Machiavelli and Renaissance Italy

By J. R. Hale | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Machiavelli: Some Preliminary Remarks

THE biographer of Machiavelli cannot complain that he is working in the dark, for his hero lived in a generation that observed itself with more energy and objectivity than any since classical times. The period from the invasion of Italy in 1494 by Charles VIII of France, when Machiavelli was twenty-four, to the savage sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V in 1527, the year of Machiavelli's death, wrenched the course of the peninsula's history so sharply from its track that contemporaries looked at their own world with the same amazed interest that an astronomer might show were the moon suddenly to reveal its back. France and Spain, formerly considered docile giants, weakened by domestic strife, were now seen as able and ruthless aggressors, with resources of men and money so great that wars to seize particular provinces in Italy developed into a struggle to decide which power was to dominate world politics, Valois or Habsberg. These wars involved defeats which led to much heartsearching among Italians: what has happened to our ancient valour? what has corrupted our strength? they asked themselves. The machinery of political change in Italy which had run slowly during the previous fifty years, when there was some degree of peaceful equilibrium between the greater states, Milan,

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