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Raphael Holinshed

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Raphael Holinshed

Raphael Holinshed (1529–1580; ) 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.

He is thought to have been born in Sutton Hall, Sutton Lane Ends, Cheshire,[1] but lived in London where he worked as a translator for the printer Reyner Wolfe.[2] 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. Holinshed was only one contributor to this work; others involved in its production included William Harrison, Richard Stanyhurst, 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 Chronicle 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

First edition of Holinshed's Chronicles

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.[3] The Scottish section is largely a translation of Hector Boece's Scotorum Historiae[4]

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.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^ ODNB
  3. ^ Chronicles(King's College London) Holinshed's February 2005. Accessed 1 June 2008.
  4. ^ a b J.A. Hammerton, Outline of Great Books, New York, Wise & Co. (1937)


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External links

  • Works by Raphael Holinshed at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Raphael Holinshed at Internet Archive
  • Holinshed's Chronicles, Volume V: ScotlandExcerpts from , at Macbeth Navigator.
  • Holinshed's Chronicles at Project Gutenberg
  • The Holinshed Project at Oxford University, with parallel texts of the 1577 and 1587 editions.
  • ChroniclesHolinshed's , from the University of Pennsylvania
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