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at the court of a ruler, was similar to a medieval knight but was also classically educated, skilled in the arts, and engaged in civic life by serving that ruler. He also wrote about the ideal female courtier, who was educated, a patron of the arts, and above all helped her husband to rise to his fullest potential.
Niccolò Machiavelli In 1498, Niccolò Machiavelli began serving as a diplomat for the republic of Florence, thus also becoming familiar with French and German politics. While earlier generations of diplomats had represented the Christian empire, Machiavelli observed that Renaissance diplomats worked on behalf of their own states.
The early 16th century was a time of violence and instability in Florence. In 1512, a shift in political power caused the exile of Machiavelli and others who supported a republic. Hoping to demonstrate his insight and persuade another leader to hire him, Machiavelli turned to political writing.
Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince (1513), provided advice for rulers. The book is still required reading in many high schools today. Unlike medieval political teachings that focused on morality, The Prince separated politics from morality. Perhaps written as a satire on contemporary Italian politics, The Prince stressed the need for an absolute ruler to use any means to achieve political unity and independence from foreign control.
Machiavelli presented a cynical view of human nature that required the prince to be feared rather than loved. This secular approach was contrary to Christian beliefs about the importance of love. He emphasized maintaining the power of the state to provide citizens with peace and safety. To create and maintain stability, Machiavelli explained, leaders often had to commit acts such as lying and bribery but should still appear virtuous. A leader unwilling to act in such ways would weaken the state and lose power.
In a later work, The Discourses (1531), Machiavelli pointed to the Roman Republic as a model of a government under law, rather than under an authoritarian prince. Yet, whether Machiavelli himself favored republicanism or despotism (the exercise of oppressive and absolute power), his ideas were influential. The principles for achieving and maintaining power in The Prince became a guide for later authoritarian regimes. The Prince has become identified with the belief that “the ends justify the means,” or that any methods, however evil or dishonest, may be used to achieve positive results. People still use the word Machiavellian to mean ruthless and crafty.
Francesco Guicciardini Machiavelli’s friend and neighbor Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540) also wrote about politics and government. However, his works were based on his own extensive real-life experiences as a governor, a representative of two popes, and a lieutenant general. Guicciardini shared Machiavelli’s dark view of human nature. He once wrote, “There is nothing so fleeting as the memory of benefits received.”
Religion, philosophy, and politics were all vital to this period. Yet when most people think of the Italian Renaissance, they think of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

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