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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Niccolò Machiavelli


Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy on May 3, 1469. Niccolò was the third child and first son of Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli, a lawyer of some repute and his wife, Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli. Both parents were members of the old Florentine nobility.

Machiavelli was taught grammar, rhetoric, and Latin.


The Medici's expulsion from Florence in 1494 saw Machiavelli's first entrance into public life. He was appointed clerk in the second chancery of the commune, a medieval writing office whose duties consisted chiefly of carrying out the policy decisions of others, writing diplomatic letters, reading and writing reports, and taking notes.

Early in 1498 Machiavelli was prompted to the rank of second chancellor and secretary to Florentine head of state Piero Soderini. This post he retained until the year 1512.

In the first decade of the sixteenth century, Machiavelli carried out twenty three diplomatic missions to foreign states. These included trips to France and the Vatican.

Machiavelli appears to have been only moderately prosperous in his several embassies and political employments. He was misled by Catherina Sforza, ignored by King Louis XII, overawed by Cesare Borgia; several of his embassies were quite barren of results.

Between 1503 and 1506 Machiavelli was responsible for the Florentine militia. He distrusted mercenaries and instead, inspired by ancient Roman history, staffed his army with citizens.  His attempts to fortify Florence failed, and the soldiery that he raised astonished everybody by their cowardice.

It was not all failure. Under Machivalli's command, the Florentine citizen-soldiers did succeed in defeating and retaking Pisa in 1509.

In August 1512, the Medici, backed by Pope Julius II used Spanish troops to defeat the Florentines at Prato. Machiavelli was dismissed from his role as chancellor and on November 7, 1512  he was arrested, imprisoned, and subjected to the rack as a suspected schemer against the Medici family. Machiavelli was only released upon Giovanni de' Medici's election to the papacy in March 1513 as Pope Leo X.

When Machiavelli left his dungeon he retired to a farm near San Casciano, 9 miles (15 km) from Florence. Unable to secure an appointment from the Medici, he turned to writing.


In 1513, Machiavelli wrote Il Principe (The Prince). a handbook for rulers written whilst struggling to make ends meet after getting sacked by the Medici. It was based on his observations of Cesare Borgia.

Machiavelli suggested in The Prince universal compulsory military service- a novel concept at the time.

Cover page of 1550 edition of Machiavelli's Il Principe and La Vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca

The Prince languished unpublished until five years after his death, although Machiavelli privately circulated the book among friends.

The word "Machiavellin" has come to mean "unscrupulous" when applied to politics  The Prince's counsel to rulers and leaders to lie and cheat when such methods would secure the common good have been influential on many modern tyrannical leaders. Hitler kept a copy of The Prince by his bedside, while Mussolini wrote a forward to an edition of the book.

Machiavelli never actually said, "The ends justify the means." What he said was, "One must consider the final result," which just isn't as catchy.

Machiavelli's 1520 military science tome The Art of War laid the foundations of modern military tactics. It was the only theoretical work to be printed in his lifetime.


Although a Catholic, with his writings Machiavelli abandoned the Christian view of history as guided by God, He viewed events in purely human terms.

Statue at the Uffizi

Machiavelli regarded the state as the supreme end and The Prince was based on the premise that all means to preserve it was justified, morality having nothing to do with the matter.

Machiavelli argued that by the bad example,of  the papacy, Italy had lost its devotion and religion, He claimed that "the nearer one got to Rome, the more corruption one found." Not surprisingly he was condemned by the Pope.


Machiavelli was of middle height, black-haired, with rather a small head, very bright eyes and slightly aquiline nose.

In 1502 Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini, who bore him four sons and two daughters. His grandson, Giovanni Ricci, is credited with saving many of Machiavelli's letters and writings.

In spite of his own infidelities, Machiavelli and Marietts lived on good terms, and she survived him twenty-six years.

Machiavelli stated that the preferred standard for women should be long, blonde, flowing hair as by this time that color was thought to be angelic.


In the spring of 1527 Machiavelli was sent by Francesco Guicciardini, the pope's commissary of war in Civita Vecchia. However, soon after his return to Florence he fell ill. He took medicine which disagreed with him; and on June 21, 1527 Machiavelli died, at 58, after receiving his last rites.

Machiavelli was buried at the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. An epitaph honoring him is inscribed on his monument. The Latin legend reads: TANTO NOMINI NULLUM PAR ELOGIUM ("So great a name (has) no adequate praise" or "No eulogy (would be) a match for such a great name").

Machiavelli's cenotaph in the Santa Croce Church in Florence. By Gryffindor - Wikipedia Commons


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