In my judgment it would be most beneficial to the state if the marriage alliances of princes were confined within the boundaries of their kingdom; if they must go beyond their frontiers, they should be united only with near neighbours and then only with those best suited to a pact of friendship. But, people will say, it is unseemly for the daughter of a king to be joined with any but a king or a king’s son. But bettering one’s family whenever possible is an ambition for private citizens, and the prince must be as different as possible from them. What does it matter if a prince’s sister marries a man less powerful than he, if it is for the greater good of all? A prince will win more honour by disregarding rank in his sister’s marriage than by putting the whim of a mere woman before the public interest.
To a certain extent the marriage of princes is a private affair, but we must acknowledge that sometimes the whole course of events may come to depend almost entirely on this one point, so that what happened long ago to the Greeks and Trojans over Helen often happens to us. If a choice worthy of the prince is to be made, let a woman be chosen who is distinguished among her fellows by her honesty, modesty, and prudence, who will make an obedient wife for the best of princes, and will bear him children worthy of both parents and of their country. Whatever her parentage, she will be noble enough if she makes a good wife for a good prince.
It is generally agreed that nothing is so beneficial to everyone as that the prince should warmly love his people and be loved by them in return. In this area a common fatherland, similar characteristics of body and mind, and a sort of national aura arising from some secret affinity of temperament are of enormous importance, but most of this is bound to disappear if it is disturbed by the wrong sort of marriage. It is hardly likely that children born of such a marriage will be accepted whole-heartedly by the country, nor will they themselves be whole-heartedly devoted to the country.
Yet the common opinion is that such marriages are like iron chains of concord between states, although experience has shown that the greatest upheavals in human affairs arise from them; for example, it is alleged that some article in the marriage contract has been overlooked, or the bride is taken back because of some slight she is said to have received, or a prince changes his mind, renounces his first choice, and takes another to wife, or dissatisfaction arises in some other way. But what does this mean to the state? If marriage alliances between princes could guarantee peace in the world, I should be glad to see them all joined by a thousand marriage alliances. But did his marriage stop James king of Scots from invading England a few years ago? It sometimes happens, too, that after many years of war’s upheavals, after countless disasters, the quarrel is finally patched up by arranging a marriage, but only when both sides are already exhausted by their misfortunes.
The princes must set out to establish a perpetual peace among themselves and make common plans for it. Even if a marriage brings about peace, it certainly cannot be perpetual. When one party dies, the chain of concord is broken. But if a peace were to be based on true principles, it would be stable and lasting. Someone will object that the begetting of children will perpetuate an alliance. But why then are wars most often fought between those who are the closest kin? No, it is the birth of children in particular which causes changes of ruler, when the right to rule is transferred from one place to another or when some territory is taken away from one state and given to another; the greatest upheavals usually arise from this sort of thing.
So these devices do not succeed in preventing wars but succeed only in making wars more frequent and more frightful. For if kingdoms are linked to one another by marriage, whenever one prince has been offended he calls in all the rest, invoking the laws of kinship, so that for some trifling offence the best part of Christendom is immediately brought to arms, and one man’s pique is mollified by an immense outpouring of Christian blood. I shall refrain, with good reason, from giving examples, to avoid offending Anyone.
To sum up, the fortunes of princes may be improved by alliances of this kind, but the fortunes of the people suffer and are diminished. The good prince, however, should consider that his own affairs are prospering only if this is compatible with the interests of the state. I shall pass over the fact that it is no way to treat one’s daughters – to send them away, sometimes, to remote regions, to men entirely different in language, appearance, character, and thought, as if they were being sent into exile – when they would be happier to live in their own land, even with somewhat less pomp.
However, I can see that this custom is too well established for me to hope that it can be uprooted; but I thought it right to speak out, just in case things should turn out contrary to my expectations.