ńňđ. 4
(âńĺăî 8)



more detailed accounting of editions, printers, translators, places and dates of
publication. Having a bibliography of translations would have made the
writing of this essay much easier. It would also have allowed some sorely
needed quantifying. Analysing this subject without a comprehensive bibliog-
raphy is almost like trying to paint while blindfolded. The more complete the
bibliography, the more solid the evidence we will have, the clearer the patterns
that will emerge, the better equipped scholars will be to make sense of the ways
in which Europeans crossed boundaries and established their identities, not
just as Germans, Spaniards, Italians or whatever other nationality one might
want to list, but as Christians – Catholic or Protestant or neither – and, most
important, as Europeans and as men and women who knew they needed to
adapt to an ever-changing, ever-shrinking, conflict-ridden world.

The translation of political theory
in early modern Europe
Geoffrey P. Baldwin


The huge range of political ideas that circulated in early modern Europe
can often seem bewildering, and bringing order and unity to this picture of
diversity can be difficult. There were ideologies of monarchy, coming from
both a Christian tradition and a Roman imperial one; theories of resistance
against tyranny; republican political ideas from the Italian city states and
the Netherlands; constitutional theories; approaches to politics stemming
from epistemological or moral scepticism; political ideas based around the
idea of the state; theories of natural law; and scientific approaches to
political organization and moral truth. It is extremely difficult to say
something intelligible about such a complex array of political ideas, despite
their importance for understanding the early modern political world.
Methodologically, the study of such a range of political ideas presents a
number of challenges. One recent approach has been to look at the texts
concerned not just in terms of their contents and their logic, but also in
terms of the context of their creation. This can be thought of either in terms
of a particular political situation, or an intellectual tradition or, more
fruitfully, as a combination of both. Such an approach would give us a
deeper understanding of the nature and the life of these political ideas.1
In so doing, it is possible to come to a closer understanding of what a
particular text is designed to do, and how it relates to the political culture in
question. It is possible to argue about what particular context is most
significant, but this approach serves historians much better than an eclectic
search for political wisdom in the remains of the past. However, to focus on
these texts at the moment of their creation does not necessarily provide
insight into the subsequent life of these texts. It is, of course, possible to
trace the life of those texts that are quoted, criticized and referred to in the

See Richter (1990); Tully (1988); Mulligan et al. (1979).

work of others, and so follow the development of an idea or of a political
language as it evolves through a number of different texts and contexts.
Another way that scholars have attempted to see the fate of ideas after an
author has committed them to paper is by considering these texts as
physical objects, and attempting to trace how they were distributed, who
bought them and who read them. Robert Darnton has tried to reconstruct
the lineaments of the book trade in early modern France.2 Literary scholars
have paid attention to what has been called ‘reader-response’ theory, and
focused attention on the act of reading as well as the nature and distribu-
tion of the book as a physical object. A famous early example is the work of
Jardine and Grafton on Gabriel Harvey’s reading of the Roman historian
Livy in sixteenth-century Cambridge.3 In that instance, detailed informa-
tion was available as to the particular circumstances of how this text was
received and understood, but this is not always the case.
There have been attempts to examine marginalia, to reconstruct the
contents of libraries and collections, and to examine commonplace books
to see which passages especially interested readers. While such work has
yielded some interesting results, it suffers from a familiar historical epis-
temological problem: the information we have is far outweighed by what
we do not have. Of a print run of maybe 3,000, we may know five or six
individual responses to a work; we may know the contents of one library in
ten or twenty. While this may not be too much of a problem for a literary
scholar who wishes to say certain things about certain texts, for the
historian it raises tremendously important questions. To predicate a gen-
eral idea of how a text was received from the chance remains that have
come down to us would be irresponsible, however interesting individual
responses may be.
This means that there is no simple way to bridge the gap between a
history of political ideas, and a history of political culture. A notion of
political culture that is derived from a mentalite tradition, or one coming
from an idea of decoding the symbolic power of actions in the public
sphere, remains in many ways incommensurate with a detailed examina-
tion of literary and political writing, yet it also seems perverse not to
attempt in some way to combine the two.
Looking at translation can give us an opportunity to bridge this gap, and
aid our understanding of the history of ideas in early modern Europe.
When we are examining a text, one of the most important aspects of the
context we should consider is the national tradition within which it was
2 3
Darnton (1982). Grafton and Jardine (1990).
The translation of political theory 103
created: this is true of both an intellectual and a political context. When a
text is translated, it is uprooted from the culture of its creation and placed
somewhere new. This can show us what sort of texts and ideas appealed
across cultural boundaries, and what it was that people in the early modern
period felt to be of value in other cultures. We can learn something
important about common concerns and problems and how they could
be approached.
This can be especially interesting as it is the early modern period which
saw an increase in the importance of the idea of nation and patria: national
traditions were becoming more important in political culture. Such
national traditions can be thought of as in some ways exclusive – defining
a national tradition of literature or law was necessarily an exclusive act. At
the same time, the sixteenth century was a time when many countries were
discovering a national past, and a national constitution that grew out of
that past.4
Europe, in the early modern period and especially after the
Reformation, was a divided continent. Both international and civil war
were common and there was extensive international involvement in civil
conflicts. It was also a time of immense social, political and constitutional
change across the entire continent. The consequence is that much of the
political literature is extremely polemical, and even authors whom we
would consider representatives of high culture often engaged in the most
vicious invective. Even texts which did not contain arguments so specific to
a particular situation might present arguments that would be acceptable in
one culture and not in another. When censorship was commonplace, and
authorship could be dangerous, translating a work which was in any way
critical of those in power could also be extremely perilous. Being on the
wrong side of a confessional divide could get one burnt at the stake.
It is therefore important to see what could be translated from one culture
to another, and how that which was translated could be adapted and
packaged in order to suit its new context, because this could change the
nature and significance of the text. It could also be the case that there was
little adaptation: something from one culture was often simply dumped
into another with little explanation. Many early modern Europeans crossed
cultural boundaries without the benefit of translators. They saw and
reported what went on in other countries, and read the literature of those
countries just as they did their own.

Burgess (1992), 3–18.
Cultural boundaries, and even the strong religious boundaries that
existed, were often crossed with impunity. For instance, it was common-
place for young English aristocrats in the sixteenth century to visit Italy,
and learn Italian: the existence of the antichrist in Rome did not prevent
them. Philip Sidney, the great Protestant hero, was one of those who did
this, learning and absorbing and adapting the poetics of this Catholic
It is the activities of these individuals, and the acts of translation that
they performed, which allowed the culture of translation to exist in early
modern Europe. However, this ability to translate means that we can be
misled if we assume that an untranslated text had no influence: it was by no
means necessary for something to be translated for it to be powerfully
influential in another country, at another time, in another place. Queen
Elizabeth I of England was by no means exceptional in being fluent in
French, Italian and Latin: in the sixteenth century, to be educated would
mean just that.
One aspect of this automatic crossing of cultural boundaries was the
existence of a lingua franca in Europe – Latin – at least in written form
(above, pp. 65–80). When Hobbes met Hugo Grotius in the Netherlands, it
is reported they conversed in Latin – though Grotius declared that he could
not comprehend a word! The existence of a text in Latin could preclude the
necessity of its being translated, or demonstrate that it was intended for an
educated audience. One aspect of the early modern period is the increasing
importance of the vernacular languages of Europe: relatively few political
treatises were written in a vulgar tongue before Machiavelli’s Il principe of
1513, but by 1700 relatively few were written in Latin.
Translation in and out of Latin is therefore a vital part of this story, as
Latin could be used as a European language in a debate that was meant to
have an international audience. James I and Robert Bellarmine could
exchange Latin tracts, and publication in Latin remained strong in
Hungary and elsewhere throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centu-
ries. Milton defended the English people in Latin for a European audience,
while defending the Republic at home in English.
The classical literary and political tradition was of course of huge
importance. This is something that was drawn on as a commonplace, in
terms of both texts and histories – Shakespeare in Macbeth could refer to
Tarquin’s creeping steps without necessarily having read Livy. It is beyond
the scope of this essay to discuss the fate of classical political texts in the
Renaissance, but it is important to remember their continued presence and
significance alongside contemporary works. They existed both in their
The translation of political theory 105
original Latin or Greek, and increasingly in translation as demand grew for
ancient political wisdom. These texts and their various interpretations
form a sort of background to the texts we are considering. Early modern
political actors could and did take things straight from Greece or Rome
without the assistance of their contemporaries.
In taking translation as historical evidence, a further caveat is necessary.
One aspect of the past that is often inaccessible is the motives of the
translators, some of whom were anonymous and often obscure. Texts
could be translated as interesting or eye-catching, or because of their
relevance to a particular political situation, or because of a more general
significance. A text could be translated for profit – one of the major reasons
for the increased importance of writing in the vulgar languages was the
development of printing at the end of the fifteenth century. There was a
new audience for texts of all descriptions – religious, literary or political –
that was not necessarily literate in Latin. This audience grew with time, as
did that section of the population that could be considered as part of the
political nation, so that during the great crises of the seventeenth century,
such as the English Civil War or the Fronde, huge numbers of people were
reading and acting on political literature. Translators could even be mis-
taken in thinking there was a demand for a particular text, and so deceive us
as well.
Despite this, it is permissible to assume that a translated text was felt to
be appropriate or interesting for its new political culture – it is unlikely the
effort of translation was very often undertaken in vain. We can also perhaps
deduce something from that which was not translated, and what people did
not seem to be interested in, to help us trace the lineaments of their
political culture, though this is a riskier enterprise (above, p. 24). It should
therefore be possible to see what was translated, from what into what, and
when, and so delineate the lineaments and contours of these relationships.
The transformations the text goes through in the act of translation can also
be seen, including what sort of adaptations have to be made in presenting
the text in another culture. This aspect of the problem is made more
interesting in that, for a modern translator, the aim is to render as closely
as possible the original, even if we realise the impossibility of such a task.
In the study of the early modern period, no such assumptions can be
made. Fragments of texts were used, there was no sense of copyright,
and texts were often bound and sold with other texts, even without trans-
lation. For instance in some Dutch Latin editions and some other lan-
guages, Machiavelli’s Il principe was bound with the Vindiciae contra
tyrannos. Does this tell us anything about how these two, seemingly
opposite views on royal domination, were regarded in the early modern
period? At other times, it is a translated or second-hand version of the text
that a translator uses, and the new version is one more step away from the


