Front Page Titles (by Subject) CONFIDENTIAL INSTRUCTIONS - The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 4 (Diplomatic Missions 1506-1527)
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CONFIDENTIAL INSTRUCTIONS - 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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TO RAFFAELLO GIROLAMI, ON HIS DEPARTURE, 23 OCTOBER, 1522, AS AMBASSADOR TO THE EMPEROR CHARLES V., IN SPAIN.
Honorable Raffaello, —
Embassies are amongst those functions in a republic that confer most honor upon a citizen; and any one incapable of filling such an office cannot be regarded as competent to take part in the government of the state. You are about to go as ambassador to Spain, a country not known to you, and materially differing in manners and customs from those of Italy; and it is moreover the first time that you are charged with such a commission. Thus, if you give good proof of yourself, as everybody hopes and believes, you will derive great honor from it, which will be the greater in proportion to the difficulties which you have to encounter. And as I have some experience in affairs of this kind, I will tell you what I know about them, not from presumption, but simply out of the love I bear to you.
Every honest man knows how to acquit himself faithfully of a mission that has been confided to him; the difficulty is to do it adequately. Now he executes it adequately who knows well the character of the sovereign to whom he is accredited, and that of those who govern him, and who knows best how to adapt himself to whatever may open and facilitate the way for a favorable reception. For difficult as every enterprise is, yet gaining the ear of the sovereign renders it easy. Above all things an ambassador must endeavor to acquire great consideration, which is obtained by acting on every occasion like a good and just man; to have the reputation of being generous and sincere, and to avoid that of being mean and dissembling, and not to be regarded as a man who believes one thing and says another.
This sincerity and this frankness are of great importance; for I know some men who, from being cunning and dissembling, have so entirely lost the confidence of the prince, that they have never more been able to negotiate with him. And yet if it be sometimes necessary to conceal facts with words, then it should be done in such manner that it shall not appear; or should it be observed, then a defence should be promptly ready. Alessandro Nasi was greatly esteemed in France from having the reputation of being sincere; whilst some others, from being regarded as the contrary, were held in great contempt. I believe that you will the more easily observe this line of conduct, as it seems to me that your very nature commands it.
An ambassador will also derive great honor from the information which he communicates to his government; and this embraces three kinds, relating either to matters in course of negotiation, or to matters that are concluded and done, or respecting matters yet to be done; and to conjecture rightly the issue which they are likely to have. Two of these are difficult, but one is most easy. For to know things after they are done is generally speaking most easy, unless it should happen to be that an alliance is being formed between two princes to the detriment of a third party, and that it should be important to keep it secret until the time for divulging it shall have come; as happened with regard to the league between France, the Pope, the Emperor, and Spain, concluded at Cambray, against the Venetians, which resulted in the destruction of the Venetian republic.
It is very difficult to penetrate the secret of such conclusions, and it is therefore necessary to depend upon one’s judgment and conjectures. But to find out all the intrigues, and to conjecture the issue correctly, that is indeed difficult, for you have nothing to depend upon except surmises aided by your own judgment. But as the courts are generally filled with busy-bodies, who are always on the watch to find out what is going on around them, it is very desirable to be on friendly terms with them all, so as to be able to learn something from each one of them. Their good will is readily won by entertaining them with banquets and gaming. I have seen very grave gentlemen who allow gambling in their houses, for the sole purpose of having that class of men coming to see them, so as to be able to converse with them; for what one does not know another does know, and very often it happens that amongst them all the whole affair is known. But he who wants another to tell him all he knows must in return tell the other some things that he knows, for the best means of obtaining information from others is to communicate some information to them. And therefore if a republic desires that her ambassador shall be honored, they cannot do a better thing than to keep him amply supplied with information; for the men who know that they can draw information from him will hasten to tell him all they know. I suggest to you, therefore, that you remind the Eight, the Archbishop, and the Secretaries to keep you fully advised of all that occurs in Italy, even the smallest item; and if anything of interest happens at Bologna, Sienna, or Perugia, let them inform you of it, and above all let them keep you advised of the affairs of the Pope, of Rome, of Lombardy, and of the kingdom of Naples. And although all these matters have nothing to do with your business, yet it is necessary and useful for you to know them, for the reasons which I have given you above. It is in this way that you have to find out the intrigues that are carried on around you; and as amongst the things you will thus learn some are true and some false, although probable, you must weigh them carefully with your judgment, and take cognizance of those that seem to you the nearest the truth, and not notice the others.
