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Raphael Holinshed

First edition of Holinshed's Chronicles

Raphael Holinshed (c. 1525–1580?) 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.


Holinshed was born c. 1525, the son of Ralph Holinshed of Sutton Downes in Cheshire.[1]

In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for him, Cyndia Susan Clegg cites two main sources for biographical information: Athenæ Cantabrigiensis (1858) by Charles Henry and Thompson Cooper, and Athenæ Oxonienses (1692) by Anthony à Wood.[1] Cooper and Cooper gives the name of his father and Sutton Downes as the likely place of birth, but gives his date of birth as unknown, and claims it "is commonly supposed"[2] that he was educated at the University of Cambridge.[1]

He lived in London where he worked as a translator for the printer Reyner Wolfe.[1] 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 in 1577 as The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.[1] Holinshed was only one contributor to this work; others involved in its production included William Harrison, Richard Stanihurst, 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 Chronicles 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 Reyner Wolfe, a London printer, conceived the idea of creating a "Universal Cosmography of the whole world, and there with 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 the project, changed to a work about just the British Isles, was run by a consortium of three members of the London stationers. They kept Raphael Holinshed, who employed William Harrison, Richard Stanyhurst, Edmund Campion and John Hooker. In 1577, the work was published in two volumes after some censorship by the Privy Council of some of Stanyhurst's contribution on Ireland.[1] The Scottish section is largely a translation of Hector Boece's Scotorum Historiae.[citation needed]

A second edition was issued in 1587, but it contained some passages that were considered offensive to the Queen and her ministers. The pages in question were removed by order of the Privy Council. The missing passages were separately published in 1723, and a complete reprint appeared in 1807.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Clegg 2015.
  2. ^ Cooper & Cooper 1858, pp. 430–431.


  • Clegg, Cyndia Susan (2015) [2004]. "Holinshed [Hollingshead], Raphael (c. 1525–1580?)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13505.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Cooper, Charles Henry; Cooper, Thompson (2010) [1858]. Athenae Cantabrigiensis. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511700941. ISBN 9780511700941 – via Cambridge Core.

Further reading

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