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  • Niccolò Machiavelli

    May 3, 1469 - June 22, 1527
    Part 1 of 11: Early Years

    Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito
    Italian statesman and writer, was born at Florence on the 3rd of May 1469. His ancestry claimed blood relationship with the lords of Montespertoli, a fief situated between Val di Pesa and Val d'Elsa, at no great distance from the city. Niccolò's father, Bernardo (b. 1428), followed the profession of a jurist. He held landed property worth something like £250 a year of our money. His son, though not wealthy, was never wholly dependent upon official income.

    Of Niccolò's early years and education little is known. His works show wide reading in the Latin and Italian classics, but it is almost certain that he had not mastered the Greek language. To the defects of Machiavelli's education we may, in part at least, ascribe the peculiar vigour of his style and his speculative originality. He is free from the scholastic trifling and learned frivolity which tainted the rhetorical culture of his century. He made the world of men and things his study, learned to write his mother-tongue with idiomatic conciseness, and nourished his imagination on the masterpieces of the Romans.

    The year of Charles VIII.'s invasion and of the Medici's expulsion from Florence (1494) saw Machiavelli's first entrance into public life. He was appointed clerk in the second chancery of the commune under his old master, the grammarian, Marcello Virgilio Adriani. Early in 1498 Adriani became chancellor of the republic, and Machiavelli received his vacated office with the rank of second chancellor and secretary. This post he retained till the year 1512. The masters he had to serve were the dieci di liberta e pace, who, though subordinate to the signoria, exercised a separate control over the departments of war and the interior. They sent their own ambassadors to foreign powers, transacted business with the cities of the Florentine domain, and controlled the military establishment of the commonwealth. The next fourteen years of Machiavelli's life were fully occupied in the voluminous correspondence of his bureau, in diplomatic missions of varying importance, and in the organization of a Florentine militia. It would be tedious to follow him through all his embassies to petty courts of Italy, the first of which took place in 1499, when he was sent to negotiate the continuance of a loan to Catherine Sforza, countess of Forli and Imola. In 1500 Machiavelli travelled into France, to deal with Louis XII. about the affairs of Pisa. These embassies were the school in which Machiavelli formed his political opinions, and gathered views regarding the state of Europe and the relative strength of nations. They not only introduced him to the subtleties of Italian diplomacy, but also extended his observation over races very different from the Italians. He thus, in the course of his official business, gradually acquired principles and settled ways of thinking which he afterwards expressed in writing.

    Part 2: Marietta Corsini & Cesare Borgia

    In this biography:
    Part 1: Early Years
    Part 2: Marietta Corsini & Cesare Borgia
    Part 3: Outlines for a New Military Organization
    Part 4: New Militia
    Part 5: Principe, Discorsi & Arte della guerra
    Part 6: Machiavelli's Study of Man
    Part 7: Medicean Princes
    Part 8: History of Florence
    Part 9: Mandragola & Clizia
    Part 10: Final Years
    Part 11: Related Articles, Sites, etc.

    This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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