A prince ought to propound unto himself to imitate Caesar Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. (The Prince, chapter 14)
It is not possible for me to give better precepts to a new prince, than to lay before his eyes as an example the acts of Caesar Borgia, Duke de Valentinois, son of Pope Alexander VI. And although his affairs little prospered, yet it was not wholly his fault, but rather the malignity of an extraordinary fortune. First then, by the means of the pope he troubled all the states of Italy, that he might more assuredly seize upon part of them. A thing he easily effected; for at the instigation of the pope and the Venetians, King Louis XII passed into Italy, and as soon as he arrived at Milan he aided the pope in subjugating Romania, which straightaway was reduced under the hand of Borgia. Secondly, because at Rome there were two mighty factions, the Colonoise and the Ursine, against whose enterprises he feared they would oppose themselves, he got on his side the Ursine faction by fair words and promises, by the means of which he beat down the French forces and overthrew the Colonois. This being done, he gained the gentlemen, as well of the one faction as of the other, honestly according them, retaining them in his house, giving them government of towns and other honorable charges, after their merits and qualities. So that in a little time the Ursine and Colonois factions remained without chieftains. After this, by fair and sweet words accompanied with good presents, he caused the Ursines to come to him at Synagyllia; which being once together in his hands, he slew them all. Having thus suppressed those two factions, and seeing himself peaceable and all Romania in the duchy of Urbin, to make himself feared and to repress the insolence of the petty lords of that country, he sent there for governor Remiro Dorco, a severe and cruel man, unto whom he gave full power. Who exercising his cruelty, committed many executions, by means whereof he made all the country tremble with fear, and so as peaceable and obedient as might be. What then did Borgia? To make the world believe that such cruel executions were not done by his command nor consent, suddenly he caused publicly the head of Remiro to be cut off. After this, being afraid of the French, he refused any more to be served with the French forces; so he put them away, and to assure himself against them, he sought alliance with the Spaniards, who then made war in the kingdom of Naples, and so were farther off to hurt him than the French who abode at Milan. Besides all this, he put to death all the lords who he had wronged, and all their generation, and very few escaped; lest a new pope after his father should take occasion to war upon him, to reestablish those lords or their posterity in their heritage. And as for the lords he had not offended, he drew them almost all on his side, to help him bridle a new pope, that he might not enterprise anything against him. His purpose was to make himself lord of all Tuscany, and after lord of all Italy. And already he had under his protection Pisa and Sienna, and Luca inclined to him. But pope Alexander his father died, and failed him in his need, so that his domination being yet as a thing hanging in the air, which was nothing solid, Pope Julius II easily despoiled him. Borgia seeing that fortune, which before had showed him so good a countenance, turned her back and proved so malign and contrary to him, fell sick and died; and upon his deathbed he said he had prevented and thought upon all the inconveniences that might happen to him but death, which he never supposed to have come so soon.
Is not here a gallant life, and a goodly history to propose for princes to imitate; or rather a mark of God’s just judgment, which we see he ordinarily exercises against such detestable tyrants, who by all manner of cruelties and disloyalties seek to domineer. For God in the end brings all their designs and goodly enterprises into smoke, and makes them die in languishment and confusion, and in displeasure, that they have ever lived to see themselves fallen into a mockery and reproach with all the world, by their wicked enterprises. Yet this is not all; for dying full of all vices, not grieved for the evils they have done, but rather because they had no means nor leisure to do more mischief, they depart from this languishing life to go suffer eternal pains, by the just judgment of God, who yields to the wicked persevering in their vices the reward of their merit. Is not this wicked Borgia a fair example to us – who at his death confessed that he thought not to have lived so little – to admonish us to be always ready prepared to appear before God? Horace himself, a heathen poet, teaches us to make no assurance upon the time to come, neither to set our care and hope thereon, when he says:
God covers, as with night obscure,
Always the end of life future;
And laughs to see afraid the man,
Of that which no ways see he can:
Of time present be careful then;
All other things do flit from men,
As water in the river.
