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The travels of ideology: Niccolo Machiavelli at the court of James VI.


This paper analyses William Fowler's translation of Niccolo Machiavelli's Principe, reconstructing the historical circumstances of the work, and its author's political and cultural activity at the court of James VI of Scotland. A number of hypotheses are discussed: Fowler's translation may be the result of its author's studying at the University of Padua in 1592-93, or it might have been undertaken as part of Fowler's involvement with James's composition of the Basilikon Doron. The last section of the paper analyses Fowler's dedication of the work to the Laird of Buccleuch, and the circumstances by which the Principe might have reached Scotland.


Among the poets and writers who lived at the court of James VI of Scotland, William Fowler is possibly the most neglected. After Henry W. Meikle's monumental edition of his works, published in the early twentieth century, there have been very few critical contributions on his occasional and celebrative poetry, or on his poetic translations; as for his prose translation of Niccolo Machiavelli's Principe, it is hardly ever mentioned by modern scholars. (1) The possible explanations for this silence are, at the same time, useful indications on how we should explore this forgotten but fascinating path. A prose translation (indeed, the first prose translation into Scottish of a contemporary work) finds little place in the recent plethora of studies devoted to the development of lyric poetry at James's court; William Fowler seems to have enjoyed an ambiguous status in James's intellectual circle, as will be seen presently; nor is it easy to insert this particular translation into the intellectual programme, inaugurated by the young king with the publication of his Reulis and Cautelis (1584), that included translations from the great classics of European literary languages. (2) Reulis and Cautelis has long and rightly been considered not only the intellectual manifesto of the circle of poets known as the Castalian band, (3) but the king's cultural programme. It is possible that we attribute much importance to what was, after all, a very youthful effort, and a mainly derivative work; but the declarations of intent of the treatise, its practical precepts on metre and rhyme, and especially its hints on poetic diction and ornamentation, are borne out by the standard practice of the so-called Castalian poets, Fowler included. However, in some respects James's theory seems surprisingly at odds with his (and his fellow poets') practice. One passage in particular has originated some controversy. James's treatise explicitly condemns translation in a famous passage:

Bot sen invention is ane of the cheif vertewis in a poete, it is best that ye invent your awin subject your self and not to compose of sene subjectis. Especially, translating any thing out of uther language, quhilk doing, ye not onely assay not your awin ingyne of inventioun, bot be the same meanes ye are bound as to a staik to follow that buikis phrasis, quhilk ye translate. (4)

But it may be noted that the king encouraged (and himself practised) the translation of both French and Italian poems; notable instances are Thomas Hudson's translation of Du Bartas's Judith (undertaken at the king's explicit command, as the dedication makes clear), John Stewart of Baldynneis's abridgement of Ariosto's Orlando furioso, William Fowler's already mentioned version of Petrarch's Trionfi, and James's own Uranie, again from Du Bartas; the latter, incidentally, includes a defence of the practice of translation added by the king. Indeed, with the exception of Alexander Montgomerie, who was active and recognized as a poet well before he entered James's sphere of influence, it might be said that most of the writers associated with the Scottish court at the time shone as translators rather than as original poets.

The conclusion that may tentatively be drawn is that, although denying the value of invention to the act of translation, the scholar/king saw it as a necessary corollary of poetic activity, especially as the latter was still in its infancy in Scotland, as James himself seems to think: he gave little encouragement to native poetic forms, and in his treatise appeared to ignore Scotland's copious literary heritage. The twin activities of poetry translation and composition can be read as part of a political as well as a literary programme: James justifies his treatise by speaking of poetry as coming 'to mannis age and perfectioun', and makes particular reference to the lack of treatises 'in our language [...] albeit sindrie hes written of it in English'. (5) The questions of national language and of national poetry are here intertwined: though dependent on earlier treatises in other languages, such as the explicitly mentioned Deffense et illustration de la langue francoise (1549) by Joaquim Du Bellay, James vindicates autonomous rules and an autonomous production for the national language. The importation of authoritative poetic texts through the act of translation appears to enrich a national intellectual library on which Scottish poets may draw for further inspiration. Translation is often changed into the more creative act of imitation, and results in an active interaction with the original text. This is evident in the case of John Stewart of Baldynneis, who fascinatingly talks about Ariosto's Orlando furioso while in the act of translating it, lamenting that 'the historie all Interlest I find', and underlining his effort in separating the gold from the dross. (6) Fowler, on the other hand, seems more interested in the linguistic challenge of the text, to which James pays no attention in his treatise. This is what we read in the dedicatory letter prefixed to the translation of Petrarch's Trionfi:

I wes spurred thairby and pricked fordward incontinent be translatioun to mak thame [Petrarch's texts] sum what more populare then they ar in thair Italian originall; And especiallye when as I perceawed, bothe in Frenche and Inglish traductionis, this work not onelie traduced, bot evin as It war magled, and in everie member miserablie maimed and dismembered, besydis the barbar grosnes of boyth thair translationis, whiche I culd sett doun by prwif (wer not for prolixitie) in twoe hundreth passages and moe. (Meikle, i, 16)

