Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER VI. - The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 4 (Diplomatic Missions 1506-1527)
Return to Title Page for The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 4 (Diplomatic Missions 1506-1527)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LETTER VI. - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 4 (Diplomatic Missions 1506-1527) 
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. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Magnificent Signori, etc.: —
My last letters to your Lordships were of the 1st instant, and were sent to you by the courier Baccino. By way of precaution I repeated in those letters the substance of all I had written from the 24th ultimo up to the 1st instant, touching the Emperor’s reply, and all that I had been able to learn respecting his intentions. I shall not repeat it again now, deeming it unnecessary, but I await your answer with impatience. Your Lordships’ courier Coriolano has since then brought me a letter from your Lordships, but having carried it concealed in his shoe, it had become quite illegible; which, however, I regretted the less, as at the time of his being despatched from Florence Rafaelle Rucellai had not yet arrived there with mine of the 17th of January; I therefore conjectured that letter to be only a copy of your previous one. Two days after, another courier arrived bringing me yours of the 29th in reply to mine of the 17th; and upon carefully reading and examining it, I note two points that cause me great regret. The first is, that, “under the impression probably that matters here were cooling off, you seem to think that I have gone too far with my offers; and the other, that you should instruct me at the same time to go even much further, whenever I should perceive that matters here are pushed so earnestly as to leave no doubt as to the Emperor’s intentions anyhow, and very soon, to descend into Italy. As to the first, it seems to me that I have acted with all prudence, and in conformity with my instructions, whether in consequence of my offer we should have come to terms or not, or whether, in fixing the place for making the payment, it should have been decided to be in a city of Italy subject to some power other than the Emperor; for thus, so far as you are concerned, the terms of the agreement would have been left to the judgment of your own wisdom. Both one and the other of these eventualities were fully discussed between Machiavelli and myself. As to the second point, namely, the enlarging of my instructions by your Lordships, coupled with three conditions which seem to me so difficult, I will not say merely for the wisest and most resolute citizen of all Florence, but for a whole senate, if it were here on the spot, and could see from day to day as I do, and as every one else could see, how things are going on. And although up to my last letter I have always written to your Lordships in such manner that you could form as good a judgment of matters here as I could myself, yet I will discuss them a little more fully even, so that you may see yourselves how matters can be appreciated, and what good luck a man must have to conjecture rightly.
“I shall not attempt to recall the events previous to my arrival in this country, nor how often and in what manner things have given rise to hopes that were as promptly dispelled; but shall confine myself to what has taken place from the time of the Emperor’s coming to Botzen until now. His Majesty arrived here about the 6th of the past month; but whilst it was supposed that his coming here would stimulate matters, it had rather the opposite effect, when it was seen that he began by assembling a Diet of his subjects, and that he was going around begging for money, and that, moreover, he had but few troops at Trent; so that seeing on the one hand that the Emperor had gone so far that he could not turn back without discrediting his enterprise, and that, on the other hand, he had not troops enough to advance any farther, every one became lukewarm. And thence it was that I said in my letter of the 17th, that I believed there was time to await your reply. I added, however, that, owing to the wide extent of the country and the secrecy with which the Emperor manages his affairs, an unexpected movement might suddenly be made. Since then we have seen that from the 20th ultimo until yesterday matters have resumed a fresh vigor; that new levies of infantry have been made which are constantly arriving here, that a large quantity of artillery is being sent forward, and that a great number of horse are daily arriving. And although the infantry which we have seen pass here did not amount to more than three thousand, and the horse to one thousand, and that, so far as I knew, there were not here and at Trent and vicinity more troops than what I had written you in previous letters, nevertheless it was believed for certain that a body of infantry and cavalry proportionate to what we saw pass here was coming by another route, so that the most sceptical had no longer any doubt as to the enterprise being carried through. And that is the reason why, in all my letters since the 24th ultimo to the 1st instant, I wrote that the enterprise was being pushed ahead, and that the Emperor would attack Italy anyhow, unless he desired to remain covered with shame, or should conclude some honorable arrangement.” Subsequently, the Emperor left Botzen, and, passing through the different places between here and Trent, he entered that town at about the twenty-third hour on Thursday last. The following day there was a solemn procession, in which the Emperor personally took part. Being preceded by his Imperial heralds, and bearing a naked sword in his hands, he proceeded to church, where Lang addressed the people and informed them as regards the Emperor’s enterprise against Italy, etc., etc. The whole of Friday guards were stationed at the city gates, who let every one come in, but permitted no one to go out. All men in the city that were used to handling an axe were employed to hew stakes fit for palisades, and in making gabions in their fashion. The authorities, moreover, caused such quantities of bread to be made as would suffice to feed ten thousand persons for four days. A number of rafts charged with every variety of munitions of war were sent down the Adige. In the evening all the men-at-arms received orders to hold themselves in readiness to mount at the first sound of the trumpet; and at about nine o’clock they all started in admirable silence.
