The Cerchi and the Donati—Origin of the Bianca and Nera factions in Pistoia—They come to Florence—Open enmity of the Donati and the Cerchi—Their first conflict—The Cerchi head the Bianca faction—The Donati take part with the Nera—The pope’s legate at Florence increases the confusion with an interdict—New affray between the Cerchi and the Donati—The Donati and others of the Nera faction banished by the advice of Dante Alighieri—Charles of Valois sent by the pope to Florence—The Florentines suspect him—Corso Donati and the rest of the Nera party return to Florence—Veri Cerchi flies—The pope’s legate again in Florence—The city again interdicted—New disturbances—The Bianchi banished—Dante banished—Corso Donati excites fresh troubles—The pope’s legate endeavors to restore the emigrants but does not succeed—Great fire in Florence.
The Cerchi and the Donati were, for riches, nobility, and the number and influence of their followers, perhaps the two most distinguished families in Florence. Being neighbors, both in the city and the country, there had arisen between them some slight displeasure, which, however, had not occasioned an open quarrel, and perhaps never would have produced any serious effect if the malignant humors had not been increased by new causes. Among the first families of Pistoia was the Cancellieri. It happened that Lore, son of Gulielmo, and Geri, son of Bertacca, both of this family, playing together, and coming to words, Geri was slightly wounded by Lore. This displeased Gulielmo; and, designing by a suitable apology to remove all cause of further animosity, he ordered his son to go to the house of the father of the youth whom he had wounded and ask pardon. Lore obeyed his father; but this act of virtue failed to soften the cruel mind of Bertacca, and having caused Lore to be seized, in order to add the greatest indignity to his brutal act, he ordered his servants to chop off the youth’s hand upon a block used for cutting meat upon, and then said to him, “Go to thy father, and tell him that sword wounds are cured with iron and not with words.”
The unfeeling barbarity of this act so greatly exasperated Gulielmo that he ordered his people to take arms for his revenge. Bertacca prepared for his defense, and not only that family, but the whole city of Pistoia, became divided. And as the Cancellieri were descended from a Cancelliere who had had two wives, of whom one was called Bianca (white), one party was named by those who were descended from her BIANCA; and the other, by way of greater distinction, was called NERA (black). Much and long-continued strife took place between the two, attended with the death of many men and the destruction of much property; and not being able to effect a union among themselves, but weary of the evil, and anxious either to bring it to an end, or, by engaging others in their quarrel, increase it, they came to Florence, where the Neri, on account of their familiarity with the Donati, were favored by Corso, the head of that family; and on this account the Bianchi, that they might have a powerful head to defend them against the Donati, had recourse to Veri de Cerchi, a man in no respect inferior to Corso.