Sir William Davenant


Dramatic Works

The Dramatic Works of Sir William Davenant, ed. J. Maidment and W. H. Logan, 5 vols (Edinburgh and London, 1872-4).


Sir William Davenant, The Shorter Poems and Songs from the Plays and Masques, ed. A. M. Gibbs (Oxford, 1972).


Sir William Davenant, Gondibert, ed. David F. Gladish (Oxford, 1971).


Alfred Harbage, Sir William Davenant (Philadelphia, 1935).


Arthur H. Nethercot, Sir William D'Avenant (Chicago, 1938).


Letters and Documents

With the exceptionn of his prose Proposition for Advancement of Moralitie (*DaW 79.8, there are no known literary manuscripts in Davenant's own hand. The most substantial body of recorded autograph manuscripts is of original letters by him — although many of these are currently untraced. His various letters, petitions and memoranda, including a few letters which survive in contemporary copies, are given entries below (DaW 120-144). These items may be supplemented by two letters by Davenant which are known only from a printed source: viz. two letters to Bulstrode Whitelocke, dated 9 October 1652 and 3 September 1656, which were published in Whitelocke's Memorials of the English Affairs (London, 1732), pp. 536-7, 650. They are reprinted in Harbage, pp. 117 and 124.

Of a very few other documents bearing Davenant's hand, perhaps the most notable is his signed indenture for the proposed building of a theatre in London in 1639 (*DaW 145). Two other later theatrical agreements signed by him are also recorded (DaW 146-147).


Davenant's most famous work, his magnum opus (‘the Mon'ment of my Minde’, as he called it), is his verse epic Gondibert, written in 1650-51. This was while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London by the Commonwealth government. Several exempla — or portions of exempla — of the first edition of the work in quarto (1651) are known to have borne his presentation inscriptions to various people in his circle and these are recorded below (DaW 150-155). In addition, an ‘Aut[ograph] inscription signed [by Davenant] 1651’ was sold in the Dawson Turner sale at Puttick and Simpson's, 6 June 1859, in lot 677. This may perhaps correspond to either of items *DaW 154 or DaJ 155 below, or else be a detached leaf from another, otherwise unrecorded, presentation exemplum.

An interesting feature of virtually every known exemplum of the 1651 quarto edition of Gondibert is that it bears Davenant's neat autograph corrections, the result of his careful proof-reading of all the printer's sheets, whether before or after binding. The autograph corrections do, however, vary considerably in number, ranging from a few basic changes to as many as fifty-four corrections in a single exemplum. For discussions of this phenomenon, besides that in Gladish's edition, see D.H. Woodward, ‘The Manuscript Corrections and Printed Variants in the Quarto Edition of Gondibert (1651)’, The Library, 5th Ser. 20 (1965), 298-309, and Cornell March Dowlin, ‘The First Edition of Gondibert: Quarto or Octavo?’, The Library, 4th Ser. 20 (1939-40), 167-79. In the latter article it is noted that the corrections in one exemplum (at the University of Pennsylvania) are atypical in that they have ‘the blackness of printer's ink’, and ‘appear to have been made in the printing-house’ (where Davenant could not have been since he was still in the Tower) ‘when the sheets were still unfolded’.

Facsimile examples of the manuscript changes can be found in Gladish, pp. xxiv-xxv, and in the 1970 facsimile edition of the Selden presentation volume (*DaW 150).

There is no comprehensive census of extant exempla of the 1651 quarto of Gondibert, but — in addition, to the presentation volumes already noted, and DaW 2, DaW 30 and DaW 42 below — the locations of exempla known or recorded at various times as bearing Davenant's manuscript corrections (some including corrections in other hands) may be listed as follows:

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris


British Library (2)

Folger (3)


Huntington (2)

University of Illinois (2)

Indiana University, Lilly Library, PR2474.G6 1651

Leeds University Library

Library of Congress

National Library of Scotland

Newberry Library

Robert S. Pirie, New York

University of Pennsylvania (2)

