spacer1. A mystery traditionally overhangs the memory of the poet Hugh Holland [1569 - 1633]. NOTE 1 I am not alluding to the fact that he was chosen to contribute one of the very few liminary epigrams that preface the First Folio, for that is readily explicable. Below I shall explain why what appears to be such an unlikely a choice is in fact perfectly understandable. No, the real mystery is why his contemporaries rated him as highly as they did. It is perhaps not entirely troublesome that in his 1605 Remains of a Greater Worke Considering Britaine William Camden wrote:

“I would come to our own time, what a world I could present to you out of Sir Philipp Sidney, Ed. Spenser, Samuel Daniel, Hugh Holland, Ben. Jonson, Th. Campion, Mich. Drayton, George Chapman, John Marston, William Shakespeare and other most pregnant witts of thes times, whom succeeding ages may justly admire.

This high estimate may perhaps be set aside as a professor’s amiable fault of overrating a former star pupil (a fault of which I myself may perhaps be guilty). What is more difficult to dismiss, especially as it occurred long after Camden was dead and unable to influence the decision, is Holland’s burial in the Abbey. His membership in literary clubs which contained genuine luminaries among their members goes to show that he was accepted as an equal by the top echelon of contemporary English writers. True, most of what remains consists of laudatory verses written to preface other men’s volumes, which may be attributed to two things. In the first place, he appears to have been gifted with a lovely personality and had a wide circle of friends (he was the author of his own epitaph for the Abbey, poem 36, in which he described himself as Musarum et amicitiarum cultor sanctissimus). Then too, he must have earned a reputation for being a reliable contributor of such epigrams, who could be trusted to meet deadlines and hand in submissions not unduly prolix (his favorite form, both in English and Latin, was the fourteen-line sonnet). These must have been qualities that endeared him to editors and printers, and at least one reason why he was often tapped for the chore.
spacer 2. He published only two works on his own, Pancharis and his “Garland” mourning the death of King James. From Anthony à Woods’ biographical thumbnail we hear of other works never printed and now lost: chronicles of the reign of Elizabeth, which may well have been laid under contribution by his former schoolmaster William Camden in his great and groundbreaking Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabeth (published in two installments, in 1615 and 1625), especially since it seems to have been the only attempt at writing such a history prior to his own. The fact that Wood calls what he wrote “chronicles” suggests that he anticipated the annalistic scheme subsequently adopted by Tacitus-imitating Camden. He also wrote a life of Camden, which might have supplied some — or possibly a good deal more than some — of the facts retailed by Thomas Smith in his 1691 biography Vita Clarissimi Viri Gulielmi Camdeni. From the same source we hear of descriptive verses concerning cities visited on his journey from Rome to Constantinople (poem 35 was likely a byproduct of the same expedition). In a later context I shall suggest that this poetic cycle provided the inspiration for his friend Thomas Coryate’s famous travelogue. The colophon to poem 40 attests a lost work entitled Icones (“Images,” or possibly “Portraits.) The question of how much Holland’s reputation would be altered by the discovery of any or all of these lost works is of course moot.
spacer3. But no matter. In the eyes of modern readers, Holland’s literary reputation might better be based on his gratulatory poems. For most writers of the time, the production of such items was distinctly Beiwerke, but for him the best of them embody a central feature of his art. For he was essentially a miniaturist, and it is no more sensible to discount him for this than to disdain the portrait artist Nicholas Hilliard for his exquisite miniatures just because he produced only a very limited number of larger ones. He was at his best working with a highly unusual form of Latin poetry which he called the sonulus, a fourteen-line format featuring an exact replica of the English sonnet’s rhyme-scheme. The remarkable nature of these sonuli is difficult to exaggerate: at all times and in all ways Neo-Latin literature was preeminently devoted to imitatio of Classical models and formal experimentation is rare (to the best of my knowledge, no subsequent writer — not even his friend William Alabaster, in his own way also an experimentalist — was inspired to copy Holland’s example). The only previous attempt at writing a Latin sonnet is Passion VI of Thomas Watson’s 1582 sonnet cycle Ἑκατομπαθία. Did Holland get the idea from Watson?
spacer4. In a multiplicity of ways these gratulatory poems add up to a remarkably detailed self-portrait. In the course of his 1990 monumental Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England J. W. Binns shrewdly observed that such poems are often useful for determining a writer’s friendships and mapping the existence of literary circles, and we have a sufficiency of such items by Holland that his friendships and associations can be identified with some precision. Unanticipated connections (most notably those with John Donne and Thomas Coryate) come to light. Above all, what particularly stands out is his enduring friendship with Ben Jonson, which began during their days as contemporaries at the Westminster School, studying under the hand of William Camden, and evidently was lifelong. Then too, they attest his friendship with the brilliant but eccentric poet-playwright William Alabaster, and their mutual dependence on the estimable Father Thomas Wright in matters spiritual begins to swim into focus. Once the strength of his friendship with Jonson and his association with Father Wright are established, the highly attractive possibility opens up that Holland had a hand in engineering Jonson’s conversion to Catholicism.
