The Firste Volume of the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande
Because it served as the primary source of the great writer’s English history plays Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland will be forever linked with William Shakespeare. The project began in 1548, when a London printer, Reginald Wolfe, thought of creating a “Universal Cosmography of the whole world, and therewith also certain particular histories of every known nation.” He hired Holinshed and William Harrison to help him. Wolfe died in 1573 with the work far from completed. Three London stationaries took over the project, downsized it to the British Isles only, and brought in Richard Stanyhurst to assist, with Holinshed acting as general editor. Work on the massive two-volume, profusely illustrated Holinshed’s Chronicles was completed and published in 1577.
Harrison, a parson, had already been engaged in writing a chronology of Britain when he was invited to join the new venture. He produced for the Chronicles his celebrated “Description of Britain.” It provides a vivid picture of Britain—a detailed geographical survey and sweeping discourse on English life and the people: their cities and towns, their fairs and markets, their buildings and furniture, their gardens and orchards, their dogs, and the variety of vagabonds and sturdy beggars they might encounter on the byways. The Description is followed by the history of England to the Norman conquest (prepared by Holinshed), the description and history of Ireland, and the description and history of Scotland. The second volume, principally prepared by Holinshed and drawing from a variety of sources, continues the history of Britain up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Little is known about Holinshed’s life other than the work he did on the Chronicles.
The present copy was previously owned by actor John Barrymore (with his bookplate) and Robert Curzon (1810–1873, 14th Baron Zouche), with Curzon devices gilt-stamped on covers and his signature inside. Curzon visited Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Greece in 1833 and 1834 to augment his impressive book collection with ancient manuscripts, many of which are now in the British Library. In the present copy the folding-plate illustration of Edinburgh is half missing.