A great deal can be said about the political concerns of early modern
Europe, and the intellectual lineage of various ways of thinking about
politics, from translation. There are, however, some difficulties: for
instance, in the area of jurisprudence and natural jurisprudence. It is a
commonplace that one of the most important developments in political
theory of the early modern period was in the area of natural law and natural
rights. This could mean two things: firstly, the elucidation of a set of moral
orders or political rights, and secondly, the idea of basing political associ-
ation upon a transfer of rights which were at some point inherent to
individuals. This was first expressed by the writers of the Second
Scholastic in Salamanca, and later by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius,
and by Thomas Hobbes in England.5
The problem is that much of this literature was written in Latin for an
audience of lawyers who dealt in Latin every day. Mostly it stayed in that
language, at least until the eighteenth century when there was a greater
demand for the wider dissemination of such ideas. For instance, the civil
lawyer Alberico Gentili, an Italian fugitive from the Inquisition who ended
up teaching law at Oxford, had great influence on the English civilian
tradition and international law in general. However, neither his De iure
belli, nor his absolutist text Regales disputationes of 1605, were translated,
although there was a Latin edition of the latter at London in 1644 during
the English Civil War, presumably from a royalist press.
The Spanish natural jurisprudential tradition of the later sixteenth
century also tended to remain in Latin. Juan de Mariana’s De rege et regis
institutione libri III, Luis de Molina’s De justitia et jure, Domingo de Soto’s
Libri decem de justitia et jure and Francisco Suarez’s Tractatus de legibus ac
Deo legislatore all remained untranslated into any vernacular tongue. This is
perhaps because of their highly technical nature, and because their
intended audience would be one trained in a similar legal tradition. It
would perhaps take some intermediary stages for such ideas to make their
way into the mainstream.
Brett (1997); Tuck (1979).
The translation of political theory 107
Later in the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century,
theorists of natural law acquired a wider following. Hugo Grotius is
probably one of the most famous. His De iure belli ac pacis, in contrast
to similar works from Spain, was often translated, but mostly after his
death in 1645. It was first published in Paris in 1625, and thereafter there
were eight editions in the seventeenth century and three in the eighteenth.
The first translation was, predictably enough, into Dutch in 1635, and then
there followed an English translation by Clement Barksdale in 1654 and
another more accurate one by W. Evats in 1682. There was a French
translation in 1687 by de Courtin, and then a new translation in 1724 by
Jean Barbeyrac, then Professor of History and Civil Law at Lausanne.
A similar pattern can be discerned with editions of the German jurist
Samuel Pufendorf’s De jure naturae et gentium libri octo. After going
through a number of Latin editions, in 1703 it was translated into
English by Basil Kennett, President of Corpus Christi College in Oxford
and a writer on Greek poetry, on which subject he often disagreed
with French critics. When the second edition of this translation appeared,
not only did it incorporate the annotations from Barbeyrac’s French
translation of 1710, but it was advertised as ‘corrected, and compared with
Mr Barbeyrac’s French translation’. An Italian translation by Giambattista
Almici followed in Venice in 1757.6
Pufendorf’s shorter text De officio hominis et civis, which functioned as a
compendium of the somewhat cumbersome De jure naturae, was very
popular especially in England where it was printed many times in Latin
at London and Cambridge. It seems to have functioned as an academic
primer for the study of natural law at Cambridge University, as well as a
more general introduction. Gershom Carmichael, Regent and then
Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, supplied
notes and observations on the text for a 1724 edition at Edinburgh that
came from his lectures on the subject. A French translation of De officio
hominis et civis appeared in 1696, but evidently Barbeyrac thought it of
insufficient quality and produced his own, with notes, in 1707.
The final work translated by Barbeyrac was Richard Cumberland’s De
legibus naturae, again with notes by the translator in 1744. Cumberland’s
great opponent Hobbes did not receive such a great deal of attention. His
friend Sorbiere, whom he had met in Paris while associated with Mersenne
and his circle, translated De cive into French in 1649, and the Elements of
Law in 1652. His Leviathan achieved an international audience primarily
Bazzoli (1979).
through the author’s own Latin edition of 1668, although there was a
Dutch translation in 1667: the radicalism of this text maybe made it
unsuitable for the conservative politics of Louis XIV’s France.
While writings on natural law clearly had great resonance across borders
and cultures in early modern Europe, works which concerned themselves
more with the specificities of law tended to remain untranslated. One
notable exception is Jean Bodin’s Six livres de la republique of 1576, which
went through a number of editions in its original French, and was also
translated into Latin by the author ten years later in an edition clearly
designed for an international audience. Bodin was a French jurist and
humanist who aimed, through the analysis of law, history and philology, to
be able both to describe the political and legal customs of a wide variety of
cultures, and to draw conclusions about issues as diverse as sovereignty,
taxation, revolutionary change and national character.
It was perhaps the catholicity of Bodin’s aims which made this text so
appealing in such a wide variety of contexts: while much of the material was
made up of legal specifics, it aimed to provide more general political and
legal definitions. There followed translations into Spanish and Italian, and
in 1606 a composite English translation from both the Latin and French
versions appeared. This was clearly a highly popular and important text,
which became accepted as authoritative on the nature of law and sover-
eignty: the English judges in the Ship money trial of 1637 quoted Bodin in
defining the nature of the monarchy of Charles I.
More specific works had less broad appeal however. At the end of the
sixteenth century, legal antiquarianism promoted ideas of constitutional
arrangements that could be thought of as having been in place throughout
the history of a nation or a state. Such ideas were often used to defend rights
of cities, corporations or even peoples against the encroachment of mon-
archs. Despite the centrality of these texts to political struggles across early
modern Europe, they were very rarely translated into other languages.
Fortescue’s De laudibus legum Angliae (On the Praises of the Laws of
England) was translated from the Latin into English by Robert Mulcaster
in 1567, and remained a key text with an English context, as it moved from
being a purely legal text to having a wider political significance. There was a
new translation in 1616, this time with additional notes by the jurist and
antiquarian John Selden, and this went through six editions, the last in
1775. In 1714, the year that George Elector of Hanover was made King, an
English edition was published under the title The difference between an
absolute and a limited monarchy, as it more particularly regards the English
Constitution. Thus a fifteenth-century text, written in exile in order to
The translation of political theory 109
persuade Edward IV to rule in a particular fashion, became a key part of the
Whig interpretation of English constitutional history as that of a limited
monarchy ruling a free people. Fortescue, however, never appeared in any
other language.
There was a continental Latin edition, by John Budden, in 1610, of Sir
Thomas Smith’s De republica Anglorum: The maner of Gouernment or
policie of the realme of England of 1576, which went through a number of
editions. This was not so much a legal text as an account of England and
how it was governed, as might be given by an informed traveller.
Similar works from other countries had similar fates. Claude de Seyssel’s
Grande monarchie de France of 1519 had a number of Latin editions in the
seventeenth century, and was sometimes bound with Plato’s Laws. It was
also translated into German by George Lauterbeke under the title Vom
¨ ¨
Ampt der Konige und Regierung des gemeinen Nutzes in der loblichen Kron
Frankreich, maybe because of the relevance of French claims in the Holy
Roman Empire contained in Seyssel’s work.
The later Francogallia, by the French Protestant Francois Hotman, was
translated from Latin into French almost immediately upon its first pub-
lication in 1574. This text was designed to demonstrate the independence of
French from Roman law, and the existence and validity of institutions that
could act as a check on royal power. The French and Latin editions were part
of a concerted campaign to describe a limited French monarchy during the
Wars of Religion, but the texts were not translated into any other languages.
Despite the possible relevance of such a text to the debates over the English
constitution, it did not make it into English until 1711, when it was published
under a title which shows the Whig prejudices of the translator – Franco-
Gallia, or an Account of the ancient free state of France and most other parts
of Europe before the loss of their liberties, written originally in Latin by the
famous civilian Francis Hotman in the year 1574. By and large, however, those
texts that dealt with constitutional matters, be they English, French, Danish
or German, did not find an audience outside their original context.


One debate within the politics of the early modern period is whether a
monarchic or a republican constitution would be best. In fact, this question
was rarely debated explicitly. Rather the advantages and value of one form
of government were extolled at the expense of the other: the real debate
tended to be about what form of republic would be best, or how a monarch
should act.
Since the Second World War much attention has been paid in scholar-
ship to the republican tradition in European and American political
thought. The political ideas of the Italian city republics, especially
Florence, have been extensively examined by historians such as Hans
Baron, Quentin Skinner and latterly James Hankins.7 They have empha-
sized the importance of the ideas of republican governance that emerged in
that context, and their longevity within the English and American
Given the importance of this intellectual tradition, fewer texts than one
would imagine were translated and circulated in early modern Europe.
Leonardo Bruni’s panegyric on the city of Florence was not translated into
any vernacular language, and Guicciardini’s Dialogo del reggimento del
Firenze (Dialogue on the Florentine Regime) remained in Italian. In
terms of texts in translation, the republican tradition does not emerge as
particularly deep. The text identified by Pocock as key in the transmission
of this tradition, despite its relatively heterodox nature, was Machiavelli’s
Discourses. Jacques Gohorry, whose main interest was in medicine and
drugs, translated it into French in 1571, superseding an earlier translation of
1544. The text was printed numerous times in France, and often bound
with Gaspard d’Auvergne’s translation of the Prince. There was a later
translation in 1664, and yet another in 1694. In 1615 there was a Dutch
translation, and in 1636 an English translation by Edward Dacres, who also
translated the Prince four years later. The Discourses makes a good example
of a text whose availability was not necessarily defined by its translation: it
had been printed in London for an English audience in its original Italian.
Another important text is Gasparo Contarini’s De magistratibus et
republica Venetorum libri quinque (Five Books on the Magistrates and
the Republic of Venice), which was completed in 1534 and published in
Paris in 1543, and thereafter numerous times in Venice itself. Contarini
described and praised the republican constitution of Venice, which in the
sixteenth century remained a living example of republican politics, almost
alone in Italy. The idea of Venice, and Venetian politics, was an important
one throughout Europe. Charles I reacted to constitutional proposals by
his Parliament by saying that they would reduce him to a ‘Doge of Venice’.
Domenichi’s Italian translation of Contarini’s text in 1544 was published
numerous times in Venice, where its appeal was obvious. It did however
find other audiences: there was a French translation by Jean Charrier,

Hankins (2003–4); Skinner and van Gelderen (2002); Skinner (1978); Baron (1955).
See Wootton (1994); Pocock (1975); Robbins (1959).
The translation of political theory 111
published by Galliot du Pre, and an English translation by Lewes
Lewkenor in 1599.
The example of Venetian republicanism was made available in two of
the largest monarchies in Europe, and may well have had a greater impact
on the development of republican thinking than more explicitly polemical
texts, which remained untranslated. Later in the sixteenth century, in 1582,
Paolo Paruta’s panegyric of Venice, Della perfettione della vita politica (The
Perfection of Political Life), was also translated into French. It was trans-
lated into English during the interregnum by Henry Cary, Earl of
Monmouth, who translated Paruta’s Discorsi politici (Political Discourses)
around the same time.
Despite the importance of Venice, the number of texts that were
circulated and translated which concerned monarchies rather than repub-
lics was huge. A good example is Antonio de Guevara’s Relox de principes of
1529. Guevara (1480–1545) was a Spanish Franciscan who was employed in
the household of Prince Juan, the son of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
Subsequently, he became a monk and an inquisitor, and finally Bishop of
Guadix and Mondenedo. He wrote a book in the mirror-for-princes
tradition, which purported to be the advice of the celebrated Roman
emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius. After the Libro aureo de Marco
Aurelio was published in 1528 at Seville, in what the author claimed was a
pirate edition, he produced a second and expanded edition under the title
Relox de principes, printed at Valladolid the following year. The second text
was much expanded, better organized and less aphoristic, though in
common with the first edition, much of what it contained was conven-
tional Renaissance wisdom. It enumerated the virtues that a prince should
display in order to rule well, combining the pagan virtues, as the title would
suggest, with Christian virtues and exhortations to piety.9
Both versions of the text were instantly and consistently popular in
Spain and beyond.10 There was an almost instant French edition of the
shorter version, by Berthault de La Grise in 1531, from the press of Galliot
de Pre, which went through a large number of editions. The expanded text
was translated by Herberay des Essars (who also translated the hugely
popular romance Amadis de Gaul from the Spanish), as L’orloge des princes,
in 1540, and again proceeded through a number of editions. The English
translation of the first text, published in 1539 by John Bourchier, was
taken not from the original Spanish, but from the French, along with the
French preface. This was relatively common as a text moved between

9 10
On Guevara see Grey (1973); Jones (1975). For Spanish editions see Foulche-Delbosc (1915).
different languages; French would have been better known than Spanish in
England in the seventeenth century. By 1557 there was an English trans-
lation of the fuller text, by Thomas North, who was chiefly famous for his
translation of Plutarch.
Mambrino Roseo da Fabriano translated the shorter version into Italian
in 1543, where it was bound with his translation of Erasmus’s Institutio
principis christiani – making a sort of composite humanist advice book for
princes. The fuller text was translated by Sebastiano Fausto da Longiano in
1553: both versions went through a great number of editions. Ægidius
Albertinus translated Guevara into German in 1599, in an edition that
went through numerous editions, and there was a Latin translation by
Johannes Wanckel for the German market in 1601. At the end of the
sixteenth century there was also a Dutch edition of the Libro aureo, and
an edition of the full Relox de principes in 1617, taken in fact from the
German, translated from high to low Deutsch. As we move into the
seventeenth century, Guevara’s text moved even farther afield. In 1610
there was a Hungarian translation by Janos Draskovich, made from
Wanckel’s Latin version. In 1616 there was a Swedish translation by Eric
Schroder, and in 1738 there was even a translation by Gabriel Hamazaspean
into Armenian.
What made this text so popular? Part of the reason must be that in Italy
and elsewhere, Europe was dominated by monarchs, so texts concerning
their proper conduct had obvious appeal. Despite the differences in polit-
ical culture between the nations of Europe, they largely shared the institu-
tion of monarchy. The translation of this text and others shows that they
not only shared the institution, but the understanding and views of that
institution put forward by writers on political theory. What the history of
Guevara’s texts demonstrates is that a work about monarchy could have
appeal across Europe, and across geographical and confessional bounda-
ries. Perhaps the reason this text could also appeal to Protestants is that it is
essentially a pre-Reformation text.
The universality of appeal of Guevara’s text contrasts with that of some
later texts that had a more definite confessional bias. The Spanish Jesuit
Pedro de Rivadeneira’s Tratado de la relig´on y virtudes que debe tener el
pr´ncipe cristiano had in many ways a similarly conventional morality of
princely action to that of Guevara. It was however clear in its targets – not
only Protestants, but also those in Spanish affairs who advocated a politique
strategy of temporizing with reform. After being published at Madrid in
1595, it was translated into Italian in 1599, Latin in 1603 and French in
1610. Within the context of its creation it was a popular text, but it was
The translation of political theory 113
unsuitable for England, the Netherlands, Sweden or the Protestant princes
of Transylvania.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s altogether more controversial version of the
mirror-for-princes genre, despite being put on the Papal Index, had a lively
history in translation, perhaps as a subversive version of a genre that was
very much in demand, and one that raised more complex moral issues than
texts like Guevara’s. Il principe went through a number of Italian editions
in the first half of the sixteenth century, and was translated into Latin in
1560; there was a Dutch translation in 1615, and an English translation in
1640 from Edward Dacres. It received simultaneous translations into
French by Guillaume Cappel and Gaspard d’Auvergne in 1553, and there
was clearly great interest in this text in France. Richard Tuck has identified
a Franco-Italian intellectual group active in France in the 1560s and 70s,
who identified closely with the politics of Machiavelli and Guicciardini.11
French interest in Machiavelli continued into the seventeenth century:
there was a new translation of his entire works by Briencour in 1664, and in
1683 another translation of Il principe appeared, this time with notes, from
the pen and press of Amelot de la Houssaye.12 It was this edition that
provided the stimulus to Frederick II of Prussia to compose his Anti-
Machiavel, with which it was often bound in eighteenth-century editions.
When this was translated into English in 1741, it came complete with a
translation of Houssaye’s preface to his edition of Machiavelli.
There were not only mirrors for princes in the early modern period, but
also mirrors for those who served them as courtiers and counsellors. This
literature grew in importance in the sixteenth century, as courts became
more bureaucratic and centralized: there was a demand for an understand-
ing of how to behave in such positions. The fate of Baldasar Castiglione’s
Cortegiano is well known: it became an instantly popular text across
Europe, and from its beginnings in Urbino, defined and created the culture
of courts in the early modern period.13
One good example is the Spaniard Federico Furio Ceriol’s El concejo y
consejeros del principe (The Council and the Councillors of the Prince) of
1559: this text was partly about the formal structure of the councils that
formed royal government in Spain and partly about the character and
qualifications of those counsellors who occupied places on them. Despite
the specifics of Spanish politics, this text had wider appeal: the next year, an
Italian edition appeared at Venice, translated by Ludovico Dolce, a man