spacer5. We first encounter him as a Queen’s Scholar at the school attached to Westminster Abbey (holders of this prestigious scholarship were guaranteed a place at either Christ Church, Oxford, or Trinity College, Cambridge). Westminster Abbey MS. 31 was no doubt gotten up to be presented to Elizabeth in connection with her 1587 visitation to the School (it is described here), containing Latin poetry written by sixteen boys, presumably presented in their order of seniority. Fifth from the end is the name “Hugo Roberts.” This is actually Holland, who at the time identified himself by traditional Welsh nomenclature, whereby a son would adopt his father’s Christian name as his own surname (in due course he would matriculate from Trinity College, Cambridge, under this same name, but evidently was broken of this habit in the course of his university career). Historians of literature must regret the fact that the contributors to this collection were restricted to Queen’s Scholars, for this meant the exclusion of any effort by Ben Jonson, a mere day boy. It would have been interesting to see what Camden could have done by way of fostering his talent (the same is even more true regarding participation in school dramatics, from which day boys were likewise excluded). The fact that eight pages of the manuscript are given over to work by such a distinctly junior student attests to the high opinion in which the Westminster hypodidascalus (the fancy institutional word for an usher) must have held Holland.
spacer6. Schoolboy literature of this kind was rather commonplace. Most notably, The Philological Museum already contains comparable material written at Eton by Giles Fletcher the Elder extracted from a similar presentation manuscript. They were written to exhibit their young authors’ technical prowess at Latin verse composition but scarcely their originality of thought, and their contents are routine and predictable. But a couple of Holland’s efforts contain passages which are genuinely startling. Poem 2 is unusual for its ambitious size (112 lines) and even more so for its attempt to rehabilitate the memory of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn at lines 82ff., where he writes about her as a champion of the Reformed Religion and reminds the reader that Elizabeth was walking in her doctrinal footsteps as well as those of her father Henry VIII (the religious sentiments of this poem are decidedly Protestant, Holland’s conversion to Catholicism lay ten years in the future). On a lesser scale, Poem 1 contains a similarly favorable passage about Anne, but with less emphasis on religion. Within the scope of my reading I cannot recall having seen anything that matches this daring assertion by a schoolboy of junior standing, (it is also noteworthy that schoolmaster Camden allowed this potentially controversial passage to remain in the poem). All in all, this poem is remarkable work for a boy of Holland’s age and qualifies him as a genuine prodigy. The only similar feats of which I know are the two performances by the fourteen year-old Scipio Gentili published in 1581. Nor can one refrain from admiring the boy’s shrewdness in including these passages. Should they come to Elizabeth’s attention, no doubt she would have felt obliged to display her official displeasure, since Anne had been duly convicted of treasonous adultery in a court of law. But privately she would have probably been delighted to see her mother defended and would have remembered Holland’s name to his subsequent benefit. Poem 8 is also exceptional insofar as in it Holland ventures beyond the standard dactylic hexameters, elegiac couplets and hendecasyllabes and tries his hand at a different meter.
spacer7. We now come to the crucial turning-point in Holland’s life, his conversion to Catholicism. I say his conversion because a number of modern writers have identified him as a Catholic convert rather than a scion of a Catholic family, and correctly so. NOTE 2 This is substantiated by the fact that the doctrinal sentiments expressed in poem 2 are outspokenly Protestant. We have no direct documentation attesting when or how his conversion was achieved, but from indirect evidence reasonable inferences can most likely be made.
spacer8. This requires that three further characters be introduced into our story: the poet-playwright William Alabaster, Father Thomas Wright, and Ben Jonson. We need to begin with Alabaster (their friendship appears to have lasted for life, since it generated two of Holland’s short poems, 34, datable to 1632) and 37. Alabaster had been a somewhat earlier boy at the Westminster School, and had preceded him along the same educational path by moving up to Trinity College, Cambridge. More specifically, he had matriculated from Trinity in 1584, taken his B. A. in 1587 and his M. A. in 1589. He was made a Fellow of Trinity, a position he evidently held until he was ejected as the result of his own conversion to Catholicism in 1597. NOTE 3 There exists in the library of the Venerable English College at Rome, a Jesuit seminary, a remarkable document now known as Library MS. 1394 (formerly MS. z 136). It bears the title Alabaster’s Conversion, evidently bestowed on it by a librarian who thought it is a third-person description of Alabaster’s religious experiences, whereas upon inspection it turns out to be an autobiographical account. At least in describing the central event of the story, and perhaps in other ways too, it is an extremely tendentious document. As he tells it, the one Catholic he acknowledges having met, the imprisoned Father Wright, seems to have made no great impression on him (4.4), and he says his conversion was brought about by reading a book by William Rainolds borrowed from Wright (there can be no doubt that Rainolds’ book made a deep impression on him, since he mentions it in a brief interrogatory declaration preserved by another MS. in the College library). This invites the reader to view Alabaster as a Catholic autodidact who, on the basis of no contact with genuine Catholics and with no guidance or supervision from a spiritual advisor (such is the picture he paints at 5.4), read himself into a conversion. Thus his conversion looks like an assertive act of individual conscience, precisely what he himself (2.4) decried as that prorogative which all protestantes supporte…(to witt) to be able to iudge of all matters alone.
spacer9. The real story is recounted by Francis J. Bremer in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Alabaster: NOTE 4

At Eastertide in 1597 Alabaster traveled to London in search of further preferment, in which he based his plans for marriage. But while staying with Dean Gabriel Goodman of Westminster he encountered Father Thomas Wright...under house arrest. It was hoped that the brilliant Alabaster would convert Wright, but the reverse appears to have happened.

