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Reference group
Contributors to A Mirror for Magistrates (act. 1553–1563) were a group of poets, members of parliament, and lawyers who composed historical verse tragedies for the closely linked first two editions of the Tudor anthology A Mirror for Magistrates, perhaps the most widely read work of secular English poetry of the entire sixteenth century.

The Mirror began its life in Mary I's reign, under the title A Memorial of Suche Princes, as since the Tyme of King Richard the Seconde, Have Been Unfortunate in the Realme of England. In late 1553 the printer John Wayland decided to release a new edition of John Lydgate's early fifteenth-century collection of tragedies, The Fall of Princes. To complement his edition Wayland conceived of an anthology of specifically British historical verse tragedies to be written in Lydgate's style. Wayland placed one of his print shop employees, the accomplished author and poet William Baldwin, in charge of the project. Baldwin recruited seven other men to contribute to the work, and by summer 1554 he had in hand twenty tragic monologues, each presented in the ghostly voice of a famous English, Scottish, or Welsh figure who met his end between 1387 and 1483. Baldwin himself penned five of these contributions, ‘Lord Mowbray’, ‘Owen Glendower’, ‘Richard Earl of Cambridge’, ‘Richard Duke of York’, and ‘George Duke of Clarence’.

Only two of those who joined Baldwin in composing the Memorial's tragedies have been identified with certainty, George Ferrers and the elder Sir Thomas Chaloner. Ferrers, a prominent lawyer, author, and parliament man, served as Baldwin's chief assistant in the Memorial endeavour and supplied the poems ‘Robert Tresilian’, ‘Thomas of Woodstock’, and ‘Humfrey Duke of Gloucester’. Chaloner, who provided the poem ‘King Richard II’, was an MP and diplomat well known for his humanist learning. A third figure, Thomas Phaer, is often grouped with the original circle of Memorial authors; however, there is no reliable evidence to link Phaer with any specific Memorial poem. He may have been the author of one or more of the unattributed tragedies of the collection, yet the single poem ascribed to him in the 1578 edition of the Mirror, ‘Owen Glendower’, is not his work but that of William Baldwin, as is attested by Baldwin himself in A Memorial of Suche Princes and by all the other Elizabethan editions of the Mirror. The one other Memorial author certainly identified was not a part of Baldwin's circle. This is John Skelton, who had died as long ago as 1529, but whose decades-old ‘King Edward IV’ Baldwin now appropriated for his own collection.

A Memorial of Suche Princes went to press in 1554; however, Queen Mary's chancellor, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, forbade publication of the work. Gardiner almost certainly suppressed the Memorial in response to its topically allusive, politically contentious treatment of a number of its subjects. Some of the poems sought indirectly to glorify leaders and policies of the recently ended evangelical protestant regime of Edward VI (r. 1547–53). Others issued dire warnings to Mary's chief magistrates, presenting them with what the authors claimed were the historically proved tragic consequences of the very sort of political actions in which those officers were themselves engaged.

Baldwin was never allowed to release A Memorial of Suche Princes under Mary. It was only upon the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 that he could return to his collection and publish it (albeit without its most controversial poem, ‘Humfrey Duke of Gloucester’) in a lightly revised form, under the new title A Myrroure for Magistrates (1559).

Baldwin's Myrroure was an immediate success. Such was its popularity that soon after its appearance Baldwin began to construct a second volume of tragedies, this one chiefly devoted to men and women who had died during the reigns of Edward V and Richard III. In compiling this work, The Seconde Parte of the Mirrour for Magistrates, Baldwin drew upon a Marian manuscript in which he had kept tragedies sent to him after the suppression of the original Memorial. From this text Baldwin selected George Ferrers's ‘Edmund Duke of Somerset’, Thomas Churchyard's ‘Jane Shore’ (written in London between spells of military service overseas), and ‘The Blacksmith’ (about the Cornish rebel Michael Joseph) by the lawyer and parliamentarian Humphrey Cavell (b. in or before 1525, d. 1558). Baldwin added to these the prefatory ‘Induction’ and ‘Henry Duke of Buckingham’ by Thomas Sackville, a man of many talents who died in 1608 as first earl of Dorset and treasurer of the realm. Sackville most likely composed these works in 1557 or 1558, intending them not for Baldwin's Memorial but for a similar work of his own devising. Only after abandoning this project did he give Baldwin his two compositions to include in the Seconde Parte. Baldwin also assembled for his continuation several pieces of Elizabethan verse, including his own ‘Lord Rivers’ and ‘Collingbourne’, the respected author Francis Seager's ‘Richard Duke of Gloucester’, and ‘Lord Hastings’ by the young lawyer John Dolman (b. 1540). The last two poems were not commissioned by Baldwin but brought to him by the printer of the Elizabethan edition, Thomas Marshe.

Baldwin died in 1563, before he could complete the editing of the Marian poems destined for the Seconde Parte. Rather than assume Baldwin's editing duties himself, Marshe simply placed the contents of Baldwin's Marian manuscript at the end of the Elizabethan section of the Seconde Parte and in 1563 issued the work, along with the contents of the original 1559 Myrroure, as a hybrid Elizabethan-Marian text. The peculiarly uneven nature of the Seconde Parte did little, however, to detract from the admiration with which the 1563 edition and, indeed, all subsequent versions of the Mirror were received (there were significant new editions in 1574, 1578, 1587, and 1610, as well as numerous reissues of earlier editions). Instead, between its first edition in 1559 and its last reissue in 1621, A Mirror for Magistrates remained almost constantly in demand, earning copious praise from admirers like Sir Philip Sidney, influencing poets and playwrights such as Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare (it was a source for both The Faerie Queene and King Lear, for instance), and spurring numerous authors to try their hands at their own Mirror-style verse tragedies. The Mirror grew with each new edition, as several of those who sought to emulate its poems added their own endeavours directly to the Mirror itself. Despite its doubtful beginning, A Mirror for Magistrates proved to be one of the most enduring and celebrated success stories of early modern English literature.

Scott Lucas


L. B. Campbell, ed., A mirror for magistrates (1938) · S. Lucas, ‘Tragic poetry as political resistance: A mirror for magistrates, 1554–1563’, PhD diss., Duke U., 1997 · S. Lucas, ‘The consolation of tragedy: A mirror for magistrates and the fall of the “good duke” of Somerset’, Studies in Philology, 100 (2003), 44–70 · HoP, Commons, 1509–58