Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bolton, Edmund

BOLTON or BOULTON, EDMUND (1575?–1633?), historian and poet, was born in or about 1575. This date is obtained from an impress neatly drawn with his own pen, and preserved in the British Museum (Harl. MS. 6521, f. 152). In the midst of the ocean rises a peaked rock on the top of which a falcon is seated. The motto is 'Innocentia Tutus,' and beneath it is written 'Edmundus Muria Boltonus, ætatis 47, 1622.' The falcon belied which he bore in his arms was common to several families of the name of Bolton, but it does not appear to which of them he belonged. He himself speaks of his descent from the family of Basset, and also of the Duke of Buckingham having acknowledged him as a poor kinsman. Tms latter circumstance gives credibility to a statement by Oldys that he had seen in a manuscript of Bolton's a remark that he passed his younger days about Groadby in Leicestershire. The statement receives further support from his having been early known to the Beaumont's of Grace-Dieu. His family brought him up in the catholic faith, to which he adhered through life. Writing to the secretary Conway on behalf of a catholic priest, he says that King James, whose servant he had been, allowed 'him with his wife and family to live in peace to that conscience in which he was bred' (Calendar of State Papers, Dom. 1625). In the spirit of his church he added the name of Mary to his baptismal name, as is seen in the impress above described.

The first information concerning him is gathered from his memorial to Sir Hugh Hammersley, lord mayor of London, written in 1632, when he was in poverty and distress. In that document he says 'he lived many years on his own charge a free commoner at Trinity Hall, Cambridge' (Harl. MS. 6621). From the university he removed to the Inner Temple and 'lived in the best and choicest company of gentlemen.' This brings down his history 'till about twenty-six years since [viz. to about 1606], when he married the gentlewoman whom he still, to his greatest worldly happiness, enjoys.' He alludes to his University life in his 'Elements of Armories,' where Sir Amias, who represents himself, says 'you turne mee thereby to the Vniversity againe as it were, for that I cannot satisfie your allowable desire, but by the vse of some such pickt flowers, as heretofore, in that sweet nourseiy of generous knowledges, came to my hand howsoeuer' (p. 20).

Bolton was an indefatigable student and amassed large stores of historical and antiquarian learning. Kitson describes him as 'a profound scholar and eminent critic,' while in the judgment of Hunter he claims as an antiquary to stand beside Camden, Selden, and Spelman. Early in life he formed an acquaintance with Camden, and he made extensive travels in England and Ireland in search of antiquities. As his religion stood in the way of his progress on any of the ordinary roads to distinction, he adopted the desperate expedient of trusting to literature as the source of his livelihood. He first appeared as an author in 1600, when he was associated with Sidney, Spenser, Raleigh, and other poets, as a contributor to 'England's Helicon.' But even in the profession of literature his religion proved a hindrance, for when he had composed a life of Henry II for an edition of Speed's 'Chronicle,' it was rejected on account of his having given too favourable a representation of the conduct and character of St. Thomas of Canterbury. In one of his letters to Sir Robert Cotton he complains bitterly of the impositions of the booksellers. It would seem that the Marquis of Buckingham obtained for him some place about the court of King James I, but what particular office it was has not been discovered.

In 1617 he proposed to the king a design for a royal academy or college, and senate of honour, on the most magnificent scale. The scheme was afterwards spoken of in favourable terms by the Marquis of Buckingham in the House of Peers, and in 1624 the details were finally settled. The academy royal of King James was to have been a corporation with a royal charter, and was to have a mortmain of 200l. a year and a common seal. It was to consist of three classes of persons, who were to be called tutelaries, auxiliaries, and essentials. The tutelaries were to be knights of the Garter, with the lord chancellor, and the chancellors of the two universities; the auxiliaries were to be lords and others selected out of the flower of the nobility, and councils of war, and of the new plantations; and the essentials, upon whom the weight of the work was to lie, were to be 'persons called from out of the most able and most famous lay gentlemen of England, masters of families, or being men of themselves, and either living in the light of things or without any title of profession, or art of life for lucre, such persons being already of other bodies,' The members of the academy were to have extraordinary privileges, and among others were to have the superintendence of the review, or the review itself, of all English translations of secular learning, to authorise all books which did not handle theological arguments, and to give to the vulgar people indexes expurgatory and expunctory upon all books of secular learning printed in English. The members were to wear a riband and a jewel, and Bolton even speculated on the possibility that Windsor Castle might be converted into an English Olympus, and assigned to the members as the place in which to hold their chapters. Eighty-four persons were selected by Bolton as the original members. Among the most remarkable names are those of Sir Thomas Aylesbury, George Chapman, Sir Edward Coke, Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Kenelm Digby, Sir Dudley Digges, Michael Drayton, Thomas Habington, Sir Thomas Hawkins, Hugh Holland, Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, Sir Thomas Lake, Sir Toby Matthew, Endymion Porter, Sir William Segar, Sir Richard St. George, John Selden, Sir Henry Spelman, and Sir Henry Wotton. The project was favourably entertained by King James, and seemed on the point of being accomplished, when his majesty died. It did not find equal favour in the court of Charles I; and the Duke of Buckingham, who had been its main supporter, growing indifferent to it, the whole scheme fell to the ground.

