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Francesco Guicciardini

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An historian and statesman; born at Florence, 1483; died there, 23 May, 1540. His parents, Piero di Jacopo Guicciardini and Simona Gianfigliazzi, belonged to ancient Florentine families, attached to the party of the Medici. Francesco's early career was that of a successful lawyer. He increased his aristocratic and Medicean connexions by his marriage with Maria Salviati (1508), whose family was bitterly opposed to the then dominant republican regime. In 1511, though legally too young for the post, he was sent as Florentine ambassador to the King of Spain. During his absence, the Medici were restored in Florence. On his return (1514), he entered their service, from which he passed into that of the Church. Under Leo X he governed Modena and Reggio with conspicuous success; and, in the confusion that followed the pope's death, he distinguished himself by his defence of Parma against the French (1521). He was influential with Clement VII in forming the anti-imperial League of Cognac (1526), and was lieutenant-general of the army that, through no fault of his, failed to prevent the sack of Rome in 1527. For a while, Guicciardini kept on terms with the restored republican government of Florence; but, at the beginning of the siege, he joined the pope, and was declared a rebel by the democratic party. On the surrender of Florence to the papal and imperial armies, he returned to the city (Sept., 1530), was made a member of the Eight ( Otto di pratica ), and became one of the chief agents in the subjugation of the state to the Medicean rule. From June, 1531, to September, 1534, he ruled Bologna as papal vice-legate. Returning to Florence on the death of Clement VII, he supported the tyranny of Alessandro de' Medici. After the murder of Alessandro, he played the chief part in securing the succession of Cosimo de'Medici (1537); but fell into disfavour when he attempted to check the new duke's absolutism by giving the government an oligarchical complexion. Henceforth, although until his death Guicciardini held various public offices in Florence, his influence was at an end. The few remaining years of his life were mainly passed in retirement, in his villa at Arcetri, devoting his enforced leisure to the composition of his great "Storia d'Italia".

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The "Storia d'Italia" embraces the whole period from the death of Lorenzo de'Medici in 1492 to that of Clement VII in 1534, that most disastrous epoch in Italian history which witnessed the loss of the nation's independence. Its vast accumulation of details does not obscure the main lines of the terrible story. The author writes as an eyewitness who has himself taken part in the scenes he describes; a keen observer, with no delusions, no enthusiasms, and little hope for the future; one above all intent upon tracing the motives of men's actions — almost invariably, in his opinion, bad or unworthy. His minor works, such as the earlier "Storia Fiorentina" (1509) and the dialogue "Del Reggimento di Firenze" (circa 1527), are less artificial in style. The "Ricordi politici e civili" (1530) reveal much of the author's character and beliefs. While mistrusting all patriotism, and regarding the profession of noble motives as a mere cloak for personal ends, he declares that the three things he most longs to see are the establishment of a well-ordered republic in Florence, the liberation of Italy from the barbarians, and the overthrow of the rule of bad ecclesiastics throughout the world. He admits that, had not his own personal interests been bound up with the temporal success of two popes, he would have loved Martin Luther as himself. Much of his political correspondence has been preserved.


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