In "The Prince," how does Machiavelli suggest maintaining different types of principalities?

Quick answer:

The best type of state to acquire is a hereditary one because it is easier to maintain. The worst type of state to acquire is an ecclesiastical principality because it is the only one that will be happy and secure.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

(continued from previous answer) 

"now to speak of ecclesiastical principalities, touching which all difficulties are prior to getting possession, because they are acquired either by capacity or good fortune, and they can be held without either; for they are sustained by the ancient ordinances of religion, which are so all-powerful, and of such a character that the principalities may be held no matter how their princes behave and live." (Machiavelli, pg. 30)

Machiavelli suggests that ecclesiastical principalities are easy to maintain because they are governed by religion.  The authority of the leader comes from God, so it is not questioned by the governed. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On heredity principalities, Machiavelli says:

"I say at once there are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states, and those long accustomed to the family of their prince, than new ones;" (Machiavelli, pg. 10) 

Here he suggests that hereditary principalities are easier to maintain because a ruling family develops a relationship with the people and unless the ruler exhibits some extraordinary vices, the people will continue to love him.

New principalities are harder to govern, Machiavelli states. The new ruler must conquer territory in this process he will make enemies.  He must make his enemies in the new territories his allies by giving them something to make them happy.  It is also important for the new ruler to live in the conquered territory, so that he can observe problems, solve them quickly, before they become unmanageable. 

"in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives." (Machiavelli, pg. 11)

In a civil principality, an ordinary citizen can become a ruler with the help of his fellow citizens. 

"one ascends to the principality, or when by the favour of his fellow-citizens a private person becomes the prince of his country." (Machiavelli, pg. 25)

This leader must stay in close contact with the people that put him in power, and not get too close to the nobles.  He should always seek the goodwill of the people. 


Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Prince, what does Machiavelli say is the best way to maintain the hereditary, mixed, civic, and ecclesiastical principalities?

Macchiavelli sees hereditary rule as the easiest type to maintain since the people are used to the customs and rule of their families, probably for many generations. There are less problems because the family has ruled for so long that any discontent has long been forgotten, and the people usually love the prince.

In a mixed principality, holding on to power is more difficult, but if the customs and language are the same, a ruler must make sure that the family of the former ruler has been killed and that the laws and taxes of the acquired country arent's changed. If the customs and language are different, then the ruler should either go live in the newly-acquired states or set them up as colonies, where they will be ruled by men the new ruler can trust. The ruler must guard against any other men coming from bordering states who might try to start trouble.

In a civil principality, a ruler is given power either by the people or the nobles. Machiavelli says it's more difficult to maintain power if the nobles have brought you to power because each of them feels he's as good as the new ruler and could foment a rebellion at any point. If a new ruler has the support of the people, he will have an easier time keeping his power because almost all of the people around him will be loyal.

Ecclesiastical principalities are the only ones that are "secure and happy" because their powers are derived from God, and it is God who maintains them.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on