One last point definitely separates Fowler's Prince from the sort of literary activity advocated by Reulis and Cautelis: James clearly warns his fellow poets away from political topics:

Ye man also be war of wryting anything of materis of commoun weill or uther sic grave sene subjectis (except metaphorically; of manifest treuth opinly knawin; yit nochtwith-standing using it very seindil) because nocht onely ye essay nocht your awin inventioun, as I spak before, bot lykewayis they are to grave materis for a poet to mell in. (7)

Do not meddle, writes the king and leader of the Castalian band. The editors of The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature comment upon this passage by observing that James's caution may arise from 'James's mother, Mary, having suffered from particularly scurrilous versifying'; (8) but it is equally possible that the king, aware that some of his fellow poets also played relevant roles at court or hoped for advancement, wished to keep the two spheres of politics and poetry separate, at least in the early, delicate stage of his reign. In this case his words of caution might have been dictated by simple prudence, and have more generic motivations than the desire to protect the reputation of Mary Stewart. However, as in the case of the earlier passage condemning translations, there is a contradiction between James's theory and his practice, for later in his reign, when his intellectual interests shifted from the sphere of poetry to that of political theory, he would proceed to write not only the Basilikon Doron but what R. D. S. Jack calls 'politically-motivated verses'. (9) But his fellow poets adhered much more to the letter of his injunctions, to judge from their output; it is very difficult to find topical allusions, or political overtones, in the poetic production associated with the Castalians.

Given these prefatory considerations, it would be misleading, for questions of both chronology and style, to consider Fowler's Prince as an extreme appendage of the Castalian programme. The Edinburgh man of 'good [...] burgess stock' (Meikle, iii, ix), (10) born of a family of magistrates and town officials, sits somewhat uneasily in James's aristocratic company, and his unpublished and possibly unfinished Prince does not seem to find any place in the king's programme. This distance becomes even more evident if we consider the salient facts of Fowler's literary career. Once again, we have to deal with a rather discouraging paucity of information, but what we do know may help us in the evaluation of his literary output. After his graduation at St Andrews in 1578 (11) and further studies of civil law in Paris, possibly at the College de Navarre, (12) Fowler first travelled and experienced the life of the confidential agent between London and Edinburgh, then sought and found favour at the Scottish court, perhaps thanks to the support of his patron, the Earl of Bothwell; and by the end of the 1580s he played such a part in the political and diplomatic life of Scotland that in 1589 he was sent to Denmark to take part in the final negotiations concerning his king's marriage with Princess Anne. After the marriage his proximity to the royal couple continued: in 1593 he was Secretary to Queen Anne (and the queen would later lament his dedicating more time to the king than to herself), and he supervised the ceremonies for the baptism of Prince Henry, writing the entertainment for it. (13) In 1603 he followed James to London, remaining Secretary to the Queen until 1612, the year of his death, though in the last few years his relationship with the queen seems to have somewhat deteriorated.

Quite a few of these facts set Fowler apart from the other Castalian poets. His activity marks him as a professional, a humanista in the original sense of the word: that is, someone who could make a living and even a career out of his intellectual abilities. (14) His unique profile--an able diplomatist, a good confidential agent, a linguist, a talented writer--served him particularly well in a court such as that of James VI in the early years of his reign. Thus his literary practice follows and imitates the various stages of his ascent to an important role in the Scottish court: his ability in writing occasional and celebratory verse probably helped him find favour, and his translation of Petrarch's Trionfi, together with his composition of love sonnets, closely followed James's redaction of Reulis and Cautelis, which inscribes him by right within the circle of the king's literary disciples. Royal favour is also shown by the fact that he is the author of a sonnet prefacing James's Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie. The same role of court poet, available for occasional or celebratory writing on demand, can be seen in his later poetical activity, such as his composition of the entertainments for Prince Henry's baptism.

But if it is easy to follow most of the development of William Fowler's literary work with reference to his role as a court official and diplomat, the period surrounding the translation of Machiavelli's Principe is rather harder to define, just as this particular act of translation is difficult to inscribe within Fowler's courtly and literary activity. Though we have no certainty about the date, the translation appears to have been completed in the 1590s, a particularly eventful decade for the writer, as he temporarily abandoned his courtly employment to travel abroad and consort with men who were not in the king's favour. In the early 1590s Fowler was in Scotland, supporting the Earl of Bothwell in his declining fortunes, and then accompanying Bothwell's stepson, the Laird of Buccleuch, abroad. By 1594 he was back in Edinburgh, as shown by his active participation in the festivities for the newly baptized Prince Henry. There is no clear statement as to where Buccleuch and Fowler went, as the former's hopes to be recalled back to the king's favour were disappointed, but there seems to be some evidence that both enrolled at the University of Padua in 1592, and spent about a year there.

It is very tempting to associate Machiavelli and Padua in the history of Fowler's intellectual activity, and this association has been made before with a good degree of assurance. (15) Were it proved, it would open a new vista of exciting intellectual possibilities. Padua was the studium of the Venetian republic in the years in which Venice was considered a nest of heterodoxy, given the liberal principles inspiring the politics of the Catholic Doge. (16) Besides, there was the exceptional status of the university: a universitas scholarium, a legal corporation of scholars, protected but not interfered with by Padua's civic authorities. (17) It traditionally welcomed foreign students, and the various nations enjoyed an independent status and could have representatives in the university's executive council. In the late 1590s, such independence could result in controversial figures such as Giordano Bruno visiting the university in the hope of teaching in the chair that had been Galileo's, and attending, together with Paolo Sarpi, an accademia in which such topics as Machiavelli's political thought, or the mortality of the soul, could be discussed. (18) In December 1592, besides, Galileo himself began his teaching there. In short, sure proof of the connection between William Fowler and the Padua studium could explain his interest in Machiavelli, and shed more light on the cultural relations between Italy and Scotland.

Such a connection is in fact supported by one tiny piece of evidence. The list of Scottish students at the University of Padua records three names for 25 July 1592: Walterus Scotus, Gulielmus Faulenus Scottus, and Thomas Nicolsonus Scotus. (19) If we accept Meikle's emendation of Faulenus to Foulerus, (20) we may identify Walterus Scotus with the Laird of Buccleuch, to whom, after all, the Prince translation is dedicated. (21) The identification may be helped by the fact that one 'Walter Scot of Buccleuch' also appears as a university student in Paris for the year 1603. (22) Thomas Nicolsonus, who is obviously part of the same group, remains unidentified, but he could have been one of the Laird's associates. The fact that the three form a group is shown not only by the quality of the ink and the dating of the entry, but by the fact that they are among the few on this page (and the only ones in this year) to be described by their name only, while the other Scottish visitors whose names appear on the page are generally described by means of some physical characteristic (generally, and rather surprisingly, this tends to be a scar). On the other hand, it must be noted that the page of the university register on which the names of the three Scotsmen are written presents different hands, and if we may conjecture from this that the names were written not by a university official but by the students themselves, then the hypothesis of a clerical error becomes less tenable; it is also true that, as this page of the register covers six years, the possibility of there being different clerks for the various entries is not remote. There is no other proof, as far as I am aware, connecting Fowler or Buccleuch with the University of Padua, and in any case, if the former was there, he must have lingered for a very short time, as in the following year his new role as Secretary to Queen Anne confirms his presence at the Scottish court. It may also be added that the presence of Scottish students at the University of Padua is minimal in comparison with English students, and that they are actually not registered as a separate nation until 1534; before that year, they appear as part of the British nation, which makes their identification rather difficult.

However, other evidence, including his own poetry, tells us that Fowler probably visited the Veneto, and knew Italian in some detail; an Italian document included in the Hawthornden manuscripts tells us that in July 1593 Giovanbattista Ciotti, a Venetian bookseller, received from Fowler half a bale of books, to be returned to the owner in a few months. (23) Fowler's own literary production offers less sure evidence on this point: it has already been shown by his literary activity prior to the 1590s that he shared with John Stewart of Baldynneis an interest in Italian rather than French poetry, and though for his work both on Petrarch's Trionfi and on Machiavelli's Principe he might have availed himself of existing French (and perhaps English) versions, his closeness to the original texts, and even his occasional misunderstandings of it, show us that his proficiency in Italian was sufficient to allow him to handle books in that tongue. Occasionally in his poems we find Italian words or phrases, often mixed with macaronic Latin and with English, Spanish, or French, following a fashion of erudite circles at the time. (24) The Hawthornden manuscripts that preserve all his works also include a curious poem that has excited scholarly interest and has been used as proof of Fowler's familiarity with Italian cities and customs:
   I do detest the florentine his vsvryce is so gritt;
   I do abhore the sienies for his vnstable witt;
   I hate the guylfull genevois for false deceatful leyes,
   and malice of the venismen which citeis stands in seis;
   I hate the ferrarois also for some vyld secreit vyce;
   I do abhore the lombards faith for there vntrewe advyse;
   I do detest all naples men for they ar fearse and vaine;
   I hate the romane sluggart for he dois tak litill paine;
   I hate the inglis mutin man, the scottish brave and neate;
   I hate the traitor bourguigion and frenshman vndiscreit;
   I hate the glor[i]ous spa[n]yart proude and duchte ay tane with
   and to be short in eury land there case to lothe I think;
   I hate my self and all my faults, bot mair a pedant foole,
   quhase skill is nought and dois conduct the children to the shoole.

   (Meikle, i, 328)

Jack used this poem as proof that Fowler knew Italy well, and was 'particularly attracted to the Italian states'. (25) In fact, the poem does read as if it had sprung from the university goliardia--students' communities (particularly active in Padua) that would delight in aggressive jokes and rhymes. But the sonnet, as shown by Meikle, is an almost literal translation of a poem by Joachim du Bellay:
   Je hay du Florentin l'usuriere avarice,
   Je hay du fol Sienois le sens mal arreste,
   Je hay du Genevois la rare verite,
   Et du Venetien la trop caute malice:
     Je hay le Ferrarois pour je ne scay quel vice,
     Je hay tous les Lombards pour l'infidelite,
     Le fier Napolitain pour sa grand'vanite.
     Et le poltron Romain pour son peu d'exercice:
   Je hay l'Anglois mutin et le brave Escossois,
   Le traistre Bourguignon et l'indiscret Francois,
   Le superbe Espaignol et l'yvrongne Thudesque:
     Bref, je hay quelque vice en chasque nation,
     Je hay moymesme encor' mon imperfection,
     Mais je hay par sur tout un scavoir pedantesque. (26)

The existence of Du Bellay's poem tells us, on the one hand, that we should never forget Fowler's closeness to the French literary production of the sixteenth century, including those French versions of Machiavelli's Principe which certainly need more than a cursory look; and on the other, that the nature of much of Fowler's production, occasional, fragmentary, and derivative as it is, does not allow the reconstruction of a cultural or intellectual project behind his work. But the connection between Fowler and Italy remains extremely tenuous.

Another equally tempting possibility is that the work on Machiavelli's text accompanied Fowler's involvement with James's own work on the political treatise he wrote for his son in the early 1590s, Basilikon Doron. Jack writes that 'it is well known that Fowler was James's most active associate in compiling his famous treatise and that Anne frequently bemoaned the amount of time Fowler spent aiding her estranged husband, rather than following his duties as her secretary'. (27) More to the point, Jack notes how Fowler's writings had so far followed the king's rules, and how, like the other courtier poets (though Fowler should be considered a court official rather than a courtier), he would naturally comply with the king's wishes. Analysing the Basilikon Doron, Henry Meikle goes so far as to write that 'as a study in political science it is akin to Machiavelli's Prince' (Meikle, iii, xxx). It may be noted that these critical statements underline a mutual influence: James's authority and theoretical writing would guide Fowler's choice of texts, but Fowler's knowledge of Italian and familiarity with the work of Machiavelli would influence James's political writing.

Thus the Machiavelli translation stands, tantalizingly and temptingly, on the threshold dividing two stages of both William Fowler's and James VI's intellectual activity: the former abandons poetry and occasional versifying to dedicate himself to a prose treatise of politics, the latter equally leaves his work on the construction of a Scottish poetic tradition to dedicate himself to the instruction (through the Basilikon Doron) of a perfect politician and future king, his son. More loosely (and making allowances for the uncertain date of composition), the Machiavelli translation apparently accompanies James in his transformation from King of Scotland to King of the two crowns; a process during which, incidentally, he would apparently lose all interest in the rules of Scottish poetry, and in his former intellectual project; in part, even in Scotland itself, since in spite of his promises to go back to Scotland at least every three years, after the union of the crowns he would visit the country only once, in 1617.

However, the automatic critical assumption of this mutual influence, and even of an activity of mutual correction, (28) is tempting but misleading, and even if we should see precise correspondences between James's treatise and Machiavelli's, this would not necessarily point to Fowler as the indispensable middleman. Once again, evidence for Fowler's involvement in the king's political writing is tenuous, though there is little doubt that he continued to be an instrument of James's policy into the seventeenth century, becoming a member of his English court after 1603. On the other hand, there is proof that he did not follow the wishes of his sovereign blindly, and that he showed more independence than his celebratory or dedicatory verse may lead us to suspect: he had other patrons than James, and occasionally sought employment elsewhere than at the Scottish court. Thus from 1582 to 1584 he was a confidential agent in the service of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State, possibly employed 'to fathom the secrets of Franco-Scottish relations'. (29) I would also underline Fowler's relation with the Earl of Bothwell and the Laird of Buccleuch; unlike his employment for Walsingham, this connection comes after Fowler's involvement at the Scottish court; and to comment on this relation, it is perhaps useful to go back to the already mentioned dedication of the Prince. As well as Machiavelli's text (perhaps in an incomplete form), Fowler translated Machiavelli's dedication of the Principe to Lorenzo de' Medici; however, the two texts are preserved separately in the collection known as the Hawthornden manuscripts, and the dedication is, as Meikle observes, in the nature of a draft (Meikle, iii, cliii). On the verso of the same folio of the Hawthornden collection of manuscripts there is Fowler's own dedication, thus transcribed by Meikle:


Right honorabill sir, if to any for regard of wisdome, bloode, vertew, sight, reno[w]ne, or worthines this worke might be dedicated. as obleshed in dewtye.... yow ar he to quhome the honour of the first, and I he to quho[m]e the obligat[i]on in the second suld ... respects, and therfor, sir, lat it stand with your. and bontefull curtesie to receave these my travells translated and writtin at sondrye interupted houers, and at your leiseur censure and exam[in]e theme, quha, being mair perfyte and pro[m]pter in the italien tonge then I be, sal make my self graced by your correctioun. (Meikle, iii, clv)

It is a short dedication, presenting a number of problems to the scholar, the historian, and the student of manuscripts. At first sight, it seems to exclude the possibility of the king being the natural addressee of the translation, as the tone of the dedication, though respectful, appears also intimate enough to suggest a direct dialogue between the writer and the Laird. But the unfinished and tentative tone also authorizes us to suspect that this is not a formal dedication at all (albeit in draft form), but rather a letter accompanying a manuscript which is itself unfinished. In asking Buccleuch to 'censure and examine' his writings, always accepting the postulate that they are indeed the Machiavelli translation, and not some other, perhaps lost, effort (but this postulate is given authority by the presence of Fowler's version of Machiavelli's dedication on the same sheet as his own), Fowler may be following the writer's habit of asking the patron not only for acceptance, but for correction, as John Stewart of Baldynneis does when dedicating his Roland Furious to James VI; yet his insistence on his addressee's superior knowledge of Italian is less expected, and may include the suggestion that Buccleuch might indeed spot possible mistakes and help improve what could be nothing more than an early draft of the project; the final sentence of the dedication seems to allude to a second, perfected version of the translation. Whether the final dedicatee would have been once again Buccleuch or someone else (the king being a not untenable hypothesis, as both Fowler and Buccleuch needed to gain or regain favour at the Scottish court in the early 1590s), is a matter of conjecture.

Once more, the nature of the manuscript preserving Fowler's work for us is of little help: there is nothing here so reassuring as a presentation copy, or a manuscript whose nature and composition might give us some indication of the writer's or the scribe's intention. Fowler's papers, presented together with the manuscripts of Drummond of Hawthornden, his nephew, to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1782, were then ordered and collected in five volumes by David Laing, who described the bulk of the donation as being 'in loose sheets without any kind of separation or arrangement'. (30) In 1827 they were grouped in fifteen volumes and bound, probably under the supervision of Laing himself. Of these volumes, the last five contain Fowler's works, but unlike what happens in the other ten volumes, here there is disconcerting proof of a rather slapdash approach: in some cases the leaves are bound upside down, and some parts are separated from their context, as in the case of Machiavelli's dedication of the Principe, which is in a different volume from the text proper; besides, there is evidence that Laing did not include all the Fowler material in these five volumes. Fowler's Triumphs and Tarantula of Love also appear in other manuscripts, and some of Fowler's prose works were printed during his lifetime, but the Prince enjoys no such luck, which could be explained by its unfinished nature. Nor did Meikle include all the material in his edition, which means that a thorough study of the Hawthornden manuscripts and of the remaining material is at this point imperative.

It may be added that such a study might also shed some light on the fact that some parts of the Machiavelli translation appear to be missing: the section from the middle of Chapter 4 to the beginning of Chapter 10, and the last three paragraphs of the concluding chapter. Once again, this missing portion has given rise to speculation, as in the original Italian the section from Chapter 5 to Chapter 8, abandoning the historical tone of the previous part, debates possible modes of conquest in the present, obviously adopting an advisory tone, and in fact constitutes a crucial stage of the political discourse of the Principe, while in Chapter 9 Machiavelli discusses the 'principato civile', i.e. the citizen prince. Commenting upon these omissions, Jack writes:

it is interesting to observe that the missing chapters in his Prince all deal with topics which might have offended the King. Chapters 5 to 8 concern conquests of one type or another, while Chapter 9 hails the rise of a citizen prince. The peace-loving upholder of Divine Right, advocated in the Basilikon Doron, would not have been overpleased at the ideas therein contained. (31)

The critic, however, hastens to add that in his opinion the chapters were merely lost--or, I would add, never translated in the first place. Once again, there is much temptation in the hypothesis that the king was displeased with this section, which would include a few possibly unwelcome home truths. But it is easy to see the role played by critical wishful thinking in this interpretation. The hypothesis, besides, does not explain the absence of the concluding paragraphs of the work: in this case, the most obvious explanation is simply the physical loss of the final page of the manuscript.

The uncertainty surrounding this text is further complicated by the issue of the advisability of having a king such as James VI read the notorious and controversial Principe. It may seem paradoxical to translate Machiavelli, another name for the Devil, for a king who would later write a Daemonologie. On the other hand, if one is a theologian one reads St Augustine; if one is a politician and a scholar (and James certainly prided himself on being both) one probably wants to read Machiavelli. It is rather an insult to the king's intelligence to think that Fowler, in translating not an epic poem or love lyrics, but a political treatise, and one of the most widely discussed political treatises of his time, would be scared to insert bits that might offend the patron. The very controversy and hurling of abuse that raged around the Principe would make it rather obvious that its contents were or could be offensive to a ruler, and to water it down would at the very least have caused an unpleasant disappointment in the reader. It may be added that the obviousness of the gaps in Fowler's version makes the hypothesis of censorship less tenable: even had the writer been obliged to leave out the offending chapters, he would at least have provided an adequate ending for chapter 4 and an adequate beginning for chapter 10, or kept the harmless historical references in the offending chapters, while censoring the inflammable advisory material. On the other hand, less exciting explanations are at hand. The state of the manuscript does not allow us to consider Fowler's translation a finished work which afterwards suffered censure or injury, but simply a draft, a possible (and the sole surviving) stage of a process; we might also take into consideration Meikle's conjecture that, once he returned to Scotland, Fowler was so involved in court activities (connected with the baptism of Prince Henry, among other things) that he had no time to go back to his work and eventually lost interest; after all, the drafted dedication to Buccleugh is no proof that the work was ever delivered to him. (32)

Having thus sifted all the relevant external evidence at our disposal, we should now turn to the last and most important piece of evidence, the existence of the text itself and its relation with the Italian original. The uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of Fowler's translation of Machiavelli matches the contradictory and ambiguous history of Machiavelli's early fortune in Europe. This in itself is the subject of quite a number of fascinating books, and shows us that, while we may assume that the other writers studied and translated at the court of James VI had achieved undisputed European recognition, the author of the Principe, while being the centre of much critical and ideological discussion, was still a subject more of debate than of analysis, an issue rather than an authority. Though we no longer labour under the assumption that the Principe was not translated into English until 1640, and though it is true that Fowler did not introduce Machiavelli to Scotland, (33) there remains the uneasy impression that the Italian writer had been, as so often happens, discussed and attacked long before his work was taken into rigorous philological and textual consideration, or simply read with the attention it deserved. As was shown first, and with admirable clarity, by Mario Praz, English-speaking literature between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries took issue not so much with Machiavelli's writings as with a form of Machiavellianism which was seen as the root of all political evil, a cruel and cunning attitude epitomized by some of the most famous characters of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, from Richard III to, humorously, Volpone.

It should be noted at this stage that the fascination with Machiavelli and his bogus alter ego (the 'murderous Machiavel' of 3 Henry VI, iii. 2. 193) derives not so much from Italy as from France. Shortly after Ariosto and Machiavelli completed their masterpieces (the Orlando furioso was first published in 1516, the Principe was written in 1513), the marriage of Caterina de'Medici to Henri, duc d'Orleans (afterwards Henri II), 'brought with it a fresh wave of Italian influence, flooding French life and letters'. (34) In the wake of her arrival, comparatively new works such as Machiavelli's would enjoy special attention, even in comparison with already established classics such as Petrarch. By contrast, in Italy the Papal ban on Machiavelli's works, enforced in 1559, became an effective obstacle to the diffusion and, more obviously, to the discussion of the Florentine's works. On the other hand, Caterina did not particularly endear herself to her French subjects, and her relationship with the French people took a steady turn for the worse when, already Queen, she was implicitly accused of being the instigator of the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572); the wave of popular resentment which was generated against anything Italian in France included Machiavelli (incidentally, it may be noted that Caterina had also the misfortune of being the daughter of the dedicatee of the Principe). The most important Huguenot attack on Machiavellianism, Innocent Gentillet's Anti-Machiavel (1576), enjoyed immediate and widespread popularity; it may be sufficient to note that it was translated and published in England in 1602, and reprinted in 1608, while the Principe itself was not printed in English before 1640. It seems clear that what Praz would call the mythical Machiavelli became an issue rather than a subject of analysis.

At the same time, however, Machiavelli was also studied in all scholarly seriousness. In France and, more covertly, in England, his works were read and translated. Long before 1640 English versions of the Principe circulated in manuscript, (35) while in France there appeared in print no fewer than five versions between 1546 and 1571. In Meikle's edition of Fowler's works, John Purves rightly underlines the importance of France as an intermediary for the spreading of Italian literature in Scotland (Meikle, iii, lxxxiv), and conclusively demonstrates, by detailed analysis of similarities, that Fowler made use of the French version by Gaspard D'Auvergne. (36) First appearing in 1553, this translation was dedicated to James Hamilton, first Earl of Arran, Duke of Chastelleraut, and Scottish Steward of Mary Queen of Scots. D'Auvergne's version may not have been the finest in literary or aesthetic terms, but it enjoyed great popularity, in Scotland as well as in France. The relation of this translation to its original in terms of ideology and of the understanding of Machiavelli's political theory was the object of an excellent analysis undertaken by Annamaria Battista in 1960. (37) Battista observes how D'Auvergne, first among the French translators, recognized the novelty of Machiavelli's political proposal, his fundamental disillusion with the solutions suggested by traditional ethics, and the role of the Principe as a practical manual for a statesman. Already in his dedication, D'Auvergne discussed the book as a manual, a series of lessons on the art of good (in the sense of efficient and successful) government. To take into consideration Machiavelli as a useful rather than hateful political theorist was indeed a novelty, which forced an altogether different relationship between the text and its readers from that proposed by the Huguenot debate. The French translator had this point clearly in mind when he wrote in his dedication:

