Even though the Loggia dei Lanzi is today one of the most widely known and visited touristic attractions of the entire planet, few of its visitors stop to ponder the origins of its name and the original function of the building attached to it. Tourist guides and, to be honest, most historians, will simply make vague reference to the fact that German mercenaries – lanzi being the Italianiziation of the German word Landsknechte – would be usually stationed there. However, that is only partially true. Only a very specific unit of German troops had ever there its headquarter: the German Guard of the Medici Dukes of Florence and, from 1569 onwards, Grand Dukes of Tuscany.

Loggia dei Lanzi

The German Guard was first established by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574) after 1541 to replace the Italian Guard that had been disbanded shortly after its commander, Pirro Colonna (?-1550) had lost both face and ducal favor after famously slapping in the face Duchess Eleonora’s favorite dwarf, who had made of him the butt of a joke. That was, of course, just a pretext. In fact, Cosimo I was intent on removing from their posts and from Florence a number of particularly overbearing and meddling Imperial agents while at the same time proving his devotion to Emperor Charles V of Habsburg – to whom the Medici owed their ducal crown.

To silence in part his numerous detractors at the Imperial court, the duke of Florence decided to entrust his own safety and that of his family into the hands of a body of guards raised in Imperial lands along the lines of the Guardia Tudesca of Charles V (est. 1519) and the cent suisses, the Hundred Swiss guards that served as bodyguards to the kings of France since 1480.

Jan van der Straet - The Triumph of the Siena War (detail)

This is the oldest representation of soldiers of the German Guard I was able to find. The German halberdiers are here portrayed escorting Prince Francesco de’ Medici as this latter exits Florence from Porta San Pier Gattolini to greet the Florentine army returning triumphantly from the Siena War. The scene itself is supposed to take place in 1555.

A hundred men strong (including their officers) wearing their masters’ livery over their outlandish (that is, by Florentine standards) ‘national’ costume – slashed breeches, emphatically prominent codpiece and all that – and with halberds as their main and iconic weapons, the Hundred Germans would watch over the Medici grand dukes and their families for almost two centuries. That is, until the Habsburg-Lorraine replaced the Medici as new ruling dynasty of Florence, replaced them with a brand-new Swiss Guard.

Ranks and Monthly Wages of the Hundred Germans (as in 1607)
Capitano – 36 ducats
Alfiere (standard bearer) – 12
Luogotenente (lieutenant) – 10
Sergente (sergeant) – 8
soldato (private) – 4
17 ducats of capisoldi (allowance funds), and each private was given an extra giulio (a silver coin worth approx. one tenth of a ducat) for every day of service outside Florence.

The Hundred German and their families lived as a small German enclave in Florence, with a series of articles regulating their duties, their lives and their interaction with the ‘locals’ – from drinking to gambling, to religion. From this link you can download a full transcription of the articles that were in vigor in 1582, when Franz von Trauttmansdorff, freiherr van Freienthurn en Castelalt, was appointed commander of the German Guard of Francesco I de’ Medici.

Portrait of Johann Fernberger von Aur

Portrait of Johann Fernberger von Aur, Captain of the German Guard from 1566 to at least 1574

Initially the commanders were recruited from noble families from Tyrol and Trentino. As time passed, however, the title of commander of the German Guard would be granted also to Italian soldiers. Be they German or Italian, their names say very little to most of us today. The only partial exception is Johann Fernberger von Aur (1511-1584), who in his time earned a place in the ‘Hall of Fame’ of military heroes created by Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol and has his own WikiPage. That’s glory for you.

Fieger, Balthasar (1542-1547)
Mager von Fuchsstadt, Martin (1551-?)
Mager von Fuchsstadt, Erasmus
Banale, Michele (from Trent) (1557-1564)
Fernberger von Aur, Johann (1566-?)
Trauttmansdorff, Franz (1582-1591)
Ursin, Severino (1598-?)
Malaspina, Fabrizio (1609-?)
Montecuccoli, Girolamo (1623-?)
Monte, Camillo del (1633-?)
Vitelli, Giulio (1637-?)
Piccolomini d’Aragona, Francesco (1639-?)
Vitelli, Pierfrancesco (1664-?)

This provisional list of captains is not by any means complete. It is just what I was able to put together from indirect sources while working with the Medici Archive Project. Unfortunately, the archive of the German Guard was scattered when the guard itself was disbanded and, owing to their protracted proximity to the Medici ruling family, the Hundred Germans were among the numerous victims of the damnatio memoriae that was inflicted upon the memory of ducal/granducal Florence by Risorgimento and Nationalist historians, intent on glorifying solely Quattrocento and Republican Florence.
It would be great if somebody could finally remedy to this historiographical injustice and narrate the history of a corps that spent almost two centuries close to the center of Florentine power.