Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner et maintenir en bonne paix un Royaume ou autre Principauté. Divisez en trois parties: à savoir, du Conseil, de la Religion & Police que doit tenir un Prince. Contre Nicolas Machiavel Florentin

Autore GENTILLET, Innocent (1535-1595).
Tipografo Jacob Stoer
Dati tipografici Genève
Prezzo € 2.200,00
Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner


8vo. (16), 639 (i.e. 637), (19) pp. With a woodcut device on the title and on the last leaf. 18th century calf, richly gilt spine with gilt lettering on red morocco label, red edges, marbled end-leaves, old entry of ownership on the title page, a few old marginal annotations, some very light damp-stains, a very fine copy.
FIRST EDITION of the most significant French contribution to political theory before Bodin's République, dedicated to the Duke of Alençon, who joined the Huguenots in September 1575. If Gen-tillet is today a more or less forgotten man, if his main work lies in oblivion, superseded by the eighteenth century Anti-Machiavel of that arch Machiavellian, Frederick of Prussia, it is nonetheless true that Gentillet in his own time and into the next century was one of the most influential personalities in the anti-Machiavellian polemic. This is testified by the fact that his Discours was reprinted repeatedly until the middle of the seventeenth century (cf. S. Anglo, Machiavelli: The First Century Studies in Enthusiasm, Hostility, and Irrelevance, Oxford, 2005, pp. 271-324).
“A convincing re-assessment of the historical relevance of the book cannot be achieved without replacing it in the context of the political and religious situation in France at the time when it was written, and of the attitude, concerns, and aspirations of the church of Geneva, that authorized its printing and in all probability greatly contributed to its wide circulation... To realize that the most specific and profound reason for his anti-Machiavellism is in direct relation to the distance that separates him from the monarchomachs, and precisely in his attempt to find a different justification – one not involving the rejection of the lex regia, the law establishing the absolute power of kings - for the rebellion against the court, overrun by foreigners and infected by Machiavellism” (Innocent Gentillet, Discours contre Machiavel. A New Edition, A. D'Andrea & P.D, Stewart, eds, Firenze, 1974, pp. XIII).
Machiavelli had offered the ruler a set of ‘maxims' by which to rule. He had arrived at these ‘maxims' after years of political observation and had taken pains to present historical evidence to support his theories. His method had been to illustrate po-litical reality, to derive a standard of political conduct based on what was, rather than on what should be. Gentillet could not, therefore, refute facts and historical evidence with pious platitudes. He must try to counter the arguments of Machiavelli with more convincing facts. For this reason, he opened his preface with a general discussion on the means by which man comes to knowledge of things. Then looking at Machiavelli's theories he tries to prove that he was either ignorant of the things which he was discussing or that he had perversely twisted historical evidence to suit his wicked purpose. Gentillet never quite made up his mind which line to take. He presents Machiavelli both as lacking in judgment and as a clever falsifier. It was enough to say that his political experience had been limited to the affairs of a tiny Italian republic. How could one compare Florence with the great kingdom of France? Since Machiavelli had presented his theories in the form of ‘maxims', Gentillet proposed to draw from the Discorsi and especially from Il Principe a group of ‘maxims' which he would then set to refute. He found fifty such ‘maxims'. Taking care to give his sources, Gentillet began his rebuttal, questioning the historical interpretations, challenging the assumptions of Machiavelli, and offering what he considered to be a crushing array of counter-evidence drawn from biblical sources, Roman and French history, the technique being that of a debate (cf. V. Kahn, Reading Machiavelli: Innocent Gentillet's Discours on Method, in: “Political Theory”, 22/4, 1994, pp. 539-560; and E.M. Beame, The Use and Abuse of Machiavelli: The Sixteenth Century French Adaption, in: “Journal of the History of Ideas, 43/1, 1982, pp. 41-43).
Gentillet may have been an idealist in comparison to his enemy Machiavelli, but he always demonstrated that his arguments on the working of government were based on long observation of the working of the law and the constitution. For him law was a professional reality. His conviction is admirable, and his intuition of the things to come, although sometimes imperfectly understood, intriguing.
The Discours is therefore an important document revealing the hesitations and contradictions not only of its author but also of French society prior to the ‘grand siècle' (cf. C.E. Rathé, Innocent Gentillet and the first ‘Anti-Machiavel', in: “Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance, XXVII, Genève, 1965, pp. 188-225).
The emblem which decorates the title page is significant. It is, in fact, a symbolic presentation of the main thesis of the work. It shoes a crown supported by three columns and the motto: ‘Consilia, pietas, politia fermant coronam'. The work itself is divided into three sections of unequal length entitles Conseil, Religion and Police. The argument, presented by Gentillet is that sovereignty vested in the Crown, rests upon three supports: council, religion and what the calls ‘police' (i.e. the working policy of the government).
Innocent Gentillet was born at Vienne in the Dauphiné into a family that was early won over to the Reform. He seems to have been for some time after the year 1547 a page at the court of Henry II. He then spent some time in the military before taking up studies, first in theology and later in law. He became a respected and influential personality in the affairs of the Dauphiné. He was found among those refusing to take an oath required by the Edict of Pacification in March 1568. He escaped the Massacre of St. Bartholomew (1572) by emigration to Geneva. After the ‘Paix de Monsieur' he became member of the Parlement of Grenoble and later president of the court established by the Duke of Die. He was made president of the Parlement of Gre-no-ble, but took again refuge in Geneva after the Edict of Reunion in 1585. He wrote a work with suggestions for practical reform in administration, Briève remonstrance à la noblesse de France (1576), a defence of the Huguenots, Apologie ou defence pour le chrestiens de France (1578) and a denunciation of the Council of Trent, Le Bureau du Concile de Trente (1586) (cf. H.J. Schäfer, Innocent Gentillet, sein Leben und besonders sein ‘Anti-Machiavel', ein Beitrag zur Publizistik der Bartholomäusnacht, Diss., Bonn, 1929, passim).
Two variants of the title page of the first edition are extant: ours is GLN 2587. The work was first attributed to the press of François Estienne, what soon was realized to be impossible, because he was then absent from Geneva. The attribution to Jacob Stoer (H.-J. Bremme, Buchdrucker und Buchhändler zur Zeit der Glaubenskämpfe: Studien zur Genfer Druckgeschichte 1565-1580, Genève, 1969, p. 66), had been confirmed by examination of the latter's types.
Adams, G-439; Universal STC, no. 1419; Innocent Gentillet, Discours contre Machiavel. A New Edition, A. D'Andrea & P.D, Stewart, eds, (Firenze, 1974), pp. XIX-XXII; H.U. Scupin & U. Scheuner, ed., Althusius-Bibliographie. Bibliographie zur politischen Ideengeschichte des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts, (Berlin, 1973), I, no. 2953.

  • Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner
  • Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner