Jail-breaking Machiavelli 1: Lucifer, Elizabeth, Machiavelli

At the suggestion of someone whose opinion I’ve come to value, I started reading Peter Grey’s Lucifer: Princeps, and the book is less about “Lucifer” as a definite presence and more about sovereignty, the Dead, and how we enchant our selves and worlds. Early in the book, Grey points to models of sacred kingship–& that sovereignty of Land, the union of Land, Sky, Sea & human political authority—early in the book, Grey focuses on kings—the heroic Dead, ancient Dead Kings—

Sacred Kingship as Enchantment

Royal palaces have often been constructed as sacred spaces, and Grey quotes Simo Parpola, who points to how Assyrian kings’ palaces constituted

sacred space designed and built after celestial patterns and guarded against the material world by deities and apotropaic figures stationed at its gates and buried in its foundations. Colossal supernatural beings in the shape of bull, lion, eagle and man, symbolizing the four turning points, guarded its gates. These apotropaic colossi marked the palace as a sacred space.[1]

Grey points to the imagery in the Bible that connects the depictions of God as, essentially, the Assyrian storm god-king in Ezekiel and Revelation, with seven lamps, 24 elders, four directional guardians, and one king.

But what comes across in this book is how sacred kingship entails arraying a microcosm about the king that seeks to mirror the broader universe—a royal microcosm seeking to bridge to the divine macrocosm. And while kings frame this bridging as a priori, as some pre-existing, essential state and connection, Grey points to how kingship is enchantment, a recreation of the cosmos as surrounding the king. The king and his court weave an enchantment that frames the palace as a reflection of the heavens, with the king on both an earthly and celestial throne. In its benefic mode, this model of sacred kingship enchants Land & people for prosperity & good fortune, etc. But it gets into demiurgical territory when kings forget that it’s enchantment, or they move from benefic shaman-kings and become magician-kings who seek to project their enchantment over as much as they can.

Grey also notes how this model of sacred kingship entails, it seems building kingdoms in the Otherworlds, building afterlives that link the worlds, as ancestors work to mediate the super-natural to the mortal world.

But it occurs to me, as I read Grey, that the magician’s perspective is how this process of orienting the cosmos around oneself is something that, well, magicians do all the time. One of the things about sacred space—both in Lucifer: Princeps and in most any magical tradition—is how you can recenter the axis mundi to whatever local landmark and genius loci would function as such for your community. The king’s palace seeks to create sacred (magical) space about the king, with the king at its center: so too do magicians and witches seek to create their own magical spaces.

Elizabeth Regina


The Clopton Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

Consider Elizabeth I’s procession through London on her way to her coronation, in which her soon-to-be subjects offered their “assembly, prayers, wishes, welcomings, cryes, tender words, and all other signes, which argue a wonderfull earnest love of most obedient subjects towards their Soveraigne.” The procession included extensive civic pageantry, so that one

could not better terme the Citie of London that time, than [as] a stage wherein was shewed the wonderfull spectacle of a noble harted Princesse towards her most loving people, and the peoples exceeding comfort in beholding so worthy a Soveraigne, and hearing so Princelike a voice, which could not but have set the enemy on fire, since that vertue is in the enemie always commended, much more could it not but inflame her naturall, obedient, and most loving people.

Elizabeth soon pauses at “Fan-Church” [Fenchurch] to hear an opening oration by a boy in courtly attire, who ritually welcomes her to London and offers her the city’s blessings. She continues to

Gracious [Gracechurch] Street, where at the upper end, before the signe of the Eagle, the City had erected a gorgious and sumptuous Arke…A Stage was made…Upon the lowest Stage was made one seat royall, wherein were placed two Personages, representing King Henrie the seventh, and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the fourth, eyther of these two Princes sitting under one cloth of Estate in their seates.

Both Henry and Elizabeth of York appeared enclosed in appropriately-colored roses for the Houses of Lancaster and York, whose union would lead to the white-and-red Tudor rose. The City then ritually re-performed the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth, and then a similar scene with

noble Prince King Henry the eight…crowned with a Crowne imperiall: and…[another] representing the right worthy Ladie Queene Anne, wife to the said King Henry the eight, and mother to our most Soveraigne Ladie Queene Elizabeth that now is, both apparelled with Scepters and Diadems, and other furniture due to the State of a King and Queene.

