Sir John Harington



Epigrams Both Pleasant and Serious, Written by that All-worthy Knight, Sir Iohn Harrington (London, 1615).


The most elegant and witty epigrams of Sir Iohn Harrington, digested into foure Bookes (London, 1618).


Hugh Craig, ‘Sir John Harington: Six Letters, a Postscript, and a Case in Chancery’, English Manuscript Studies 1100-1700, 5 (1995), 43-62.


Robert C. Evans, Sir John Harington and Thomas Sutton: New Letters from the Charterhouse, John Donne Journal, 7/2 (1988), 213-37.


Ruth Hughey, The Arundel Harington Manuscript of Tudor Poetry, 2 vols (Columbus, Ohio, 1960).


The Epigrams of Sir John Harington, ed. Gerard Kilroy (Farnham. 2009)


The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington together with The Prayse of Private Life, ed. Norman Egbert McClure (Philadelphia, 1930; reprinted New York, 1970).

Nugae Antiquae

Nugae Antiquae, ed. Henry Harington, 2 vols (London & Bath, 1769-75); 2nd edition, 3 vols (London & Bath, 1779; reprinted 1792); 3rd edition revised by Thomas Park, 2 vols (London, 1804; reprinted New York, [1970s]).


Jason Scott-Warren, Sir John Harington and the Book as Gift (Oxford, 2001).


The Principal Manuscripts

Sir John Harington of Kelston, Somerset, was an industrious literary figure who was responsible for the production of a considerable number of manuscripts, both of his own and of other authors' works, many of them evidently intended for presentation. Of his own compositions there survive autograph, or partly autograph, manuscripts of his Orlando Furioso (HrJ 7-10, including the printer's copy); of his collections of Epigrams (HrJ 20-22) and of particular epigrams (HrJ 84, HrJ 296, *HrJ 300, *HrJ 302); of his translation of Virgil's Aeneid, Book VI (*HrJ 18); of certain of his Metrical Paraphrases of the Psalms (HrJ 2-3); of his Metamorphosis of Ajax (*HrJ 317, the printer's copy); of his Supplie or Addicion to the Catalogue of Bishops (HrJ 328-9); and of his epistolary Short View of the State of Ireland (*HrJ 326). Three of these manuscripts (*HrJ 18, *HrJ 21, *HrJ 328) were written for presentation to Prince Henry. At least four printed exempla of The Metamorphosis of Ajax contain Harington's substantial autograph sidenotes and footnotes (HrJ 318-321). In addition, among other notable manuscripts, a number of scribal copies were evidently produced at Harington's direction, including The Englishman's Doctor (HrJ 1); his Tract on the Succession to the Crown (HrJ 333); his discourse on Elias (HrJ 315), and his Treatise on Playe (HrJ 336), as well as a scribal draft of an unfinished epistolary discourse addressed to Joseph Hall (HrJ 316).

To all this may be added three particularly notable manuscripts of works by other authors that can be identified as products of Harington and his scribes. One is a copy of the Sidney-Countess of Pembroke Psalms which has long been associated with Harington (SiP 76). The second is the Phillipps Manuscript of Sidney's Arcadia which Peter Croft identified as produced, and partly witten, by Harington and by two of his scribes (SiP 94). The third is one of the many extant manuscript copies of the notorious and banned treatise Leicester's Commonwealth, a manuscript recently identified by Peter Beal as a product of Harington and his amanuenses (LeC 49).

In these various manuscripts Harington employed at least two accomplished scribes, the principal one of which (sometimes known as ‘Scribe A’) has been identified by Gerard Kilroy as Harington's ‘servant’ Thomas Combe.

