The standard critical attitude on Machiavelli’s reception in sixteenth-century England privileges the responses of the Elizabethan age, taking into consideration playwrights and poets more readily than booksellers and printers. Already in 1928 Mario Praz, though acknowledging the existence of readers who would study the Principe and discuss it as a political manual or a denunciation of the excesses of tyrants, preferred to devote his discussion to ‘the popular legend of Machiavelli, the wicked politician’.1 The Machiavelli appearing in Christopher Marlowe’s plays or in occasional allusions in Shakespeare, denounced by Thomas Nashe and fearfully evoked by John Case, is also the figure that has established itself more clearly in popular imagination, but is either the result of wilful misreading or of ignorance. Throughout the twentieth century and more thoroughly in recent years, scholars have also investigated the lesser-known side of the circulation of Machiavelli’s works in early modern England, but even in this case the standard attitude seems to have been based on the conviction that, as stated by L. Arnold Weissberger, English readers were introduced to the works of the Florentine writer only with Gabriel Harvey in the last decades of the sixteenth century.2 Recent studies have also taken into consideration the circulation of works that either imitated or directly engaged with the Principe, such as Agostino Nifo’s De Regnandi Peritia (1521), nowadays considered an outright act of plagiarism,3 or Jeronimo Osorio’s De Nobilitate Civili et Christiana (1542), a work whose widespread circulation may have contributed to the growing fame of Machiavelli’s name.4 In both cases the language used might have constituted an advantage for international circulation, in comparison with Machiavelli’s use of the vernacular. It is of course true that the greater circulation of Machiavelli’s works in Elizabethan England, the diversified
reception and the proliferation of translations in various European languages allows for a more systematic discussion. It is also true, however, that what traces remain of Machiavelli’s reception in Henrician England may offer an interesting touchstone for the more articulated response of the latter half of the sixteenth century. The present chapter investigates the reception of Machiavelli’s Principe in the early decades after its composition, focusing in particular on Reginald Pole and his spirited attack against the book and its writer.