University of Texas at Austin


Victoria and Albert Museum (Dyce Collection)

Wellesley College

Williams College

Worcester College, Oxford

Yale (2)

To this list may be added a few exempla in private ownership or offered in sale catalogues, viz:

one owned by William A. Jackson (1940)

one owned by Emma Va. Unger (1940)

one owned by D. H. Woodward (1965)

one owned by John Sparrow (1906-92), sold at Christie's, 21 October 1992 (Sparrow sale), lot 111, to Hannas

one owned by Peter Beal (Sotheby's, 29 January 1999, lot 316)

one owned by Arthur Kinney, Amherst, Mass. (Sotheby's, 27 May 2004 (Brett-Smith sale), lot 151)

one sold at Sotheby's, 19 November 1906 (Trentham Hall sale), lot 461

one in A. S. W. Rosenbach's sale catalogue English Poetry to 1700 (1941), items 243-5 (the first allegedly ‘Abraham Cowley's copy, with his initials on the title-page’)

one in Brick Row Bookshop, San Francisco, Special List No. 21 (1946), item 112a

one in Peter Murray Hill's sale catalogue No. 16 (1946), item 50, sold to Richard Jennings

one in A. R. Heath's sale catalogue No. 31 (March 1975), item 78

one in Quaritch's sale catalogue No. 1043, Four Centuries of English Books with a few manuscripts (December 1984), item 54

one in Quaritch's sale catalogue No. 1083 (Summer 1988), item 9

one in Quaritch's sale catalogue No. 1165, English Books before 1700, item 97

one sold at Sotheby's, 8 December 1983, lot 16, to Finch

one sold at Sotheby's, New York, 1 May 1990 (Bradley Martin sale), lot 2749

one in Maggs's sale catalogue No. 1272 (1999), item 49.

Evidence of what Professor Nethercot has called ‘an independent manuscript version of Gondibert, or at least a part of it, otherwise unknown’ is provided by the transcript of two omitted stanzas in his exemplum of the poem (DaW 30), while considerable light is thrown by extant copies of the original version of the companion poems The Philosophers Disquisition directed to the Dying Christian and The Christians Reply to the Phylosopher, which Davenant originally wrote as an additional canto of Gondibert. Gibbs recorded two early manuscripts of the former poem and none of the latter, but six manuscripts of the former and two of the latter have now come to light (DaW 37-42, DaW 1-2). These poems should, as Gibbs notes (p. 431), be distinguished from the ‘lost’ seventh canto of the third book of Gondibert, two printed texts of which (dated 1685) were discovered before 1940: see James G. McManaway, ‘The “Lost” Canto of Gondibert’, MLQ 1 (1940), 63-78, and Gladish, pp. xliv-xlv, 253-65.

For a series of satirical poems on Gondibert — one incorporating a passage from the poem (DeJ 83-84) — see Sir John Denham, DeJ 1-7, DeJ 51-55.5, and DeJ 110-111.

Related Manuscripts

No other autograph literary manuscripts of Davenant would appear to survive, although ‘original’ manuscripts of his would not necessarily be in his own hand, for his use of amanuenses is well attested. In one of his poems, To Endimion Porter, published in 1638, he refers to his ‘Man, hot and dry / With fierce transcriptions of my Poesie’ (Gibbs, p. 36, lines 25-6). In one of the satirical poems on Gondibert published in Certain Verses written by severall of the Authors Friends (London, 1653) humorous reference is made to Davenant's paying £10 to have his poem neatly transcribed for the printer's copy (‘'Twas hop'd in time thou woulldst despaire / To give ten pounds to write it faire’: Gladish, p. 277). Indeed, the name of one of Davenant's amanuenses is known, for in 1651 he employed as his secretary and gentleman attendant the younger Thomas Crosse, whose mother he afterwards married (Nethercot, pp. 260-1). In view of this, possible interest might be excited by a verse miscellany compiled by one Thomas Crosse now in the British Library (Harley MS 6057). However, the identity of this compiler is uncertain, since there were other Thomas Crosses in this period (for instance, Thomas Crosse the apothecary and Thomas Cross, Senior and Junior, music engravers). One other manuscript certainly associated with Davenant's family is the songbook of his sister Elizabeth, compiled at Oxford c.1624-30s and now Christ Church, Oxford, MS Mus. 87. The manuscript contains settings of poems and songs by various of his contemporaries, but nothing, however, by William Davenant himself.

