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Machiavelli dismissed from Florentine office

This Day in World History

November 7, 1512

Machiavelli dismissed from Florentine office

From 1507 to 1512, Niccoló Machiavelli led the foreign policy of the Republic of Florence. In September of 1512, however, the republican government was overthrown and the powerful Medici family returned from years in exile to resume control of the city-state. Machiavelli spent the first week in November imploring the Medici to continue with a republican government. The message went unheeded; indeed, the day he completed his memorandum on the subject was the day the Medici dismissed Machiavelli from office.

Worse trouble followed.  In February 1513, he was arrested, charged with conspiracy, and imprisoned, where he was tortured. Released in March, Machiavelli retired to his family estate outside the city. There he undertook the work that would bring him his greatest fame: writing The Prince, a how-to manual for political leadership. Dedicating the work to Lorenzo de Medici, possibly in the hope of winning back a position of power and influence, Machiavelli carefully laid out how a prudent prince could secure and maintain power by being both the powerful lion and the cunning fox. In analyzing governance as a matter of following necessity, Machiavelli wrote the first text in political science.

Often criticized for a seemingly amoral view, Machiavelli was actually more complex. While writing The Prince, he also wrote The Discourses on Livy, a thorough exploration of republican government. In addition, the end of The Prince calls for some powerful and charismatic leader to rid Italy of foreign armies. While Machiavelli was never returned to Florence’s government, he did work for two Medici who held high positions in the Roman Catholic Church, one of whom commissioned an official history of Florence. In it, Machiavelli criticized the original Medici regime, the republican government, and the restored Medici rule that followed, proving himself intellectually honest but less cunning than the fox to the end.

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