Besides these texts, at least seven manuscript miscellanies, or volumes of collectanea, compiled or owned by Harington survive (HrJ 337-344), several containing copies of miscellaneous texts or annotations in his hand. It is, however, not always easy to distinguish Harington's autograph from the writing of his scribes, who were probably encouraged to model their penmanship on his own and, indeed, to make the transitions from one hand to another as imperceptible as possible. This is especially true of one of the most important of the Harington manuscripts, the Arundel Harington miscellany (*HrJ 337). Here is frequent evidence of a characteristic practice of Harington, which was to begin transcribing a poem, then after a line or a few lines (sometimes in the middle of a line) resign the rest of the task to a scribe, possibly making his own corrections afterwards. The common, if understandable, failure of scholars to distinguish Harington's autograph correctly has led in the past to frequent inaccuracies of description (not excluding Peter Beal's).

Four of the Harington miscellanies (HrJ 340-3), as well as manuscripts of four of his prose works (HrJ 315, *HrJ 317, *HrJ 329, HrJ 336), belong to the single most important collection of manuscripts relating to him: namely, the Harington Papers, which were acquired by the British Library in 1947 (Add. MSS 46366-46384). Of these twenty-four volumes, which comprise papers of the Harington family from the 16th to the 19th century, the first eight belonged to him, and certain other documents of his are combined with later papers in the ninth and nineteenth volumes. Some of the papers have been considerably rearranged since the 1920s, when McClure examined them, and they also contain important material to which he makes no reference. Certain of the miscellanies recorded in the entries were previously owned and, in particular instances, perhaps chiefly compiled by Sir John's father, John Harington of Stepney (c.1517-82), whose literary interests and activities were considerable in their own right: see Ruth Hughey, John Harington of Stepney: Tudor Gentleman (Columbus, Ohio, 1971). Another of the miscellanies (*HrJ 342) is of special interest since it contains a notebook relating to the Earl of Essex's expedition to Ireland, a campaign in which Harington took part. His cousin, Robert Markham, advised him to keep an ‘accounte’ or ‘journal’ as a matter of precaution (see McClure, p. 19). Probably a similar but more detailed notebook (now unlocated) was the ‘Journale’ which, according to his own report, he was obliged to show Queen Elizabeth on his return from Ireland and which he later sent to Markham (McClure, pp. 121-2). These notebooks, and the authorship of the main report on Essex's expedition contained in the extant manuscript, are discussed in R.H. Miller, ‘Sir John Harington's Irish Journals’, SB, 32 (1979), 179-86.

Untraced and Misattributed Manuscripts

A number of other works and manuscripts of Harington are known to have existed, though now untraced. References in two of his draft letters (McClure, pp. 142-4) indicate that in or after 1609 Harington presented a manuscript of his Metrical Paraphrases of the Psalms to James I. An earlier and more elaborate gift to the King was his New Year's gift in 1602/3 of a set of verses accompanying a highly ornate and perfumed lantern made of four metals, the silver reflector plate engraved with a series of religious images. The verses (the original presentation manuscript of which may have survived until as late as the 19th century), as well as illustration of the lantern, are preserved in manuscript copies (HrJ 20, *HrJ 21, HrJ 26). What may possibly be yet another manuscript of this ‘New Year's gift’ was owned by William Drummond of Hawthornden: see The Library of Drummond of Hawthornden, ed. Robert H. Macdonald (Edinburgh, 1971), No. 1363.

Scribal copies made for Harington of three letters sent to him from the Scottish Court partly in response to this gift are among the Harington Papers (Add. MS 46381, ff. 138v, 141v, 145v). At about the same time Harington also sent James an autograph copy of his collected Epigrams, a copy ‘sent by Cap. Hunter’ and described in the special dedicatory epigram as ‘a present heer of skribled pages…A work in which my pen yt self engages’ (McClure No. 347, p. 287). Perhaps it was this manuscript that Harington had particularly in mind when he referred in the dedicatory epistle of his Aeneid, Book VI to ‘some other of my toys wch yowr Matie was pleased to look on…written of to lyght matters’. He probably also sent more manuscripts to Prince Henry besides those which are known. For instance, he sent him ‘by my servant such matters as your Highness did covet to see, in regard to Bishop Gardener of Winchester, which I shall sometime more largely treat of’ (McClure, p. 127). Fortunately the larger treatise that Harington promised, his Supplie or Addicion to the Catalogue of Bishops, is preserved in the copy later presented to the Prince (*HrJ 328). At an earlier period, Harington must certainly have presented copies of some of his epigrams to Queen Elizabeth, employing contrived stratagems to bring them to her attention, such as on the occasion when he left a copy of his epigram ‘in praise of her reading’ (HrJ 56-60) ‘behinde her cushion at my departinge from her presence’ (Nugae Antiquae (1804), I, 172). For another notable deployment of a ‘Booke’, for the entertainment of the Queen's ladies, see *HrJ 302. Not long before Elizabeth's death he tried to cheer her with some more verses, but by then she was understandably ‘paste [her] relishe for such matters’ (McClure, p. 97).

