The House of Medici: Inheritance of Power

Written by Edward Charles
Review by Lucinda Byatt

This is the first in a trilogy of novels about the rise and fall of the wealthy banking family whose name is practically synonymous with Renaissance Florence. Charles takes a novel angle on Cosimo’s rise to power by telling the story of his mistress, the Circassian slave Maddalena.

We meet her in 1457 as she enters the Convento di San Damiano. In a series of flashbacks we hear how Cosimo’s father, Giovanni di Bicci, founded the bank that continued to grow, thanks to his son’s acute business sense and political adroitness, and how the management of the bank and Cosimo’s status as the richest man in Italy ensured the prosperity of the family and enabled him to influence the complex workings of the Florentine Republic. The key to this book, and possibly the next, is the tricky moment of transition: handing power down one generation or even two, as Cosimo tries to safeguard his grandson Lorenzo’s future.

This is a thrilling moment of Florentine history, with an incomparable cast of real-life characters. Charles does well with the two women, the abbess and Maddalena, but much more could have been achieved given the wealth of historical research available. I was also perplexed as to why it was necessary to invent a cardinal in the family prior to Giovanni di Lorenzo de’Medici. It will be interesting to see if the second book, The Seeds of Decline, can work the Medici magic to greater effect.