Francesco Guicciardini Biography

Biography (History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Guicciardini helped revolutionize history writing by breaking with Humanist conventions. He was one of the first historians to present history as a series of interrelated causes and effects and to treat the history of Italy in the larger context of European affairs.

Early Life

The Guicciardini family was one of the aristocratic supports of the early (circa 1430) Medici regime in Florence. Francesco Guicciardini’s father had close ties to Lorenzo de’ Medici, evidenced by the many positions offered him by Lorenzo and by the fact that Marsilio Ficino, Lorenzo’s colleague in the Platonic Academy and a member of the Medici household, was godfather to young Francesco. At his father’s urging, Guicciardini pursued a career in law. He studied at the Universities of Pisa, Ferrara, and Padua. Upon his return to Florence, he established himself as a lawyer and professor of law and in 1508 married Maria Salviati, whose family was active in the affairs of republican Florence. His earliest writings belong to this period and include his family memoirs and the Storie fiorentine (1509; The History of Florence, 1970), which covered the years 1378 to 1509. The latter is an important source for historians interested in the Florentine Republic.

Life’s Work

In 1511, the year of Pope Julius II’s formation of a Holy League against France—consisting of the Papal States, Venice, Aragon, and the Holy Roman Empire—Guicciardini was elected to his first public post, as ambassador to the court of Ferdinand II of Aragon. When he returned to Florence three years later, he found the Medici family restored to power and Florence a member of the league. He returned to his legal profession, and, though no friend to the younger generation of Medici, he served the new rulers first as a member of the Balia, or body of eight, in charge of internal security and in 1515 in the Signoria, the governing council of the city.

Guicciardini’s career took a new course in 1516, when he was appointed by Pope Leo X to a series of posts. He would serve the Papacy almost continuously until 1534. Until 1521, he was Governor of Modena and Reggio and general of papal armies. Temporarily removed from these posts upon the death of Leo X, Guicciardini was reappointed by Pope Adrian VI. Under his harsh but efficient rule, these provinces were brought under control. The war in Italy between the Valois French and the Habsburg, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, turned Reggio into a military outpost of the Papal States. Guicciardini’s major military success was the defense of Parma against the French in December, 1521. He also successfully preserved Modena from the Duke of Ferrara, though Reggio capitulated.

Guicciardini’s literary output during this time consists of numerous letters and memorandums that manifest his tireless energy in the performance of his duties. From 1521 to 1526, he wrote Dialogo del reggimento di Firenze (dialogue on the government of Florence). From a historical case study illustrating the defects of one-man rule and of democracy, Guicciardini deduced his ideal Florentine government: a republic in which the aristocratic element has a leading role. In 1521, too, began Guicciardini’s correspondence with Niccolò Machiavelli. From 1501 until the restoration of the Medici in 1512, Machiavelli had been a leading actor in Florentine affairs under Piero Soderini, the ensign-bearer of the republic. The Guicciardini and Salviati families had been aristocratic opponents of that regime, and Guicciardini had called Machiavelli the “tool of Soderini.” The two found a common bond in their distaste for Medici rule after 1512. Though younger by fourteen years, Guicciardini played the aristocratic patron to Machiavelli the commoner. About 1530, he began Considerazioni sui “Discorsi” de Machiavelli (Considerations on the “Discourses” of Machiavelli, 1965), which he never finished. He criticized Machiavelli’s theories and his interpretation of Roman history as a guide to contemporary political thought.

Guicciardini’s star continued to ascend under Pope Clement VII, a Medici family member with whom he was friends. In 1524, he was made president of the Romagna region, and he became a trusted adviser to the pope. The victory of Charles V over Francis I of France at Pavia in 1525 proved a turning point in the life and the historical consciousness of Guicciardini. He was catapulted into the highest echelons of European politics. From then on, he was both enabled and required to comprehend events in Italy as intricately bound up in the larger schemes of the great powers. In 1526, Guicciardini was in Rome as a papal adviser. His advice was important in the formation of the League of...

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