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LETTER XII. - 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.
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Magnificent Signori, etc: —
My last of the 16th of April, which I sent by Piero, the son of the German Giovanni, will have informed you of all that has occurred here since the 19th of March to the date of that letter. I shall not reiterate it now, as it really amounted to nothing of importance. Since then the Germans have raised the siege of Riva, about which I wrote you in my last; their infantry are pretty much disbanded, and their cavalry, numbering about twelve hundred, and which really never amounted to more although their number had been greatly exaggerated, have returned here. Thereupon the Venetians attempted on Easter morning to sieze Pietra, a place about six miles from here, thinking they could take it by assault, and having perhaps an understanding with persons within the place. But the Germans came to the rescue with some mounted men and about twenty-five hundred infantry that had remained, and obliged the Venetians to withdraw. The Germans have endeavored to raise fresh infantry since then, and on the 10th instant they had already some six thousand together.
Subsequently the Venetians attacked the castle of Cresta, which commands a most important pass. The Germans went to the assistance of the place, but arrived too late, the lord of the place having already surrendered it. The Germans thereupon moved their camp to Caliano, a burgh about a bowshot’s distance from Pietra; their force consisting of about six to seven thousand infantry, and about one thousand horse; the troops of the Duke of Würtemberg, numbering about two hundred effective horse, having returned home at the beginning of the month. The Venetians, anxious to have Pietra, established their army, consisting of about four thousand effective horse and over sixteen thousand infantry, about a quarter of a mile from the place, and began a siege of the place by planting batteries of sixteen pieces of artillery. This fortress of Pietra is situated at the foot of a mountain on the right in coming from Roveredo here. A very strong wall runs out from the fortress to the length of about a bowshot, to the river Adige; half-way down there is a gate in this wall, through which persons may pass. It is alike difficult and dangerous to attack Trent without having first secured this pass; and therefore the Venetians employed their entire force in the attempt. The armies were about a mile distant from each other, each having the fortress and the wall in front of them, with the Adige on the one hand and the mountain on the other, and in the rear their respective places of retreat. But as the Germans were masters of the fortress, as well as of the wall, the Venetians found themselves in a position where they could not avoid an engagement, if the Germans were disposed to give them battle; which nothing prevented them from doing except their lack of sufficient cavalry; for of the infantry they made but little account. The Venetians opened a heavy fire of artillery upon the Germans, killing a good many; but finally the Germans attacked the guard that was protecting the Venetian artillery, routed them, and captured two of their guns and disabled the others, whereupon the Venetians broke up their camp, and retired to Roveredo, where they are still on this 20th of May.
So soon as the German infantry perceived that the Venetians had retreated, they began themselves to disband, so that persons coming from there report that not more than three thousand infantry were left at Caliano; and that besides the Duke of Brunswick’s cavalry, which had already gone home, that of Saxony, Nuremberg, Ulm, and that of a number of smaller lords having from eight to ten horses each, all went home, so that the Germans have to-day full six hundred mounted men less than what they had before. Such is the result of military operations here; but your Lordships must know that in the Friuli the Venetians have taken Goritz, Pardanone, Trieste, — in a word, all the places in that district belonging to the Emperor, who really never had sufficient troops there to offer any serious resistance to an enemy. In truth, he never had there more than four hundred horse, and some four to five thousand infantry, that had been sent there by Austria and Carinthia, and who after remaining a couple of days went away again for want of money. It is in this wise and with such forces that the war is being carried on here.
Now as to the negotiations, and more particularly the proceedings of the Suabian Diet. The Emperor assembled the chiefs at Ulm on the third or fourth Sunday of Lent, and laid his necessities before them, as already written. These chiefs were to return home and submit the matter to their constituents, and then to come back here and report their decisions on the eighth day after Easter. This day is now past, but it is not known what has been done, nor where the Emperor is at this time; some say that he has gone to Cologne to attend the creation of a new bishop, the old one having died, but I cannot aver this positively. Others say that he has gone to Mayence to settle some differences that have arisen between the Archbishop there and the Landgrave of Hesse respecting their boundaries. Others again say that he has gone to the duchy of Guelders to compose matters there, and some maintain that he has gone to Calais to meet the king of England in relation to the marriage of Madame Marguerite, and to borrow money from that sovereign on a pledge of certain jewels.
