The Annotated Prince - The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli with notes by Gene Gessert

Chapter 24: Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States

The previous suggestions, carefully observed, will enable a new prince to appear well established, and render him at once more secure and fixed in the state than if he had been long seated there. For the actions of a new prince are more narrowly observed than those of an hereditary one, and when they are seen to be able they gain more men and bind far tighter than ancient blood; because men are attracted more by the present than by the past, and when they find the present good they enjoy it and seek no further; they will also make the utmost defense of a prince if he fails them not in other things. Thus it will be a double glory for him to have established a new principality, and adorned and strengthened it with good laws, good arms, good allies, and with a good example; so will it be a double disgrace to him who, born a prince, shall lose his state by want of wisdom.

And if those seigniors are considered who have lost their states in Italy in our times, such as the King of Naples, the , and others, there will be found in them, firstly, one common defect in regard to arms from the causes which have been discussed at length; in the next place, some one of them will be seen, either to have had the people hostile, or if he has had the people friendly, he has not known how to secure the nobles. In the absence of these defects states that have power enough to keep an army in the field cannot be lost.

Ludovico Sforza lost his state, Milan, to the Louis XII in 1499.  In retook Milan in 1500 only to be driven out again by the French later that same year.

Naples as it was circa 1470.  This portrait by Tavola Strozzi is thought to represent the triumphal return of the ships of Ferdinand I after he defeated the forces of the John of Anjou (the French claimant to the crown of Naples) at the Battle of Ischia in 1465. Attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You cannot tell the rulers of Naples without a scorecard:

  1. Ferrante or Ferdinand I (1423 – 1494) King of Naples from 1458 until 1494 was the bastard son of Alfonso V of Aragon. Alfonso was the grandfather of Ferdinand II of Aragon (or Ferdinand the Catholic who married Isabella).  Ferrante was King of Naples during the Pazzi Conspiracy and it is he with whom Lorenzo de’ Medici negotiated. He was opposed by the Roman Barons (e.g. Orsini and Colona) and was supposed to have been ostentatiously cruel, e.g. having defeated enemies stuffed and put on display. 
  2. Alfonso II (1448 - 1495) was King of Naples from the death of his father, Ferrante, in 1494 until the invasion of Italy by Charles VIII.  In 1495, as the French forces approached, Alfonso abdicated in favor of his son Ferdinand II (Ferrandino) and fled to Sicily.
  3. Ferdinando or Ferdinand II (1469 - 1496) was King of Naples from 1495 when Alfonso fled to Sicily until 1496 when he was driven out by the French king, Charles VIII, who was aided by a dissident faction in Naples. Ferdinando fled to Sicily, which was ruled by his cousin Ferdinand II of Aragon. As Machiavelli would have predicted, the people of Naples found that they had gone from bad to worse, and welcomed Ferdinando’s in the summer of 1496.  By September of 1496, he was dead, and was succeeded by his uncle Fredrick.
  4. Frederick IV of Naples (1452 – 1504) ruled Naples from the death of his nephew in 1496 until he was deposed by Louis XII in 1501.  Louis had (foolishly in Machiavelli’s opinion) signed the Treaty of Granada with Ferdinand II the Catholic of Aragon, whereby they would join forces to conquer the Kingdom and divide the territory.  However, having brought a powerful foreigner into the neighborhood, Louis XII soon found that Ferdinand the Catholic seized all of Naples for himself.

Philip of Macedon, not the father of Alexander the Great, but he who was conquered by Titus Quintius, had not much territory compared to the greatness of the Romans and of Greece who attacked him, yet being a warlike man who knew how to attract the people and secure the nobles, he sustained the war against his enemies for many years, and if in the end he lost the dominion of some cities, nevertheless he retained the kingdom.

Therefore, do not let our princes accuse fortune for the loss of their principalities after so many years' possession, but rather their own sloth, because in quiet times they never thought there could be a change (it is a common defect in man not to make any provision in the calm against the tempest), and when afterwards the bad times came they thought of flight and not of defending themselves, and they hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them. This course, when others fail, may be good, but it is very bad to have neglected all other expedients for that, since you would never wish to fall because you trusted to be able to find someone later on to restore you. This again either does not happen, or, if it does, it will not be for your security, because that deliverance is of no avail which does not depend upon yourself; those only are reliable, certain, and durable that depend on yourself and your valor.

Ludovico Sforza

Detail of Ludovico from the painting The Sforza Alter. Attribution: By Master of Pala Sforzesca (Milan, Pinacoteca Brera) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Security Provisions

To recap, a prince will reign securely if he has:

  1. An army capable of offensive operations (Chapter 10) and not dependent on mercenaries (Chapter 12) or auxiliaries (Chapter 13).
  2. A friendly populous (Chapter 9).
  3. Tractable nobles (Chapter 9) i.e. effective control of the oligarchy so that it is not contending for control of the state.

With this Machiavelli provides the prince (Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici in particular) with what he meant to be a helpful and encouraging summary of critical security provisions.