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Guicciardini, Francesco (1483–1540)

GUICCIARDINI, FRANCESCO (14831540)

GUICCIARDINI, FRANCESCO (14831540) Florentine historian and political thinker. Francesco Guicciardini was the greatest historian of the Renaissance. His family rose to prominence under the Medici regime (a nascent principate operating behind a republican facade). During his lifetime the Medici were expelled from Florence and a republican regime restored (14941512), two members of the Medici family were elected to the papacy (Leo X and Clement VII), the Medici regained control of Florence (15121527) but lost it again briefly (15271530), and finally established themselves as hereditary princes. In external affairs, a French army invaded Italy in 1494, and the Valois monarchy subsequently attempted to establish hegemony there, but was challenged and ultimately defeated by the supranational Habsburg empire of Charles V, which from c. 1530 exercised hegemony in the peninsula. Guicciardini, who was trained as a lawyer, served the Medici papacy as a senior administrator, and was a participant in the vicissitudes of the Habsburg-Valois wars in Italy, which he narrated in his last and greatest work, the Storia d'Italia (History of Italy), composed in the late 1530s. Within Florence, the pressure of events and the conflict of interests created a political debate of such intensity that a cohort of Florentines led by Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527), and including Guicciardini, virtually founded the modern tradition of political thought. During the early modern period, Guicciardini was known throughout Europe for his History of Italy, and for his Ricordi (Maxims and reflections). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries all of his writings were published, providing a much more complex picture of the man, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century new editions, translations, and studies continue to appear.

Guicciardini's early Storie fiorentine (Florentine histories) deals mainly with the Florentine experiment in broadly based republican government that began in 1494 and, despite many difficulties, was still in existence at the time of writing (15081509). Over three thousand Florentine males were permanent members of the voting assembly on which the political system was basedan extraordinarily high number in comparison to most other European states at that time, though a small fraction of the population. But political participation and influence were strongly correlated to social position, so most of the leading individual actors were members of prominent families, had aristocratic views, and favored a stronger role for the executive and the creation of a permanent senate to represent their interests, while a few supported the Savonarolan movement and others collaborated secretly with the Medici.

In 1512 Guicciardini drafted his first political treatise, the Discorso di Logrogno (Discourse composed in Logrogno), a set of proposals for refining the republican government. Guicciardini's outlook was broadly that of his fellow aristocrats, but his real concern was to ensure that perceptive and experienced men would prevail over the foolish and the inexperienced in the business of government. Like Machiavelli, Guicciardini tried throughout his life to gain an intellectual grasp of how political and military events are determined. They did not have modern social science to aid them, or any experience of parliamentary government by organized political parties, but they were imbued with ancient Greek and Roman literature on war, politics, and conquest, and their own experience of war and politics was much closer to that of the ancient world than it was to that of people living in the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first centuries. Hence they placed great emphasis on the character of individual leaders and their advisors, and the process of deliberation. Guicciardini did exercise power directly, but not in the context of Florentine politics. He was a senior administrator in the northern part of the Papal States (somewhat like a Roman proconsul, or a colonial governor), and his Ricordi are largely based on that experience. Each of them is a gem of insight into character and conduct, prudent choice of course of action, and the mutability of fortune.

Yet the problem of Florence never left Guicciardini's mind, and in the 1520s he returned to it yet again in his Dialogo del reggimento di Firenze (Dialogue on the government of Florence), which is set in late 1494. Four Florentine leaders debate the good and bad aspects of Medici rule and the prospects for the current broadly based republican regime, and the one with the most foresight (i.e., the one whom Guicciardini endows with his own hindsight) is also the most pessimistic. Machiavelli in the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (written c. 15141520) used the ancient Roman republic, the most successful conquest state in European history, as a standard against which to assess the situation of the states of modern Italy; Guicciardini responded with a short set of Considerations on Machiavelli's Discourses (written c. 1530), in which he emphasized the uniqueness of every historical situation and the consequent illegitimacy of analysis and prescription based on a paradigm case.

