Alessandro de Medici: First Duke of Florence
Sixteenth-century African-Italian ruler Alessandro de Medici was born July 22, 1510; he was the son of a Black servant woman named Simonetta da Collavechio and the seventeen-year-old Cardinal Giulio de Medici, who later became Pope Clement VII. The young Alessandro’s father, Cardinal Giulio de Medici, was the nephew of Lorenzo the Magnificent. De Medici’s African heritage is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
Alessandro de Medici was the first Black head of state in the modern western world. On being elected Pope in 1523, Cardinal Giulio was forced to relinquish the lordship of Florence, but appointed a regent for his thirteen-year-old son Alessandro, who had just been created Duke of Penna. A title also went to a nephew, Ipollito. Even though both were illegitimate births, they were the last of what has come to be referred to as the elder line of the family.
Republicanism had grown in Florence under the regent, and when Emperor Charles V sacked Rome in 1527, the Florentines took advantage of the situation to install a more democratic form of government; both de Medici and Ipollito fled. When peace was finally made two years later between the Papal and the Imperial factions, Charles V agreed to restore Florence to the Medicis. After a siege of eleven months, de Medici was brought back as the Emperor’s designated head of state. In 1532, the new Florentine constitution declared him hereditary Duke of the republic. With the death of de Medici’s father, the Pope, in 1534, the exiles attempted to oust the Duke de Medici from Florence. But the Emperor decided to uphold him—and in an obvious show of support, gave de Medici his own daughter, Margaret of Austria, as his wife.
Despite heavy security, Lorenzaccio de Medici—a distant cousin who had ingratiated himself in order to win his confidence—assassinated Alessandro de Medici a few months after his wedding in 1537. During his reign, he wielded great power as the first Duke of Florence. He was the patron of some of the leading artists of the era, and is one of the two Medici princes whose remains are buried in the famous tomb by Michelangelo.