The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’ Medici: Catherine Fletcher

Born to a dark-skinned maid and Lorenzo II de’ Medici, the illegitimate Alessandro was groomed for power. In 1532, at the age of nineteen, backed by the Holy Roman Emperor–his future father-in-law–and the Pope, he became Duke of Florence, facing down family rivals and oligarchs and
inheriting the grandest dynasty of the Italian Renaissance. Catherine Fletcher’s The Black Prince of Florence is the first complete account of the real-life counterpart to Machiavelli’s Prince.

After ruling for a turbulent six years, Alessandro was murdered in 1537 during a late-night tryst arranged by a scheming cousin. As Fletcher puts it, he was assassinated twice: “first with a sword, then with a pen.” Following his death, Alessandro’s reign was dismissed by his enemies–of which every
Medici prince had many, and Alessandro more than his share–and his death painted as tyrannicide. It was in the years and centuries that followed that his racial origin became a focus, first by those seeking to emphasize his “savagery” and thus to justify his murder, and later to argue his case as
the first ruler of color in the Western world. In 1931, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, founder of the famous collection of African history in Harlem, wrote an article about Alessandro in the magazine The Crisis, then edited by W.E.B. Du Bois, calling him the “Negro Medici.”

Defined by intrigue, opulence, sexual conquest, and an endless struggle to retain power, Alessandro’s life and afterlife reveal how racial identity has played out over the centuries, and to what degree it remains in the eye of the beholder. In this captivating biography of an intriguing and
forgotten figure, Fletcher does full justice to his remarkable story, unraveling centuries-old mysteries, exposing forgeries, and bringing to life the epic personalities–artists, popes, queens, and pimps–of one of the most colorful periods in history.

“[O]ffers an engrossing envoi that contextualizes this prince’s little-known legacy….Sure-footed and novelistic….[O]ffers fresh research while also soliciting a broad popular readership.”–John Gagné, The Historian

“[A]n enviably accessible and entertaining prose style…Recommended.”–CHOICE

“[A] gripping narrative…It is impossible to finish this medieval melodrama without thinking that it would make a riveting series for an enterprising TV producer.”–The Economist

“Fletcher’s first book, The Divorce of Henry VIII, was a study of Vatican intrigue that demonstrated her ability to use rarely accessed Italian archives to create a gripping and original account of a well-worn subject. Here she has used the same skills to even greater effect, creating a compelling
portrait of a forgotten man–himself both brutal and brutalised–once at the very heart of the Renaissance world order. Her narrative follows the extraordinary arc of Alessandro’s life closely, but also uses it to illuminate the bloody opulence of Renaissance Italian politics in all its squalid,
operatic glory.” —The Financial Times

“Nothing in sixteenth century history is more astonishing to our era than the career of Alessandro de’ Medici. His story, told by an exact and fluent historian, challenges our preconceptions. Catherine Fletcher’s eye for the skewering detail makes the citizens of renaissance Florence live again:
courtesans and cardinals, artists and assassins.” –Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall

“Fletcher displays an excellent comprehension of the Medici family and Renaissance political maneuvering. The connections between ruling and royal families, intermarriages, feuds, and assassinations can boggle the mind, but she carefully separates friends from enemies… Medici fans will expand
their awareness of the family’s broad reach, and Renaissance students will discover Machiavelli’s models for The Prince.” —Kirkus

“This is an accomplished and original account of an extraordinary and much misrepresented episode in Italian history. Catherine Fletcher provides a newly sympathetic portrait of a monarch whose rule in Florence was even more unlikely than Henry VII’s presence on the English throne.” –Diarmaid
MacCulloch, author of The Reformation

“In this revelatory work, Fletcher rescues [Allessandro de’
Medici] from the well-known caricature his opponents manufactured while revealing his strengths and weaknesses as an often populist Medici prince…Throughout this compelling narrative, de’ Medici’s unlikely story and extraordinary life
finally feel revealed as Fletcher gives him a welcome new complex legacy.” —Publishers Weekly, Fall 2016 “Top Ten Picks for History”

“Fletcher paints a perceptive picture of mixed loyalties, jealousy and duplicity… The most revealing arguments of the book regard Alessandro’s ethnicity and what it did, or more importantly did not, signify to contemporaries. Fletcher’s book is extensively researched and, like the best stories, a
compelling read.” —Historical Novels Review

“A scintillating book that glisters and gleams with stabbings, poisonings, adultery and intrigue-and a startling reminder of how visceral and dangerous Renaissance Florence was. The drama of events is perfectly complemented by careful scholarship and lucid writing. This is everything a historical
biography should be.” –Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England

“Packed with intrigue…Fletcher describes with cool menace the plotting and politicking that dominated Alessandro’s rule… brought splendidly to life in this excellent book.” –Dan Jones, Sunday Times (UK)

“Like a detective, Fletcher interrogates her witnesses…But it is among the detailed records of Alessandro’s wardrobe-keepers that she finds her treasure…These lend her narrative a sensuous vividity.” –Frances Wilson, Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“As gripping as Othello… Fletcher’s approach is scholarly yet dramatic, immersed in Renaissance glamour.” —The Spectator

“Bold, Breathless and full of suspense.” — Daisy Dunn, The Times (UK)

“Catherine Fletcher is entirely at ease amid the Renaissance world and its archival resources, and her details, particularly those involving dress, feasting, and ceremonial, are generously deployed in the work of recovering a neglected episode of Florentine history.” —Literary Review

“Fletcher recounts [Alessandro de’ Medici’s] life, and even more so the times, in clear and often vivid prose with an eye for interesting detail.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

The Black Prince is a dark and murderous tale that is exceptionally well-told. It leaves the reader rushing from page to page wanting more.”–New York Journal of Books

“Fletcher’s research is impeccable… and her attention to detail proves excellent.”–Washington Free Beacon

“An absorbing tale of betrayal and deadly political alliances during the Renaissance.”–Washington Independent Review of Books

“Alessandro de’ Medici’s life in sixteenth-century Italy speaks volumes about the emerging category of race. In the time since his death, Alessandro has been accorded a dual identity: as the black tyrant who put a violent end to the republican liberty of Florence and as the first person of black
African ancestry to rule a major city-state during the Renaissance. Both stories settle on race as definitive of Alessandro’s historical significance, notwithstanding the fact that a clear definition of race cannot be had.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“With meticulous attention to detail, in The Black Prince of Florence Catherine Fletcher eloquently sets the life of Alessandro against the backdrop of papal power and crisis of dynastic legitimacy.”–Renaissance and Reformation

About the Author

Catherine Fletcher is a historian of Renaissance and early modern Europe. Her first book, The Divorce of Henry VIII, brought to life the Papal court at the time of the Tudors. She consulted on the Golden-Globe-winning TV miniseries Wolf Hall and regularly broadcasts for BBC radio. She is Associate
Professor in History and Heritage at Swansea University and has held research fellowships in London, Florence, and Rome.

  • Publisher: ‎ Oxford University Press (July 8, 2020)
  • Language: ‎ English
  • Paperback: ‎ 338 pages
  • ISBN-10: ‎ 0190092149
  • ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0190092146
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 14.1 ounces
  • Dimensions: ‎ 8.1 x 0.8 x 5.5 inches

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