Nicolo Machiavelli was born at Florence on 3rd May 1469. He was the
second son of Bernardo di Nicolo Machiavelli, a lawyer of some repute,
and of Bartolommea di Stefano Nelli, his wife. Both parents were
members of the old Florentine nobility.

His life falls naturally into three periods, each of which singularly
enough constitutes a distinct and important era in the history of
Florence. His youth was concurrent with the greatness of Florence as
an Italian power under the guidance of Lorenzo de' Medici, Il
Magnifico. The downfall of the Medici in Florence occurred in 1494, in
which year Machiavelli entered the public service. During his official
career Florence was free under the government of a Republic, which
lasted until 1512, when the Medici returned to power, and Machiavelli
lost his office. The Medici again ruled Florence from 1512 until 1527,
when they were once more driven out. This was the period of
Machiavelli's literary activity and increasing influence; but he died,
within a few weeks of the expulsion of the Medici, on 22nd June 1527,
in his fifty-eighth year, without having regained office.

Aet. 1-25--1469-94

Although there is little recorded of the youth of Machiavelli, the
Florence of those days is so well known that the early environment of
this representative citizen may be easily imagined. Florence has been
described as a city with two opposite currents of life, one directed
by the fervent and austere Savonarola, the other by the splendour-
loving Lorenzo. Savonarola's influence upon the young Machiavelli must
have been slight, for although at one time he wielded immense power
over the fortunes of Florence, he only furnished Machiavelli with a
subject of a gibe in "The Prince," where he is cited as an example of
an unarmed prophet who came to a bad end. Whereas the magnificence of
the Medicean rule during the life of Lorenzo appeared to have
impressed Machiavelli strongly, for he frequently recurs to it in his
writings, and it is to Lorenzo's grandson that he dedicates "The

Machiavelli, in his "History of Florence," gives us a picture of the
young men among whom his youth was passed. He writes: "They were freer
than their forefathers in dress and living, and spent more in other
kinds of excesses, consuming their time and money in idleness, gaming,
and women; their chief aim was to appear well dressed and to speak
with wit and acuteness, whilst he who could wound others the most
cleverly was thought the wisest." In a letter to his son Guido,
Machiavelli shows why youth should avail itself of its opportunities
for study, and leads us to infer that his own youth had been so
occupied. He writes: "I have received your letter, which has given me
the greatest pleasure, especially because you tell me you are quite
restored in health, than which I could have no better news; for if God
grant life to you, and to me, I hope to make a good man of you if you
are willing to do your share." Then, writing of a new patron, he
continues: "This will turn out well for you, but it is necessary for
you to study; since, then, you have no longer the excuse of illness,
take pains to study letters and music, for you see what honour is done
to me for the little skill I have. Therefore, my son, if you wish to
please me, and to bring success and honour to yourself, do right and
study, because others will help you if you help yourself."

Aet. 25-43--1494-1512

The second period of Machiavelli's life was spent in the service of
the free Republic of Florence, which flourished, as stated above, from
the expulsion of the Medici in 1494 until their return in 1512. After
serving four years in one of the public offices he was appointed
Chancellor and Secretary to the Second Chancery, the Ten of Liberty
and Peace. Here we are on firm ground when dealing with the events of
Machiavelli's life, for during this time he took a leading part in the
affairs of the Republic, and we have its decrees, records, and
dispatches to guide us, as well as his own writings. A mere
recapitulation of a few of his transactions with the statesmen and
soldiers of his time gives a fair indication of his activities, and
supplies the sources from which he drew the experiences and characters
which illustrate "The Prince."

His first mission was in 1499 to Catherina Sforza, "my lady of Forli"
of "The Prince," from whose conduct and fate he drew the moral that it
is far better to earn the confidence of the people than to rely on
fortresses. This is a very noticeable principle in Machiavelli, and is
urged by him in many ways as a matter of vital importance to princes.

In 1500 he was sent to France to obtain terms from Louis XII for
continuing the war against Pisa: this king it was who, in his conduct
of affairs in Italy, committed the five capital errors in statecraft
summarized in "The Prince," and was consequently driven out. He, also,
it was who made the dissolution of his marriage a condition of support
to Pope Alexander VI; which leads Machiavelli to refer those who urge
that such promises should be kept to what he has written concerning
the faith of princes.

