One of the earliest of these histories to have circulated in Western Europe about the heroic deeds of Scanderbeg was the Historia de vita et gestis Scanderbegi, Epirotarum Princeps (Rome ca. 1508- 1510), published a mere four decades after Scanderbeg's death. This 'History of the life and deeds of Scanderbeg, Prince of the Epirotes' was written by the Albanian historian Marinus Barletius Scodrensis (ca. 1450 - ca. 1512), known in Albanian as Marin Barleti, who after experiencing the Turkish occupation of his native Shkodėr at first hand, settled in Padua where he became rector of the parish church of St. Stephan. The work was widely read in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and was translated and/or adapted into a number of foreign language versions: German by Johann Pincianus (Augsburg 1533), Italian by Pietro Rocca (Venice 1554, 1560), Portuguese by Francisco D'Andrade (Lisbon 1567), Polish by Ciprian Bazylik (Brest-Litovsk 1569), French by Jaques De Lavardin, also known as Jacques Lavardin, Seigneur du Plessis-Bourrot (Paris 1576), and Spanish by Juan Ochoa de la Salde (Seville 1582). The English version, translated from the French of Jaques De Lavardin by one Zachary Jones Gentleman, was published at the end of the sixteenth century under the title, Historie of George Castriot, surnamed Scanderbeg, King of Albinie; containing his Famous Actes, his Noble Deedes of Armes and Memorable Victories against the Turkes for the Faith of Christ, London 1596.
Another important work which increased the renown of Scanderbeg in Europe was the Commentario delle cose de' Turchi, Venice 1531 (Commentary on the affairs of the Turks) by Paulus Jovius (1483-1552), Bishop of Nocera. This was translated from a Latin version into English as A short treatise upon the Turke's Chronicles, London 1546.
Among other works of this period dealing with the Albanian prince were: Polish author Martin Cromer's Oration of Arsanes agaynst Philip; of the Ambassadors of Venise against the Prince that vnder crafty league with Scanderbeg layd snares for Christendom and of Scanderbeg prayeng ayde of Christian Princes agaynst periurous murderying Mahumet, and agaynst the old false Christian Duke Mahumet's confederate, London 1560?; Andrea Cambini's Two very notable commentaries; the one of the originall of the Turcks and empire of the house of Ottomanno, written by Andrewe Cambine; and thother of the warres of the Turcke against George Scanderbeg, prince of Epiro, and of the great victories obteyned by the seyd George, aswellas against the Emperour of Turkie as other princes, and of his other rare force and vertues, worthye of memorye, London 1562; and Richard Knolles' The Generall Historie of the Turkes, London 1603.
One year after the Turkish siege of Vienna (1683) which was overcome by Polish king John III Sobieski (r. 1674-1696), a book was published in London on the victorious monarch, comparing his deeds to those of Scanderbeg. This anonymous history was entitled: Scanderbeg redivivus. An historical account of the life and actions of the most victorious Prince John III (Sobiesky), king of Poland, London 1684.
In the eighteenth century, we come upon yet another historical work on Scanderbeg, entitled: A brief account of the life and character of George Castriot, King of Epirus and Albania, commonly called Scanderbeg, London 1735. With the aid of such publications, the figure of Scanderbeg was kept very much alive in Europe in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as a prime symbol of Christian resistance to the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire.
Whether Benjamin Disraeli had access to or interest in any of these early histories of the life and times of Scanderbeg is uncertain. What is quite possible, however, is that he came upon references to the Albanian prince in essays by prominent seventeenth and eighteenth century statesmen and military leaders, such as diplomat and writer Sir William Temple (1628- 1699), who ranked Scanderbeg among the seven chieftains of history who had deserved, without obtaining, a crown4; essayist, poet and politician Joseph Addison (1672-1719); and General James Wolfe (1727-1759), commander of English forces at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec in 1759, who noted in a letter to Thomas Townshend on 18 July 1756: "he excels all the officers ancient and modern in the conduct of a small defensive army. I met him in the Turkish History but nowhere else5."