I came here at the request of Messer Paolo de Lichtenstein, after he had made the proposition which I communicated to you. Not receiving any answer thereto from your Lordships, I wanted to leave here, or at any rate send Machiavelli home, but was not permitted to do either. This, however, did not prevent my using every effort to find out what was going on at Ulm, and I therefore sent Baccino there. I had previously sent another messenger to a friend of mine at the place where the Cardinal is, and which friend is in the habit of writing to me all that I could learn if I were on the spot myself. I am in hourly expectation of a reply from him, and should it come in time I will communicate it to you. As things are, and being obliged to be either here at Trent or at Ulm, I do not deem it at all unfortunate that I should happen to be here rather than there; for being here I have not been obliged to depend upon others for information respecting certain important matters, having witnessed them myself, whilst, if I had not been here, I should never have heard the truth upon certain points, and upon others I should have heard a thousand lies. I think that I fully understand the resolutions of the Diet, for, seeing the Imperial troops all returning home at the expiration of their six months’ term of service, the natural inference is that the Diet has refused the Emperor an extension of supplies for another six months; a matter which I should have supposed could easily have been obtained, and which nevertheless has not been accomplished. Thus, according to what we see, the burden of this war falls mainly upon the shoulders of the county of Tyrol; for with the exception of the cavalry, all the troops have been raised and supplied by the localities that have sent them. And as the Friuli has not such rich and amiable neighbors, it has remained undefended, for it is said that Austria has never been willing to send a single man there. It is in this feeble way that matters here are conducted thus far; and should any one from inclination or from want of faith in my statements think differently, then let him come himself, or send some one in whom he has faith, and if what he sees seems to him wise and good, then I will take back all I have written too strongly.
The chiefs of the Tyrol assembled about ten days since at Botzen, for the purpose of extending for three months more the supplies for ten thousand infantry for the defence of their country, as was decided in January last, when the Emperor was there. These chiefs are still together. The Swiss also sent an envoy to this council, about ten days ago, to ask for money, saying that they were ready to put eight or ten thousand men into the field, wherever the Emperor might require them. This envoy was sent to Botzen to this Diet, which he was told would not only provide the money for the ten thousand men, but would also pay the Swiss for three months’ service. It was said that the Diet was disposed to do everything that was asked and that the country was able to do; but that before taking any resolutions about it they wanted to know whether the negotiations for a truce with Venice were progressing. You must know, also, that four days ago a secretary from Venice came here to the councillors, and left again the next morning with the Bishop in the direction of Riva, there to confer with a Venetian Proveditore in relation to this truce; and yesterday evening it was reported here that the Venetians asked that the truce should hold for five years, whilst the Emperor wanted it only for four months. The former have taken until next Thursday to make their definite answer. Should I learn anything more about it before sending this off, I will not fail to inform you of it.
On the last day of the past month I received through the hands of Messer Paolo your letter of the 15th, informing me of the receipt of mine of the 29th of March. Seeing that Messer Paolo was displeased because you had not resolved upon anything definite, I made full excuse for your Lordships’ delay. Since then Baccino arrived, on the 6th, bringing me yours of the 12th ultimo, which needs no particular reply, as it contains nothing but information, for which I am much obliged to your Lordships. Yesterday I received at the same moment, through Ortolano and Giovanni della Spada, both your letters of the 19th, but retained until the 26th; and with them the plenary powers, of which a copy had already been forwarded to me by Simone from Mirandola. I have carefully read all you write in reply to Messer Paolo’s proposition, and note that your Lordships desire me to conclude the matter in conformity with the demand, provided I should not be able to obtain better terms, and that in my judgment the Emperor would carry out his intended descent into Italy despite of the will of either of his opponents. As this matter seems now to be left to my judgment, I have thought best not to conclude it; and this decision is based, not so much upon my own opinion as upon that of your Lordships. For when I communicated in my letter of the 29th the demands made by Messer Paolo, I explained to you at the same time fully and in detail the actual condition of things here; and therefore I believe that, if it had seemed to you that under these circumstances an arrangement should be concluded on the basis of those demands, your Lordships would have so instructed me distinctly. And if it did not seem to you then that matters were in a better condition, it certainly does not appear to me so now, since the aspect of things has become rather worse; and I am sure your Lordships will think the same after reading what I have written above of the state of things here. Nor do I think that the Tyrol, which until now has mainly borne the brunt of this war, will be strong enough to carry the Emperor into Italy in opposition to the will of France and Venice; or that Germany will furnish him fresh support, when at this very time she withdraws that which she has furnished hitherto. Should it be observed that Germany is powerful and capable of great things at any time, then I reply that your Lordships know the power of Germany fully as well as I do; and if you had intended to stop at this consideration, you would have given me positive instructions to conclude the arrangement with Messer Paolo. But as you want me in this matter to be governed by things as they are, and not as they possibly might be, I have not been able to come to any other decision than the above.
