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Letter to Queen Elizabeth as Machiavelli

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My Most Esteemed Elizabeth,

I find you, Your Majesty, to be a most competent and wise leader. I know that you are working solely to better your country and make England as grand as it can be. This being said, however, there are some things I would like to address regarding the decisions you have made as England’s prince.

The first decision I would like to address is when you heeded your advisors and went to war with Scotland, yet you did not approve of war in the first place. This decision was made hastily and without forethought. Your Majesty made the decision to appease your advisors about the issue and so agreed with them to avoid any potential conflict among the members of your council. As a prince, it is your Majesty’s duty to know the correct decision to make. It is your duty to see past all the potential pitfalls of plans laid out before you. A queen, as any prince, must be slow to act, weighing each possible outcome, and continue in a controlled manner with discretion and humanity. (XVII, iv) And if a queen fails to be any of these things, then she is unfit to be a leader. Hence if Your Majesty lacks an army of substance, one of men who have taken up arms before, to send to war then war is not the wisest course of action. Your army in Scotland consisted of children and inexperienced townsfolk. Further, decisions must be made by the Queen in her own time because she deems that it is just, not out of fear that she will disappoint her advisors as well as England. If you wish to be accepted as a queen, Your Majesty must remember that relations with your counselors, like friendships, are made through payments, and are at no point secured, being unwise to rely upon in your time of need. (XVII, iv) A prince must discern what advice is beneficial to her realm. In the end, if you make the wrong decision, everyone will hold you responsible. Even if your advisors unanimously decide that England should go to war, you agree, and you are defeated, it is still you who will be at fault for making the decision. Your advisors and England will use this as a way to prove you unfit to be Queen. Your Majesty's advisors do not wish to befriend you, and you should not wish to befriend them. Use them only as a way to determine what different perspectives exist regarding the decision in question. Agreeing with your counselors will not win them to your side; only good judgment will prove your worth as a prince.

A fine example of how you exercised your judgment for the benefit of England is when you passed the Act of Uniformity. You displayed your craft in this decision when you made the bishops look foolish for questioning you as they did. Your Majesty passed this act not because of your personal beliefs or your struggles as a Protestant under Catholic rule, but to unite England and avoid more religious wars within the country. This was a very sensible decision—one made with your head rather than your heart. If the act had not been passed, more massacres and rebellions would have surely ensued. Passing this act pleased many; so I believe it most wise to remind you that each decision, no matter how small, can bring you blame or praise. (XV, ii) Furthermore, setting a fine example and great enterprise are what bring highest esteem. (XXI, i) Unlike your predecessor, Queen Mary, you put your own faith aside to preclude unnecessary religious conflict. Therefore a wise lady ought not to keep faith when such observance may be turned against her. (XVIII, i) As this most praiseworthy decision was yours alone, you have proven your ability to act for England’s benefit without advice.
In the matter of the most treasonous attempt of Your Majesty’s assassination, you acted swiftly and justly. The conspirators knew their treason when they signed their pledge to kill Your Highness, and in such circumstance, a prince must act in a manner that inspires fear in his people in such a way that does not inspire hatred. (XVII, vi) Therefore, when it is necessary to order execution, he must do it for just reasons and for clear cause. (XVII, vi) Your Majesty must not, as you were not, afraid to take immediate and violent action. As the fox, it is necessary to discover the traps and plots against you, and as the lion, it is necessary to terrify the wolves who attempt to murder you. (XVIII, i) Your Highness proved well that you are lion and fox—capable of exacting punishment and justice.

As fox, lion, and prince, Your Majesty, the very best you can hope to do will be based upon your actions—not the actions that your advisors wish you to make. The people see you and only you when they are led to victory or defeat; it is important to remember such things. You faltered when you listened solely to your advisors and not your own conscience. You rose to glory when you decided to make your own decisions. It was then that you truly became a prince, for a prince is ever his own person. What you do from this point forward will surely be well considered and for the good of your country, for you are now acting on your own judgment even as you consider counsel. I humbly offer my faith that Your Highness will be a most faithful and successful prince.

Your Obedient Servant,
Niccolo Machiavelli




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