But to understand this goodly pattern which this atheist proposes here for a prince to imitate, I think it good to discourse a little more amply the life and genealogy of Caesar Borgia. He was a bastard son of Pope Alexander VI, but it is likely he legitimated him; for according to canon law, the pope may legitimate the bastards of other priests, and in consequence also his own. This pope by nation was a Spaniard, and before he was pope, called himself Rodrigo Borgia; but coming to the popedom, he took the name of Alexander, that he and his son, carrying the names of two of the most victorious monarchs that ever were – Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar – they might make all the world tremble under them. He came to the popedom by the art of necromancy, as some have written, who say he made a compact with the devil, who appeared to him in the form of a protonotary; but others write that he came to it by silver, in buying cardinals’ voices. Philip de Comines (one of that time) says that he came to it by silver; as also Pontanus, who wrote this epigram:
Christ, sacraments, altars are sold by Alexander the pope;
He bought them very dear, he dear then may sell them I hope
But it is not much respective I hope, whether he came to the popedom by necromancy of by silver; for it is not impossible but he might come to it by both. This Rodrigo besides the said Caesar had many other bastards, and especially one, who in the nighttime during his lascivious whoring in the town of Rome, was massacred, and the next morning his body was found in a sack cast into the Tiber, and it was never known who did it. He also had a bastard daughter called Lucrecia, who either because he did not avow her for his, or otherwise, was married to one of his bastards, yet entertained by him, as Pontanus wrote:
Here lies she that Lucrecia is by name,
But this is indeed also by fame:
Pope Alexander’s daughter in law she is,
His wife most vile, his daughter eke twice.
But above all his other bastards he most singularly loved that Cesare Borgia, and as soon as he came to the papacy he gave him his bishopric of Valencia in Spain, and made him cardinal, and he was called Cardinal of Valencia. But this cardinal, having the wind in his stern by means of the pope his father, began to cast many things in his head; first to cast away his ecclesiastical state for a temporal and lay state; then he took arms, determining to win all Tuscany or Etruria, then all Italy, and after consequently all the nations which belonged to the empire in the time of Julius Caesar. So indeed he forsook his red cap, and instead of Cardinal of Valencia he was called Duke of Valentinois, and immediately by deceits and disloyalties he adventured upon great enterprises. He took for his device, Ou Caesar ou rein; as willing to say that he made no account to be less a lord than Julius Caesar was; which device in the end fitted him better than he thought. For where he aspired but to one of the two, that is to be Caesar or altogether nothing, he proved to be both: Caesar by name, and nothing in deed. Moreover, as for the means he took to effect his designs and imaginations, Machiavelli has discoursed them before; but historiographers say that his subtle deceits and devices were at the first suspected and discovered, and that all the potentates of Italy knew straight the intention of him and his father, to tend unto the usurpation and domination of all Italy. Therefore they prepared to hinder them in all they could, and after the pope his father was dead, he was immediately left and abandoned by every man, and had much to do to find where to hide himself; for all his enemies who he had offended arose against him, and especially the Ursins, who straight sought means to massacre him. Fabius Ursin the son of Paul, whom Borgia had caused to be slain, sought him everywhere, and encountering one of Borgia’s familiars slew him, cut him in pieces, and washed his hands and mouth with his blood. Hereupon says Sabellicus:
“I do not think that there can be found a more notable example than Cesare Borgia, to admonish us to govern our lives with moderation. He might have been the second after the pope his father in the ecclesiastical order, and have had rich and good benefices, as many as he would; but forgetting himself too much and importuning fortune too much as a mother, he straight experimented her, a most cruel stepmother. He refused to maintain himself in a right high and honorable degree, to be altogether disgraced and brought to nothing. But certainly there is nothing which is of less endurance than an evil counseled prosperity. For it ordinarily rejects great things, to bring upon itself calamitous and sad things. Secondly, finding himself destitute of friends and means in the midst of the cruel enmities of men, not being able otherwise to save himself when his father was dead, he reputed it great advantage when he was shut up and guarded in the pope’s tower, till there was a new pope chosen.”
Behold the censure of this learned Sabellicus, touching the life and carriage of this Caesar Borgia, which is full contrary to the mind of Machiavelli. For whereas Machiavelli counsels a prince to imitate the actions of Borgia, Sabellicus discounsels it, and says that his life ought to serve for an example to all men for governing themselves as he did, lest they fall into the same downfall that he did.
To dispute here of the disloyalty, cruelty, and other vices which Borgia used in all his negotiations, and to prove that his life ought not to be imitated, but rather detested, would be superfluous; for the common sense of all men, who have never so little judgment, sufficiently shows to all the world that the said vices are so detestable that the users of them cannot but light on the same end that Borgia did. First, because God customarily so rewards such wicked tyrants; secondly, because it ordinarily comes to pass that they are greatly hated by everyone, insomuch that every man guards himself from them, as from a furious beast, and the first who can get him at advantage, thinks he does good to the common weal when he rids him from the world; yea, each man watches to catch him in his snare. Therefore no man will give a prince so dangerous and detestable counsel as to use Borgia for a pattern of imitation; unless he would carry him unto the top and fulness of all wickedness and cruel tyranny, which seems to be the end whereat Machiavelli aims, as we shall see at large hereafter.