It is reasonably certain that Benjamin Disraeli acquired most of his information on Scanderbeg from the writings of the influential British historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, London 1776- 1778, was, after all, the faithful companion of every genteel reader in early Victorian England and, in particular, of all travellers to the sunnier climes of the Mediterranean. Of Scanderbeg, Gibbon had written:
"In the list of heroes, John Huniades and Scanderbeg are commonly associated, and they are both entitled to our notice, since their occupation of the Ottoman arms delayed the ruin of the Greek empire. John Castriot, the father of Scanderbeg, was the hereditary prince of a small district of Epirus or Albania, between the mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Unable to contend with the sultan's power, Castriot submitted to the hard conditions of peace and tribute: he delivered his four sons as the pledges of his fidelity; and the Christian youths, after receiving the mark of circumcision, were instructed in the Mahometan religion, and trained in the arms and arts of Turkish policy. The three elder brothers were confounded in the crowd of slaves; and the poison to which their deaths are ascribed cannot be verified or disproved by any positive evidence. Yet the suspicion is in a great measure removed by the kind and paternal treatment of George Castriot, the fourth brother, who, from his tender youth, displayed the strength and spirit of a soldier. The successive overthrow of a Tartar and two Persians, who carried a proud defiance to the Turkish court, recommended him to the favor of Amurath, and his Turkish appellation of Scanderbeg (Iskender beg), or the lord Alexander, is an indelible memorial of his glory and servitude. His father's principality was reduced into a province; but the loss was compensated by the rank and title of Sanjiak, a command of five thousand horses, and the prospect of the first dignities of the empire. He served with honor in the wars of Europe and Asia; and we may smile at the art or credulity of the historian, who supposes, that in every encounter he spared the Christians, while he fell with a thundering arm on his Mussulman foes. The glory of Huniades is without reproach: he fought in the defence of his religion and country; but the enemies who applaud the patriot, have branded his rival with the name of traitor and apostate. In the eyes of the Christians, the rebellion of Scanderbeg is justified by his father's wrongs, the ambiguous death of his three brothers, his own degradation, and the slavery of his country; and they adore the generous, though tardy, zeal, with which he asserted the faith and independence of his ancestors. But he had imbibed from his ninth year the doctrines of the Koran: he was ignorant of the Gospel; the religion of a soldier is determined by authority and habit; nor is it easy to conceive what new illumination at the age of forty could be poured into his soul. His motives would be less exposed to the suspicion of interest or revenge, had he broken his chain from the moment that he was sensible of its weight: but a long oblivion has surely impaired his original right; and every year of obedience and reward had cemented the mutual bond of the sultan and his subject. If Scanderbeg had long harbored the belief of Christianity and the intention of revolt, a worthy mind must condemn the base dissimulation, that could serve only to betray, that could promise only to be forsworn, that could actively join in the temporal and spiritual perdition of so many thousands of his unhappy brethren. Shall we praise a secret correspondence with Huniades, while he commanded the vanguard of the Turkish army? Shall we excuse the desertion of his standard, a treacherous desertion which abandoned the victory to the enemies of his benefactor? In the confusion of a defeat, the eye of Scanderbeg was fixed on the Reis Effendi, or principal secretary: with the dagger at his breast, he extorted a firman or patent for the government of Albania; and the murder of the guiltless scribe and his train prevented the consequences of an immediate discovery. With some bold companions, to whom he had revealed his design, he escaped in the night, by rapid marches, from the field of battle to his paternal mountains. The gates of Croya were opened to the royal mandate; and no sooner did he command the fortress, than George Castriot dropped the mask of dissimulation; abjured the prophet and the sultan, and proclaimed himself the avenger of his family and country. The names of religion and liberty provoked a general revolt: the Albanians, a martial race, were unanimous to live and die with their hereditary