Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian statesman, born in Florence, May 3, 1469, died there, June 22, 1527. His father, Bernardo Machia-velli, was a lawyer who traced back his ancestry to Hugo, marquis of Tuscany, about the middle of the 9th century; his mother, a woman of talent and a poetess, was descended from the counts of Borgo Nuovo, who flourished in the 10th century. Many of his ancestry on both sides had filled the most important offices in the republic of Florence; of the Machiavellis 13 had held the post of gon-faloniere of justice, and 53 that of prior. In June, 1498, Niccolo entered the service of the state, having been chosen to the office of chancellor of the second chancery of the seigniory. In the following month he was appointed secretary to the " ten of liberty and peace," a body of magistrates to whom was intrusted the supreme government. In this office, to which he owes his title of secretary of the Florentine republic, he continued 14 years. The position of Florence at that period was one of great importance, and the relations of the republic with the principal powers of Europe were such as required the highest qualities of statesmanship for their proper conduct.
Machiavelli was charged with the political correspondence of the government, both foreign and domestic, and with a wide range of diplomatic functions. He was employed in 23 foreign embassies, among which were four to the court of France and two to the emperor Maximilian. He was also intrusted with various commissions to the cities dependent on Florence. His first mission was to France in 1500, and his fourth and last to that court was in 1511. In 1502 he was envoy from the republic to Cesare Borgia, duke of Valentino; and in 1507 he was sent as ambassador to the emperor. His correspondence with his government during these missions was extensive, and his despatches are models of diplomatic style, forming one of the most instructive and entertaining collections of state papers that have ever been published. In the internal administration of Florence, the sagacity and energy of Machiavelli were as conspicuous as in his diplomatic correspondence. The practice of employing mercenary troops he regarded as one great cause of the weakness of the Italian states; and having studied in all its details the art of war, he exerted himself with ardor to organize a national militia, which for a time acquitted itself successfully in the field.
But, distracted by faction and embarrassed by the weakness and vacillation of the chief magistrate Piero Soderini, who had been made gon-faloniere for life, the republic was unable long to contend with her formidable enemies, the pope and the emperor, who had combined to restore the Medici by force of arms. The military and political institutions of the republic were swept away together, and in 1512 the Medici returned in the train of foreign invaders from their long exile. Though his project of a national militia had failed to preserve Florence from her own dissensions and the overwhelming force of her enemies, Machiavelli clung to it with patriotic tenacity. To vindicate it from some popular objections, and to refute some prevailing errors on the subject of military science, he wrote at this time his work on the " Art of War," which however was not printed till 1521. This treatise is in the form of a dialogue between Cosimo Rucellai, a Florentine gentleman, and Fabrizio Colonna, an officer in the service of Spain. The new government soon began to persecute Machiavelli. Three decrees were passed against him within the course of ten days.
By the first two he was deprived of office and condemned to a year's banishment from the city; the third decree mitigated his sentence to a simple prohibition to enter the palace of the seigniory. He went into retirement, but the freedom with which he spoke and wrote on public affairs displeased the government; and in the following year (1513) he was accused, apparently without reason, of being concerned in an extensive conspiracy just discovered against the cardinal de' Medici (shortly afterward Leo X.), and thrown into prison. He was put to the torture, but confessed nothing. For some time he was kept chained in a dungeon, but soon after the accession of Leo X. to the papacy he was included in an amnesty and was liberated. That pope, who possessed great influence in the government of Florence, and admired Machiavelli's literary merit, at length began gradually to recall him to public life. He consulted him on various important affairs of state, and invited him to prepare a plan for the government of Florence. In 1521 he sent him on a mission to the Franciscan friars at Carpi. He was next employed to direct the new fortifications of Florence, and subsequently sent to Venice on a mission of importance.
While there he received the welcome tidings that his name had been again inserted in the list of citizens of Florence who were held eligible to office. He found in Pope Clement VII. a firm friend, and was afterward employed in many important negotiations. His last employment was in the army of the league against Charles V., after which, returning to Florence, he was seized with violent pains in the stomach, and soon died. His body was interred in Santa Croce, where two centuries afterward an English nobleman, Earl Cowper, erected a monument to his memory. - Of the writings of Machiavelli, the most celebrated is the treatise commonly called Il principe, "The Prince," which was written about 1514 and printed in 1532. This work, until recently, was almost universally condemned as designed to teach the vilest arts of despotism, and to present as a model sovereign of an absolute state the perfidious and ferocious Borgia. Scarcely any book'of ancient or modern times has been so violently assailed or has excited so much discussion and controversy.
The terms in which its author was commonly described, says Mac-aulay, " would seem to import that he was the tempter, the evil principle, the discoverer of ambition and revenge, the original inventor of perjury; that before the publication of his fatal ' Prince' there had never been a hypocrite, a tyrant, or a traitor, a simulated virtue, or a convenient crime." The researches of modern Italian scholars, and a better consideration of the political state of Italy in the 15th century, have at length established the true object of "The Prince," and vindicated in some measure the name of its author from the opprobrium heaped upon it. The work is a scientific account of the art of acquiring and preserving despotic power, and is a calm, unvarnished, and forcible exposition of the means by which tyranny may be established and sustained. If it be a guide to princes desiring to become despotic, it is also, as Machiavelli himself remarked, a guide to the people who wish to destroy tyrants. It weakens despotism by exposing its most subtle secrets.
At the same time it exhibits an obliquity of moral principle on the part of its author, so far as political matters are concerned, which can only be palliated by alleging that dissimulation and treachery were universally looked upon in Italy, and indeed throughout Europe in his day, as legitimate political weapons. About a year after the composition of " The Prince " Machiavelli wrote " Discourses on the First Decade of Livy," divided into three books. He also wrote a "History of Florence" (Istorie fiorintine), a work greatly admired for its style, several poems of no great merit, and three or four comedies, of which the best is " The Man-dragola," which was acted in Florence with great success. The fullest and best edition of the works of Machiavelli was published at Florence in 1813, in 8 vols. 8vo. The "History of Florence," " The Prince," and various historical tracts, are in Bonn's " Standard Library" (1 vol., London, 1847). Several of the writings of Machiavelli were early translated in England (1560-1600). All his works were translated into English by Ellis Farne-worth (2 vols. 4to, 1761, and 4 vols. 8vo, 1775). - See Peries, Histoire de N. Machiavel (Paris, 1823), and Artaud de Montor, Machiavel, son genie et ses erreurs (2 vols., 1833).