NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI Il Prencipe […] con alcune altre operette.

Palermo [i.e. London], Appresso gli heredi d’Antoniello degli Antonielli [i.e. John Wolfe], 1584


8vo, ff. 78 (ii). 4 parts. Roman and italic letter. Printer’s device to t-p, woodcut floriated initials. Old ms. ‘ n°8’ to t-p, cancelled autographs on verso of last. Age browning, marginal soiling and foxing in places, oil stain to lower outer corner of last 20 leaves. A perfectly acceptable copy in contemporary calf, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, first border with heads of reformers in roundels separated by floral decoration, second border with roll of lilies, central panel triple blind ruled in three compartments. Spine with triple blind ruled raised bands. C20 bookplate ‘ELLK-TM’, another C19 armorial to front pastedown.

A combination of works by the Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), carrying a false Palermo imprint. This edition was in fact surreptitiously produced by the English bookseller and printer John Wolfe (1548-1601), who employed the fictitious pseudonym of Antoniello degli Antonielli also in other editions of Machiavelli’s writings that he issued in the 1580s.  

‘Il Principe’ is Machiavelli’s most famous work, and it is the first and largest in this collection. It is also possibly the most famous work of political theory, at least till Marx. Dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, it is a short political treatise structured as a guide for new princes on how to acquire and maintain power. The 26 chapters deal with the types of principalities (or states) and armies, describe the qualities required by an ideal prince and discuss the political situation of contemporary Italy. A pioneer of modern political philosophy, Machiavelli emphasized the need for looking at the ‘effectual truth’ as opposed to describing “imagined republics and principalities”. Machiavelli’s most controversial and discussed opinion is that princes are authorised to use immoral means to achieve their aims – such as survival and glory. Since ‘Il Principe’ had been put on the Index librorum prohibitorum in 1559 in Italy, the Italian historian and scholar of Machiavelli S. Bertelli suggested that Wolfe produced this edition to supply Italian readers. Another possibility is that, considering the condemnation of Machiavelli’s political maxims in the XVI century Europe, Wolfe intended to conceal his responsibility for the edition while still turning a profit. Twice imprisoned for pirating works whose printing rights belonged to others, Wolfe often resorted to similar unethical means – for this reason, he has been compared to Machiavelli by his contemporaries.

The other three works in the collection are less known short writings, linked to ‘Il principe’ by their political theme. ‘Vita di Castruccio Castracani’ is a biographical account – fabricated by Machiavelli – of Castruccio Castracani, a medieval captain (‘condottiere’) of Lucca who tried to unite Tuscany but failed. ‘Il modo, che tenne il Duca Valentino per ammazzare Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, il S. Paolo e il Duca di Gravina’, describes the methods employed by Cesare Borgia to murder members of the Orsini family. Finally, ‘Ritratti delle cose della Francia e della Magna’ includes two reports of Machiavelli’s experience as a diplomat in France and in Germany, in which he especially praises the political and administrative unity of the French monarchy.

ESTC S109028; BM STC It. p. 400; Adams M43; STC 17167; Renouard 139:1; Woodfield p. 98, n. 35. Bertelli, Sergio, and Innocenti, Piero. Bibliografia machiavelliana. (Verona, 1979). Printing and the Mind of Man 63 (of 1st ed.).