Today I have recorded, edited and released the latest episode of The Burning Archive podcast – The Medici in Games and in History.
This episode is the fifth in the series I have been podcasting in response to my son’s challenge questions on history. They are all themed around gaming, or at least the kind of cultural and historical questions that spring to the imagination from immersion in games. Previous episodes have looked at Norse Myths, Dragons and Dragonslayers, Professions and Guilds, and Games and Play as Windows to History and Culture.
If you like what you read here, do check out my podcast because I think you will enjoy it. While you’re at it share with your friends, and spread the word about the Burning Archive!
This latest episode looks at the Medici family, the premier dynasty of Renaissance Florence. Lorenzo de Medici appears in the game The Assassin’s Creed II, and I play the audio of a short scene from the game during the podcast – thank you Ubisoft! This scene is the climax of the Pazzi conspiracy, a dramatic event in the history of Florence, the Papcy and the Medici. You can read more about the Pazzi conspiracy in a gem of a book by that doyen of Renaissance historians, Lauro Martines, April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici (2003).
It was a lot of fun researching the Medici. I studied Renaissance Florence at school, but at university deprived myself of their drama and documentation. The characters are larger than life, and so richly portrayed from so many perspectives. The stories of the Medici take us through 500 years of European history from the 1200s to the end of the Medici dynasty in Florence in 1743, when the noble gift of the family’s art and treasures to the city of Florence was bequeathed by the last ruling, but childless Anna Maria Luisa de Medici.
In this episode I give a narrative overview of the Medici. I highlight some characteristics of the family’s fortunes that explain their fame in history. Then I tell some anecdotes about five famous Medici: Cosimo, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Pope Leo X, Pope Clement VII, and Catherine de Medici. Of the five, Catherine de Medici was my favourite – she really deserves a podcast of her own. I was especially delighted to learn that Catherine was the progenitor of ballet. I could not source any music, which I could authenticate as linked to Catherine’s ballets, but there is a musical tribute at the end from the game Civilization, in which this great Queen Regent appears as the ruler she truly was.
In making the podcast I drew on podcasts from In our Time and History Today – check them out they come up with Medici as a search term. I used the works of Mary Hollingsworth, The Family Medici: the hidden history of the Medici dynasty (2018), Catherine Fletcher The beauty and the terror : an alternative history of the Italian Renaissance (2020), and Leone Frieda, Catherine de Medici (2003). These historians allowed me to quote original texts from correspondence and Renaissance commentaries on the Medici, giving depth and colour to the podcast.
I was also able to work in our old friend Niccolo Machiavelli, quoting from the last paragraph of The Prince.
The image I am showing with this post depicts Catherine de Medici’s marriage to the future King of France, presided over by her uncle Pope Clement VII, also a Medici. It is from the Uffizi via Wikimedia.
I hope you enjoy the podcast and are inspired to learn more about this remarkable period in history, which has bestowed us so much. I hope it also shows the potential for computer games to allow immersion in history. that immersion is not so far than the imaginative play that Machiavelli himself practised when he withdrew to his study at night to converse with the dead statesmen, and a few empresses, of Rome.