Tuck (1993), 40–5. 12 On the importance of this edition, see Soll (2004).
See Burke (1995), esp. 55–80.
best known today as an art theorist and friend of Titian, who supported
himself with a variety of literary activities. In 1563, a Latin edition appeared,
and in 1570, William Blundeville translated it into English under a title that
implied that the hierarchy of Spanish councils was something to be
emulated. A version of the Latin translation was published in Krakow,
and two years later Ceriol’s work was translated into Polish under the title
Rada panska (The Lord’s Council). El concejo was one of the earliest works
to consider the issue of counsel, and it proved popular from the west to the
east of Europe.
The Polish kingdom, with an elective monarchy, obviously depended
even more clearly on good counsel, and thus it is no surprise that this
Spanish text should reach so far. One of the few texts to go in the other
direction, from east to west, was Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goslicki’s De
optimo senatore libri duo, first published in Venice in 1568. Goslicki became
a major political figure in Poland on his return from Italy, where the De
optimo senatore had been written, and he became a counsellor with the
qualities he attempts to describe. Latin editions were popular, and there
was an English translation in 1598 – although the translator got the name
wrong, having a copy of the text but being unfamiliar with its author. A
second English translation appeared in 1660, the year of the Restoration,
but with those sentiments which tended to the limiting of monarchy
One other aspect of this literature that proved popular was that which
was inspired by Louis XIII’s first minister, Cardinal Richelieu. His oppo-
sition to Habsburg expansion, and thus to their project of Counter-
Reformation, was hugely controversial, and so he encouraged writers to
support his vision of government, and the role of a chief counsellor which
he had made his own. Two of these works were translated into English,
despite there being no equivalent person in England to whom such senti-
ments could be attached. Philippe de Bethune’s Le conseiller d’estat of 1633
was translated into English the next year, and Jean de Silhon’s Ministre
d’etat made the same journey in 1658.
Texts that concerned monarchs, and those which concerned courtiers,
counsellors and those who served monarchs, were immensely popular
across Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Political theory
therefore focused on the necessary qualities required of the monarch or
counsellor, and thus the differences between the political situations of
monarchs in different European countries did not make such insights
from one incommensurate with another, as had been the case with specif-
ically constitutional arguments.
The translation of political theory 115
The dominance of the monarchic tradition also means that it is possible
to say something of the republican tradition in early modern Europe whose
transmission had to come not through a broad tradition but through a
small number of key contemporary texts. This means that classical texts
and examples, from both Greece and Rome, continued to have an impor-
tant and direct influence on political ideas. Cicero, Sallust, Plutarch
and Aristotle were the inspiration for much republican thinking into
the seventeenth century, and were probably more significant than texts
which came from centres of early modern republicanism like Florence
or Venice. This might also be an indication that practice and experience
of different forms of self-government, in the Netherlands and the cities of
Europe, even those in monarchic states, was as important as any textual


Reason of state is usually associated with monarchy but, of course, was not
always necessarily so. Its practical and moral imperatives revolved around
the state as an abstract entity, and the need to keep it in being, and this was
an imperative that monarchs attempted to make their own. The moral
consequences of the existence of the state apparatus were very important for
early modern Europeans, especially in the seventeenth century. This
becomes clear when the translation of texts is considered. One of the
most famous texts from the reason of state tradition was Justus Lipsius’s
Politicorum sive civilis doctrinae libri sex (Six Books of Politics) of 1589. This
text not only went through a large number of Latin editions, but also
received very speedy attention from translators.
As a European hit, the Politics was translated by Charles Le Ber into
French in 1590. In the same year William Jones translated it into English,
and Marten Everart into Dutch. It appeared again in French, translated by
Simon Goulart, in 1594; in Polish in 1595; in German in 1599, translated by
Melchior Hagenaeus; in both Spanish and Italian in 1604, in Italian again
in 1618 and finally in Hungarian in 1641.
Lipsius’s text spoke of the moral imperatives of the state, but contained
within the six books of his text was a more generalized political wisdom
which clearly had a wide appeal. As a composite text of quotations collected
into appropriate chapters, it was in some ways a generic innovation not
unconnected with the birth of the essay, and this contributed to its
popularity. Part of its appeal was also its confessional neutrality, which
came from Lipsius’s own: it had something to offer to both Catholic and
Protestant. By contrast, Giovanni Botero’s Ragione di stato of the same
year, which covered similar ground but from a more Counter-Reformation
stance, was more Catholic and hence less catholic. Published in Latin in
1590, it was rapidly translated into Italian, Spanish and French, and it
seems to have been very popular, but it was never translated into English,
Dutch or Swedish.
Trajano Boccalini’s satires on the statecraft genre, the Ragguagli di
Parnaso, and the Pietra del paragone, were both hugely popular, possibly
due to their lighthearted tone. Both texts were published over the course of
the 1610s in Venice, where censorship was lighter and their scurrilousness
not too inflammatory. They consisted of a number of short satires on
contemporary political culture, 200 in the case of the Ragguagli. This
meant that translators were free to pick and choose what they translated
and what they did not, and so not choose that which would upset author-
ities or political sensibilities at home, while at the same time bringing in a
truly cosmopolitan air.
The Ragguagli existed in a very malleable form – the Italian edition of
1624, after Boccalini’s death, had some extra satires added by Girolamo
Briani, and this was often the case when the text was translated. The French
translation of 1615 was fairly faithful, but added a text supposedly by
Lorenzo de’ Medici. The Spanish translation of 1634 by Perez de Sousa
selected only those satires which were not offensive to the Spanish Empire,
and in later editions extra ones were added. A Latin edition appeared in
1640, followed by a German edition shortly afterwards, and a Dutch
translation in the 1670s. In 1626, an English edition of selections appeared,
a collaborative project by John Florio, William Vaughn and Thomas Scott –
although it is not really possible to see much strategy in the selections, other
than what took their fancy. An almost complete English translation was
carried out in the 1650s by Henry Cary, Earl of Monmouth, who left
out only two of the satires, which were particularly vicious about Queen
Elizabeth I.
The appeal of these satires across different cultures and indeed different
times is instructive; they had their own appeal as well as their adaptability,
and this shows how important reason of state was. Girolamo Frachetta’s
discussion of reason of state was translated into French and included in the
French translation of Ammirato’s discourses on Tacitus. Even a text
originally published in secret, Naude’s Considerations politiques sur les
coups d’etat, was translated into both English and German.
Texts which come under the heading ‘reason of state’ seem to have had
wide appeal from the early seventeenth century onwards, and all but the
The translation of political theory 117
most religiously radical seem to have been able to cross confessional
boundaries. In the seventeenth century, any discussion of the state and
the moral imperatives of its existence had appeal across Europe. The
questions that reason of state addressed – how to preserve a state in danger,
how would it be possible to create a viable body of knowledge referring to
political and state affairs – were common questions, and this explains the
popularity of translations of such texts.


The theories of resistance to established authority that emerged in the
second half of the sixteenth century have been seen as a very important part
of the history of ideas, especially those that demanded action on behalf of a
people who were constituted prior to the authority that ruled over them.
Perhaps the most famous articulation of these ideas was the Vindiciae
contra tyrannos, written by a Huguenot during the French Wars of
Religion, but designed to appeal beyond a narrow confessional audience
to moderate Catholics who also opposed the crown. This became a popular
and important text. Probably written in Latin by Mornay or Languet, it
was published in 1579. It was very quickly translated into French, probably
at the instigation of its author, in 1581, and in substantially the same
context. In 1588, the year of the Armada, an English translation of Book
IV appeared, on the importance of defending religion – appropriate for
Protestant England under threat. A full translation, by William Walker,
appeared in 1648, on the eve of the regicide. Walker was a journalist and
pamphleteer who was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and so close to him
that he was called ‘Oliver’s priest’. It is highly significant that he should
issue such a text at such a time: it could not have been done without
Cromwell’s approval. There was a Dutch translation in 1586 – a key point
in the Dutch wars against the Spanish to establish an independent republic.
Finally, there was a Swedish translation in 1639.
George Buchanan’s De iure regni apud Scotos was first published in 1579,
again in Latin; it was obviously rather more specific than the Vindiciae,
being about Scotland. It went through quite a number of Latin editions,
and there was a Dutch translation by Effert de Veer in 1598. For an English
translation it had to wait until 1680 – the height of the Exclusion crisis, and
a time of possible rebellion. There was another edition in 1689, after the
Glorious Revolution had actually happened. These two events were import-
ant for stimulating thinking about resistance. The crisis of 1680 was the
motivation for the publication of Sir Robert Filmer’s highly conservative
Patriarcha, which elicited a number of responses that focused on ideas of
resistance, and republicanism.14 The radicalism of Algernon Sidney’s
Discourses Concerning Government led to his execution; it was translated
into French in 1702.
More famous is Locke’s Two Treatises Concerning Government. There
was an almost immediate French translation in 1691 and a large number of
French editions after that. Both Sidney and Locke were important for the
development of French republicanism in the eighteenth century, and of
course in their original versions for American ideas of independence.
Resistance remained important for the whole of the early modern period,
and a few key texts had a great deal of influence, especially on the political
thought of France, Britain and the Netherlands.


