Force and Fraud

… itt is necessarie for a prince who purposes to maintaine himself to learne to be able sometymes nott to be good and to practise itt accordinge to the necessitie of his Affaires.

An early modern (?16th c.) translation of Machiavelli’s Il Principe, XV.6, in Lambeth Palace Library, Sion Abbey MS L40.2/E24, fol.141

The reception and circulation in late sixteenth-century England of ‘Machiavellian’ as well as anti-Machiavellian and reason of state literature forms an important context for understanding Marlowe’s representation of political immorality in his plays.

The short video, above, poses some opening thoughts about this field while highlights from the research can be found below. The project also ran a drama workshop connected to this theme, entitled ‘Making Evil in Britain’: click here.

1.The French connection: English copies of Cappel’s Le Prince.

Elizabethan attitudes to Machiavelli were heavily shaped by the reception of the man and his works in France. The French translations of Il Principe, by Guillaume Cappel and Gaspard d’Auvergne (both published in 1553) and Jacques Gohory (1571), were widely owned and read – perhaps more than the ‘original’ Italian – and, this project’s research indicates, may have influenced the period’s many English manuscript translations.

Cappel’s 1553 translation was a work of elite French culture containing commendatory poems by the humanist Marc-Antoine Muret and the dramatist Etienne Jodelle, as well as the translator’s preface defending Machiavelli from charges of atheism or cruelty. In his preface Cappel tries to reconcile Machiavelli’s works with scholastic notions of natural human sociability and a providential universe: his is a useful corrective to the ‘murderous Machiavel’ of the Elizabethan stage. Copies of his work were owned by at least two identifiable Englishmen of Marlowe’s period. The soldier and courtier Sir Arthur Throckmorton (c.1557-1626) owned a copy probably obtained from his father, the diplomat Nicholas Throckmorton (1515/16-1571), who had served as ambassador to Paris. Now in the library of Magdalen College, Oxford (shelfmark Q.6.14), it still boasts numerous pen underlinings, probably by Throckmorton père. Secondly, William Lambarde (1536-1601) bought a copy, probably in 1560, the date he recorded on a flyleaf (now British Library, shelfmark 523 d.30). Lambarde went on to be a well-known antiquary,  although at the time he was a student of law at the Inns of Court.


2. Translating Machiavelli through Gentillet?

This is the title page of a recently discovered manuscript translation of Machiavelli’s Il Principe in Lambeth Palace Library, probably dating from the late sixteenth century. The second half of it (Chapters XV-XXVI) is a copy of a translation that is also known in four other examples, in the Harvard (Houghton), Bodleian and British Libraries; the first half, contrastingly, is unique. An idiomatic rather than closely literal translation, some of its language strongly suggests the influence of Innocent Gentillet’s Contre-Machiavel (to give it its short title), first published in French in 1576 and then a year later in Latin translation. There are many possible explanations for the contamination of Machiavelli’s own text with anti-Machiavellianism, but it raises intriguing questions about Marlowe’s representation of Machiavelli in The Jew of Malta.


Lambeth Palace Library, Sion Abbey MS L40.2/E24, fol.1r. With permission of Lambeth Palace Library.

3. Botero’s Ragion di Stato.

Many Christian thinkers thought about ways to reconcile Machiavelli’s interest in the acquisition and conservation of power, and amoral appreciation of political conduct, with a more orthodox morality. Among the most successful was Giovanni Botero’s Ragion di Stato. It was first published in 1589, the same year as a more northern classic of ‘reason of state’ literature, the Politicorum Libri Sex (‘Six Books of Politics’) of the Flemish scholar Justus Lipsius.

Its worth including Botero here as there is very little sign that his work was immediately taken up or read widely in England, at least not by the year of Marlowe’s death: it’s an example of the negative result which all research sometimes encounters.