Cosimo de Medici and the Sforzas
By 1434 Cosimo de Medici had returned to Florence in triumph and had the Albizzi banished as well as most of his enemies. In 1439 Cosimo had perhaps his most spectacular success by having the General Council of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches transferred from Ferrara to Florence. Cosimo had himself elected as Gonfaloniere for the occasion of the Emperor’s entry into Florence.
The occasion of so many Greek scholars in Florence prompted Cosimo to found his academy of Platonic studies in Florence under the influence of John Argyropoulos and Marsilio Ficino. Indeed one can trace the Rinascimento to this group of humanists. His father Giovanni de Medici had become involved in the provision of new doors to the church of St. John the Baptist and which were completed under the patronage of Cosimo. The doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti are probably the greatest work of art of their type.
By 1437 Cosimo controlled Florence in all but name. Its ambassadors called upon him prior to departing and no important decision was taken without reference to the Medici palace. Cosimo however had another ambition and that was to wean Florence away from her alliance with Venice and into an alliance with Milan.
At this time the Duke of Milan was Filippo Maria Visconti, who had been encouraged to go to war with Florence by the exiled Albizzi. Filippo was grossly fat and probably mad (9) but was persuaded by the Albizzi to send troops to invest Florence. His troops were soundly beaten at Barga in 1437 and again in 1438 at which time Florence increased its lands at the expense of Milan. He had no legitimate heirs but had an illegitimate daughter called Bianca, who was courted by Francesco Sforza.
Franceso was the illegitimate son of an illiterate peasant from Romagna called Giacomo Attendolo, who had been abducted by a group of brigands and who, when their leader died, took over the group changed his name to Sforza and turned them into one of the finest mercenary companies around. In 1424 at the age of twenty-two Francesco took over the company and fought successfully for the Pope, the Venetians and latterly the Viscontis of Milan. He had already carved out a small Duchy for himself in the Marches, but now wished to marry Bianca Visconti and become Duke of Milan on her father’s death. In November 1441 Filippo agreed to the marriage giving Bianca Pontremoli and Cremona as her dowry and promising Francesco the Duchy of Milan on his death.
However when Filippo died in 1447, his Will nominated Alfonso, the Aragonese King of Naples as his heir. Sforza now moved to invest Milan as what he regarded as his inheritance but was short of money. Cosimo was only too willing to advance this and not only lent him money but used all his diplomatic skills to help Francesco succeed. Indeed it was due in large measure to Cosimo that Francesco entered Milan as Duke in 1450.
It is worthwhile to look at the reasons for this. Florence had traditionally been allied to Venice, but by now the interests of the two republics were in conflict. Venice was at war with Turkey, with whose empire Florence enjoyed a profitable trade and her navy was a rival to that of Florence. Milan on the other hand in the control of the Sforzas and friendly to Florence would prove a real ally against Venice and allow Florence to gain possession of Lucca, which Florence had long coveted.
There was now a new alliance – the Venetians together with the German Emperor and the Aragonese versus Florence and Milan in alliance with France. Don Ferrante, the illegitimate son of King Alfonso marched on Tuscany. Cosimo sent to the French King for help, but France was still at war with England and could not help. Cosimo’s ambassador, Agnolo Acciaiuoli however persuaded Rene d’Anjou to help. Rene did not have an army, but he did have a group of Scottish mercenaries, and who proceeded to come to the help of Cosimo (10). Eventually in 1454, at Lodi, the warring parties formed the Most Holy League to guarantee the status quo. Francesco Sforza was acknowledged as Duke and Cosimo became the paymaster of the Order of the Lys, paving the way for Francesco to become head of the Order in 1480.
On the 1st. August 1464 Cosimo de Medici died and in 1480 with the death of Rene d’Anjou, Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan became head of the Order.
Somewhere during the period 1490-1492 the Order of the Lys becomes involved in moving large numbers of Jews out of Spain and Portugal and resettling them in the domains of Rene de Lorraine (Grandson of Rene d’Anjou and Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ordre du Lys) and those of the Medicis. The Passover “Haggadahs” were used by the Jews to show whom to contact. The Sarajevo Haggadah is a beautiful example of the medieval Jewish manuscript and shows clearly how the Haggadahs used a secret code (16) (See also photograph). Many of the Jews were doctors, having skills acquired from Eastern and Islamic sources, and were very welcome additions to military orders. They also brought with them considerable literature, which was to form part of the Renaissance.
It was thought at one time, that the Order of the Lys only supported the House of Anjou in France, and certainly there appears to be an underground raison d’être, which only becomes apparent at certain key times and I believe that it was given the task of trying to protect the Anjou dynastic interests (later Guise-Lorraine). For example after Rene’s death the House of Valois annexed all of Rene’s lands and the members of the Order covertly supported the House of Lorraine against the Valois for the French Throne and one Gabriel de Montgomery, Sieur de Lorges and a senior member of the Order manages to ‘inadvertently’ kill King Henry II of France in a Tourney by sticking him through the eye with a broken lance. (Note the personal Crests of certain branches of the Montgomery family) (17).
Two things happened. The first, thanks to the work of Professor Yuri Stoyanov and others, it seems that in fact a part of the Order, probably one or two companies, together with the Order of the Crescent and the Order of the Dragon fought an ongoing campaign against the Turks in the Balkans and that many of the later Serbian Noble Families are in fact descended from the Knights of one or other of these three orders. There is in fact an underground crypt in Bosnia laid out in the form of a giant Fleur de Lys, where apparently members of the Order both lived and worshiped in hiding.
It is also notable that many of the members who fought in the Balkans were descendants of Jews brought out of Spain and later Byzantium by the Medicis. Notwithstanding this, the Order continued to supply Mercenary Companies to the French Crown from 1439 until 1652 and members fought in many of France’s foreign campaigns like the Italian Campaign, where the Order fielded two companies, one under Robert Stuart, Lord of St. Quentin, the second under William Christon of Connestray.
The more important event however, was the marriage in 1538 of Marie de Guise to James V of Scotland. At once the Order needed to protect this major branch of the House of Guise-Lorraine and it switches its main base from France to Scotland. It is notable that nearly all the Grand Commanders from now on are Scots with the only exceptions being members of the Guise Lorraine families themselves.