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Chapter 5
PIERO DEI MEDICI had, as we may remember, undertaken to hold the entrance
to Tuscany against the French; when, however, he saw his enemy coming down
from the Alps, he felt less confident about his own strength, and demanded help
from the pope; but scarcely had the rumour of foreign invasion began to spread
in the Romagna, than the Colonna family declared themselves the French king's
men, and collecting all their forces seized Ostia, and there awaited the coming of
the French fleet to offer a passage through Rome. The pope, therefore, instead
of sending troops to Florence, was obliged to recall all his soldiers to be near the
capital; the only promise he made to Piero was that if Bajazet should send him
the troops that he had been asking for, he would despatch that army for him to
make use of. Piero dei Medici had not yet taken any resolution or formed any
plan, when he suddenly heard two startling pieces of news. A jealous neighbour
of his, the Marquis of Torderiovo, had betrayed to the French the weak side of
Fivizzano, so that they had taken it by storm, and had put its soldiers and
inhabitants to the edge of the sword; on another side, Gilbert of Montpensier,
who had been lighting up the sea-coast so as to keep open the communications
between the French army and their fleet, had met with a detachment sent by
Paolo Orsini to Sarzano, to reinforce the garrison there, and after an hour's
fighting had cut it to pieces. No quarter had been granted to any of the prisoners;
every man the French could get hold of they had massacred.
This was the first occasion on which the Italians, accustomed as they were to the
chivalrous contests of the fifteenth century, found themselves in contact with
savage foreigners who, less advanced in civilisation, had not yet come to
consider war as a clever game, but looked upon it as simply a mortal conflict. So
the news of these two butcheries produced a tremendous sensation at Florence,
the richest city in Italy, and the most prosperous in commerce and in art. Every
Florentine imagined the French to be like an army of those ancient barbarians
who were wont to extinguish fire with blood. The prophecies of Savonarola, who
had predicted the foreign invasion and the destruction that should follow it, were
recalled to the minds of all; and so much perturbation was evinced that Piero dei
Medici, bent on getting peace at any price, forced a decree upon the republic
whereby she was to send an embassy to the conqueror; and obtained leave,
resolved as he was to deliver himself in person into the hands of the French
monarch, to act as one of the ambassadors. He accordingly quitted Florence,
accompanied by four other messengers, and an his arrival at Pietra Santa, sent
to ask from Charles VIII a safe-conduct for himself alone. The day after he made
this request, Brigonnet and de Piennes came to fetch him, and led him into the
presence of Charles VIII.
Piero dei Medici, in spite of his name and influence, was in the eyes of the
French nobility, who considered it a dishonourable thing to concern oneself with
art or industry, nothing more than a rich merchant, with whom it would be absurd
to stand upon any very strict ceremony. So Charles VIII received him on
horseback, and addressing him with a haughty air, as a master might address a