Machiavelli was destined for a life of civil service, but
became a victim of the times he lived in. This power-player bet against
the Medici and paid for it for the rest of his life.
legacy is his theory on power and how to keep it, where the end always
justified the means.
The Machiavelli family had long served Florence. Niccolo Machiavelli, born to a scholarly father at the dawn of the reign of Lorenzo the
Magnificent, was also destined for a civic career until the armies of the King of France invaded Italy in 1494. His anger and helplessness
at witnessing his beloved city lose its independence would color his opinions for the rest of his life.
By 1498, Florence was free of foreign invaders, Savonarola's theocracy and Medici dictatorship, and the leaders of the city wanted to resurrect
Republican government. Machiavelli worked at the Chancery of the Republic of Florence.
Piero Soderini, elected chief magistrate for life in 1502, chose the clever young Machiavelli as his political adviser and protégé.
With the Medici agitating for a return to power, Machiavelli had a tough job.
Soderini passed legislation banning any association with, or
public reference to, the Medici family. The government placed a bounty on the heads of the Medici cousins. When the Medici marched towards
Florence on behalf of Pope Julius II, it was Machiavelli who was entrusted with the city's defenses.
Despite his efforts, Machiavelli's troops were no match for the papal militia. In 1512 they decimated Prato, a fortified town just outside
Florence. The game was up. Soderini surrendered the city to Medici rule. It was the end of everything Machiavelli had worked and schemed
for yet Machiavelli was a survivor.
Abandoning his youthful idealism, the spin doctor lobbied hard for a job inside Giovanni de'Medici's new regime, but his ambition was short-lived.
The Medici threw him in jail, tortured him and sent him into solitary exile at his country retreat. It was a punishment worse than death for a man
who found high-level politics as necessary as breathing.
Machiavelli hated exile. He drank in the company of peasants, fought in local villages and railed at his fate. At night, he dressed in the old robes
of office, sat at his desk, and wrote. He drew on his experiences in government and composed a manifesto for pragmatic leadership.
“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved… I see that one
is obliged to look to the results of an action, and not to the means by which it was achieved… The fortunate man is he who fits his plan of
action to the times.”
Machiavelli called his book “The Prince”, and dedicated it to the Medici family. He hoped it might win him back his political career.
His plan backfired. Machiavelli remained in exile for the rest of his life.
His legacy was his name and his manifesto which came to symbolize a new
breed of politics, shrewd but devoid of morality.
- The Republic
- Italy at War
Science & Architecture