As to the Emperor’s penetrating into Italy when opposed by the two above-named powers, I say that, to reduce this opposition to only one of these powers, he will have to make peace with the other, and to do this would require negotiations and time. But even if it could be done without loss of time, I could not count with certainty upon anything until the arrangements were actually concluded. And all that has been said about a truce cannot make me think that a peace could be so promptly concluded with the Venetians, for they have wounded the Emperor too deeply to be so easily forgiven by him; nor is it likely that the Venetians will at once disregard the considerations that have influenced them hitherto, namely, that France will not be disposed to ally herself with the Emperor at the very time when she sees that he feels discouraged. And the Emperor, on his part, will also be inclined to hold back, and wait to see what time may develop, of which at this moment nothing is known. As to his making peace with both of these powers, that is still less to be thought of; for as your Lordships say, and according to my judgment say most wisely, that would require a good deal of time.
And here I would observe, with all due respect, that in my opinion the same considerations as to the Emperor’s increase of strength would hold good in the event of his making peace with one of these powers as if he made peace with both. For if Germany were disposed to do her duty towards the Emperor, he would not need to make peace with either power; but were he to make peace with one of them, it would be the interest of Germany not to do her duty to him, so as to keep him feeble and obliged to lean upon her for support. And if Germany abandons the Emperor at a time when he has so many enemies against whom her support would have been most honorable to herself, and most welcome to the Emperor, she would have the more reason for abandoning him when he is supported by a stranger. For to see him become powerful by the aid of a third would arouse the mistrust of Germany, whilst it would have been a small matter for herself to have rendered this aid in a greater or less degree. Thus whichever of the two powers makes peace with him will have to assume the charge of raising and sustaining him; and thus it may well happen that you will have greater need of other protection than that of the Emperor. I shall therefore keep quiet and abide the developments of time; and if Messer Paolo, who is at Botzen, does not come here within the next five or six days I shall go to see him; and I really hardly know what to do to avoid a rupture, for, be it said with the utmost respect, your Lordships have spun this thread so fine that it is impossible to weave it. For the Emperor is always needy, and sometimes even necessitous, and unless you take him when he is in that condition, he will demand much more of you than what he would be willing to accept now. And when in such a state of necessity the chances will be three out of four, as suggested in your instructions, that he will not carry out his descent into Italy. Still it might well be that, whilst on the one hand he finds himself in a state of necessity for the maintenance of his troops until everything is thoroughly prepared, he might very soon afterwards become quite strong; but for the reasons explained before, the preparations for such sudden increase of strength cannot be foreseen from afar. And that is the reason why I have said in previous letters that no one can tell positively beforehand that he will not pass into Italy; for Germany can and has only to exercise her will to enable him to do so. Whilst on the other hand no one can say positively that he will do so, because in reality Germany never was in favor of this enterprise, and up to the present there is no evidence that she has changed her views. Nor is it to be supposed, as I have already said, that the Tyrol alone could do it. And therefore I venture to say, with the utmost respect, that your Lordships must adopt one of two ways; either to settle the matter with the Emperor on the terms which he demands, or in the best way that it can be done, in the expectation that, if he lives, he will come into Italy anyhow, if not this year, then the next, and if not alone, then accompanied by some ally; or you must wait until he is actually in Italy, in the hope that, inasmuch as he is always and under all circumstances in need of money, you will always be in time to make terms with him, even at the risk in such case of its costing you a little more. Thus your Lordships must judge which of these two courses presents the least danger, and then adopt it resolutely, with reliance on the Almighty; for when men attempt in great matters of this kind to measure every step as with a pair of compasses, they are very apt to deceive themselves.
