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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
That Machiavelli should devote a considerable portion of this chapter to Cesare Borgia should not surprise you. He has alluded to Cesare in the first six chapters and here acknowledges that he knows no better lesson he could give a new prince than holding up to him the example of Cesare Borgia's conduct.
To preface his long narrative on Cesare's career, Machiavelli first describes the position of Francesco Sforza. By legitimate means and natural ability, Sforza rose from being a private citizen to become Duke of Milan. Once he attained that position, it was very easy for him afterward to maintain it. On the other hand, Cesare, commonly called Duke Valentino, acquired his state by the good fortune of his father-but lost it when he no longer was sustained by that good fortune.
As you read the long historical description that follows, pay careful attention to Machiavelli's praise of Cesare as a perfect example of the prince who was wise, skillful, and worthy of imitation. The description is still valuable to us today because it paints an accurate picture of Machiavelli's Italy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. It can also help you understand Machiavelli's political and personal views on individual freedom, the rights of a ruler, and political negotiations. Can you think of modern rulers who were in situations similar to Borgia's? This might help to clarify Machiavelli's point of view in holding up Cesare as a model. What strengths do you think Borgia and your examples exhibited in their rules? What weaknesses?
Machiavelli's account of Cesare's rule mentions that Pope Alexander VI, Borgia's father, encountered many difficulties when he tried to use his power over the Church to help his illegitimate son. He couldn't grant him ecclesiastical states, because the other Italian city-states would object; and strong military forces were in the hands of the powerful Orsini and Colonna families, who were enemies of Alexander. The only solution, thought Alexander, was to disturb the existing order of things and to create chaos and civil conflict so that the powerful city-states that might oppose him would be too concerned for their own survival to object.
Cesare urged his father to form an alliance with France's Louis XII. Venice unwittingly fell into the web of the conspiracy when it invited French protection, and Alexander sealed the alliance by agreeing to dissolve Louis's former marriage if he would lend French troops to aid in his son's conquest of the province of Romagna. All this political intrigue and strategic maneuvering by Alexander and Cesare reads like a modern mystery novel, with the major characters involved in disguise, deception, and ironic twists of plot.
With the conquest of Romagna, Cesare finally had his own state. But he also inherited two problems in his quest to push his possessions still further: He doubted the loyalty of the Orsini troops who had helped him defeat the rival Colonna family and capture Romagna, and he didn't trust the French, who had a long history of betraying their allies and breaking alliances. Cesare moved swiftly to weaken the influence of both the Orsini and Colonna families. Using bribery, flattery, and political appointments to win over their followers, Cesare consolidated his power, while at the same time looking for an opportunity to crush the Orsini family. Finally, the Orsinis were subdued by Cesare and Alexander at Magione and then completely routed when the French joined the Borgias' Italian troops. Cesare ceremoniously assumed the role of duke of Romagna.
Having conquered Romagna, Cesare found that the region was under the influence of a number of petty tyrants, and that it was infested with corruption, torn by crime, and given over to every sort of violence. One of his first acts to reestablish order was to appoint Remirro de Orco as governor. De Orco, a ruthless and energetic man, effectively crushed all opposition to Cesare's rule. After a while, however, Cesare began to fear that de Orco's cruelty might tarnish his own reputation. He therefore commissioned a tribunal to investigate de Orco's alleged crimes and cruelties. While the tribunal was gathering evidence of the governor's use of torture and violence, Cesare ordered his loyal followers to seize de Orco, cut him in half, and leave his body in the town square.
Why do you think Cesare acted in this manner? According to Machiavelli, Borgia wished to show the people-to win their confidence-that if any cruelties had been practiced, they had not originated with him, but had resulted from the initiative of his minister.
As the saga of Cesare continues, you now find that he was just consolidating his power when the ill winds of fortune struck: Cesare's father died and was succeeded by Pope Julius II, who was opposed to the Borgias.
Cesare reacted immediately to save his threatened kingdom. He had already made plans for such a crisis, and was able to move quickly. His plan of action had involved four deliberate measures: First, he murdered all the families of those he had despoiled, to prevent the new pope from restoring them to their possessions. Second, he cultivated friendships and bribed priests in Rome who might be able to keep the pope in check. Third, he attempted to gain control of the College of Cardinals. These three steps had already been completed at the time of his father's death. When his father died, he took the fourth measure, which was to try to acquire enough power and possessions to resist the first attack of his enemies.
At first there was little opposition to Cesare's daring plan. Julius II was still cementing his own support, the city-states were already weakened from fighting with Cesare, and France and Spain were now fighting each other to win the city of Milan. Against this bloody backdrop, Cesare was able to seize more Italian territory, plunder more city-states, and eliminate more of his opponents.
With the death of his father, however, Cesare began to fail. The French and Spanish reconciled their differences, turned their forces toward Cesare's stronghold in Romagna, and mounted stiff challenges to Cesare's military forces in Tuscany. Julius's forces launched attacks against Cesare in Rome and in the smaller city-states surrounding his vast kingdom. Eventually, Cesare, in failing health, retreated to Spain, where he died.
Machiavelli paints a glowing portrait of Cesare's skill and leadership, but in doing so fails to describe this historical figure accurately. Cesare did, indeed, win many significant battles because of his abilities-but he also suffered more defeats than Machiavelli admits. With the exception of Romagna, he had to face almost constant civil unrest and rebellion throughout his territories. Because of his admiration for Cesare's accomplishments, Machiavelli fails to give due weight to the historical evidence. Do you think Borgia's failures call into question the validity of Machiavelli's blueprint for power?
Upon reviewing Borgia's record, Machiavelli first asserts that he can't find fault with Cesare's rule. Endowed with great courage and having a lofty ambition, Cesare couldn't have acted otherwise under the circumstances. Upon reflection, however, perhaps Cesare can be blamed for the election of Julius II as pope. Although he couldn't have made a pope of his own liking, he could have hindered the election of a cardinal whom he had offended, or who, if he had been elected, would have had occasion to fear him. Remember, either fear or resentment makes men enemies. Cesare, then, in failing to prevent the election of Julius II, committed an error that proved the cause of his ultimate ruin.