The Renaissance Hermeticists were a secretive lot, hiding their beliefs and practices from the Church.
Their texts originated in 2nd Century Greece, dealing with issues such as alchemy and the proper relationship between man, the gods, and the Earth. In 1460, the texts were introduced to the western world when they arrived in Pistoia. A translation into Latin was made by the flamboyant Florentine, Marsilio Ficino, and spread throughout Italy.
This revival of Hermetical beliefs focused on a heretical lack of hierarchy. The man contained the universe, just as God did, meaning each part of the universe was also a representation of the whole. Man, therefore, could be seen as the centre of the universe.
Hermeticism was driven underground, for, if man could contain God, then what role was there for the Church?
Benevolent caretaker of choir practice spaces, apparently, was not seen as an appealing alternative.
Date of Birth: 1469.
Profession: Philosopher, Writer, Politician.
"Unarmed prophets have always been destroyed, whereas armed prophets have succeeded."
These cynical words were written by Niccolò Machiavelli, one of the greatest minds of the Renaissance. Considered a pioneer of Realist philosophy, he believed that all men are evil and will act upon their vicious nature, if given the chance.
The third son of a Florentine attorney, Machiavelli was tutored by his father in grammar, rhetoric and Latin. In 1494, he entered government service as a clerk and an ambassador. Made a member of the Florentine diplomatic council, he was sent to the courts of France, Spain and Rome between 1499 and 1512. It was druing this time that he met Cesare. Immediately taken with the young Captain General, Machiavelli wrote: "I can find no fault with him." Machiavelli followed Cesare, learning his approach to war, until 1500, when he became de facto leader of the Assassins.
From 1500-1503, he settled in Rome, although little is known of his activities there.
In 1503, Machiavelli was put in charge of the Florentine militia and the city's defense. He recruited citizens for his militia, preferring men who had a stake in Florence's continued success to dispassionate mercenaries. His strategy seemed to work in 1509, when Florence defeated Pisa.
Machiavelli continued to participate in Florentine government after the Medici family was chased out. But, when the Medici returned, they arrested and tortured him. He was accused of conspiring against them.
Unable to find any wrongdoing, the Medici exiled Machiavelli. He retired to his estate in Santa Andrea, where he wrote the famous works "The Prince", "The Discourses on Livy" and "The Florentine Histories".
Machiavelli died in 1527. His place of burial remains unknown.
Date of Birth: 1463.
Profession: Countess of Forlì, Noble.
A countess by marriage, Caterina was notorious far before she ever arrived in Forlì. Raised in the Court of Milan, she received a classical education while tutored in the art of war by her father, the Duke. At court, Caterina also acquired a passion for alchemy and hunting.
In 1473, when she was 10-years-old, Caterina became engaged to Girolamo Riario, the Pope's nephew. They consummated their marriage when she was 14.
Once in Rome, she was heralded as one of the most outgoing nobles at court, while her husband had a reputation for being one of the most ruthless. With the premature death of the Pope's brother, Girolamo gained even more power, securing the titles of Lord of Imola and Forlì.
When the Pope died, looters sacked Rome, destroying Caterina's residence. Unafraid, despite being 7 months pregnant, Caterina rode on horseback to the Castel Sant'Angelo and defended the Vatican with cannon fire and soldiers.
In 1484, she moved with her family to Forlì. Paid off by someone with a grievance against her husband, the Orsi Brothers killed Girolamo in 1488. As a result, Caterina became the ruler of Forlì and Imola.
She wasted no time, winning the favor of nearby rulers, revising the tax system and training the militia herself. Although she advocated peace, when those around her were hurt she dealt fierce vengeance, frequently killing enemies' wives and children in punishment. While Forlì was under attack by Cesare Borgia, the Pope's son, she sent the Pope a letter that had been rubbed with plague sores.
Ultimately, Forlì and Caterina fell to Cesare Borgia in 1499. Caterina was captured and sent to Rodrigo Borgia in Rome, who kept her imprisoned for a year and is rumored to have raped her alongside his son. When she emerged from the Vatican, her hair had turned white.
Exiled to Florence, Caterina died of pneumonia in 1509.
Date of Birth: 1473.
