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The Borgias

Chapter 9
Everything from without was favouring Alexander's encroaching policy, when he
was compelled to turn his eyes from France towards the centre of Italy: in
Florence dwelt a man, neither duke, nor king, nor soldier, a man whose power
was in his genius, whose armour was his purity, who owned no offensive weapon
but his tongue, and who yet began to grow more dangerous for him than all the
kings, dukes, princes, in the whole world could ever be; this man was the poor
Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola, the same who had refused absolution to
Lorenzo dei Medici because he would not restore the liberty of Florence.
Girolamo Savonarola had prophesied the invasion of a force from beyond the
Alps, and Charles VIII had conquered Naples; Girolamo Savonarola had
prophesied to Charles VIII that because he had failed to fulfil the mission of
liberator entrusted to him by God, he was threatened with a great misfortune as a
punishment, and Charles was dead; lastly, Savonarola had prophesied his own
fall like the man who paced around the holy city for eight days, crying, "Woe to
Jerusalem!" and on the ninth day, "Woe be on my own head!" None the less, the
Florentine reformer, who could not recoil from any danger, was determined to
attack the colossal abomination that was seated on St. Peter's holy throne; each
debauch, each fresh crime that lifted up its brazen face to the light of day or tried
to hide its shameful head beneath the veil of night, he had never failed to paint
out to the people, denouncing it as the off spring of the pope's luxurious living
and lust of power. Thus had he stigmatised Alexander's new amour with the
beautiful Giulia Farnese, who in the preceding April a added another son to the
pope's family; thus had he cursed the Duke of Gandia's murderer, the lustful,
jealous fratricide; lastly, he had pointed out to the Florentines, who were
excluded from the league then forming, what sort of future was in store far them
when the Borgias should have made themselves masters of the small
principalities and should come to attack the duchies and republics. It was clear
that in Savonarola, the pope had an enemy at once temporal and spiritual, whose
importunate and threatening voice must be silenced at any cost.
But mighty as the pope's power was, to accomplish a design like this was no
easy matter. Savonarola, preaching the stern principles of liberty, had united to
his cause, even in the midst of rich, pleasure-loving Florence, a party of some
size, known as the 'Piagnoni', or the Penitents: this band was composed of
citizens who were anxious for reform in Church and State, who accused the
Medici of enslaving the fatherland and the Borgias of upsetting the faith, who
demanded two things, that the republic should return to her democratic
principles, and religion to a primitive simplicity. Towards the first of these projects
considerable progress had been made, since they had successively obtained,
first, an amnesty for all crimes and delinquencies committed under other
governments; secondly, the abolition of the 'balia', which was an aristocratic
magistracy; thirdly, the establishment of a sovereign council, composed of 1800
citizens; and lastly, the substitution of popular elections for drawing by lot and for
oligarchical nominations: these changes had been effected in spite of two other
 
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