The historical writing of Raphael Holinshed

APPEARING first in 1577, this history owed its inception to the Queen's printer, Reginald Wolfe. On the death of Wolfe in 1577, Raphael Holinshed (c. 1520-80) abridged the work and brought it out as The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish section is largely a translation of Hector Boece's Scotorum Historiae. The second edition came out in 1587 but contained several passages which were considered offensive to the Queen and her Ministers. Accordingly the pages in question were excised by an order of the Privy Council. In 1723 the expurgations were published separately and in 1807-08 a complete reprint appeared. Shakespeare used Holinshed for the plots of many of his historical plays and of Cymbeline, Lear and Macbeth.


As few or no nations can justlie boast themselves to have continued sithence their countrie was first replenished, without anie mixture, more or lesse, of forreine inhabitants; no more can this our Iland, whose manifold commodities have oft allured sundrie princes and famous capteines of the world to conquer and subdue the same unto their owne subjection. Manie sorts of people therefore have come in hither and settled themselves here in this Ile, and first of all other, a parcell of the lineage and posteritie of Japhet, brought in by Samothes, in the yeare 1910 after the creation of Adam.

Howbeit in process of time, and after they had indifferentlie replenished and furnished this Iland with people, Albion the giant repaired hither with a companie of his owne race proceeding from Cham, and not onelie annexed the same to his owne dominion, but brought all such as he found here of the line of Japhet into miserable servitude and most extreame thraldome. After him also, and within lesse than six hundred and two yeares, came Brute, the son of Sylvius, with a great train of the posteritie of the dispersed Trojans in 324 ships; who rendering the like courtesie unto the Chamminits as they had done before unto the seed of Japhet, brought them also wholie under his rule and governance, and dispossessing them he divided the countrie among such princes and capteines as he had led out of Grecia with him.

Then after some further space of time the Roman emperours subdued the land to their dominion; and after the coming of the Romans, it is hard to say with how manie sorts of people we were dailie pestered. For their armies did commonlie consist of manie sorts of people, and were (as I may call them) a confused mixture of all other countries and nations then living in the world. Howbeit I thinke it best, because they did all beare the title of Romans, to retaine onelie that name for them all, albeit they were wofull guests to this our Iland; sith that with them came all kinds of vice, all riot and excess of behaviour into our countrie, which their legions brought with them from each corner of their dominions.

Then did follow the Saxons, and the Danes, and at last the Normans, of whom it is worthilie doubted whether they were more hard and cruell to their countriemen than the Danes, or more heavie and intollerable to our Iland than the Saxons or the Romans. For they were so cruellie bent to our utter subversion and overthrow, that in the beginning it was lesse reproach to be accounted a slave than an Englishman, or a drudge in anie filthie businesse than a Britaine; insomuch that everie French page was superiour to the greatest peere; and the losse of an Englishman's life but a pastime to such of them as contended in their braverie who should give the greatest strokes or wounds unto their bodies, when their toiling and drudgerie could not please them or satisfie their greedie humours. Yet such was our lot in those daies by the divine appointed order, that we must needs obey such as the Lord did set over us, and this because we refused grace, and would not heare when God by His preachers did call us so favourablie unto Him.

By all this, then, we perceive how from time to time this Iland hath not onelie beene a prey, but, as it were, a common receptacle for strangers, the naturall homelings or Britons being still cut shorter and shorter, till in the end they came not onelie to be driven into a corner of this region, but in time also verie like utterlie to have beene extinguished. Thus we see how England hath beene manie times subject to the reproach of conquest.

And whereas the Scots seeme to challenge manie famous victories also over us, it shall suffice for answer, that they deale in this as in the most part of their historie, which is to seeke great honour by lying and great renown by prating and craking. Indeed they have done great mischief in this Iland, and with extreame crueltie; but as for anie conquest the first is yet to heare of.

But beside those conquests afore-mentioned, Huntingdon, the old historiographer, speaketh of another, likelie (as he saith) to come one daie out of the North, which is a wind that bloweth no man to good, sith nothing is to be had in those parts but hunger and much cold.

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