Alessandro de' Medici, Duke of Florence

This article is on the first Duke of Florence. For the Alessandro de' Medici who was pope, see Pope Leo XI.
Alessandro de' Medici

Portrait by Jacopo Pontormo
Duke of Florence
Reign 1 May 1532 – 6 January 1537
Predecessor Ippolito de' Medici
Successor Cosimo I de' Medici
Born (1510-06-22)22 June 1510
Florence, Republic of Florence
Died 6 January 1537(1537-01-06) (aged 26)
Florence, Duchy of Florence
Spouse Margaret of Austria
Issue Giulio de' Medici (illegitimate)
Giulia de' Medici (illegitimate)
Porzia de' Medici (illegitimate)
Father Lorenzo II de' Medici, Duke of Urbino or Pope Clement VII
Mother Simonetta da Collevecchio

Alessandro de' Medici (22 June 1510 – 6 January 1537) called "il Moro" ("the Moor"), Duke of Penne and also Duke of Florence (from 1532), was ruler of Florence from 1531 until 1537. Though illegitimate, he was the last member of the "senior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence and the first to be a hereditary duke.


Born in Florence, he was recognized by the majority of contemporaries[1] as the only son of Lorenzo II de' Medici (grandson of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent). A few believed him to be in fact the illegitimate son of Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII), nephew of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent, but at the time that was a minority view.[2]

Historians (such as Christopher Hibbert) believe he had been born to a servant of African descent who was working in the Medici household, identified in documents as Simonetta da Collevecchio. The nickname (il Moro) is said to derive from his features.[3][4][5][6]

The Emblem of Alessandro de' Medici, based on Dürer's Rhinoceros, with the motto "Non buelvo sin vencer" (old Spanish for "I shall not return without victory").[7] (From Paolo Giovio's Dialogo dell'impresse militari et amorosi, 1557.)

When Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, the Florentines took advantage of the turmoil in Italy to reinstall the Republic; both Alessandro and Ippolito fled, along with the rest of the Medici and their main supporters, including the Pope's regent, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, with the exception of the eight-year-old Catherine de' Medici, who was left behind. Michelangelo, then occupied in creating a funerary chapel for the Medici, initially took charge of building fortifications around Florence in support of the Republic; he later temporarily fled the city. Clement eventually made his peace with the Emperor, and with the support of Imperial troops, the Republic was overwhelmed after a lengthy siege, and the Medici were restored to power in the summer of 1530.[8]

Medici coat of arms

Clement assigned Florence to nineteen-year-old Alessandro, who had been made a duke, an appointment that was purchased from Charles. He arrived in Florence to take up his rule on 5 July 1531 and was made hereditary Duke of Florence 9 months later by the Emperor (as Tuscany lay outside the Papal States), thereby signalling the end of the Republic [9][10]

Margaret of Austria

His many enemies among the exiles declared that his rule was harsh, depraved and incompetent, an assessment debated by later historians. One relic of his rule sometimes pointed out as a symbol of Medici oppression is the massive Fortezza da Basso, today the largest historical monument of Florence. In 1535 the Florentine opposition sent his cousin Ippolito to appeal to Charles V against some actions of the Duke, but Ippolito died en route; rumors were spread that he had been poisoned at Alessandro's orders.[11]

In a late replay of the kind of medieval civil politics that had long revolved around pope and emperor, commune and lord, the Emperor supported Alessandro against the republicans. In 1536, Charles V married his natural daughter Margaret of Austria to Alessandro. For his own inclinations, Alessandro seems to have remained faithful to one mistress, Taddea Malaspina, who bore his only children Giulio de' Medici (c. 1533/37-1600), who also had illegitimate issue, and Giulia de' Medici, who married her cousin Bernardetto de' Medici, Signore di Ottaiano, and had issue.


Portrait of Alessandro de' Medici in the Uffizi.

In 1537 his distant cousin Lorenzino de' Medici, nicknamed "Lorenzaccio" ("bad Lorenzo"), assassinated him. (This event is the subject of Alfred de Musset's play "Lorenzaccio.") Lorenzino entrapped Alessandro through the ruse of a promised arranged sexual encounter with Lorenzino's sister Laudomia, a beautiful widow.[12] For fear of starting an uprising if news of his death got out, Medici officials wrapped Alessandro's corpse in a carpet and secretly carried it to the cemetery of San Lorenzo, where it was hurriedly buried.

In Valladolid (Spain), where the imperial court of Charles V was established, a solemn funeral was celebrated.[13]

Lorenzino, in a declaration published later, said that he had killed Alessandro for the sake of the republic. When the anti-Medici faction failed to rise, Lorenzino fled to Venice, where he was killed in 1548. The Medici supporters (called "Palleschi" from the balls on the Medici arms) ensured that power then passed to Cosimo I de' Medici, the first of the "junior" branch of the Medici to rule Florence.[8]

Alessandro was survived by two natural children of Taddea's: a son, Giulio (aged four at the time of his father's death) married to Lucrezia Gaetani, and a daughter, Giulia married firstly to Francesco Cantelmo, the Count of Alvito and the Duke of Popoli and then Bernadetto de' Medici, prince of Ottaiano.


  1. A. London Fell (September 1993). Origins of legislative sovereignty and the legislative state: Modern origins,developments, and perspectives against the Background of "Machiavelism".Book I: Pre-Modern "Machiavelism". Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-93975-5. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  2. Catherine Fletcher, The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici (London: Bodley Head, 2016), pp. 16, 280-81.
  3. George L. Williams (January 2004). Papal Genealogy: The Families And Descendants Of The Popes. McFarland. pp. 74–. ISBN 978-0-7864-2071-1. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  4. Hibbert 1999: 236
  5. Rogers, J.A., World's Great Men of Color, Volume 2, page 31 (Touchstone, 1996) ISBN 0684815826
  6. Caroline P. Murphy, Murder of a Medici Princess, page 9 (Oxford University Press, 2008) ISBN 978-0-19-531439-7
    • Bedini, Silvano A. (1997). The Pope's Elephant. Manchester: Carcanet Press. p. 192. ISBN 1-85754-277-0..
  7. 1 2 "Africans in Medieval & Renaissance Art: Duke Alessandro de' Medici", Victoria and Albert Museum
  8. Hibbert 1999: 250–252;
  9. Schevill 1936: 482, 513–514
  10. Hibbert 1999: 254
  11. Baker, Nicholas Scott. 2010. "Power and Passion in Sixteenth-century Florence: The Sexual and Political Reputations of Alessandro and Cosimo I De' Medici". Journal of the History of Sexuality 19 (3). University of Texas Press: 432–57.
  12. Cfr. PASCUAL MOLINA, Jesús F. (2009). "Alexander Florentiae Dux: el primer duque de Florencia y el Imperio. Muerte, política y arte" en Parrado del Olmo, J. M.ª y GUTIÉRREZ BAÑOS, F. (coords.), Estudios de historia del arte. Homenaje al profesor De la Plaza Santiago. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid. pp. 161-166. ISBN 978-84-8448-521-6.


External links

Preceded by
new office
Duke of Florence
Succeeded by
Cosimo I
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