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Guicciardini, Francesco

   Florentine politician, historian, and political theorist. Born into a prominent family, he received a humanistic education, studied law at Ferrara and Padua, and then took up a political career that began with service to the reformed republican regime headed by Piero Soderini, which he served as ambassador to King Ferdinand I of Spain. His career survived the overthrow of Soderini and the restoration of the Medici to power. He accommodated himself to Medici rule and soon entered the service of the Medici pope, Leo X. Under Leo, he served as governor of Modena, where his good sense and firm hand made him an outstanding success. Under the next Medici pope, Clement VII, he governed the province of Romagna. He was less successful as an adviser on diplomatic matters, being involved in the pope's ill-starred decision to attempt to expel Spanish power from Italy. During the ensuing war, he was one of the commanders whose actions led to the disastrous Sack of Rome by the troops of Charles V in 1527. His service to the Medici caused the revolutionary regime that ruled Florence from 1527 to 1530 to banish him and confiscate his property.
   When Spanish troops restored the Medici to power, Guicciardini was one of the officials commissioned to punish the leaders of the defeated republican regime. He then served Clement VII as governor of Bologna. After the pope's death in 1534, he returned to Florence and became an adviser to the first duke of the city, Alessandro de' Medici. When Alessandro was murdered by a conspiracy in favor of his cousin Cosimo, Guicciardini was a leader in arranging the peaceful acceptance of Cosimo as duke but was soon eased out of power. He spent the final three years of his life in retirement, working on his History of Italy, which was largely completed by the time of his death, though his heirs delayed publication until 1561 because of the sensitive political issues that it treated.
   Both as a historian and as a political theorist, Guicciardini was far less sympathetic to the Florentine republican tradition than his older friend Niccolo Machiavelli. His personal preference was for continuation of a republican form of government dominated by the rich rather than for the openly monarchical regime created by the Medici during the 1530s, but he had no sympathy for the radical republicanism of the anti-Medicean party, and both before and after the suppression of the republican constitution, he proved fully willing to serve the Medici. He shared Machiavelli's acceptance of raw power and self-interest as the basis for government, but his thought was less influenced by theoretical considerations and distinctly less open to granting any but the most nominal power to citizens outside the inner circle of wealthy aristocratic families.
   Guicciardini's History of Florence (written in 1508-1509 but not published until the 19th century) shows that even at the outset of his career he favored a strong ruler who would tie himself closely to the high aristocracy; but the History of Italy, as his last work, shows that while his political preferences had remained the same, he had become profoundly pessimistic, lacking even the limited optimism of Machiavelli, though fully sharing his friend's cynicism about human motivation and religion. His other major work, a set of informal Ricordi or maxims, confirms the pessimism of his thought. He no longer thought that there was any possibility for Florence to be governed by his own aristocratic class and concluded that it was wiser to accept the city's subordination to despotism than to struggle against the inevitable.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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