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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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Chapter 1

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 of Niccolò Machiavelli's philosophical text The Prince.

The Prince | Chapter 1 : How Many Kinds of Principality There Are and the Ways in Which They Are Acquired | Summary



Machiavelli starts by providing a categorization of governments that have existed in history. He claims there are only two sorts of government: republics and principalities. According to Machiavelli, the defining characteristic of a principality is heredity—that is, rulership is passed down through a family.

Next, Machiavelli introduces a subcategorization of principalities. They can be old, meaning the ruling family has been in power for a long time, or they can be new, meaning the ruling family takes territory to start its own domain or to add to its existing domain.

Concerning new principalities, Machiavelli introduces two further subcategorizations. These have to do with how the new principalities were ruled in the past, and how the prince secured the new domains. Machiavelli further divides new principalities into those that were previously ruled by a prince and those that were previously republics. There are a number of different ways to secure a new domain, according to Machiavelli, including by military force, by luck, by skill, or by some combination thereof.


In this first section, Machiavelli sets the stage for his account of effective rulership by princes. He spells out the categories and subcategories in order to thoroughly account for historical examples of successful and unsuccessful princes. Each distinction will be used later to explain the success or failure of a historical leader and thus structure Machiavelli's advice to a prince confronting situations similar to those that have already occurred in history.

Questions for Chapter 1

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