Besides his grand idea of the establishment of an order of men of science and literature to be in some way connected with the order of the Garter, he proposed that a grand collection should be formed of what history had preserved for England, that a minute history of the city of London should be written, that a map on a very extensive scale of the country around London should be prepared, and that a life of the Duke of Buckingham, commensurate with his great deservings, should be drawn up.

All his schemes failed. He was now becoming advanced in years. He had a wife and three sons, and very slender means of support, none indeed at last, for there can he no doubt that he is the ‘Edmund Bolton of St. James, Clerkenwell,' who being assessed as a recusant convict at 6l. in goods, is returned by a collector of the subsidy of 1628 as having to his knowledge no lands Or tenements, goods or chattels on which the tax could be levied, ‘but hath been a prisoner in the Fleet’ ever since the assessment was made. The same return was made in 1629, he only difference being that his place of detention was then not the Fleet at the Marshalsea. It was after this that he made his appeal to the city authorities, and he appears to have made some progress with the work; but here he found himself anticipated by his friend Ben Jonson, who had promised to prepare for them ‘Chronological Annals;’ and when he talked of the history and the map costing 3,000l. or 4,000l., Sir Hugh Hammersley told him plainly that in prosecuting the application he would but berating the air. The latest letter of his at present known is addressed to Henry, Lord Falkland, on 20 Au . 1633. Probably he died soon afterwards, gut the exact date of his death is not known.

His works are:

  1. ‘The Shepheard’s Song: a Caroll or Himne for Christmas,' In ‘England’s Helicon,' 1600. To ‘England's Helicon' Bolton also contributed ‘A Pastoral Ode’ and three other pieces.
  2. ‘The Elements of Armories,’ Lond. 1610, 4to (anon.) Dedicated to Henry, earl of Northampton. The work consists of a dialogue or conference between two knights, Sir Eustace and Sir Amias, continuing through thirty-five chapters. It is written in a very pedantic style, but many curious examples are brought forward and illustrated by woodcuts, spiritedly executed. The original manuscript of this curious book is in the library of Christ Church at Oxford.
  3. ‘Life of King Henry II.' This was intended for insertion in Speed’s ‘Chronicle,' but as it was thought to give a too favourable account of St. Thomas à Becket, it was rejected and another ‘Life’ by Dr. Thomas Barcham was substituted for it.
  4. ‘Carmen Personatum. In quo, Maria Regina Scotorum gratulatur sibi de corpore suo, ab obscurâ et deuiâ urbeculâ, Petriburgo, filii sui Iacobi Regis pietate, ad lucem Westmonasterii Proauum suorum sepulchreti officiosissimè traducto: A.D. MDCXII. Tabulæ ad monimentum eiusdem Reginæ pensili ab authore destinatum.' Cotton MS. Titus A, xiii. 178-184.
  5. ‘The Roman Histories of Lucius Iulius Florus, from the foundation of Rome, till Cæsar Augustus, for aboue DCC yeares, & from thence to Traian neare CC yeares, divided by Florus into IV ages. Translated into English.' Lond. 1618, 12mo; 1636, 16mo. The dedication to the Duke of Buckingham is signed ‘Philansistophil.' This word, which Bolton often used afterwards, was invented by himself, and may be interpreted ‘friend of the king's friend.'
  6. ‘Hypercritica, or a Rule of Judgment for writing or reading our History’s: Delivered in four Supercensorian addresses by occasion of a Censorian Epistle, prefix'd by Sir Henry Savile, knight, to his Edition of some of our oldest Historians in Latin, dedicated to the Late Queen Elizabeth' (1618?). This small piece is frequently quoted for the notices it contains of contemporary poets. It was published by Dr. Anthony Hall at the end of ‘Nicolai Triveti Annalium Continuatio, ut et Adami Murimuthensis Chronicon, &c.,’ Oxford, 1722, and it is reprinted in Haslewood’s ‘Ancient Critical Essays upon English Poets and Poësy,’ Vol. ii. Lond. 1815.
  7. ‘Nero Cæsar, or Monarchie depraved. An historicall worke. Dedicated, with leaue, to the Dvke of Bvckingham, Lord Admirall. By the Translator of Lucivs Florvs,’ Lond. 11124, fnl; 2nd edit, enlarged, 1627. This is a life of Nero with particular notes of transactions in Britain. Bolton brings coins and medals to illustrate statements by historians. The Harleian BIS. 6521 consists, for the most part, of extracts from ancient authors, gathered in preparation for this book and for a similar work which he contemplated on the life of Tiberius. At the end of some copies of ‘Nero Caesar’ there is a tract entitled:
  8. ‘An Historicall Parallel; or a Demonstration of the notable oddes, for the more use of Life, betweene reading large histories, and briefe ones, how excellent soever, as those of Lucius Florus. Heretofore, privately written to my good and noble friend Endymion Porter, Esq., one of the Gentlemen of the Princes bed-chamber.'
  9. ‘Commentaries Roial. Comprehending the end of King James, & beginning of King Charles. The historical part illuminated with coiines of Honour.' The contents of this book, with its dedication to King Charles I, are preserved in the Royal MS. 18 A. lxxi. The treatise itself is in the State Paper Office.
  10. ‘The Cities Advocate, in this Case or Question of Honor and Annes, Whether Apprenticeship extinguisheth Gentry?’ Lon . 1629, 4to. The second edition is entitled ‘The Cities great concern, in this Case or Question of Honour and Arms, Whether Apprenticeship extinguisheth Gentry? Discoursd; with a clear reftxtation of the pernicious error that it doth,’ Lond. 1675, 12mo. The tract is generally but wrongly attributed to John Philipot, Somerset herald.
  11. ‘The Cabanet Royal, with the chief pronisions which constitute and furnish it for the seruice of Civil Wisdome, & Civil Glorie, Toucht vpon in an Epistle Roial, 23 Octob. 1627.’ dedicated to King Charles I. Royal MS. 18A, lxxi.
  12. ‘Vindiciæ Britannicæ, or London righted by rescues and Recoveries of antiquities of Britain in general, & of London in particular, against uuwarrantable prejudices, and historical antiquations amongst the learned; for the more honour, & perpetual just uses of the noble island & the city.' This book was never printed, though prepared by the author for the press.
  13. Latin verses before Camden‘s Britannia,' before Andrewes’ ‘Unmasking of a Feminine Machiavell,’ 1604, an before Jonson's 'Volpone,' 1605. Ritson ascribes to him a sonnet ‘to Lucie countesse of Bedford’ prefixed to Drayton‘s ‘Mortimeriados,’ 1596, and he is probably the ‘E. B.’ who in 1606 published the ‘Hero and Leander’ of Marlow and Chapman. In the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian (lxxiii. 256) are a few verses by Bolton to the Duke of Buckingham in 1624.

[MS. Life by the Rev, Joseph Hunter in Brit. Mus.; Proceedings of Soc. of Antiquaries (1846), i. 162; Archæologia. xxxii. 132-149; Bayle`s Gen. Dict. ed. Bernard, Birch, and Imkman (1735), iii. 463-468, Biog. Brit (Kippis), ii. ans; British Bibliogragher, iii, (reprint of England’s Helicon, 3, 9, 18, 134, 147); Calendars of State Papers; Gulielmi Camdeni et illustrium virorum ad G. Camdenum Epistolæ, 188; Camden's Elizabeth, Heraldry in England, 240; Dodd's Ch. Hist. ii. 431; Gent. Mag. cii. 499; Haslewood’s Ancient Critical Essays, ii. 221, 237; Add. MSS. 5864, f. 76, 24488, ff. 66-87; Cotton. MS. Julius C. iii. 28-32 v. 128 b; Harl. MSS. 6103, 6143, 6521, 7579; Moulds Bibl. Heraldica, 71, 106, 193; Ritson’s Bibl, Poetics, 135, and Bliss’s manuscript note; Warton’s Hist. of English Poetry (1840), iii. 39, 229, 231, 232; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. (Bliss), iii. 36.]

T. C.