A web-based edition of early seventeenth-century political poetry from manuscript sources. It brings into the public domain over 350 poems, many of which have never before been published.
This is an edition of early Stuart political poetry, drawn from manuscript sources. Roughly half the poems have never before been published, and many others have been available only in relatively obscure and dated sources. The fact that these texts have remained difficult for modern readers to access, however, should not be taken as any indication of their significance. For, at a time when restrictions of censorship prevented openly critical discussion of political identities and issues, manuscript verse, which could be disseminated anonymously and passed from hand to hand with relatively little risk, assumed a special value. These poems were known as libels: a term derived from the law, but which came to define a range of unauthorized and controversial texts, on individuals or topical issues (McRae, Literature 27-28. Cf. Bellany, Politics 98; Croft, “Libels” 266). While the libel was indebted at once to popular traditions of invective and elite literary traditions of satire, it emerged in the early seventeenth century as a distinct textual mode. In this edition, we are adopting a consciously inclusive approach to libels and political poetry, in an effort to represent the breadth of exchange in early Stuart manuscript culture. Here, therefore, are straightforward libellous assaults on men and women of state, more abstract representations of political processes, and even some eminently conservative poems written in response to libels.
The edition is borne out of an awareness of widespread interdisciplinary interest in this field, which is being stifled for lack of easy access to sources. The editors have respectively confronted this challenge, having begun research projects which required access to libels, and subsequently having devoted years to the search for texts. Those searches encompassed a range of sources—including verse miscellanies, commonplace books, diaries and letters—which may be found in archives across the world. As a result, the edition performs the function of an early Stuart verse miscellany. Many miscellanies-manuscript volumes of poems, collected by individual readers-document an intense interest in libels. Bodleian MS Malone 23, to take the most stunning example, contains one of the richest contemporary collections of early Stuart political poetry, including many pieces which were over twenty years old when the volume’s owner deemed them worthy of transcription (McRae, Literature 42-43). The present edition builds upon such sources, in order to gather the most comprehensive ever collection of early Stuart political poetry. Its purpose is twofold: to bring this material into the public domain in the most effective possible manner, and to provide a framework for further research. With these ends in mind, it provides one reliable text of each poem that has been identified in manuscript sources, along with explanatory annotation and a list of other known sources.