Sir John Davies



The Works in Verse and Prose of Sir John Davies, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, 3 vols (London 1869-76).

Hearne (1771)

A Collection of Curious Discourses written by Eminent Antiquaries, ed. Thomas Hearne, 2nd edition [revised by Sir Joseph Ayloffe], 2 vols (London, 1771).


The Poems of Sir John Davies, ed. Robert Krueger (Oxford, 1975).


The Life, Letters, and Writings of John Hoskyns 1566-1638, ed. Louise Brown Osborn (New Haven & London, 1937)


Autograph Manuscripts

Only a few literary autograph manuscripts of Sir John Davies have survived. Two of the extant scribal copies of Nosce Teipsum, one presented to the Earl of Northumberland (*DaJ 70), the other presented to Edward Coke (*DaJ 71), contain autograph dedicatory poems. The original autograph verse epistle sent to Sir Thomas Egerton on the death of his second wife is preserved among the Ellesmere Papers (*DaJ 106). It is now also possible to identify as autograph certain papers delivered by Davies to the Society of Antiquaries and preserved among the Cotton Manuscripts in the British Library (DaJ 242-245 and *DaJ 125).

Letters and Documents

In addition to these items, however, (though not given separate entries below) many of Davies's original letters and official papers are preserved. Repositories with notable examples include the National Archives, Kew; the British Library (Additional, Cotton, and Lansdowne MSS); the library of the Marquess of Salisbury, Hatfield House; the Bodleian Library (MSS Carte 61-2, D'Orville 52); and Trinity College, Dublin (MS 580, ff. 14r-15r, and MS 842, ff. 113r-28r).

Perhaps the most important collection, however, is the Hastings Papers now in the Huntington Library. A huge quantity of Davies's papers and correspondence, covering much of his career, including when he was Solicitor-General and Attorney-General for Ireland (1603-19), came into the muniments of the Hastings papers through the marriage in 1623 of his daughter Lucy (1613-79), to Ferdinando Hastings (1609-56), afterwards sixth Earl of Huntingdon. Among the boxes of Hastings papers under the categories of ‘Personal’, ‘Irish’,‘Religious’, ‘Literature’, and ‘Parliamentary’ papers — which include notebooks, devotional material, correspondence, and other papers by Lucy herself — are items such as Lucy's marriage settlement; Davies's petitions to James I; and his autograph notes of a speech by James I (19 February 1623/4); as well as Davies's will, written in 1626 (HAP 17/20), and the Latin epitaphs on Davies and his wife, Eleanor, which Lucy had engraved on their tombstones in 1652. Several of Davies's letters of 1624-6 are edited in The Huntington Papers (London, 1926), III, 44-7 (with a facsimile example), and V, 5, 12-13.

Some of Davies's letters are printed in Grosart's ‘Memorial-Introduction’ (I, i-cxxiv). That edition also includes (III, 117-213), under the title State Papers on Ireland, the texts of four of Davies's letters to Sir Robert Cecil written between 1604 and 1610 and containing extensive observations on Ireland. Two of the letters are preserved in the originals (National Archives, Kew, SP 63/218/52-3, SP 63/219/132) and another in a contemporary transcript (British Library, Add. MS 4793, ff. 34r-56r). A letter to Cecil in Lansdowne MS 88 (f. 52r) is reproduced in part in Greg, English Literary Autographs, Plate XLVII(a)

Manuscript Copies

Certain scribal copies of works by Davies — including Nosce Teipsum (DaJ 72) and A Discovery of the State of Ireland (DaJ 239) — are likely to have been made by his amanuenses or by persons in his immediate circle. Some other texts — of Orchestra (DaJ 100) and of substantial collections of his Epigrammes (DaJ 4-9) — probably derive from very early copies of Davies's autograph manuscripts circulated within the Inns of Court. One other manuscript source (Edinburgh University Library, MS La. III. 444), cited in the entries below as the Lucy Davies MS, has a special connection with the author since it evidently belonged to his daughter Lucy. It is a folio volume containing copies in several hands of Davies's Psalms (dated 1624) and of fifteen other poems by him, the texts almost certainly transcribed from Davies's own papers. It is possible that the volume was begun towards the end of Davies's life (although no trace of his hand appears); but it was at least in part compiled after his death since among a few poems and historical notes by other authors entered in the volume is a funeral elegy on him. The poems by Davies in this manuscript remained unpublished until the appearance of Grosart's edition (1869). The manuscript is used in Krueger's edition (and described, though erroneously cited as Laing MS. III. ‘44’, pp. 440-1).

