Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 in Florence, Italy. He was the second son of a lawyer. His family was considered poor, but they were prominent in the society. Machiavelli grew up during the era known as the "golden age" in Florence. Not much information is known about his early years, but through his writings, it is evident that he carefully observed political events. A reform movement began in the year 1494, and Medici rule was placed on hold. Machiavelli became an important diplomat because he was assigned as a clerk to Adriani in the second chancery, comparable to the civil service of modern times. In 1498, Machiavelli succeeded Adriani and was elected to the Florentine chancery as a secretary and second chancellor. In 1502, Niccolo Machiavelli married a woman named Marietta Corsini. While Machiavelli held office in the Florentine chancery, he undertook several successful diplomatic missions. These included missions to Louis XII and to the Emperor Maximillan, visits with Cesare Borgia in Romagna, who greatly influenced Machiavelli's political thought. Other journeys included his witnessing the Papal election in 1503, and accompanying Julius II on his first campaign.
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In 1512, the Medici returned to Florence bringing with them the Spanish army. The citizens and people of Florence accepted Soderini who was the current leader, and they welcomed the Medici family back into Florence. Machiavelli was then dismissed from his office. He was then imprisoned and tortured because he was suspected of participating in a conspiracy against the new rulers. Machiavelli's imprisonment and torture were ordered following the election of Giovanni de Medici into the papacy. Niccolo Machiavelli was tortured for a year and was ordered to leave and to never return to his home country, Florence. He then retired in San Casciano. During his retirement, he lived with his wife and six children. He devoted his time to studying and writing history, political philosophies, and even plays. After ten years of writing, he received and gained favor with the Medici family and was called back to office the last two years of his life. Niccolo Machiavelli died in June of the year 1527.
His most important work and the one for which he is best known, The Prince (II Principe) was written in 1513. The focus of the book is monarchies. It is one of the most controversial political works of all time. Many people at the time thought the work must have been written by the devil. The book suggests Christian morals have little to do with actual practice of politics. It also suggests that to acquire and maintain political power, the prince (or ruler) must be willing to use ruthless and unethical means. The Prince suggests that the prince should always assume that others are conspiring against him for his power. It states that a wise prince deceives and attacks his rivals before they can do it to him. Machiavelli wanted The Prince to diminish the thoughts of Italy being divided by a more powerful country and wanted to reflect on how the attitudes and politics were in the 15th and 16th century Italy. The Prince stresses how people behave but not how they ought to behave.
Besides The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a number of other political works. In 1519, his Discourses Upon Livy was completed, which focused on the republican forms of government. Between the years 1519 and 1520, The Art of War (Dell' arte della guerra) was written. 1520 saw his Life of Castruccio Castracani, which focuses on the rise to power of a tyrant of the city of Lucca during the 14th century. In 1525, History of Florence (Istorie fiorentine) was completed. Machiavelli's central concern is the legitimacy of government.
In addition to his political writings, Machiavelli was also a playwright, thus showing himself a true product of the Renaissance. In 1518, he wrote a play called Mandragola. The play was a unique combination of comedy and drama. Another play by Machiavelli called Clizia was written between 1524 and 1525.
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Edited by: Amanda Shea
Researched by: Brian Greene
Written by: Candice Cacal
April 6, 1999
Copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.