A Novel About the Author of ‘The Prince’

 

Niccolò Machiavelli is best known for his work “The Prince,” written in 1513. Today he is associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously. The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation. He was a staunch believer in republican government, and was viewed as an honest diplomatic broker.

“The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias,” by Anthony Robert Wildman is a fictional biography of Machiavelli’s life. It covers the period from the 1498 end of the Medici rule in Florence until its restoration fifteen years later. This was the era of the Florentine Republic, Savonarola, and the Italian Renaissance.

The novel shows Machiavelli’s development from a minor bureaucrat in home-town Florence’s diplomatic establishment to one of the Republic of Florence’s most senior and respected diplomats. You watch his battles with his bureaucratic rivals, his progression to the head of his household, and his marriage.

Along the way Wildman has Machiavelli encountering a slew of famous individuals from the period. This includes he meets in his diplomatic missions such as Louis XII of France and Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentino. It also includes others such as Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Cromwell (later an advisor to Henry VIII of England) with whom (at least in this novel) Machiavelli becomes friends. Readers also get feeling he would like to have become friends with Cesare Borgia.

These friendships are plausible. It is one of the things which make this novel fun. The historical Machiavelli admired Borgia, as is made clear in “The Prince.” “The Diplomat of Florence” has the touch of a bildungsroman, focusing on the lessons Machiavelli learns over the course of his career. You see how the events in his life contribute to his later writings

The result is a first rate depiction of the events of the period in France and Italy. It also provides an amusing look at life inside a government bureaucracy. The machinations within the government of Renaissance Florence and that of today’s Washington DC seem almost interchangeable.  Equally fascinating is the depiction of Florence trying to balance Pope against France, as it tries to maintain its independence as a small, mercantile state among competing sovereignties.

“The Diplomat of Florence” offers an entertaining introduction to Renaissance Italy. Wildman makes Machiavelli a sympathetic protagonist, one with whom readers would enjoy sitting down with and having a glass.

“The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias,” by Anthony Robert Wildman, Plutus Publishing Australia, 2020, 406 pages, $14.99 (paperback), $5.99 (ebook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Thanks, Seawriter.  This not only makes the list, when I’m done with what I’m reading, I’ma re-read The Prince and then start in on this.

    Seawriter: Today he is associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously. The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation.

    I have never been able to reconcile the conclusions I draw when I read The Prince (probably at/about 12 times now, cover to cover and not just when I’m looking for a particular quote) and the popular notion that Machiavelli is some type of moral monster rife with “political deceit and deviousness.”

    I’m kind of thinking that, like a lot of “mandatory reading,” many read it one time in high school or college, and then just acted for the rest of their lives like they’d done a deep read.  When the amoral deceit and deviousness is brought up, many just nod sagely and say “of course.”

    To me it always just seemed like level-headed advice for that time and place for people in charge.

    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Thanks, Seawriter. This not only makes the list, when I’m done with what I’m reading, I’ma re-read The Prince and then start in on this.

    Seawriter: Today he is associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously. The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation.

    I have never been able to reconcile the conclusions I draw when I read The Prince (probably at/about 12 times now, cover to cover and not just when I’m looking for a particular quote) and the popular notion that Machiavelli is some type of moral monster rife with “political deceit and deviousness.”

    I’m kind of thinking that, like a lot of “mandatory reading,” many read it one time in high school or college, and then just acted for the rest of their lives like they’d done a deep read. When the amoral deceit and deviousness is brought up, many just nod sagely and say “of course.”

    To me it always just seemed like level-headed advice for that time and place for people in charge.

    The irony is Machiavelli was an ardent republican, who spent the last half of his life isolated from diplomacy because the Medicis didn’t trust him when they returned to power and the republic didn’t trust him after they turfed out the Medici again because the Medici had not punished Machiavelli when they returned to power (and because he wrote The Prince to suck up to the Medici). 

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Thanks, Seawriter. This not only makes the list, when I’m done with what I’m reading, I’ma re-read The Prince and then start in on this.

    Seawriter: Today he is associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously. The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation.

    I have never been able to reconcile the conclusions I draw when I read The Prince (probably at/about 12 times now, cover to cover and not just when I’m looking for a particular quote) and the popular notion that Machiavelli is some type of moral monster rife with “political deceit and deviousness.”

    I’m kind of thinking that, like a lot of “mandatory reading,” many read it one time in high school or college, and then just acted for the rest of their lives like they’d done a deep read. When the amoral deceit and deviousness is brought up, many just nod sagely and say “of course.”

    To me it always just seemed like level-headed advice for that time and place for people in charge.