When you thoroughly understand and have examined these matters, you will be able to appreciate their aim and object, and communicate your judgment to your government. But to prevent such judgment on your part from seeming presumptuous, it is well in your despatches, after discussing the intrigues that are being carried on and the men who are engaged in them, to employ phrases something like this: “Considering now all I have written, the shrewd men here judge that it will produce such or such an effect.”
This plan carefully followed has, in my day, done great honor to many ambassadors, whilst the contrary course has brought shame and blame upon them. I have known others, again, who for the purpose of filling their despatches with more information make a daily record of all they hear, and in the course of eight or ten days prepare a despatch from all these notes, taking from the mass of news they have thus gathered that which seems to them most interesting and likely to be true.
I have also known wise men, who had experience in embassies, adopt the plan of placing before the eyes of their government, at least once in every two months, a complete report of the state and condition of the republic or kingdom to which they are accredited as ambassadors. Such information, when exact, does great honor to him who sends it, and is of greatest advantage to those who receive it; for it is much easier to come to a decision when fully informed upon these points, than when ignorant of them. And to enable you more precisely to understand this part of your duty, I will more fully explain it.
You arrive in Spain, you present and explain your commission and office; and then write home at once and give notice of your arrival at your post, and state what you have communicated to the Emperor, and what reply he has made; leaving it for another letter to give a particular account of the affairs of the kingdom, of the character of the sovereign, and of all that a few days’ stay in the country may have enabled you to report. After that, you must note with the utmost care and industry all that concerns the Emperor and the kingdom of Spain, and you will make a full report upon it. And to come to details, I would say that you must closely observe the character of the man: whether he governs himself, or allows himself to be governed; whether he is avaricious or liberal; whether he loves war or peace; whether he has a passion for glory or for anything else; whether he is beloved by his people; whether he prefers to reside in Spain or in Flanders; what kind of men he has about him as counsellors; whether their thoughts are turned to new enterprises, or whether they are disposed to enjoy their present good fortune, and what authority they have with him; whether he changes them often, or keeps them long; whether the king of France has any friends amongst them, and whether they are likely to be corrupted. And then it will also be well to think of the lords and barons who are most around him; find out what power they have, and how far they are satisfied with him; and in case of their being malcontent, how they could injure him; and whether it be possible for France to corrupt any of them. You must also find out about his brother, how he treats him, whether he is beloved by him, and whether he is content, and whether he could cause trouble within the kingdom, or in his other states. You must also learn the character of the people, and whether the league that took up arms is altogether quieted, or whether there is any apprehension of their rising up again, and whether France could rekindle that fire.
You must endeavor to penetrate the Emperor’s projects: what his views are as to Italian affairs; whether he aspires to the possession of Lombardy, or whether he intends to leave that state for the Sforzas to enjoy; and whether he desires to come to Rome, and when; what his intentions are with regard to the Church; what confidence he has in the Pope, and whether he is satisfied with him; and, in the event of his coming into Italy, what good or what ill the Florentines may have to hope or fear.
All these points carefully considered and skilfully reported to the government will do you great honor. And not only is it necessary to write it once, but it is well every two or three months to refresh the remembrance of them, adding thereto an account of any new events that may have taken place; but with such skill that it may seem prompted by wisdom and necessity, and not by presumption.
University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge.