Samuel Daniel’s Civil Wars (1609)

Samuel Daniel, Civile Wares (1609). William A. Whitaker Fund

Civil wars have served as catalysts for drastic changes in national and political identities all over the world. One of England’s major civil wars was actually a series of civil wars, known as the Wars of the Roses, during the 15th century between the houses of Lancaster and of York, both branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The members of the House of Lancaster, represented by the red rose, and of York, represented by the white rose, were rivals for the English throne.

Here at the Rare Book Collection, we’ve acquired an exciting new (for us) copy of Samuel Daniel’s The Civile Wares Between the Howses of Lancaster and Yorke from 1609, a landmark historical account of England’s monarchs with an interesting history of revision.

Known commonly by its shortened title Civil Wars, Daniel’s principal work of poetic history has perhaps most famously been cited as one of the main sources for Shakespeare’s history plays, particularly the second tetralogy and primarily, therein, his Richard II. The 1609 edition is the final edition of a work that had been revised various times since the publication of the original text nearly fifteen years earlier in 1595. Daniel’s 1595 Civil Wars was a four-book work, which would later be extended into the eight books of the 1609 edition.

The revisions in 1609 demonstrate, as scholar Gillian Wright has suggested, a fundamental change in Daniel’s attitude toward English civil wars and what constitutes the rightful relationship between a monarch and his/her people. Whereas the 1595 edition privileges the monarch’s rights in condemning rebellion, the 1609 revisions seem to present a shift toward favoring the importance of just government, public good, and the ability of a monarch to fulfill the duties of office.

Among the more famous of the revised episodes is Daniel’s account of the Battle of Shrewsbury, which, it has been argued, was likely influenced in turn by Shakespeare’s  Henry IV Part I. Daniel’s 1609 Civil Wars thus stands not only as a remarkable achievement in English history writing but also as a fascinating example of intertextual influence in early modern England.

Our newly acquired copy has the remarkable 1609 engraved title-page, with a portrait of Daniel by Thomas Cockson. The portrait is set in the center in a large oval platter. Above the portrait, encased in a similar border, are the title of the work and Daniel’s motto which, according to scholar S. Clark Hulse, announces Daniel’s “Virgilian poetic course”: Ætas prima canat veneres postrema tumultus—“Let the first age sing of love, the latter of confusion.”

An inscription on the title-page tells us the copy belonged to one John Yorke, but it is difficult to ascertain who he may have been among the many notable John Yorkes in history. Nonetheless, that this previous owner shares his name with one of the warring houses Daniel depicts invites us to speculate what his relationship may have been with the House of York.

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