The union of roses points not only to Elizabeth’s royal ancestry–and how that ancestry had helped end the civil strife of the War of the Roses–but also to Elizabeth’s legitimacy, which her own father Henry VIII had denied at various points. Of course, the procession also recuperates Anne Boleyn, her mother, from the indictment for treason she had suffered. I will note that the booklet chronicling these processions originally dates to 1559, the year of her coronation, but the version of this booklet I’m incidentally drawing on dates to 1604–after James I/VI ascends to the throne and succeeds Elizabeth. The reprint suggests that nostalgia for the good old days of Queen Elizabeth’s youth could sell volumes for the printer “under S. Peters Church in Corne-hill.”[1]

Later in the procession, the north side of one pageant

was made cragged, barraine…in the which was erected one Tree, artificially made, all wythered and dead, with braunches accordingly. And under the same Tree at the foot thereof, sate one in homely and rude apparell crookedly, and in mourning maner, having over his head in a Table, written in Latin and English, his name, which was Ruinosa Respublica: a decayed Common-wealth. And upon the same withered Tree were fixed certayne Tables, wherein were written proper sentences, expressing the causes of the decay of a Common-wealth. The other hill on the South Side, was made fayre, fresh, greene, and beautiful, the ground thereof full of flowres and beauty, and on the same was erected also one Tree, very fresh and fayre, under the which, stood upright one fresh personage…A flourishing Common-wealth…In the middle betweene the sayd hilles, was made artificially one hollow place or Cave, with doore and locke enclosed, out of the which, a little before the Queenes Highnesse comming thither, issued one personage, whose name was Time, apparelled as an olde man with a Sythe in his hand, having wings artificially made…[2]

The emerging figure and others speak the

Causes of a ruinous Common weale are these.

Want of the feare of God, Civill disagreement,

Disobedience to rulers, Flattering of Princes,

Blindnesse of guides, Unmercifulnesse in Rulers,

Briberie in Magistrates, Unthankfulnesse in subiects,

Rebellion in Subiects,

Causes of a flourishing Common weale.

Feare of God, Obedient Subiects,

A wise Prince, Lovers of the Common weale,

Learned Rulers, Vertue rewarded,

Obedience to Officers, Vice chastened.[3]

Elizabeth goes on to be associated with “Debora the Iudge and restorer of the house of Israel.”[4] (C4v) Still later, Elizabeth’s procession comes to

two Images of [Gogmagog] the Albion, and Corineus the Briton, two Gyants, big in statue, furnished accordingly, which held in their hands, even above the gate, a Table, wherein was written in Latine verses, the effect of all the Pageants, which the City before had erected…[5] (D1)

Elizabeth had been disowned by her father, declared illegitimate at one point (as was Mary), and this mutable royal status caused problems for Elizabeth as she worked to establish her own authority, her own legitimacy. It also didn’t help that she was a queen regnant—a ruling queen—and not a queen consort to a king. Her mother had also been convicted of treason and incest with her brother.

Accordingly, Elizabeth and her court array around her a kind of sacred kingship in line with the period’s political theology with an eye towards amplifying her legitimacy and popularity.[6] This sacralizing enterprise stands out perhaps more overtly than with Elizabeth’s kingly peers because she found herself also having to reframe her gender to her advantage as well as she could. As Louis Montrose has observed, Elizabeth worked to fashion what he calls

the Elizabethan imaginary…the collective corpus of images, tropes, and other verbal and iconic resources that provided a growing and changing matrix for the varied and sharply contested processes of royal representation…[including] the Elizabethan regime’s encouragement of what John bossy has called monarcholatry–the symbolic sacralization of the monarch as head of both church and state.[7]

This monarcholatry and imaginary represent an early modern iteration of the ancient engineering of royal space and persona as sacred. From a spiritual perspective, this practice can offer a tribe or community a way to find super-natural and ancestral aid in surviving and prospering, in helping ensure good weather, good crops, good outcomes in war, and good health. What seems to emerge from a magical reading of history is that this process represents an enchantment, one that can be gamed to the advantage of kings, queens, and priest—but also others.

Demonic Machiavelli


Machiavelli is judging you for being credulous. Don’t be credulous.

MACHIAVEL. Albeit the world think Machiavel is dead,

Yet was his soul but flown beyond the Alps;

And, now the Guise 11 is dead, is come from France,

To view this land, and frolic with his friends.

To some perhaps my name is odious;

But such as love me, guard me from their tongues,

And let them know that I am Machiavel,

And weigh not men, and therefore not men’s words.

