Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirley, Henry

SHIRLEY, HENRY (d. 1627), dramatist, was the second son of Sir Thomas Shirley the younger [q. v.] of Wiston in Sussex and his first wife, Frances Vavasour (Shirley, Stemmata Shirleiana, 1873). The conjectures of Tierney (Hist. of the Castle and Town of Arundel, i. 67), of Wood (Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 740), and of Mr. Fleay (English Drama, ii. 248), that he was either brother, father, or near kinsman of James Shirley [q. v.] the dramatist, are contradicted by the authenticated pedigree of the Shirleys of Wiston, where it is stated that Henry sine sobole occisus est. Nothing further is known of Henry Shirley's life except its tragic close. On the Friday before 31 Oct. 1627 he presented himself at the lodging in Chancery Lane of Sir Edward Bishop, then a member of parliament, ‘to demand of him an annuity of 40l., which the said Sir Edward Bishop was to give him.’ Shirley, who had no weapon about him, was run through by Sir Edward Bishop with his sword. Bishop escaped, remained for some time in hiding, and was sentenced to be burned in the hand, but was pardoned on 21 Oct. 1628 (cf. Birch, Transcripts, Brit. Mus. Addit. MS. 4177). The notoriety attaching to the tragic incident is shown by the reference to it in Prynne'sHistriomastix’ (1633, p. 554, in the margin), where, as an example of ‘the sudden and untimely ends of all those ancient play-poets,’ is mentioned the case of ‘——Sherly, slaine suddenly by Sir Edward Bishop, whiles hee was drunke, as most report’ (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 26–7).

None of the plays attributed to Henry Shirley have been preserved, with the exception of ‘The Martyr'd Souldier,’ printed in 1638, ‘as it was sundry Times Acted with a generall applause at the Private house in Drury Lane, and at other publicke Theaters.’ It is designated an ‘old’ play in the ‘Lines to the Reader’ (conveyed from Thomas Heywood's ‘The Royall King and the Loyall Subject’) appended to it on publication (reprinted in vol. i. of Mr. A. H. Bullen's ‘Old English Plays,’ 1882). It is a far from attractive specimen of the miracle-play run to seed, but some of its passages are instinct with life, while the work as a whole conveys the impression that the author lacked the schooling of a professional playwright. Four other plays by Henry Shirley were entered on the ‘Stationers' Registers’ (9 Sept. 1653), but are not known to have been published—viz. ‘The Spanish Duke of Lerma,’ ‘The Duke of Guise,’ ‘The Dumb Bawd,’ and ‘Giraldo, the Constant Lover.’ Some verses of his, apparently Hudibrastic in theme as well as in metre, are preserved among the Ashmolean MSS. in the Bodleian (vol. xxxviii. No. 88). In John Davies of Hereford's ‘Scourge of Folly’ (1611) is an epigram (numbered 163; Davies's Works, ed. Grosart, ii. 27) on the author's ‘right worthy friend and truly generous gentleman, Henry Shirly, Esquire,’ of which the point is the uselessness of painting the lily.

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