Machiavelli turns to a discussion of princes who gain their position through fortune. Unlike those who come to power by prowess, new princes who come to power by fortune "do so with little exertion" but can maintain their status only with considerable effort. Machiavelli cautions his audience that those who gain power by fortune "rely on the goodwill and fortune" of others, which makes their position vulnerable and unstable. New princes who come to power by fortune can only succeed if they possess "such prowess that overnight they can learn how to preserve what fortune has suddenly tossed into their laps." Like other princes, they must lay strong foundations for their rule.
Although both fortune and the goodwill of the people can aid a prince in his effort to gain and secure his state, Machiavelli cautions that a prince must not rely exclusively on luck and the friendship of others in the long term. Rulers who come to power by fortune can only expect their good luck to last for a short time and therefore must possess the skill needed to manage a principality. Once again, fortune and prowess must work in tandem to lay the foundation for a strong and lasting state.
Machiavelli introduces the examples of two contemporary rulers, one who came to power by prowess and the other by fortune. Francesco Sforza used his prowess to rise from a private citizen to the duke of Milan. He won his status with great effort but held it with "little exertion." On the other hand, Cesare Borgia gained his position easily through "the good fortune of his father," Pope Alexander VI, but lost his state when that fortune "disappeared." Machiavelli praises Borgia for the "strong foundations" that he established after gaining his state through fortune. However, Machiavelli recognizes the "inordinate malice of fortune" that eventually destroyed Borgia's gains, although he argues that Borgia was not to blame for this loss.
Again referencing the "malice of fortune," Machiavelli reflects on the extremely bad luck that unjustly led to both Borgia's and his own loss of political power and influence. As was the case with Borgia, even a capable ruler who lays "strong foundations" for his position is not immune to bad luck and other unpredictable changes in fortune. Additionally, Machiavelli's discussion of Sforza highlights the transformation of a citizen into a prince, complicating the typical balance of power between the masses and the elite ruling classes.
Machiavelli retells the story of Cesare Borgia for instructional purposes. He begins with Pope Alexander VI, who encountered considerable challenges when he attempted to acquire a state for his illegitimate son. Unable to obtain a state through negotiation, Alexander instead created disorder within Italy, throwing states "into a turmoil" so that he could then "win secure control of part of them." Alexander allowed the Venetians to invite France into Italy and later allied himself directly with France, which aided his initial conquests. With these first possessions, Borgia consolidated control by undermining the power of the Roman barons and fiercely crushing rebellions in Urbino and the Romagna (region of north-central Italy). Borgia came to distrust the foreign French arms that had initially aided him and gradually swore them off in favor of "stratagem." Borgia secured his rule by winning the "trust and friendship" of his subjects and creating his own troops.
Machiavelli praises Borgia for his skillful use of both laws and arms, citing the various ways in which Borgia used physical force and "stratagem" to secure his conquests. As a diplomat in early fifteenth-century Florence, Machiavelli observed Borgia's tactics firsthand and his admiration for Borgia's skill in warfare and statecraft infuses this description. Machiavelli also praises Borgia's father, Pope Alexander VI, for his ability to cunningly incite and take advantage of disorder within Italy. Finally, Machiavelli discusses the way in which Borgia won the goodwill and "trust" of his subjects by giving them the privilege to serve in his army. By giving the people this power, Borgia secured their loyalty.
Discussing the Romagna at length, Machiavelli describes the situation that Borgia inherited when he conquered it. The Romagna had been ruled poorly and was rife with "factions" and "anarchy." Therefore, when Borgia established his government there, he entrusted "the fullest powers" to his "cruel, efficient" subordinate, Remirro de Orco, in order to subdue the province. With "excessive authority" Remirro "pacified and unified" the Romagna in a short time. However, knowing that the "severities" of Remirro's rule had earned Borgia "a certain amount of hatred," Borgia publicly criticized the "harsh nature of his minister" and eventually had him executed. This action kept the people "at once appeased and stupefied."
Machiavelli admires the cunning way in which Borgia subdued the Romagna and overcame the hatred of its people. By placing his subordinate in charge of harshly pacifying the province, Borgia distanced himself from the cruelties and violence that defined Remirro's rule. However, by publicly executing Remirro after his methods inspired hatred for Borgia's government, Borgia removed the people's oppressor and thereby earned their friendship. With this mixture of cruelty and appeasement, Borgia secured the Romagna.
Machiavelli returns to Borgia's saga. With his power fairly consolidated, Borgia began to consider further expansion. Knowing that he had "to go carefully" regarding his damaged relationship with France, Borgia sought new alliances, particularly with France's opponent, Spain. Borgia aimed to secure his position so that even if his father's successor as pope proved unfriendly, he might still maintain his gains. However, with Pope Alexander's sudden death, Borgia was unable to win Spanish support and could not secure his position. Prior to his father's death, Borgia had secured his power in three of four ways: he had destroyed the families of deposed rulers; he had won over the Roman barons; and he had gained a "very large following" in the College of Cardinals, which elects new popes. However, Borgia failed to acquire enough power and prestige prior to his father's death in order to be able to "withstand an initial attack."
Machiavelli discusses the misfortune that befell Borgia and ultimately led to the loss of his conquests. With his father's ill-timed death, Borgia was unable to finish laying the strong foundations for his state that would have secured his rule against all threats. Although Borgia possessed the prowess to secure his state in three ways, misfortune robbed him of the opportunity to secure his state in the fourth and final way. Borgia used a combination of statecraft, diplomacy, and warfare to maintain his position, although he lacked the necessary power and prestige to "withstand an initial attack" from his many foreign and domestic opponents. Borgia won and lost his state by fortune.
Thus, with Pope Alexander VI's unexpected death, Cesare Borgia found himself "with his state in the Romagna consolidated but with everything else in the air," having not yet secured additional territories or the friendship of Spain. "Mortally ill" himself, Borgia was caught "between two extremely powerful and hostile armies," the French and the Spanish. Machiavelli argues that Borgia was a ruler of "such ferocity and prowess" that if he had been in good health when his father died, or if he had not had two armies "bearing down on him," he would have "overcome every difficulty." With these unfortunate circumstances in mind, Machiavelli writes that he cannot "censure" Borgia. Machiavelli holds up Borgia as an exemplary contemporary example for new princes, praising his diplomatic skill and his ability to be both "loved and feared by his subjects."
Like himself, Machiavelli portrays Borgia as a victim of fortune. Despite his considerable prowess, Borgia was unable to overcome the great misfortune that befell him. With Borgia's cautionary tale, Machiavelli illustrates the unrelenting nature of fortune, which can dethrone even the most skilled ruler. According to Machiavelli, a series of unfortunate and coinciding events – ranging from Borgia's poor health to foreign foes – conspired to produce Borgia's downfall. Nonetheless, Machiavelli praises Borgia's prowess, citing his ability to secure the people's loyalty through both love and fear.
Machiavelli's only criticism of Cesare Borgia stems from his choice of pope, Julius II (also known as San Pietro ad Vincula). Machiavelli argues that Borgia should have used his influence to keep the papacy from going to one of his enemies, a man whom Borgia had harmed in the past. Borgia should have attempted to secure the election of a Spanish cardinal, since Borgia and his father were Spanish themselves. According to Machiavelli, Julius II's election spelled the "ultimate ruin" for Borgia.
Machiavelli points out a critical weakness in Borgia's attempts to lay a strong foundation for his position. By allowing a man who hated him to become pope, Borgia essentially ensured his own fall from grace. Losing the goodwill of the pope and the papal state, Borgia forfeited a crucial ally in his attempts to secure and expand his state.