Guicciardini Francesco 1483–1540 Italian Statesman and Historian
Francesco Guicciardini, a member of one of the leading families of Florence, gained distinction during the Renaissance both for his active role in the events of the day and for his written accounts of these events. Guicciardini's works, particularly the History of Italy, have earned him the reputation as the greatest historian of the Renaissance.
Political Career. Guicciardini was educated in the humanist* tradition and entered public life at an early age. He served as an ambassador to Spain from 1511 until 1514. On his return to Florence, Guicciardini found favor with the powerful Medici family then in control in the city. He acted as governor of the cities of Modena and Reggio, and his success led to appointment as president of the turbulent province of Romagna.
In 1526 Guicciardini advised Pope Clement VII in negotiating an alliance known as the League of Cognac against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor*. He served as lieutenant general in the pope's army, fighting to expel the emperor's forces from Italy. The Italians suffered defeat, and though Guicciardini managed to save Florence from attack, the imperial forces turned south and sacked* Rome in 1527.
Meanwhile, in Florence, the republic* was restored. The new leaders banished Guicciardini for working for the Medici and took his possessions. When the Medici returned in 1530, Guicciardini took part in punishing the republican leaders who had expelled him. He served as an adviser to the Medici until dismissed in 1537. Guicciardini devoted the rest of his life to writing his masterpiece, the History of Italy.
Writings. Among Guicciardini's historical and political works prior to the History of Italy were an unfinished history of Florence and a commentary on the city's government. In these works he argues that the best form of government is a republic led by a select group of wise citizens. He mistrusted rule by the people, seeing their proper role in government as ensuring that rulers did not become tyrants.
Guicciardini's History of Italy began as an attempt to explain his role in the war of the League of Cognac in 1526. However, he decided that readers needed more background to understand the events of that time. He researched Italian history back to 1494, relying on memoirs, chronicles, and histories of the day as sources. His use of diplomatic records and other government documents marked a important turning point in the development of historical research. Another innovative feature of the History of Italy was its focus on personal motives behind the actions of historical figures. Because the work criticized many political leaders, it was not published until 1561. However, it quickly became recognized as the best account of the Italian Wars (1494–1559).
(See alsoHistory, Writing of. )
- * humanist
referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
- * sack
to loot a captured city
- * republic
form of Renaissance government dominated by leading merchants with limited participation by others