Among Harington's ‘lost’ works, a diary for 1594-1603, entitled Breefe Notes and Remembraunces, survived at least until the early 19th century, for extracts from it are printed in Nugae Antiquae (1804), I, 165-82. In the notes after Book XXIII of Orlando Furioso (1591) Harington mentions having written ‘a litle dialogue of mariage’ in his ‘young dayes’. In the notes after Book XLIV he refers to Foxe's account of the ‘troubles’ of the future Queen Elizabeth in the reign of Queen Mary, an account which Harington, Thomas Arundell (1560-1639), and Sir Edward Hoby (1560-1617) were obliged to translate at Eton. ‘This litle booke’, he says, ‘was given to her Majestie’. In the notes after Book XVII he claims that ‘the felicitie of our realme of England’ and ‘the gracious and myld government of our Soveraigne are subjects requiring an entire treatise…and therefore I reserve it wholly for an other worke of mine owne, if God give me abilitie to performe it’. It is not clear whether Harington did performe it or whether his politic desire to praise the reign of Elizabeth manifested itself sufficiently in his known works.

Elsewhere it is evident that more ink must have been spilt in the controversy with Joseph Hall concerning the marriage of clergy and the voluntary separation of married partners. Hall's ‘apologeticall discourse’ on the subject, published in his Epistles (1608), Decade II, Epistle 3, must have prompted a reply from Harington, to which Hall made a counter-reply in his letter to Harington published in Epistles (1611), Decade V, Epistle 9, a work which in turn provoked Harington's unfinished discourse (HrJ 316).

A more substantial work by Harington is mentioned in the anonymous pamphlet (? by one Young) Ulysses upon Ajax (London, 1596), sig. D3v. After heartily condemning Harington's Metamorphosis of Ajax, his Orlando Furioso, and his ‘obscene’ Epigrams, the writer turns for more favourable comment to ‘his succinct collection of historie: his compendious & apt obseruatios in the Emperors liues’, for ‘thus much touching his succinct obseruations out of the Emperors liues…I like that [work] best which, is longest’. Perhaps the writer's last remark should not be taken literally. It seems unlikely that Harington would ever have produced anything longer than Orlando Furioso, but his work on the Emperors may well have been longer than The Metamorphosis of Ajax, which is the main target of Ulysses upon Ajax. There are many references in Orlando Furioso and Harington's other works indicating his familiarity with the lives of the Emperors. In the notes after Book XXXV, for instance, he says, ‘Of Augustus Caesars faultes both Suetonius and Plutarke have written at large, and I am loth to renew the memorie of them except I did also [i.e. unless I were also to] recite his many vertues which made large recompence for his few vices’. Possibly the work was planned as a collection of imperial biographies rather like the Scriptores historiae Augustae, which is cited in The Metamorphosis of Ajax (ed. Elizabeth Donno, p. 107).

It is also possible that Harington even produced a translation of Lucretius's De rerum natura. In a mid-17th-century 45-page octavo commonplace book now in the National Library of Wales (Wynnstay MS 20), a list of books on f. 17r includes the tantalizing reference ‘Lucretus translat. by Sr John Harrington’.