Cestuy-cy [Machiavelli] a voulu accomoder la forme des ses preceptes seulement a ce qui est suiet a l'experience, & la plus commune mode de faire, dont les sages Princes ont vse, pretendans come j'ay dit, conserver & augmenter leur dommaine. (38)

This reading, while Machiavelli's works were widely ostracized, is especially important. Battista's conclusion is that a reading of the Principe as a practical manual might in fact have given extra leverage to anti-Machiavellianism; but it gave the text viability with aristocratic or princely dedicatees, though it might also imply a reduction and a simplification of Machiavelli's thought. The same reduction and simplification can be found both in D'Auvergne's and in Fowler's translations; indeed, it might be said that Fowler destroys Machiavelli's conciseness and beauty for the sake of clarity and explanation.

Such a reading, I believe, helps us understand Fowler's undertaking, so different from his earlier translations of Italian works, and may suggest the right approach for an analysis of the Prince. It has been famously observed of the practice of literary translation in Elizabethan England that 'the translator's work was an act of patriotism'. (39) But in this case, and in spite of all we know of James's and his literary followers' efforts in this direction, this observation does not help us much. It would be misleading, and perhaps reductive, to consider William Fowler a patriot, however long his service to the crown; and his allegiance to the Scottish language was quickly abandoned once he moved to England with James and his court. (40)

Fowler's intellectual achievements might have been inferior to his expectations; yet in his activity we find an odd echo of that exciting mixture of notaro and letterato, of civil servant and writer, that is a characteristic not only of the English late Middle Ages, but also of the Italian late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, marking, in the latter case, a notable early result of the newly active universities. This leads us back to my earlier definition of Fowler as a humanista: in the free realization of his own intellectual potential as a resource, and of his intellectual work as a profession, Fowler is one more representative of the band of European intellectuals that accompanied the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. (41)

(1) Among the very few exceptions we may note John Purves, 'The First Knowledge of Machiavelli in Scotland', Rinascita, 1 (1938), 139-42, and R.D.S. Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', Modern Language Review, 65 (1970), 481-92. Fowler's works are published in The Works of William Fowler, Secretary to Queen Anne, Wife of James VI, ed. by Henry W. Meikle, 3 vols, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood, 1914-40) (henceforth Meikle).

(2) Ane Schort Treatise Conteining Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie, in The Mercat Anthology of Early Scottish Literature 1375-1707, ed. by R. D. S. Jack and P. A. T. Rozendaal (Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 1997), pp. 460-73.

(3) Although the terms is still used as a convenient reference, Priscilla Bawcutt has conclusively demonstrated its inappropriateness, and has cast serious doubts on the existence of a literary brotherhood under the patronage of the king. See her 'James VI's Castalian Band: A Modern Myth', Scottish Historical Review, 80 (2001), 251-59.

(4) Reulis and Cautelis, Chapter vii (p. 468).

(5) Reulis and Cautelis, Preface (p. 461).

(6) Roland Furious, v. 9. The poem is published in Poems of John Stewart of Baldynneis, ed. by Thomas Crockett, Scottish Text Society (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1913), pp. 1-100.

(7) Reulis and Cautelis, Chapter vii (p. 468).

(8) Reulis and Cautelis, Notes (p. 472).

(9) R. D. S. Jack, 'Poetry under King James VI', in The History of Scottish Literature, 4 vols (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987-88), i: Origins to 1660, ed. by R. D. S. Jack (1988), 125-49 (p. 125).

(10) Most salient facts about Fowler's life and family are to be found in Meikle, iii, ix-xlii.

(11) See James Maitland Anderson, Early Records of the University of St Andrews: The Graduation Roll, 1413-1579 and the Matriculation Roll, 1473-1579 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1926), pp. 175, 179, 285.

(12) The college is mentioned in Fowler's Ansvver to M. Io. Hammiltoun (Meikle, ii, 25).