Why play down the importance of Wright in this account? The reason may be that, as will be explained presently, Wright had been a Jesuit but now was in bad standing with the Order and when he turned up at Rome Alabaster considered it politic to minimize his role. An alternative explanation is that this autobiography reads like an account probably elicited by Father Robert Persons, the moving force in the Order’s English Mission, for circulation back home and Alabaster wanted to do as little as possible to endanger any Catholic living in England.
spacer 10. Alabaster’s Conversion is written as a kind of open letter addressed to a friend whose sister he had jilted at the time of his conversion (5.3):

As soone then as I had arrived at Trinitie Colledge in Cambrige the first thinge I did (after recommendinge my self and buisenes to almightie god) was to breake of the mariage which I had so earnestly treated and concluded to make, and so the very next daye I wrottte my minde plainely therin and gave an absolute deniall for the tyme to come, which message and thankles office your self did undertake and discharge, whereat arose the first and greatest conflict of flesh and blood that ever I felt in this my resolution: for I had loved the partie dearlie and our freendes had mutually agreed to the matche, wherupon much discontentment was taken at me both of her frendes and my owne parentes, among thinges affirminge that the partie was like to dye for greefe. But I, being well assured in conscience that no obligation of necessitie remaned on my parte, I overcame at length by Gods assistance the assaulte.

As the final words of document, “I take my leave of yow also, my most dearly beloved freende.” attest, their friendship may have been temporarily strained but was not permanently ruptured, and for this there can be only one plausible explanation: that the friend in question was a Catholic himself, who would find the offense pardonable, particularly if his understanding was that Alabaster’s intention was to go to Rome, join the Jesuit Order, and enter the priesthood.
spacer11. Alabaster recounts how after his conversion he returned to Cambridge fired with new enthusiasm (it was at this time that he wrote a cycle of vernacular sonnets expressing his newfound faith). NOTE 5 There he remained until he was arrested and taken down to prison at London and it was probably then that he was ejected from Trinity and stripped of his Fellowship. And it was during this period, it is plausible to suspect, that his newly-discovered ardor inspired him to do all he could to spread the Faith to other university men, so it is easy to imagine that at this time he was responsible for converting Holland (at this point receiving his M. A. and on the verge of going down from Cambridge), and quite likely introducing him to Father Wright (his attachment to Wright is documented by poem 19). The chronology neatly dovetails.
spacer12. In his biography Anthony à Wood writes of Holland, “from Trinity College he went to travel into Italy, and was at Rome, where his over free discourse betrayed his prudence” by speaking up in defense of Elizabeth as if these events were closely juxtaposed in time, and in his sketch of Holland’s life Thomas Fuller informs us:

He travailed [i. e. travelled] beyond the Sea, and Italy (conceiving himself without Ear-reach of the English) let flie freely against the Credit of Queen Elizabeth. Hence he went to Jerusalem...In his return he touched at Constantinople, where Sir Thomas Glover, Embassador for King James, called him to an account for his Scandalum Reginae at Rome, and the fomer over-freedome of his tongue cost him the confinement for a time in Prison.

spacer13. Does this not seem exceeding strange, that Holland got in trouble with the Jesuits for exercising “over-freedome of his tongue” in defending Elizabeth at Rome, but was now being put on the carpet by a representative of the English government for creating a scandal by slandering her himself? S. G. Culliford NOTE 6 examined contemporary source-documents and showed that Holland’s actual problem was that he got caught in the middle of an ongoing feud between Ambassador Glover and his predecessor Sir Henry Lello in 1606/7. So it appears preferable to think that Fuller is retailing a garbled version of the same incident alluded to by Wood, and that Fuller had it exactly wrong. The Jesuits were prone to publicize disreputable canards against Elizabeth, of which the most outrageous was that Henry VIII had bedded Anne Boleyn’s mother so that Anne was his daughter as well as his consort, thus making Elizabeth some kind of biological as well as moral monstrosity. NOTE 7 During a stay at the Venerable English College Holland must have heard some such talk and heatedly protested, thereby getting himself promptly evicted from the establishment. As we are about to see, this kind of response would have been far more fitting for an adherent of Father Wright, which is to say a Catholic who managed to remain a loyal Englishman, to defend here than the intemperate remarks attested by Fuller.
spacer14. We must wonder when this incident occurred. The obvious answer is of course during his trip through Italy in 1606/7, after which he fetched up in Constantinople and which yielded his lost cycle of poems descriptive of the sights he had seen attested by Anthony à Wood. But this was not his single trip abroad. In a letter to Sir Robert Cotton he describes how he was first apprised of the death of Elizabeth whilst in Germany (he also was in the Netherlands, but ventured nowhere near Rome), but we hear of no further European travel prior to that time. It is highly unlikely that he joined Alabaster on his flight to Rome in late 1597 (described below), for in the same letter he states this was the first occasion on which he had been out of country.
spacer16. Unfortunately, the world would be a better place if it contained a book-length biography of this highly attractive and influential man (and at the same time a rather complex one) Father Thomas Wright, but it does not. NOTE 8 So I shall limit myself to matters of immediate relevance. In 1570, of course, Pius V had issued a bull, Regnans in Excelsis, pronouncing Elizabeth to be a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her. As England drifted closer and closer to war with Spain, this had the effect of making English recusants appear to be agents of a foreign power. This impression was immeasurably enhanced by the continual machinations of Cardinal William Allen and of the Jesuit Order under the leadership of Robert Persons against Elizabeth’s government, which included sending secret Jesuit missionaries into England and attempting to replace an Anglophile government in France with the pro-Catholic Guises (which only had the effect of driving France onto England’s side once war did break out, even though it was a Catholic nation). There were, however, many English adherents of the Old Religion who declined to accept this papal dictate and in their hearts and minds managed to reconcile their Catholic faith with loyalty to the crown. Towards the end of the sixteen century Wright came forward as the spokesman for this kind of Catholic (he was originally a Jesuit himself but this got him drummed out of the Order for what was in effect his anti-Spanish stance). Even during Burghley’s lifetime he managed to open lines of communication with the government and convinced those in authority that Catholicism need not necessarily be equated with treason. This earned Catholic loyalists a goodly degree of toleration in the final years of Elizabeth’s reign and throughout that of James, a policy which remained in place even in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot (which, in its official account of that episode, the government was careful to blame on the Jesuits and not on Catholics in general). Indeed, making the Catholic Lord Monteagle the hero of the story by disclosing to James the sinister contents of an anonymous letter he received warning himself and his coreligionists to stay away from Parliament on the fateful day made it impossible for the government to revert to a policy of equating Catholicism with treason.
spacer17. The story is well known about how Ben Jonson was incarcerated in Newgate prison in September 1598 for the killing of Gabriel Spenser in a duel and faced the prospect of being hanged for manslaughter. While he was languishing there, Father Wright (who was under a loose kind of arrest himself, but enjoyed the liberty of moving about between prisons) visited him and managed to convert him to Catholicism. But thus told the story looks incomplete. It seems intrinsically improbable that Father Wright simply wandered aimlessly into Newgate Prison and stumbled across Jonson. Far more likely, he had been pointed there by some Catholic friend of Jonson who recommended him as a good candidate for conversion.
spacer18. James P. Crowley published an interesting and frequently cited article “The Matter of Ben Jonson’s Conversion.” NOTE 9 At one point he wrote:

...with a common acquaintance in [William] Alabaster, a respect for and training in language, and now a demonstrable common interest in “psychology,“ Wright could approach Jonson on rather familiar terms, and he probably did so prior to any discussion of religious matters.

There are a couple of serious objections to the idea that Alabaster played any role in Jonson’s conversion. The first and crucial one is that Jonson was committed to Newgate Prison towards the end of September 1598 for killing the actor Gabriel Spenser. We have already seen that Alabaster (with or without Holland) showed up at the Venerable English College late in 1597, and did not return to England prior to 1599, whereupon he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London and latterly in Framlingham Castle. Suffolk. NOTE 10 The College’s Pilgrims’ Book (Liber 282, fol, 37, a sort of logbook listing the names of new arrivals at its hostel) contains an entry for the year 1597: D. Edwardus Lusonus Lychfeldiensis, Guil. Alabasterus Suffolciensis, Richardus Cornwallis Norfolciensis et Richardas Higham Essexiensis recepti sunt hospitio 21 Novemb. et manserunt D. Lusonus et Rich. Higham per 15 dies, reliqui autem manserunt diebus - 8 [“Dominus Edward Luson of Lichfield, William Alabaster of Suffolk, Richard Cornwallis of Norfolk, and Richard Higham of Essex were taken in for hospitality on November 21. Dominus Luson and Richard Highham remained for 15 days, the others for 8.”] He was therefore out of country at the time of Jonson’s conversion. As if that were not enough, where is there any evidence for a friendship between these two men? Both, to be sure, attended the Westminster School. But Alabaster matriculated from Trinity in 1584, meaning he most likely left the School in the previous year. No School records exist mentioning Jonson but it is generally assumed that he entered in about 1585. Even if he entered a year earlier, there would have been one or possibly two barriers to their forming anything more than a nodding acquaintance amounting to little more than the ability to recognize each other by sight. The first was the difference in their age. Alabaster was born in 1567, Jonson in 1572. For grown men a gap of five years appears to be a triviality, but at a sufficiently early age in life it can constitute a veritable gulf. Then too, Alabaster was a Queen’s Scholar and Jonson a day boy. In the School’s scheme of things, one wonders whether fraternization between the two kinds of student might have been “not the done thing.” Anyway, after Westminster the two went their separate ways: Alabaster moved on to Cambridge, Jonson to his bricks. Whoever recommended Jonson must have been a man who cared about his welfare and who possessed a deep enough insight into his character to suspect that he was ripe for conversion. What reason in the world do we have for imagining Alabaster fit this description? In later life Jonson never wrote a word to or about him. NOTE 11
spacer19. So Crowley’s theory needs to be excluded tout court. Nevertheless the underlying idea seems sound. It is intrinsically improbable that Father Wright did the conversion work on his own. Far more likely, he had been pointed there by some Catholic friend of Jonson who recommended him as a good candidate for conversion. And it is striking that if one takes a statement similar to that Crowley’s and substitute Holland’s name for that of Alabaster all objections disappear. After Alabaster took his M. A. (in 1591) he stayed on as Fellow of the college, so that he and Holland, only two years his junior, had plenty of time to form a friendship if they had not done so already (and, if I am right in identifying him as the addressee of Alabaster’s Conversion, there is the evident matter of Alabaster’s abortive engagement to Holland’s sister, although admittedly it seems impossible to document her existence — we have little information about our poet’s family). Holland’s familiarity with Father Wright, and perhaps his dependence on him as a spiritual advisor, is suggested by poem 19.
spacer20. Holland’s longest and most ambitious surviving work is his1603 Pancharis (I cannot explain precisely what this word means since there is no such word as πάγχαρις in the Greek lexicon, presumably by using it our author meant to convey that his heroine was possessed of all the graces). At least on the basis of the available evidence — we shall see that some of his other literary efforts are lost — it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that his reputation was based on this work. This describes itself on the title page as The first Booke, Containing The Preparation of the Love betweene Owen Tudyr and the Queene, long since intended to her Maiden Majestie. The words long since suggests that it was written considerably earlier than its date of publication (in his O. D. N. B. biography of Holland, Colin Burrow suggests that it was “probably composed about 1601, when several natives of Denbighshire sought to show their loyalty to the crown in the aftermath of the Essex rebellion,” which is confirmed by a statement in an appended letter to Sir Robert Cotton that it was written two years previously. So why not finish it? At first, the story of the doomed love of Owen Tudor and Henry V’s relict Queen Margaret must have seemed highly attractive for literary treatment: it catered to a widespread interest in poetic narratives about similar star-crossed couples of the Hero and Leander variety, and in addition Chaucer was beginning to make an impression on the Elizabethans, for whom Chaucer largely meant Troilus and Cressida (Sir Francis Kynaston published a Latin translation of it, and even a continuation, both in 1639, written at least partially for the benefit of readers who could not cope with Chaucerian English). At first this story appeared to have two additional benefits, it dealt with the origins of the Tudor dynasty and the queen’s own ancestors, and it highlighted the importance of someone from Holland’s native Wales. By the end of the sixteenth century it must have seemed as if a long line of ingenious poets had already devised every possible form of courtly flattery directed at Elizabeth, but Holland, a Welshman by birth, must have preened himself on inventing a new one by going back to the Welsh roots of the Tudors and a fine story of the love of Owen Tudor and Henry V’s widow Margaret of Valois, the starting point of the Tudor dynasty. He may have been given the idea by the letters written between the two lovers in Drayton’s 1597 Englands Heroicall Epistles (from which he borrowed the crucial incident where Owen falls in to Margaret’s lap) and a lost play Owen Tudor produced in 1599/1600. But sooner or later it may have crossed his mind that he had laid his hand on the proverbial hot potato. The notion of class boundaries was no less firmly entrenched in his day was it had been in the early fifteenth century NOTE 12, and marriage between a queen, even a dowager one, and a commoner was absolutely unthinkable. Having previously been an important fixture in the royal court, by marrying Owen Margaret branded herself forever as a Loose Woman, and if Holland had carried his story one step beyond the point where his Book I breaks off he would have run up against this fact and may well have suffered ill consequences. Reminding his readers that Elizabeth’s pedigree originated in the scandal of the age would have been exceedingly impolitic, and one wonders how she would have appreciated having the world reminded of the sordid facts. He could only hope that Elizabeth’s reaction would be based on the romantic nature of his story, and not its shabby underside.
spacer21. In any event the entire enterprise came to naught when Elizabeth died. The sudden irrelevance of the poem and the futility of pursuing it by adding any more Books is shown by the fact that the printed version of Book I is prefaced by a series of flattering liminary poems addressed to the principal Stuarts. In poem 15 Holland informs Arbella Stuart that he intends to write a poem on the subject (evidently one of his own invention) of a love affair involving one of the eight Kings of Scots named Eugene and a certain Catherine, represented as the ultimate parents of the Stuart dynasty. Either he was planning to insert this in Pancharis in order, so to speak, to modernize it, or (more likely) he was thinking of scrapping this project and begin a similar one honoring the Stuarts. Maybe the idea was to take what he had already written it and doctor it to suit altered circumstances. One mystery surrounding Book I of Pancharis is why he bothered publishing it at all, or at very minimum why on the title page he identified what he had written as “the first Book” as if more were still intended to be forthcoming. A second one is that in his letter to Robert Cotton appended to the printed text he states that he wrote the extant fair copy (preserved as a Berkeley Castle MS.) intending to go up to Scotland and personally present it to King James. As Duncan-Jones observes (p. 97):

