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Dating The Prince: Beginnings and Endings


Let's begin by presenting some newly discovered documents concerning Niccolò Machiavelli. The biographical detail may at first appear overwhelming, but the light these documents shed on the chronology of Machiavelli's composition of The Prince helps to answer some old questions concerning the character of Machiavelli's little treatise. The new documents date from the year 1515. They were drawn up at a time of financial difficulty and profound personal disappointment in the life of the former Florentine secretary and second chancellor. In 1512 Machiavelli had been fired from the chancery of the Florentine Republic. In 1513 he had been arrested on a probably false charge of conspiracy, tortured (although he gave no confession), and then unexpectedly freed in a general amnesty following the election of a Florentine, Giovanni de' Medici, as Pope Leo X. In 1515, at the time these documents were drawn up, Machiavelli was still out of favor. But he was also putting into prose the theoretical work that established the extraordinary reputation still associated with him today.

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1 They are preserved in Archivio di Stato di Firenze (henceforth “ASF”), Notarile antecosimiano (henceforth “NA”) 1233, fol. 322r–v, and will be published in full transcriptions in another context. I am especially grateful to Tommaso Casini for his assistance with this article.

2 Battista di Buoninsegna, Niccolò's second cousin, was the eldest of two Machiavelli boys who, after the death of their father, were looked after by Bernardo, the father of Niccolò and Totto, together with their mother. See Machiavelli Bernardo, Libro di ricordi, ed. Olschki Cesare (Florence: Le Monnier, 1954), 9697 et passim. He is also mentioned in Kuehn Thomas, Heirs, Kin, and Creditors in Renaissance Florence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 105.

3 Battista Guicciardini is mentioned in Machiavelli's famous letter of 10 December 1513 to Francesco Vettori (Machiavelli Niccolò, Lettere, ed. Gaeta Franco, in Opere, vol. 3 [Turin: UTET, 1984], 425). The second witness, Carlo Federighi, is otherwise unknown, but he happened to be the subject of a bronze portrait medal done by Niccolò Fiorentino in 1498 now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

4 ASF, NA 1233, fol. 322r–v.

5 Santoni Luigi, Raccolta di notizie storiche riguardanti le chiese dell'arci-diocesi di Firenze (Florence: Mazzoni, 1847), 349–50. The Machiavelli held two-thirds of the patronage right and the Captains of the Guelf Party one-third. Unlike the English “priory,” which serves a monastic function, the Italian prioria is a simple church that has satellites or other churches subordinate to it.

6 The Machiavelli benefices were described in Brucker Gene, “Niccolò Machiavelli, His Lineage, and the Tuscan Church,” I Tatti Studies, no. 13 (2010): 7789, who associated Niccolò's apparent lack of interest in them with his critical attitude toward the Church. The evidence that Niccolò was instead quite active begins with the two letters of 1497 concerning the benefice of S. Maria a Fagna (Machiavelli, Lettere, 63–65). For a tour of the churches around Montespertoli where the Machiavelli held patronage rights I am most grateful to Giulio Cesare Bucci.

7 That Messer Giampiero Machiavelli was the son of Prior Battista di Filippo di Piero Machiavelli is established above all in ASF, NA 1233, fol. 322v: “locaverunt et concesserunt venerando viro domino Baptiste Philippi de Machiavellis priori Sancti Andree de Montespertulo presenti et conducenti etc., pro se et domino Iohanne Petro et Alexandro fratribus et filiis Baptiste Philippi de Machiavellis.” See also ASF, NA 1237, fol. 56v, a compromissum between Giampiero and Alessandro, brothers and sons of Battista, dated 20 April 1520. Verde Armando F., Lo Studio fiorentino, 1473–1503: Ricerche e documenti, 6 vols. in 9 (Florence and Pistoia, 1973–2010), III:2, p. 849, mistakenly supposed that Giampiero was the son of Battista di Buoninsegna (see note 2 above).

