William Habington



The Poems of William Habington, ed. Kenneth Allott (University Press of Liverpool, London, 1948).


William Habington (or Abington) — author of poems which are, in his own words, ‘not so high, as to be wondred at, nor so low as to be contemned’ — has left no authorial manuscripts of his works, and only three examples of his hand are known to survive: namely letters to his mother, to Lady Herbert, and to another member of the Herbert family respectively (HaW 51-53). One of these letters (*HaW 52) accompanies an undated letter to ‘Dear Sister’ by Habington's wife, Lucy (née Herbert).


Apart from a few commendatory poems printed elsewhere (see Allott, pp. lxi-lxii), William Habington supervised the publication of his own poems in the three early editions of Castara (London, 1634, 1635 and 1640). ‘The Presse hath gathered into one’, he noted, ‘What fancie had scattered in many loose papers’ (Preface by ‘The Author’: Allott, p. 5). What ‘loose papers’ found their way to Habington's friends and kinsmen is not known, but certainly several of his poems are addressed to specific persons. Habington, a Roman Catholic, was on friendly terms with a number of notable Catholic families, some of whose family muniments have been preserved. The lady enshrined in his poems as Castara, and who became his wife in or before 1634, was Lucy Herbert, daughter of William Herbert, first Baron Powis (d.1656) and Lady Eleanor Powis (d.1650), to both of whom Habington addressed poems (see Allott, pp. 41-2, 72-3). Many Powis muniments remain, chiefly in the National Library of Wales, some in the National Archives, Kew (PRO 30/53), but poems by Habington are not there in evidence. Similarly, Habington's ‘best friend and Kinsman’ was George Talbot (d.1634), brother of John Talbot, tenth Earl of Shrewsbury (see Allott, pp. 162-3), but no trace of poems by Habington appears among the extant Talbot Papers now preserved chiefly at Lambeth Palace (and formerly in the College of Arms). One copy of a Castara poem by him which was among the papers of the Aston family at Tixall, Staffordshire, may possibly have derived directly from him but is now known only from its publication in 1813 (see HaW 1). It is also members of the Aston family who were responsible for an important verse miscellany in the Huntington, HM 904, which contains two otherwise unknown poems on Castara (HaW 43-44), as well as a poem by Habington addressed to George Talbot (HaW 32), followed (on ff. 153v-4v) by an otherwise unknown ‘ansuere to these uerses Made by Mrs K. T.’ [i.e. Katherine Thimelby] (see Allott, pp. 188-9). This volume was once described, erroneously, as William Habington's own commonplace book.

Allott would appear to be justified in assuming that Habington's verse was generally published ‘without lingering long in manuscript’ (p. lxi). Those relatively few manuscript texts found in other seventeenth-century miscellanies and given entries below may well derive from printed sources. Apart from nineteenth-century copies of at least eight poems by Habington in Yale, Osborn MS b 150, the two manuscripts containing the greatest numbers of poems by Habington are, as is evident from the entries below, Bodleian, MS Rawl. poet. 65 (the ‘Rawlinson MS’), which includes nineteen poems by Habington, and British Library, Harley MS 3511 (the ‘Capell MS’), which includes ten poems by Habington. The latter was owned by Arthur Capell (1631-83), second Baron Capell and Earl of Essex, who married in1653 Elizabeth Percy (1636-1718), daughter of Algernon, tenth Earl of Northumberland. She was therefore the great niece of Habington's mother-in-law, Eleanor Percy, sister of the ninth Earl of Northumberland.

Prose and Dramatic Works

In addition to the various editions of Castara (which includes four prose characters), Habington published his play The Queene of Arragon in 1640. Although, according to his son, ‘hee neuer intented to haue [this play] published’, it was acted at Court, on 9-10 April 1640, allegedly against his wishes, through the influence of the Lord Chamberlain, Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke. Some original sketches and designs for this production by Inigo Jones are among the collections of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House and are illustrated 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, 787-91. One song in the play achieved some popularity in its own right (see HaW 45-49). As a result of what Habington probably regarded as his ‘more serious study’, he also published two historical prose works — The Historie of Edward the Fourth (London, 1640) and Observations upon Historie (London, 1641) — neither of which is known in manuscript. According to his son Thomas, however, who wrote to Anthony Wood on 5 June 1672, William Habington left various unfinished works in manuscript. He cites ‘the life of Henry the 5th wch the late King commanded him to write with seuerall other peices I haue in Manuscript of his, but euery one of them being unfinished, was the hindrance to my putting them foarth’ (Bodleian, MS Wood F. 39, vol. A-A, f. 2r-v: cited in Allott, pp. xxxix-xl). The fate of those manuscripts is unknown.


Extant papers of the poet's father, the antiquary Thomas Habington (1560-1647) include his manuscript collections for his Miscellaneous Antiquities of Worcestershire, which were formerly among the Lyttelton family muniments at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, and were broken up by Charles Lyttelton (1714-68), Bishop of Carlisle. The papers are now partly in the Society of Antiquaries (MS 145) and partly in the British Library (Harley MS 2205); while another large portion was offered for sale at Sotheby's, 12 December 1978, lot 61.

Some account of William Habington and his family is given in the second volume of the manuscript compilation Chorus Vatum Anglicanorum by the antiquary Joseph Hunter (1783-1861), now in the British Library (Add. MS 24488, ff. 253r-6r).

Peter Beal