The extent of Harington's literary activities and the corresponding dissemination of his manuscripts, as well as printed works, are well attested. In the dedicatory epistle of his Aeneid, Book VI, for instance, he says that he would like to have all his earlier works burnt in ‘one fyer, save that so many of them are so flown abroad in England and Scotland, as not my reclamacion, nay hardly yor Maties proclamacion myght call them in’. It is indeed possible that more of his manuscripts are to be found, in collections of some of his associates perhaps, although caution is necessary given the occasional spurious attributions that have been made. In his catalogue English Poetry to 1700 (1941), A.S.W. Rosenbach claimed, for instance, that his item 186, a miscellany now in the Rosenbach Museum & Library (MS 1083/15), was perhaps compiled by Harington since one of the hands had certain similarities with his, as indeed it does. Another miscellany, now in the Bodleian (MS Rawl. poet. 31), was inaccurately described by one of its owners as a collection of ‘Sir John Harringtons Poems Written in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth’. However, since this manuscript (which can date no earlier than the 1620s) contains a number of poems addressed to Harington's cousin, Lucy, Countess of Bedford, it is possible that an owner made his assumption on the basis of some positive connection it had with one branch of the Harington family. Similar associations were responsible for McClure's attributing to Harington the discourse The Prayse of Private Life, although it seems more likely to be the work of his friend Samuel Daniel (see DaS 45-46). A manuscript text of one of Harington's epigrams (HrJ 82) is part of a volume (now in the East Sussex Record Office) which may also conceivably have had some association with the Harington family. It is a large volume of state letters and poems, including Donne's obsequy on the Countess of Bedford's brother, Sir John Harington, second Baron Harington of Exton (1592-1614), and a letter of consolation written to their mother by one John Grange.

Harington's Library

Harington must, of course, have possessed a library. His works provide abundant evidence of his wide reading and of the probably nature of his library. Lists of some of his (and perhaps his son's) books — including tracts by Hall, Donne, and Lancelot Andrewes, plays by Shakespeare and others, and such items as ‘Two paper bookes to translate Latin into englishe & englishe into latin’ and ‘One Booke for Examples of The Educacon of youthe’ — appear in one of his miscellanies (*HrJ 338). His library must have been dispersed, to other branches of the Harington family and perhaps elsewhere, before the total demolition of his house at Kelston in the 18th century (see Ian Grimble, The Harington Family (London, 1957), pp. 236-7).

Apart from his annotated exemplum of Godwin's Catalogue of Bishops (*HrJ 328), and a single volume of a work by Ubuldini that came to light in 1951 (*HrJ 346), the only extant printed volumes belonging to him known at present are exempla of his own works. The annotated exempla of The Metamorphosis of Ajax (HrJ 318-21) have already been mentioned, though no doubt he would have presented others to friends and relatives, including one to Sir Robert Cecil (see McClure, pp. 93-4). Various exempla of Orlando Furioso, a number in large folio format, with coloured title-pages and often bearing his autograph corrections, as well as fine binding, were certainly presented to people in his circle. Examples mentioned in Scott-Warren (pp. 49-51) include one inscribed by Harington to Sir Thomas Coningsby, the title-page illustrated in Scott-Warren on p. 53. This was item 392 in Rosenbach's catalogue of English Poetry to 1700 (1941), and is now in the Rosenwald Collection in the Library of Congress. Another, apparently presented to Lord Burghley, is in the British Library (C. 57. h. 1): see Howard M. Nixon, ‘A London Binding for Lord Burghley, 1591’, The Book Collector, 26 (Spring 1977), 84-5, and his Five Centuries of English Bookbinding (London, 1978), Plate 24. Another, in the library of Robert S. Pirie, New York, is inscribed ‘for my Lady of Sowthampton’, and yet another privately owned in the USA is inscribed ‘for Master [John] Ashley Master of the Iewell-howse’. For the volume presented by Harington to his mother-in-law, see *HrJ 22. For a single exemplum with Harington's autograph corrections, no doubt characteristic of many other exempla of Orlando Furioso, see HrJ 8.5). Volumes from Harington's personal library might perhaps otherwise be expected to contain, if not his signature, his rebus (representing his family name) of a hare, with a ring in its mouth, on a barrel (or tun).

