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SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 41.1 (2001) 109-132
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The Faulty Verdict in "The Crown v. John Hayward"
In 1601, Queen Elizabeth threw Shakespeare's contemporary John Hayward in the Tower for writing a seditious history of Richard II. Four years later, Hayward found employment as a history tutor to King James's son. He later wrote about one of his conversations with Prince Henry, noting how he cautioned the prince against history writing; he told him that "men might safely write of others in maner of a tale, but in maner of a History, safely they could not: because, albeit they should write of men long since dead, and whose posteritie is cleane worne out; yet some alive, finding themselves foule in those vices, which they see observed, reproved, and condemned in others; their guiltinesse maketh them apt to conceive, that whatsoever the words are, the finger pointeth onely at them." 1 Hayward here warns the prince of the dangers of writing political history in which guilty readers might too easily believe that "the finger pointeth onely at them." His own fortunes confirm his advice. In 1599, he published a prose history covering the last years of King Richard II's reign and the first year of King Henry IV's under the rather misleading title The First Part of the Life and Raigne of King Henrie IIII. His topic was a spectacular one, given Queen Elizabeth's well-known discomfort with representations of Richard II. Her frequently cited quip, "I am Richard II, know ye not that?" suggests the contemporary association of the queen with her deposed predecessor. 2 While the earl of Essex's rebellion offers the most famous coupling [End Page 109] of a seditious activity and a representation of Richard II, Hayward's Life and Raigne equally attracted the crown's attention. The history's topic, its immense popularity (as the printer claimed, "no book ever sold better"), 3 and its dedication to the earl of Essex led the crown to suspect Hayward of treason. Two weeks after its second publication, the crown confiscated and burned copies of the history and interrogated the printer, the licensor, and the author himself. Imprisoned for sedition, Hayward remained in the Tower for the rest of Elizabeth's reign.
This sensational publication history of Life and Raigne has determined readings of the text ever since. In condemning Hayward as a seditious historian, however, the crown established a conventional portrait at odds with the above image of the author tutoring royalty on matters of history. As a result, studies of his Elizabethan prose history rarely acknowledge his fortunes as a royalist writer under James, instead focusing on the author's alleged sedition in Life and Raigne. 4 Several scholars argue, for instance, that Hayward's particular brand of "politic history" attracted the crown's attention because, diverging from the English chronicle, it invited parallel with contemporary events. 5 In producing a "politic history" on the sensitive topic of Richard II's deposition, Hayward betrayed his arguably seditious motives: his case shows "evidence of treasonous ambitions," as Arthur Kinney argues; Leeds Barroll likewise notes that the history was "topical, current, scandalous and suppressed." 6 Further, some critics suggest that the Hayward case exemplifies Elizabethan methods of "public surveillance," exposing the dangers that faced writers such as Shakespeare who produced historical fiction in an atmosphere of "despotism." 7 Hayward's provocative topic, combined with the crown's despotic reaction to subversive writing, produced his sensational arrest and trial. Another group of critics instead acknowledges that Hayward himself was innocent of espousing radical politics in Life and Raigne but maintains that he appeared seditious due to his association with the rebellious earl of Essex. F. J. Levy argues that "had Hayward not dedicated his book to Essex, all might still have gone well"; concurring, Cyndia Susan Clegg writes that the censorship of Life and Raigne resulted from "the singular affairs of Essex, [Archbishop John] Whitgift, and the Irish campaign." 8 According to these studies...