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Raphael Holinshed

Raphael Holinshed (c. 1525–1580?) was an English chronicler, whose work, commonly known as Holinshed's Chronicles (first edition 1577; second edition 1587), was one of the major sources used by William Shakespeare for a number of his plays.



Holinshed was the son of Ralph Holinshed or Hollingshead of Cophurst in the township of Sutton Downes (near Pott Shrigley), Cheshire. 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. 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 of Holinshed's life. There is no source which states his date of birth, for instance. He became known only by the Chronicles, and most of the information we have about him relates 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 proved 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 IrelandEdit

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

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.[3]


  1. ^ Clegg 2015.
  2. ^ (King's College London) Holinshed's Chronicles February 2005. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
  3. ^ a b J. A. Hammerton, Outline of Great Books, New York, Wise & Co. (1937)


  • 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.)
  • Patterson, Annabel (1994). Reading Holinshed's Chronicles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226649113.
  • Summerson, Henry (2013). "Raphael Holinshed: new light on a shadowy life". In Kewes, Paulina; Archer, Ian W.; Heal, Felicity. The Oxford Handbook of Holinshed's Chronicles. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-956575-7.

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