The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Chapter 11 : Ecclesiastical Principalities | Summary



In this chapter, Machiavelli describes ecclesiastical principalities. These principalities are difficult to establish but easier to maintain. The prince of the ecclesiastical principality does not rule or defend. Instead, Machiavelli states that it is maintained by the faith of its subjects and the power of God.

As a specific example, Machiavelli discusses the Catholic Church and its popes. Specifically, he recounts the reasons the Church and its popes could not expand their influence. Citing the short reign of popes, Machiavelli explains that they were not able to overcome the various political and military factions exerting themselves to keep the Church down.

With the election of Pope Alexander VI, the Church was able to finally overcome the factions opposing it and greatly expand its influence. Pope Julius, Alexander VI's successor, continued expanding the Church's influence successfully. At the end of the chapter, Machiavelli expresses his hope that the current pope will maintain the greatness the Church has achieved.


All of the historical details that Machiavelli provides relate to the acquisition of "temporal power" by the Church. In this regard, the actions of the popes are to be judged in the same way as the actions of nonecclesiastical princes.

Pope Leo was the pope at the time of the composition of The Prince. Pope Leo's real name was Giovanni de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, to whom Machiavelli dedicated The Prince. The mention of the greatness of the Church, and Machiavelli's wish that Pope Leo can maintain it, is likely meant to convince Lorenzo to heed Machiavelli's advice by highlighting what a powerful position they hold.

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