This would point to the summer of 1602, a period in which many in and about Elizabeth’s court, especially those disaffected after the execution of Essex, were starting to gaze towards the Northern star.

But why he imagined a poem on this particular subject would arouse any interest and enthusiasm on James’ part is more than a little hard to understand.
spacer22. In any event, Pancharis has traditionally been lightly regarded. Probably writing with it in mind, Edward Phillips in his 1675 Theatrum Poetarum (quoted by the author of the original D N. B. article on Holland,) described him as a poetical writer thought “worthy by some to be mentioned with Spenser, Sidney and other the chief of English poets” to whom nevertheless “he must be confessed inferior both in poetic fame and merit.” A far more scathing verdict is given by J. Payne Collier in the preface of his edition of Pancharis in Illustrations of Old English Literature, London 1866, vol. II at the beginning of the book):

[Pancharis] certainly displays more talent and cleverness, but the whole fabric is violent and unnatural; and reading the prefixed eulogium by Ben Jonson...we wonder at the manner in which, even in the partiality of friendship, he brought himself to speak so extravagantly of Holland’s powers: Ben Jonson only terms Shakespeare the “sweet swan of Avon”; but Holland, according to him, was the ““sweet swan” of nearly every river in Europe: and we almost wonder that, in the excess of his hyperbole, he did not carry him over the Atlantic to the Amazon and the Orinoco. We surmise that Holland was rich, and we know that Ben Jonson was poor, and we recollect no earlier effort of the kind by the learned and “inspired brick-layer.” In its way it is admirable. The best point about “Pancharis” is unquestionably the versification in the Italian terza rima, a form of composition then unusual in our language. The construction of the plot, so to call it, is little short of ridiculous, when we find the author bringing down Diana and Venus to hob-nob with Queen Katharine out of a cup formerly belonging to Edward the Confessor, while Cupid is represented as the chief agent in her amour. The court revel, according to the manner of the time, is, however, well and clearly described; but the best feature in it, the discussion between the Maid, Wife, and Widow, was borrowed from Sir John Davys, as printed in 1602 in the first edition of “The Poetical Rhapsody.”