Born in the city of Toru, Royal Prussia (which was actually a part of Poland and should not be confused with Ducal Prussia, Teutonic Prussia or the much later West Prussia), Niccolò Copernico, a.k.a. Nicolaus Copernicus, was the youngest of four siblings. Although he seemed to be destined for the Church, his brother was a priest and his sister a nun after all, Niccolò bucked the family trend...to partake in a humanist education to become a priest. Okay, so at first he wasn't much of a rebel, instead enjoying the privileges granted by his upper class upbringing, he studied Aristotle, Ptolemy and others at the University of Kraków.
By the time he graduated, he spoke four languages, and, while waiting to be appointed to his canonry in Warmia (a rebellious duchy within Poland) he journeyed to Italy to study law. However, rather than focusing on his canonical studies, he attended humanities lectures and began speaking about science and astronomy, notably leading a series of public lectures in Rome. Pope Alexander VI did not take kindly to him and he left the city abruptly in 1501. But Copernico had discovered his passion.
He was so enamoured with his studies, that he applies for a two year extension of his time abroad to learn medicine in Padua. While there, he also became fluent in Greek, and read many ancient texts.
After graduating, he left Italy for good, finally arriving in Warmia to take on his duties. Working as the secretary to his uncle, the Bishop of Warmia, he found time to develop his astronomical theories on the side. He quickly wrote a rough version of his heliocentric theory and than spent his off-hours for the next 30 years recording astral movement from an unknown tower using primitive instruments modelled on far more ancient ones.
Although Copernico has been immortalized for his writings placing the Sun at the centre of the universe, his theories were not published until just before his death in 1543. Some even believe he died as the first copy of his book was placed into his hands.
Date of Birth: 1475 or 1476.
Profession: Noble, Captain General of the Papal Forces.
Born to Rodrigo Borgia's mistress, Vanozza, Cesare studied law then became a cardinal when he was only eighteen. Meanwhile, his older brother Juan, Rodrigo's favorite, became the Captain General of the Papal forces. Cesare realized that his life as a cardinal would lead to a dead end; his brother was going to get everything. He knew exactly what he head to do. Juan had to go.
By 1499, Juan was dead and Cesare had become Captain General. He married a royal French bride, securing her title and an alliance with King Louis. With the aid of the King's forces, Cesare marched on Romagna.
His ruthless drive for power was unprecedented. Get this: when Cesare conquered Faenza he invited the much-beloved Lord of the city, the gallant seventeen-year-old Astorre III Manfredi, into his army. Astorre and Cesar really hit it off, but Astorre posed a threat to Cesare: he was Lord of Faenza due to his bloodline. So, when Cesare got back to Rome, he had both Astorre and his younger brother drowned by tying rocks to their feet and throwing them into the Tiber.
Cesare also proved to be a brilliant general. He seized the city of Urbino without a fight, through the help of the Pope. The plan was simple: the Pope requested a loan of artillery from the Duke, his supposed ally. Once the Duke had sent the artillery, Urbino was defenseless and Cesare invaded.
A cipher to all around him - at one point Isabella d'Este sent Cesare a hundred masks to congratulate him on a victory - Cesare's motivations were unreadable by his enemies and his actions notoriously brutal.
Octavian de Valois
Date of Birth: 1448.
Profession: French General.
The unexpected crowning of his distant cousin Louis XII in 1498 propelled Octavian, the Baron de Valois, to the front of the ranks in Louis's new Italian campaign.
According to the accounts of the King's secretary, the Baron had "only formal training, no actual field experience". He then quipped: "The things one does for one's family".
Valois encountered Cesare and Juan Borgia when they arrived in France to court Cesare's future wife Charlotte. They spent a month together at court, at which point the Baron left for Italy.
Several letters were exchanged between the two in cipher text, only recently cracked, discussing something repeatedly referred to as "our plans for Italy", the King of France was mentioned as an accomplice to these plans.
The Baron de Valois marched into Rome with his men in 1500. For what purpose, it remains unclear. At that point, however, Bartolomeo and his men attacked.
Date of Birth: 1454.
Vieri de Pazzi was more than a bully, he was dangerous. By the age of fifteen, he was already a trained killer, working with his father, Francesco, to take over Florence.
Fortunately, he died by Ezio's hand in 1478.