What does it mean if something or someone is called “Machiavellian?”
The Medicis—Godfathers of the Renaissance
What city is known as the cradle of the Renaissance?
What business are the Medicis involved in?
What enables the Medicis to expand their business across Europe?
Why do the Medicis get mixed up in a feud?
What happens to Lorenzo and Guiliano Medici, heirs to Medici fortune and rule?
How does Cosimo and his descendent, Lorenzo, get out of trouble?
Why do the people turn on the Medicis and banish them in 1492?
Who was the Medici pope?
Why was he criticized?
Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He eventually became a man who lived his life for politics and patriotism. Right now, however, he is associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. The reason for this is a small pamphlet he wrote called The Prince to gain influence with the ruling Medici family in Florence. The political genius of Niccolo Machiavelli was overshadowed by the reputation that was unfairly given to him because of a misunderstanding of his views on politics.
Machiavelli's life was very interesting. He lived a nondescript childhood in Florence, and his main political experience in his youth was watching Savanarola from afar. Soon after Savanarola was executed, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as a secretary. His position quickly rose, however, and was soon engaging in diplomatic missions. He met many of the important politicians of the day, such as the Pope and the King of France, but none had more impact on him than a prince of the Papal States, Cesare Borgia. Borgia was a cunning, cruel man, very much like the one portrayed in The Prince. Machiavelli did not truly like Borgia's policies, but he thought that with a ruler like Borgia the Florentines could unite Italy, which was Machiavelli's goal throughout his life. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was dismissed from office when the Medici came to rule Florence and the Republic was overthrown. The lack of a job forced him to switch to writing about politics instead of being active. His diplomatic missions were his last official government positions.
With this insight, Machiavelli in The Prince simply describes the means by which individuals have tried to seize and to maintain power. Most of the examples he gives are failures; the entire book is suffused with tragedy for at any moment, if the ruler makes one miscalculation, all the authority he has so assiduously cultivated will dry up like the morning dew. The social and political world of the The Prince is monstrously unpredictable and volatile; only the most superhuman calculative mind can overcome this social and political volatility.
Throughout The Prince and the Discourses , it's clear that Machiavelli has praise only for the winners. For this reason, he admires figures such as Alexander VI and Julius II, universally hated throughout Europe as ungodly popes, for thei astonishing military and political success. His refusal to allow ethical judgements enter into political theory branded him throughout the Renaissance as a kind of anti-Christ. In chapters such as "Whether a Prince Should Be True to his Word," Machiavelli argues that any moral judgment should be secondary to getting, increasing and maintaining power. The answer to the above question, for instance, is "it's good to be true to your word, but you should lie whenever it advances your power or security—not only that, it's necessary."
When Machiavelli lost his office, he desperately wanted to return to politics. He tried to gain the favor of the Medici by writing a book of what he thought were the Medici's goals and dedicating it to them. And so The Prince was written for that purpose. Unfortunately, the Medici didn't agree with what the book said, so he was out of a job. But when the public saw the book, they were outraged. The people wondered how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince, and this would come back to haunt him when he was alive and dead. However, if the people wanted to know what Machiavelli really stood for, they should have read his "Discourses on Livy", which explain his full political philosophy. But not enough people had and have, and so the legacy of The Prince continues to define Machiavelli to the general public.
A few years later the Medici were kicked out of Florence. The republic was re-established, and Machiavelli ran to retake the office he had left so many years ago. But the reputation that The Prince had established made people think his philosophy was like the Medici, so he was not elected. And here the sharp downhill of his life began. His health began to fail him, and he died months later, in 1527.
Machiavelli had been unfairly attacked all of his life because of a bad reputation. But it only got worse after he died. He was continually blasted for his "support" of corrupt ruling. In fact, Machiavellian now means corrupt government. Only recently has his true personality come to light. The world must change it's vision of the cold, uncaring Machiavelli to the correct view of a patriot and a political genius.
The Medicis: The Godfathers of the Renaissance
Cradle of the Renaissance
Florence in the year 1400 is unlike any other city in Europe. A major trading centre at the heart of Tuscany, it is a republic where powerful families compete for political control. From a side-street off the main piazza, Cosimo's father, Giovanni de'Medici, manages the up-and-coming Medici bank.
