For most of a century, the Medici dynasty had held sway in Florence, but subsequent generations neglected to consolidate power, and the family’s fortunes eroded. Through banking and trade, the Medici dynasty gained immense wealth during the 13th Century, and with that wealth came political influence. The Medici Family sought powerful positions in the government early on in the Florentine Republic, but gained fuller control over Florence following their success in financial industries. Although the Medici family would return to power following the collapse of the Medici bank in Florence, they would never again recreate the Medici bank, rather, the dynasty would continue influencing the world through means other than money.
By 1494, the Medici Bank was effectively bankrupt, and the son of Lorenzo de Medici, sometimes called the Piero of Misfortune, made disastrous political decisions, leading the Medici family to be driven out of Florence and lose all their Florentine holdings. By the time his nephew tried to take back control in Florence, The Medici bank was close to collapsing, leading to numerous violations. With the death of Cosimo Medici, a successful banker, in 1464, the banks collapse came within a short span of 30 years. After his death in 1464, Cosimo Medici’s son Piero and grandson Lorenzo had much less stable hands over the branches managers, and slowly lost control over the banks wealth.
As these descendants lost control over the banking empire, economic troubles from foreign nationals who were carrying debts, and the Pazzi plot–a coup detat between competing banking families, supported by the Church, that sought to usurp the control of Medici in Florence–put a stop to the Bank of Medici. Coupled with the economic troubles, the Pazzi lineage was able to overthrow one of Europes most powerful families, which saw Medici Bank shut down all its branches in 1494. Giovanni de Medici opened Medici Bank in 1397 in Florence, the city that was to be, and remains, a central node of the family over the next four hundred years. From Giovanni de Medicis time onwards, and over the following hundred years, the Medici family became one of the largest banks the entire world had ever seen.
The Medici Bank became one of the best known and successful of these institutions, though it was not the first Florence-based bank to accumulate a great deal of wealth. With its private banking connections to the papal court, the Medici bank became the most visible and respected bank in Europe, handling the money of both royalty and merchant classes. The Medici bank was the largest in Europe in the fifteenth century, and helped fuel the rise to political power of the Medicis in the republic of Florence, though officially they remained citizens, not monarchs, until the sixteenth century. Under the leadership of Johns son, Cosimo, the Medici bank became the most powerful in Europe in the 15th century, with branches in Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan, London, Geneva, and elsewhere.
Lorenzo de Medici used his financial success to take over the republic of Florence. Cosimo de Medici, was better equipped to guide and govern the city, but neglected his familys banking activities, leading it to eventual ruin. Giovanni di Becci de Medici (c. 1360-1429), the son of Averardo de Medici (1320-1363), increased the family’s wealth with his establishment of the Medici bank, and became one of the richest men in the republic of Florence. The family’s fortunes then declined, until restored by Giovanni di Bicci de Medici (1360-1429), who made the Medici the richest family in Italy, and possibly in Europe.
The exile of the Medici continued until 1512, at which point the senior branch of the family–those who had been descended from Cosimo the Elder–were allowed to govern until Alessandro de Medici, first Duke of the Republic of Florence, was killed in 1537. The Medici, however, were able to avoid bankruptcy, even using this to install a Medici family in Florence’s elite. Like the other families that rule over Italian Signorie, the Medici were dominant over the governance of their city, were able to subordinate the Republic of Florence to the authority of their family, and created a climate where art and humanism thrived. At different times, the House of Medici was driven out of Florence, but they ultimately came to dominate Florence, and in fact shaped it–with bravery, innovation, and mountains of gold–in their own image.
By this time, the House of Medici was shaping the fate of not only Florence, but Europe itself. It was because of the careful, sophisticated banking practices of Cosimo de Medici that had led to a significant generational increase in Medici family fortunes that the Medicis were able to harness that stimulus from wealth to fund their political power in Florence, and sponsor great artists and projects in the ripe Renaissance. The dynasty did survive, however, with members of the family serving as Dukes of Florence and Grand Dukes of Tuscany from the early 1530s until 1737.