Raphael Holinshed

Raphael Holinshed

Raphael Holinshed (died c. 1580) was an English chronicler, whose work, commonly known as "Holinshed's Chronicles", was one of the major sources used by William Shakespeare for a number of his plays. He is thought to have come from Cheshire, but lived in London, where he worked as a translator for the printer Reginald Wolfe. Wolfe gave him the project of compiling a world history from the Flood to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This ambitious project was never finished, but one portion was published as "The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland" in 1577. Holinshed was only one contributor to this work; others involved in its production included William Harrison, Richard Stanyhurst, and John Hooker.

Shakespeare used the revised second edition of the "Chronicles" (published in 1587) as the source for most of his history plays, the plot of "Macbeth", and for portions of "King Lear" and "Cymbeline".


Little is known about Holinshed’s life. There is no source which states his date of birth, for instance. He became known only by the "Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland", and all the information we have about him is related to this work. Although Vernon Snow remarks that Holinshed was an experienced Cambridge-educated translator, no other works by Holinshed are available. A few months after the Chronicle had been licensed, Holinshed retired to the countryside near Warwick. He died around 1580 and his will was proven on 24 April 1582. Nothing is known about Holinshed’s civil duties, other scholarly achievements or work for the Church.

Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland

In 1548 Reginald Wolfe, a London printer, thought of creating a "Universal Cosmography of the whole world, and therewith also certain particular histories of every known nation." He wanted the work to be printed in English and he wanted maps and illustrations in the book as well. Wolfe acquired many of John Leland's works and with these he constructed chronologies and drew maps that were up to date. When Wolfe realised he could not complete this project on his own he hired Raphael Holinshed and William Harrison to assist him. Wolfe died with the work still uncompleted in 1573, and three London stationers took over the project. The scale of the project was downsized from a universal work to a work about the British Isles. They retained the services of Raphael Holinshed, but they gave some of the work to William Harrison and Richard Stanyhurst. Holinshed now worked solely on the narrative histories and acted as general editor. This division of labour accelerated the project considerably and, consequently, nearly all the manuscripts were ready for publication within four years. Both volumes of the work were printed in 1577. Except for some pages on Ireland, the printed version was approved by the censors. The Chronicles were adjusted and the work was licensed in July of that year. It was distributed to several London booksellers under the name of Ralph ["Ralph" was pronounced "Raif".] Hollingshed's "Chronicles". [ [http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/iss/library/speccoll/bomarch/bomfeb05.html (King's College London) Holinshed's "Chronicles"] February 2005. Accessed 1 June 2008.]

Composition of the work

The work is a compilation of several writings by either Holinshed, Harrison or Stanyhurst. The first volume began with Harrison’s description of England, followed by Holinshed’s history of England before the Norman Conquest. Harrison’s description came next, followed by Stanyhurst's description of Ireland. Holinshed provided the following piece about the history of Ireland up to 1509 and Stanyhurst wrote the continuation of the history of Ireland from 1509 to 1547. The second volume encompassing the history of England from 1066 up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was written by Holinshed. Although the work had deviated considerably from Wolfe’s original plan, it was still the most elaborate British history thus far.

The contributors were industrious compilers. They took the primary sources and linked them together into consistent and chronological narratives. They quoted from documents, copied printed histories and paraphrased others. They rarely excluded something, as they thought that the more source authorities they had, the better it was. This was not seen as plagiarism at the time; it was seen as good methodology and, moreover, the work was well documented. Prefatory bibliographies were included and there were marginal notations indicating the source documents. Harrison, for instance, relied heavily on Leland for much of his descriptive detail, whereas Holinshed used John Bale and Geoffrey of Monmouth for the chronology of the narrative. The compilers did not, however, pass critical judgment on the evidence. Instead, they enabled the readers to be critical themselves by allowing conflicting views and dubious interpretations. They selected and wrote from a Protestant point of view, similar to that of John Foxe.

econd edition

Shortly after Holinshed's death, George Bishop and John Harrison formed a new syndicate in order to publish a second edition of the Chronicles. John Hooker was selected as general editor and Abraham Fleming, John Stow and Francis Thynne (or Boteville) would also participate in the project. The second edition had the scope and nature of the first, but it was considerably different. The histories were brought up to date, that is to say 1586. New authorities were consulted, among them recently published tracts by Hooker and some unpublished antiquarian essays of Thynne. Hooker's inclusions were approved by the censors, but Thynne's accounts of the Archbishops of Canterbury, Wardens of the Cinque Ports and the Cobham title were excised.

