21 June 1527 – The Death of Niccolò Machiavelli

1200px-Portrait_of_Niccolò_Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito

On June 21, late in the evening, Niccolò Machiavelli passed away after suffering with severe abdominal pain brought on by what his son believed was an overdose of a homemade remedy. Just two weeks previously he had been riding about, vigerously working on government business for the Florentine Government.

Machiavelli’s life had certainly not been an easy one. A contemporary of Cesare Borgia, he spent time in the company of the man who would come to be known as (thanks to Machiavelli’s own work) The Prince and had been accused of, and tortured for, treason against the Florentine Republic.

His son Piero wrote of his father’s last moments:

“I can only weep in telling you that our father, Niccolò, died…from pains in the stomach caused by medication he took on the 20th. He confessed his sins to Brother Matteo, who kept him company until his death. Our father has left us in the deepest poverty, as you know” (Unger 2011, 332)

At the time of his death, Niccolò Machiavelli was just 58 years old. He was interred in the family crypt at the basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. The original tomb was an unassuming one, a far cry from the sumptuous and beautiful memorial that greets visitors to the basilica today – his body was moved in the eighteenth century after a good few centuries of having faded into the background of history, and after his name became the epitome of realpolitik. The tomb today, an echo of his explosion to fame in the eighteenth century, is inscribed with the words, “For so great a name, no words will suffice”

Check out my article on Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia over on AISR.

The Renaissance Preacher – From Idea to the Page.

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I remember the first time I came across Savonarola properly. Although I’d read his name in passing I hadn’t really paid all that much attention to him. But, to my sins, I was watching Showtime’s The Borgias when I first really started paying attention to him. On the screen there was this monk, shouting to the heavens about everything that was wrong with the Church and the Borgia papacy. I found myself drawn in and began to read – his story is so intertwined with the history of Florence during the Renaissance that I soon found myself hooked on the story of this Dominican friar who so many believed was a prophet, and who was literally a thorn in the side of Lorenzo de’ Medici. I soon realised though that his portrayal in The Borgias was seriously inaccurate – I suppose I shouldn’t really have been surprised given how much of a train wreck the rest of show was when it came to accuracy. In Borgia Savonarola also has a role to play and I must admit I enjoyed Iain Glenn’s portrayal (it was way more accurate) much more.

My reading soon took a turn away from the Borgia – although that family will always be my biggest love of the Renaissance – and I started reading more around the history of Florence. From the early days of the Medici family through to Savonarola practically chasing the family out of the gates, right up to the very last Medici, I couldn’t get enough. But every time I found myself coming back to Savonarola.

A lot of the books I read on this fascinating character were absolutely huge brick type books. Or they were very academically written. I found neither of these issues to be a problem and devoured them. However what I wanted to see was a book that told Savonarola’s story without getting too bogged down in the politics of the age – of course politics played a huge part and Savonarola was involved in a lot of it, but I really thought there should be something out there that could introduce the life of this man without proving to be too complicated.

So I sat down, and I started to write.

I found myself caught up in Savonarola’s story so incredibly quickly and as I wrote, a gained a huge respect for the man who was burned as a heretic. Despite his wrong doings, despite his burning of some of the world’s most beautiful works of art, I found that he was a man who truly believed in what he was doing. He wanted Church reform. He wanted to reform Florence from a city of vice into a city of God. Unfortunately for him, he pissed off the wrong people with the methods he used and ended up dying a horrific death – something that no one deserves.

As part of the journey, my partner and I took ourselves off to Florence at the beginning of this year. The aim was to see the places that Savonarola lived and worked, to spend time in the cell where he spent his final hours and to take plenty of photographs for the book. Whilst we were there I found myself becoming hugely emotional – I had spent months and months and months researching this man’s life, his works and his death so to see the places where he had been? It was a very moving experience. Despite the fact that I got some very funny looks whilst getting all thoughtful in the Albergetto and got in the way of some guy taking photographs of Savonarola’s cell in San Marco! Those things truly didn’t matter to me though. What mattered to me was that I was finishing off my long journey in the place where Girolamo Savonarola had worked to reform the city and had died. Such a moving experience and one I will never ever forget.

Now the work is finished – photographs and all – and this may sound a little bit conceited but I’m seriously proud of this work. The writing of this book took me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions involving happiness, tears as well as slamming books down and stating I wouldn’t write another word.

And it was all worth it. Every single moment.

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Girolamo Savonarola: The Renaissance Preacher is available now.

Already got the kindle version? Head on over to authorgraph and request for an autograph!