Peck's reprint series
Copy of a Letter Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge (1584)
and reprinted from
Peck, ed., Leicester's Commonwealth (Athens and
London: Ohio University Press, 1985).
Copy of a Letter
Written by a Master of Art of Cambridge to his friend in
London, concerning some talk passed of late between two worshipful and grave men
about the present state and some proceedings of the Earl of Leicester and his
friends in England.
spoken and published with most earnest protestation of all dutiful good will and
affection towards her most excellent Majesty and the realm, for whose good only
it is made common to many.
and Manuscript Forms of Leicester's Commonwealth
1584 quarto first edition of Leicester's Commonwealth1
has the following title page, all of which is set within an ornamental border
except the date at the end, which is set into an ornamental base:
THE / COPIE
OF A / LETER, WRYTEN BY A / MASTER OF ARTE OF CAMBRIGE, / TO HIS FRIEND
IN LONDON, CON-/ cerning some talke past of late betwen two wor-/ shipful and
graue men, about the present state, and / some procedinges of the Erle of Leycester
and/ his friendes in England./ CONCEYVED, SPOKEN / and publyshed, wyth most
earnest protes-/ tation of al duetyful good wyl and affe-/ ction, towardes her
most excellent Ma./ and the Realm, for whose good onely it is / made common to
many./ Iob. Cap. 20. Vers. 27./ Reuelabunt coeli iniquitatem eius, & terra
confurget / aduersus eum./ The heauens shal reueile the wicked mans iniqui-/ tie,
and the earth shal stand vp to beare witnes / agaynst hym./ ANNO M. D. LXXXIIII.
The present text has been
prepared from a collation of nine copies of the 1584 edition, namely, those in
the Folger Shakespeare Library; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; the Yale and Cambridge
University Libraries; the Libraries of the Universities of London and of Durham;
the Archbishop Marsh's Library, Dublin; and the two in the British Library. There
are only a handful more extant that have not been consulted. Only three variant
readings have emerged from these mentioned, none of them of any consequence:
1. On page
112 above, for the phrase "so that it redounded," one copy has
"which redounded" (Marsh's).
On page 126, for "no man durst accuse," two have "no men"
(London and Durham).
In the scriptural quotation at the end of the text, for "fire that needeth
no kindling," one has "fire that neede have kindling"
1585 a French translation appeared entitled Discours de la vie abominable,
ruses, trahisons . . . le my Lorde de Lecestre, which evidently emanated from
the same Paris-based group of men. It follows its original very closely but appends
twenty-two pages of additional material, discussed and printed here (see Appendix
B) in a contemporary retranslation into English.2 The
English original appeared in several forms in London in 1641. There was a quarto
version that differs in no substantial way from the first edition: Leicester's
Commonwealth: Conceived, Spoken and Published with Most Earnest Protestation of
All Dutiful Goodwill and Affection towards This Realm.3
There was also, similarly faithful to the original, an octavo with the same title,
which appeared both by itself and (under a cancel title page) with the long poem
"Leicester's Ghost" appended in abridged form.4 And
there was a sixteen-page quarto version, Leicester's Commonwealth Fully Epitomiz'd,
"contracted in a most brief, exact, and compendious way with the full sense
and whole meaning of the former book, every fragment of sense being interposed."5
why the book should have been reprinted in 1641 is unclear; the "fully epitomiz'd"
version even seems like an attempt to capitalize upon a hot market. J. H. M. Salmon
feels that it was one of many books "approving resistance" that were
reprinted just before the Civil War,6 but this seems unlikely
since while the Commonwealth may imply a need for resistance, all that
it approves of is legal retribution against Leicester through Elizabeth's courts
of law. In "Fully Epitomiz'd" a curious addition has been made: "But
it is very strange to see what a contemner of the Prerogatives of England he
is, and how little account he maketh of all the ancient nobility of our realm"7
- perhaps suggesting that the editor was rather a royalist than otherwise. Derek
Wilson suggests that the republication was connected with the trial of the Earl
of Strafford, another royal favorite whom many believed the realm could spare,8
but the book seems to have appeared some months after Wentworth's execution in
May. Dr. Thomas Clancy's suggestion (letter 10 September 1970) is the most plausible
one, that with the weakening of controls upon printing in 1640 and 1641, the public's
taste for "racy reading" was here being gratified. And "Fully Epitomiz'd"
bears him out in this, for of all the deletions there undertaken, scarcely one
salacious detail of the Earl's crimes has been omitted. In any case, the revival
of interest in the tract caused offense in some quarters. On 13 October 1641,
Sir Edward Nicholas, clerk of the Privy Council, wrote to Bourne and Parker, wardens
of the Company of Stationers:
I hear there is now printing at one [John] Dawson's, a printer in Thames Street,
a book called Leicester's Commonwealth, which I am told is very scandalous
to divers of the Lords' ancestors, and a book unfit to be divulged. It is one
[William] Sheares that joins with Dawson in the printing of it. I pray give order
forthwith to stay the printing or dispersing of any of those books until the Lords
of Parliament or the Lords of the Privy Council shall meet, which will be Wednesday
next. [S.P. 16/484/75.]
