Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Sender



Francesco Guicciardini

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

M. replies to Guicciardini, who, in previous letters (see for instance the letter of 18-5-1521), had made fun of M.’s mission to the friars of Carpi and helped him to increase his reputation at his host’s house by sending him seemingly important letters and legations. As author of the Istorie Fiorentine M. reflects somewhat ironically on his literary style inspired by the silent contemplation of the Franciscan friars.

This letter is part of the correspondence with Francesco Guicciardini about M.’s mission to Carpi. M. responds to Guicciardini, who had teased the former secretary of the Florentine Republic, who used to discuss important diplomatic affairs around the courts of Italy and Europe and who is now reduced to minor duties such as those assigned to him for his mission to the Franciscan convent of Carpi. M. is about to finalize his tasks, i. e. the partition of the Franciscan congregations and the selection of a preacher for the Lent sermons in Florence. The letter ends with some remarks on the usefulness of M.’s stay at the convent, where he, allegedly, has gained important insights into the nature of constitutions and orders of communities (“ho inteso molte constituzioni e ordini loro”) and with some important remarks on the monastic practices of silence, which might be useful for the composition of his Istorie Fiorentine.


The Role of Otium for Political Thinking

In a previous letter Guicciardini had advised M. to benefit from his stay at the Franciscan convent of Carpi in order to enlarge his empirical base of political analysis by studying la “repubblica de’ Zoccoli” (“the Republic of the Wooden Clogs”, i.e. the commonwealth of the monks), see the letter of 18-5-1521). Taking up the irony of M.’s own jokes about the “zoccolate” of the friars, but also of the grotesque situation the anticlerical ex-secretary finds himself in, Guicciardini had suggested that the otium of the three days at the monastery of Carpi would give M. the opportunity to study a further model for his comparative political analysis. The latter engages in Guicciardini’s (potentially humiliating) play of ironies in a very subtle way by trying to point out the importance of this ‘otiose’ mission for the study of human communities in general.


Contemplation and Writing

Within the walls of a monastic community, M., known to be an advocate of the active life of the citizen and republican institutions, who often satirizes monks and monastic communities in his writings, becomes part of the vita contemplativa (see also the section “Otio religioso”, Satire and Contemplation” in the entry on the letter from 17-5-1521). What is most interesting, is M.’s half-joking treatment of the topos of monastic silence as a metaphor for his situation as a writer of a historiographical work commissioned by the Medici. Similar to the monks, who followed a strict rule of silence during their meals, M. had to get along with the restriction of his freedom of expression in the process of writing while being fed by the Medici’s pocket.


Circa alle storie e la repubblica de’ zoccoli, io non credo di questa venuta avere perduto nulla, perché io ho inteso molte constituzioni e ordini loro che hanno del buono, in modo che io me ne credo valere a qualche proposito, massime nelle comparazioni, perché, dove io abbia a ragionare del silenzio, io potrò dire: “gli stavano più cheti che i frati quando mangiano;” e così si potrà per me addurre molte altre cose in mezzo che mi ha insegnato questo poco della esperienza.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

As for the Histories and the Republic of the Wooden Clogs, I do not think I have lost anything by coming here, because I have found out about many of their regulations and their organizational arrangements, which have good things in them, and so at some point I think I may make use of them – especially in comparisons, because whenever I have to discuss silence, I shall be able to say, “They are quieter than friars eating.” So it will be with a good many other things that I shall be able to bring in thanks to what I have learned from this little experience.


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

R. Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 300-302; M. D. Garfagnini, Il teatro della storia fra rappresentazione e realtà. Storiografia e trattatistica fra Quattrocento e Seicento, Roma 2002, 18-20; C. Vivanti, Niccolò Machiavelli. I tempi della politica, Rome 2008, 176; B. Kuhn, “Von der Macht (des) Erzählen(s). Machiavellis Istorie Fiorentine,” in J. Frömmer, A. Oster (eds.), Texturen der Macht. 500 Jahre Il Principe (Berlin: 2015), 87-111.



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).


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”).


The Significance of Silence

M. emphasizes the strategic importance of silence and careful talk in Discorsi II,35; on the importance of silence and omissions in the Istorie Fiorentine see Kuhn, “Von der Macht (des) Erzählen(s)”, esp. 99-105.


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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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