Francesco Guicciardini

Place Of Sender



Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

This letter is a response to M.’s previous letters, in which he had asked for Francesco Guicciardini’s advice on how to negotiate with the friars of Carpi and requested, in a playful way, the dispatch of further couriers from the Governor in order to increase the ex-secretary’s reputation at Carpi (see entry on the letter from 17-5-1521). Guicciardini had gladly accepted this idea as a sort of otiose game to play through their correspondence, and he obviously enjoys mocking the friars.

As in almost every part of M.’s correspondence from and to Carpi, the letter begins with the usual ironic considerations on the nature of this mission. Guicciardini compares M. to the Greek military captain and politician Lysander, who having fallen in disgrace was charged with humiliating tasks such as the supervision of the distribution of meat among the soldiers he had once commanded. This exemplum serves as a starting point for Guicciardini’s thoughts on the didactic value of history, and on the demanding task of writing the history of Florence, that had only recently been officially assigned to his friend by the Studio of Pisa on November 8, 1520 (see the official commission given to M. in Passerini, Introduction, LXXXIX). In the end, even studying the “repubblica de’ Zoccoli” (i.e. the commonwealth of the monks with their wooden clogs that M. had mentioned in his previous letter) might provide useful insights as to political forms. Guicciardini promises to continue sending messengers with seemingly important dispatches. Finally, he warns M. about Sigismondo Santi, the chancellor of Alberto Pio, Signore of Carpi and M.’s host, whom Guicciardini himself considers to be a dubious character. He concludes with some remarks on M.’s successful selection of “il Rovaio” as a preacher for Florence (see entry on letter 17-5-1521).

The ‘Otiose’ Mockery of the Friars

Guicciardini’s text bespeaks a disenchanted point of view and shows a very particular style of writing characterized by otium and leisure. It is characterized by his mockery of the friars, whom he hopes to be startled by M.’s presence (as we learn from a passage of Francesco’s previous letter written on the same day: “Avvisate quando sarete espedito da quelli frati, tra’ quali se mettessi la discordia o almanco lasciassi tal seme che fussi per pullulare a qualche tempo, sarebbe la piú egregia opera che mai facessi.”) At the same time, he seemingly takes pleasure in a feeling of revenge over his relationship with M.’s host, Sigismondo Santi (see section Guicciardini and Sigismondo Santi in Notes).


Otium and Political Reflection

Probably stimulated by M.’s request to provide advice on how to conduct negotiations with the friars in the letter written the previous day (see letter of 17-5-1521), Guicciardini makes important statements on the value of history and on how to learn from historical figures, which, however, seem to diverge from the considerations in his own writings. In fact, Guicciardini disagreed, although respectfully, on some of M.’s opinions which he considered “extravagant.” This is especially evident in Guicciardini’s Considerations on the ‘Discourses’ of Machiavelli (see External Links), which documents the differing political perspectives of the two friends, not only on a cyclic concept of history and the cycle of political forms (a Polybian notion on which famously M. builds up his own theory in the Discourses) but also on the interpretation of some of the events and institutions of the ancient Roman republic.

However, Guicciardini’s reflections on history and M.’s commission as a historiographer of Florence end up with a subtle ironic statement about the lessons M. might learn from studying the “repubblica de’ zoccoli” during the idleness (“ozio”) of the three day stay in Carpi. The “republic of the Friars with the wooden clogs” might provide models to be compared or measured against “qualcune di quelle vostre forme” (“some of those forms of yours”; according to Vivanti (I tempi della politica, 176), Guicciardini here alludes to Discorsi I.2 he was acquainted with.