Commonwealth was reissued again several times in the early eighteenth century
by Dr. James Drake. He claimed, on the title page of the 1706 edition, that he
was using "an Old Manuscript never Printed," and he may have been, but
more likely he was using as copy text one of the 1641 reprints; he almost certainly
was not using the 1584 first edition.9 In 1904, the librarian
of the Lambeth Palace Library, F. J. Burgoyne, brought out an unannotated reprint
of the 1641 quarto (L.968), which he entitled History of Queen Elizabeth, Amy
Robsart, and the Earl of Leicester. Two very brief extracts also appeared
in British Pamphleteers, edited by George Orwell and Reginald Reynolds
(1 : 36-39). And recently the Scolar Press has issued an unannotated facsimile
reproduction of the 1584 edition (the Cambridge University copy) in its English
Recusant Literature series (no. 192). These represent the printed forms that the
Commonwealth has taken to the present day.
the 1584 printed text began to grow scarce through government efforts to limit
its circulation, a great many copies were made of it by hand and others were made
from these. The number of such manuscripts surviving should suffice to demonstrate
the great interest aroused by the book in its own time; there are now several
times more such texts extant than there are printed copies. Of the fifty-eight
manuscripts related to the Commonwealth that have been studied for the
present edition, only the "Letter of Estate," discussed hereafter, is
in any way remarkable. Despite speculation in the past about some of them having
been early drafts, all of the others turn out to be derived from the printed edition,
copied either directly from it or from an intervening manuscript; each of them
contains variants that are plausible misreadings of the original and which at
the same time introduce errors of fact or sense into the text. Of the vast number
of variant readings, nearly all are merely scribal errors or conjectures; thus,
"one Gates" becomes "John Gates," "Bald" Buttler
becomes "Baldwin," in the same way that Cardinal Chatillon becomes "Charlion."
There are a few instances of significant interpolation, however, such as the addition
of Gabriel Bleke' s name and the marginal account of the Drayton Basset riot,
and these have been recorded in the annotations. The following is a list of the
manuscripts studied for this edition (it appears that I have not seen only about
five known manuscripts):l0
Complete. The first category includes all those manuscripts that
represent more or less successful attempts at full and accurate transcription
of the 1584 edition and which have survived substantially undamaged (forty-four
Library, Harleian MSS. 405, 557, 2245, 2290, 4020, 4282, 6021.
Lansdowne MS. 265.
British Library, Stowe MSS. 156, 270, 271.
Library, Hargrave MS. 311.
British Library, Sloane MSS. 1303, 1566, 3273.
British Library, Additional MSS. 6130, 33,739.
Cambridge University Library
MSS. Ff.2.3, Gg.2.28, 1i.5.1., Mm.4.33, Mm. 6.33.
Cambridge, Trinity College
MSS. R.5.9, R.5.18.
Cambridge, St. John's College MSS. L.11, S.46.
Emmanuel College MS. 1.3.28.
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Additional
Oxford, Exeter College MS. 166.
Trinity College, Dublin, MSS.
480, 481, 483.
University of Kent at Canterbury Library.
Library, Petyt MS. 538 (v.45, no.8).
Pierpont Morgan MS. MA 1475.
