Machiavelli advocated a government whose powers were centralized around one person, who allegedly represented the state. The main reason he stuck to this type of government was his long service as an aide to Cesar Borgia1. He took time to study the behavior of Borgia before coming up with the qualities of a king, or what he called “the ideal Prince”.
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Most of the characteristics he came up with were directly drawn from those of Cesar Borgia and his family. Borgia was a very successful Cesar in the Roman Empire, and his achievements made Machiavelli to idolize him. At the same time, his elder brother was a very powerful pope, though he ascended to the position of pope through unorthodox means.
Their sister, on the other hand, poisoned her husbands in order to get the wealth that would help strengthen the powers of their family. The combination of all these activities drove Machiavelli into believing that a king that dreams of being successful must throw away any thoughts about being just, honest and kind for the sake of attaining stability for the state2.
He also argued that kings that dream of being successful must not have the interests of everybody, but theirs first. He defended his argument by insisting that the most successful kings were ruthless when dealing with both their enemies and subjects3. Though Machiavelli was excommunicated by the French nationalists, his ideas had a great influence on the decisions and leadership styles of the 16th and 17th Centuries leaders in Europe.
These leaders were Louis XIV of France and Charles I of Britain among other prominent European leaders of the time. The Machiavellian principle of leadership made these leaders disregard the church, which had been the main pillar of leadership during the medieval period, their subjects and advisors when making most of their decisions.
Machiavellian Ideologies in France
In France, Henry IV was a concerned and industrious ruler. He pioneered the expansionist activities of France and reclaimed land for his people. He showed a lot of concern for the less-endowed citizens and was very determined to create a prosperous state. He was not a firm believer in the Machiavellian style of leadership. However, religious extremists did not like him4.
They assassinated him when he got stuck in a traffic jam. His death paved way for his son, Louis XIII, but he could not immediately take over because he was only 9 when his father died. Therefore, his mother, Marie de Medici had to take over as a regent ruler.
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Her tenure brought forth two of the best government advisors ever seen in France, Concini and Cardinal Richelieu, who later mediated the conflict between Marie de Medici and her son, Louis XIII.5The working combination of Richelieu and Louis XIII exercised Machiavelli’s ideologies by being very cruel to the peasants. In fact, they believed that peasants were donkeys that must be overworked. According to them, if the peasants are not given too much work, they might get spoilt.6
Perhaps the best illustration of Machiavelli’s ideologies was Louis XIV’s leadership. He took over from his mother since his father had died when he was only five years old. At the time, the biggest problem to deal with was the council of the nobles.7 They had been a big problem to his father and later his mother, Anne of Austria, when she took over as regent. Louis decided to deny them power by ensuring that they never got the time to sit together away from the palace for the sake of plotting the king’s downfall.
He was very cautious because the nobles had successfully ruined his father and mother’s tenures. Precisely, he built quarters in his palace, where the nobles stayed and waited for their turns to speak to him. This way, the nobles turned to spying on each other and reporting to the king whenever they found out anything about fellow nobles.
He resorted to using the bourgeoisies as his aides in the provision of administration. As a result, France got more wealth and became more powerful that it had ever been.8 An enormous amount of tax was collected and taken to its rightful function, unlike in the past when it was often diverted to other uses.
As proposed by Machiavelli, Louis became an absolute monarch who did not consult anybody in his leadership and did not care about the needs of his subjects. He considered himself above the pope.9 He abolished all the checks on his authority and annulled the decree of Nantes the Calvinist. These actions showed how the emperor centralized powers to himself as is the case with Machiavelli’s “Prince”.
Machiavellian Ideologies in Britain
In Britain, Elizabeth I was a very prudent leader who won the hearts of her subjects through being kind to them. She mingled with them in theatres and maintained taxes at affordable rates. However, when Charles I took over power, he was forced to disregard the parliament for a total of 11 years in order to advance his agendas.
Parliament blocked him from collecting more taxes in order to have enough money to fight his enemies and at the same time help protestant movements in France and the Roman Empire.10
Since he was determined to accomplish his mission, he disregarded the parliament and banned members of the parliament from meeting. Therefore, he had a successful personal rule for eleven years. He taxed people and institutions without being checked by any other authority. He taxed whatever he felt like taxing, including individuals that did not go to church.
Charles could have ruled for a longer period had he completely neglected the parliament. However, he decided to reinstate parliament in 1940. This was the beginning of his downfall. He had the intention to increase taxes. Therefore, he sent his trusted minister, Wentworth, to parliament to plead with the members to sanction the increase.11
Contrary to his expectations, the members indicted Wentworth. They knew the court would not prosecute him. So, they prosecuted him and ordered his murder. After the murder of Wentworth and the show of support for the Scottish rebellion by parliament, Charles had to revert to his initial Machiavellian tactics.
He ordered his soldiers into the parliament buildings with the view of arresting any rebellious member of parliament.12 However, it was too late since the mob was already tired with his leadership. They drove him out of London, ending the long tenure of the Stuarts, at least for a while. This paved way for the Puritans.
Summarily, Machiavelli proposed an autocratic style of leadership, where the “Prince” advanced his agendas and disregarded the principles of justice and rule of law. “The Prince” was the head of everything in the monarch and was ruthless in handling both the subjects and his enemies.
Various European leaders in the 16th and 17th Centuries adopted these ideologies in their leadership. This paper has looked at two such leaders, Louis XIII of France and Charles I of Britain. The two were forced to engage the style of leadership advanced by Machiavelli in order to subvert opposing forces.
Hart, Jonathan Locke. Comparing Empires. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Higham, John, Leonard Krieger, and Felix Gilbert. History. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965.
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Judge, Harry George, and Robert Blake. World History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Machiavelli, Niccolò, W. K Marriott, Nelle Fuller, and Thomas Hobbes. The Prince. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 1955.
1 Niccolò Machiavelli, W. K Marriott, Nelle Fuller, and Thomas Hobbes. The Prince. (Chicago, 1955), 43.
2 Niccolò Machiavelli, W. K Marriott, Nelle Fuller, and Thomas Hobbes. The Prince. (Chicago, 1955), 55.
3 Niccolò Machiavelli, W. K Marriott, Nelle Fuller, and Thomas Hobbes. The Prince. (Chicago, 1955), 34.
4 Harry George Judge , and Robert Blake. World History. (Oxford , 1988), 47.
5 John Higham, Leonard Krieger, and Felix Gilbert. History.( Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), 54.
6 Harry George Judge , and Robert Blake. 1988. World History. (Oxford, 1988), 39
7 John Higham, Leonard Krieger, and Felix Gilbert. History. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), 46.
8 John Higham, Leonard Krieger, and Felix Gilbert. History. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), 59.
9 Jonathan Locke Harte. 2003. Comparing Empires. (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire,England, 2003), 25.
10 Harry George Judge , and Robert Blake. World History. (Oxford, 1988), 67.
11 Harry George Judge , and Robert Blake. World History. (Oxford, 1988), 76.
12 John Higham, Leonard Krieger, and Felix Gilbert. History. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965.