Machiavelli and the English Tradition

  • Keith C. Sewell
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


Butterfield continued his critique of anachronistic historiography in The Statecraft of Machiavelli (1940).1 Its principal themes were Machiavelli’s characteristically ahistorical use of past examples, as contrasted with the more discerning approach of Guicciardini; and the relationship between Machiavelli’s approach to history and the method of the whig historiographers. Butterfield’s intention was not only to place Machiavelli in his context, but also to gain insight into his influence on Bolingbroke and Napoleon. Consequently, the formulation and implementation of public policy were seen as reflective of the methods used to understand human history.2 Butterfield saw Machiavelli’s view of the study of history as combining with particular intensity three tendencies of his era,

first of all a doctrine of‘imitation’, which conditioned Machiavelli’s attitude to the great men of the past; secondly an important thesis concerning historical recurrence, one that affected therefore the problem of the deduction of general laws from historical data; and thirdly a conviction of the superiority of the ancient world as a guide to human behaviour in the present.3


Historical Process French Revolution Ancient World English History Revolutionary Action 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For Machiavelli scholarship to this point, see P. H. Harris, ‘Progress in Machiavelli Studies’, Italica 18 (1941), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 11.
    SM, pp. 57–71. Cf. Maurice Cowling, ‘Herbert Butterfield, 1900–1979’, PBA 65 (1979), 598.Google Scholar
  3. 41.
    G. M. Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century and After (1782–1919) (1937), p. 475.Google Scholar
  4. 47.
    Maurice Cowling, ‘Herbert Butterfield, 1900–1979’, PBA 65 (1979), 600.Google Scholar
  5. 59.
    W. S. McKechnie, Magna Carta: A Commentary on the Great Charter of King John (1905, 1914).Google Scholar
  6. 60.
    EH, 1970 ed., p. i. In preparation, Butterfield probably drew upon G. P. Gooch, English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (1898, 1927).Google Scholar
  7. 65.
    See also F. W. Maitland, ‘A Prologue to a History of English Law’, Law Quarterly Review 14 (1898), 13–33.Google Scholar
  8. Paul Vinogradoff, ‘Magna Carta, C. 39: Nullus Liber Homo’, in Magna Carta Commemoration Essays (1915), pp. 78–95.Google Scholar
  9. L. L. Fuller, ‘What Motives Give Rise to the Historical Legal Fiction?’ in Recueil d’études sur les sources de droit en l’honneur de François Geny. II (1934), pp. 157–76.Google Scholar
  10. Lord Sankey, ‘The Historian and the Lawyer: Their Aims and Their Methods’, H 21 (1936), 97–108.Google Scholar
  11. and W. L. Burn, ‘The Historian and the Lawyer’, H 28 (1943), 17–36.Google Scholar
  12. 83.
    William Temple, Christianity and Social Order (1942, reprinted 1976), p. 55.Google Scholar
  13. 86.
    Cf. Hans Kohn, ‘The Genesis and Character of English Nationalism’, JHI 1 (1940), esp. 82–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Keith C. Sewell 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith C. Sewell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryDordt CollegeUSA

Personalised recommendations