Mirour for magistrates: Being a True Chronicle Historie of the Vntimely falles of such vnfortunate Princes and men of note

William Baldwin conceived of Mirour for Magistrates as a continuation of John Lydgate’s Fall of Princes. Ghosts of English historical figures relate in verse their tragic downfalls, largely due to their own vices. The book was widely popular in Elizabethan England and successive editions grew in size with the addition of stories. It inspired contemporary poets and playwrights. Several of Shakespeare’s history plays, King Lear, and Cymbeline draw on Mirour for Magistrates as a secondary source. 

Mirour for Magistrates has a complex publication history. Baldwin and George Ferrers were the first editors and wrote most of the nineteen lives that comprised the first edition, which was prepared during Queen Mary’s reign but not issued until 1559. These tragedies span the period from Richard II to Henry IV. Nine more stories were added for the 1563 edition. The included Induction and Complaint of Henry Duke of Buckingham by Thomas Sackville are nearly the only pieces that are viewed favorably by modern critics. Additions by John Higgins in 1574 and 1587 and by Thomas Blenerhasset in 1578 expanded Mirour for Magistrates with histories of ancient Britons and Romans.

The present copy is the final early edition, edited by Richard Niccols (1610). With its by-then-dated medieval moralism, the book did not sell well and was reissued with remaining sheets and new titles in 1619-20. Niccols rewrote several of the tragedies, added others, and included his lengthy tribute to Queen Elizabeth. Influenced by his experience accompanying the Earl of Nottingham on the raid of Cadiz in his youth, Niccols features naval victories by Elizabeth’s sea captains, including a long passage on the battle with the Spanish Armada.

The principal virtue of the Niccols edition is its inclusion of all of the stories—more than 90—except for those dealing with Scottish history (potentially offensive to King James) and earlier versions of rewritten tragedies. The stories are reordered compared to earlier editions (basically into chronological order), and earlier connective prose between the tragedies, unfortunately, was not included. The present copy, in Edwards of Halifax bindings, consists of three volumes: pre-Norman conquest materials from the Higgins and Blenerhasset editions; tragedies almost entirely from the Baldwin editions; and new materials by Niccols under the titles of “A winter nights vision” and “Englands Eliza.” 

Chrzanowski 1610m *

STC 13446

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675