spacer23. Yet the only visible explanation of the esteem in which Holland was held by his contemporaries is that they must have rated it far higher than later readers. It may be left to the individual reader to decide whether this warrants a reappraisal of the work’s merit by modern criticism, but in any event it is not difficult to see why it appears to have been liked. Pancharis is a work carefully crafted to cater to a prevalent taste for romantic narrative poetry and romanticized history, nurtured by such writers as Chaucer, Spenser and Tasso. Indeed, in it Holland aims at the Grand Style and the mainstream of epic as it was understood in his time. On the one hand, the events related in his Book I are fundamentally motivated by the machinery of the gods in a properly Vergilian manner: Queen Catherine only falls in love with Owen Tudor because Venus and Cupid intervene to fire her passion in a way obviously imitative of Book IV of the Aeneid. Other Vergilian touches are visible: for example the imitation of a memorable and frequently copied Vergilian simile used in his First Eclogue at 548 and fully-developed epic similes at 651ff. and 960ff. On the other, Holland imitates Troilus and Cressida in having his story told by a narrator who personally vouches for the truth of its contents. Following in the footsteps of Spenser, he strives to gives his poem’s language and imagery a mock Chaucerian style in an effort to capitalize on that poet’s growing popularity, for example by his heavy reliance on astrology and its associated symbolism and by larding it with some obsolete vocabulary items he found in that poet such as iwis and maugre, eke and gramercie). Nevertheless, his reliance on such devices will probably be insufficient to convince modern critics that in Pancharis Holland has managed to situate his poem in the high tradition of narrative literature. More realistically, it should be categorized as entertainment, a kind of versified romance novel. But this does not necessarily mean that Holland’s contemporaries failed to find it entertaining, and as such regarded it with respect and felt gratitude for being given the pleasurable experience of its reading. Be this all as it may, abundant evidence establishes beyond doubt that they took Hugh Holland seriously. Modern scholarship is therefore obliged to do the same.
spacer24. In late 1606 Holland received governmental permission to travel abroad, and passed through various towns of Italy, then visited the Holy Land attached to a governmental diplomatic mission, and (as we have already seen) fetched up at Istanbul. He subsequently compiled a cycle of poems describing what he had seen (poem 35, written at Milan, was no doubt a product of the same journey but need not necessarily be considered a surviving fragment of that lost work). In 1608 his tavern crony Thomas Coryate took a similar walking tour through France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands and subsequently published a written account of his travels, the 1611 Coryat’s Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months Travels in France, Italy, &c. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Coryate got the idea of writing a travelogue from Holland.
spacer25. This was accompanied by so many prefatory poems by his friends that it required to additional volumes to contain them all. In 1611 Coyrate published all three of these, Coryate’s Crudities, Coryats Crambe, or his colwort twise sodden, and now served in with other macaronicke dishes as the second course to his Crudities and The Odcombian Banquet. Contributions by Holland (some quite lengthy) can be found in all three. Here we are not interested in the work itself but rather with the surrounding material that accompanies it. Philip S. Palmer, responsible for a recent abridgement of Coryate’s Crudities, perceptively observed: NOTE 13

The first publication of Crudities occasioned a minor literary sensation when dozens of noblemen and literati...contributed mock commendatory poems to the volume, resulting in over one hundred pages of experimental verses that ridicule Coryate’s European journey (Coryate was in on the joke, however, and carefully curated the comic persona emerging from these verses). Much of the material can be described as Menippean satire, which encouraged the miscellaneous compilation of disparate genres, languages, and forms in inventive ways, apparent most notably in the satirical verses and engraved illustrations appended to Crudities — further shape Coryate as remarkably modern both in his writing style and sense of public self-fashioning.