prince; and the Ottoman garrisons were indulged in the choice of martyrdom or baptism. In the assembly of the states of Epirus, Scanderbeg was elected general of the Turkish war; and each of the allies engaged to furnish his respective proportion of men and money. From these contributions, from his patrimonial estate, and from the valuable salt-pits of Selina, he drew an annual revenue of two hundred thousand ducats; and the entire sum, exempt from the demands of luxury, was strictly appropriated to the public use. His manners were popular; but his discipline was severe; and every superfluous vice was banished from his camp: his example strengthened his command; and under his conduct the Albanians were invincible in their own opinion and that of their enemies. The bravest adventurers of France and Germany were allured by his fame and retained in his service: his standing militia consisted of eight thousand horse and seven thousand foot: the horses were small, the men were active; but he viewed with a discerning eye the difficulties and resources of the mountains; and, at the blaze of the beacons, the whole nation was distributed in the strongest posts. With such unequal arms Scanderbeg resisted twenty- three years the powers of the Ottoman empire; and two conquerors, Amurath the Second, and his greater son, were repeatedly baffled by a rebel, whom they pursued with seeming contempt and implacable resentment. At the head of sixty thousand horse and forty thousand Janizaries, Amurath entered Albania: he might ravage the open country, occupy the defenceless towns, convert the churches into mosques, circumcise the Christian youths, and punish with death his adult and obstinate captives: but the conquests of the sultan were confined to the petty fortress of Sfetigrade; and the garrison, invincible to his arms, was oppressed by a paltry artifice and a superstitious scruple. Amurath retired with shame and loss from the walls of Croya, the castle and residence of the Castriots; the march, the siege, the retreat, were harassed by a vexatious, and almost invisible, adversary; and the disappointment might tend to imbitter, perhaps shorten, the last days of the sultan. In the fulness of conquest, Mahomet the Second still felt at his bosom this domestic thorn: his lieutenants were permitted to negotiate a truce; and the Albanian prince may justly be praised as a firm and able champion of his national independence. The enthusiasm of chivalry and religion has ranked him with the names of Alexander and Pyrrhus; nor would they blush to acknowledge their intrepid countryman: but his narrow dominion, and slender power, must leave him at an humble distance below the heroes of antiquity, who triumphed over the East and the Roman legions. His splendid achievements, the bashaws whom he encountered, the armies that he discomfited, and the three thousand Turks who were slain by his single hand, must be weighed in the scales of suspicious criticism. Agaian illiterate enemy, and in the dark solitude of Epirus, his partial biographers may safely indulge the latitude of romance: but their fictions are exposed by the light of Italian history; and they afford a strong presumption against their own truth, by a fabulous tale of his exploits, when he passed the Adriatic with eight hundred horse to the succor of the king of Naples. Without disparagement to his fame, they might have owned, that he was finally oppressed by the Ottoman powers: in his extreme danger he applied to Pope Pius the Second for a refuge in the ecclesiastical state; and his resources were almost exhausted, since Scanderbeg died a fugitive at Lissus, on the Venetian territory. His sepulchre was soon violated by the Turkish conquerors; but the Janizaries, who wore his bones encased in a bracelet, declared by this superstitious amulet their involuntary reverence for his valor. The instant ruin of his country may redound to the hero's glory; yet, had he balanced the consequences of submission and resistance, a patriot perhaps would have declined the unequal contest which must depend on the life and genius of one man. Scanderbeg might indeed be supported by the rational, although fallacious, hope, that the pope, the king of Naples, and the Venetian republic, would join in the defence of a free and Christian people, who guarded the sea-coast of the Adriatic, and the narrow passage from Greece to Italy. His infant son was saved from the national shipwreck; the Castriots were invested with a Neapolitan dukedom, and their blood continues to flow in the noblest families of the realm. A colony of Albanian fugitives obtained a settlement in Calabria, and they preserve at this day the language and manners of their ancestors6."