Machiavelli became a political figure in Florence at a young age. He became secretary to the second chancellory at twenty-nine, then spent his political career managing the day-to-day operations of the Florentine government. After losing his position in 1513, he turned to writing, often advancing arguments of a controversial nature. Although Machiavelli is most noted for his books The Prince (1532) and The Discourses (1517), he also wrote several other works and plays with the encouragement of several popes. He wrote his History of Florence (1525) with the benefit of a financial stipend from the Roman Catholic church, and his play Mandragola (1518), a story about romance and sexuality, won praise and support from Pope Leo X.
In 1559 Pope Paul IV created the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of “unholy and dangerous books.” While the pope’s edict did not explicitly prohibit the reading of Machiavelli’s works, it did describe The Prince as “unwholesome.” The church reiterated its negative appraisal of The Prince when the Council of Trent issued its own index in 1664. However, the publication of the indexes did not prevent the spread of Machiavelli’s writings. The Prince was republished in French and Latin. Interestingly, Cardinal Richelieu of France encouraged Louis Machon to prepare a volume analyzing Machiavelli in positive terms. Machon’s thesis was that Machiavelli’s writings had been misunderstood, and that The Prince was based on Christian concepts. However, the controversial nature of Machon’s claim prevented the book from being published, despite Richelieu’s backing. English translations of The Prince did not appear until the seventeenth century.
With the lack of an English translation of The Prince, Machiavelli’s political theory was introduced to England through secondary writings. Failing to portray Machiavelli’s thought accurately, these writings tended to dismiss Machiavelli’s arguments as atheistic. Innocent Gentillet’s Against Nicolas Machiavelli, Florentine, published in 1576, was a major influence on the English understanding of Machiavelli. Gentillet’s work was an attack on the policies of Catherine de Medicis, with Gentillet arguing that Catherine relied on Machiavelli’s advice in carrying out violent internal policies. Reginald Pole also played a role in shaping the English view of Machiavelli’s thought by claiming that Machiavelli’s ideas represented the embodiment of the Antichrist.