spacer26. Equally clear is the fact that Coryate’s recruiting ground for this front-of-book material was the two literary clubs which convened at the Mermaid and Mitre taverns (to both of which he himself belonged). NOTE 14 There was a considerable overlap in the membership of these groups, with a nuclear crew that belonged to both including Ben Jonson, of course, and John Donne, Sir John Harington, as well as Holland (for some reason Inigo Jones, not a literary man himself, attached himself to this group). Their contributions reflect the unbuttoned and boozy atmosphere of the tavern full of playful thrusts and pawky humor aimed at Coryate. Speaking in general as well as specifically about Holland’s efforts, all this material is immensely attractive both because contributors to this collection were unembarrassed to show the world a side of themselves far removed from the usual personae they cultivated, and because everything is done in a spirit of fellowship: there is nothing hostile or mean-minded in all their sallies against Coryate, everything is done for the purpose of of helping out a friend. spacer
spacer27. The only other poem Holland elected to publish as a solo performance is a considerably shorter effusion mourning the death of James I in 1625, written and printed in the hope of solving a personal problem. In one sense his “cypress garland” mourning King James — cypress was a traditional Roman badge of mourning —  makes for rather strange reading. This kind of thing was standard fare for esurient young men emerging from the universities and anxious to find a patron or land a job who felt it necessary to advertise their loyalty to the crown as well as showcase their learning and talent. But it was much less usual for an established author of advanced years, who (as he tells us in the poem) had already buried his wife and two of his three children, to turn out the same kind of stuff. But it is necessary to realize that Holland had a special reason for publishing this “garland,” for he was confronted by a serious problem. Thanks in no small part to the activities of Father Thomas Wright, one of the more admirable features of the governments of both Elizabeth and James was their willingness to grant tolerance to individual Catholics as long as they were deemed politically reliable. Holland himself had some minor scrapes with the law over his Catholicism NOTE 13 but no serious threats to his security.
spacer28. George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham [1592 - 1628] was a favorite of both James I and Charles I until his assassination by a disgruntled army officer. The standard relationship of a literary man and his patron was in essence a financial transaction: it was a symbiosis in which the patron provided money in exchange for gaining prestige and the ability to induce the writer to produce the kind of stuff he wanted to see written. In Holland’s case, this appears not to have been the basis for the arrangement. We never hear of him lifting a finger to put food on his table, and this suggests he was a man of independent means. Rather, his need for patronage had to do with obtaining Buckingham’s protection against suffering any serious ill consequences for his Catholicism. His patron went along with this arrangement, which worked comfortably enough during the relatively tolerant reign of James. But it soon became evident that Charles’ policy for dealing with Catholics was likely to be a good deal more hard-handed. Holland therefore wrote this piece because he was angling for Buckingham’s protection should the need arise and published it to document his loyalism. But it soon became evident that he could no longer depend on the support of his noble patron to keep him out of trouble and the authorities were starting to take an unpleasant interest in him. Therefore in 1626, having no taste for martyrdom, he felt obliged to subscribe his loyalty to Anglicanism.
spacer29. I shall conclude by returning to a couple of points made at the very beginning. Holland was obviously a gregarious man endowed with a engaging personality, who valued friendships so highly that he adverted to them in his tomb inscription. In unearthing his friendships we have at our disposal two methods. One is that recommended by James Binns, discovering networks of friendships by examination of the laudatory poetry they wrote for each other’s books, and the other is considering the membership of the clubs that foregathered at the Mermaid and the Mitre. The most interesting and unexpected result achieved by this combined approach is the strong likelihood of a friendship between Holland and John Donne. Then we have such others as Richard Martin and Thomas Coryate (Holland would never have teased him so mercilessly had no bond of deep affection existed). And Holland had a way of identifying recipients of his laudatory epigrams as friends when appropriate. Besides those singled out for mention here we have the heraldry expert Edmund Bolton (poem 21) — at one point Holland seems to have angled for an appointment to the College of Heralds himself — but it is conspicuous that this appellation is not given to Shakespeare in the title of his First Folio sonnet. The name he gave his single son surviving at the time he wrote A Cypres Garland was Arbellinus. Was this a name of his invention, made to honor Lady Arbella Stuart? If so, one must wonder what inspired this choice. But three of his friendships stand out most conspicuously. The original relation he had enjoyed with his immensely gifted schoolmaster William Camden obviously evolved into an enduring friendship (he even memorialized the man posthumously in A Cypres Garland). Then there was William Alabaster. The fact that he wrote one of his Latin sonnets to preface a play written by Alabaster as late as 1632, the year before his own death, establishes that their friendship must have survived all the vicissitudes of Alabaster’s stormy and convoluted life, and of course Holland’s poem 39 translates into the vernacular a Latin one by this friend. But greatly outweighing the evidence for all these friendships is the number of reasons we have for regarding his with Ben Jonson as a particularly close and enduring one. They first encountered each other as schoolboys at the Westminster School, and struck up a friendship which conceivably involved transcending whatever prejudice may have existed against socialization between Queen’s Scholars and day boys. I have just argued that Holland was in all probability the friend who steered Father Thomas Wright to Jonson while he was languishing in Newgate. They wrote gratulatory material for each other’s books (Jonson for Pancharis, Holland for Sejanus). Because there is so much evidence for friendship between Holland and Jonson, there is every reason to think that his sonnet prefacing the First Folio (where Jonson's contributions loom so large) was written at his friend’s invitation.
spacer30. Holland died in 1633 and was buried in the South Transept of the Abbey. His tomb has not endured.
spacer31. His poems are presented here according to this scheme: first his published works, then his scattered poems printed at the front of the Pancharis book, quoted by other writers. or preserved only in commonplace books and similar manuscripts (everything in chronological order when possible). Long experience has taught me that it is never possible to write a scholarly work of any appreciable size without incurring considerable debts to others, and this time is no exception. I must record my gratitude to Prof. Colin Burrow (All Souls College, Oxford), Prof. Barbara Carle (Sacramento State University), Prof. Ceri Davie (University of Swansea), and Christine Reynolds (Assistant Keeper of the Muniments, Westminster Abbey), without whose advice and assistance my work could not have been completed.


spacerNOTE 1 The Internet abounds with biographical squibs about Holland, most of which simply pass back and forth the same information (and occasional misinformation). No full life exists, and the biographical notices worth reading are a.) Thomas Fuller, The History of the worthies of England (London, 1662) p. IV.116 (text of the Nuttall edition available here); b.) Anthony à Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (London, 1690-91 ) p. I.583; Dictionary of National Biography p. XVII.142 (by Arthur Henry Bullen); Mark Eccles, “Brief Lives: Tudor and Stuart Authors,” Studies in Philology 69 (1982) pp. 67 - 73; the O. D. N. B. article on Holland by Colin Burrow (2004) with an appended biography that lists further items of interest. (Links are provided here only for items freely accessible to the public).

