The Diplomat of Florence: A Novel of Machiavelli and the Borgias

Written by Anthony Wildman
Review by Jo Ann Butler

In 1494, with a French army sweeping through Italy’s northern kingdoms, Florence’s apocalyptic preacher Savonarola warns that God’s retribution against corrupt priests and evil, greedy rulers is at hand. Like most aristocrats, twenty-five-year-old Niccolò Machiavelli listens to these words with disdain, but his scorn is mixed with jealousy, for the ancient Machiavelli family is equally as qualified to lead Florence as the Medicis, and he’s five years older than Piero Medici, unworthy successor to his father, Lorenzo the Great. Savonarola’s followers are quieted when their renegade priest is burned for treason, and the French occupation is brief, thanks to wily Florentine negotiations. But Renaissance Italy’s peace is easily disturbed; this time it’s Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI (and subject of Machiavelli’s The Prince). Borgia shakes off his cardinal’s robes for a soldier’s armor and begins his meteoric career—with his father’s blessing and support.

Meanwhile, quick-witted Niccolò Machiavelli, whose tact makes him seem not to favor any party over another, is elected Second Secretary of the Florentine Republic. Florence’s leaders have alliances—and enemies—throughout Europe. Bearing official correspondence as Florence’s eyes and ears is the perfect opportunity for the budding diplomat to learn how to play the fox among lions.

Anthony Wildman deftly untangles Renaissance Europe’s complex history and rival families in this intricate novel. Mr. Wildman’s command of his subject is impressive, and he does a terrific job of placing the reader in the middle of Italy’s multiplayer chess game. If you love intrigue and politics, or are agog for the Borgias and Medicis, The Diplomat of Florence is for you.