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  • The Peaceable and Prosperous Regiment of Blessed Queene Elisabeth: A Facsimile from Holinshed's Chronicles (1587)
  • James P. Carley
Cyndia Susan Clegg , editor. The Peaceable and Prosperous Regiment of Blessed Queene Elisabeth: A Facsimile from Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). Textual commentary by Randall McLeod Huntington Library 2005. viii, 570. US $325.00

This edition is made up of thirteen facsimile sections derived from nine copies of the Elizabethan portion of the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles and provides images of all its known originals and cancels. The majority derive from the Huntington Melton copy, which consists almost entirely of proof sheets. The photographs are for the most part full-sized and the result is a bulky but visually accessible tome; it is a welcome change from the E.E.B.O. texts on which scholars are becoming increasingly dependent.

Originally envisaged as a 'uniuersal Cosmographie of the whole world' by the distinguished London printer Reyner Wolfe, the substantial, but much reduced, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland was first published in 1577, four years after his death, by his assistant Raphael Holinshed. In spite of the costs, there was a second edition in 1587, seven years after Holinshed's own death. A kind of secular equivalent to John Foxe's Acts and Monuments, it set out to define 'Englishness' and was an important source for Spenser and Shakespeare. Long studied by literary historians, it has recently attracted the attention of scholars concerned both with the development of English historiography and with censorship. For bibliographers, in particular, the 1587 edition, censored by the Privy Council almost immediately after publication, has yielded valuable information. This new facsimile edition will no doubt, as intended, lead to further discoveries and be a constant reminder of the instability of print. It has long been observed that no two copies of a printed book are identical: here we have the means for discovering just how different they can be and why. 'Comparing any copy of the Elizabethan history in Holinshed's 1587 Chronicles' history of England with the various stages of the text represented in this facsimile,' as Clegg points out, 'should reveal what stages of censorship were carried out in that particular copy.'

As Clegg shows in her 'Historical Introduction,' censorship – in contemporary terms, the need of the book to be reformed – occurred in three phases. This process was overseen by John Whitgift, archbishop [End Page 237] of Canterbury, and many of the changes reflect the delicate state of relations with Scotland during the crisis leading up to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, on 8 February 1587 – Mary had not been beheaded when the chronicle was called in for revision – and then following it.

Through revised references to Mary it is possible to show just how quickly changes were effected. Likewise, early revisions mirror Leicester's interests and indicate changing attitudes to the duke of Alençon and his engagement in the Low Countries. Leicester, however, was not involved in the final stages of censorship, and at this point he was, in fact, 'stripped of his glory.' There are many other examples of just how quickly policy shifted and how it was reflected in the evolving text. Nevertheless, as Clegg demonstrates, the censorship shows that the Chronicles were not part of government propaganda; if they had been, their reformation would have been unnecessary. It is also clear, however, that both Privy Council and citizens believed in the potency of the printed word to affect political reality and acted accordingly.

In spite of its chatty tone, Randall McLeod's 'Textual Commentary' is highly technical and abstruse: rather like the rustics in Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village, this reviewer could only wonder that 'one small head could carry' all the possible permutations he suggests. As he points out, the Huntington Melton copy alone has roughly 10,000 marginal instructions and we have the possibilities for 'infinite' texts. For this essay, McLeod takes an individual quire as representative and he examines proofmarks, tracing the text from its sources through setting and revision. He is thus able to illuminate the differing roles of compositor and proofreader (or 'learned corrector'), reminding us, for example...


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