spacerNOTE 2 The Hollands were one of those English families introduced into Wales by Edward I as part of his program for reducing the land to the status of an English province by creating a new Anglophile gentry, and there is a fair amount of information available about the Denbighshire branch of the family (such as this pedigree and this sketch (which gives particular prominence to our poet), but nothing that I have seen supplies any information about his immediate family. His family history does appear to have helped shape his ambivalent attitude towards Wales. When it suited his immediate purpose he was predictably pro-Welsh, but at times he was capable of viewing the country through the critical eyes of an outsider. Thus at Pancharis 433ff. his attitude towards Owen Glendower, normally remembered as the Welsh national hero, is at best ambivalent, and his sweeping remarks about the quality of Welsh poetry at poem 16.71ff. are gratuitously withering.
spacerThe special prominence he gives to John Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon at Pancharis 581ff. may indicate Holland was the impression (rightly or wrongly) that he was some kind of ancestor, but I have found no verification of this idea. See further the commentary notes on Pancharis 581ff. and poem 35. John Aubrey, Brief Lives, chiefly of Contemporaries ( Oxford, 1898) p. I.406 alleged that “he was descended of the family of the earles of Kent, etc., and was a Roman Catholique The lady Elizabeth Hatton (mother to the lady Purb<ec> was his great patronesse.” Neither of these claims finds corroboration from any other source.
spacerAll biographical sources agree in calling Holland a Catholic convert, and they are doubtless correct. There is no evidence to indicate that he came from a Catholic family (and the outspokenly Protestant bias of poem 2 suggests the opposite). He was no relation to the Hugh Holland of Warby Southampton who had been a supporter of Cardinal Pole under Henry VIII (The 1st Annual Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, London, 1842, p. 252), nor, for that matter, of Roger Holland, martyred under Bonner (see here), or the Jesuit Thomas Holland, a Lancastershireman, martyred at Tyburn in 1642 (there is an article on him in The Catholic Encyclopedia). We have no direct documentation attesting when or how his conversion was achieved, but from indirect evidence reasonable inferences can most likely be drawn.

spacerNOTE 3 Nothing in the entry on Alabaster provided by J.and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses (Cambridge, 1922) p. I.11 suggests otherwise. By the way, Ant’Wood stated that Holland too was a Fellow of Trinity, but the Venns (p. II.393) do not support this claim.

spacerNOTE 4 The same story is repeated in more elaborated form by Ian Donaldson, Ben Jonson: A life (Oxford, 2011, pp. 140f. and by Thomas M. McCoog S. J. The Society of Jesus in Ireland, Scotland and England 1598 - 1606 (Leiden, 2017) p. 45.

spacerNOTE 5 Edited by G. M. Story and Helen Garner (Oxford 1959). The editors, incidentally, were wrong in their assertion that Alabaster was incompetent at English versification. Rather he, like such other poets as Sidney and Campion, experimented with importing the quantitative metrics of Greek and Latin poetry into English versification, which sometimes produced bizarre results.

spacerNOTE 6 S. G. Culliford, “Hugh Holland in Turkey,” Modern Language Notes 69 (1954) pp. 489 - 93).

spacerNOTE 7 This is preserved in several Catholic plays of the period. See Adrien de Roulers' Stuarta (acted at Douai in 1589) 1ff.Thomas Morus (acted at the Venerable English College, Rome, in 1612), 77f. with the  note ad loc., Roffensis (acted at the same place ca. 1618 and very likely written by the same man) 193f., and possibly in the Angel's speech in the seventeenth-century Morus acted at St. Omers. It is also found in the highly scurrilous 1615 Corona Regia (surely a Jesuit document) maliciously attributed to Isaac Casaubon, §19.

spacerNOTE 8 The most informative treatment available appears to be Thomas A. Stroud, “Father Thomas Wright: A Test Case for Toleration,” British Catholic History 3 (1951) pp. 189 - 219, available here). The reader may also find this item useful. For Wright and his relationship with Jonson see Stroud’s “Ben Jonson and Father Thomas Wright,” English Literary History 14 (1947) pp. 274 - 262.

spacerNOTE 9 Renaissance et Réforme new series 22 (1998) pp. 53 - 70 (the quote is from p. 61).

spacerNOTE 10 Elizabeth Story Donno, The Renaissance Excluding Drama (London, 1983) p. 19 (except that, unaware of the Roman evidence, she did not think Alabaster’s escape and flight occurred until 1598).

spacerNOTE 11 Or just possibly Jonson knew Alabaster all too well. Alabaster’s poem XI is included in a begging letter addressed to Lord Ellesmere (Huntington Library MS. EL 428) with a note scribbled at the top by John Donne, at the time serving as Ellesmere’s secretary, warning his master away from any involvement with the man. Jonson may have known Alabaster and felt the same way.

spacerNOTE 12 A view very outspokenly expressed by Sir Thomas Chaloner in Book III of his De Republica Anglorum Instauranda Libri Decem (printed in 1579 but written fifteen years earlier).

spacerNOTE 13 Philip S. Palmer, Coryats Crudities: Selections (Peterborough, 2017),

spacerFor the Mermaid cf. I. A. Shapiro, “The Mermaid Club,” Modern Language Review 45 (1950) pp. 6 - 7 (who also provides some information about the Mitre, there being a considerable overlap in the membership of these two clubs). The best introduction to the Mitre remains John Hoskyn’s poem Convivium Philosophicum, available here in both Latin and a contemporary English translation.
spacerSome readers will be interested to know that the Mitre still exists (although it was remodeled in the late eighteenth century). It is located at 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, London ECIN 65J (website here). Nowadays it operates under the name Ye Olde Mitre to avoid confusion with a like-named establishment in nearby Fleet Street. Based on the evidence of their websites, the beer selections offered at the Ely Place one look more appealing.

spacerNOTE 15 These are detailed in Eccles’ biography.