The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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Niccolò Machiavelli | Biography


Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in the Italian city-state of Florence. Florence was then under the rule of the Medici family. By the time Machiavelli was finished with his education at age 19, his native city was no longer ruled by a noble house but by a republican government. In this period, referring to a government as a republic meant only that it was ruled by law-making bodies made up of people from the recognized citizens of the territory, rather than by a hereditary head of a noble family. For most of his life, Machiavelli worked for this government. The writing for which he is primarily known today was completed after the republican government fell in 1512.

Machiavelli educated himself by reading the many texts in his father's library and by attending public lectures. He gained a thorough knowledge of Latin, history, politics, and philosophy. His education and ability led to him being chosen for a high office in the government of the Florentine Republic in 1498. As Second Chancellor, he served as a diplomat for Florence in its dealings with other Italian city-states and European powers.

When Florence's republican government was dissolved by the Medici family's reclamation of the city, Machiavelli's life became more difficult. Some officials of the former Florentine Republic, Machiavelli among them, were viewed with suspicion by the Medici. While others who had worked for the republic were allowed to continue employment after the change of government, Machiavelli was not. In fact, he was tortured under suspicion of working against the reinstated Medici regime. However, Machiavelli was ultimately released and exiled. In 1513 he moved to the farmlands around Florence.

During his exile, Machiavelli wrote the works for which he is primarily known today. The Prince, though published in 1532, was written in 1513. Additionally, he wrote at least two other well-known works of political and historical scholarship: the Discourses on Livy, his analysis of the republican form of government, and The Art of War, an analysis of proper military conduct. Of these, only The Art of War was published during his life, in 1521.

Machiavelli was not content to remain in exile and spent much time trying to secure official tasks from the Medici rulers of his native city. He succeeded, as he was commissioned to write an official history of Florence in 1520 and acted on behalf of the city's prominent wool manufacturing guild in 1525. The Prince was also written to convince the Medici of Machiavelli's ability as a scholar of politics and history. However, Machiavelli's full return was halted by the second overthrow of the Medici in 1527, followed by Machiavelli's death only a month later.

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