The Marquis of Brandenburg with about five hundred horse and two thousand infantry went towards Rovere, and the Emperor with about fifteen hundred horse and some four thousand infantry took the road leading to Vicenza. It was said, moreover, and reason seemed to demand it, that orders had been given on the same day that simultaneously with the two attacks the forces assembled in the Friuli should also move and join those led by the Emperor when the occasion and the success of the movements should warrant it. It was also reported that orders had been given for the three thousand infantry of the league of the Grisons and the Valais should move towards the Valtelline. And thus with these dispositions, that were partly seen and partly heard, great hopes of complete success were excited.
On Saturday evening the Marquis returned with his cavalry to Trent, whereupon it was said that, having presented himself before Rovere, and surrounded the place and demanded admission within, the commander of the place had asked for six days’ time to give a reply, but that only three were accorded him; and that thereupon the Marquis had returned with his cavalry, leaving his infantry at Petra, a place about two miles from Rovere. The Emperor, on the other hand, took possession of a mountain called the Siaga mountain, the spurs of which extend within twelve miles of Vicenza, where between the hills and the plain there is a castle belonging to the Venetians, and called Marostico, which holds a garrison of two thousand men, and can serve the possessor as a point of support for a good army, and from which Vicenza may conveniently be assailed. On the summit of this mountain there are several villages called the “Seven Communes,” on account of their number being seven. These belong to the Venetians, by whom they are well treated; this position is an important one, and is strengthened by some trenches. The Emperor seized this position, and filled the trenches so that artillery could pass, and some pieces have already gone there. Yesterday morning it was reported that he had taken the castle of Marostico, “which gave rise to the expectation that there would be some tumults in Vicenza, as there is with the Emperor a certain Messer Lionardo Trissino, a Vicentine, a man of some influence, who being dissatisfied with the Venetians had withdrawn for a while from his country. In the midst of these hopes it became known yesterday evening that the Emperor, passing under the walls of Trent, had gone to lodge in San Michele, ten miles from here on the way to Botzen, so that every one became discouraged and remained in suspense. This sudden movement of the Emperor’s is variously commented upon; some apprehend that it may have been caused by the Venetians under promise from them to be his friends, but really with the view of observing him, either to discredit or to entrap him. Others believe that it was the result of his fatal facility of being influenced by others, who had held out to him the expectation of a rising in Vicenza, which however came to nothing. And there are not wanting some who, holding to their first opinion, believe in all the dispositions made by the Emperor, and who say that, if he has turned back, it is for some measure of prudence which, according to his habit, he wants to carry through in person, although he might have intrusted it to some one else.