The theme of the History of Italy is not politics as such but European interstate conflict during the epochal period from 1494 to about 1530. The modern state was coalescing throughout western Europe, and the European state system was assuming the dynamic form it was to retain throughout the early modern period. Italy became the theater and victim of Habsburg-Valois conflict because its own sophisticated state system was too small in scale to withstand the impact of the large armies led there, or sent there, by the monarchs of France and Spain. One reason for the work's classic status is Guicciardini's ability to marshal the tumult of events into a vast narrative. Another is his profound insight into the complex, systemic way overall outcomes are determined, as numerous individual decision makers and their advisors throughout Italy and Europe, with all their personal idiosyncrasies, continually assess the intentions, capacities, words, and deeds of all the others, and choose their own courses of action.

See also Florence ; Habsburg-Valois Wars ; Historiography ; Machiavelli, Niccolò ; Political Philosophy ; Republicanism .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Guicciardini, Francesco. Dialogue on the Government of Florence. Translated with introduction and notes by Alison Brown. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1994. In the same year a new, thoroughly annotated edition of the original text was published: Dialogo del reggimento di Firenze. Edited by Gian Maria Anselmi and Carlo Varotti. Turin, 1994.

. The History of Florence. Translated by Mario Domandi. New York, 1970. Translation of the Storie fiorentine dal 1378 al 1509. The most recent edition of the original text is Storie fiorentine dal 1378 al 1509. Edited by Alessandro Montevecchi. Milan, 1998.

. The History of Italy. Translated and abridged by Sidney Alexander. New York, 1969; Repr., Princeton, 1984. A number of good, annotated editions of the original, Storia d'Italia, are available from Italian publishers.

. Maxims and Reflections of a Renaissance Statesman. Translated by Mario Domandi. Introduction by Nicolai Rubenstein. New York, 1965; Philadelphia, 1972. Translation of Ricordi politici e civili.

Machiavelli, Niccolò, and Francesco Guicciardini. The Sweetness of Power: Machiavelli's Discourses and Guicciardini's Considerations. Translated with introduction by James V. Atkinson and David Sices. Dekalb, Ill., 2002.

Secondary Sources

Gilbert, Felix. Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth-Century Florence. Princeton, 1965.

Moulakis, Athanasios. Republican Realism in Renaissance Florence. Francesco Guicciardini's Discorso di Logrogno. Lanham, Md., 1998. A wide-ranging assessment of Guicciardini from the perspective of the history of political thought, with an English translation of the Discorso.

William McCuaig

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Francesco Guicciardini

Francesco Guicciardini

The Italian historian and statesman Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540) is best known for his history of Italy, which covers the period from 1492 to 1532.

Francesco Guicciardini was born in Florence into a prominent mercantile family. After graduating in civil law from the University of Pisa, he began a successful practice with clients drawn from the leading Florentine families, merchant organizations, and monastic orders. In 1508 he married Maria Salviati, who bore him seven daughters. His first political appointment, the important one of ambassador to Spain, came to him at the early age of 28. After the return to power of the Medici in Florence and the elevation to the papacy of Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici as Leo X, Guicciardini insisted upon being recalled, arriving home in January 1514. Two years later he was appointed governor of Modena, beginning a career of Church service that endured until the triumph of imperial forces in Italy and the occupation of Rome by troops of Charles V in 1527.

Under Pope Clement VII, his close friend, Guicciardini's power in Romagna was extended. An able governor, he resolutely established order and instituted fiscal reforms and a program of public works. He played a key role in the formation of the anti-imperial League of Cognac in 1526. The third and last Florentine Republic condemned him in absentia on trumped-up charges in 1530, shortly before it fell. When Guicciardini opposed absolute power for the reinstated Medici regime, Clement VII sent him away to be governor of Bologna. When Cosimo I de' Medici reached an accord with Charles V, Guicciardini, still an anti-imperialist, lost favor and retired to his villa of Santa Margherita in Montici. Like his friend Niccolò Machiavelli, he wrote his most important works during a period of political disgrace.

