On the question of how to "win honor," Machiavelli states that nothing brings a ruler "more prestige" than displays of prowess, citing "great campaigns and striking demonstrations of [a prince's] personal abilities." As a modern exemplar, Machiavelli notes Spanish king Ferdinand of Aragon, whom he regards as a new prince. Among his "unparalleled" achievements, Machiavelli references Ferdinand's conquest of Granada (in southern Spain), which "laid the foundation of his power." The campaign allowed Ferdinand to distract and subdue warring barons and to establish his strong standing army. Ferdinand made use of religion to unify his kingdom and to embark on foreign conquests, attacking Africa, Italy, and France. Ferdinand's constant series of "great projects" keeps his subjects "in a state of suspense and wonder" and denies people the opportunity "to foster conspiracies against him."
Prowess, particularly in military skill, provides the means of securing one's state and winning the goodwill of the people. Ferdinand used his prowess to conquer Granada and lay the foundation for his reign. Additionally, Ferdinand shrewdly invoked religion to justify foreign conquests and to tighten his control over his state. Machiavelli applauds Ferdinand's skillful use of religious virtue to support his military ambitions. Finally, Ferdinand's ability to dazzle his people with "great projects" keeps his subjects in line and gives the appearance of great power and invulnerability, which guards against rebellion.
Machiavelli encourages rulers to "give striking demonstrations" on their skill in domestic governance as well. Most importantly, Machiavelli states, "A prince must endeavor to win the reputation of being a great man of outstanding ability."
Skill in domestic and legal matters forms an important aspect of a ruler's prowess. The critical foundation of laws and arms demands both military and legal prowess.
Machiavelli asserts, "A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favor of one side against another." Machiavelli advises rulers to opt for partisanship over neutrality. Reminding his reader that it is foolish to avoid war, which can only be postponed to an opponent's advantage, Machiavelli urges rulers to choose sides in disputes between neighboring powers. Machiavelli argues that a ruler who does not declare himself will be at the mercy of the conqueror and will likewise earn the scorn of the loser. Machiavelli writes, "Princes who are irresolute usually follow the path of neutrality in order to escape immediate danger, and usually come to grief." Even if a prince and his ally are defeated, the ally will take pains to "shelter" the prince and the alliance will forge the bonds of friendship between the powers.
Machiavelli identifies indecision as a destructive vice in a prince. Rulers who are irresolute and hesitant will suffer for this critical failing. Instead, Machiavelli advises rulers to choose "partisanship over neutrality" and to boldly involve themselves in conflict, which, as Machiavelli reiterates, a ruler must never postpone. Machiavelli urges a prince to throw his hat in the ring, using military campaigns to earn prestige and win allies. In Machiavelli's eyes, action – even if it ultimately leads to defeat – is often preferable to inaction, which leaves a ruler vulnerable to fortune and foreign foes.
Machiavelli adds that a prince should avoid an "aggressive alliance" with a more powerful state, unless such an alliance "is a matter of necessity." According to Machiavelli, "This is because if you are the victors, you emerge as his [the powerful state's] prisoner." Machiavelli urges princes to avoid actions that place them "at the mercy of others," citing the Venetians misguided and unnecessary alliance with France. However, Machiavelli recognizes that there are situations in which avoiding such an alliance becomes impossible, referencing the Florentines' agreement with France in the face of papal and Spanish aggression. In this instance, a prince must be on his guard, approaching "all possible courses of action as risky." Machiavelli declares, "Prudence consists in being able to assess the nature of a particular threat and in accepting the lesser evil."
A crucial aspect of a prince's prowess lies in his ability to analyze the risks of different decisions and to correctly identify "the lesser evil." Princes must be resolute but careful decision makers, weighing their options and anticipating the potential outcomes. Additionally, rulers must avoid actions that embolden and empower other rulers, since an action that makes a rival state more powerful weakens one's own position and prestige. If possible, princes should avoid decisions that place them "at the mercy of others," since this essentially commits one's fate to fortune instead of prowess.
Finally, Machiavelli advises rulers to win honor by recognizing and rewarding the talents of others, taking care to "actively [encourage] able men, and [to honor] those who excel in their professions." A ruler should honor and reward those who endeavor "to increase the prosperity of his city or his state" through trade, agriculture, or other occupations. A prince should refrain from behaviors that discourage business, such as the theft of subjects' property or the levying of "high taxes." Additionally, a ruler should periodically "entertain the people with shows and festivities." Always maintaining "the dignity of his position," a prince should also pay attention to "guilds" and "family groups" and with his own conduct "give them an example of courtesy" and charity.
Princes of prowess will recognize and reward the skills and achievements of their subjects, since men "who excel in their professions" will help to strengthen and enrich a ruler's state. A ruler must maintain the "dignity" that his position entails, since a noble and regal demeanor functions as a virtue that wins over the people and enhances one's prestige. A prince should permit businesses to prosper, since burgeoning trade and commerce will contribute to a state's overall wealth and strength.