An Unlikely Prince: The Life and Times of Machiavelli by Niccolo Capponi

By Niccolo Capponi

In this compelling new biography, historian Niccolò Capponi frees Machiavelli (1469–1527) from centuries of misinterpretation. Exploring the Renaissance urban of Florence, the place Machiavelli lived, Capponi unearths the guy at the back of the legend. a fancy portrait of Machiavelli emerges—at as soon as a brilliantly skillful diplomat and a woefully inept liar; a pointy philosopher and an impractical dreamer; a hardnosed powerbroker and a risk-taking gambler; a calculating propagandist and an imprudent jokester.

Capponi’s intimate portrait of Machiavelli unearths his habit as totally un-Machiavellian, his imaginative and prescient of the area as constrained by way of his very provincial outlook. in spite of everything, Machiavelli used to be annoyed via his personal political mess ups and completely baffled through the luck of his e-book The Prince.

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Despite initial successes in the field, the French were ultimately driven from the kingdom of Naples in mid-1496, leaving their Florentine allies to fend for themselves. Charles VIII had initially declined to hand Pisa back, and when eventually he changed his mind his restitution orders were disobeyed. Now, Florence’s refusal to join the League of Venice provided some of its members with a chance to pose as defenders of Pisa’s freedom. Venice and Milan withdrew their military support for the Pisans in 1498, but Florence’s incompetence in the field would mean another eleven years of war before the city could be recaptured—in the course of which Machiavelli would come very much into his own.

In 1466, just three years before Niccolò’s birth, a number of senior citizens, many of them former Medici allies or clients, had conspired to force a change of regime, and the attempt had failed only through a combination of bad luck, bad timing, and defections from the ranks of the plotters. As a result, the Medici not only tightened their grip on Florence but sought also to strengthen their family network outside the city walls. In June 1469, our Machiavelli but a month of age, Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici married Clarice Orsini, scion of a powerful and warlike Roman family, thus acquiring not just connections with the papal curia but also the possibility of tapping into a potential military force.

Florence recomposed herself with the same grace of a lady interrupted by a bomb while sipping tea,” the poet Cristina Campo would write. But the dame’s impassivity could not hide the scars the exploding shrapnel had left in her body. Crossing the bridge and entering the via Guicciardini, one passes on the left the former monastery of Santa Felicita, home of one of the great masterpieces of all times: the Deposition by the maverick painter Jacopo Pontormo, still largely unaffected by the crowds of trippers unloaded by human fishbowls on wheels.

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