Colorful (But Lesser Known) Contemporaries of William Shakespeare, Part II

Previously, in our survey of the History of English Literature, we looked at Barnaby Barnes, John Fletcher, and Nicholas Breton. You may find that post HERE. Today we will explore the accomplishments of Sir Henry Wotton, Anthony Munday, and Raphael Holinshed. 

imgres Sir Henry Wotton, was on born 30 March 1568 at Bocton Hall, Boughton Malherbe, Kent, and died December 1639, Eton, Buckinghamshire) English poet, diplomat, and art connoisseur who was a friend of the poets John Donne and John Milton. He was educated at Winchester and New and Queens Colleges, Oxford. Whilst studying at Oxford he met John Donne, the first and greatest of the metaphysical poets, who later became a close friend. In 1595, Wotton became secretary to the Earl of Essex, collecting foreign intelligence.

Of his few surviving poems, “You Meaner Beauties of the Night,” written to Elizabeth of Bohemia, is the most famous. Izaak Walton’s  biography of Wotton was prefixed to the Reliquiae Wottonianae (1651), the volume in which most of Wotton’s writings first appeared.

Wotton was knighted in 1604, served as ambassador to Venice intermittently from 1604 to 1623. Whilst on a visit to Augsburg in 1604 he wrote a definition of an Ambassador which is now one of his most famous phrases; “An Ambassador is an honest man, sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

As the English Ambassador (1604–12, 1616–19, and 1621–4) to Venice he was in a good position to purchase works of art and become familiar with distinguished architecture. In 1624 he published The Elements of Architecture (1624), a work indebted to Alberti and Vitruvius and a landmark volume that helped introduce Italian architectural theories into England. In it, he famously identified the ‘three conditions’ for ‘well building’ as ‘Commodity, Firmness, and Delight’ (a remark itself derived from Vitruvius). Wotton also described the Roman Corinthian Order as ‘a columne lasciviously decked like a courtesan’. It was the first book devoted to architecture written in English, and may have had some influence on architects such as Jones and Pratt. His admiration for Palladio put his work in good order with Burlington and his circle.

 Wotton also served as a member of Parliament in 1614 and 1625. In 1624 he became provost of Eton and in 1627 took holy orders.

“Elizabeth of Bohemia”

You meaner beauties of the night,
     That poorly satisfy our eyes
   More by your number than your light;
     You common people of the skies,
     What are you when the sun shall rise?

    You curious chanters of the wood,
     That warble forth Dame Nature’s lays,
   Thinking your voices understood
     By your weak accents; what’s your praise
    When Philomel her voice shall raise?

   You violets that first appear,
    By your pure purple mantles known,
  Like the proud virgins of the year,
    As if the spring were all your own;
    What are you when the rose is blown?

   So, when my mistress shall be seen
    In form and beauty of her mind,
  By virtue first, then choice, a queen,
    Tell me, if she were not design’d
    Th’ eclipse and glory of her kind?

0662.jpg Anthony Munday, also spelled Mundy was born around 1560 in London. He was buried in London on 9 August 1633. He was an English poet, dramatist, pamphleteer, and translator. In a literary abstract, James H. Forse says, “Anthony Munday (1560-1633) was one of Tudor/Stuart England’s most prolific writers. Over the course of a literary career that lasted for more than fifty years, Munday penned over eighty works, many published more than once. Scholars have over the years constructed a framework that describes Munday variously as author, playwright, “our best plotter,” pamphleteer, uninspired literary hack, translator, historian, and spy. Beyond these labels, Munday has received little attention from the academic community.” (EARNING A LIVING AS AN AUTHOR IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND: THE CASE OF ANTHONY MUNDAY, G. D. George, Ph.D. Candidate Dissertation, May 2006, Bowling Green University) 

The son of a draper, Munday began his career as an apprentice to a printer. In 1578 he was abroad, evidently as a secret agent sent to discover the plans of English Catholic refugees in France and Italy, and under a false name he obtained admission to the English College at Rome for several months. On his return he became an actor and a prolific writer. He published popular ballads, some original lyrics, much moralizing in verse, translations of many volumes of French and Spanish romances, and prose pamphlets, but only two of his many plays were printed.

In 1581–82 Munday was prominent in the capture and trials of the Jesuit emissaries (many of whom he had known at Rome) who followed the martyr Edmund Campion to England.  Critics have found his English Romayne Lyfe (1582) of permanent interest as a detailed and entertaining, though hostile, description of life and study in the English College at Rome. By 1586 he had been appointed one of the “messengers of her majesty’s chamber,” a post he seems to have held for the rest of Elizabeth I’s reign.

munday.jpgMunday wrote at least 17 plays, of which only a handful survive. He may be the author of Fedele and Fortunio (c. 1584), an adaptation of an Italian original; it was performed at court and printed in 1585. His best-known plays are two pseudo-histories on the life of the legendary outlaw hero Robin Hood, The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon and The Death of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon (both 1598). He was probably the main author of Sir Thomas More (c. 1590–93), a play that William Shakespeare  assisted in revising. Munday ceased to write plays after 1602, but during 1605–23 he wrote at least five of the pageants with which the lord mayor of London celebrated his entry into office. A friend of the chronicler John Stow, he was responsible for enlarged editions of Stow’s Survey of London in 1618 and 1633.

