Rinaldo degli Albizzi was one of the main opponents to the rise of the Medici in 15th century Florence. He’s the main villain in the Netflix series “Medici: Masters of Florence”, where he’s brilliantly brought to life by English actor Lex Shrapnel. We look at how close the fictional Rinaldo is to the historical character.
Who were the Albizzi?
Rinaldo was the son of Maso degli Albizzi (1343-1417), a soldier and politician at the head of an ancient and powerful family known as the Albizzi. The Albizzi were the de facto leaders of an oligarchy of wealthy families that ruled Florence in the second half of the 14th century. Florence was a Republic at this time, but its complex political system was ‘democratic’ only on paper, which allowed power to fall into the hands of the more influential figures.
At the time when the Medici’s Godfather Giovanni di Bicci and his son Cosimo were increasing their wealth and their popularity in Florentine circles, the Albizzi became their fiercest opponents. It was clear that the Medici were threatening their supremacy, stealing influence and power. Others who sided with the Albizzi against the Medici were Palla Strozzi and Niccolò di Uzzano.
Rinaldo degli Albizzi – A proud soldier and proper villain
Rinaldo (1370-1442) was a soldier and a diplomat from an early age. His main goals were to keep the oligarchy in power and defeat Florence’s enemies at all costs. When his father died in 1417, Rinaldo took his place at the head of the Albizzi family and started a war to conquer Lucca. But this enterprise turned out to be more difficult than he thought, and cost Florence dearly.
As far as Cosimo de’ Medici was concerned, Rinaldo was a dangerous character. Historians describe him as a “haughty, impulsive man; reactionary and priggish.” Belligerent and proud, he put himself at the head of the anti-Medici party, and waged a campaign of allegations against them.
A brief victory – Cosimo de’ Medici imprisonment
It was the 7th September 1433 and Cosimo de’ Medici was summoned by the Florentine government, known as the Signoria. Obediently he went to Palazzo Vecchio which was the seat of government. Let’s read what Cosimo himself wrote about that doomed day.
“I found the greater part of them already deep in discussion. After a short while the Signoria asked me to go up to them. I was led by the captain of the guard to a room called ‘Barberia’ and incarcerated there”.
While his rival was languishing in a prison cell, Rinaldo tried to persuade the Signoria to behead him. He forced two of Cosimo’s supporters to ‘confess’ by having them tortured at the rack. “Yes, Cosimo was getting foreign help to bring a revolution to the city”, they lied. But most of the Florentines didn’t believe this story, and even the families who wanted Cosimo gone didn’t want to impose the death penalty. The Medici influence in Florentine society was too great and, as a result, Cosimo managed to cheat death.
Cosimo de’ Medici’s exile from Florence
It was a fight Rinaldo couldn’t win. Opposed by the majority in the Signoria, he was forced to be content with the banishment of Cosimo from Florence. Cosimo and his brother Lorenzo left Florence for Padua and then Venice, where they carried on building up their net of influence and spending money to win consent.
In the meantime Rinaldo degli Albizzi was losing support. Even the Pope wanted the Medici, who were in fact his bankers, to return to Florence. A difficult war against Milan didn’t help the cause of the Florentine oligarchy. And so, hardly more than a year after his banishment, Cosimo came back to Florence triumphant.
Find out about Cosimo’s wife Contessina de’ Bardi.
The end of Rinaldo degli Albizzi
Despite Rinaldo’s actions, Cosimo was lenient on him. Rinaldo and his supporters were sent into exile by the Signoria and never came back to Florence. He died in Ancona in 1442.
Reading a bit about this relentless and fascinating villain, you have to ask yourself why the Medici series tries to reinvent history while the real history is bloody and thrilling enough.