The father of modern political theory, Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, was born at Florence, May 3, 1469, saw the troubles of the French invasion (1493), when the Medici fled, and in 1498 became secretary of the Ten, a post he held until the fall of the republic in 1512.
He was employed in a great variety of missions, including one to the Emperor Maximilian, and four to France.
His dispatches during these journeys, and his treatises on the Affairs of France and Germany, are full of far-reaching insight.
On the restoration of the Medici, Machiavelli was involved in the downfall of his patron, Gonfaloniere Soderini.
Arrested on a charge of conspiracy in 1513, and put to the torture, he disclaimed all knowledge of the alleged conspiracy.
Although pardoned, he was obliged to retire from public life and devoted himself to literature.
It was not until 1519 that he was commissioned by Leo X to draw up his report on a reform of the state of Florence.
In 1521-25 he was employed in diplomatic services and as historiographer.
After the defeat of the French at Pavia (1525), Italy was helpless before the advancing forces of the Emperor Charles V and Machiavelli strove to avert from Florence the invading army on its way to Rome.
In May 1527 the Florentines again drove out the Medici and proclaimed the republic — but Machiavelli, bitterly disappointed that he was to be allowed no part in the movement for liberty, and already in declining health, died on June 22.
Through misrepresentation and misunderstanding his writings were spoken of as almost diabolical, his most violent assailants being the clergy. The first great edition of his works was not issued until 1782. From that period his fame as the founder of political science has steadily increased.
Besides his letters and state papers, Machiavelli’s historical writings comprise Florentine Histories, Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius (commonly known as The Discourses), a Life of Castruccio Castrancani (unfinished) and History of the Affairs of Lucca.
His literary works comprise an imitation of the Golden Ass of Apuleius, an essay on the Italian language, the play Mandragola, and several minor compositions. He also wrote Seven Books on the Art of War.
The greatest source of Machiavelli’s reputation is, of course, The Prince (1532).
The main theme of this short book is that all means may be resorted to for the establishment and preservation of authority — the end justifies the means — and that the worst and most treacherous acts of the ruler are justified by the wickedness and treachery of the governed.