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Watch Empires online: Episode 1 The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance - Birth of a Dynasty

Europe, 1400: A continent torn apart by war and plague is dominated by the authority of the Catholic Church. In the towns and cities live merchants and entrepreneurs who sense that their world is changing. With increasing trade and wealth an appetite for enlightenment develops. No longer neglected in the shadows of the Church, classical philosophy, poetry, art and sculpture begin to reach a new audience. This is especially true in cosmopolitan cities like Florence, home of Cosimo de'Medici. Cradle of the Renaissance Florence in the year 1400 is unlike any other city in Europe. A major trading centre at the heart of Tuscany, it is a republic where powerful families compete for political control. From a side-street off the main piazza, Cosimo's father, Giovanni de'Medici, manages the up-and-coming Medici bank. In one shrewd move, Medici father and son gamble on a Papal election and win. The reward for their loyalty is the entire Papal bank account. On the back of this contract, the Medici bank expands across Europe, elevating the family to the Florentine elite. The Dome Florence's leading families are obsessed by a humiliating failure. For more than a century, an enormous cathedral has loomed over the city. It has no roof or dome and is open to the elements. The original planners built a central space too vast to cover. Whoever could give the city its dome would win everlasting fame. One man believed he knew how to build that dome. Filippo Brunelleschi, goldsmith and engineer, had studied the building techniques and materials of ancient Rome, and believed he could rewrite the rules of modern architecture. Now, with the aid of an egg, he convinced the cathedral authorities to let him loose on the biggest show in town. The Showdown As Medici wealth increases, so does the fury of their rivals. As soon as Giovanni dies, the Albizzi family launches a feud against his Medici heirs. Florence is not big enough for both families, and on September 7,1433, Cosimo de'Medici is arrested and accused of treason. Cosimo bribes his way out of jail, but the Medici are banished and the Albizzi triumph. Now, no friend of Cosimo is safe. Even Brunelleschi is thrown into jail, and work on the dome is halted. Life without the Medici isn't easy. Business in Florence dries up, and within a year the tables turn on the Albizzi. With the intervention of the Pope, Cosimo secures his return to Florence, and assumes his position as unofficial leader of the city. Revenge is sweet. Triumph? With a taste for art and an eye for talent, Cosimo now commissions the finest craftsmen of his age. From Donatello and Lippi to Michelozzo and Gozzoli, magnificent work is produced in the name of the Godfather. By 1436, the dome is at last complete, and Cosimo takes the credit. He invites his friend, the Pope, to perform the holy consecration. In 1439, Cosimo seizes the chance to bring the cultures of east and west together at the magnificent Council of Florence. It is the height of his success, and yet Cosimo fears for the future of his dynasty. His favored son and grandson die before him. I know the humors of my city, before 50 years have passed we shall be expelled, but my buildings will remain. On his death in 1464 Cosimo is honored with the title Pater Patriae - Father of the Fatherland - but who will lead the Medici, and Florence? Who will fill the shoes of the Godfather of the Renaissance?

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