Shakespeare Library MSS. G.a.7, G.a.8, G.b.11, G.b.13, V.bA1.
MSS. HM 90, HM 267, EL 1161.
Harvard University Library, fMS. 1121.
2. Imperfect. The
second category includes those that were intended to be full and accurate transcriptions
but which have been substantially damaged through time (six MSS.):
Library, Harleian MS. 7582.
British Library, Lansdowne MS. 215.
University Library MS. Mm.6.63.
Yale University Library, Osborne Collection,
Folger Shakespeare Library MS. G .a.9.
Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Incomplete. The third category includes all those that are largely only
paraphrases or summaries of the full text or that reveal deliberate omission of
substantial portions (five MSS.):
University Library MS. Ii.A.33.
Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Jones
Trinity College, Dublin, MS. 482.
Pierpont Morgan MS. MA 662.
Folger Shakespeare Library MS. G.b.12.
4. Extracts. The
fourth category includes those that are listed in their respective catalogues
as copies of the Commonwealth but which actually are only brief collections
of passages drawn from it (two MSS.):
Library, Hargrave MS. 168 (fols. 395-403).
British Library, Sloane MS. 874
("The Earl of Derby's Historical Collections," fols. 7-12v).
related manuscript requires special notice. The "Letter of Estate" (S.P.
15/28/113, fols. 369-88v) was written, apparently in 1585, by an anonymous ill-wisher
of Leicester who leaned heavily upon Leicester's Commonwealth in form and
content but who wrote independently of the refugee courtiers for his own purposes,
with several new charges. Confusion has been caused, however, by the fact that
several scholars have mistaken the "Letter" for an early draft of the
Commonwealth. A reconstructed text of the badly damaged manuscript, with
a discussion of its circumstances, appears in D. C. Peck, "'The
Letter of Estate': An Elizabethan Libel," Notes and Queries,
n.s. 28 (1981): 21-35.
TO APPENDIX A
1. S.T.C. 19399 (sub "Parsons"); in the revised
edition of S.T.C. it will have the number 5742.9. In Allison and
Rogers's Catalogue of Catholic Books, it is no. 261.
2. There was also a Latin adaptation by Julius Briegerus, the Flores Calvinistici,
falsely imprinted Naples, in early 1586.
Wing, Short-Title Catalogue. . . 1641-1700, 2: L.968.
4. Ibid. L.969. "Leicester's Ghost," a rhyme-royal complaint
in the manner of the Mirror for Magistrates, was written by Thomas Rogers
of Bryanstone in about 1605, largely paraphrased from the Commonwealth.
The abridgement appended to L.969 also appeared separately in quarto in 1641 (Wing,
L.970), but the original manuscript has been edited for the Renaissance English
Text Society (vol. 4), by Franklin B. Williams, Jr. See also Bowers, "Kyd's
Pedringano," pp. 248-49, and F. Williams's article, "Leicester's Ghost,"
which contains a full bibliographic analysis of the 1641 editions.
Wing, 2: L.969A. The quotation is from the title page. Unlike the 1584 edition
and the other 1641 versions, this text seems to have become very rare, but has
been reprinted in Harleian Miscellany, 4: 576-83.
Salmon, French Religious Wars in English Political Thought, p. 82.
Wing, 2: L.969A, p. 14; Leicester's Commonwealth, p. 174 above.
D. Wilson, Sweet Robin, p. 267.
Drake, Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley and Perfect Picture of a Favorite.
Reprinted as The Memoirs of Robert Dudley, as Collectanea adamantaea,
no. 24, in four volumes (privately printed, 350 copies, 1887-1888).
10. It should be pointed out that many of these are listed in their respective
catalogues under the name Robert Parsons.
11. As published by Burgoyne, Collotype Facsimile and Type Transcript of an
Elizabethan Manuscript Preserved at Alnwick Castle, Northumberland.
do not reproduce this text in any form for commercial purposes; all other uses
are okay, with acknowledgement. This text has been scanned from the printed copy,
published by Ohio University Press, 1985 -- this is an imperfect process and if
you should want to quote something and have any doubts about you see here, please
feel free to ask. Feedback and suggestions are welcome, .
Posted 13 March 2004, updated 28 August 2004.