The Verse Canon

Davenant was able to supervise for himself the publication of the great majority of his minor poems in his Madagascar (1638). However, the appearance of some of them, often in relatively early versions, in a number of mid-17th-century miscellanies indicates some degree of manuscript circulation of Davenant's poems, probably before as well as after publication. Among the miscellanies known to him, Gibbs has drawn attention, for instance, to St John's College, Cambridge, MS S23 (see DaW 4, DaW 8, DaW 26-27, DaW 61, DaW 68), in view of evidence given in the texts that ‘the copyist was well acquainted with Davenant and his circle’ (p. lxxviii). It is possible, however, that other of the various manuscript texts recorded in the entries below were ultimately derived from the author's own manuscript versions.

Besides the poems published in and just after Davenant's lifetime, a few otherwise unknown poems are ascribed to Davenant in manuscript sources. Although one or two poems have evidently been misattributed to Davenant in manuscripts — On a Gentlewoman dying in Travell and the childe unborne, by William Browne of Tavistock, for instance (BrW 89) or A song made by Sr: Wm D'avenant when confined in Cowet Castle in the Isle of Wight (‘Beat on proud billows Boreas blow’) in Folger, MS X.d.171 (a widely copied poem almost invariably ascribed to Sir Roger L'Estrange) — there is no compelling reason to believe that Davenant was sufficiently popular to have his name readily or carelessly bandied about in miscellanies. Those poems ascribed to Davenant, chiefly recorded in Gibbs, which might at least be worthy of consideration are therefore given entries below under a category of ‘Poems of Uncertain Authorship’ (DaW 76-79.5).

Dramatic Works: Macbeth and The Tempest

Of the extant manuscripts of Davenant's works, clearly the most important is the full text of his opera Macbeth (DaW 94). As Christopher Spencer has argued, this manuscript was apparently transcribed from Davenant's own foul papers in preparation for a theatrical promptbook. It also supplies evidence that Davenant's adaptation of Shakespeare's play may possibly have been based in part on an unknown manuscript version (see Spencer, pp. 65-71). The full autograph score for the opera by the composer John Eccles is preserved as well (DaW 95).

Arias in Davenant's Macbeth by Matthew Locke appear in Folger MS W.b.540, pp. 1-48, and, with additions by E.A. Kellner, prepared for Lord Normanby's private theatre at Florence in 1827, at Leeds University Library and Special Collections (MS 265).

A further dramatic work in which Davenant took a hand and which is represented in manuscripts is The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island. Adapted from Shakespeare's play (see ShW 89-103.5), this was written in collaboration by Davenant and John Dryden and was published in London in 1670 (see The Works of John Dryden, Vol. X (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1970), 1-103, and also After ‘The Tempest’, ed. George Robert Guffey (Augustan Reprint Society, Special Publications 4, Los Angeles, 1969), [item 1]).

A modified, operatic version by Thomas Shadwell and others was published in London in 1674. This version was reprinted in Davenant's Dramatic Works, V, 395-521; in Five Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare, ed. Christopher Spencer (Urbana, 1965), pp. 109-99; and in After ‘The Tempest’ [item 2].

A further re-scoring of the opera was produced by Henry Purcell shortly before his death in 1695. It is edited by Edward J. Dent in The Works of Henry Purcell, XIX (Purcell Society, London, 1912)).