“This is the state of things at present; and I would ask the wisest man in the world what he would do if he were charged with such a commission as your Lordships have devolved upon me. But I confess frankly, that, if I had received your letter three days sooner, I would have promised to make the payment not only at Trent, but even at Innspruck. And if I had done so, and matters had afterwards been pushed with less vigor, or had been deferred, I would like to know what would then have been said at Florence; but I can guess without being told. I do not say this because I lack either faith or courage to execute the commission with which your Lordships have honored me; but to show the difficulties of that commission, in the execution of which no man, unless he be a prophet, can divine the right thing except by chance. For whether it be attempted to judge in detail, according to what is seen from day to day, or on general principles, one cannot arrive at any more definite knowledge than what I have written above. But I do know that, if any one desires to judge according to the rules of reason whether a man will be victorious in such an enterprise, he must take into consideration the number and quality of the troops which such individual has, and his means of keeping them together, and how he governs himself as well as his forces. No one doubts but what the Emperor has plenty of soldiers, and of good quality; but how he will keep them together, there is the doubt. For he can only hold them by means of money; and being on the one hand short of ready cash himself, he can never be sure that it will be supplied by others; and on the other hand, being extremely liberal, he piles difficulty upon difficulty; and although liberality is a virtue in princes, yet it is not enough to satisfy one thousand when there are twenty thousand more who are in need of it; and liberality does not profit except those to whom it is extended. As to the personal conduct of the Emperor, I will only say that it cannot be denied that he is an active and careful man, most skilful in the art of war, laborious, and of great experience; and more reputed than any of his predecessors for the past hundred years. But he is so good and humane a gentleman that he has become too easy and too credulous, whence it comes that some persons have great doubts as to the success of his enterprise, as I have stated above; so that, considering all things, there are grounds for hopes as well as for fears respecting the result. The grounds for hope are mainly two circumstances connected with Italy herself, and which until now have been the cause of the success and renown of all who have assailed her; and these are that she is constantly subject to revolutions and changes, and that she has wretched armies; this accounts for her marvellous conquests and equally marvellous losses. And although the French of the present day have good armies, yet not having the Swiss with them, by whose co-operation they have been accustomed to achieve victory, and moreover not feeling the ground safe under their feet, there is reason for doubts as to their success. All these considerations cause me to remain in doubt, and make me hesitate to take a resolution; for to give effect to your commission, it is necessary that the Emperor should make the attack and be victorious.
“I find myself here at Trent, and know not whether the Emperor will leave San Michele to-day or to-morrow, and am therefore kept in doubt as to what course to take. For the Emperor had ordered me not to leave Botzen; but having received your Lordships’ letter, and learning that the Emperor had already started, I left immediately to come here and make him your offer, fearing I might no longer be in time. But finding, whilst on the way, that his Majesty had turned back, my zeal has abated; and, unless I should hear something that would change my purpose, I am resolved to await your reply. And even if I were to make your new offer to the Emperor I should stipulate that the first payment should be made in an Italian city subject to some other power, provided, as I have said before, that nothing new occurs that would prevent me. For just as everything seems lost at this moment, so to-morrow things may resume a much brighter aspect. And as we have seen that the feeble expedition of one thousand men into the Mantuan territory was followed by a much more vigorous effort, so may the present one be succeeded by another and more energetic one. Nor do I believe, as I have written before, that twenty thousand ducats down and fifty thousand in all, will induce the Emperor to give way, although he might perhaps yield if the payment were made here and now; but for this it would be necessary for him to have the documents in his hands, which, as I have written several times, might influence him more than anything else to give way. But be this as it may, if I should have to decide and be obliged to resolve upon what in a doubtful case might have a seeming certitude, I should certainly take the course which presents least appearance of danger. And in all these manœuvres I believe it to be better, if we have to err, to assume that the Emperor will go down into Italy, rather than believe the contrary. For in the first case the error would not be irremediable, whilst in the other I can see no remedy; or if there be one, it would be very hazardous. But he who wants to gain the greatest advantage must also risk more, and this would not be in accordance with your Lordships’ instructions.
“I have endeavored in this letter to show what conjectures can be formed of the state of things here, and how I should be disposed to act, so that your Lordships, in case you do not approve it, may direct me otherwise. But should you not direct me differently, then you must not be surprised if, after all, events should not justify my decision.
“I have received the letter of exchange, with the accompanying instructions, and shall make use of it when I can do so for the advantage of our republic, according as I may deem necessary. But this will be difficult, as it is three hundred miles from here to Augsburg, and I see no way of making any considerable payment here except through the Fuggers. I believe you will have to address yourselves to them, that is to say, arrange with the Fuggers of Rome to instruct their correspondents here to pay whatever sum may be required. And although I have said that the great distance may cause difficulties, yet the Emperor, if the sum be considerable, will doubtless find means for overcoming the difficulty through the agency of the Fuggers.”
Machiavelli is very short of money, although I have thus far not failed to supply him; but on no account in the world would it do to recall him, and I entreat your Lordships to approve his remaining here until all matters are settled; his presence here is necessary. Nevertheless, if it should happen that the affair of five hundred and fifty-nine florins require his presence in Florence, and the roads be not dangerous, I am sure his love of country would make him brave all possible danger and fatigue.
Trent, 8 February, 1508.