Holinshed’s Chronicles

State-authorised history.

I’ve been aware of something called Holinshed’s Chronicles most of my life, but I’ve never known anything more about it than the name. I was having a glance at Francis Bacon’s Essays last night, which had various references to Holinshed, and decided to do a search online for more information. That led me to the Holinshed Project.

Like the Phil Soc, the site is based at Oxford, but unlike the Phil Soc, it’s not blocked (as it appeared to be at the time –JH.). It includes the texts of the two different editions, and they’re publicly available. Often with projects like these, you suddenly hit a paywall or have to be a member of Oxford University or the EETS (and a member of some university) or etc. The site includes some background about the writing of the Chronicles, an extensive bibliography, and various matters of related interest to professional historians.

The text itself is actually on the English Department website and attempts to be a faithful rendering of the original, right down to the old-fashioned long-s (ſ).

The first three books are about the history, geography, food, customs and divers other topics, including ‘Whether it be likely there were euer any Gyaunts inhabiting in this iſle or not’, which no doubt kept the pub philosophers of Tudor England quite busy. Our man says, “For this cauſe therefore I haue nowe taken vpon me to make thys briefe diſcourſe inſuing, therby to prooue, that the opiniõ of Gyaunts is not altogether grounded vpon vayne & fa|bulous narrations”, but he does seem to try hedging his bets a little.

In the section on language I learn

The thirde language apparauntly knowen is the Scythian or highe Dutche, brought in at the firſt by the Saxons, an hard and rough kinde of ſpeach god wotte, when our nation was brought firſt into acquaintance withall, but now chaunged with vs into a farre more fine and eaſie kind of vtteraunce, and ſo poli|ſhed and helped with new and milder wordes that it is to be aduouched howe there is no one ſpeache vnder the ſonne ſpoken in our time, that hath or can haue more varietie of words, copie of phraſes, or figures or floures of eloquence, thẽ hath our Engliſhe tongue, although ſome haue affirmed vs rather to barke as dogs, then talke like men, becauſe the moſt of our wordes (as they doe in déede) incline vnto one ſyllable.

Well, another amateur telling us all about language. 500 years and nothing has changed. I love the bit about barking like dogs and that old clarion cry from the 16th century that English was nothing but monosyllables.

In the section on the measurement of time is a version of the old rhyme I learnt long ago about how many days there are in the month (Thirty days hath Nouember, this one begins). The writer also laments the confusion between the calendar year beginning in January and the business year beginning on the 25th of March.

The Chronicles are like an old chest which has been lying half-forgotten until someone stumbles across it one day and finds curiosities rather than treasures inside, which are the diverting and amusing relics of a long-lost age.

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