Renaissance thinkers didn’t heap much praise on the Middle Ages, but the period is full of inspiring figures who performed epic deeds. They’ve stuck with us for hundreds of years, but in many ways, they’ve changed as much as our technology. Here’s a handful of renowned medieval heroes and what we’ve gotten wrong about them.
10. Machiavelli Loved Republics And Hated Principalities
Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469 as the Middle Ages were coming to an end. With feudalism on the way out, many Europeans began to question the legitimacy of monarchical power. A native of Florence, Machiavelli was consumed with political thought, and it was at these political crossroads that he penned his legacy.
Machiavelli’s best-known work is The Prince. Completed in 1513, The Prince has been criticized as a guidebook for tyrants. It contains advice on monarchical rule of a polity and suggests tactics that seem amoral, despicable, and dishonest, all apparently in the name of the greater good. The book is often cited as giving rise to the phrase “the ends justify the means.”
The year before the book’s completion, the Medici family returned to power in Florence after a brief period of expulsion. They were not a group to be trifled with. Concerned with consummating as much power as possible, they had little tolerance for dissension. Consequently, they felt the need to torture Machiavelli and the rest of his republican buddies.
That’s right: Machiavelli was a great supporter of republicanism, not the monarchy. His republican ideals were largely expressed in The Discourses on Livy. When the Medici came to power, he was charged with conspiracy against the rulers, dismissed from his political office, and imprisoned and tortured for a year.
After his release, Machiavelli wrote The Prince. He dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, a man partly responsible for his torture. It’s possible that Machiavelli was simply writing The Prince to appease the new rulers of Florence and thereby avoid further torture. It’s also possible that Machiavelli simply changed his mind, but since The Discourses were written around 1517, it’s likely that Machiavelli still held his republican beliefs. Therefore, though widely considered practical and good advice for a ruler, it’s entirely possible to read The Prince as satire or sabotage, with the intention of bringing the Medici to their knees to make way for a Florentine republic.