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‘Most wanted notice’ marking Machiavelli’s downfall found

15 Feb 2013

The original copy of a proclamation - exactly 500-years old - calling for the arrest of one the world’s most infamous political operators has been discovered by a University of Manchester academic.

Portrait of Machiavelli

Professor Stephen Milner came across the 1513 proclamation which led to the downfall of Niccolò Machiavelli, known as the Italian Prince of Darkness, buried in the state archives in Florence.

Professor Milner is Serena Chair of Italian in the University’s School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

The ‘most wanted notice’ began a chain of events that led to the writing of The Prince later that same year and marked a change in the civil servant’s political fortunes, eventually resulting in his death 14 years later in abject poverty.

The Prince, infamous for advocating the sacrifice of virtue and morality to maintain  power at all costs, has been updated to apply to areas as diverse as banking, finance, business and politics.

Its 500-year anniversary is being celebrated by the city of Florence- beginning with a  reconstruction of the events surrounding his capture and imprisonment.

A town crier mounted on a horse and armed with a silver trumpet to attract the attention of crowds will make the proclamation at sites across Florence.

By examining hundreds of proclamations between 1470 and 1530, Prof Milner has also mapped the sites within the city where the town crier would have actually read out the proclamation.

His further discoveries have shed light on the payments made to four horsemen who searched the streets for Machiavelli and the cash they received for his capture.

“When I saw it I knew exactly what it was and it was pretty exciting,” said Professor Milner.

“When you realise this document marked the fall from grace of one the world’s most influential political writers, it’s quite a feeling.”

He added: “The Prince is a seminal work, with a lasting influence on political thought and culture. The term Machiavellian and the naming of the Devil as ‘Old Nick’ all derive from this single work.

“But the circumstances of its composition have often been overlooked.

“On the return of the Medici faction to power in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in the city’s Chancery because of his close association with the previous leading citizen and head of the republican government, Piero Soderini.

“When his name was linked to conspiracy to overthrow the Medici, they wasted no time in seeking his capture using the proclamation I discovered.

“On the same day, he was imprisoned, tortured and later released and placed under house arrest outside the city.

“The Prince was written in the vain hope of gaining favour and employment with the Medici – but there’s no evidence to suggest they even read it.”

Notes for editors

The  reconstruction of  the events of February 1513 as part of the city’s 500th anniversary celebrations of the writing of The Prince take place on 19 February in Florence.

The Commune of Florence under the auspices of the honourable Professor Valdo Spini, has organised an official press conference to be held at 12:00 in the Bargello Museum, Florence on 15 Feb 2013.

Prof Milner made the discovery whilst Visiting Professor at the Harvard Centre for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence. His translation and edition  of The Prince was published by Everyman in 1995.

Professor Milner is available for interview in Italy

Images available:
•    The declaration
•    Drawing the trumpet used by the town crier from  council provision of 1443 concerning the terms of employment of the Florentine Town Criers.
•    Machiavelli.
•    Professor Milner

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567
Michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk