You know these guys. Really. Remember in history class when your teacher was going over the Renaissance? When you weren't drawing pictures of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on your notes (yes, we saw that), you probably heard the name de' Medici so much that it started to get annoying. That's because they're kind of a big deal.
The family (or the Family) ran things behind the scenes in Florence. If you want something done—any horse heads left in people's beds or casinos funded—these were the people who could help you out. And Machiavelli knew it.
This guy took power the same year that Machiavelli was born. The family had already been working the levers behind the scenes for a while, and Lorenzo just carried on the trend. Of course, Florence likes to say that they had no ruler and that they ran the government themselves, but that was a pretty blatant lie.
This guy is the son of Lorenzo, and not so "magnificent." He was exiled just two years after he came to power because he basically just let the king of France march into Florence. People were not too happy about that. After he ran away, they stole all the stuff from the Medicis' family home. His failure meant that Medici rulers didn't take back Florence until 1512, eighteen years later. His end was the beginning of the Republic of Florence.
This guy was the pope while Machiavelli was writing. He seems more worthy of the word virtù than the warmongering popes before him. Machiavelli flatters him by saying, "On Julius's death, his Holiness Pope Leo found the papacy in an extremely strong position and it is to be hoped that while his predecessors made the Church great by armed force, he can make it even greater and more praiseworthy thanks to his goodness and many, many other virtues" (11.5). Not just "many" virtues: "many, many" virtues.
Not much to say here. Giuliano ruled when the Medicis came back to Florence in 1512. Machiavelli originally dedicated The Prince to this guy, but since Giuliano died unexpectedly after only four years, he just changed the name to his successor, Lorenzo.
Machiavelli pleaded with Lorenzo to unify Italy, but unfortunately for him this Medici was not listening and would die four years later from syphilis. Oops.
Now you know all about them, but why did Machiavelli chose them as the saviors of Italy? The answer is simple, really. Because he thought they could actually do it. This is a family that was used to ruling and groomed all its kids to take the reins. They had lots of money and the resources to do it. Plus, the pope is one of them! Look how well that worked for Borgia.
If any family could rule Italy with a brutal iron fist, they could.
They just didn't.