Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XXVI. - The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 3 (Diplomatic Missions 1498-1505)
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LETTER XXVI. - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 3 (Diplomatic Missions 1498-1505) 
The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, tr. from the Italian, by Christian E. Detmold (Boston, J. R. Osgood and company, 1882). Vol. 3.
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Magnificent Signori: —
Your Lordships have seen from my letters of the 8th, 10th, and 13th, how I have gathered from different persons the intentions of his Excellency the Duke; and although all point very much in the same direction, yet his Excellency has not fully explained himself, nor has he entered into the many particulars given me by my friend. But neither my friend nor the Duke has furnished me those rather questionable examples which another person has given me, with whom I have had occasion to talk upon this subject. Although in your letter of the 15th your Lordships reply only in a general manner to what I have written, nevertheless I know that I have done my duty in replying to each according to his communications. I did this the more readily as your Lordships had recommended to me to conduct myself in this matter with as much reserve as I might deem suitable. Yesterday evening I had a long interview with the Duke, and began my remarks by referring to the mistrust which his Excellency had manifested with regard to your Lordships in asking me, at our last interview, whether I really believed that your Lordships intended to contract a close alliance with him, or not. I told his Excellency that I had informed your Lordships of this mistrust, and that it had caused you much regret and displeasure. And then, in conformity with the suggestions made by you at the beginning of your letter, I enlarged upon the many proofs which you had given, without reserve or fear, of your good will towards him. Having touched upon this sufficiently, I came to the question of his engagement, and observed to him that this matter had caused you much pain, partly because it was an impossible thing for you to do, and partly also because it had seemed to me that, in his first conversation upon this point, he had manifested more regard for his private interests than for the common benefit; and that your Lordships could not see any way in which they could with propriety meet his wishes; for an engagement of importance they could not contract with him, and an inconsiderable one they dared not offer him. And finally I made him understand that provided these difficulties could be removed, and if his Excellency would limit himself to what was possible and safe for your Lordships, having, however, always due regard to the king of France, you were disposed from the present moment to form the closest alliance with him. I enlarged very much upon this point, keeping, however, always two important considerations in view: the one, not to deviate from your Lordships’ instructions, and the other, not to make use of any words or expressions that could wound his Excellency. The Duke seemed to listen to me with pleasure, and gave no sign of dissatisfaction, and on closing my remarks he said to me: “See now, all this amounts to nothing, and, as I told you the last time, the question between us is either of a general friendship or a special alliance. If we are to remain on terms of a mere general friendship, then there is nothing more to be said on the subject; for I have always told you, and shall be as good as my word, that I shall not permit a single hair of your Signoria to be touched, that I shall ever be ready to render them any service in my power, and that the citizens of your republic shall enjoy every convenience within my dominions. But if the question be as to a special alliance, and your Signoria refuse me the engagement, then there is nothing more for me to do, because they reject the very foundation of such a special alliance.”
I did not fail to reply to all this, saying that mere general friendships impose no obligations, and are readily changed by time, that good and ill fortune do not remain always on the same side, that every day alliances are contracted where there is no question of an engagement, and that the most durable friendships are those in which each party finds its advantage. I added many other reflections, which at the time seemed to me to the purpose, but which it would be superfluous to repeat here. It will suffice for your Lordships’ intelligence to know that the Duke remarked, in conclusion, that if your Lordships were content with a general friendship, so was he; adding, with many obliging words, that if at any time you wished to draw the friendship closer, you were now in possession of his views and intentions in the matter.
More than this I could not by any further remarksof mine obtain from him. After this discussion the Duke spoke to me of the events taking place here; that he looked uponthe Bologna matter as settled; and respecting the Orsini and the Vitelli he said that he was expecting the Signor Paolo here. I on my part spoke of the safe-conduct whichwe had obtained, and of the circumstances that had given rise to it. Of Vitellozzo and Gianpaolo he spoke in the most sinister manner; whereupon I said to him that I had always felt convinced that he would be victorious, and that if on the first day of my arrival I had written down my view of these matters, and he were to read it now, it would seem to him like prophecy; and that one of the reasons that had made me think thus was that he was alone, and had to deal with a combination of several adversaries; but that it was easy for him to break the ties that united them. To which the Duke replied, that virtually he had already broken them, and that he had already disembarrassed himself of more than four of them. Inspeaking of Gianpaolo he said that he had boasted of being on such good terms with your Lordships; in answer to which I said that Gianpaolo had formerly been our friend, having been in our pay, and that he was a man of courage; but that inhis late transactions he had rendered us a very bad service. Thereupon the Duke said: “I want to tell you this, which your Signoria do not know as yet. Before Gianpaolo left Perugia to join Vitellozzo he wrote me a letter, saying, ‘You know how thoroughly I detest Vitellozzo, and yet I want to unite with him for the purpose of re-establishing the Medici in Florence; but I do not wish to have it appear as though I was doing it for the love of Vitellozzo, and therefore I beg you will write me a letter ordering me to undertake this enterprise.’ And I did write him such a letter, but do not know now whether he has not made use of it to do me an injury.” To which I replied that Ihad never heard of this.
Afterwards coming back again to the case of Vitellozzo, the Duke said to me, among other things: “I will tell you of another act of perfidy on his part, which he attempted to practise against me, and which has come to my knowledge within the last few days. You will remember when we first entered upon the Florentine territory with our troops; well, Vitellozzo, seeing that he did not succeed in what he aimed at, and supposing that I would never suspect him, thought, without my knowing anything about it, to make terms with theOrsini, to take Prato by surprise during the night, and to leave me defenceless in the midst of your country. He communicated his project to some one, who told me of it only two days ago; and when this individual asked Vitellozzo upon what basis he had founded his scheme, and how he would maintain himself in Prato, he answered, that all things required at the beginning an impulse to be given them, but that then the middle and the end would follow of necessity. This, however, did not happen in his case; for having gone to reconnoitre Prato, he found the walls higher and better guarded than he had supposed.” The Duke added, “And now his only talent is to plot treason; and every day proves that the Florentines proceeded justly against his brother.”* I made a suitable reply, but from all the Duke’s conversation I have only gained the conviction of his deep hatred of Vitellozzo, without being able to gather how he is going to proceed against him.
