On 12th August in the year 1530, the anti-Medici rebels surrendered the Italian city of Florence to the Imperial army of Emperor Charles V and to the Medici pope, Clement VII. Little Catherine de Medici, who would later become Queen of France, was finally free.
The ongoing struggle between France and the Empire for control of Italy had culminated in the unthinkable – a Christian ruler waging war on the Holy See. On May 6th, 1527 the Imperial army of the Emperor Charles V poured into the city of Rome and with a monumental lack of discipline, brought on in part by the emperor’s inability to pay their wages, they brutally sacked the city. Pope Clement VII and his cardinals escaped to the castle Sant’Angelo where they remained surrounded by troops, watching in horror as the great city of Rome was stripped of its wealth. With no hope of rescue, the pope was forced to accept the emperor’s terms and agreed to remain a prisoner.
The citizens of Florence had become increasingly despairing of the Medici rule of their city. When Giulio di Giuliano de Medici bought and bribed his way to the papal tiara in 1523 (taking the name Clement VII), he left Florence in the hands of Cardinal Passerini who was in charge of two young bastard Medici boys and the last legitimate heir of the Medici family, a little girl named Catherine.
On hearing the Medici pope had been captured by the emperor they opportunistically rose up against the family who had once made their city great, seizing power in the Signoria. The boys Ippolito and Alessandro escaped with their cardinal escort, but little Catherine was left behind and bundled for safe keeping into the convent Murate.
Finally in 1529 the pope made a deal with the emperor – he would crown him as the Holy Roman Emperor and in return the emperor was to support the Medici pope’s efforts to recover Florence. The emperor’s army duly marched north funded by the papal coffers. During the course of the harsh siege when the acting Signoria feared Catherine would be rescued, they debated at length her fate. Many believed an exacting revenge would be to throw her at the end of a rope over the walls for the papal troops to see and thus murder the last legitimate Medici, however, reason prevailed and the 11 year old was taken from the convent Murate in fear for her life and installed at the St Lucia convent.
The siege of Florence lasted just under a year, when the citizens fearing the plague and famine finally surrendered. Catherine was set free and Pope Clement VII had her brought safely to Rome.