Guicciardini, Francis

, the celebrated historian of Italy, was descended of an ancient and noble family at | Florence, where he was born March 6, 1482. His father, Peter Guicciardini, an eminent lawyer, bred up his son in his own profession; in which design he sent him, in 1498, to attend the lectures of M. Jacobo Modesti, of Carmignano, who read upon Justinian’s Institutes at Florence, but his son submitted to this resolution with some reluctance. He had an uncle who was archdeacon of the metropolitan church of Florence, and bishop of Cortona; and the prospect of succeeding to these benefices, which yielded near 1500 ducats a year, had Bred the ambition of the nephew. He had hopes of rising from such a foundation through richer preferments by degrees to the highest, that of a cardinal; and the reversion of the uncle’s places might have been easily obtained. But, though his father had five sons, he could not think of placing any of them in the church, where he thought there was great neglect in the discipline. Francis proceeded therefore with vigour in the study of the law, and took his degrees at Pisa, in 1505; but, looking upon the canon law as of little importance, he chose to be doctor of the civil law only. The same year he was appointed a professor of the institutes at Florence, with a competent salary for those times. He was now no more than twenty-three years of age, yet soon established a reputation superior to all the lawyers his contemporaries, and had more business than any of them. In 1506 he married Maria, daughter of Everardo Salviati, by far the greatest man in Florence; and, in 1507, was chosen standing counsellor to several cities of the republic. Two years after he was appointed advocate of the Florentine chapter, a post of great honour and dignity, which had been always filled with the most learned counsellors in the city; and, in 1509, he was elected advocate of the order of Calmaldoli.

He continued thus employed in the proper business of his profession till 1511; but that year the cKsis of the public affairs gave occasion to call forth his abilities for more important matters. The Florentines were thrown into great difficulties by the league, which the French and Spaniards had entered into against the pope. Perplexed about their choice to remain neuter or engage in the league* they had recourse to our advocate, whom they sent ambassador to Ferdinand, king of Spain, to treat of this matter; and at the same time charged him with other affairs of the highest importance to the state. With this | character he left Florence in 1512, and arriving safely afc Bruges, where his Spanish majesty then resided, remained two years at that court. Here he had an opportunity of exerting and improving his talents as a statesman. Many events happened in that time, the consequences whereof came within his province to negociate; such as the taking and plundering Ravenna and Prato by the Spaniards, the deposing of Piero Soderini, and the restoration of the family of Medici. In these and several other occurrences, which happened at that time, he adopted such measures, nd with such address, that the republic found no occasion to employ any other minister; and the king testified his satisfaction by a great quantity of fine-wrought plate, which he presented to him at his departure. On his arrival at Florence in 1514, he was received with, uncommon marks of honour; and, in 15 15, constituted advocate of the consistory by Leo X. at Cortona. The pope’s favours did not stop here. Guicciardini’s extraordinary abilities, with a hearty devotion to the interest of the church, were qualifications of necessary use in the ecclesiastical state. Leo, therefore, that he might reap the full advantage of them, sent for him not long after to Rome, resolving to employ him where his talents might be of most service. In 1518, when Modena and Reggio were in great danger of being lost, he was appointed to the government of those cities, and proved himself equal to the charge.

His merit in this government recommended him, in 1521, to that of Parma, whence he drove away the French, and confirmed the Parmesans in their obedience; and this at a time when the holy see was vacant by the death of Leo, and the people he commanded full of fears, disheartened, and unarmed. He retained the same post under Adrian VI, to whom he discovered the dangerous designs of Alberto Pio da Carpi, and got him removed from the government of Reggio and Rubiera. Clement VII. on his exaltation to the pontificate, confirmed him in that government. This pope was of the house of Medici, to which Guicciardini was particularly attached; and, in return, we find him presently raised to the highest dignities in the ecclesiastical state. Having in 1523 prevented the duke of Ferrara from seizing Modena, the pope, in acknowledgement thereof, not only made him governor of that city, but constituted him president of Romagna, with unlimited authority. This was a post of great dignity and | power, yet as factions then ran very high, the situation was both laborious and dangerous. However, he not only by his prudence overcame all these difficulties, but found means, in the midst of them, to improve the conveniences and delight of the inhabitants. Their towns which lay almost in rubbish, he embellished with good houses and stately buildings; a happiness, of which they were so sensible, that it rendered the name of Guicciardini dear to them, and they were overjoyed, when, after a farther promotion of Francis, they understood he was to be succeeded in his government by his brother. This happened June 6,

1526, when the pope, by a brief, declared him lieutenantgeneral of all his troops in the ecclesiastical state, with authority over his forces in other parts also, that were under the command of any captain-general. It has been observed, that he was the chief favourite of pope Clement, and his present situation is a most illustrious proof of that remark. This post of lieutenant-general of the forces, added to what he held in the civil government, were the highest dignities which his holiness could bestow: but this honour was yet more increased by the command of the confederate army, which was given him soon after; for, in

1527, he led these joint forces to Ravenna, and relieved that country, then threatened with entire destruction. The same year he also quelled a dangerous insurrection in Florence, when the army of the league was there under the command of the constable of Bourbon.