Guicciardini's masterpiece, the Storia d'Italia (History of Italy), was written from 1537 to 1540. Published in 1561, the work met with great success, spreading throughout Europe in translation. The Storia d'Italia was a history not just of Italy but of Europe. Guicciardini's skill at interrelating political movements in many states, his objectivity even in analyzing events in which he directly participated, his combination of broad perspective with shrewd psychological insights into the contemporary makers of history are truly remarkable. Among the famous passages, sometimes anthologized for their literary verve, are his delineation of conditions in Italy upon the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492 and his portrait of Clement VII.

His other works include Storia fiorentina (1509), Relazione di Spagna (ca. 1514; Report on Spain), Dialogo del reggimento di Firenze (1525; Dialogue on the Government of Florence), Ricordi politici e civili (1529; Political and Civil Memoirs), and Considerazioni sui Discorsi del Machiavelli (1529; Considerations on Machiavelli's Discourses). Of these works the last two are the most important. Guicciardini's Ricordi fails to make the clear distinction between public and private morality made by Machiavelli, but it combines shrewd personal observation with fragmentary political analysis.

Further Reading

Guicciardini's Selected Writings (1965) has an introduction by the editor, Cecil Grayson. A biography is Roberto Ridolfi, The Life of Francesco Guicciardini (1960; trans. 1967). See also Vincent Luciani, Francesco Guicciardini and His European Reputation (1936), and Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini:Politics and History in Sixteenth-century Florence (1965). □

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Guicciardini, Francesco (1483–1540)

Guicciardini, Francesco (14831540)

Italian writer of Florence whose methods in research have given him the title of the first modern historian. He studied at the universities of Ferrara and Padua and at first sought a career in the church. His father disapproved of his choice and he turned to the law and a political career in Florence. The government of Florence appointed him as an ambassador to King Ferdinand of Spain. In 1515, he entered the service of Leo X, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence. Guicciardini became the papal governor of Reggio and Modena, towns of northern Italy then under the control of the pope. As governor of Parma, he defended the town against an assault by the French, an action that was rewarded by Pope Clement VII with an appointment as vice regent of Romagna and then as lieutenant-general of the army of the pope.

In 1531 Guicciardini became the governor of Bologna, but in 1534 resigned his post. By this time he was disillusioned with the ambition and greed of the popes and decided to seek his fortune by allying with the Medici clan. For this the city of Florence, which had expelled the Medici, declared him an outlaw. After Alessandro de' Medici, his patron and protector, was murdered in 1573, Guicciardini allied himself with Cosimo de' Medici, a boy whom Guicciardini believed he could manipulate and through whom he hoped to rule Florence as a regent. Seeing through his machinations, however, Medici dismissed Guicciardini and exiled him to his country home.

With his hopes of power and influence in Florence ended, Guicciardini began to write The History of Italy, the work for which he is best known. In great detail, this work describes events in Italy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

He also set down his thoughts on politics and religion in the Ricordi Politici, a commentary on the works of Machiavelli, and essays collected under the title of Political Discourses.

See Also: Machiavelli, Niccolo; Medici, Cosimo de'

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Guicciardini, Francesco

Francesco Guicciardini (fränchās´kō gwēt-chärdē´nē), 1483–1540, Italian historian and statesman. He represented (1512–14) his native Florence at the court of Spain, held offices in the Florentine government, and in 1516 entered the service of Pope Leo X. An able administrator, he was appointed governor of Modena (1516), commissary of the papal army (1521), and president of the Romagna (1524). After 1527, when he lost his high office as a result of the invasion of the papal states by the army of Emperor Charles V, Guicciardini devoted himself chiefly to writing. Breaking with medieval tradition, he removed history from the realm of literature and related it to the development of states. His history of Italy, written in his maturity and covering the period 1492–1534 (the period of the Italian Wars), is the masterwork of Italian historical literature of the Renaissance. It is distinguished by its clear-eyed analysis of motives, events, and persons. A follower of Machiavelli, Guicciardini has been accused of cynical realism. His history of Florence from 1378 to 1509, written in his youth, was published in 1859. It is marked by extreme simplicity and directness of style. Guicciardini also wrote a collection of maxims, translated as Counsels and Reflections (1890).

See studies by F. Gilbert (1965) and R. Ridolfi (1968).

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