COMMINES, Philippe de

COMMINES, Philippe de An Epitome of All the Lives of the Kings of France…

London, I. Okes, 1639


FIRST EDITION 8vo. pp. [xiv], 344, [viii]. Roman letter; elaborate engraved architectural frontispiece depicting allegories of kingship – cherubs above with a sceptre, crown and cornucopia; in the centre kings with an orb and cannon, a laurel-wreathed skeleton at foot with all the accoutrements of kingship at his feet (not in McKerrow or Johnson); 67 halfpage woodcut portraits of the kings in very good impression, some repeated; woodcut initials; c18 armorial bookplate of William Perceval on pastedown, his ex libris on fly and with case mark on t.p., old bibliographical note attached to ffep. T.p. slightly dusty, two ll. of prelims a bit soiled toward fore edge, light age yellowing. A good, original copy in contemporary sheep, Perceval’s crest gilt on spine and unusually, gilt (faded) case mark beneath, upper joint nicked at head.

Unsophisticated first and only edition of the English epitome of the lives of the Kings of France from Pharamond 1st in 429 to Louis 13th in 1610, also mentioning “the famous battailes of the two kings of England, who were the first victorious princes that conquered France”. Beginning with an attractive woodcut portrait, each life discusses the King’s parentage, ascent to power and principal events of his reign. Any peculiarities – such as Clodion’s habit of wearing his hair long as a badge of kingship – are also recorded. A table of the names of all the Kings appears at the end. Frequently referring to contemporary authors on the same topics, the epitome is an eminently readable and detailed compendium of French Royal biographies, aiming to give accurate dates – particularly for the most recent kings – and track the minutiae of the succession as fully as possible.

Sometimes attributed to writer and diplomat Philippe de Commines (1447-1511) – i.a. in the preface of this edition, though the period covered continues long after his death, it is more likely that ‘the French coppy’ used was the now lost “Histoire des anciens Rois de France” by courtier Nicolas Houel (1520-1587), sometime artistic adviser to Catherine de Medici, probably expanded here by translator Richard Brathwaite. Brathwaite, (1588?-1673) was an English poet and translator, the most memorable of whose works was “Drunken Barnaby’s Four Journeys,” a travelogue in rhyming Latin verse.

William Perceval was an Irish landowner whose family properties (by marriage) included Amherst Island west of Kingston, Ontario. His cousin, Spencer Perceval, was the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

STC 11273.

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