In 1531 the pope made him governor of Bologna, contrary to all former precedents, that city having never before been committed to the hands of a layman. He was in this post when his holiness met Charles V. there, in December 1532; and he assisted at the pompous coronation of the said emperor, on St. Matthias’s day following. This solemnity was graced with the presence of several princes, who all shewed our governor particular marks of respect, every one courting his company, for the sake of his instructive conversation. He had at this time laid the plan of his history, and made some progress in it; which coining to the ears of the emperor before he left Bologna, his imperial majesty gave orders, when Guicciardini should attend his levee, to admit him into his dressing-room, where he conversed with him on the subject of his history. So particular a distinction gave umbrage to some persons of quality and officers of the army, who had waited many | days for an audience. The emperor, being informed of the pique, took Guicciardini by the hand, and, entering into the drawing-room, addressed the company in these terms: “Gentlemen, I am told you think it strange that Guicciardini should have admission to me before yourselves; but I desire you would consider, that in one hour I can create a hundred nobles, and a like number of officers in the army; but I shall not be able to produce such an historian in twenty years. To what purpose serve the pains you take to discharge your respective functions honourably, either in the camp or cabinet, if an account of your conduct is not to be transmitted to posterity for the instruction of your descendants Who are they that have informed mankind of the heroic actions of your great ancestors, but historians? It is necessary then to honour them, that they may be encouraged to convey the knowledge of your illustrious deeds to futurity. Thus, gentlemen, you ought neither to be offended nor surprised at my regard for Guicciardini, since you have as much interest in his province as myself.

Guicciardini did not remain continually at Bologna, but divided his time between that city and Florence. In February this year, he sent a letter of instructions to Florence; and in April received orders from the Pope to reform the state there, and to put Alessandro in the possession of the government. Wise and prudent, however, as he was, discontents and faction at length arose. As long as Clement sat in the papal chair, the discontented murmured only in private; but upon that Pope’s death, in 1534, the disgust shewed itself openly: two noblemen in particular, Castelli and Pepoli, who till then had been fugitives, entered the city at noon-day, with a retinue of several of their friends, and some outlawed persons, well armed. The governor, looking upon this as done in contempt of his person, meditated how to revenge the affront. One evening two proscribed felons, under Pepoli’s protection, were taken up by the officers as they were walking the streets, and carried to prison: and Guicciardini, without any farther process, ordered them to be immediately executed. Pepoli, highly incensed, assembled a number of hrs friends, and was going in quest of the governor to seek his revenge, when the senate sent some their members to desire him to return home, and not to occasion a tumult, which> for fear of disobliging that body, he complied with. | It was this good disposition of the senate towards him, which prevailed with Guicciardini to remain in the government after the death of Clement. He foresaw that the people would no longer submit to his commands, and therefore had resolved to quit the government; but the senate, considering that many disorders might happen, if they were left without a governor in the time of the vacant see, begged him to continue, promising that he should have all the assistance requisite. To this he at last consented; and, with true magnanimity and firmness of mind, despising the danger that threatened him, remained in the city, till he understood that a new governor was appointed, when he resolved to quit the place. Some time after his arrival in Florence, upon the death of the duke, he had influence enough in the senate to procure the election of Cosmo, son of John de Medici, to succeed in the sovereignty. But, though he had interested himself so much in the election, yet he soon quitted the court, and meddled in public affairs no farther than by giving his advice occasionally, when required. He was now past fifty, an age when business becomes disgusting to persons of a reflecting turn. His chief wish was, that he might live long enough, in a quiet recess, to finish his history. In this resolution he retired to his delightful country-seat at Emma, where he gave himself up entirely to the work; nor could he be drawn from it by all the intreaties and advantageous offers that were made him by pope Paul III. who, in the midst of his retirement, passing from Nice to Florence, earnestly solicited our historian, first in person, then by letters, and at last by the mediation of cardinal Ducci, to come to Rome. But he was proof against all solicitations, and, excusing himself in a handsome manner to his holiness, adhered closely to his great design; so that, though he enjoyed this happy tranquillity a few years only, yet in that time he brought his history to a conclusion; and had revised the whole, except the four last books ,*


This is the reason why we see no more than 16 books in all the first edition of his history, published by his nephew.

when he was seized with a fever, May 27, 1540, of which he died.

