Nicholas Breton



The Works in Verse and Prose of Nicholas Breton, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1879).


Poems by Nicholas Breton (not hitherto reprinted), ed. Jean Robertson (Liverpool, 1952).

Ringler, PQ (1975)

William A. Ringler, Jr., ‘Bishop Percy's Quarto Manuscript (British Museum MS Additional 34064) and Nicholas Breton’, Philological Quarterly, 54.i (1975), 26-39.

Rollins, Bowre

Brittons Bowre of Delights, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933).

Rollins, England's Helicon

England's Helicon, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1935).


Autograph Manuscripts and Principal Scribal Copies

Very few original manuscripts of the popular and prolific Elizabethan-Jacobean poet Nicholas Breton are known to survive. The most important, and most recently discovered, is the complete autograph manuscript of three unpublished prose dialogues, entitled Auspicante Jehovah. Auxilium memoriae Liber and dedicated to Lord North (*BrN 111). In addition, a scribal copy of An Invective against Treason contains Breton's autograph dedication to the Duke of Lennox (*BrN 39). Two other scribal copies of works by Breton — The Soules immortall crowne (BrN 99) and the Character of Queen Elizabeth (BrN 112) — were evidently his presentation copies to James I and to Sir Robert Cecil respectively, although they do not contain his own handwriting. Breton's hand is found elsewhere in the autograph album of Captain Francis Segar (BrN 114).

A possibly relevant but untraced item is a printed exemplum of Marlowe's Hero and Leander (London, 1629) once owned by Col. W.F. Prideaux and sold at Sotheby's, 15 February 1917, lot 2521, to Dobell. It contained manuscript notes ‘attributed to’ Breton and to Gabriel Harvey, an attribution hardly sustainable, however, in view of the late date of this edition.

Other Manuscript Copies

Numerous copies of poems attributed to Breton are found in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century miscellanies, both printed and manuscript. The most important of the manuscript sources is British Library, Add. MS 34064, which has variously been known as the ‘Percy Quarto MS’ and the ‘Cosens MS’ but which is cited below as the ‘Babington Miscellany’. Another notable early miscellany containing a number of poems attributed to Breton is Bodleian MS Rawl. poet. 85, usually cited as the ‘John Finett miscellany’, although it now seems doubtful that it was compiled by Sir John Finett (1571-1641).

The Canon

The canon of Breton's works, especially his verse, iremains uncertain. The only collected edition of his works is still that of Grosart. However, Grosart had access to no exemplum of the first edition of Brittons Bowre of Delights (London, 1591) and he knew of only a single, imperfect exemplum of The Arbor of Amorous Deuises (London, 1597). He also believed, with doubtful justification, that the Babington miscellany was principally a collection of Breton's works, and thus he printed as Breton's many of the anonymous pieces in this manuscript as well as those for which there is some evidence of Breton's authorship. Perfect exempla (in the Huntington) are now known of both Brittons Bowre of Delights (1591) and The Arbor of Amorous Deuises (1597), and they have been reprinted in facsimile by Hyder Edward Rollins, in 1933 and 1936 respectively. Even so, the availability of these texts only partly helps to determine the canon since both works are (like Englands Helicon) anthologies of poems by various writers (in the second work only one poem is specifically ascribed to Breton). Some further discussion of the canon, with arguments for accepting as Breton's several works not known to Grosart, are offered in Robertson, and also in Ringler, PQ (1975), where it is suggested (p. 34) that ‘Only ten or twelve of the 129 different poems’ in Brittons Bowre of Delights, Arbor of Amorous Deuises, and Babington miscellany ‘can be attributed with any confidence to Breton’.

Since there is at present no substitute for Grosart's edition, and since the canon is likely to remain always a subject of debate, the entries below record, with some comment on evidence of authorship, the known manuscripts of all the works printed in Grosart, as well as of those works added to the canon by later scholars. The titles accepted are also, for the most part, those adopted by Grosart (from whatever sources), except for titles which he himself invented and which are here disregarded.

Peter Beal