Introducing The Rise And Fall Of The Borgias,
serialized in three easy 5 minute installments.
This selection is from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli published in 1532.
The treatise The Prince has been described as “a display of cool, judicious, scientific atrocity on the part of Caesar Borgia (Duke Valentino), which seemed rather to belong to a fiend than to the most depraved of men. Principles which the most hardened ruffian would scarcely hint to his most trusted accomplice, or avow without the disguise of some palliating sophism even to his own mind, are professed without the slightest circumlocution, and assumed as the fundamental axioms of all political science.”
On being reproved for the maxims contained in the work, Machiavelli replied, “If I taught princes how to tyrannize, I also taught the people how to destroy them”; and in these words, posterity has vindicated the reputation of the talented Italian statesman and author.
Those who from a private station have ascended to the dignity of princes, by the favor of fortune alone, meet with few difficulties in their progress, but encounter many in maintaining themselves on the throne. Obstructed by no impediments during their journey, they soar to a great height, but all the difficulties arise after they are quietly seated. These princes are chiefly such as acquire their dominions by money or by favor. Such were the men whom Darius placed in Greece, in the cities of Ionia and of the Hellespont, whom, for their own security and glory, he raised to the rank of sovereigns.
Such were the emperors who from a private station arrived at the empire by corrupting the soldiery. They sustained their elevation only by the pleasure and fortune of those who advanced them, two foundations equally uncertain and insecure. They had neither the experience nor the power necessary to maintain their position. For, unless men possess superior genius or courage, how can they know in what manner to govern others who have themselves always been accustomed to a private station? Deficient in knowledge, they will be equally destitute of power for want of troops on whose attachment and fidelity they can depend. Besides, those states which have suddenly risen, like other things in nature of premature and rapid growth, do not take sufficient root in the minds of men, but they must fall with the first stroke of adversity; unless the princes themselves — so unexpectedly exalted — possess such superior talents that they can discover at once the means of preserving their good-fortune, and afterward maintain it by having recourse to the same measures which others had adopted before them.
To adduce instances of supreme power attained by good-fortune and superior talent, I may refer to two examples which have happened in our own time, viz., Francis Sforza and Caesar Borgia. The former, by lawful means and by his great abilities, raised himself from a private station to the dukedom of Milan, and maintained with but little difficulty what had cost him so much trouble to acquire. Caesar Borgia, Duke of Valentinois — commonly called the duke of Valentino — on the other hand, attained a sovereignty by the good-fortune of his father, which he lost soon after his father’s decease; though he exerted his utmost endeavors, and employed every means that skill or prudence could suggest, to retain those states which he had acquired by the arms and good-fortune of another. For, though a good foundation may not have been laid before a man arrives at dominion, it may possibly be accomplished afterward by a ruler of superior mind; yet this can only be effected with much difficulty to the architect and danger to the edifice. If therefore we examine the whole conduct of Borgia, we shall see how firm a foundation he had laid for future greatness. This examination will not be superfluous — for I know no better lesson for the instruction of a prince than is afforded by the actions and example of the Duke — for, if the measures he adopted did not succeed, it was not his fault, but rather owing to the extreme perversity of fortune. Pope Alexander VI, wishing to give his son a sovereignty in Italy, had not only present but future difficulties to contend with. In the first place, he saw no means of making him sovereign of any state independent of the Church; and, if he should endeavor to dismember the ecclesiastical state, he knew that the Duke of Milan and the Venetians would never consent to it, because Faenza and Rimini were already under the protection of the latter; and the armies of Italy, from whom he might expect material service, were in the hands of those who had the most reason to apprehend the aggrandizement of the papal power, such as the Orsini, the Colonni, and their partisans.
It was consequently necessary to dissolve these connections and to throw the Italian states into confusion in order to secure the sovereignty of a part. This was easy to accomplish. The Venetians, influenced by motives of their own, had determined to invite the French into Italy. The Pope made no opposition to their design; he even favored it by consenting to annul the first marriage of Louis XII, who therefore marched into Italy with the aid of the Venetians and the consent of Alexander. He was no sooner at Milan than the Pope availed himself of his assistance to overrun Romagna, which he acquired by the reputation of his alliance with the King of France.
The Duke, having thus acquired Romagna, and weakened the Colonni, wished at the same time to preserve and increase his own principality; but there were two obstacles in his way. The first arose from his own people, upon whom he could not depend, the other from the designs of the French. He feared that the Orsini, of whose aid he had availed himself, might fail at the critical moment, and not only prevent his further acquisitions, but even deprive him of those he had made. And he had reason to apprehend the same conduct on the part of France, and was convinced of the trifling reliance he could place on the Orsini; for after the reduction of Faenza, when he made an attack upon Bologna, they manifested an evident want of activity. As to the King, his intentions were easily discerned; for when he had conquered the duchy of Urbino, and was about to make an irruption into Tuscany, the King obliged him to desist from the enterprise. The Duke determined, therefore, neither to depend on fortune nor on the arms of another prince. He began by weakening the party of the Orsini and the Colonni at Rome, by corrupting all the persons of distinction who adhered to them, either by bribes, appointments, or commands suited to their respective qualities, so that in a few months a complete revolution was effected in their attachment, and they all came over to the Duke.
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