April 26, 1478: Try to picture yourself as a Florentine attending Easter Mass on a bright Sunday morning. The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is packed with worshipers. People bow their heads in respect as the priest raises the wine-filled chalice towards heaven for the holy act of transubstantiation.
In that moment, Giuliano de’ Medici is viciously attacked by two assassins. Using razor-sharp daggers, they repeatedly stab the 25 year old man with such ferocity that poor Giuliano is dead even before he collapses onto the floor in a pool of blood.
His older brother, Lorenzo, manages to escape the deadly blade of an assassin’s knife with little more than a scratch. He flees into the sacristy, and when the coast is clear, his guards smuggle him home.
Believing they have succeeded in overthrowing the Medici, the conspirators behind this evil plot ride through the streets shouting, “The tyrants are dead!” To their surprise, the good citizens of Florence are neither pleased nor impressed with their gruesome handiwork.
The loyal Florentines gather around the Palazzo Medici on Via Larga. Who will rule the city if both Medici brothers are dead? When Lorenzo finally appears in a window, someone in the street shouts, “There he is!” and a sigh of relief echoes through the crowd. Florence’s most beloved son is alive! As if on cue, the people chant, “Palle! Palle! Palle!” in reference to the familiar balls on the Medici crest.
What happens next is right out of a mafia movie. When Lorenzo learns that a rival family, the Pazzi, conspired with his enemies (Archbishop Salviati of Pisa and Pope Sixtus IV) to overthrow him, he executes a brilliant vendetta.
Lorenzo and his men storm the Signoria, taking the usurpers by surprise. The traitors were put to death in a most grizzly manner: defenestration from the highest windows. When news of this horrific spectacle reached the ears of Pazzi supporters, they tried to flee, but they were apprehended by Medici supporters and dragged back to Florence to face severe punishment.
The corpses of the main perpetrators were strung up and publicly displayed outside the Signoria for several days. Their bloated, rotting bodies served as a clear warning to anyone who dared raise a hand against the Medici.