A true copy of a letter written by N. Machiavill in defence of himself and his religion

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A True COPY Of a LETTER Written by N. Machiavill, IN DEFENCE of Himself, And His RELIGION. Translated from an Original Copy.

LONDON, Printed for R. Bentley in Covent-Garden, 1691. [first published in 1675 in the English edition of Machiavelli's Works]



Courteous Reader,

IT hath been usual with almost all those who have Translated this Author into any Language, to spend much of their time and Paper in Taxing his Impieties, and Confuting his Errours, and false Principles, as they are pleased to call them: If upon perusal of his Writings I had found him guilty of any thing that could deceive the Simple, or prejudice the rest of Mankind, I should not have put thee to the hazard of reading him in thy own Language, but rather have suffered him still to sleep in the obscurity of his own, than en|danger the World; but being very well assured of the contrary, and that this Age will rather receive advantage than dammage by this Publication, I did yet think that it was fit to say some|thing in a Preface to vindicate our Author from those Slanders which Priests, and other byast Pens have laid upon him. But still I thought that it might prove a bold and presumptuous Vndertaking, and might excite Laughter, for a Person of my [p4] small Parts and Abilities, to Apologise for one of the greatest Wits, and profoundest Iudgments that ever liv'd amongst the Moderns. In this perplexity, I had the good fortune to meet with this Letter of his own writing, which hath deliver'd me from those scruples, and furnished me with an opportunity of justifying this great Person by his own Pen.

Receive then this choice Piece with benignity, it hath never before been Published in any Language, but lurkt for above 80 years in the private Cabinets of his own Kindred, and the descendants of his own Admirers in Florence; 'till in the beginning of the Pontificat of Urbane the VIIIth, it was procured by the Iesuits, and other Busybodies, and brought to Rome, with an intention to divert that wise Pope from his design of making one of Nicholas Machiavill's Name and Family Cardinal, as (notwithstanding all their opposition) he did not long after. When it was gotten into that City, it wanted not those who had the judgment and curiosity to copy it, and so at length came to enjoy that priviledge which all rare Pieces (even the sharpest Libels and Pasquils) challenge in that Court, which is to be sold to strangers: One of which being a Gentleman of this Countrey, brought it over with him at his return from Florence, in the year 1645. and having Translated it into English, did communicate it to divers of his Friends, and by means of some of them, it hath been my good fortune to be ca|pable of making thee a Present of it; and let it serve as an Apology for our Author, and his Writings, if thou thinkest he need any. I must confess, I believe his Works require little, but rather praise, and admiration;...[p6] As to this Letter I have nothing more to say, but that thou mayest see how right this Author was set in Principles of Religion, before he could have the information which we have had since from the Pens of most Learned and rational Controversists in those Points; and therefore thou mayest admire the Sagacity of his Iudgment. Read him then, and serve God, thy Country, and thy King, with the knowledge he will teach thee. Farewell.

[p7] A True Copy of a LETTER

Written By N. Machiavill, &c.

.... If I remember well, the Exceptions that are taken to those poor things I have publisht, are reduceable to three; first, That in all my Writings I insinuate my great affection to the Democratical Government, even so much as to undervalue that of Monarchy in respect of it; which last I do, not obscurely, in many passages, teach, and as it were perswade the People to throw off. Next, That in some places I vent very great impieties, slighting and vilifying the Church, as Author of all the Misgovernment in [p9] the World, and by such contempt make way for Atheism and Profaneness; and lastly, that in my Book of the Prince I teach Monarchs all the execrable Villanies that can be invented, and instruct them how to break Faith, and so to Oppress and Enslave their Subjects. I shall answer something to every one of these; and that I may observe a right method, will begin with the first.

Having lived in an Age when our poor Country and Government have suffered more Changes and Revolutions than ever did perhaps beyall any People in so short a time; and having had, till the taking of Florence, my share in the managing of Affairs, during almost all these Alterations, sometimes in the Quality of Secretary of our City, and sometimes employ'd in Embassages abroad; I set my self to read the Histories of Antient and Modern Times, that I might by that means find out whether there had not been in all Ages the like Vicissitudes and Accidents in State Affairs, and to search out the Causes of them; and having in some sort satisfied my self therein, I could not abstain from scribling something of the two chief kinds of Government, Monarchy, and Democracy, of which all other forms are but mixtures: And since neither my Parts nor Learning could arrive to follow the steps of the Ancients, by writing according to Method and Art, as Plato, Aristotle, and many others have done upon this Subject; I did content my self to make slight Observations upon both, by giving a bare Character of a Modern Prince, as to the Monarchical frame, and as to the popular chusing the perfectest and most successful of all Governments of that kind upon Earth; and in my Discourses upon it, following the Order of my Author, without ever taking upon me, to argue problematically, much less to decide which of these two Governments is the best: …

