MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò. The Florentine Historie.

London, printed by T.C. for W.P., 1595.


FIRST ENGLISH EDITION. Folio. pp. [12], 222. Roman letter, little Italic. Title within woodcut border with allegorical figures, boar crest and printer’s device with boar and ‘Non tibi spiro’, decorated initials and ornaments. Light age browning, occasional very minor foxing. A very good, clean copy in handsome modern calf in C16 French style, triple blind ruled, blind-stamped fleurons to corners, gilt-ruled interlacing ribbons painted black, gilt-stamped fleurons, gilt oval centrepiece to covers, spine gilt and gilt-lettered.

Attractive copy of the first English edition of Niccolò Machiavelli’s ‘Florentine Historie’, translated by Thomas Bedingfeld (d.1613), dedicated to Sir Christopher Hatton. A most influential historiographic work, known and quoted by the likes of Thomas More, and a possible source for Shakespeare. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian historian, writer, diplomat and politician who served for many years as senior official for the Republic of Florence until 1512, when the Medici regained power and he was first imprisoned and then exiled. His most famous work, the ‘Principe’, composed in 1513 and unpublished in Italy until 1532 (and in English not until as late as 1640), was so controversial for the alleged ruthlessness the author advocated in ambitious princes that ‘Machiavellian’ became synonymous with realpolitik and reasons of state, especially in England.

‘Although he was more acceptable [in England] earlier in the century, by [the end of the C16] Machiavelli was regarded as the worst kind of cynic, and Machiavellianism was associated in public discourse with atheism. He was nevertheless ever more widely read in the original by many Englishmen, including Sidney who praised him and Harvey who called him a “poisonous politician”’ (Hamilton). The ‘Historie Fiorentine’ was not one of Machiavelli’s more controversial works, and was thus published in English, like ‘The Arte of Warre’, without the need for a false imprint.  First published in 1532, it was written at the request of Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici. At that time, the relationship between Machiavelli and the Medici were only just beginning to improve after the crisis of 1513, when the author was put under house arrest upon the family’s return from exile. This history of Florence was intended to celebrate and legitimize the new Medici government as a natural progression of events. Book 1 is devoted to a history of Europe to 1215, Book II examines the origins of the feud between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and Books III-IV analyse the history of Florence to the C15. Books V-VIII focus on the Medici rule until the death of Lorenzo in 1492, and the subsequent exile of his son and the family. It was greatly criticised by figures like Scipione Ammirato for several obvious distortions of historical facts, though it remains important for accounts such as the riot of the Ciompi.

ESTC S113983; STC 17162; Lowndes III, 1186. Not in Grolier or Pforzheimer.
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