Summary by Lewis G. Miller
Chapter 11 of the Prince, on the fact of it, appears to be a discussion of an unusual type of principality; the ecclesiastical. The major example of the time came from the city relatively nearby to Florence; Rome, home to the Pope.
In the 1500s, the Papacy was significantly more powerful than the modern Vatican, which nowadays appears more as a small curiosity within the bustling city of Rome. Back then, the Pope controlled a large territory known as the Papal States, he could wage wars, and would take part actively in directing relations between Kings and Princes. The Papacy also had, and still has, access to significant wealth. In the Renaissance period, this wealth was facilitated by the ruling Medici Family of Florence, who were bankers and therefore particularly influential.
Machiavelli begins the chapter with the claim that one can be a poor Prince and still maintain the Papacy relatively easy. For some reason, he does not test this claim later on in the chapter. Instead of choosing cases of Popes who were inadequate yet still managed to get by, Machiavelli considers ‘Great’ Popes. These include Alexander VI who was mentioned in Chapter 7. What makes Alexander VI such a great Pope is his access to wealth and power, and his ability to use them astutely through war; something odd for a church which preaches austerity, love and peace.
Machiavelli also tackles the subject manner in a secular way; God’s influence is not considered. Instead, the greatness of the Pope comes from personal virtú. As a result, it may be more appropriate to see this as a subtle secular criticism and discussion on the power of the Papacy. The advice in the Chapter for Leo X, the then sitting Medici pope, is that governing may be easier as a result of religious status, but greatness still relies on fortune and virtue.
For those interested in Machiavelli’s thoughts on religion, you can have a read of this article on the matter by Professor Nathan Tarcov, which goes into some depth on the matter and covers many of Machiavelli’s different works.