The exact authorship of these respective versions has been a matter of considerable controversy. For his part, Gibbs includes in his edition (pp. 281-3)— as items ‘Of Doubtful Authorship’ — four songs from the 1670 version of The Tempest. These have not been given entries below, but one of them — ‘Dry those eyes which are o'reflowing’ (sung by Ariel and Milcha in Act III, scene ii) — is to be found in a musical setting by John Banister in Edward Lowe's songbook in the British Library (Add. MS 29396, f. 112v). Part of a speech by Prospero in Act III, scene v, beginning ‘If fate be not, who can it forsee’, is copied in late-seventeenth-century miscellanies in the Bodleian, headed ‘Mr. Dryden's Verses’ in Sir William Haward's compilation (MS Don. b. 8, p. 499) and in Leeds University, Brotherton Collection (MS Lt. 54, p. 142).

Other songs from later versions of The Tempest may be found in musical settings in the British Library (Add. MSS 19759, f. 10v; 29396, ff. 111-12; 29397, ff. 18r-18r bis rev.; and 31813, f. 33r).

Copies of Purcell's operatic score (many recorded in Dent, p. xxiii) include examples in the Bodleian (MS Tenbury 1226); in the British Council Library (Chor 221); in the British Library (Add. MSS 31450, 37027, and R. M. 24. e. 10 (2; in the Folger (MS W. b. 534); in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (Sm 567.5); in the Royal College of Music (LCM 990); and (in 1912) two manuscripts then in the possession of Dr. W.H. Cummings. The song ‘Dear pretty youth’ also occurs in manuscripts at the British Library (Add. MS 22099, ff. 46v-7); at Christ Church, Oxford (Mus. MSS 580, ff. 17v-18v, and 960, f. 17r); and in the Folger (MS V.b.197, Part I, pp. 102-3.

Miscellaneous Documents

Various other documents in the National Archives, Kew, and elsewhere relate to Davenant and, on occasions, bear witness to once extant documents written by him. Among them, not given separate entries below, may be mentioned the following:

Papers relating to a Chancery suit between Davenant and John Urswick, merchant tailor, in 1632, are in the National Archives, Kew (Chancery Proceedings, C. 2, Chas. I, D5/65), and are edited in Nethercot, Appendix III, pp. 433-41.

Legal documents concerning the killing by ‘William Davenant’ of Thomas Warren in 1633 are edited in Nethercot, Appendix IV, pp. 443-7. An argument that these may, in fact, relate to another William Davenant, of Essex, is presented in J. P. Feil, ‘Davenant Exonerated’, Modern Language Review, 58 (1963), 335-42.

A warrant for payment to Davenant in the hand of Abraham Cowley and signed by Davenant's patroness Queen Henrietta Maria in 1647 was sold at Sotheby's, 22 June 1976, lot 105, and is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library (MA 3863). A photocopy is preserved in the British Library (RP 780).

The commission signed by Charles II appointing Davenant as Treasurer in Virginia, in September 1649, as well as a report by Davenant himself on 19 September 1649 concerning arms he delivered to Scarborough Castle in 1645, are briefly described in a contemporary calendar of communications received which is now in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge (Jersey Papers, Nos 42-3): see Nethercot, pp. 218, 251.

Some of the Master of Revels papers preserved in contemporary transcripts in the British Library (Add. MS 19256) relate to Davenant, as does an assignment of a share in the Duke's Theatre in 1661 (British Library, Add. Ch. 26514).

Most especially, the original Royal Letters Patent by Charles II authorizing Davenant to form two companies of actors, on vellum, illuminated, dated 15 January 1661/2, is now preserved at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia (DaW 149).

The original sketches and designs for Davenant's masques executed by Inigo Jones — including several dozens for Britannia Triumphans (1638), Luminalia (1638) and Salmacida Spolia (1640) — are still among the Duke of Devonshire's collections at Chatsworth House. Some are illustrated in Trois Masques à la Cour de Charles Ier d'Angleterre, ed. Murray Lefkowitz (Paris, 1970), after p. 26. More are in Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong, Inigo Jones: The Theatre of the Stuart Court, 2 vols (Sotheby Parke Bernet, University of California Press, 1973), II, 661-785. For other documents relating to these productions, see Bentley, Jacobean & Caroline Stage, III, 193-225 (passim).

Peter Beal