One thing that complicates the history of translation is the different
motives there could be for translating a text, and it is instructive to look
at examples where such motivations can be deduced. One text where this is
clear is the Basilikon doron of James VI and I, published by the King of
Scotland on the eve of his accession to the English throne. It makes an
interesting example because of the attempt made by James for his text to
cross cultural boundaries and, especially significant at the end of the
sixteenth century, confessional boundaries as well. The Greek title
Basilikon doron means ‘the kingly gift’, and this text was an example of
the princely literature so popular in Europe at the time. It was written in
1598, and addressed to his son Henry, by a king possibly worried about his
death and the succession struggle for the English throne. The original
manuscript was written in the Scots dialect, and the first printed edition
contained some Anglicization: it was in a way the first translation. William
Waldergrave printed seven copies in secret in Edinburgh in 1599, which
were given to trusted servants of the crown, including Prince Henry’s
There ensued a battle with the Scottish Church when the book was
censured, without mention being made of the identity of its author, for
Erastian opinions on church government. When James became King of
England in 1603, the book became part of a publicity campaign to show his
capabilities as a monarch, and his right to rule the new kingdom, that of
14 15
On Filmer and reactions too him, see Daly (1979). Craigie (1950), 4–8.
The translation of political theory 119
Great Britain. James faced a struggle to combine his two kingdoms into
one, and to forge a political identity that would enable him to govern
effectively in both kingdoms. Therefore there was a new and expanded
edition published in 1603, with a greater degree of Anglicization, so that the
inhabitants of his new kingdom could read the book. In a new preface to
the reader, James asserted his religious orthodoxy and the probity of the
advice in the book, enhancing the persona of the wise king that James
wished to assume. He took his learning seriously, having been educated by
George Buchanan, author of De iure regni apud Scotos, and took pride in his
ability to dispute in Latin and other languages with his political and
religious opponents, including, famously, with Cardinal Bellarmine on
the Oath of Allegiance.
There was such demand for the text in England that the printing work
had to be farmed out to several shops to keep up: James’s subjects were keen
to read of their new king. There was even a verse edition by William
Willymat, consisting of the text rendered into parallel English and Latin
verses. Contributing to the mirror-for-princes genre could not only show
his ability to his new subjects, but to the wider world of European politics.
In line with his irenicist ideas, there was initial interest from Catholic as
well as Protestant Europe. The English Jesuit Robert Parsons read parts of
it to Pope Clement VIII, and claimed that the pope was moved by the
experience; ‘and in very truth I do highlie admire many thinges in that
booke, and could never have imagined that which I would see therein.
Christ Jesus make him a Catholike for he would be a mirrour of all
Parsons then made sure that a Latin translation was made for the pope’s
perusal, claiming in his letter accompanying it that it had been requested,
and that it was a faithful translation: ‘Con questa vanno l’ultimi folii della
traduttione del libro del Re d’Inglaterra, commandatici da vostra Santita, il
padre che l’ha tradotto e huomo dotto et confidente et s’ha sforzato
d’esprimere la vera sentenza dell’autore, et reddere sensum sensui’ (With
this comes the final pages of the translation of the King of England’s book
ordered by Your Holiness, the priest who translated it is a learned and
trustworthy man and he has tried to express the true meaning of the author,
translating the sense rather than literally).17
The pope also received a copy of the Latin version printed in London in
1604 as the first part of a European campaign. Despite this interest, events

Calendar of State Papers Domestic, 1603–10, 8. Quoted in Craigie (1950), 27.
Fondo Borghese IV, 95, Vatican Library. Quoted in Craigie (1950), 28.
overtook the text. The aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, the enforcement
of an oath of allegiance on English Catholics and James’s personal con-
troversy with Bellarmine on the subject, led to the work being on the Index.
James still wanted to be a mirror for all the princes of Europe. Jean
Hotman, son of the Huguenot jurist Francois Hotman, was commissioned
by Thomas Parry, the English ambassador to Paris, to execute a translation,
which James examined before he authorized it to be released. Although
Hotman complained that he did not get paid, his work was a faithful
rendering, with only those passages excised that were difficult for Catholics
to swallow. It proved very popular in France after its publication in 1603,
going through many editions in Paris and Lyon, including pirated ones.
The next year the official Latin translation came out, of which there are
copies in all the major libraries in Europe, the one in Uppsala having
belonged to Sigismund III, King of Sweden and Poland.
Southern Europe was still problematic. James had made peace with
Spain, and wanted his text to continue this rapprochement. Two
Englishmen were commissioned to translate the text: John Florio (author
of the first English–Italian dictionary and translator of Montaigne) into
Italian and John Pemberton into Spanish. Both of these editions however
failed to make it from manuscript into print – James’s Protestantism was
clearly making it difficult for him to have appeal across the confessional
divide, despite the conventional nature of the text. Basilikon doron did
better in northern Europe. There were two Dutch translations early on,
and in 1604 a Welsh edition appeared, as well as a German translation by
Emmanuel Thompson in 1604; Eric Schroder translated it into Swedish in
1606, and there was a Hungarian version by 1612.18 Perhaps its very failure
in southern Europe made it successful elsewhere, as this text was a
Protestant version of a genre – the mirror for princes – which had been
dominated by Catholics, and as such provided appropriate advice for a
prince and head of a national Protestant Church. The princes of Germany,
Sweden and Transylvania could learn how to be reformed, without taking
reformation too far and becoming the pawn of a radical Church.
The rapid nature of the translations as they appeared across Europe after
James became King must have been part of a concerted campaign to
establish his kingly and intellectual credibility. Despite his Protestantism,
there were aspects of this text that could appeal across boundaries; if
Parsons is to be believed, even the Pope thought it had its good points.

Craigie claims (2) that there was also a Danish version, but there is no evidence of this. On the Dutch
translation, Stilma (2005), 159–237.
The translation of political theory 121
The impetus for translation was James’s desire to be a rex pacificus in a
divided Europe, and his identity no doubt helped to sell the work. Judging
from the success of the text, his attempt may even have worked, at least in
some parts of the Continent, and even for his own subjects.


If, as an author, James VI and I could inspire translation then, conversely,
sometimes it is a translator who determines a programme of translation and
publication of texts which puts them in a new light. We have seen that
many natural law texts were translated by Jean Barbeyrac in the first half of
the eighteenth century, but it should be emphasized that this was a con-
certed attempt to bring something to French intellectual life that he felt was
missing. In doing so, he presented a set of ideas that were hugely important
for the progress of the French Enlightenment.
What made these translations so significant was the extent to which
Barbeyrac introduced them, annotated them and attempted to shape the
way they were perceived. They were for him part of a larger project – the
presentation, in French, of a systematic moral philosophy that fitted with
his religious and epistemological ideas. The first work he produced was a
translation and annotation of Samuel Pufendorf’s De jure naturae et
gentium, a hugely popular work from its first publication in 1672, going
through many editions in London and Amsterdam. He prefaced this with a
history of morality which aimed to show why the work of Pufendorf in
particular, and seventeenth-century natural law theorists in general, was so
It was the systematic nature of Pufendorf which appealed to Barbeyrac.
This could successfully steer a course between a complete scepticism – he
quotes Montaigne as an example of this position – and an ultramontane
position, including a belief in innate ideas and a slavish following of the
Catholic interpretation of Scripture: the piece contains a sustained attack
on the Church Fathers. His impetus for this was partly because he was part
of the Huguenot diaspora, the French Protestants who had been expelled
from France in 1685, who were behind a number of different critiques of
French Catholic moral and political doctrine.19
To justify this project, Barbeyrac appeals to Locke’s Essay Concerning
Human Understanding (he praises Coste’s French translation): Locke
Hochstrasser (1993) has put Barbeyrac into this religious context.
attacks innate ideas, yet also provides a basis for believing in human reason.
He was sufficiently invested in this position to spend some time attacking
Sherlock’s religious critique of Locke and reassertion of the notion of innate
ideas. A rational, empiricist, moral system was the ideal. Pufendorf is praised
as the culmination of Grotius’s project, after the interruption of the mis-
guided Hobbes, which serves as an antidote to deceptive priestcraft:

They have not left us a methodical System, they do not exactly define all the
Virtues, they enter not into Particulars, they only give, as occasion requir’d,
general Precepts; from whence we must draw Consequences, to apply them to
the State and Circumstances of particular Persons; as it would be easy to shew, by
many Instances, if the Thing was not evident to all who read, with ever so little
Care, the Holy Scriptures. And from thence it appears, to mention it only by the
Bye, how far we ought to rely upon the Expedient of those, who after have made it
their Business to ruin the Certainty of the Light of Reason, refer us to the Light of
Faith, for the resolving of our Doubts: As if the light of Faith did not necessarily
suppose that of Reason. (Pufendorf 1749, 72)

