the Merovingian Kings. According to ancient custom, Pepin was then elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish nobles, with a large portion of his army on hand (in case the nobility inclined not to honor the Papal bull).

Pepin’s first major act as king was to go to war against the Lombard king Aistulf, who had expanded into the ducatus Romanus. Victorious, he forced the Lombard king to return property seized from the Church. He confirmed the Papacy in possession of Ravenna and the Pentapolis, the so-called Donation of Pepin, whereby the Papal States were established and the temporal reign of the Papacy began.

Pepin died during a campaign, in 768 at the age of 54. He was interred in the church of Saint Denis. His wife Bertrada was also interred there in 783. Charlemagne rebuilt the Basilica in honor of his parents and placed markers at the entrance.

The Frankish realm was divided according to the Salic law between his two sons: Charlemagne and Carloman I.


Historical opinion often seems to regard Pepin as the lesser of his father and his son Charlemagne, though a great man in his own right. During his reign he continued to build up the heavy cavalry which his father had begun. He maintained the standing army that his father had found necessary to protect the realm and form the core of its full army in wartime. He not only contained the Iberian Muslims as his father had, but drove them out of the country and, just as important, he managed to subdue the Aquitanians and the Basques after three generations of on again off again clashes, so opening the gate to central and southern Gaul and Muslim Iberia. He continued his father’s expansion of the Frankish church (missionary work in Germany and Scandinavia) and the institutional infrastructure (feudalism) that would prove the backbone of medieval Europe.

His rule, while not as great as either his father’s or son’s, was historically important and of great benefit to the Franks as a people. Pepin’s assumption of the crown, and the title of Patrician of Rome, were harbingers of his son’s imperial coronation which is usually seen as the founding of the Holy Roman Empire. He made the Carolingians the ruling dynasty of the Franks and the foremost power of Europe. While not known as a great general, he was undefeated during his lifetime.


Around 735 (?) Pepin married Leutberga (712?-760?) from the Danube region. They had five children. She was divorced  some time after the birth of Charlemagne and her children were sent to convents.

In 741, Pepin married Bertrada of Laon. Her father, Charibert, was the son of Pepin II’s brother, Martin of Laon. They are known to have had eight children, at least three of whom survived to adulthood:

  • Charles (2 April 742 – 28 January 814), (Charlemagne)
  • Carloman (751 – 4 December 771)
  • Gisela (757–810)
  • Pepin, died in infancy.
  • Chrothais, died young, buried in Metz.
  • Adelais, died young, buried in Metz.
  • Two unnamed daughters

Period Persona – Cosimo de Medici


Cosimo de Medici

The floor tomb of Cosimo de' Medici in San Lor...

The floor tomb of Cosimo de’ Medici in San Lorenzo, Florence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born: 27 September 1389 in Florence, Italy

Died: 1 August 1464 in Florence, Italy

Cosimo di Giovanni de Medici was the first of the Medici political dynasty. He was also known as “Cosimo ‘the Elder'” (“il Vecchio”) and “Cosimo Pater Patriae” (Latin: ‘father of the nation’).

He represented the Medici bank, managed the papacy’s finances and became the wealthiest man of his time. Despite never holding office, he controlled Florence via his wealth and was the start of a dynasty that held power for centuries. Cosimo was an important patron of Renaissance art.

After his father died in 1429, Cosimo continued the family’s commercial and financial practices with great success. He brought goods of little weight and high value from the East and lent money to the princely houses of Europe. Cosimo also adopted the policy, already traditional in his family, of supporting the lesser guilds and the poor against the wealthy aristocracy which ruled the city.

In 1433, who were jealous of Cosimo and his power were spurred on by Rinaldo degli Albizzi, the most influential of their number, and had Cosimo arrested with the intention of putting him to death. He was exiled instead when, from his place of imprisonment, he succeeded in buying the favor of Bernardo Guadagni, the gonfalonier of justice, for 1,000 ducats (about $25,000).

One year later, in October 1434, the sentence of exile was overturned by a new government favorable to Cosimo, and he returned to the city in triumph. From that time until his death he controlled both the foreign and domestic affairs of Florence, using his prestige and his money to keep his adherents in the government. Cosimo himself took public office only briefly. Cosimo promptly reformed the system of taxation, changing from a fixed income tax to a graduated one. This placed a heavier burden on the wealthy, who grumbled that the Medici tyrant was using the tax as a weapon against them. The middle class and the poorer citizens, who were Cosimo’s strength, were delighted and became even more ardent in their support, particularly when they saw that the funds gained through taxation, amplified by substantial contributions from Cosimo’s own pocket, were put to use in public projects.

He commissioned Filippo Brunelleschi to restore the church of S. Lorenzo, which was in dire need of repair and the cloisters of Fiesole owe their erection to Cosimo. Along with the physical adornment of Florence and its environs, Cosimo provided for its cultural life. He sent his ships to the East to gather the precious manuscripts of ancient writers, and he hired scribes to copy what he could not buy. He added to this growing collection the private library of Niccolò Niccoli, an enthusiastic bibliophile who left his books to Cosimo in gratitude for generous loans which had saved him from financial ruin. These valuable manuscripts were distributed to the monastery of S. Marco in Florence and the abbey at Fiesole. These collections were open to the public.

In spite of his riches and the lavish entertainments he provided for his guests, Cosimo lived modestly. He ate and drank moderately and simply and worked long, regular hours. He dressed without ostentation and was accessible to the humblest Florentine. His generosity, mildness, and wit were legendary. Upon his death on Aug. 1, 1464, a grateful city decreed that on his tomb should be inscribed the words Pater Patriae (father of his country).