Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany
The third member of the House of Medici to hold the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany was born on July 30, 1549 to Grand Duke Cosimo I of Tuscany and Eleanora di Toledo, the daughter of the Spanish Viceroy of Naples. He was the fifth son to be born to the couple, though only the third to survive and, as such, he was not expected to ever take the grand ducal throne. However, there was always the need to keep up the family presence in the Sacred College, so young Ferdinando was expected to take on a religious vocation and was educated accordingly. In 1562, at the age of 14, he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal by HH Pope Pius IV (Giovanni Angelo Medici, a distant relative). Teenage cardinals were far from uncommon at the time and in those days a cardinal was not necessarily an ordained man. As it turned out, Ferdinando Cardinal Medici displayed remarkable organizational and administrative skills while working for the Church in Rome. In typical Medici fashion he was also a great patron of the arts and accumulated a remarkable collection at his home, called Villa Medici (now the home of the French Academy in Rome and owned by France). Most assumed that would be where Ferdinand would spend his life.
Grand Duke Ferdinando I brought about something of a revival in Tuscany. He and Grand Duchess Christina had five children over the years; two boys and three girls, and he worked to detach Tuscany from the influence of Spain and the empire. This made him very popular as the public had previously been taxed heavily to pay for contributions to the empire and their own laws had often been superseded by foreign statutes. Grand Duke Ferdinando reestablished the traditional justice system, took a great interest in the well being of his people and enacted many changes that boosted economic development. He established freedom of religion in Tuscany which caused many Jews and Protestants to flock to Livorno in particular and their industry was also a boost to the economy. Harbor improvements helped promote trade, irrigation projects improved agriculture and Florence became a center of banking with branches all across Europe. He took a similarly broad-minded approach to foreign policy but, in that area, was less successful.
Unlike some, Grand Duke Ferdinando was not willing to ally with non-Catholic powers against those of his own faith. Despite his unwillingness to be ruled by Spain or the empire he still supported the Spanish in their war in Algeria, led by King Felipe III, against the Moors and he supported Hapsburg Emperor in his ongoing conflict with the Turks in eastern Europe. In fact, the war galleys of Tuscany won several crucial victories against the Muslim Barbary Pirates operating out of North Africa during his reign, though this commitment to the defense of Christendom did not come without cost and necessitated the raising of taxes, something the Grand Duke had not wanted to do. Nevertheless, he was always a man of vision who favored big ideas, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. His first thought was to follow up the victory of his fleet with the establishment of a domain for Tuscany in North Africa, however, this did not work out. Still, he remained eager to embrace other possibilities. Toward the end of his reign he commissioned the one and only official effort by an Italian state to colonize the Americas. In 1608 Grand Duke Ferdinando commissioned the English Captain Robert Thornton to lead an expedition to the coast of South America, around northern Brazil.