Admir’d I am of those that hate me most:

Though some speak openly against my books,

Yet will they read me, and thereby attain

To Peter’s chair; and, when they cast me off,

Are poison’d by my climbing followers.[1]

The Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli served the Republic of Florence after it had thrown out the Medici, and Machiavelli served the Republic as a civil servant and diplomat. However, the Medici eventually reclaimed sovereignty over the city, and Machiavelli found himself on the outs. Indeed, he was imprisoned and tortured for several weeks on suspicion of conspiring against the Medici, and although he was eventually released, he found himself in early retirement/exile away from the city he had known as home.

It’s during this time that Machiavelli finds the time to write, and he’s best known for writing The Prince. On the face of things, The Prince is ostensibly an attempt to get in good with the Medici again, and the book is ostensibly an example of the Mirror for Princes genre of writings. In this genre, courtiers provide princes (any monarch or sovereign) with positive examples of historic personages—great men—to emulate and negative examples to avoid emulating. The idea is that the prince would learn from these examples how best to act as a Christian prince for the security and prosperity of the principality.

On the face of it, The Prince does these things. However, two things stand out about The Prince:

  • It’s written in vernacular Italian, so that any literate Italian could read the text.
  • The ideal prince described in The Prince is an un-Christian, dishonorable, hypocrite.

Accordingly, it’s been argued that The Prince is actually satire, exposing the hypocrisy of princes since the classical age.[2] In The Prince, princes need to focus on seeming virtuous rather than being virtuous:

To anyone who sees or hears him, he should appear all compassion, all honor, all humanity, all integrity, all religion. Nothing is more necessary than to seem to have this last virtue. Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but only a few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion, supported by the majesty of the government. In the actions of all men, and especially of princes who are not subject to a court of appeal, we must always look to the end…the masses are always impressed by the superficial appearance of things, and by the outcome of an enterprise.[3]

What does any of this have to do with sacred kingship? The theatricality and seeming of the prince helps establish the king’s power, authority, legitimacy. As Grey argues, sacred kingship in the ancient world predicated itself in part on orienting the king as the center of the cosmos—on the earth and in the heavens (and in the underworld). As I argued, such an enterprise is itself an enchantment: kings and priests figure their power as essential, as providential, as unequivocal. You can see a similar process involved with Elizabeth’s procession (and with her Dianic, Faerie Queene, Marian cults/imaginary), and with Machiavelli’s prince who works to seem—to perform compassion, honor, humanity, integrity, and religion.

And just because it is an enchantment—a seeming—that doesn’t negate its reality. Sacred kingship remains sacred kingship, but it requires performance of that sacredness: that performance renders it real, or it can, but it’s still performance.

And Machiavelli doesn’t dispute the power and force of a prince. No, Machiavelli shows it’s an enchantment, a performance.

But magicians and witches already knew that. We weave about us microcosms and sacred-magical spaces within which we work to seem as our own princes of the universe.

But what Machiavelli does is popularize that understanding.

Next Time: I go further down this mad-hole.

Featured Image: Bad Wurzach, Pfarrkirche St. Verena, Deckenfresko im Mittelschiff von Andreas Brugger, Westteil, König Salomo lässt sich den Plan des Tempels erklären

[1] Peter Grey, Lucifer: Princeps, Kindle edition ([n.p.]: Scarlet Imprint, 2015), location 426-38.

[1] The Royall Passage of her Maiesty from the Tower of London, to her Palace of White-hall, with all the Speaches and Devices, both of the Pageants and otherwise, together with her Maiesties severall Answers, and most pleasing Speaches to them all (London, [1604]), A1r-A4r. I’ve modernized the Latin long-s’s and u’s to v’s, but I’ve tried to leave the period’s spelling alone.

[2] Ibid, C1r.

[3] Ibid, C2r.

[4] Ibid, C4v.

[5] Ibid, D1r.

[6] Popularity is itself a problematic concept in the period and in England—see Jeffrey S. Doty, Shakespeare, Popularity and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2016).

[7] Louis Montrose, The Subject of Elizabeth: Authority, Gender, and Representation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 3.

[1] Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, prologue.

[2] For Machiavelli as a model for political radicalism, see Ruth Weissbourd Grant, Hypocrisy and Integrity: Machiavelli, Rousseau, and the Ethics of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 6, who points to Rousseau’s and Gramsci’s view of Machiavelli as someone who exposes monarchical hypocrisy to the populace; Stephen Gill, “The Globalization of Party Politics,” in Global Political Parties, edited by Katarina Sehm-Patomäki and Marko Ulvila (New York: Palgrave, 2007), 114; and Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, translated by Harvey C Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 117.

[3] Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, translated and edited by Robert M. Adams, 2nd edition, Norton Critical Edition (New York: Norton, 1992), 49.

Pardon my inconsistent endnotes here.

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