Chapter 20 of The Prince Simplified

Are Castles Advantageous Or Hurtful? Icon

September 21, 2021

In order to hold the state securely, some princes have:

  • disarmed their subjects
  • kept their subject towns divided by setting up opposing groups
  • encouraged attacks against themselves
  • tried to win over those whom they did not trust in the beginning of their governments
  • built castles
  • destroyed castles

One cannot give a final judgment on all of these unless he has the details of those states.

There never was a new prince who has disarmed his subjects. Rather, when he has found them disarmed, he has always armed them.

By arming them:

  • those arms become yours
  • those men who were distrusted become faithful
  • those who were faithful are kept so
  • your subjects become your supporters.

Although all subjects cannot be armed, yet when those whom you do arm are benefited, the others can be handled more freely. This difference in their treatment, which they quite understand, makes the former your supporters, and the latter, considering it to be necessary that those who have the most danger and service should have the most reward, excuse you.

But when you disarm them, you at once offend them by showing that you distrust them, either for cowardice or for lack of loyalty.

Either of these opinions creates hatred against you, and because you cannot remain unarmed, it follows that you turn to mercenaries, which are of the character already shown. Even if they happen to be good, they would not be sufficient to defend you against powerful enemies and distrusted subjects. Therefore, as I have said, a new prince in a 33new principality has always distributed arms.

History is full of examples.

But when a prince acquires a new state and adds it to his old one, he should disarm the men of that state except those who have helped him in acquiring it.

These people, with time and opportunity, should be made soft and weak, and matters should be managed in such a way that all the armed men in the state should be your own soldiers who in your old state were living near you.

Those who were considered to be wise, were accustomed to say that it was necessary to hold Pistoia by opposing groups and Pisa by castles. With this idea they encouraged quarrels in some of their acquired towns so as to keep possession of them more easily. This may have been good enough in those times when Italy was in a way balanced, but I do not believe that it can be accepted as a rule for today.

I do not believe that opposed groups can ever be of use. Rather, when the enemy comes upon you in divided cities you are quickly lost because the weakest party will always assist the outside forces and the other will not be able to resist.

The Venetians were influenced by the above reasons. They encouraged the Guelph and Ghibelline groups in their acquired cities.

Although they never allowed them to start killing each other, yet they nursed these arguments amongst them, so that the citizens, caught up in their differences, would not unite against them.

This did not turn out as expected because when the Venetians were beaten at Vaila, one party at once took courage and seized the state.

Such methods therefore show weakness in the prince, because these opposing groups would never be permitted in a strong principality.

Such methods for enabling one to manage subjects more easily are only useful in times of peace. But if war comes, this policy is a mistake.

Princes become great when they overcome the difficulties that face them, and a new prince has a greater necessity to earn a reputation than an hereditary one. Therefore fortune, especially when she desires to make a new prince great, causes enemies to arise and conspire against him, in order that he may have the opportunity of overcoming them, and thus climb higher as if by a ladder which his enemies have raised.

This is why many consider that a wise prince, when he has the opportunity, ought to create some enemies against himself, so that, having crushed them, his reputation may rise higher.

Princes, especially new ones, have found more loyalty and assistance in those men who in the beginning of their rule were distrusted than among those who in the beginning were trusted. Pandolfo Petrucci, prince of Siena, ruled his state more by those who had been distrusted than by others.

But on this question one cannot speak generally, for it varies so much with the individual. I will only say this, that those men who at the commencement of a principality have been hostile, if they really need assistance to support themselves, can always be turned into supporters with the greatest ease.

They will be tightly bound to serve the prince faithfully because they know it is very necessary for them through their actions to change the bad opinion which the prince had formed of them. Thus the prince always extracts more profit from them than from those who serving him in too much security, may neglect his affairs. Related to this, I must not fail to warn a prince, who by means of secret favours has acquired a new state.

He must carefully consider the reasons which induced those to favour him who did so. If it was not a natural feeling towards him, but only discontent with their government, then he will only keep them friendly with great trouble and difficulty, because it will be impossible to satisfy them.

And weighing well the reasons for this in those examples which can be taken from ancient and modern affairs, we shall find that it is easier for the prince to make friends of those men who were contented under the former government, and are therefore his enemies, than of those who, being discontented with it, were favourable to him and encouraged him to seize it.

Princes customarily build castles to hold their states more securely. They warn those who might want to work against them, and serve as a protection from a first attack.

This was a good system in the past. Nicolo Vitelli in our times destroyed 2 castles in Citta di Castello so that he might keep that state.

Guido Ubaldo, Duke of Urbino, on returning to his principality, after he had been driven out by Cesare Borgia, destroyed all the castles in that place down to the foundations, and considered that without them it would be more difficult to lose it. The Bentivogli returning to Bologna came to a similar decision.

Castles, therefore, are useful or not according to circumstances. If they do you good in one way, they injure you in another.

The prince who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build castles, but he who has more to fear from foreigners than from the people should leave them alone. The castle of Milan, built by Francesco Sforza, has made, and will make, more trouble for the house of Sforza than any other rebellion in the state.

This is why the best possible castle is not to be hated by the people. Although you may hold the castles, yet they will not save you if the people hate you. There will always be foreigners to assist a people who have rebelled against you.

In our times, such castles have been useful only to the Countess of Forli, when the Count Girolamo, her husband, was killed. Thanks to the castle, she was able to resist the popular attack and wait for assistance from Milan and recover her state.

Back then, foreigners could not assist the people. But castles were of little value to her afterwards when Cesare Borgia attacked her, and when the people, her enemy, were helped by foreigners.

Therefore, it would have been safer for her, both then and before, not to have been hated by the people than to have had the castles.

I praise both castle-builders and non-castle-builders. I blame whoever trusts castles and cares little about being hated by the people.


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