The First English Printing of the Greatest Military Book from the Middle Ages through the 17th Century


(London: Thomas Marshe, 1572). 195 x 145 mm. (7 5/8 x 5 5/8"). 10 p.l., 66, [8] leaves.Translated from the Latin by John Sadler. FIRST EDITION PRINTED IN ENGLISH.

Pleasing late 19th century scarlet crushed morocco by Riviere & Son (stamp-signed on front turn-in), raised bands, gilt titling, gilt-ruled turn-ins with lily ornaments at corners, all edges gilt. Title within woodcut border [McKerrow & Ferguson 125], woodcut initials, and seven woodcuts (five of them full-page) illustrating weapons of war. Front pastedown with armorial bookplate of Thomas Francis Fremantle. Cockle 17; Luborsky & Ingram 24631; STC 24631; ESTC S119043. Four faint scratches to lower board, leaves perhaps lightly washed and pressed (in keeping with bibliophilic fashion at the time of binding), isolated faint marginal stains, but a really excellent copy, clean and fresh internally, with the leaves still crisp, and the binding with no signs of wear.

This is the rare first printing in English of "De re Militari," a fourth century Roman military manual that was extremely influential in Europe from the Middle Ages until the 17th century. The first English translation was done in 1408 for Richard III, but no English translation appeared after the advent of printing until the present effort by John Sadler (1512/13 - ca. 1591), undertaken at the instigation of amateur historian Sir Edmund Brudenell (1521-85). According to DNB, Brudenell "thought it was high time Vegetius's study of Roman military methods as the means to empire was made available to all Englishmen, his 'wyse and prudent counsels for all governours and Captaynes' having already been 'most diligentlye translated' by 'not onlye the Italians, Almaines and Frenchmen, but also many other Nations.'" Sadler's patron, the earl of Bedford (to whom the work is dedicated), funded the project, and Brudenell helped Sadler with access to books needed for the work. The illustrations here are copied from the woodcuts in the 1511 edition of Vegetius printed and illustrated by Hans Knapp in Erfurt. Our copy was bound for former owner Thomas Francis Fremantle, 3rd Baron Cottesloe (1862-1956), an expert rifleman with a lifelong interest in the armed forces. He assembled one of the best private collections of early printed books on military matters. This work is very rare in the marketplace: just one other perfect copy has sold at auction since 1967.