MARCALDI, Francesco.

MARCALDI, Francesco. Narratione del stato della Regina di Scotia, e del suo figliuolo […]

Manuscript on paper, Venice, 8th February 1580


Small 4to, 41 unnumbered leaves, 12 lines per standard page. Italian manuscript on paper, charming cursive chancery hand (‘bastarda italiana cancelleresca’) in brown ink, t-p in a different hand with early armorial stamp at foot. 4-line ms. French poem to front pastedown (see Bijdragen en Mededeelingen 16, 1913, p. 407), 3-line verse dedication “A toutes Dames servir | Et pour une seule mourir | Un Amour secret” to first fep. Intermittent very light waterstain at gutter and to outer blank margin of a final ll. A well-preserved manuscript with original margins in contemporary limp vellum, missing ties.

Attractive near-contemporary manuscript account of Mary Queen of Scots’ life up to 1578, the year of her husband’s death, by the hand of the Italian scribal publisher Francesco Marcaldi. Over 40 autograph copies of this work are known in libraries, dating from 1579 to 1587, each introduced by a unique letter of transmission including a different dedication, date and location of writing. The present one was written in Venice and presented to Alessandro Monte, probably a member of the prestigious Bourbon del Monte family of Pesaro.

During the second half the 16th century, Francesco Marcaldi wrote and transcribed various short accounts of Italian and foreign states, including Scotland (here), Venice, Naples, Cyprus, and Spain, and sent them to diplomats, clerics, soldiers and other patrons. The recipients of his gifts were often individuals of very high status, for example members of the Medici and Este families, and cardinal Federico Borromeo. At the time, scribal transmission – being faster and more confidential than printing – played a great role in diffusing political information: the case of Marcaldi is particularly interesting as over a hundred of his manuscript reports are preserved. Beautifully designed and personalized gifts, Marcaldi’s manuscripts were “intended to give pleasure for their form as well as to provide interest through their content” (Richardson).

Marcaldi’s ‘Life of Mary Queen of Scots’ is one of her earliest biographies, dealing with “the travails, persecutions and imprisonment of the queen of Scotland, daughter of King James V, the death of Henry his husband, the destruction of the Catholic Rite and the coronation of his son the Prince”. Although not stated by Marcaldi, this relation constitutes an Italian translation of a less known unpublished work by the Scottish catholic bishop John Lesley (1527-1596), titled ’Relatio De statu Reginae Scotiae […]’ (manuscript, c.1578). Following a brief introduction on Mary’s birth, the historical account is organized as a series of short paragraphs dedicated to specific years, arranged in chronological order from 1548 onwards. Marcaldi’s point of view is anti-protestant, supportive of Mary’s cause and of the Catholic faith. The last chapter is concerned with the state of Scotland in 1578: after the fall of the last regent Morton, James VI took control while Mary was still in captivity in England. Marcaldi concludes his work expressing his hope that Mary will be freed by Queen Elisabeth and Catholicism will be restored.

There are only two printed editions of this work (both modern): ‘Due narrazioni storiche del Regno di Scozia ai tempi della regina Maria Stuarda…’ (Florence: M. Cellini, 1876), and ‘La prima storia di Maria Stuarda…’(Turin: Tipografia Subalpina, 1907).

Three manuscript verses in French on the first fly, written in a calligraphic hand and ending with a pen flourish, read: “All ladies to serve / And for only one to die / A secret love”. The first two lines appear to be a popular motto (see Henein, Deux visages de L’Astrée 2005-2019). If they are combined with the last, the message could be interpreted as a gift dedication of the book from a secret admirer to a woman.

The only known copy dedicated to Alessandro Monte, previously unknown. See also: B. Richardson, A Scribal Publisher of Political Information: Francesco Marcaldi, Italian Studies, 64:2 (2009); S. Rossi, Tre narrazioni storiche su Maria Stuart, Aevum 32/1 (1958); M.J. Beckett, The Political Works of John Lesley, Bishop of Ross (2002).
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