[p10] But what if this part of my Accusation had been true? why should I be condemned of Heresy or Indiscretion for preserring a Commonwealth before a Monarchy? Was I not born, bred, and employ'd in a City, which being, at the time I writ, under that Form of Government, did owe all Wealth and Greatness, and all prosperity to it? If I had not very designedly avoided all dogmaticalness in my Observations, (being not willing to imitate young Scholars in their declamations) I might easily have concluded from the Premises I lay down, that a Democracy founded upon good Orders, is the best and most excellent Government, and this without the least fear of confutation; for I firmly believe, that there are none but Flatterers and Sophisters would oppose me, such as will wrest Aristotle, and even Plato himself, to make them write for Monarchy, by misapplying some loose passages in those great Authors; nay, they will tell their Readers, that what is most like the Government of the World by God, is the best, which wholly depends upon his Absolute Power. To make this Comparison run with four feet, these Sycophants must give the poor Prince they intend to Deify, a better and superiour Nature to Humanity, [p11] must create a necessary dependance of all creatures upon him, must endow him with infinite Wisdom and Goodness, and even with Omnipotency it self. It will be hard for any man to be misled in this Argument, by Proofs wrested from Theology, since whosoever reads attentively the Historical part of the Old Testament, shall find that God himself never made but one Government for Men, that this Government was a Commonwealth (wherein the Sanhedrim or Senate, and the Congregation, or popular Assembly had their share) and that he manifested his high displeasure when the rebellious People would turn it into a Monarchy.

...[p12] I shall assert in this place what my Principles are in that which the World calls Rebellion; which I believe to be not only a rising in Arms against any Government we live under, but do acknowledge that word to extend to all Clandestine Conspiracies too, by which the peace and quiet of any Country may be interrupted, and by consequence the Lives and Estates of innocent Persons endanger'd. Rebellion then, so described, I hold to be the greatest Crime that can be committed amongst Men, both against Policy, Morality, and in Foro Conscientiae: But notwithstanding all this, it is an Offence which will be committed whilst the World lasts, as often as Princes tyrannize, and, by Inslaving and Oppressing their Subjects, make Magistracy, which was intended for the Benefit of Mankind, prove a Plague and destruction to it: For let the terrour and the guilt be never so great, it is impossible that Humane Nature, which consists of Passion as well as Vertue, can support with patience and submission the greatest Cruelty and Injustice, whenever either the Weakness of their Princes, the Unanimity of the People, or any other favourable accident, shall give them reasonable hopes to mend their Condition, and provide better for their [p13] own interest by Insurrection: So that Princes and States ought, in the conduct of their Affairs, not only to consider what their People are bound to submit to, if they were inspir'd from Heaven; or were all Moral Philosophers; but to weigh likewise what is probable de facto to fall out, in this corrupt Age of the World, and to reflect upon those dangerous tumults which have happen'd frequently, not only upon Oppression, but even by reason of malversation; and how some Monarchies have been wholly subverted, and changed into Democracies, by the Tyranny of their Princes, as we see (to say nothing of Rome) the powerful Cantons of Swisserland brought by that means, a little before the last Age, to a considerable Commonwealth, courted and sought to by all the Potentates in Christendom. If Princes will seriously consider this matter, I make no question but they will Rule with Clemency and Moderation, and re|turn to that excellent Maxime of the Antients (almost exploded in this Age) that the Interest of Kings, and of their People, is the same, which Truth it hath been the whole Design of my Writings to convince them of.

Now having gone thus far in the description of Rebellion; I think my self obliged to tell you what I conceive not to be Rebellion. Whosoever then takes up Arms to maintain the Politick Constitution, or Government of his Country, in the Condition it then is, I mean, to defend it from being Changed, or Invaded, by the Craft or Force of any Man (although it be the Prince, or Chief Magistrate himself) provided, that such taking up of Arms be Commanded, or Authorised by those who are, by the Orders of that Government, legally intrusted with the Custody of the Liberty of the People, and Foundation of the Government: This I hold to be so far from Rebellion, that I believe it laudable, nay, the Duty of every Member of such Commonwealth; for that he who Fights to Support and Defend the Government he was born and lives under, cannot deserve the odious name of Rebel, but he who endeavours to destroy it.

… [p14] And since they have no other Remedy but by Arms, and that it would be of ill Consequence to make every private man judge when the Rights of the People (to which they have as lawful a Claim as the Prince to his) are Invaded· which would be apt to produce frequent, and sometimes causeless Tumults; therefore it hath been the great Wisdom of the Founders of such Monarchies, to appoint Guardians to their Liberty; which if it be not otherwise exprest, is and ought to be understood to reside in the Estates of the Country, which for that Reason (as also to exercise their share in the Soveraignty, as making Laws, Levying Money, &c.) are frequently to be Assembled in all those Regions in Europe, before mentioned.

[p16] I am charged then in the Second place with Impiety, in villifying the Church, and so to make way for Atheism. I do not deny but that I have very frequently, in my Writings, laid the blame upon the Church of Rome; not only for all the Misgovernment of Christendom, but even for the depravation, and almost total Destruction of Christian Religion it self in this Province. But that this Discourse of mine doth, or can tend to teach Men Impiety, or to make way for Atheism, I peremptorily deny; and although for proof of my innocence herein, I need but refer you, and all others, to my Papers themselves, as they are now Published; (where you will find all my Reasons drawn from Experience, and frequent Examples cited, which is ever my way of arguing) yet since I am put upon it, I shall in a few Lines make that matter possibly a little clearer; and shall first make protestation, that as I do undoubtedly hope, by the Merits of Christ, and by Faith in him, to attain Eternal Salvation; so I do firmly Be|ieve the Christian Profession to be the only true Religion now in the World: Next, I am fully perswaded that all Divine Verities, which God then designed to teach the World, are contained in the Books of Holy Scripture, as they are now extant, and received amongst us. … the Bishops of Rome, by their insatiable Ambition and Avarice, have designedly, as much as in them lies, frustrated the merciful purpose he had in the happy restoration he intended the World by his Son, and in the renewing and reforming of Humane Nature, and have wholly defac'd and spoil'd Christian Religion, and made it a Worldly and a Heathenish thing, and altogether uncapable, as it is practised amongst them, either of directing the ways of its Professors to Vertue and good Life, or of saving their Souls hereafter. If, I say, this do appear, I know no reason why I, for detecting thus much, and for giving warning to the World to take heed of their ways, should be accused of Impiety, or Atheism, or why his Holiness should be so enraged against the poor Inhabitants of the Vallies in Savoy, and against the Albigesi, for calling him Antichrist. …

[p23]. I shall conclude this Discourse, after I have said a word of the most hellish of all the Innovations brought in by the Popes, which is the Clergy; these are a sort of Men, under pretence of ministring to the People in Holy things, set apart, and separated from the rest of Mankind (from whom they have a very distinct, and a very opposite interest) by a Humane Ceremony call'd by a Divine Name, viz. Ordination; these, wherever they are found (with the whole body of the Monks, and Fryers, who are called the Regular Clergy) make a Band which may be called the Ianizaries of the Papacy; these have been the Causers of all the Solicisms and Immoralities in Government, and of all the Impieties and Abominations in Religion, and by consequence of all the Disorder, Villany, and Corruption we suffer under in this de|testable Age. These Men, by the help of the Bishop of Rome, have crept into all the Governments in Christendom, where there is any mixture of Monarchy, and made themselves a third State; that is, have by their Temporalities (which are almost a third part of all the Lands in Europe, given them [p24] by the blind Zeal, or rather folly of the Northern People, who over-ran this part of the World) stept into the Throne, and what they cannot perform by these Secular Helps, and by the dependency their Vassals have upon them, they fail not to claim and to usurp by the Power they pretend to have from God, and his Vicegerent at Rome. They exempt themselves, their Lands, and Goods from all Secular Jurisdiction, that is, from all Courts of Justice, and Magistracy, and will be Judges in their own Cause, as in matters of Tithes, &c. and not content with this, will appoint Courts of their own, to decide Soveraignly in Testimentary Matters, and many other Causes, and take upon them to be the sole Punishers of many great Crimes, as Witchcraft, Sorcery, Adultery, and all Uncleanness: To say nothing of the fore-mentioned Judicatory of the Inquisition, in these last Cases they turn the Offenders over to be punisht (when they have given Sentence) by the Secular Arm, so they call the Magistrate, who is blindly to execute their Decrees, under pain of Hell fire; as if Christian Princes and Governours were appointed only by God to be their Braves, or Hangmen. They give Protection and Sanctuary to all Execrable Offenders, even to Murderers themselves (whom God commanded to be indispensably punisht with death) if they come within their Churches, Cloysters, or any other place which they will please to call Holy Ground; and if the ordinary Justice, nay, the Soveraign Power, do proceed against such Offender, they thunder out their Excommunication, that is, cut off from the Body of Christ, not the Prince only, but the whole Nation, and People; shutting the Church doors, and commanding Divine Offices to cease, and sometimes even authorizing the People to rise up in Arms, and constrain their Governours to a submission; as happen'd to this poor City, in the time of our Ancestors; when for but forbidding the Servant of a poor Carmilite Fryer (who had vowed Poverty, and should have kept none) to go armed, and punishing his disobedience with [p25] Imprisonment, our whole Senate, with their Chief Magi|strate, were constrained to go to Avignon for Absolution, and in case of refusal, had been Massacred by the People. It would almost astonish a Wise Man to imagine how these Folks should acquire an Empire so destructive to Christian Religion, and so pernicious to the Interests of Men; but it will not seem so miraculous to them who shall seriously consider, that the clergy hath been for more than these Thousand Years upon the catch, and a form'd united Corporation against the purity of Religion, and the Interests of Mankind; …