Machiavello carissimo, quando io leggo e’ vostri titoli di oratore di repubblica e di frati, e considero con quanti re, duchi e principi voi avete altre volte negoziato, mi ricordo di Lisandro, a chi doppo tante vittorie e trofei fu dato la cura di distribuire le carne a quelli medesimi soldati a chi sí gloriosamente aveva comandato; e dico: vedi che, mutati solum e’ visi delli uomini ed e’ colori estrinseci, le cose medesime tutte ritornano; né vediamo accidente alcuno che a altri tempi non sia stato veduto. Ma el mutare nomi e figura alle cose fa che soli e’ prudenti le riconoscono: e però è buona e utile la istoria, perché ti mette innanzi e ti fa riconoscere e rivedere quello che mai non avevi conosciuto né veduto. Di che seguita, in sillogismo fratesco, che molto è da commendare chi vi ha dato la cura di scrivere annali, e da esortare voi che con diligenzia esequiate lo officio commesso: a che credo non vi sarà al tutto inutile questa legazione, perché in cotesto ozio di tre dí arete succiata tutta la repubblica de’ zoccoli, e a qualche proposito vi varrete di quel modello, comparandolo o ragguagliandolo a qualcuna di quelle vostre forme. Non mi è parso in beneficio vostro da perdere tempo o abbandonare la fortuna, mentre si mostra favorevole; però ho seguitato lo stile di spacciare el messo: il che, se non servirà a altro, doverrà farvi beccare doman da sera davvantaggio una torta. Vi ricordo nondimanco che messer Gismondo è cattivo e uso alle chiacchiere, o, in lombardo, alle berte: però è da andare cautamente, acciò che di pastori non diventassimo aratori. Io li ho scritto con queste che non lo avviso della rarità, perché mi confido alla perspicacia dello ingegno suo, e che vi abbia conosciuto: cosí starà sospeso, e se voi lo tenete in ambiguità col non dare de’ vostri maggiori, concluderà che voi siate uno uccello; e tutto è da tollerare, pure che e’ pasti seguitino allo ordine.

Del Rovaio non mi maraviglio, perché credo, anzi l’ho compreso, non gli gustare el vostro vino; né io commendo la vostra elezione, non mi parendo conforme né al giudizio vostro né a quello delli altri, e tanto piú che, essendo voi sempre stato ut plurimum estravagante di opinione dalle commune e inventore di cose nuove e insolite, penso che quelli signori consoli e ciascuno che arà notizia della vostra commissione espettino che voi conduciate qualche frate di quelli, come disse colui, che non si trovano.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

My very dear Machiavelli. When I read your titles as ambassador of the republic and of friars, and I consider how many kings, dukes, and princes you have negotiated with in the past, I am reminded of Lysander, to whom, after so many victories, was given the task of distributing meat to those very same soldiers whom he had so gloriously commanded; and I say: You see that, with only the faces of the men and the extrinsic colors changed, all the very same things return; and we do not see any incident that has not been seen in other times. But changing the names and forms of things means that only the prudent recognize them; therefore history is good and useful, because it sets before you and makes you recognize and see again what you had never known or seen. There follows from this a brotherly syllogism: that you are to be exhorted to carry out the charge given to you with diligence. I believe this legation will not be completely useless for that, because in these three days’ idleness you will have imbibed the entire Republic of Clogs and you will make use of that model for some purpose, comparing it or measuring it against some of those forms of yours.

It did not seem to me to your benefit to waste time or to abandon Fortune while it shows itself to be favorable. Therefore I have continued the fashion of sending you the messenger; if he serves no other purpose, he ought to get you to pick up one more pie tomorrow evening. I remind you nevertheless that M. Gismondo is nasty and accustomed to gossip or, in Lombard, to japes; therefore it is important to go cautiously, so that we are not turned from shepherds into plowmen. I have written him with this letter that I am not informing him of the truth, because I am confident in the penetration of his intelligence, and that he must have recognized you. That way he will remain in suspense, and if you keep him in doubt by not talking about your ancestors, he will conclude that you are a rare bird. Anything is to be tolerated, as long as meals continue to be kept up.

I am not surprised about Rovaio because I believe, or rather I have understood, that he is not fond of your wine. I do not praise your selection, since it does not seem in conformity with either your judgment or that of others, all the more so because, since you have always been considered exceedingly extravagant in your opinions by most people, and the inventor of new and outlandish things, I think that those lord consuls and everyone who is informed of your commission will expect that you will bring back some friar, one of those, as the man said, who are not to be found.


Source: Atkinson/Sices: Machiavelli and his friends. Their Personal Correspondence.