(13) On the celebrations for Prince Henry's baptism, and Fowler's role in them, see Clare McManus, 'Marriage and the Performance of the Romance Quest: Anne of Denmark and the Stirling Baptismal Celebrations for Prince Henry', in A Palace in the Wild: Essays on Vernacular Culture and Humanism in Late Medieval and Renaissance Scotland, ed. by L. A. J. R. Houwen, A. A. McDonald, and Sally Mapstone (Louvain: Peeters, 2000), pp. 175-98.

(14) For a recent assessment of the definitions of humanista, see Nicholas Mann, 'The Origins of Humanism', in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. by Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 1-19 (p. 1).

(15) Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 481.

(16) On this point see Gilberto Sacerdoti, Sacrificio e sovranita: teologia e politica nell'Europa di Shakespeare e Bruno (Turin: Einaudi, 2002), p. 249.

(17) The last sentence paraphrases Jonathan Woolfson, Padua and the Tudors: English Students in Italy, 1485-1603 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), p. 3.

(18) Sacerdoti, p. 272.

(19) I wish to thank Emilia Veronese and Francesco Piovan, of the Centro per la Storia dell'Universita di Padova, for their scholarly assistance, and for allowing me to see the relevant page of the university register for the year 1592 ('Matricolazione Universita Legista', Archivio Antico, no. 30, vol. i, p. 142). In his De natione Anglica et Scota iuristarum Universitatis Patavinae (Padua: Fratres Gallina, 1892), p. 172, Io. Aloysius Andrich transcribes the contents of the page, though with a number of misprints.

(20) Meikle rightly notes that 'there is no Scots name corresponding to Faulenus: it is a fairly obvious clerical error for Foulerus' (iii, xxv).

(21) The dedication is printed in Meikle, iii, clv, and will be discussed later in this article.

(22) John Durkan, 'The French Connection in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries', in Scotland and Europe: 1200-1850, ed. by T. C. Smout (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1986), pp. 19-44 (p. 44).

(23) National Library of Scotland, Hawthornden MS xiii, fol. 85r. See Meikle, iii, xxvi.

(24) See e.g. Meikle, i, 265-67. An almost contemporary instance of this polyglossia can be seen in Abraham Fraunce's The Arcadian Rhetorike (1588).

(25) Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 481. Fowler also refers to another poem, dedicated to Arabella Stewart (see Meikle, i, 317-18), but here, too, the lines seem too conventional to stand as proof of personal knowledge of Italian customs.

(26) Joachim Du Bellay, Regrets, Sonnet LXVIII. See Les Regrets suivis des Antiquites de Rome, ed. by Pierre Grimal (Paris: Editions du Cluny, 1948), p. 116.

(27) Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 490.

(28) A hypothesis supported by Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 490.

(29) Meikle, iii, xv. Fowler's letters to Walsingham are in the Calendar of Scottish Papers, 13 vols in 14 (Edinburgh: HMSO, 1898-1969), vols vi-vii, ed. By William Boyd.

(30) David Laing, 'A Brief Account into the Hawthornden Manuscripts in the Possession of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; with Extracts, Containing Several Unpublished Letters and Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden', Archaeologia Scotica; or, Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 4 (1831), 57-116, 230-70 (p. 59).

(31) Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 490.

(32) See Meikle, iii, cxlvi.

(33) On this point see Mario Praz, 'The Politic Brain: Machiavelli and the Elizabethans', in id., The Flaming Heart: Essays on Crashaw, Machiavelli, and Other Studies in the Relations between Italian and English Literature from Chaucer to T. S. Eliot (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1958), pp. 90-145 (p. 93); Purves; Jack, 'William Fowler and Italian Literature', p. 490.

(34) John Purves, 'Fowler and Scoto-Italian Cultural Relations in the Sixteenth Century', in Meikle, iii, xci.

(35) We owe the earliest description of these manuscripts to Napoleone Orsini (Studii sul Rinascimento italiano in Inghilterra (Florence: Sansoni, 1937), pp. 3-39). Interestingly, one of them (now British Library, MS Harley 967) includes in the title this distich, defining the work: 'Whoe telle, and teacheth, what kings doe in states, | But dreames not, Hell is for such potentates' (quoted in Orsini, p. 7). Evidently the author was anxious not to blame Machiavelli for the evil rulers he inspired.

(36) Le Prince de Nicholas Macchiauelli secretaire & citoien de Florence, traduit d'Italien en Francois (Poitiers: Enguilbert de Marnef, 1553).

(37) Annamaria Battista, 'La penetrazione del Machiavelli in Francia nel secolo XVI', Rassegna di politica e di storia, 67 (1960), 16-32, and ibid., 68 (1960), 31-32.

(38) Le Prince, p. 5.

(39) F. O. Matthiessen, Translation: An Elizabethan Art (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931), p. 3.

(40) On this point see David Daiches, Literature and Gentility in Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1982), pp. 19-20.

(41) An annotated edition of Fowler's Prince is in preparation.


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Author:Petrina, Alessandra
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Date:Oct 1, 2007
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