“OF ALL THE HOUSES… NOT ONE THERE IS THAT HAS BEEN REDUC’D TO STRANGER EXTREMITIES THAN THAT OF THE MEDICIS”: FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF VARILLAS’ SECRET HISTORY OF THE MEDICIS, 1686
(MEDICI) VARILLAS, [Antoine]. Anekdota Heterouiaka or, the Secret History of the House of Medicis. Written Originally by that Fam'd Historian, the Sieur de Varillas. London: Printed by R.E. for R. Bentley and S. Magnes, 1686. Small octavo (4-1/2 by 7 inches), contemporary three-quarter brown calf and marbled boards, elaborately gilt-decorated spine, raised bands.
First edition in English of Varillas’ fascinating anecdotal history of the Medicis, issued only one year after the first, a work also seen by the English as alluding to the controversial reign of King James II, definitive in a genre of court secret histories that peered into how “sex, favoritism and politics… produced intrigues” with often murderous effect.
French historian Varillas published his Les Anecdotes de Florence, ou l'Histoire secrette de la Maison de Medicis at the Hague in 1685, and the next year it "was promptly translated for English readers by Ferrand Spence as Anecdotes of Florence, or the Secret History of the House of Medicis (1686)" (Kelley and Sacks, Historical Imagination, 162). Varillas' often riveting account asserts: "Of all the Houses that now bear any Soveraign [sic] Sway, not one there is that has been reduc'd to stranger Extremities than that of the Medicis." At the time Varillas "was thought to have penetrated into the inmost recesses of the cabinet, and drawn forth a great deal of secret history from the numerous and important manuscripts" (Chalmers, General Biographical Dictionary XXX:256). To English readers of this first publication in English, Varillas' Secret History was seen not only as an account of the Medicis, but also a veiled history of England's controversial King James II (1685-8), whose court appeared similarly awash in "the arts of convenience, political as well as sexual" (Schama II:306). In many ways Varillas' Secret History abundantly defines its genre: "While showing that power, privilege and prerogative were being abused by the monarch, secret histories of the court used argument and anecdote, or narration and commentary, to show the way in which sex, favoritism and politics—and their contraries, interpersonal hatreds, jealousies and rivalries—produced intrigues in which the personal and political were dangerously intermixed… This was defined by Spence in his preface to Varillas' Secret History, where he explained that secret histories showed that '[i]rresolution and Passion prevail equally in the Great as in the vulgar…. often a little Cabinet-pique, or Bed-Chamber Quarrel, occasions a rumbling World, and is the greatest of transactions" (Kewes, Uses of History, 376). "Spence mistakenly dedicated his translation to Henry, earl of Pembroke, instead of Thomas, eight earl of Pembroke…. [who] raised the militia of his county against Monmouth in 1685…. Pembroke's cooperation with James' government ceased in 1687" (Kelley and Sacks, 162). Occasional mispagination as issued without loss of text. Lowndes, 2755. Wing 111B. Trace of bookplate removal.
Text very fresh. Rubbing to marbled boards, expert repairs to calf-gilt spine and calf corners. Extremely good.