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Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 - 1527)

Updated Wednesday 30th August 2006

Introducing the Florentine thinker and political theorist, Niccolò Macchiavelli:

Sting appears as Machiavelli in a 1984 Arena Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

Florence-born Machiavelli came to a position of power and influence at the age of 29, after the ruling Medici family were ejected in favour of a republic. However, in 1512 the republic fell and the Medicis took back control and summarily sacked the troublesome philosopher. In the following year, a conspiracy against the Medici was uncovered and Machiavelli was arrested. Despite torture, Machiavelli maintained his innocence, and was later released.

Reduced to near poverty and out of favour with the Medicis, Machiavelli moved to a family property outside of Florence. Here, in 1513, he wrote extensively, including his most famous work, Il Principe (The Prince).

In this work he describes what is required to manage a state successfully. Core to this, he believes, is the conduct of the prince, who must be seen by the populace as a good man with traditional virtues such as compassion and integrity. However, the prince’s actions must be cunning and ruthless, unconstrained by conventional morality, in order to keep the state loyal and united.

Machiavelli dedicated Il Principe to Lorenzo de Medici (ruler of Florence from 1513). Despite this dedication Lorenzo did not favour Machiavelli. His successor Cardinal Giulo de Medici appointed Machiavelli to a paid position within the University of Florence in 1520, marking the beginning of his return to favour. However, by 1527 Florence was once again a republic and the limited favours that Machiavelli had been given by the Medici now caused him problems. His desire to return to his old position at the heart of Florentine political life was dashed and he died soon afterwards.

 

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