Savonarola refused to pay the customary homage of his office to the ruler of Florence, who at this time was Lorenzo de’ Medici. His own office, the preacher declared, was received, not from Lorenzo, but from God. Overlooking the slight, Lorenzo tried by all means to win Savonarola’s favor, but the reformer persisted in denouncing him. When a committee asked the preacher to desist from his denunciations and prophetic warnings, he bade them tell Lorenzo to repent of his sins, adding that, if he threatened banishment, the ruler himself would soon depart, while his censor would remain in Florence.
In 1492 Lorenzo died and his son Piero succeeded him. But Savonarola now became the most powerful man in the republic, and he exerted himself for reformation of his own monastery, the Church, and the state itself. Soon he prophesied the downfall of the Medici, against whom he arrayed a considerable part of the Florentine people. He predicted that one should come over the Alps and wreak vengeance upon the tyrants of Italy. In 1494 Charles VIII of France invaded Italy, warred against Naples, and advanced on Florence. Piero de’ Medici, thoroughly frightened, surrendered his strongholds and agreed to pay Charles two hundred thousand ducats.
Of Savonarola’s career from this time, and the state of Florence up to the day of his death, the two authors here selected give faithful and vivid narratives. In Romola George Eliot portrays the character and acts of this great reformer with a legitimate intensifying, for artistic purposes, of the certified facts of history.
The month of November, 1494, began under sinister auspices in Florence. The unexpected, almost incredible news of the surrender of fortresses which had cost the republic prolonged sieges and enormous expense, and formed the key of the whole Tuscan territory, instantly raised a tumult among the people, and the general fury was increased by letters received from the French camp, and the accounts of the returned envoys. For they told with what ease honorable terms might have been wrested from the King; with what a mixture of cowardice and self-assertion Piero de’ Medici had placed the whole republic at the mercy of Charles VIII.
All gave free vent to their indignation, and the people began to gather in the streets and squares. Some of the crowd were seen to be armed with old weapons which had been hidden away for more than half a century; and from the wool and silk manufactories strong, broad-set, dark-visaged men poured forth. On that day it seemed as though the Florentines had leaped back a century, and that, after patient endurance of sixty years’ tyranny, they were now decided to reconquer their liberty by violence and bloodshed.