Machiavellian is an adjective used to describe conduct that is clever and dishonest, usually within politics. It can also describe a setting where people might use cunning and trickery to obtain a goal, such as a battle or election.
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat and writer of political science. His most famous work was published in 1532, The Prince, in which he describes the immoral behavior of powerful men as acceptable or even encouraged. The word Machiavellian grew in popularity a few decades later. Over time the word has lost some of the more moderate themes found in Machiavelli’s work and has a solely pejorative definition.