    The irony is Machiavelli was an ardent republican, who spent the last half of his life isolated from diplomacy because the Medicis didn’t trust him when they returned to power and the republic didn’t trust him after they turfed out the Medici again because the Medici had not punished Machiavelli when they returned to power (and because he wrote The Prince to suck up to the Medici).

    Are you saying that there is something ironic about being an ardent republican and having a so-called Machiavellian personality (lacking in principles and empathy, manipulative, amorally self-interested)?

    If so, why?

    • #3
  4. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Thanks, Seawriter. This not only makes the list, when I’m done with what I’m reading, I’ma re-read The Prince and then start in on this.

    Seawriter: Today he is associated with political deceit and deviousness. To be Machiavellian is to behave unscrupulously. The actual man was quite different than his modern reputation.

    I have never been able to reconcile the conclusions I draw when I read The Prince (probably at/about 12 times now, cover to cover and not just when I’m looking for a particular quote) and the popular notion that Machiavelli is some type of moral monster rife with “political deceit and deviousness.”

    I’m kind of thinking that, like a lot of “mandatory reading,” many read it one time in high school or college, and then just acted for the rest of their lives like they’d done a deep read. When the amoral deceit and deviousness is brought up, many just nod sagely and say “of course.”

    To me it always just seemed like level-headed advice for that time and place for people in charge.

    The irony is Machiavelli was an ardent republican, who spent the last half of his life isolated from diplomacy because the Medicis didn’t trust him when they returned to power and the republic didn’t trust him after they turfed out the Medici again because the Medici had not punished Machiavelli when they returned to power (and because he wrote The Prince to suck up to the Medici).

    Are you saying that there is something ironic about being an ardent republican and having a so-called Machiavellian personality (lacking in principles and empathy, manipulative, amorally self-interested)?

    If so, why?

    Doesn’t @bossmongo introduce that in his second paragraph and explains it in his fourth? Asking for a friend.

    • #4
  5. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Doesn’t @bossmongo introduce that in his second paragraph and explains it in his fourth? Asking for a friend.

    No, neither bossmongo nor Seawriter address this question. Those paragraphs address a completely unrelated question: “Why was Machiavelli supposed to have the so-called “Machiavellian personality?”.

    • #5
  6. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Doesn’t @ bossmongo introduce that in his second paragraph and explains it in his fourth? Asking for a friend.

    No, neither bossmongo nor Seawriter address this question. Those paragraphs address a completely unrelated question: “Why was Machiavelli supposed to have the so-called “Machiavellian personality?”.

    You are correct, sah.  I was just pondering on the difference between what I understand when I read Machiavelli and the current definition of Machiavellian.

    • #6
  7. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):
    Doesn’t @ bossmongo introduce that in his second paragraph and explains it in his fourth? Asking for a friend.

    No, neither bossmongo nor Seawriter address this question. Those paragraphs address a completely unrelated question: “Why was Machiavelli supposed to have the so-called “Machiavellian personality?”.

    You are correct, sah. I was just pondering on the difference between what I understand when I read Machiavelli and the current definition of Machiavellian.

    Yep.  I understood.  It is a very good question. 

    But I still have the same question.  Why couldn’t a manipulative, cold, immoral person (we can call him a “non-Machiavellian”, if we like) favor a republic?

    • #7
  8. T.C. Member
    T.C.
    @TCNYMEX

    if you liked the “Diplomat of Florence”, you’ll enjoy Erica Benner’s (not quite a biography, but definitely not fiction) book “Be Like the Fox”.

    It is mostly concerned with Machiavelli’s time in exile. 

    • #8
  9. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    He did it on purpose. He courted the controversy to sell books. It worked. Of similar books at the time, no one remembers them

     

    I too do not find The Prince to be a immoral work. 

    • #9
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    T.C. (View Comment):

    if you liked the “Diplomat of Florence”, you’ll enjoy Erica Benner’s (not quite a biography, but definitely not fiction) book “Be Like the Fox”.

    It is mostly concerned with Machiavelli’s time in exile.

    Niccolò is a popular subject for fiction. Back in 2013 I reviewed  The Malice of Fortune, by Michael Ennis in which Machiavelli is the detective attempting to solve a murder in Imola, during one of his diplomatic missions. I remember posting the review on Ricochet, but I cannot find anything I posted prior to 2014 Oh well.

    • #10
  11. Anon Member
    Anon
    @Anon

    Interesting subject, of course, and what’s also interesting is that the form seems to somewhat follow that of The Divine Comedy – in keeping with the era. Going to hunt up a copy. Many thanks.

    • #11
  12. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    Seawriter: “The Diplomat of Florence” has the touch of a bildungsroman, focusing on the lessons Machiavelli learns over the course of his career.

    bildungsroman: a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.

    Thanks for giving me today’s new word of the day — and yet another book to add to my ever-growing reading list.

    • #12