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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES - BIOGRAPHY

DIPLOMATIC MISSIONS

In June 1500, Machiavelli was in France at the court of Louis XII, negotiating for assistance in regaining Pisa, which had asserted its independence from Florence and tried to establish an independent city-state. It was in France that Machiavelli saw first-hand the weak leadership of the king he describes so clearly in The Prince. He also learned about the French Parliament and its difficulties in resolving power struggles between the hereditary nobles and the common people.

When the mission to France ended in December of that year, Machiavelli hurried home. His father had died shortly before his departure, his sister had died while he was away, and his family affairs were in disorder. He spent the next two years mainly in and around Florence. It was during this time that he met Marietta Corsini, whom he married about August, 1501. She remains a shadowy figure in Machiavelli's life, but his frequent letters to her suggest his genuine fondness for her. For her part, she bore six children and suffered greatly from her husband's long absences and many infidelities. She outlived Machiavelli by a quarter of a century.

In 1501 Machiavelli met Cesare Borgia, whom he often refers to in The Prince as a model for the political and military leader. Borgia was an illegitimate son of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia. After the cardinal became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, he tried to use his position to advance the fortunes of his family. He gave Cesare the title of Duke of Romagna (an area in northeastern Italy), and Cesare launched a series of campaigns to carve out a territory to match his new title. He quickly overran nearby areas and then asked that an envoy be sent to hear his terms for a formal alliance with Florence. The man selected for this delicate negotiation was Machiavelli.


Machiavelli's mission to Borgia's court lasted four months, during which he had many private discussions with the duke. Machiavelli later reported to his superiors in Florence that Borgia was "superhuman in his courage" and "capable of attaining anything he wants"- someone who "must now be regarded as a new power in Italy." (These observations, originally sent in a secret dispatch to the Ten of War, appear almost word for word in Machiavelli's description of Cesare in Chapter 7 of The Prince.)

In 1507, Machiavelli arrived at the court of Maximilian I, who was Holy Roman Emperor, but who had not been crowned by the pope in Rome. Machiavelli persuaded the emperor not to march into Italy and have himself crowned in Rome. He considered the emperor to be inept, with scarcely any of the qualifications necessary for conducting effective government. Maximilian's basic weakness, according to Machiavelli, was a tendency to be "altogether too lax and credulous" and readily "influenced by every different opinion." (In Chapter 23 of The Prince, Machiavelli incorporates many of the same phrases to sketch an unflattering portrait of Maximilian as incompetent and indecisive.)

When Machiavelli returned to Florence, he received permission from the city's governing council to create a special military board responsible for recruiting a militia, obtaining arms, and providing for the city's defense. When Florence was threatened in 1512 by the Spanish, who wished to restore the Medici family to power, Machiavelli mobilized an army of twelve thousand men to repel the invasion. However, his ill-equipped citizen-soldiers were unable to withstand the heavily armed, disciplined, and seasoned Spanish forces.

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