The Long Forgotten Black Prince of Florence

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Artist's rendering of Alessandro de' Medici.

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You have probably never heard of him, but Alessandro de’ Medici may have been the first man of color in Europe to serve as a head of state. The Renaissance duke, who briefly ruled the 16th century opulent city-state of Florence, was the illegitimate son of the powerful Italian statesman, Lorenzo de’ Medici. Not much is known about Alessandro’s mother, but she is thought to have been a black servant of the Medici family.

Alessandro's story offers fascinating insights into how race was regarded in 16th century Europe and in the years that followed, and echoes in conversations that are taking place to this day about who is fit to rule, according to Catherine Fletcher.

Fletcher is the author of "The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’Medici," and an associate professor in History and Heritage at Swansea University in the U.K.