8 ASF, NA 1232, fol. 338r (13 October 1513).

9 Verde, Lo Studio, IV:3, p. 1246, places (the future “Prior”) Battista di Filippo in the benefice in 1493. For the transferral of the benefice to Giampiero in 1504, see Archivio arcivescovile di Firenze (henceforth “AAF”), Atti beneficiali (henceforth “AB”) 9, fols. 179v–180r. For the prohibition under canon law that the Machiavelli dodged, see c. 3, X, De filiis presbyterorum ordinandis vel non, 1, 17: “Non potest filius sacerdotis ecclesiae paternae praeesse.” Arrighi Vanna, “Machiavelli, Totto,” in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, no. 67 (2006): 106, erred in thinking that Prior Battista was still the rector in 1515.

10 ASF, NA 1233, fol. 322v, although he had previously been rector down to 1504 (see the following note).

11 AAF, Visite Pastorali (henceforth “VP”) 004-1, fol. 69r (26 October 1514): “Omnia [canc.: bene] male se habebant. Lampas non erat accensa ante corpus Christi. Domus tota ruinosa. Et ecclesia male se habebat. Relatum est Nicolaum de Malchiavellis tenere ad affictum omnia.” Gene Brucker (see his “Niccolò Machiavelli,” 77) kindly shared a photocopy of the original.

12 For the locations of the castle and the priory and a seventeenth-century dispute over the land owned by each, see Bucci Giulio Cesare, La misteriosa Rocca o Castellaccio dei Machiavelli a Montespertoli (Florence: Edizioni IT.COMM, 2006). The later dispute had its origin in the transaction of 1515 described here.

13 See ASF, Carte strozziane, ser. 1, 118, in which a copy of the 1393 testament is inserted along with the records of a dispute of 1428. A summary of the same testament appears in the ricordanze kept by Ristoro Machiavelli now in the Biblioteca Marucelliana di Firenze, with the relevant passage quoted in Atkinson Catherine, Debts, Dowries, Donkeys: The Diary of Niccolò Machiavelli's Father, Messer Bernardo, in Quattrocento Florence (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 2002), 35n37.

14 The ownership and leasing of the castle is traced reasonably accurately in the seventeenth-century genealogical tree published at the back of the first edition of Machiavelli Bernardo, Libro di ricordi, ed. Olschki Cesare (Florence: Le Monnier, 1954). The genealogy was omitted in the recent (2007) reprint of this book.

15 ASF, NA 1233, fols. 322v–323r.

16 As stated in the genealogical tree (see note 14 above), next to the five sons of Niccolò di Bernardo: “Questi furno eredi di Alexandro di Batista.”

17 AAF, AB 11, fols. 105r–106r; and ASF, Diplomatico, Ricci, normali, 4 July 1515.

18 Letters from (the future “Prior”) Battista of 9 November 1503 and from Totto of 21 November 1503 (in Machiavelli, Lettere, 172–73, 180) that regard a series of rich benefices in Tuscany have sometimes been read (e.g., Brucker, “Niccolò Machiavelli,” 86) as indicating Totto's interest in them, but this is debatable. The unnamed holder of the listed benefices (“d'età d'anni 64” in 1503) was Niccolò Pandolfini, bishop of Pistoia, who was a Medici client. He had been awarded the benefices by the exiled Giovanni de' Medici (but with regress) in order to evade the republic's attempted sequestration of the income.

19 Machiavelli, Lettere, 157, where “nostro nipote” is Giovanni Vernacci. For the interest his uncles took in him, see ibid., 101. One of these Vernacci in-laws was a priest, Luca Battista Vernacci, who had held the benefice at Sant'Andrea in Percussina in 1480 or 1481; see Brucker, “Niccolò Machiavelli,” 81 (although not simply “a local cleric”).

