Summary and Analysis Chapter 11



The final type of principality to be discussed is the ecclesiastical state. Although this type of principality is gained through ability or luck, their princes stay in power no matter how they act. They do not defend their states or govern their people, and the people never think of getting rid of them. No other state could be so successful. Because these states are ordained by God, Machiavelli says he will not be so foolish as to discuss them.

Still, some people may ask how these states became so powerful so quickly. Before Charles invaded Italy, it was controlled by five factions whose goals were to keep out foreign invaders and make sure no one faction became too strong. The short reign of most popes kept them from making any headway against these factions. Then Alexander VI appeared, and he showed what a Pope could accomplish with money and weapons. Though he wanted only to promote Cesare Borgia's power, he ended up making the Church more powerful, which Julius II took advantage of. One hopes that the present Pope Leo will make it as great by his goodness as others have made it by force.


In this chapter, Machiavelli completes his discussion of the different kinds of states and how to acquire them, which he laid out in Chapter 1. The ecclesiastical states he refers to were a unique feature of the Italian political landscape, namely the Papal States. As he notes, they followed none of the rules that would have applied to other kinds of principalities. The popes, as head of the Catholic church, which was arguably the most powerful institution in Europe, had always had power and privilege, and had ruled over their own states around Rome. But the popes of the Italian Renaissance added military conquest and aggressive fund-raising to the mix, becoming not only outrageously powerful but outrageously corrupt as well. The abuses of Alexander VI—who had children by several mistresses, lived a decadent lifestyle, and undertook military campaigns to aggrandize his family—played a significant part in bringing about the backlash of the Protestant Reformation. The collecting of indulgences, a practice Martin Luther protested strongly, was one of the chief sources of income for Alexander's military ventures.

Machiavelli's comment that he cannot presume to discuss a state ordained by God fairly drips with sarcasm. Machiavelli was well aware of the thoroughly worldly ambitions of the Renaissance popes and bitterly resented their effect on Italian politics. In his Discourses on Livy, he has harsh words for the Church's lack of religious principle and willingness to promote factionalism in Italy, depriving it of a strong, centralized leadership such as existed in France and Spain.


Pope Leo X Giovanni de Medici (1475-1521). A son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and therefore uncle of the man to whom The Prince was dedicated. He became Pope in 1513. It was during the general amnesty celebrating his election that Machiavelli had been released from prison. Leo would later excommunicate Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer.