At the time of Cosimo's II death, his son Ferdinando was only eleven years old. His grandmother Christine and his mother Maria Magdalena took on the regency together, in accordance with the wishes Cosimo II expressed in his last will and testament.
The grand duchesses were full of good intentions, but of limited intelligence; in addition, they held radically opposed political views. Their main interest was to turn the court into an increasingly ostentatious and luxurious place, and to this end they plundered the Medici coffers, which Cosimo II had already depleted considerably and which were no longer replenished by income from the family bank. Both women were very devout, not to say bigoted, and set about increasing the number of religious institutions, monks, nuns, and priests until a considerable proportion of the civilian population belonged to religious orders of one kind or another.
Ferdinando was a mild man, oppressed by the conflicting influences of his grand mother and mother, which accentuated the weakness and indecisiveness in his character.
Only after the death of Christine of Lorraine the grand duchy of Ferdinando II saw a last burst of activity, during which Ferdinando attempted to weaken the all-pervading power of the clergy and diminish the authority of the Inquisition; at the same time, following the family tradition, he encouraged the arts and sciences. However his policies as a ruler had been weak and uncertain, above all dominated by Spain and Austria and extremely oppressive for his subjects whatever their social standing.
Unbelievably crushing levies were exacted on everything and everybody, and a tenth of all the revenue from this texation went straight into the coffers of the grand duke, who was particularly avaricious and oppressed by the costly magnificence of life at court in keeping with the directives of his wife, the grand duchess Vittoria della Rovere.
Ferdinando II had three brothers: Cardinal Giovanni Carlo, a lover of sybaritic life, a patron and art collector who occasionally acted as adviser to his brother; Mattias, a professional soldier; and Leopoldo.
Chapter 8: COSIMO III AND THE DECLINE OF THE GRAND DUCHY
Family Portrait: The Medici of Florence (back to index...)