Gentlemen who hold castles and jurisdictions are very great enemies of commonwealths. (Discourses, book 1)
The leagues and cantons of Germany live very peaceably and at their ease, because they observe an equality among themselves, and suffer no gentlemen in their country. Those few they have, they hate so much that when by adventure any of them falls into their hands, they put them to death and take no mercy, saying they destroy all, and hold schools of wickedness. I call them gentlemen who live on their revenue without giving themselves to any trade. These in a country are very dangerous, and above all, high justices who hold castles and fortresses, and who have a great number of vassals and subjects which owe them faith and homage. The kingdom of Naples, the land of Rome, Romania, and Lombardy are full of such manner of men, and they are the cause that hitherto no good political state can be constituted in those places; for they are formal and capital enemies of the civil estate of commonwealths.
Those who have frequented the countries of Germany and Switzerland may well give Machiavelli the lie for what he says in this maxim, that in those countries may be found many gentlemen having under them men, jurisdictions, and castles, who were not only maintained in their nobility and authority, but were also greatly respected and employed in public affairs. And so much there wants that they should hold a school of wickedness, but contrary, they alone hold the countries in peace and see justice administered to their subjects. I will not deny but there are gentlemen in Germany, Switzerland, France, and otherwhere, who are bad enough, and who are violent and vicious; yet for some few we must not condemn all in general, as Machiavelli does here, who says they are dangerous people in a country, and that they are enemies to a political state. I know not if those he named are such (the gentlemen of Naples, of Romania, of Lombardy, and of Rome), and I am content to confess unto him, because I will not contest and strive against him upon a fact which has some appearance of truth. But I deny that on this side of the mountains they are such, but contrary we see that it is only the nobility of France and other neighboring countries who authorize and protect justice, and who make it to be obeyed. Yet I will also confess that the gentlemen on this side of the Alps are very dangerous, and great enemies to such a political state as Machiavelli has built by his writings, that is, a tyrannical state. For histories tell us that our ancestors, especially the barons, lords, and gentlemen, have always vigorously opposed themselves against tyrannies, and would never suffer them to grow up or take root. Which is a natural thing in the French nobility, and good, though evil for the Machiavellian foreigners who are come into France to practice their tyrannies; for by God’s grace, they shall (with much ado) not take any deep root there.