31GHH2HV4IL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIn Anthony Munday and the Catholics 1560-1633 by Donna Hamilton, Ms. Hamilton “offers a major revisionist reading of the works of Anthony Munday, one of the most prolific authors of his time, who wrote and translated in many genres, including polemical religious and political tracts, poetry, chivalric romances, history of Britain, history of London, drama, and city entertainments. Long dismissed as a hack who wrote only for money, Munday is here restored to his rightful position as an historical figure at the centre of many important political and cultural events in sixteenth and seventeenth century England. In Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560-1633, Hamilton reinterprets Munday as a writer who began his career writing on behalf of the Catholic cause and subsequently negotiated for several decades the difficult terrain of an ever-changing Catholic -Protestant cultural, religious, and political landscape. She argues that throughout his life and writing career Munday retained his Catholic sensibility and occasionally wrote dangerously on behalf of Catholics. Thus he serves as an excellent case study through which present-day scholars can come to a fuller understanding of how a person living in this turbulent time in English history – eschewing open resistance, exile or martyrdom – managed a long and prolific writing career at the centre of court, theatre, and city activities but in ways that reveal his commitment to Catholic political and religious ideology. Individual chapters in this book cover Munday’s early writing, 1577-80; his writing about the trial and execution of Jesuit Edmund Campion; his writing for the stage, 1590-1602; his politically inflected translations of chivalric romance; and his writings for and about the city of London, 1604-33. Hamilton revisits and revalues the narratives told by earlier scholars about hack writers, the anti-theatrical tracts, the role of the Earl of Oxford as patron, the political-religious interests of Munday’s plays, the implications of Munday’s reports on the execution of Campion, the relationship of the chivalric romances to changing religious and political events, and the role of city government in the religious political controversies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This study resonates not only for literary scholars, but also for researchers interested in the political and religious history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.”


imgres-1.jpg Raphael Holinshed, (died c. 1580) English chronicler, remembered chiefly because his Chronicles enjoyed great popularity and became a quarry for many Elizabethan dramatists, especially Shakespeare, who found, in the second edition, material for  Macbeth, King Lear, Cymbeline, and many of his historical plays. Holinshed is thought to have studied at Cambridge, but little else is known of his life.

Holinshed probably belonged to a Cheshire family. From roughly 1560 he lived in London, where he was employed as a translator by Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history. After Wolfe’s death in 1573 the scope of the work was abridged, and it appeared, with many illustrations, as the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 2 vol. (dated 1577).

The Chronicles was compiled largely uncritically from many sources of varying degrees of trustworthiness. The texts of the first and second (1587) editions were expurgated by order of the Privy Council, and the excisions from the second edition were published separately in 1723. An edition of the complete, unexpurgated text of 1587, edited by Henry Ellis and titled Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, was published in six volumes (1807–08, reissued 1976). Several selections have also appeared, including Holinshed’s Chronicle as Used in Shakespeare’s Plays, edited by Allardyce and Josephine Nicoll (1927); Shakespeare’s Holinshed, compiled and edited by Richard Hosley (1968); and The Peaceable and Prosperous Regiment of Blessed Queene Elisabeth (2005).

“Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland was at once the crowning achievement of Tudor historiography and the most important single source for contemporary playwrights and poets, above all Shakespeare, Spenser, Daniel, and Drayton. Popularly known as Holinshed’s Chronicles, the work was first printed in 1577. The second, revised and expanded, edition followed in 1587. In both its incarnations, the Chronicles was a collaborative venture. Among the authors and revisers were moderate Protestants (Raphael Holinshed, John Hooker), militant Protestants (William Harrison, Abraham Fleming), crypto-Catholics (John Stow), and Catholics (Richard Stanihurst, Edmund Campion). The upshot was a remarkably multi-vocal view of British history not only because of the contrasting choices of style and source material but also because the contributors responded very differently to the politics and religion of their own age.

“The importance of Holinshed’s Chronicles for the understanding of Elizabethan literature, history, and politics cannot be overestimated. Yet despite the recent growth of interest in the chronicle tradition, the politics of historiography, and the uses of the past by imaginative writers which has led, for instance, to a proliferation of studies of Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ and an impressive online edition, Holinshed’s Chronicles has not properly benefited from this scholarly re-awakening. The vast scope of the book, and the lack of a complete scholarly edition, has meant that it has eluded systematic analysis. With one or two exceptions such work on Holinshed as we’ve got centres on the sections dramatized by Shakespeare.” (The Holinshed Project, ©2008-13. Design by Richard Rowley.) 

Holinshed’s writing was narrative genius. He expertly reproduces the atmosphere and superstitions of the times. 

In volume 2 of his Chronicles we encounter the source of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Holinshed wrote the piece on Macbeth as “history.” Shakespeare turned the history into dramatic fiction. The drama does not follow the historical account in every detail. For example, Lady Macbeth does not appear in Holinshed’s Chronicles, nor does Macbeth take Banquo into his confidences as he does in the “history.” As a historian, Holinshed accepts some “tales” as the truth. He does not attempt to trace down each fact he records. However, the Chronicles are “good” history and “great” literature. 


Anthony Munday from Encyclopedia Britannica Introduction to the Munday Plays by Stephemas H. Ohlgren (Editor) from University of Rochester’s Middle English Text Series from: Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales  1997

The Life of Sir Henry Wotton, by Izaak Walton from Project Canterbury 

“Raphael Holinshed” from Encyclopedia Britannica 

“Sir Henry Wotton” from All Poetry

Sir Henry Wotton” from Encyclopedia Britannica 

Selected Works of Anthony Munday from Luminarium 

Wotton, Sir Henry.A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. 12 Oct. 2016



About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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3 Responses to Colorful (But Lesser Known) Contemporaries of William Shakespeare, Part II

  1. Most interesting; must admit never having heard of any of these. Love the Ambassador remark. how true it was and still is! XD

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