Machiavelli's public life was largely occupied with events arising out
of the ambitions of Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare Borgia, the
Duke Valentino, and these characters fill a large space of "The
Prince." Machiavelli never hesitates to cite the actions of the duke
for the benefit of usurpers who wish to keep the states they have
seized; he can, indeed, find no precepts to offer so good as the
pattern of Cesare Borgia's conduct, insomuch that Cesare is acclaimed
by some critics as the "hero" of "The Prince." Yet in "The Prince" the
duke is in point of fact cited as a type of the man who rises on the
fortune of others, and falls with them; who takes every course that
might be expected from a prudent man but the course which will save
him; who is prepared for all eventualities but the one which happens;
and who, when all his abilities fail to carry him through, exclaims
that it was not his fault, but an extraordinary and unforeseen

On the death of Pius III, in 1503, Machiavelli was sent to Rome to
watch the election of his successor, and there he saw Cesare Borgia
cheated into allowing the choice of the College to fall on Giuliano
delle Rovere (Julius II), who was one of the cardinals that had most
reason to fear the duke. Machiavelli, when commenting on this
election, says that he who thinks new favours will cause great
personages to forget old injuries deceives himself. Julius did not
rest until he had ruined Cesare.

It was to Julius II that Machiavelli was sent in 1506, when that
pontiff was commencing his enterprise against Bologna; which he
brought to a successful issue, as he did many of his other adventures,
owing chiefly to his impetuous character. It is in reference to Pope
Julius that Machiavelli moralizes on the resemblance between Fortune
and women, and concludes that it is the bold rather than the cautious
man that will win and hold them both.

It is impossible to follow here the varying fortunes of the Italian
states, which in 1507 were controlled by France, Spain, and Germany,
with results that have lasted to our day; we are concerned with those
events, and with the three great actors in them, so far only as they
impinge on the personality of Machiavelli. He had several meetings
with Louis XII of France, and his estimate of that monarch's character
has already been alluded to. Machiavelli has painted Ferdinand of
Aragon as the man who accomplished great things under the cloak of
religion, but who in reality had no mercy, faith, humanity, or
integrity; and who, had he allowed himself to be influenced by such
motives, would have been ruined. The Emperor Maximilian was one of the
most interesting men of the age, and his character has been drawn by
many hands; but Machiavelli, who was an envoy at his court in 1507-8,
reveals the secret of his many failures when he describes him as a
secretive man, without force of character--ignoring the human agencies
necessary to carry his schemes into effect, and never insisting on the
fulfilment of his wishes.

The remaining years of Machiavelli's official career were filled with
events arising out of the League of Cambrai, made in 1508 between the
three great European powers already mentioned and the pope, with the
object of crushing the Venetian Republic. This result was attained in
the battle of Vaila, when Venice lost in one day all that she had won
in eight hundred years. Florence had a difficult part to play during
these events, complicated as they were by the feud which broke out
between the pope and the French, because friendship with France had
dictated the entire policy of the Republic. When, in 1511, Julius II
finally formed the Holy League against France, and with the assistance
of the Swiss drove the French out of Italy, Florence lay at the mercy
of the Pope, and had to submit to his terms, one of which was that the
Medici should be restored. The return of the Medici to Florence on 1st
September 1512, and the consequent fall of the Republic, was the
signal for the dismissal of Machiavelli and his friends, and thus put
an end to his public career, for, as we have seen, he died without
regaining office.

Aet. 43-58--1512-27

On the return of the Medici, Machiavelli, who for a few weeks had
vainly hoped to retain his office under the new masters of Florence,
was dismissed by decree dated 7th November 1512. Shortly after this he
was accused of complicity in an abortive conspiracy against the
Medici, imprisoned, and put to the question by torture. The new
Medicean people, Leo X, procured his release, and he retired to his
small property at San Casciano, near Florence, where he devoted
himself to literature. In a letter to Francesco Vettori, dated 13th
December 1513, he has left a very interesting description of his life
at this period, which elucidates his methods and his motives in
writing "The Prince." After describing his daily occupations with his
family and neighbours, he writes: "The evening being come, I return
home and go to my study; at the entrance I pull off my peasant-
clothes, covered with dust and dirt, and put on my noble court dress,
and thus becomingly re-clothed I pass into the ancient courts of the
men of old, where, being lovingly received by them, I am fed with that
food which is mine alone; where I do not hesitate to speak with them,
and to ask for the reason of their actions, and they in their
benignity answer me; and for four hours I feel no weariness, I forget
every trouble, poverty does not dismay, death does not terrify me; I
am possessed entirely by those great men. And because Dante says:

Knowledge doth come of learning well retained,
Unfruitful else,

I have noted down what I have gained from their conversation, and have
composed a small work on 'Principalities,' where I pour myself out as
fully as I can in meditation on the subject, discussing what a
principality is, what kinds there are, how they can be acquired, how
they can be kept, why they are lost: and if any of my fancies ever
pleased you, this ought not to displease you: and to a prince,
especially to a new one, it should be welcome: therefore I dedicate it
to his Magnificence Giuliano. Filippo Casavecchio has seen it; he will
be able to tell you what is in it, and of the discourses I have had
with him; nevertheless, I am still enriching and polishing it."

The "little book" suffered many vicissitudes before attaining the form
in which it has reached us. Various mental influences were at work
during its composition; its title and patron were changed; and for
some unknown reason it was finally dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici.
Although Machiavelli discussed with Casavecchio whether it should be
sent or presented in person to the patron, there is no evidence that
Lorenzo ever received or even read it: he certainly never gave
Machiavelli any employment. Although it was plagiarized during
Machiavelli's lifetime, "The Prince" was never published by him, and
its text is still disputable.

Machiavelli concludes his letter to Vettori thus: "And as to this
little thing [his book], when it has been read it will be seen that
during the fifteen years I have given to the study of statecraft I
have neither slept nor idled; and men ought ever to desire to be
served by one who has reaped experience at the expense of others. And
of my loyalty none could doubt, because having always kept faith I
could not now learn how to break it; for he who has been faithful and
honest, as I have, cannot change his nature; and my poverty is a
witness to my honesty."

Before Machiavelli had got "The Prince" off his hands he commenced his
"Discourse on the First Decade of Titus Livius," which should be read
concurrently with "The Prince." These and several minor works occupied
him until the year 1518, when he accepted a small commission to look
after the affairs of some Florentine merchants at Genoa. In 1519 the
Medicean rulers of Florence granted a few political concessions to her
citizens, and Machiavelli with others was consulted upon a new
constitution under which the Great Council was to be restored; but on
one pretext or another it was not promulgated.

In 1520 the Florentine merchants again had recourse to Machiavelli to
settle their difficulties with Lucca, but this year was chiefly
remarkable for his re-entry into Florentine literary society, where he
was much sought after, and also for the production of his "Art of
War." It was in the same year that he received a commission at the
instance of Cardinal de' Medici to write the "History of Florence," a
task which occupied him until 1525. His return to popular favour may
have determined the Medici to give him this employment, for an old
writer observes that "an able statesman out of work, like a huge
whale, will endeavour to overturn the ship unless he has an empty cask
to play with."

When the "History of Florence" was finished, Machiavelli took it to
Rome for presentation to his patron, Giuliano de' Medici, who had in
the meanwhile become pope under the title of Clement VII. It is
somewhat remarkable that, as, in 1513, Machiavelli had written "The
Prince" for the instruction of the Medici after they had just regained
power in Florence, so, in 1525, he dedicated the "History of Florence"
to the head of the family when its ruin was now at hand. In that year
the battle of Pavia destroyed the French rule in Italy, and left
Francis I a prisoner in the hands of his great rival, Charles V. This
was followed by the sack of Rome, upon the news of which the popular
party at Florence threw off the yoke of the Medici, who were once more

Machiavelli was absent from Florence at this time, but hastened his
return, hoping to secure his former office of secretary to the "Ten of
Liberty and Peace." Unhappily he was taken ill soon after he reached
Florence, where he died on 22nd June 1527.


