Raphael Holinshed

Raphael Holinshed was born circa 1529 to a Cheshire family. He lived in London from about 1560, where he was employed as a translator by Reginald Wolfe, who was preparing a universal history. In 1573, after Wolfe's death, the extent of the work was shortened, and it appeared, with many illustrations, as the Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 2 vol. (dated 1577).

The Chronicles was compiled from many sources of varying degrees of trustworthiness. The texts of the first and second (1587) editions were refined by order of the Privy Council, with the deleted entries from the second edition being published separately in 1723. The complete, unchanged edition of 1587 was edited by Henry Ellis and given the title of Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. This was published in six volumes (1807-08). Two selections have also appeared: Holinshed's Chronicle as Used in Shakespeare's Plays was edited by Allardyce and Josephine Nicoll (1927), and Shakespeare's Holinshed was compiled and edited by Richard Hosley (1968).

Holinshed died around 1580.

Holinshed’s importance to Shakespeare lies in the fact that the playwright leaned heavily on the Chronicles for his major history plays. It would probably have been the most comphrehensive source existing for Shakespeare to use in writing not only The Tragedy of King Richard III, but also Macbeth, King Lear and Cymbeline. An example of Shakespeare borrowing more than just a plot can be seen in the following:

Holinshed’s version

The proclamation ended, another herald cried: "Behold here Henry of Lancaster Duke of Hereford, appellant, which is entered into the lists royal to do his devoir against Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, defendant, upon pain to be found false and recreant!"

(Holinshed 72)

Shakespeare’s version

Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby,

Stands here for God, his sovereign, and himself,

On pain to be found false and recreant,

To prove the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray,

A traitor to his God, his king, and him,

And dares him to set forward to the fight.

(Richard III, 1.3.104-9)

It appears that Holinshed gathered his material from Thomas More, Polydore Vergil and Hardyng. The only veering off that Holinshed did was to include the name of Dorset to the list of those who had killed Edward of Lancaster.

While Holinshed may have provided a needed source for Shakespeare, it must be concluded that as a historical source he should be discounted. His writing must be subjected to the same criticism that is applied to that of the works of More, Vergil, et al. There appears to be nothing new that can be gleaned from his work that would in anyway be construed as a reliable, unbiased piece of history.


Lamb, V.B., The Betrayal of Richard III (1991)

Encylopedia Britannica On-line (Biographies)

Shakespeare’s Sources in the Histories (http://web.uvic.ca/shakespeare/Library/SLTnoframes/history/sources.html


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