As to the productions of his pen, his history claims the first place. It would be tedious to produce all the encomiums bestowed upon it by persons of the first character Bolingbroke calls him “The admirable historian” and says, he “should not scruple to prefer him to Thucydides | in every respect.” In him are found all the transaction^ of that aera, in which the study of history ought to begin; as he wrote in that point of time when those events and re volutions began, that have produced so vast a change in, the manners, customs, and interests, of particular nations; and in the policy, ecclesiastical and civil, of those parts of the world. And, as Guicciardini lived in those days, and was employed both in the field and cabinet, he had all opportunities of furnishing himself with materials for his history: in particular, he relates at length the various causes, which brought about the great change in religion by the reformation; shews by what accidents the French kings were enabled to become masters at home, and to extend themselves abroad; discovers the origin of the splendor of Spain in the fifteenth century, by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella; the total expulsion of the Moors, and the discovery of the West-Indies. Lastly, in respect to the empire, he gives an account of that change which produced the rivalship between the two great powers of France and Austria; whence arose the notion of a balance of power, the preservation whereof has been the principal care of all the wise councils of Europe, and is so to this day. Of this history sir William Jones says, “It is the most authentic I believe (may I add, I fear) that ever was composed. I believe it, because the historian was an actor in his terrible drama, and personally knew the principal performers in it; and I fear it, because it exhibits the woeful picture of society in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Guicciardini has, however, some defects. He is accused of being tedious and particular, and that he now and then indulges reflections, and retards the events which, in history, should be ever hastening towards the catastrophe. Yet although fastidious or indolent readers may complain, of this, there is throughout the whole work, especially in the first five books, "preparation of incidents, that, instead of being prolix, the reader can scarce lay down the book without an ardent desire or' knowing what follows next; and the worst that can be said of his speeches is, that they are fine political harangues, improperly placed. Another objection, however, has been thought to have more weight, if indeed it be not as sir William Jones fears a correct picture of society at that time, namely, that he represents all the actions of his personages as arising from | bad motives, and the persons who figure most in his drama are almost all knaves or fools, politic betrayers, or blustering ideots. Upon the whole, however, Guicciardini must be allowed the first of the historians of Italy, a country which has produced Machiavelli and Davila, Nani and Muratori.

Of this history there have been various editions, and it has been translated into various languages, particularly into English, by the chevalier Austin Parke Goddard, 1O vols. 8vo, 1754, &c. The original xvas first published by Guicciardini’s nephew Agnolo, at Florence in 15^1, folio. But this edition comprehends only the first sixteen books, as we have remarked, and is besides defective by the omission of several passages of importance. The four additional books were published by Seth Vioiti at Parma in 1564, and the passages omitted have been published separately in the work entitled “Thuanus resthufcus, sive sylloge, e. cum Francisci Guicciardini paralipomenis,” Amst. 1663. It was afterwards often re-printed complete, but in 1775, appeared an edition at Friburg, in 4 vols. 4to, professedly printed from the manuscript, reviewed and corrected by the author, which is, or was, in the library of Magliabecchi at Florence. This, of course, seems entitled to the preference.

Guicciardini wrote several other pieces, as “The Sacking of Rome;” “Considerations on State-Affairs;” “Councilu and Admonitions,” and there are extant several of his “Law-Cases,” with his opinion, preserved in the famous library of Signior Carlo Tomaso Strozzi and an epistle in verse, which has given him a place among the Tuscan poets, in the account of them by Crescimbeni. It were to be wished, that we could look into his correspondence but all his letters, by fatal negligence, have perished our curiosity in that point can only be satisfied by some written to him: part of these are from cardinal Pietro Bern bo, secretary to pope Leo X. and are to be seen in his printed letters; and oners from Barnardo Tasso. Berabo’s letters shew, that his correspondent possessed the agreeable art of winning the affections both of private persons and princes. Guicciardini was survived by his wife (who lived till 1559) and three daughters. Two married into the family of Capponi, and the third into that of Ducci. 1


Life prefixed to Gocldard’s Translation. Gen. Dict. Nrceron, vol. XVIL -Tirabosehi. Roscoe’s Leo. —Saxii Onomast.