No one can say where the bones of Machiavelli rest, but modern
Florence has decreed him a stately cenotaph in Santa Croce, by the
side of her most famous sons; recognizing that, whatever other nations
may have found in his works, Italy found in them the idea of her unity
and the germs of her renaissance among the nations of Europe. Whilst
it is idle to protest against the world-wide and evil signification of
his name, it may be pointed out that the harsh construction of his
doctrine which this sinister reputation implies was unknown to his own
day, and that the researches of recent times have enabled us to
interpret him more reasonably. It is due to these inquiries that the
shape of an "unholy necromancer," which so long haunted men's vision,
has begun to fade.

Machiavelli was undoubtedly a man of great observation, acuteness, and
industry; noting with appreciative eye whatever passed before him, and
with his supreme literary gift turning it to account in his enforced
retirement from affairs. He does not present himself, nor is he
depicted by his contemporaries, as a type of that rare combination,
the successful statesman and author, for he appears to have been only
moderately prosperous in his several embassies and political
employments. He was misled by Catherina Sforza, ignored by Louis XII,
overawed by Cesare Borgia; several of his embassies were quite barren
of results; his attempts to fortify Florence failed, and the soldiery
that he raised astonished everybody by their cowardice. In the conduct
of his own affairs he was timid and time-serving; he dared not appear
by the side of Soderini, to whom he owed so much, for fear of
compromising himself; his connection with the Medici was open to
suspicion, and Giuliano appears to have recognized his real forte when
he set him to write the "History of Florence," rather than employ him
in the state. And it is on the literary side of his character, and
there alone, that we find no weakness and no failure.

Although the light of almost four centuries has been focused on "The
Prince," its problems are still debatable and interesting, because
they are the eternal problems between the ruled and their rulers. Such
as they are, its ethics are those of Machiavelli's contemporaries; yet
they cannot be said to be out of date so long as the governments of
Europe rely on material rather than on moral forces. Its historical
incidents and personages become interesting by reason of the uses
which Machiavelli makes of them to illustrate his theories of
government and conduct.

Leaving out of consideration those maxims of state which still furnish
some European and eastern statesmen with principles of action, "The
Prince" is bestrewn with truths that can be proved at every turn. Men
are still the dupes of their simplicity and greed, as they were in the
days of Alexander VI. The cloak of religion still conceals the vices
which Machiavelli laid bare in the character of Ferdinand of Aragon.
Men will not look at things as they really are, but as they wish them
to be--and are ruined. In politics there are no perfectly safe
courses; prudence consists in choosing the least dangerous ones. Then
--to pass to a higher plane--Machiavelli reiterates that, although
crimes may win an empire, they do not win glory. Necessary wars are
just wars, and the arms of a nation are hallowed when it has no other
resource but to fight.

It is the cry of a far later day than Machiavelli's that government
should be elevated into a living moral force, capable of inspiring the
people with a just recognition of the fundamental principles of
society; to this "high argument" "The Prince" contributes but little.
Machiavelli always refused to write either of men or of governments
otherwise than as he found them, and he writes with such skill and
insight that his work is of abiding value. But what invests "The
Prince" with more than a merely artistic or historical interest is the
incontrovertible truth that it deals with the great principles which
still guide nations and rulers in their relationship with each other
and their neighbours.

In translating "The Prince" my aim has been to achieve at all costs an
exact literal rendering of the original, rather than a fluent
paraphrase adapted to the modern notions of style and expression.
Machiavelli was no facile phrasemonger; the conditions under which he
wrote obliged him to weigh every word; his themes were lofty, his
substance grave, his manner nobly plain and serious. "Quis eo fuit
unquam in partiundis rebus, in definiendis, in explanandis pressior?"
In "The Prince," it may be truly said, there is reason assignable, not
only for every word, but for the position of every word. To an
Englishman of Shakespeare's time the translation of such a treatise
was in some ways a comparatively easy task, for in those times the
genius of the English more nearly resembled that of the Italian
language; to the Englishman of to-day it is not so simple. To take a
single example: the word "intrattenere," employed by Machiavelli to
indicate the policy adopted by the Roman Senate towards the weaker
states of Greece, would by an Elizabethan be correctly rendered
"entertain," and every contemporary reader would understand what was
meant by saying that "Rome entertained the Aetolians and the Achaeans
without augmenting their power." But to-day such a phrase would seem
obsolete and ambiguous, if not unmeaning: we are compelled to say that
"Rome maintained friendly relations with the Aetolians," etc., using
four words to do the work of one. I have tried to preserve the pithy
brevity of the Italian so far as was consistent with an absolute
fidelity to the sense. If the result be an occasional asperity I can
only hope that the reader, in his eagerness to reach the author's
meaning, may overlook the roughness of the road that leads him to it.

