English History and Chronicles

English chronicles are a clear strength of the Schulich-Woolf Collection. These works are beautiful examples of early modern printing practice.
Fabyan's chronicle

Very rare second edition of chronicles by Robert Fabyan, with a parallel history of England and France up to the death of Henry VII and the accession of Henry VIII in 1509. The first edition, printed by Richard Pynson in 1516, had concluded with the reign of Richard III. On display is the title page of the second volume, which opens with the reign of Richard I.

Our 1533 edition was printed by William Rastell, a nephew of Sir Thomas More; Rastell was an active printer only between 1530 and 1534, issuing some 30 titles before turning to the practice of law. Further editions of Fabyan’s Chronicle, much edited, appeared in 1542 and in 1559. (The 1559 edition is also in the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection).

The Schulich-Woolf copy bears the bookplates of Philip, Lord Hardwicke, Baron of Hardwicke in the County of Gloucester, c. 1750, and of Philip Grantham Yorke, 9th Earl of Hardwicke.

Fabyan's chronicle

Title page of the second volume

Robert Fabyan, Fabyans Cyronycle, 1533

The first and second volumes of Chronicles

The second edition, much enlarged, of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Ireland and Scotland, famous as Shakespeare’s source for many of his history plays, and most notably, for Macbeth. On display is the title page of the second volume, containing the histories of Ireland and of Scotland.

The first edition of these Chronicles, with illustrations, appeared in 1577 and was meant to be part of a world history, but the vastness of the task made this impossible. Holinshed died in 1580, and the privilege to the work passed from Henry Bynneman to Henry Denham and Ralph Newbery. They put the work of producing a new edition in the hands of Abraham Fleming, who employed a team of associates to edit and extend the text throughout. As shown in our display, the responsibility for the history of Ireland was given to John Hooker; that of Scotland to “F.T.”, i.e., Francis Thynne.

Both editions were subject to censorship, and the publication of the second edition was held up by the Privy Council while some extensive and some minor changes were made, especially to the section on Scotland. The Schulich-Woolf copy features all the omissions and replacement leaves required by the Privy Council.


[Letter from Edward IV to Maximilian, Duke of Austria and Burgundy regarding a case of piracy against English subjects.]

This royal letter, written in a neat chancery script, registers a complaint to the future Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, about an act of piracy committed by Maximilian’s subjects against Edward’s subjects.  Two English merchants, John Layland and John Perro had their goods stored on the ship of John Francke of Suffolk when it was intercepted and taken by servants of the counts of Romont and of Nassau.  The letter enumerates all the goods that were taken, their worth and the amount of damages sought in restitution.

It is interesting to see this letter in the context of Stow’s Annales and the entry for this year, 1479. 

[Letter from Edward IV to Maximilian, Duke of Austria and Burgundy regarding a case of piracy against English subjects.]

Letter from Edward IV to Maximilian, Duke of Austria and Burgundy regarding a case of piracy against English subjects.


This is the third edition of the antiquarian John Stow’s Annales of England. First published in 1580, Stow added editions in 1592, 1601, and 1605; after his death, editions appeared in 1615 and 1631, edited and enlarged by Edmund Howes. (The Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection also contains the 1631 edition.) Each of the first four editions of Stow’s Annales include progressively more information, obtained first-hand, about Elizabethan times. Among his other works, Stow was responsible for the Survey of London, appearing in many editions, beginning in 1598.

There are annotations in an early hand throughout the work. On the pages devoted to the reign od Edward IV there is a note summarizing the text about one Thomas Burdet who is being led to execution: “The father punished & repents for disinheritinge his eldest sonne.” Similar annotations throughout the volume show what interested this reader, and encourage further study of the text and its uses.


Britannia antiqua illustrata, or, The antiquities of ancient Britain, derived from the Phoenicians

This work on ancient Britain presents a substantial amount of imaginary and some documentary evidence to link the earliest British inhabitants and their language to the ancient Phoenicians. The map on display depicts the migration of the Cimbri across Northern Europe towards Britain. There are also sailing ships of a distinctly non-ancient variety, as well as wild animals and a sea monster to fill in parts unknown. The Black Sea is designated “Askenas”, the area associated with the Ashkenazi, whose ancestor was Gomer (also mentioned on the map).

Aylett Sammes, a scholar of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and of the Inner Temple, London, did not live long enough to complete more than the first volume of his controversial scholarly project. His work is still notable for its depictions of Druids and other ancient British peoples, rites and scenes, mainly based on speculation, some of which became accepted as standard factual images. The book also presents the history of Britain in Roman times.

Britannia antiqua illustrata, or, The antiquities of ancient Britain, derived from the Phoenicians

Map of Europe

Aylwtt Sammes, Britannia Antiqua Illustrata, 1676

History of England

The first edition of Milton’s history of Britain, complete only up to the Norman Conquest. Composed much earlier in Milton’s career, in 1649 (Books 1-4) and 1655 (Books 5-6), this volume appeared in between the publication of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

Milton’s history of early Britain is thought to have been part of a much larger historical project, and possibly related to Milton’s original idea of writing an epic poem about King Arthur. The widespread acceptance and admiration of Paradise Lost resuscitated Milton’s reputation, as he had been so intimately connected to Cromwell, having served as a key propagandist during the Interregnum. A participant in history himself, Milton could now bring forward old and new literary projects.

The history of Britain is based on earlier published chronicles, and is important for how it integrates legend and fact, and for the light it shines on its author’s interests.


History of England

Frontispiece portrait of John Milton

John Milton, The History of Britain, 1670

A biographical history of England

James Granger’s biographical history, illustrated with portraits, first appeared in 2 volumes in 1769. It continued to grow, and by the fifth edition, itself enlarged with more than 400 new lives and many new portraits, ran to six volumes. On display is an opening from volume 2, showing “Matoaks (or Matoaka), alias Rebecka, daughter of Prince Powhatan, emperor of Attanoughkamouck, alias Virginia”. As the text explains, this is Pocahontas (1596?-1617), shown in 1616 in English dress, when she lived in London as the wife of planter John Rolfe.

Granger published the first edition of the Biographical history with blank leaves so that readers could paste in portraits. This gave rise to the term “grangerizing”, for this practice, and to refer generally to the extra-illustration of books with images and documents of all kinds. In later editions, such as ours, portraits were supplied by the publishers.

A biographical history of England

Pocahontas shown in 1616 English Dress

James Granger, A biographical history of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution, 1824