The second edition was finally licensed in 1587. It was printed in three folio volumes with title pages and several dedications, but without illustrations. The text was altered here and there, the new authorities were cited in the margins and some mistakes that had crept into the first volume were corrected. This made the work more comprehensive, but because of injudicious accretions, this had turned into an unbalanced agglomeration. The Chronicle was also restructured by Hooker and his companions, who did retain the basic framework, but shifted some chapters of the first book to the second and vice versa. Some short chapters were enlarged, several new ones were added, some chapters were omitted and several lengthy chapters were split into two. The accretions, however, exceeded the deletions by far, resulting in a more comprehensive work. In total, the number of chapters in the first volume was increased from 17 to 24. The history of England up to the Norman Conquest remained almost intact. The new editor of this section retained Holinshed's chronology, but he divided the bulk into eight chapters. He added a preface to each chapter, summarizing the contents. This too increased the work’s comprehensiveness.

This second edition was a huge success, despite its flaws and shortcomings. It was superior to its predecessor in several respects. The pagination was now consistent instead of a mixture of medieval and modern foliation and the elaborate indices Hooker and Fleming had increased the work's utility considerably. Even the paper it was printed on was of higher quality, withstanding hardships such as fire, water and bookworms far better than the first edition. The second edition also proved to be a veritable source of income for them, because it was more than just a compilation of sources. The second edition served as an almanac, a travel guide and an encyclopaedia for Englishmen, but it also had great value for foreign travelers and merchants, who used it as a description and guide of the English culture, both present and past. For poets and playwrights it became as important as the Bible in terms of information for their works. For them it was a book full of legends, allusions and dramatic plots.

hakespeare's Holinshed

The most famous playwright and poet to have used Holinshed's "Chronicles" is William Shakespeare. That he used the second edition rather than the first has been well demonstrated and documented by Boswell-Stone in the late nineteenth century by comparing Shakespeare's text to the Chronicles. Certain keywords and phrases used in several plays only appear in the second edition. Bosswell-Stone's research, which was confirmed by other scholars, spawned a great variety of new editions of Holinshed: Shakespeare's Holinshed.

By the time of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, Holinshed's "Chronicles" had been superseded by other historical writings; chronicles that were better structured and more up-to-date had been published. These chronicles show a more critical methodology of historical writing which had emerged during the Renaissance. This resulted in the rejection of most of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fantastic stories that were still held as true in Holinshed's work. In short, the Chronicles were seen as outdated and simply inaccurate. The interest in the work, however, did not diminish. Many seventeenth century authors continued to use Holinshed as a source and, more importantly, in 1723 a folio volume containing the excised passages of the second edition was published. What saved Holinshed ultimately, however, was the revival of interest in Shakespeare at the end of the eighteenth century. The critical approach of the scholars at the time required Shakespeare’s sources to be available. Sir Henry Ellis decided to publish a new edition of Holinshed's "Chronicles". He restored the contents of the chronicle to that of the second edition and the additions made between 1723 and 1728 were added separate from the original second edition. The scholars now had the exact edition that Shakespeare used.


*Holinshed, Raphael. "Holinshed's Chronicles England, Scotland, and Ireland". Ed. Vernon F. Snow. New York: AMS, 1965.

External links

** Gutenberg|no=16496|name=Holinshed's Chronicles
* [http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=holinshed_chronicle&PagePosition=1 Holinshed's Chronicles] , from the University of Pennsylvania
*The Holinshed Project [http://www.cems.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/news.shtml]

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  • Raphael Holinshed — (Hollingshead) (vers 1525 – vers 1580), fut un historien anglais, dont le travail, connu sous le nom de Chroniques Holinshed, fut l une des sources majeures utilisées par William Shakespeare pour nombre de ses pièces. Sommaire 1 Biographie 2 Voir …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Raphael Holinshed — (* um 1520; † um 1580 in Bramcote) war ein englischer Schriftsteller, dessen Werk – bekannt unter dem Titel Holinshed s Chronicle – William Shakespeare als Quelle vieler seiner Dramen diente. Leben Über sein Leben weiß man sehr wenig. Er… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Holinshed —   [ hɔlɪnʃed], Holinshead [ hɔlɪnzhed], Raphael, englischer Geschichtsschreiber, ✝ Bramcote (bei Nuneaton) um 1580. Sein aus älteren Werken weitgehend unkritisch übernommenes Geschichtswerk »Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland« (1577)… …   Universal-Lexikon

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  • Holinshed, Raphael — died с 1580 English chronicler. From с 1560 Holinshed lived in London, where he was employed as a translator by Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history. Holinshed is remembered for his Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande… …   Universalium

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