During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Britain experienced an extraordinary and unprecedented vogue for texts calling themselves ‘secret histories’. Secret history undermines received or o cial accounts of the recent political past by exposing the seamy side of public life. As an early commentator on the form puts it, the orthodox historian ‘considers almost ever Men in Publick’, whereas the secret historian ‘only examines ’em in private’:

’one thinks he has perform’d his duty, when he draws them such as they were in the Army, or in the tumult of Cities, and th’other endeavours by all means to get open their Closet-door; th’one sees them in Ceremony, and th’other in Conversation; th’one xes principally upon their Actions, and th’other wou’d be a Witness of their inward Life, and assist at the most private hours of their Leisure: In a word, the one has barely Command and Authority for Object, and the other makes his Main of what occurs in Secret and Solitude.1