Since then I have had a conversation with my friend, and according to your Lordships’ instructions I put the Duke’s engagement entirely aside, and with regard to Pisa and Vitellozzo I employed almost the very words which your Lordships have written; adding such other observations as would bear upon the proposed alliance. Respecting Vitellozzo I could learn nothing except that the Duke is animated by a most bitter hatred against him. As to Pisa he said: “At first the Duke’s forces will move towards Urbino; after that they may go further, towards Perugia, Castello, and Sienna; and once in that neighborhood it will be easy suddenly to throw them upon Pisa; and if they find that city unprepared, it would be an easy matter to take it. But it will be necessary to manage it with great secrecy; I do not know whether this can be done at present, since the creation of this perpetual Gonfalonier, and whether your Signoria will be able to dispose of some twentyfive or thirty thousand ducats which will be needed, without being obliged to render an account of them to any one.”
I shall not repeat what I answered, as I do not wish to weary your Lordships; allI will say is, that I have endeavored to do my duty. Respecting the engagement of the Duke, this friend said that the honor of the Duke did not require that this matter should not be spoken of. And after a little reflection he added, that theengagement might be changed into a subsidy, and that your Lordships ought to give it to him. I replied, that that would be changing the name, but not the thing itself; and that if it was desired that I should enter into communication with your Lordships in reference to such a subsidy,it would be necessary that I should be able to point out to you the reciprocal advantages of it, and that such advantage must be clear and immediate. All this I said as coming only from myself. My friend said that he would think of the matter, and thus the conversation ended. I have nothing else to write to your Lordships in answer to your letter of the 15th. As for those others who talk to me every day of these matters, I always have answered and shall continue to answer them as seems to me proper.
The remainder of the French that were expected here have arrived; they are lodged where I have before mentioned to your Lordships that quarters had been ordered for them; and according to what I was told by a certain Messer Federigo, a confidential person of the Cardinal San Giorgio, who came here two days ago, all the French that left Parma to come here to the support of the Duke, counting in those who came first as well as those last arrived, amount to four hundred and fifty lances. I do not know whether this is the exact truth, but it accords with what they say themselves; and this Messer Federigo comes direct from Parma, where he has been for many days.
The Swiss have not yet come, nor have I heard where they are; but their arrival here will not be long delayed.
The conclusion of the agreement on the part of the Orsini awaits the arrival of Signor Paolo, who has not yet made his appearance; and on the part of the Bentivogli it depends on Messer Romolino, who, as I have already written, has gone to Rome; but we hear of no movement on his part.
His Excellency the Duke is still here, and when I asked Messer Alessandro the treasurer, yesterday, when he would leave, he said that they were waiting for a reply from a certain Messer Ercolano, who had been sent to Milan several days ago. No one knows what to think of the warlike preparations of the Duke in the midst of all these peace negotiations, particularly in view of his good faith, which may be relied upon. Messer Giovanni is full of apprehensions, notwithstanding all the honors shown to his Protonotario, and the earnestness with which the agreements are being urged forward. For he sees the Duke’s forces constantly increasing; and that so far from leaving, the Duke remains here to the great discomfort of the inhabitants of the place, as well as his own. Moreover, he sees the Conte Lodovico della Mirandola arrive and go into quarters at Doccia; and the French that have lately come here by way of Ferrara, and who were to go from here to Rimini by way of Faenza, have been made to retrace their steps by the Duke’s orders, and are quartered in three small castles, which, as I have lately written to your Lordships, are situated on the confines of the Bolognese territory in the direction of Piancaldoli, where they are not only uncomfortable, but entirely away from their route. Some companies of infantry are also returning here, being a portion of those who have lately been sent in the direction of this city; which has given rise to various conjectures. Nevertheless, it is not believed that he will fail of his word where he has once given it.
The Venetians seeing the clouds gathering here, have sent the Conte di Pitigliano with one thousand horse to Ravenna, so as not to be taken unawares. They feel no apprehensions for your Lordships, as the main forces of the Duke consist of French troops, who it is supposed will not be inclined to attack or injure you; were it otherwise, then nobody would answer for your safety. As to what the Vitelli and the Orsini have to fear, your Lordships are better able to discern it than can be done from here; in fact, there is no head sufficiently secure to dare to form any definite idea upon that point.
About twenty Pisan cavaliers have come here in search of an engagement for pay; I do not know whether they will be accepted, and have taken no steps either in their favor or against them, for I really know not which would be best.
There was a report here this morning that Bologna had risen in revolt, under the apprehension that had gained ground there that Messer Giovanni was about to sell the city to the Duke. It is believed that these are mere popular lies, for they lack all confirmation.
I recommend myself to your Lordships.
20 November, 1502, 20th hour.
P. S. — At last I have obtained the safe-conduct conformable to that of your Lordships, and send it herewith enclosed. I have had much difficulty in obtaining it without paying the chancelry, for they are not all like that of your Lordships. It is pretended that yours has been obtained gratis. Nevertheless it has been agreed . . . . . . Messer Alessandro Spannochi. If he decides that we ought to pay something, then the merchants of Florence must provide the means.
[* ]This refers to Paolo Vitelli, Captain-General of the Florentines, who at thesiege of Pisa became suspected of treason, and was taken to Florence and beheaded. Buonaccorsi, p. 25.