However, political upheavals in the Florentine Republic caused the fall in the career of Machiavelli in 15B, and he was even put to a year’s imprisonment. He was released from prison by the influence of his political friends on condition that he would retire from political life and refrain from all political activities. It was during this period of forced retirement that he induced his most memorable literary works out of which the “Prince” and the “Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius” stand out most prominently.
Their contents spelt out his political thought and earned him notoriety such as indifference to the use of immoral means to achieve political purposes and the belief that government depended largely on force and craft. His writings are mainly influenced by the then prevailing situation which half the time was the battle ground of conspirators and ambitious politicians – local as well as foreign.
The public leaders were activated more by selfish motive than by public interest. Public morality was very low, the Papal authority in Italy constituted greatly towards political degradation. Popes were opposed to the unification of Italy, which was divided into five states viz. the Kingdom of Naples in the south, the Duchy of Milan in north-west, the aristocratic Republic of Venice in the north-east, and the Republic of Florence and the Papal state in the centre.
The Catholic Church and the clergy of Machiavelli’s time wanted to maintain a shadow of their spiritual power over whole of Italy, which left Italy in a state of arrested development. There was no power which appeared great enough to unite the whole of Italian peninsula. Italians suffered all the degradation and oppression of the worst type of tyranny and the land became a prey to the French, Spanish and the Germans. And, unlike other European countries none of the rulers of Italian states was able to consolidate the whole of Italy under their sway.
The political situation in Italy was embarrassingly complex and depressing; and Machiavelli as a patriotic Italian could not help being overwhelmingly moved by that. Securing the independence of Italy and restoring prosperity of its cities became a master passion with him. The unification of the entire country under one national monarch on the model of France and Spain was the ideal for Machiavelli which particularly inspired him.
If the rotten politics of Italy affected his thought, he was also influenced by the growing spirit of Renaissance which impelled men to re-examine things from other than the clerical point of view. Being the chief exponent of this school of thought, Machiavelli, according to Dunning, “stood on the borderline between the Middle Ages and the Modern Ages. He ushered in the Modern Age by ridding politics of the vassalage of religion.”