In one shrewd move, Medici father and son gamble on a Papal election and win. The reward for their loyalty is the entire Papal bank account. On the back of this contract, the Medici bank expands across Europe, elevating the family to the Florentine elite.
As Medici wealth increases, so does the fury of their rivals. As soon as Giovanni dies, the Albizzi family launches a feud against his Medici heirs. Florence is not big enough for both families, and on September 7,1433, Cosimo de'Medici is arrested and accused of treason.
Cosimo bribes his way out of jail, but the Medici are banished and the Albizzi triumph. Now, no friend of Cosimo is safe. Life without the Medici isn't easy. Business in Florence dries up, and within a year the tables turn on the Albizzi. With the intervention of the Pope, Cosimo secures his return to Florence, and assumes his position as unofficial leader of the city. Revenge is sweet.
Murder in the Cathedral
Easter Sunday, April 26, 1478: Thousands pack inside the great cathedral of Florence. Amongst them, Lorenzo, his brother, and the Pazzi family. At the height of the ceremony, hired assassins swoop on the heirs to the Medici family. One, Guiliano, is stabbed 19 times and dies in front of his horrified family. The other, Lorenzo, vanishes.
The city descends into chaos. Word spreads of assassination, and the Pazzi try to seize control. Suddenly, at the windows of his palace, Lorenzo emerges, blood-soaked and wounded, but alive.
The city turns on the Pazzi, and its vengeance is brutal.
Giuliano's murder shocks Italy. Allies of the Pazzi want to finish the job that they started, and declare war on Florence. Lorenzo travels alone, to negotiate with the godfathers of the south. “Perhaps God wills that this war, which began with the blood of my brother and myself, should be ended by my means.”
He returns to Florence triumphant, having bribed the King of Naples and foiled the Pope. Hailed il Magnifico (magnificent) by his grateful city, Lorenzo eliminates all opposition. He adopts his dead brother's bastard son, and brings the entire government under his personal control. Lorenzo is now a dictator.
The Prophet of Doom
Lorenzo's appetite for material culture and his taste for high-living offends a zealous young monk. Girolamo Savonarola believes Lorenzo is leading Florence on a decadent path to destruction. He begins to preach against the Medici, “Go and tell Lorenzo to repent of his sins, for God will punish him and his family!“
In 1492, Lorenzo falls ill. Savonarola's predictions are coming true, and his support in Florence grows. The fortunes of the Medici bank collapse and the family's network of influence begins to fall apart.
Lorenzo dies aged 42. Savonarola spreads his breed of fundamentalism throughout Florence. All traces of extravagance are consumed in the Bonfire of the Vanities. Prostitutes are beaten, homosexuals burned to death. The Medici are banished.
Eventually the Medici regain control of Florence and reassert their influence. With the death of Pope Julius, the cardinals gather in Rome. They take so long to elect a new pope, that their meals are reduced to a single unappetizing dish. Giovanni de'Medici is announced as the winner. From now on, he will be known as Pope Leo X.
Pope Leo X builds a reputation for lavish excess, with his love of 65-course banquets and extravagant parties. Desperate for cash, he turns to the ultimate money-spinner, the sale of forgiveness.
Agents of Pope Leo X flog Papal Indulgences across Europe, incurring the fury of many including a German monk. In 1517, Martin Luther publishes the “95 Theses” and sparks a religious revolution.
Sack of Rome
Leo tries to silence the heretic, but succumbs to a simple winter chill. His cousin, Giulio is subsequently crowned Pope Clement VII and has to pick up the pieces. It's a hard task. The fall-out from Luther's reformation brings furious armies to the gates of Rome itself. Many are Lutherans and hate the Pope.
On May 7, 1527 rampaging German soldiers sweep into Rome. Clement escapes the carnage, but the Sack of Rome becomes the blackest moment of the Renaisssance.
After months under siege, Clement bribes his way out of a ruined Rome. His enemies in Florence have rebelled, taking captive the only legitimate heir to the Medici line. Catherine de'Medici is 11-years-old. Her uncle Clement agrees to enter Florence in peace, in return for her safety. Within four years he marries her off to the son of the French King, guaranteeing a future for the Medici. But Clement's own days are numbered. Eventually the corruption and envy of others doom the Medici family’s rule.