But whereas Borgia (said he) caused the head to be taken from Romiro Dorco, the executioner of his cruelty, I confess it was true, and avow that he did well therein; for if Romiro would excuse himself and say that his master commanded him to do such cruel executions, that is no good excuse, because he should rather have forsaken his estate and government than commit cruelties without any form of justice, against the law of God and reason. The civil laws themselves will that none should obey his prince when he commands any massacre or unjust slaughter, till thirty days after the command; so that in the meantime either their friends or the magistrate may persuade the prince to pacify his choler and hearken unto reason. And because the law hereupon made by the emperors Gratian, Thesiodus, and Valentinian, is worthy to be marked, I translate it thus: “If it happens that hereafter we command any rigorous vengeance contrary to our accustomed manner against any, we do not will that they straight suffer punishment, nor that our command is straightaway executed; but that the execution surcease the space of thirty days, and that in the meantime the magistrate keep the prisoner safely. Given at Verona the 15th of the kalends September, in the year of the consulship of Antonius and Syagrius.” It is then seen by that law that Romiro was justly punished, as a man too prompt and forward to execute cruelty. And if this law had been well observed in France, there would not have been found so many and such rash massacres, but the commonwealth would have been in far better state, and the means of peace more facile and easy.
Moreover, the prince who will propose one man alone as his pattern and exemplar to imitate, will find many who have been as virtuous as Caesar Borgia was vicious. But seeing the greatest and most excellent persons at all times were still men, that is to say, not every way absolute, but defective and vicious some way, it is best therefore that a prince addict himself to imitate all virtuous men in general, and each of them in their particular virtues. And if we speak of heathen princes, he may propose to imitate the clemency of Julius Caesar in using his victory; for he simply contented himself to vanquish, without cruelty and without bloodshed, as far as he could. He may propose to follow the moderation of Augustus Caesar in the government of the commonwealth, and his diligence to establish peace in the whole Roman Empire. For after the civil wars he never omitted anything which might be a means to bring all the world to peace and tranquility, and he managed the commonwealth with such moderation that it seemed rather a civil government than a monarchy. He had also another virtue, well worthy of imitation; for he was a good justice, and he not only dealt in making laws and ordinances according to the rules of justice, but also often overheard men’s cases and judged them right. He was also a lover of learned men and of knowledge, and greatly rewarded them. And these virtues of Augustus are fit for a prince to imitate. The bounty and lenity of Trajan; the love of peace of Pius; the deep wisdom, the humanity and facility to pardon, and the love and study of good letters in Marcus Aurelius, are also worthy virtues for a prince to follow. But without any longer stay upon pagan princes, who had not the knowledge of Christian religion, a prince shall find sufficient examples to imitate, yea, and not to go farther than the kings of France. Charlemagne was as generous and victorious as ever was Caesar; yet besides this, he was very liberal towards good people, a prince continent, gentle, facile to pardon enemies, and endowed with a singular piety and fear of God. For he frequently had the Bible and Saint Augustine read unto him, and nourished poor people in his palace, who sometimes served him at the table. Saint Louis was a good and wise king, fearing God, and a good justicer; for he often sent commissaries into all his provinces, to be informed of the abuses, greed, and rapines of magistrates, and had those found faulty well punished. We read one thing of him, not unworthy to be remembered. That one day as he was praying unto God, reciting certain petitions of the Psalms of David fit for that action, a man came suddenly to him to desire a pardon for one that had committed a fault, which was by law punishable by death. He as suddenly granted it, but then falling into a verse of the psalm whish says, Blessed are those who do justice at all times, he immediately called the man back and revoked it with this notable sentence. The prince who may punish a crime, and does it not, is as culpable himself as he that committed it; and that it is a work of pity and not cruelty to do justice. Besides he was very chaste, far from all lubricity, and never thirsted after revenge. Charles the Wise was a very benign and humble prince, who did nothing but by well digested counsel without rashness, loving the good and safety of his subjects; he was also a prince that very much feared God, he took great delight in reading the Bible, and would have his people read it; to that end he had it translated into French. The prince then who will determine with himself only to imitate those three kings in the aforesaid virtues, certainly shall have for himself a true pattern and example, such as a Christian prince ought to have; and not to propose to himself this bastard priest’s son, who was a very monster, and an exemplar of all wickedness.