By contrast, for Barbeyrac, Pufendorf’s systematic philosophy demon-
strates the conformity of reason and Scripture: to prove this he quotes
Richard Cumberland, whose De legibus naturae he was later to translate.
Barbeyrac’s presentation of the text included making alterations as he
translated, to correct what was, in his eyes, the barbarism of Pufendorf’s
Latin. His translation left out some passages, especially those of extensive
quotation from other authors as proof, and added others, many from
Pufendorf’s shorter work, De officio hominis et civis, which had become a
popular university textbook. If he felt that the explanation was insufficient,
then he would expand it, according, as he saw it, to Pufendorf’s principles.
It was an overall process of clarification and presentation, which he trench-
antly justified (this passage of the introduction was not included in the
English version as Kennet had not changed the text in the same way):
´ ˆ
Pour les autres, s’ils veulent admirer jusq’aux negligances, & aux bevues d’un
` ˆ
Auteur d’ailleurs tres-estimable, ce n’est pas en leur faveur que j’ai soutenu un si
´ ´
long & si penible travail: ils peuvent le mepriser, & s’en tenir au Latin; il n’est
point craindre que l’Original se perde. [As for the others, if they wish to admire
even the carelessness and the mistakes of an author who is otherwise most worthy
of esteem, it is not for them that I have carried out this long and painful work.
They can despise it if they like and keep to the Latin, there is no danger that the
original will be lost.] (Pufendorf 1706, sig m, lv)

His notes completed this project, creating a composite text that was part
Pufendorf and part Barbeyrac. There he defended Pufendorf’s ideas, and
The translation of political theory 123
occasionally criticized them, adding passages from other authors and those
of Pufendorf himself. This was an eclectic process, and one that Barbeyrac
understood blurred the boundaries between author and editor. He includes
the thought of others:

I have often given only their general Sense, in my own Way; so that, unless where I
cite their own Words in Italic, or mark’d with inverted Comma’s, he must not
impute all I say to the Author, from whom I borrow any Thought. I have used the
same Method, with regard to the lost Reflections of the Author, which I have
remov’d to the Notes; for I have not always exactly distinguish’d the Things I have
interspers’d, or added. (Pufendorf 1749, 74)

Barbeyrac’s presentation of a rationalist systematic morality was immedi-
ately popular and famous across Europe. He tamed Pufendorf’s German
Latinity for a French audience for whom literary style was as important as
logical exactitude, and in doing so gave it a new lease of life.
His project did not stop there: he went on to translate Grotius’s De iure
belli et pacis, and finally Cumberland’s natural law treatise. The importance
of his work was clear when the second edition of Basil Kennet’s English
translation of 1703 appeared, which Barbeyrac regretted not having seen
prior to his own work. Not only were Barbeyrac’s notes, and later his
preface, included, now translated into English, but the text itself was
advertised as compared with and corrected according to Barbeyrac’s text.
The same was done with the English translation of Grotius.
The progressive import of Barbeyrac’s work was clear during the conflict
between Low and High Church Anglicans in England in the 1720s. The
Whig Thomas Gordon, who along with John Trenchard wrote Cato’s
Letters, which became a classic expression of Whig ideology and hugely
influential in both Britain and America, used Barbeyrac for his own
purposes. Gordon took the attack on the Church Fathers from the recently
translated introduction to Pufendorf, and printed it with an introduction
of his own. At a time of great crisis in the English Church and state, it was
an attempt to rebut the accusation of fanaticism the Dissenters were often
subject to, by pointing out the dubious philosophical basis of High
Church, as opposed to Low Church morality, and was thus a commensu-
rate project with Barbeyrac’s own.
The example of Barbeyrac illustrates both the importance of translation
in the transmission of ideas, and the variety of roles involved in such
transmission. His translations were immensely important for eighteenth-
century moral and political ideas. In his choice of texts, and his reworkings
of sometimes obscure pieces, he attained a level of agency at least equivalent
to that of the authors themselves. Thus, the influence of a dedicated
translator could extend far and wide in both time and geographical extent.


Translation reveals much about intellectual and moral boundaries in early
modern Europe, and how porous they were. There was relatively little
political thought translated between Eastern and Western Europe, although
this may not reflect incommensurability between the two, but rather the
continued importance of Latin in the East, where there was a greater density
of vernacular languages within the same states and empires. There was also a
greater degree of censorship within the Habsburg Empire in the East, which
affected such centres as Prague and Graz. Confessional boundaries also
loomed large, and became increasingly important after the Council of
Trent and the hardening of religious differences between Protestant and
Catholic. While some texts, such as Guevara, made it through, others, like
James I’s Basilikon doron, did not. This continued to affect writing of many
types into the eighteenth century: the French works of the Protestant
diaspora, which did so much to stimulate the French Enlightenment, were
published at Amsterdam rather than at Paris: books could evade boundaries
through physical movement as well as translation.
What was translated reveals the importance of the monarch in early
modern Europe, and the fact that political ideas often centred on that figure
or those who served him. Monarchy and the state were great themes that
attained a universality, which enabled texts that dealt with them to move
between West and East, Catholic and Protestant. This dominance does not
tell the whole story however, because of the persistence of classical republican
texts, and their adaptation and importance within these monarchies. The
example of Rome and the practice of self-government in the cities could
make alternatives to monarchy readily available to the early modern mind.
Translation also means adaptation, and the eclectic and at times merce-
nary attitude of early modern translators meant that there was always a flow
and flux of political ideas across early modern Europe. Texts could be
censored or altered for a particular audience, sometimes at the behest of the
author, and sometimes by a translator keen to make a market or to present
new ideas. Adaptation could be a positive process, allowing a set of ideas to
flourish in a new context, and providing inspiration to a new and different
generation. The political ideas of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
owed a great deal to the efforts of early modern translators.

Translating histories
Peter Burke

Following the anthropological model suggested in the introduction, this
chapter will examine translations of historical works as evidence of what
readers in different countries found particularly interesting or alien in other
cultures in the early modern period. A survey of general trends will be
followed by case studies of the translations of Francesco Guicciardini’s
History of Italy and Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent.


What exactly counts as a work of history is not as easy to decide as one
might think. The term ‘history’ itself in different languages, from the
ancient Greek historia onwards, presents a challenge to translators.1 The
frontier between history and fiction was a porous one, and some scholars
may object to the inclusion here of translations of Eustache Le Noble’s
quasi-historical works. The frontier between history and biography was
also open. In what follows, biographies are generally omitted, but they are
included in the cases of Alexander the Great, Charles II of England, the
emperor Charles V, Charles IX of Sweden, Columbus, Cromwell, Gustavus
Adolphus, Henry IV of France, Henry VII of England, the emperor
Leopold, Louis XI, Olivares, Philip of Spain, Richelieu, Sebastian of
Portugal, Pope Sixtus V and Wallenstein.
What counts as a translation is equally difficult to say with any precision.
For example, a book by the Tuscan humanist Leonardo Bruni about the
Goths is sometimes described as a free translation of Procopius and some-
times as an original (though derivative) work (‘stolen’ according to
Gibbon), which was itself translated into Italian, French, German and
English. Here the text will be treated as original, following the author’s
description of the work as ‘not a translation but a book written by me’ (non
Lianeri (2006). My thanks to the author for showing me this chapter in advance of publication.

translatio sed opus a me compositum). A similar problem occurs in the case
of Bruni’s history of the Punic War, in this case based on – or freely
translating – Polybius.2 Again, the French humanist Blaise de Vigenere
produced an edition of the medieval chronicler Villehardouin to which
he added a version of the text that he described as ‘more modern and
intelligible’. Although it was made from French into French, this version
will be counted as a translation.
Unlike some other chapters in the volume, this one is concerned only
with published translations. Some translations did circulate in manuscript
in the period, including a medieval Russian translation of Josephus,
German and Spanish translations of the Jesuit Maffei’s history of the
Indies, a Spanish translation of Cambini’s history of the Turks, German
and English translations of the work of the Italian humanists Sabellico and
Polydore Vergil, and an Italian and a Russian translation of the Romanian
Dimitrie Cantemir’s study of the Ottoman Empire. All the same, the
volume of published translations relative to the few that remained in
manuscript is so overwhelming that little will be lost by omitting the latter
from this overview.
The importance of early modern translations from the ancient historians
is only to be expected. In the first place, translations from Greek into Latin.
At the Renaissance, some were undertaken by well-known humanists such
as Lorenzo Valla (who translated Herodotus and Thucydides), Poggio
Bracciolini (Diodorus and Xenophon) and Angelo Poliziano (Herodian).
In the vernaculars, at least 274 translations of 25 ancient historians were
published in the 350 years between the invention of printing and the end of
the eighteenth century, more exactly between 1476 and 1792. The trans-
lation of the classics reached its peak in the sixteenth century. The slow
decline thereafter may signify a loss of interest in the classics but it may
simply mean recognition that the task had already been completed. Some
of these texts were successful commercially over a long period. Baldelli’s
Italian version of Caesar, for instance, Lauterbach’s German Josephus and
Hooft’s Dutch Tacitus all passed through many editions. The French
translator Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt, notorious for his freedom (above,
p. 29), translated Arrian, Caesar, Tacitus, Thucydides and Xenophon.
The ‘top ten’ ancient authors were as follows: Tacitus (28 translations of
either the Annals, the Histories, or both); Josephus (26 translations of either

Bruni quoted in Botley (2004), 36–7. On the relation to Polybius, Botley hesitates between ‘trans-
lation’ (26) and ‘reworking’ (33).
Translating histories 127
the Antiquities or the Jewish War or both); Sallust (21 translations of
Catiline, Jugurtha, or both); Caesar (18); Curtius (15); Xenophon (14 trans-
lations of the Anabasis, the Cyropaedia, or both); Justinus (12); Thucydides
(11); Polybius (11); Diodorus Siculus (11).
These are not exactly the authors we might expect. Take the first thirty
years of printed translations, 1476–1505. The seventeen translations pub-
lished in this period do not include anything by Herodotus, Thucydides
or Tacitus. Instead we find four translations of Curtius, four of Valerius
Maximus, two apiece of Caesar, Josephus, Livy and Plutarch, and one of
Eighty translations of twenty-seven ‘medieval’ texts were published,
ranging from the history of the Church by Eusebius (translated eight
times) and other early Christian writers to Froissart (translated twice).
They included Bede’s History of the English Church (twice translated into
English) and the Danish chronicle of Saxo Grammaticus (twice translated
into Danish), signs of interest in national history. The inclusion of four
chroniclers of the Crusades (Benedetto Accolti, Robert the Monk, Geoffroi
de Villehardouin and William of Tyre) is a reminder that medieval
historians were not necessarily despised in the age of the Renaissance.
Thirteen translations of seven historians from the Muslim world, writ-
ing in Arabic, Turkish or Persian, appeared in print at this time. They
included an anonymous Ottoman chronicle and the annals written by
Sa’duddin bin Hasan Can (otherwise known as Khojah Efendi), tutor to
Sultan Murad III, published in Latin, German, Czech, Italian and English
versions. On the other hand, they did not include Ibn Khaldun, whose
fame in the West came only later. Again, there was only one translation
from the Chinese, a French version of the work of Sima Guang by the
Jesuit J. A. M. de Moyriac de Mailla (1777–85). The interest in the history
of Islam was a sign of Western anxiety about the expansion of the Ottoman


In what follows the emphasis will fall on what has been least studied so far,
the work of ‘modern’ Western historians from Leonardo Bruni to William
Roscoe, the historian of Lorenzo de’ Medici. It is difficult to think of any
way of compiling a complete list of these historians, but as in the case of
translation into Latin (above, p. 65) I think I can claim to have looked at a
large sample. So far 553 published translations of 340 texts written by 263
modern historians have been discovered.
As the introduction to this volume suggested, something can be learned
from both the ‘export’ and the ‘import’ of texts, in other words the languages
from which and the languages into which texts were translated.
Italian (with 93 texts) led the list of languages from which historians were
translated, followed by French (90), Latin (70), English (36, mainly into
Dutch until the eighteenth century), Spanish (25), German (10), Portuguese
(5), Dutch (3), Greek (2), Czech (2) and Catalan, Hebrew, Polish and Swedish
with 1 translation apiece.
English led the languages into which texts were translated, with 140
items, followed by Latin (121), French (102), Dutch (88), German (80),
Italian (59) and Spanish (30). The remaining languages had low scores:
Swedish (8), Polish and Russian (7 each), Portuguese (4), Danish and Greek
(2 apiece), and Arabic, Hungarian and Romansh (1 each). The unexpected
importance of English and the low performance of Spain should be noted.
As in the case of translation in general (above, p. 18) Sweden came on-stream
in the seventeenth century and Russia in the eighteenth.
Most of the translations were concerned with the history of Europe or of
particular countries within it in the medieval and modern periods. About
sixty-four texts were concerned with antiquities. Around fifty dealt with the
world outside Europe, whether they took the form of world histories or
focused on regions such as the Ottoman Empire, China or Spanish America.
Around forty texts focused on religion, whether on church history, heresy or
the missions.
It is worth noting, as usual (above, p. 24), what was not translated and
for what reasons. Machiavelli’s presence on the Index, for example,
explains how his History of Florence failed to be translated into Spanish.
It is no surprise to learn that Protestant historians were rarely translated in
the Catholic world – it is the exceptions to the rule that are interesting. The
Lutheran Johann Sleidan’s history of the Reformation appeared in Italian
in 1557, just before the Index of Prohibited Books was made binding on the
whole Church, while the German humanist Johann Carion’s Chronicle,
despite being edited by Philip Melanchthon, appeared in Spanish in 1553,
before being placed on the Index in 1559. In the Protestant world, on the
other hand, a number of books by Catholic priests such as Paolo Sarpi,
Famiano Strada and Louis Maimbourg were published in translation – but
sometimes disguised as Protestants, as we shall see.
The most interesting, or at any rate the best-documented, example of
a non-translation, or more exactly of the non-publication of a trans-
lation, concerns a Spanish version of William Robertson’s History of
America. Proposed by the Academy of History, supported by the Count
Translating histories 129
of Campomanes and translated by Guevara y Vasconcelos this text was
forbidden publication by royal decree.3
As for language problems, British historians suffered from the fact that
English was not well known on the Continent before the end of the
seventeenth century. Costantino Belli, who translated Paul Rycaut’s
account of the Ottoman Empire from the French, excused himself in the
preface with the remark that ‘this history was written in English, perhaps
the most difficult language of Europe’. That Francis Bacon’s history of
Henry VII appeared in two translations, French and Latin, in 1627 and
1640 was quite unusual for the time. However, the situation was gradually
changing. Gilbert Burnet’s history of the Reformation was translated into
Dutch in 1686, French in 1687 and Latin in 1689, while Lord Clarendon’s
history of the ‘great rebellion’ appeared in French in 1704–9, and Burnet’s
history of his own time in German, Dutch and French between 1724
and 1735.


The most successful historians may be worth examining more carefully: the
sixteen authors whose eighteen texts were translated five or more times
apiece, making 120 translations in all (see Appendix 1).
One text was translated eleven times, Philippe de Commynes’s memoirs
of Charles the Bold and Louis XI. As we have seen (above, p. 73), the Latin
translations alone went through at least fifteen editions. Another first-hand
account, the Italian Jesuit Martino Martini’s history of the fall of the Ming
dynasty in China, was translated nine times. Thanks to its Dutch and
English translations, Martini’s work was used as a source for plays by Joost
van Vondel (Zungchin, 1667) and Elkanah Settle (The Conquest of China,
1676).4 Francesco Guicciardini’s History of Italy was also translated nine
Two texts were translated eight times each: Sleidan’s Commentaries,
which might be described as a political history of the Reformation, and
Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent. Two were translated seven times: the
History of Inventors by the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil and the
political theorist Samuel Pufendorf ’s Introduction to international history,
which was probably used as a textbook in colleges.

3 4
Canizares-Esguerra (2001), 171–82. Hsia (2000).
Five texts were translated six times apiece: the Italian bishop Paolo Giovio’s
History of His Own Time, Machiavelli’s History of Florence, Sleidan’s Four
World Empires, the Jesuit Strada’s Netherlands War (a history of the revolt
against Spain) and the ex-Jesuit Maimbourg’s History of the Crusades. Like the
translations of the chronicles by Villehardouin and others mentioned above,
the success of this particular work by the prolific Maimbourg testifies to
continuing European interest in the Crusades, a movement that in a sense did
not come to an end until the end of the seventeenth century, when peace was
made between the Ottoman and Habsburg empires.
Six texts were translated five times apiece: the Jesuit Jose de Acosta’s
Natural and Moral History of the Indies, Luis de Avila’s account of the wars
of Charles V, Fernao Lopes de Castanheda’s History of the Discovery of the
New World, Enrico Caterina Davila’s Civil Wars of France, Paolo Sarpi’s
History of Benefices and the History of the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniard
Antonio de Sol´s, who was better known as a playwright and is almost
forgotten today.
The eighteen texts include a number of classics, notably the works by
Commynes and Guicciardini, but there are also surprises for modern
readers, notably the presence of Sol´s, Martini and Avila. The place of
Avila in the list is probably due to a deliberate attempt at propaganda
(above, p. 17). As for Martini, he had the advantage, like Strada, Acosta and
(for a time) Maimbourg, of being a Jesuit, since as we have seen (above,
p. 15) the order was deeply involved in translating. Leading Enlightenment
historians such as Gibbon and Robertson would also have appeared in the
list if the dates of this study had been extended a few more years (two works
by Robertson appeared in four languages apiece before 1800 and in other
languages in the nineteenth century).
Political history takes the first place in this list, with eleven texts. It may
be significant that three of them deal with civil wars, in China, the
Netherlands and France. Religious history is represented by Sleidan’s
history of the Reformation, Sarpi’s account of the Council of Trent and
his history of benefices, but the histories of the Crusades, the Indies, the
revolt of the Netherlands and the civil wars in France all had a good deal to
say about religion. Of the sixteen authors, six were clerics.
The eighteen texts were translated from six languages: Latin (6), Italian
(5), Spanish (3), French (2), Portuguese (1) and German (1), and into eleven
languages: English (22), French (21), Dutch (15), German (14), Italian (11),
Latin (10), Spanish (7), Swedish (5), Polish (3), Danish (2) and Portuguese
(1). In other words they more or less follow the pattern for translations of
modern history in general.
Translating histories 131


