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The Historical Nights' Entertainment   By: (1875-1950)

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First Series

By Rafael Sabatini


In approaching "The Historical Nights' Entertainment" I set myself the task of reconstructing, in the fullest possible detail and with all the colour available from surviving records, a group of more or less famous events. I would select for my purpose those which were in themselves bizarre and resulting from the interplay of human passions, and whilst relating each of these events in the form of a story, I would compel that story scrupulously to follow the actual, recorded facts without owing anything to fiction, and I would draw upon my imagination, if at all, merely as one might employ colour to fill in the outlines which history leaves grey, taking care that my colour should be as true to nature as possible. For dialogue I would depend upon such scraps of actual speech as were chronicled in each case, amplifying it by translating into terms of speech the paraphrases of contemporary chroniclers.

Such was the task I set myself. I am aware that it has been attempted once or twice already, beginning, perhaps, with the "Crimes Celebres" of Alexandre Dumas. I am not aware that the attempt has ever succeeded. This is not to say that I claim success in the essays that follow. How nearly I may have approached success judged by the standard I had set myself how far I may have fallen short, my readers will discern. I am conscious, however, of having in the main dutifully resisted the temptation to take the easier road, to break away from restricting fact for the sake of achieving a more intriguing narrative. In one instance, however, I have quite deliberately failed, and in some others I have permitted myself certain speculations to resolve mysteries of which no explanation has been discovered. Of these it is necessary that I should make a full confession.

My deliberate failure is "The Night of Nuptials." I discovered an allusion to the case of Charles the Bold and Sapphira Danvelt in Macaulay's "History of England" quoted from an old number of the "Spectator" whilst I was working upon the case of Lady Alice Lisle. There a similar episode is mentioned as being related of Colonel Kirke, but discredited because known for a story that has a trick of springing up to attach itself to unscrupulous captains. I set out to track it to its source, and having found its first appearance to be in connection with Charles the Bold's German captain Rhynsault, I attempted to reconstruct the event as it might have happened, setting it at least in surroundings of solid fact.

My most flagrant speculation occurs in "The Night of Hate." But in defence of it I can honestly say that it is at least no more flagrant than the speculations on this subject that have become enshrined in history as facts. In other words, I claim for my reconstruction of the circumstances attending the mysterious death of Giovanni Borgia, Duke of Gandia, that it no more lacks historical authority than do any other of the explanatory narratives adopted by history to assign the guilt to Gandia's brother, Cesare Borgia.

In the "Cambridge Modern History" our most authoritative writers on this epoch have definitely pronounced that there is no evidence acceptable to historians to support the view current for four centuries that Cesare Borgia was the murderer.

Elsewhere I have dealt with this at length. Here let it suffice to say that it was not until nine months after the deed that the name of Cesare Borgia was first associated with it; that public opinion had in the mean time assigned the guilt to a half dozen others in succession; that no motive for the crime is discoverable in the case of Cesare; that the motives advanced will not bear examination, and that they bear on the face of them the stamp of having been put forward hastily to support an accusation unscrupulously political in purpose; that the first men accused by the popular voice were the Cardinal Vice Chancellor Ascanio Sforza and his nephew Giovanni Sforza, Tyrant of Pesaro; and, finally, that in Matarazzo's "Chronicles of Perugia" there is a fairly detailed account of how the murder was perpetrated by the latter... Continue reading book >>

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