20 Arrighi, “Machiavelli, Totto,” 106.

21 ASF, Diplomatico, Ricci, normali, 5 January 1510, drawn up in Rome, confirms Totto's minor orders as a “clericus,” but the document does not involve his ordination as a priest, as stated in Brucker, “Niccolò Machiavelli,” 86, who followed Tommasini Oreste, La vita e gli scritti di Niccolò Machiavelli, 2 vols. in 3 (Rome: Loescher, 1883–1911), 1:476.

22 Niccolò Machiavelli to Francesco Vettori, 13 March 1513, in Lettere, 361: “Voi sapete in che grado si truova messer Totto nostro. Io lo raccomando a voi et a Pagolo [Vettori] generalmente. Desidera solo, lui et io, questo particulare: di essere posto in tra i familiari del papa, e scritto nel suo rotolo, et averne la patente; di che vi preghiamo.”

23 Brucker, “Niccolò Machiavelli,” 82, citing Verde, Lo Studio, III:1, pp. 554–55: “che non abbia essere prete di contado.”

24 ASF, Diplomatico, Ricci, normali, 28 January 1516, cited by Arrighi, “Machiavelli, Totto,” 106–7.

25 Totto's priestly ordination is recorded in ASF, Diplomatico, Ricci, normali, 2 March 1516, cited by Arrighi, “Machiavelli, Totto,” 106–7.

26 ASF, NA 1235, fols. 167v–168r.

27 In 1520 he became “familiare, domestico and continuo commensale” of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati, and he is recorded as doing administrative work in the Florentine Studio at Pisa at that time (Arrighi, “Machiavelli, Totto,” 106).

28 Machiavelli, Lettere, 488–91.

29 Machiavelli, Lettere, 492, here following the English translation in Machiavelli and His Friends: Their Personal Correspondence, trans. Atkinson James B. and Sices David (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996), 314.

30 Jaeckel Hugo, “What Is Machiavelli Exhorting in His Exhortatio? The Extraordinaries,” in Niccolò Machiavelli: Politico storico letterato, ed. Marchand Jean-Jacques (Rome: Salerno, 1996), 83. Jaeckel's attempt to read The Prince with a view to Machiavelli's alleged cheering on of Francis I's invasion runs into the obstacle of Leo X's hostility to the French. Vivanti Corrado, “Intorno a Machiavelli,” in his Incontri con la storia: Politica, cultura e società nell'Europa moderna, ed. Gotor Miguel and Pedullà Gabriele (Formello: Edizioni SEAM, 2001), 121, notes that it is unlikely that someone hoping for service with the Medici would have wanted to demonstrate the pope's errors in such a fashion. What Jaeckel calls “The Extraordinaries” of chapter 26 more likely refer to the return of the Medici to Florence and to Leo's subsequent election.

31 Machiavelli, Lettere, 492; Machiavelli and His Friends, 315.

32 Sasso Gennaro, Niccolò Machiavelli: Storia del suo pensiero politico, rev. ed. (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1980), 314–20.

33 As in the remarks attributed to Machiavelli by his friends who discussed The Prince with Cardinal Pole, and in the anecdote preserved by Riccardo Riccardi.

34 Larivaille Paul, “In attesa della Stele di Rosetta: Appunti sulla cronistoria di un rompicapo machiavelliano,” Filologia e critica 34, no. 2 (2009): 261.

35 Machiavelli, Lettere, 423–28. On the text of the letter and on Machiavelli's circumstances in 1513, see Connell William J., “New Light on Machiavelli's Letter to Vettori, 10 December 1513,” in Europa e Italia: Studi in onore di Giorgio Chittolini / Europe and Italy: Studies in Honour of Giorgio Chittolini (Florence: Firenze University Press, 2011), 93127.

36 Chabod Federico, “Del Principe di Niccolò Machiavelli” (1925), in Scritti su Machiavelli (Turin: Einaudi, 1964), 29135, and Chabod, “Sulla composizione de Il Principe di Niccolò Machiavelli” (1927), in Scritti, 137–93.

37 Baron Hans, “Machiavelli the Republican Citizen and Author of The Prince,” in In Search of Florentine Civic Humanism: Essays on the Transition from Medieval to Modern Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 2: 101–51.

38 Marchand brought the autograph to the attention of Roberto Ridolfi, who published it. See Ridolfi Roberto and Ghiglieri Paolo, “I Ghiribizzi al Soderini,” La Bibliofilia 72, no. 1 (1970): 5374.

39 Ridolfi Roberto, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli, 7th ed. (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 478.

40 Martelli Mario, “Da Poliziano a Machiavelli: Sull'epigramma dell'Occasione e sull'occasione,” Interpres 2 (1979): 230–54. Larivaille, “In attesa,” offers the best account of the development of Martelli's theory.

41 Martelli Mario, Edizione nazionale delle opere di Niccolò Machiavelli (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1997), 1819.

42 Richardson Brian, “The Prince and Its Early Readers,” in Niccolò Machiavelli's “The Prince”: New Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. Coyle Martin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 25; Larivaille's (“In attesa”) suggested terminus a quo of between June 1516 and 8 October 1516 is undermined by the evidence of the Guicciardinian Discorso—evidence that he himself admits.

43 Connell, “New Light,” 103 and 120–23, suggests that elements found in chapters 19 and 25 of The Prince are already found in Machiavelli's letter to Vettori of 10 December 1513. Robert Black, “Notes on the Date and Genesis of Machiavelli's De principatibus,” in Europa e Italia, 31, writes: “It is clear that Machiavelli's efforts to fill out the text did not extend beyond the spring of 1514.”

44 Baron Hans, “The Principe and the Puzzle of the Date of Chapter 26,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 21, no. 1 (1991): 83102. Why Baron never published the article is not clear. Possibly he realized that if it were recognized that Machiavelli was working seriously on The Prince in 1515, two years after the famous letter to Vettori, it would undermine his prior argument (see note 26 above) that The Prince represented a temporary deviation for the otherwise republican Machiavelli.

45 Connell William J., introduction to The Prince with Related Documents, ed. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005), 19, 33n32, 49n26.

46 Martelli Mario, “La struttura deformata: Sulla diacronia del cap. III del Principe,” Studi di filologia italiana, no. 39 (1981): 77120.

47 Black, “Notes on the Date,” 33–34.

48 Baron, “The Principe.”

49 Dionisotti Carlo, “Machiavelleria ultima,” Rivista storica italiana, no. 107 (1995): 2223.

50 My thanks to Marcello Simonetta for a suggestion to this effect.

51 For the way in which these events brought the brothers together, see Pellegrini Marco, Ascanio Maria Sforza. La parabola politica di un cardinale-principe del rinascimento, 2 vols. (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il medio evo, 2002), 2: 764, who writes: “La solidarietà fraterna con il Moro e con l'operazione dinastica da lui [i.e. Ascanio] compiuta scattò nel cardinale proprio nel momento della catastrofe che piombò addosso a entrambi, dopo una vita di infinite contese.”

52 Dionisotti, “Machiavelleria ultima,” 24–25.

53 Published in Tommasini, Vita e scritti, II:2, pp. 1064–65.

54 Jones Rosemary Devonshire, Francesco Vettori: Florentine Citizen and Medici Servant (London: Athlone, 1972), 103: “Of the two Vettori brothers, it was Paolo who was on good terms with Giuliano.”

55 Machiavelli Niccolò, Lettere familiari, ed. Alvisi Edoardo (Florence: Sansoni, 1883), p. XIV.

56 Pieraccini Gaetano, La stirpe de' Medici di Cafaggiolo: Saggio di ricerche sulla trasmissione ereditaria dei caratteri biologici (1924; repr., Florence: Nardini, 1986), 1: 225–26.

57 Reinhard Hilde, Lorenzo von Medici, Herzog von Urbino, 1492–1515: Ein biographischer Versuch unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Vermittlerrole Lorenzos zwischen Leo X. und Franz I. von Frankreich im Jahre 1515 (Freiburg i. B.: Jos. Waibel, 1935), 48.

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