Practically nothing is known of Nicolo Machiavelli before he became a minor official in the Florentine Government. His youth, however, was passed during some of the most tumultuous years in the history of Florence. He was
born the year that Lorenzo the Magnificent came to power, subverting the traditional civil liberties of Florence while inaugurating a reign of unrivaled luxury and of great brilliance for the arts. He was twenty-five at the time of Savonarola's attempt to establish a theocratic democracy, although, from the available evidence, he took no part in it. Yet through his family, he was closer to many of these events than many Florentine citizens. The Machiavelli family for generations had held public office, and his father was a jurist and a minor official. Machiavelli himself, shortly after the execution of Savanarola, became Secretary of the Second Chancery, which was to make him widely known among his contemporaries as the
By virtue of his position Machiavelli served the "Ten of Liberty and Peace,"
who sent their own ambassadors to foreign powers, transacted business with the cities of the Florentine domain, and controlled the military establishment of Florence. During the fourteen years he held office, Machiavelli was placed in charge of the diplomatic correspondence of his bureau, served as Florentine representative on nearly thirty foreign missions, and attempted to organize a citizen militia to replace the mercenary troops.
In his diplomatic capacity, which absorbed most of his energies, he dealt with the various principalities into which Italy was divided at the time. His more important missions, however, gave him insight into the court of the
King of France, where he met the mightiest minister in Europe, Cardinal d' Amboise. On this occasion he began the observation and analysis of national
political forces, which were to find expression in his diplomatic reports. His Report on France was written after he completed three assignments for his office in that country; the Report on Germany was prepared as a result of a mission to the court of Emperor Maximilian.
The most important mission, in view of his later development as a political writer, was that to the camp of Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino. Under the protection of his father, Pope Alexander VI, Cesare was engaged in consolidating the Papal States, and Machiavelli was in attendance upon him at the time of his greatest triumph. Machiavelli had served audiences with Cesare and witnessed the intrigues culminating in the murder of his disaffected captains, which he carefully described in the Method Adopted by Duke Valentino to Murder Vitellozzo Vittli. As the "Florentine Secretary," he was present a few month later in Rome when the end of Cesare came to pass
with disgrace following the death of Alexander VI.
During his diplomatic career Machiavelli enjoyed one outstanding success. Largely through his efforts, Florence obtained the surrender of Pisa, which had revolted from Florentine rule and maintained its independence for years.
Although he did not achieve any other diplomatic triumphs, he was esteemed for the excellence of his reports and is known to have had the confidence of
the president of Florence, the Gonfalonier, Piero Soderini. But with the restoration of the Medicis to power in 1512, Machiavelli's public career came to an abrupt end. His attempts to prove his talents to the new rulers were ineffectual. His appearance as a former gonfalonier man cast significant doubt on his work and he was removed from office and exiled from
the city for one year. He was imprisoned and tortured for allegedly being involved in a conspiracy against the new government. His release required the intervention of Giovanni de Medici himself, albeit after his ascension to the papacy.
On release from his dungeon, Machiavelli with his wife and children, retired
to a small farm not far from Florence....
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