[p28] But this I will Prophesie before I conclude, that if Princes shall perform this business by halves, and leave any root of this Clergy, or Priest-craft, as it now is, in the ground; or if that Famous Reformer, fled some years since out of Picardy, to Geneva, who is of so great Renown for Learning, and Parts, and who promises us so perfect a Reformation, shall not in his Model wholly extirpate this sort of Men; then I say I must foretell, that as well the Magistrate, as this Workman, will find themselves [p29] deceived in their expectation, and that the least Fibra of this Plant will overrun again the whole Vineyard of the Lord, and turn to a diffusive Papacy in every Diocess, perhaps in every Parish. So that God in his mercy inspire them to cut out the Core of the Uulcer, and the bag of this Impostume, that it may never ranckle, or fester any more, nor break out hereafter, to diffuse new corruption and putrefaction through the Body of Christ, which is his Holy Church, nor to vitiate and infect the good Order, and true Policy of Government.

I come now to the last branch of my Charge, which is, That I teach Princes Villany, and and how to Enslave and Oppress their Subjects: ...If any Man will read over my Book of the Prince with impartiality, and ordinary [p30] Charity, he will easily perceive that it is not my intention therein to recommend that Government, or those Men there described, to the World; much less to teach them to trample upon good Men, and all that is Sacred and Venerable upon Earth; Laws, Religion, Honesty, and what not.

If I have been a little too punctual in designing these Monsters, and drawn them to the Life in all their Lineaments, and Colours, I hope Mankind will know them, the better to avoid them; my Treatise being both a Satyr against them, and a true Character of them. I speak nothing of Great and Honourable Princes, as the Kings of France, England, and others, who have the States and Orders of their Kingdoms, with excellent Laws and Costitutions, to found and maintain their Government; and who reign over the Hearts, as well as the Persons of their Subjects. I treat only of those Vermine, bred out of the corruption of our own small Commonwealth, and Cities, or engender'd by the ill blasts that come from Rome, as Olivarolhttp://eebo.chadwyck.com/images/illeg_lett_single.gif· da Fermo, Borgia, the Baglioni, the Bentivogli, and a hundred others, who having had neither right, nor honourable means to bring them to their power, use it with more Violence, Rapine and Cruelty upon the poor People, than those other Renowned Princes shew to the Boars, the Wolves, the Foxes, and other Savage Beasts, which are the Objects of their Chace and Hunting. Whosoever in his Empire over Men is ty'd to no other Rules than those of his own Will and Lust, must either be a Saint to moderate his Passions, or else a very Devil incarnate; or if he be neither of these, both his Life and Reign are like to be very short; for whosoever takes upon him so execrable an Employment, as to Rule Men against the Laws of Nature, and of Reason, must turn all topsey turvy, and [p31] never stick at any thing; for if once he halt, he will fall, and never rise again...


I hope that in shewing as well these Tyrants, as the poor People who are forced to live under them, their danger; that is, by laying before the former, the hellish and precipitous Courses, they must use to maintain their Power; and by representing to the latter what they must suffer, I may be Instrumental, first, to deter private Citizens from attempting upon the Liberties of their Country, or if they have done it, to make them lay down their ill-gotten Authority, and then to warn the rest of the Nobility and People from those Factions and Malignancies in their several Commonwealths and Governments, which might give hope and opportunity to those who are Ambitious amongst them, to aspire to an Empire over them. .. I shall say no more in this matter, but, to conclude all, make a protestation, that as well in this Book, as in all my other Writings, my only scope and design is to promote the interest and welfare of Man|kind, and the peace and quiet of the World; both which [p33] I am so vain as to believe, would be better obtained, and provided for, if the Principles I lay down were followed, and observed, by Princes and People, than they are like to be by those Maximes which are in this Age most in vogue. ..

This 1st of April 1537.


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