On M.’s appointment as historiographer: L. Passerini, Introduction to N. Machiavelli, Opere, vol. I, Istorie fiorentine, ed. by G. Milanesi and P. Fanfani (Florence: Tipografia cenniniana, 1873), LXXXIX.


On this letter: G. Sasso, Per Francesco Guicciardini. Quattro studi (Rome: Istituto storico italiano per il Medio Evo, 1984), 6-7 and 98-99; G. Inglese, introduction to N. Machiavelli, Lettere a Francesco Vettori e a Francesco Guicciardini, ed. by G. Inglese (Milan: Rizzoli, 1989), 50-55; G. Masi, “Saper «ragionare di questo mondo». Il carteggio fra Machiavelli e Guicciardini,” in Cultura e scrittura di Machiavelli, proceedings of the conference Florence-Pisa 27-30 October 1997 (Rome: Salerno editrice, 1998); J. Frömmer/A. Guidi, “Machiavellian Missions: vita activa and vita contemplativa in the Carpi Correspondence between Niccolò Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini,” in Between vita activa and vita contemplativa: Epistolary Forms of otium in Early Modern Italy, ed. by J. Frömmer and A. Guidi, (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2023).


M.’s Mission to Carpi

M. was sent to the General Meeting of the Minorite Friars by the Otto di Pratica. The purpose of the mission to Carpi was to reform the statutes of the Franciscan congregations in Tuscany according to the Florentine attempts at a coincidence of political territory and the administration of the religious order (see the comment of Inglese in Machiavelli, Lettere, 288–89). The architect behind this mission, however, was cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (see M.’s letter concerning his commission, sent to Giulio on 20-5-1521, in Machiavelli, Legazioni, vol. 7, 156-60, English ed. available online in Machiavelli, Historical, 321-24). Most likely, the main purpose of the mission was to bring the Franciscans of Carpi under Florentine control. Although this task was perhaps demeaning and below M.’s qualifications and experience, he was obviously eager to be of service to the Medici (cf. Ridolfi, Vita, 291–303 and the introduction to this part of M.’s correspondence in Atkinson/Sices, Machiavelli and his friends, 332; pace Benner, Be Like the Fox, 277–286). During the course of this mission to Carpi, M. was also asked by the Wool Guild to find a preacher for the Lenten service at the Duomo (cf. the letter from Guicciardini from 17-5-1521). Corresponding to the wishes of the Wool Guild M. had opted for the friar Giovanni Gualberto, known as “il Rovaio” (cf. M.’s reply to Guicciardini from 18-5-1521).


M. and Francesco Guicciardini

The town of Carpi is located not far from Modena, where Francesco Guicciardini was installed as Governor at this time. The two men had known each other for years, as it is documented by M.’s letter to Francesco’s brother Luigi of 29-11-1509, in which he asks the same Luigi to recommend him to his brother (Ridolfi, Vita, 293, 489). Nevertheless, their hypothetical encounter at Modena before the official beginning of M.’s mission to Carpi and their subsequent correspondence, which emerged from this episode, mark an important step in their complex friendship (on Guicciardini’s relationship with M. see also: Simonetta, Tutti gli uomini, 97–105).


Guicciardini and Sigismondo Santi

Guicciardini seems to particularly enjoy deceiving or at least keeping the chancellor Santi in a state of uncertainty, maybe in order to take revenge for the disrespectful way in which the latter had treated him in the previous year, when the chancellor had assumed command in the secret conquest of Ferrara and its annexation to the Papal State without taking into account the perplexities of Guicciardini himself (see Masi, “Saper «ragionare di questo mondo»,” 499-500).


The Selection of a Preacher for Florence

In a previous letter from the same day, Guicciardini had expressed his amazement that M. had been selected to go to Carpi and choose a suitable preacher for Florence for the forthcoming Lent (see External Links for an online version of this letter). Guicciardini jokes about M. being the wrong choice, like when Pachierotto (a person known for his homosexuality) had been asked to find a beautiful and gallant wife for a friend (“di trovare una bella e galante moglie a uno amico”).


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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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