It is possible too that some books and manuscript discourses, some dating back to medieval times, possibly owned by Sir John Harington, were among the Harington family papers which were sold by Dr Harington of Bath at Sotheby's on 2 July 1816, lots 70-103.


Of Harington's correspondence, sixty-two letters are printed from various sources in McClure. The texts of seventeen letters are edited from Nugae Antiquae, and six other letters from other printed sources. The rest are edited from the autograph originals or from manuscript copies. These are given entries below (HrJ 347-412), including a number of more recently discovered letters not in McClure and the originals of some of the letters that McClure edits from printed sources. ‘A Coppy of a lre from mr Sydney to Sr John Harryngton’, [? June 1592], is in Bodleian, MS Add. D. 109, f. 98r-v.


Of all Harington's literary works, those which may have had the widest manuscript circulation among his contemporaries are his Epigrams (which were written under his pseudonym, ‘Misacmos’, meaning ‘a hater of filthiness’). Copies of individual epigrams or groups of them, evidently circulated at Court, within the Inns of Court, and elsewhere, and they were frequently recopied in 17th-century miscellanies. The texts found in miscellanies often represent early versions. Harington made numerous revisions when preparing fair copies of large numbers of epigrams from his ‘scatterd papers’, and it was revised versions that were posthumously published (from unspecified copy-texts) in 1615 and 1618. Some eighty or more epigrams found in his own manuscript collections (a number of these epigrams also occuring in miscellanies) were not published until the twentieth century.

A few other epigrams are found ascribed to Harington in manuscript sources, probably without authority, although the instances of patently false ascription are rare. A 26-line poem Against Dr. Prickett (‘Prickett, ye phisicke doctr, loues a whore’) is subscribed ‘Sr. J: Harrington’ in an Oxford miscellany of the 1630s now in the New York Public Library, Arents Collection (Cat. No. S288, pp. 111-12). A couplet On a Lawyer (‘God works wonders now and then’), found in innumerable miscellanies, is occasionally ascribed to Harington, or appears among other epigrams of his. It was printed under the heading ‘An Epitaph by a man of his Father’ as the eighth of nine ‘Epigrammes by Sir I. H. and others’ appended to I[ohn] C[lapham], Alcilia, Philoparthens Louing Folly (London 1613). This circumstance might account for its connection with Harington, but he is not known to have written any epitaphs, either serious or satirical. The couplet also features in the Jonson apocrypha: see Ben Jonson, ed. C.H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, VIII (Oxford, 1947), 444, and C.F. Main, ‘Two Items in the Jonson Apocrypha’, N&Q, 199 (June 1954), 243-5. Another epitaph associated with Harington is one on his mother, Isabella Markham, beginning ‘A body chast, a vertuous mind, a temperat toung, an humble hart’. He quotes this in his notes after Book XXIX of Orlando Furioso as an epitaph written by ‘a better pen then mine’, but by someone ‘well acquainted with her conditions’. At least one of his contemporaries believed that Harington composed this epitaph himself. On an endpaper in a printed exemplum of Nicolo Contarini, De perfectione rerum (Lyons, 1587), a volume once in Archbishop Sancroft's library and now at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (S. 14. 3. 37.), there is written a slightly variant version subscribed ‘hir son, I am. J. H. vpo his Mother…’. This text is followed by a parody, headed ‘Art thou hir son whi than in the / We shall the Dams true Image see’, the last line containing an allusion to The Metamorphosis of Ajax.


As a footnote to Harington's translation of the Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (see HrJ 1) it may be added that another English translation of the work is to be found in manuscripts. This begins ‘All Salerne Schoole thus write to Englands King’ and was made by the ‘Translator Generall in his Age’, Philemon Holland (1552-1637). This version is found, for instance, in a medical miscellany in the British Library (Sloane MS 738, ff. 114r-26r). A twenty-three page manuscript of what appears to be the same version, described in a sale catalogue as probably the (anonymous) author's autograph and dated c.1650, was sold at Sotheby's, 6 February 1973, lot 270, to Maggs. Holland's translation was first published in 1617, and a new edition appeared in 1649.

Peter Beal