If in speaking thus I transcend my official duty, it is because I feel that I have a burden on my shoulders which any man, even of the highest quality, would find very heavy. At the time when I conferred with Messer Paolo, and he made his demand, there were about eight thousand infantry and twelve hundred cavalry here; and had I then offered him, as I might have done, a sum in cash, and had he accepted it, you would be obliged to pay it now; but seeing now that the state of things here, so far from improving, has rather grown worse, your Lordships would doubtless have deemed my action as very strange. If, on the other hand, the Emperor’s troops had attacked, as they might easily have done, and routed their adversaries, the Emperor would have felt so encouraged thereby that, instead of demanding sixty thousand ducats, he would not have been satisfied except with a very much larger sum. And then I should have been blamed for the ruin of our city, not by your Lordships, but by the mass of the people; and I should have been exposed to much danger without any fault of mine. But I repeat again, that although matters are not pushed here as energetically as before, and the army is as good as disbanded, nevertheless they may at any time recover their former vigor. The army may be reorganized, if only indifferently; still it may attack and even be victorious, and all may turn out so that your Lordships may no longer be in time to effect an arrangement; and this difficulty will be increased by the fact that you will not be able to send letters of exchange in time, so as to have the money ready to be offered on the spot. This would cause a delay of at least twenty days, whilst the Emperor does not need even two days to change his mind. And you may take it for certain, as I have said before, that if the Emperor is once in the position to be able to avail himself of your money, it will encourage him to that degree that he will imagine that he has already in great part achieved the conquest of Italy. Your Lordships must know, furthermore, that my having to make a reply now without concluding a definite arrangement will very likely bring about a rupture of the whole negotiation, and may give rise to the idea that your Lordships have no intention of paying except with good words; and if such an impression once gains ground here, my stay will become entirely superfluous, and perhaps I may not even be permitted to write. As all letters pass through the hands of the Emperor’s agents here, they know that I have received the plenary powers from you; and I shall not be able to persuade them that I am still without definite instructions respecting the demands made by Messer Paolo. They will think that I am not willing to conclude an arrangement, and I apprehend that I may be ordered from here to some out-of-the-way place, where I shall not be able to hear anything of what is going on, and where I may not even be permitted to write. And therefore I beg your Lordships, when you want to send any messenger here to me, to try and find a German familiar with the country, and experienced, who will bring your despatches with greater secrecy and safety; for I do not believe that those whom you have sent until now will be allowed to return.
Your Lordships remark that I have not written anything respecting my offer of forty thousand ducats with sixteen thousand down for the first payment. True I have not written about it, but your Lordships must know that, when Messer Paolo made his demands, he asked me whether I had ever received a reply to the Emperor’s demand for a loan of twenty-five thousand ducats. As I could not deny my not having received a reply upon that point, and matters being in that state that I was anxious to avoid exasperating Messer Paolo, I told him that your Lordships were not disposed to lend any money; but that you might possibly raise your offer to a total of fifty thousand ducats, with twenty thousand cash as the first payment, whenever the Emperor should be in an Italian town belonging at the time to some other power. This I thought was better than what your instructions had authorized me to offer, and I did not write to you about it because the demands of Messer Paolo were so much greater than my offer, both as regards amount of the first payment and the shortness of the terms for the subsequent payments, that I did not think it worth while to mention my offer; and I speak of it now only so that your Lordships may be fully informed of everything.
Machiavelli has met with an accident that may prove serious. He has great difficulty in passing his water, and the physicians here do not know whether it is caused by a stone in the bladder, or whether it is owing to an accumulation of gross humors in the blood. If the roads were open, he would have returned to Florence to subject himself to medical treatment there.
I recommend myself to your Lordships.
Franciscus de Vectorio,
Trent, 30 May, 1508.