Many of Davies's poems and epigrams enjoyed a circulation in manuscript both before and after their publication, and many copies are found in seventeenth-century miscellanies recorded below. Some of Davies's prose tracts and speeches, on legal, political, and antiquarian matters, had a comparable degree of circulation. The Question concerning Impositions (DaJ 256-80), written at the time of the debate on Royal Impositions in 1620 but not published until 1656, proved to have particularly abiding relevance: a number of surviving texts were no doubt prompted by the persistence and increasing importance of the issue in the reign of Charles I.

The Verse and Prose Canon

The canon of Davies's verse is unlikely ever to be finally settled, but a major advance on Grosart's version is made in Krueger. For present purposes, therefore, the canon accepted here is Krueger's version, including poems which he believes may possibly be by Davies (see DaJ 124-279). Davies's known ‘literary’ prose works are all edited in Grosart, but A New Post (1620), reprinted in Grosart (II, 171-242), is now known to be a reissue in 1620 of Robert Mason's Reasons Academy (London, 1605), and not a work by Davies.

Dramatic Works

Davies's dramatic works, such as they are, remain open to editorial investigation. Various early texts of portions of the Entertainment at Harefield (DaJ 290-300), for instance, have not been fully edited; neither has the canon of Davies's contributions to such performances been settled. Davies throws light on one such contribution in a letter to Cecil (undated but endorsed 1601) now at Hatfield House (Cecil Papers 90/69, quoted in Krueger, p. xxxviii). Davies reports having received, via ‘my Lord of Cumberland’, Cecil's request that ‘he should instantly conceive a speech for introduction of the Barriers’, which he has done, though ‘This speech doth nothing satisfy me’. He adds, significantly, that ‘The gentleman that is to speak it must not know that it comes from me, for then he will never learn it’, and that ‘I am not ambitious to be reputed the author of a speech’, though willing for it to please. The speech in question cannot be identified among the Cecil Papers, although one of a similar nature is to be found among the papers of the Cumberland family, now owned by the Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth House (Bolton Abbey MSS, Sundry Documents, No. 54). The speech, endorsed ‘A Copie of my lo: of Combrlands speaches to the Queene vpon the 17th day Nouembr in 1600’, was first printed in T.D. Whitaker, The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven (London, 1805), pp. 248-9. It was reprinted from Whitaker, and doubtfully attributed to Lyly, in The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford, 1902), I 415-16. Most speeches of this kind must remain anonymous (as they were evidently intended to be), but Davies's known involvement in Court entertainments in this period makes him at least as strong a candidate for authorship of certain pieces as John Lyly.


Some of Davies's verse survives in copies other than those recorded in the entries below. In addition to the manuscript texts of his Verses…upon a Dosen of Trenchers (DaJ 113-22), examples of original wooden trenchers containing the verses have survived (in the Victoria and Albert Museum and in several private collections): see Doughtie, Lyrics from English Airs, pp. 596-600. A letter from Davies to Sir Michael Hicks, dated 20 January 1600, now in the British Library (Lansdowne MS 88, f. 4r), apparently accompanied a set of these verses.

Also to be found is a verse work by Robert Chambers, entitled A Christian Reformacion of Nosce Teipsum, which can be regarded as a critical sequel to Davies's Nosce Teipsum. It is preserved in a 21-folio-leaf manuscript, possibly in Chambers's own fair copy, dedicated and presented to James I, in the British Library (Royal MS 18 A. LXIX). It is discussed in R.H. Bowers ‘An Elizabethan Manuscript “Continuation” of Sir John Davies' Nosce Teipsum’, Modern Philology, 58 (1960), 11-19.

A manuscript book of ‘Common Lawes of England’, headed ‘Antiquities, Amplenes and Excellencie’, in Lincoln's Inn Library (Cooper Collection, Misc. 207), contains a note saying that the work ‘seems to be ye performance of Sir John Davis by comparing it with his charge to the Grand Jury for ye County of York’, but the ascription may be no more than a former owner's conjecture.

Some notes on Davies's life written in 1674 by Theophilus Hastings (1650-1701), seventh Earl of Huntingdon, politician, are to be found in the Bodleian Library (MS Carte 62, ff. 590r-1r: see Krueger, p. xxv), as is a brief life written by John Aubrey (MS Autog. d. 21, f. 147r).

Peter Beal