The following is a list of the works of Machiavelli:

Principal works. Discorso sopra le cose di Pisa, 1499; Del modo di
trattare i popoli della Valdichiana ribellati, 1502; Del modo tenuto
dal duca Valentino nell' ammazzare Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da
Fermo, etc., 1502; Discorso sopra la provisione del danaro, 1502;
Decennale primo (poem in terza rima), 1506; Ritratti delle cose dell'
Alemagna, 1508-12; Decennale secondo, 1509; Ritratti delle cose di
Francia, 1510; Discorsi sopra la prima deca di T. Livio, 3 vols.,
1512-17; Il Principe, 1513; Andria, comedy translated from Terence,
1513 (?); Mandragola, prose comedy in five acts, with prologue in
verse, 1513; Della lingua (dialogue), 1514; Clizia, comedy in prose,
1515 (?); Belfagor arcidiavolo (novel), 1515; Asino d'oro (poem in
terza rima), 1517; Dell' arte della guerra, 1519-20; Discorso sopra il
riformare lo stato di Firenze, 1520; Sommario delle cose della citta
di Lucca, 1520; Vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca, 1520; Istorie
fiorentine, 8 books, 1521-5; Frammenti storici, 1525.

Other poems include Sonetti, Canzoni, Ottave, and Canti

Editions. Aldo, Venice, 1546; della Tertina, 1550; Cambiagi, Florence,
6 vols., 1782-5; dei Classici, Milan, 10 1813; Silvestri, 9 vols.,
1820-2; Passerini, Fanfani, Milanesi, 6 vols. only published, 1873-7.

Minor works. Ed. F. L. Polidori, 1852; Lettere familiari, ed. E.
Alvisi, 1883, 2 editions, one with excisions; Credited Writings, ed.
G. Canestrini, 1857; Letters to F. Vettori, see A. Ridolfi, Pensieri
intorno allo scopo di N. Machiavelli nel libro Il Principe, etc.; D.
Ferrara, The Private Correspondence of Nicolo Machiavelli, 1929.


To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De' Medici:

Those who strive to obtain the good graces of a prince are
accustomed to come before him with such things as they hold most
precious, or in which they see him take most delight; whence one
often sees horses, arms, cloth of gold, precious stones, and
similar ornaments presented to princes, worthy of their greatness.

Desiring therefore to present myself to your Magnificence with
some testimony of my devotion towards you, I have not found among
my possessions anything which I hold more dear than, or value so
much as, the knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired by
long experience in contemporary affairs, and a continual study of
antiquity; which, having reflected upon it with great and
prolonged diligence, I now send, digested into a little volume, to
your Magnificence.

And although I may consider this work unworthy of your
countenance, nevertheless I trust much to your benignity that it
may be acceptable, seeing that it is not possible for me to make a
better gift than to offer you the opportunity of understanding in
the shortest time all that I have learnt in so many years, and
with so many troubles and dangers; which work I have not
embellished with swelling or magnificent words, nor stuffed with
rounded periods, nor with any extrinsic allurements or adornments
whatever, with which so many are accustomed to embellish their
works; for I have wished either that no honour should be given it,
or else that the truth of the matter and the weightiness of the
theme shall make it acceptable.

Nor do I hold with those who regard it as a presumption if a man
of low and humble condition dare to discuss and settle the
concerns of princes; because, just as those who draw landscapes
place themselves below in the plain to contemplate the nature of
the mountains and of lofty places, and in order to contemplate the
plains place themselves upon high mountains, even so to understand
the nature of the people it needs to be a prince, and to
understand that if princes it needs to be of the people.

Take then, your Magnificence, this little gift in the spirit in
which I send it; wherein, if it be diligently read and considered
by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain
that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise.
And if your Magnificence from the summit of your greatness will
sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how
unmeritedly I suffer a great and continued malignity of fortune.

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