Francesco Guicciardini, a Florentine aristocrat and statesman, served as am­bassador and administrator for the Medici for many years; from his privileged vantage point within diplomatic circles, he also wrote highly perceptive analyses of Florentine and Italian history. Born in the benevolent reign of Lorenzo de Medici, Guicciardini in his youth saw the expulsion of the Medici from Flor­ence, as well as the short-lived populist regime of the fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola that ended with the friar s death in 1498.
After receiving his law degree, Guicciardini made an ambitious marriage that placed him firmly in the ranks of the highest aristocracy of Florence. He first received communal honor at age twenty-eight as ambassador to the king of Aragon. Recalled from Spain in 1514, he then served the Medici in their capacity as the restored rulers of Florence and was in the employ of the Medici popes Leo X* and Clement VII. By 1527, however, his career had suffered on both fronts: the league he had helped to negotiate against the holy Roman emperor had failed, and Rome had been sacked mercilessly by German mercenaries; and the Florentines had risen in revolt, had expelled the Medici, and had established a new republic. In voluntary retirement at first, Guicciardini was eventually labeled a rebel and an enemy of the new republic during its brief life.
When a coalition of imperial and papal forces restored Medici rule in Flor­ence, Guicciardini too reentered the city, where he proceeded to prosecute lead­ers of the rebellious republic vigorously. He left the city briefly to serve as papal governor of Bologna, then returned to Florence as close advisor to the Medici duke Alexander. When the duke was assassinated in 1537, Guicciardini saw that he had no further part to play in Florentine politics and retired to compose his masterpiece, Storia d' Italia (The History of Italy).
Guicciardini s own life illustrated the limited choices and upsets of fortune available even to the wealthy and well-connected. So too do his many writings. As a youth he had already composed his memoirs and his first draft of the Storie fiorentine (History of Florence). In his first ambassadorial post in Spain, Guic-ciardini began his Ricordi politici e civili (Political Maxims), terse and cryptic statements about human nature and the mutability of circumstances. In these and his later Storia d' Italia, Guicciardini noted the influence of particular in­dividuals as well as that of coalitions and larger interests. Though allied with the Medici politically, Guicciardini preferred republican government, but one in which learned aristocrats like himself played a prominent part. Ultimately shut out of real political life, he managed nonetheless in his trenchant writings to indicate what fundamentally had caused the ruin of Florentine republicanism and of Italian independence: the lack of wise rulers, or, at the very least, wise advisors like Francesco Guiccardini to whom these rulers listened.
F. Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth-Century Flor­ence, 1965.
M. Phillips, Francesco Guicciardini: The Historian's Craft, 1977.
Alison Williams Lewin

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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