Who read all these translations? The figures for different languages, listed
above, tell us something important, even though it is necessary to remem-
ber that a translation into a given language may circulate outside the area in
which it is the mother tongue. In the eighteenth century, for instance, some
Brazilians read Robertson’s history of America in French.5
Patronage offers further clues to the readership of translations, suggest-
ing the importance of history for the ruling class. Antoine Macault trans-
lated Diodorus into French for King Francis I (a painting of him survives
showing him presenting his book to the king), while the translator of
Guicciardini into Latin dedicated the book to King Charles IX. In
Saxony, Georg Forberger dedicated his translation of Guicciardini to the
elector, who gave him a pension in order for him to translate more works of
In England, the Duke of Norfolk asked Barclay to translate Sallust.
Queen Elizabeth’s minister William Cecil asked Arthur Golding to finish
the translation of Curtius begun by Brend. Christopher Hatton, a leading
figure at the court of Elizabeth, was the dedicatee of Bedingfield’s version
of Machiavelli’s history of Florence. Three translators were close to King
Charles I. The king himself encouraged William Aylesbury to translate
Davila. Aylesbury was helped in his task by Charles Cotterell, master of
ceremonies at the court. Sir Robert Stapleton or Stapylton, who translated
Strada, was another courtier as well as a former Benedictine monk who had
been converted to Protestantism. The last French translator of Sarpi,
Pierre-Francois Le Courayer, dedicated his work to Queen Caroline of
England, who had asked him to undertake the task and granted him a
pension. In the case of Le Courayer, the translation was published by
subscription so that we know that the book was bought – if not read –
by the great and the good such as bishops, peers and heads of Oxford and
Cambridge colleges.
Libraries and their inventories also have much to tell us about the
readership of historical works in translation as well as in the original
language. For example, William Cecil owned a copy of Guicciardini in
its Latin translation, as did Philip Marnix, counsellor to William the Silent,
King James VI and I, and Andrew Perne, Master of Peterhouse. Seven
Cambridge colleges still own copies of Guicciardini in Latin which were
probably acquired at this time. Again, William Camden and Andrew Perne

On Canon Luis Vieira, Maxwell (2003), 114.
owned Commynes in Latin translation, like six Cambridge college libra-
ries, while Lancelot Andrewes owned Sarpi in Latin.
Turning to English versions, Andrewes owned Commynes and
Machiavelli’s History of Florence, Thomas Baker owned Bentivoglio, Lady
Anne Clifford Commynes, Sir Christopher Hatton Machiavelli and Sir
Edward Coke both Machiavelli and Guicciardini. Sarpi’s History of the
Council of Trent in English could be found in the libraries of Sir Edward
Dering, a leading Member of Parliament; of the diarist Samuel Pepys; and of
William Byrd, plantation owner in Virginia, who also owned Guicciardini
and Davila in English.
A few case studies of the 500 early modern translators of historical works
may be illuminating at this point, since translators may be regarded as
particularly well-documented readers.
Fourteen individuals published five or more translations each, or eighty-
nine texts altogether. Some of these men may be described as ‘humanists’,
and specialized in translating ancient history: the German Hieronymus
Boner, for instance, the English schoolmaster Philemon Holland, and
Claude de Seyssel, a bishop who was also counsellor to Louis XII of France.
Others were professional writers, like the Venetian poligrafi.6 Four of the
fourteen individuals just mentioned worked for a single publisher, Gabriel
Giolito, who had the idea of launching a series or ‘necklace’ (collana) of
classical texts in translation together with more recent ‘historical jewels’
(gioie historiche). Tommaso Porcacchi edited the series for Giolito from
1550 onwards, translating five texts himself. Ludovico Domenichi also
translated five, while the poet Francesco Baldelli translated eight texts,
so Giolito must have thought that translating history was good business.7
The Spanish exile Alfonso Ulloa also worked for Giolito, translating
among other works the history of the Portuguese in Asia by Joao Barros,
Zarate on the conquest of Peru, Lopes de Castanheda on the Indies and a
history of the voyages of Columbus.8 Giolito was not alone in his con-
viction that history would sell, for at least eight historical works were
translated by another poligrafo, Pietro Lauro, who worked for various
Venetian publishers.
Most of the texts translated by the poligrafi were the work of ancient
historians, but the moderns included Carion’s chronicle, Paolo Giovio’s
history of his own time, Olaus Magnus on the history of the north of
Europe and Polydore Vergil’s history of inventors.9 In other countries a

Bareggi (1988). 7 On the collana, Grendler (1969), 158; cf. Cochrane (1981), 383, 388, 420, 487.
Cochrane (1981), 317–19; Binotti (1996). 9 Bareggi (1988).
Translating histories 133
few professional writers, such as the Dutchman Lambert van den Bos and
the retired English soldier Captain John Stevens, specialized in translating
works on modern history. So did the noble amateur the Earl of Monmouth,
who concentrated on recent Italian texts such as Guido Bentivoglio on the
revolt of the Netherlands and Paolo Paruta on Venice.


Some translations were advertised on their title-pages as particularly faith-
ful. Paolo Sarpi’s History of the Council of Trent was described on the title-
page of the German edition of 1621 as ‘carefully and faithfully translated’
(fleissig und trewlich versetzt), while the version of Sarpi’s History of Benefices
published by Carlo Caffa in 1681 was described as ‘translated from Italian
into Latin, following the letter and the style of the author’ (Ex Italico in
Latinum versus, iuxta Literam Stylumque Authoris).
Despite these claims, the interlingual translation of historians was at the
same time a form of cultural translation, in other words an adaptation to
the needs, interests, prejudices and ways of reading of the target culture, or
at least of some groups within it. Take the case of the English translation of
Pedro Mexia by William Traheron, who continued the history of the
emperors up to his own time and also, ‘for some reason’, as John Pocock
recently observed, omitted ‘an eloquent account of the valour and antiq-
uity of the nobles and kings of Spain’.10
Works of history, ancient and modern, were generally read in the early
modern period as examples of behaviour either to imitate or to avoid. As a
Latin translator of Guicciardini pointed out in 1597 (ironically enough, in
the dedication to a collection of the author’s maxims, Hypomneses polit-
icae), history teaches ‘not by means of naked and cold precepts, but by
famous and living examples’ (non nudis ac frigidis praeceptis, sed illustribus
et vivis exemplis). The importance of exemplarity may be illustrated by the
attention given to speeches and aphorisms.
Today, readers may well be tempted to skip the speeches that they find
in ancient or early modern histories, speeches which they know to have
been invented by historians, not delivered by the historical agents. In the
early modern period, by contrast, the speeches were treated like the arias
of an opera, in other words the best part. Anthologies of speeches were
produced and translated. For example, Livy’s speeches appeared in French
in 1554. General anthologies of speeches from historians ancient and
Pocock (2003), 251.
modern appeared in Italian (in two volumes edited by Remigio Nannini,
1557 and 1561), French (edited by Francois de Belleforest, 1572, an amplified
version of Nannini) and Latin (edited by Justus Gesenius, 1674, and
Christoph Keller or Cellarius, 1699).
The organization of these anthologies gives some idea of how they were
used. Nannini and Belleforest each produced a volume of military speeches,
while Nannini also edited a volume of ‘civil and criminal’ orations. Prefaces
suggest that the target audience was that of counsellors, ambassadors and
As for aphorisms, the dismissive reference to ‘naked and cold precepts’
should not be taken too seriously as evidence of a general attitude, since
some editions of Guicciardini (the Venice 1574 edition for instance)
furnished the text with a gnomologia or index of aphorisms, allowing
readers to find them without reading the book through (the aphorisms
were also signalled in the margins). Guicciardini makes a paradoxical
example in this context because, unlike his friend Machiavelli, he was
suspicious of general rules which did not pay enough attention to what
we call ‘context’ and he called ‘circumstances’.
All the same, the general remarks about particular events that
Guicciardini offered in his history were given particular emphasis and
sometimes taken out of context by his editors, translators, printers and
readers. Anthologies of these aphorisms were published separately and also
translated into Latin. In similar fashion a gnomologia was added to the
Geneva 1594 edition of Procopius, while the volumes edited by Nannini
and Belleforest mentioned above were also furnished with indexes of
‘aphorisms worthy of note’.
The cultural translation of histories will now be pursued a little further
via case studies or micro-histories of the European reception of
Guicciardini and Sarpi, and in particular the accommodation of their
work to the Protestant world.


No really thoroughgoing comparison of the early modern translations of
Guicciardini’s Storia d’Italia (nine translations of a long text into six
languages) has ever been made.11 It would probably be revealing, given
the freedom normally exercised by translators in this period to amplify as
well as to abbreviate the original text (above, p. 31). For a tiny example of
Some editions and translations are discussed in Luciani (1936).
Translating histories 135
the process of amplification at work, one might take Georg Forberger’s
German version of the famous pen-portrait of Alexander VI, where the
author’s ‘more than barbarous cruelty’ (crudelta piu che barbara) becomes
‘more than Turkish tyranny and cruelty’ (mehr denn Turckische tyranny
und grausamkeit).
For a slightly more extended example of cultural translation, one might
turn to the relatively little-known Dutch version of Guicciardini’s book,
published at Dordrecht in 1599 under the title De oorlogen van Italien (The
Wars of Italy), a title that was presumably chosen because an emphasis on
wars in which Spain took part would appeal to readers in the Netherlands at
this time. The translator’s name is not known but there are clues to his
religious allegiance. The long introductory letter to the reader describes
Guicciardini as a good Catholic but one who was aware of the misdeeds of


ńňđ. 4
(âńĺăî 8)