Aurelian Townshend



The Poems and Masques of Aurelian Townshend, ed. Cedric R. Brown (Reading, 1983).


Aurelian Townshend's Poems and Masks, ed. E.K. Chambers (Oxford, 1912).


Although not generally rated as one of the greatest poets of the seventeenth century, Aurelian Townshend in fact wrote some of the most elegant and most popular lyrical poems of his time, as well as acceptable court masques as successor to Ben Jonson. Scarcely any of his poems are known to have been published in his lifetime, but some measure of manuscript circulation was achieved and most of his poems and songs are now known from their appearance in a fairly wide range of verse miscellanies, as well as some printed miscellanies of the 1650s. Among these, a particularly important collection of his poems is incorporated in University College London, MS Ogden 42, and the number of lyrics by him set to music by Henry Lawes is reflected in Lawes's own autograph songbook British Library Add. MS 53723.

The Canon

Since no comprehensive collection of Townshend's works was attempted until modern times, the canon is dependent on contemporary attributions, most of which are probably sound though one or two poems can also be found attributed to other writers. The basis of a canon, accepted here, was established by Chambers and then by Brown. Several poems, as well as songs for masques, of clearly identified authorship, including important autograph examples, have since come to light and are now also included (ToA 1, ToA 2, ToA 5, ToA 24, ToA 41, ToA 48, ToA 95-97).

Entries are also given below to two poems which Chambers (pp. 49-53) cautiously, and with good reason, included as ‘Doubtful Poems’. One, addressed to Ben Jonson (ToA 80-86), is almost certainly by Zouch Townley, and is probably copied in considerably more miscellanies than are recorded here. The other (ToA 79) was vaguely attributed to Townshend on no clear evidence. A third poem, of similar dubious status, included by Chambers (p. 50) is Daphnis. Amyntas (‘Amyntas, ho! Didst thou espy, today’), which was published, among commendatory verses, in Clement Barksdale, Nympha Libethris: or the Cotswold Muse (London, 1651), but which is not known in manuscript form.

To this small group of dubia might be added a 138-line poem On the Death of the Duke of Bucchingham which is subscribed ‘Mr A T’ in the Constance Fowler MS in the Huntington (ToA 87). Although the less than accomplished style of this poem does not seem particularly characteristic of Townshend, it has to be said that the initials ‘A T’ are sometimes subscribed to poems by him elsewhere, so perhaps the ascription should not be too readily dismissed for want of evidence to the contrary.

Letters and Documents

A number of Townshend's letters survive, chiefly from his early days in the employment of Sir Robert Cecil, written in several languages and in several styles of hand. These are given entries below (ToA 98-114).

In his introduction, Chambers cites several documents of biographical interest relating to Townshend, a number which could readily be extended. Additions, which have not been given separate entries below, would include a series of letters by the poet's nephew Warren Townshend, with occasional references to his uncle, sent to William Trumbull, English Resident in Brussels, between 1618 and 1622. These are now in the British Library and include: Add. MS 72354, f. 30r (17 October 1618); f. 61r (5 November 1618); Add. MS 72360, ff. 71r-2v (22 February 1621/[2]); and Add MS 72364, ff. 13r-14v (7 February 1621/2); ff. 21r-2v (9/19 September 1622); ff. 149r-50v (14/24 November 1622); and ff. 156r-7v (17/27 November 1622).


A composite volume of notes on Townshend by George Thorn-Drury, KC (1860-1931), literary scholar and editor, and by Arthur Henry Bullen (1857-1920), literary editor and publisher, is in the Bodleian Library, MS Eng. misc. d. 342, ff. 1r-13r and ff. 14r-27r respectively. Further transcripts of poems by Townshend, and notes on him, made by Thorn-Drury are in Worcester College, Oxford, MSS 260-1.

Peter Beal