1.Sir John Stradling [1563 - 1637] was born of Francis and Elizabeth (Gage) Stradling of St. George’s near Bristol, received his early education at the Bristol cathedral school, matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1580, and took the B. A. from Magdalen Hall in 1584. NOTE 1 After a brief sojourn in the Inns of Court and the usual gentleman’s continental Tour, he revealed a literary bent. In 1592 he published A Direction for Travailers, a translation of Justus Lipsius’ Epistola de Peregrinatione Italica. This was followed three years later by Two Bookes of Constancie, a translation of Lipsius’ 1584 De Constantia Libri Duo. In 1597 he published a philosophical dialogue, De Vita et Morte Contemnenda Libri Duo. Epigrammatum Libri Quatour appeared in 1607, and, after a lengthy interval, there appeared two volumes of vernacular religious verse, Beati Pacifici(1623) and Divine Poems (1625). In the same year he wrote a political dialogue, A Politike Discourse (National Library of Wales document 5666c). Another manuscript work, the little treatise The Storie of the Lower Borowes of Merthyr Mayr (1593) was first printed as the first volume of the South Wales and Mon Record Society, edited by William Rees and H. Randall. Stradling was sheriff of Glamorganshire in 1607, as he was again in 1620, and it was presumably for this service that he was knighted in 1608. In the following year he inherited the Stradling family seat Castle St. Donat’s, the Glamorganshire manor of his great-uncle Sir Edward, and in 1611 was created first Baronet Stradling. He was elected Member of Parliament for St. Germans, Cornwall in 1625, and for Old Sarum later in the same year. After performing various other civic duties and founding a grammar school at Cowbridge, he died in 1637.
2. Epigrammatum Libri Quatour is one of a number of collections of Latin epigrams that proliferated in England in the early seventeenth century, all of which were ultimately imitative of Martial, but took their immediate inspiration from the vernacular epigrams of Sir John Harington, whose efforts were unprinted in his lifetime but circulated widely in manuscript. NOTE 2 The first conspicuous example were the two Books of epigrams included in Thomas Campion’s 1595 Thomae Campiani Poemata. This was followed in 1601 by the appearance of the Affaniae by Campion’s friend Charles Fitzgeoffrey, and then by the first volume of epigrams by Stradling’s fellow-Welshman John Owen, Ioannis Audoeni Epigrammatum libri III. Of these writers, Stradling only acknowledges familiarity with two. He counted Harington (whom he thanks for sending him a manuscript of his epigrams in I.74 - cf. also II.101 translation and IV.8 ) among his friends. And in II.90 he explicitly states that it was a reading of Owen’s collection that inspired him to publish his own volume; Owen is also alluded to in IV.106 (see the commentary note on that poem).
3. Yet, although Stradling does not acknowledge any familiarity with Fitzgeoffrey’s Affaniae, in a number of ways his Epigrammatum Libri Quatuor resembles that work much more closely than it does Ioannis Audoeni Epigrammatum libri III. Owen’s volume consists exclusively of epigrams written in elegiac couplets. In imitation of his friend Campion, Fitzgeoffrey offers considerably more varied fare. Likewise, particularly in his first two Books, Stradling provides relief from the regularity of elegiac couplets with a liberal admixture of dactylic hexameters, hendecasyllables, and an assortment of iambic meters. And, as with Fitzgeoffrey, variety in form is matched by variety of content: besides humorous and laudatory epigrams here too one finds versified narratives, epitaphs, miniature verse epistles, and at least one attempt to write in a more sustained and serious vein (I.119). Likewise the heartfelt emotions revealed in a number of Stradling’s poems can be matched in items by Fitzgeoffrey, but scarcely in the facile epigrams of Owen.
4. More to the point, one comes away from both Fitzgeoffrey and Stradling with a sense both of the poet’s personality and of the social milieu in which he moved, something that can scarcely be said about Owen. Both poets use their short poems to write much about things near and dear to them, and in doing so manage to present us with a kind of cumulative self portrait. And in a number of ways the near and dear things were strikingly similar: family, friendships, and region (the major way in which this comparison breaks down is that in Book I of Affaniae, as in Campion’s elegies, there is a strong erotic component, which is absent from Stradling save a couple of isolated items, notably III.126).
5. To both poets, family was of cardinal importance. Fitzgeoffrey writes little about his own family, a small amount about the Mohuns into which he was absorbed by his mother’s remarriage, but a much more about that of Sir Anthony Rous, into which he seems to have been all but adopted (a matter of considerable interest for the modern reader, because the future parliamentarian John Pym was Rous’ stepson), and in whose bosom he lived out his adult life. Stradling belonged to a leading Welsh family that allegedly could trace its origin to one of the original Norman colonizers of Glamorganshire, and was connected by marriage to such powerful families as the Gamages, Herberts, Mansels, Pophams, Portmans, and Sidneys. Like Fitzgeoffrey, who appended to his volume a special collection of epitaphs under the title Cenotaphia, Stradling was a master of that genre, and a large number of the ones he wrote were for his relatives. Each such epitaph read in isolation might seem no more than a memorial for a kinsman. Read collectively, they amount to a glorification of the Stradling clan, and even in such details as the dedications he prefixes to his more lighthearted epigrams the poet loses no opportunity for advertising his family and the social class to which it belongs. Hence many commentary notes in this edition are genealogical in nature. Likewise, both poets use their poems to address and otherwise commemorate members of their circle of friends. One learns of Stradling that he numbered among his friends Sir John Harington and the great William Camden, although the great majority are members of the local intelligentsia, physicians, legalists and clergymen of South Wales and the West Country of England. Finally, both poets employ their epigram-collections for a rather aggressive display of regional pride. Fitzgeoffrey’s celebration of Cornwall and the West finds a close match in Stradling’s proud presentation of himself as a Welshman and his glorification of national heroes of Welsh birth (such as John Norris, Sir Thomas Morgan, and Sir Roger Williams) or at least from the West (such as Drake and Hawkins). All in all, in its spirit and contents, Stradling’s volume is so strikingly similar to Fitzgeoffrey’s that it is difficult to dismiss the impression that Fitzgeoffrey, much more than Owen, provided the actual inspiration. Acknowledgment of debt only to Owen may be another manifestation of Welsh self-consciousness.
6. In I.2 our poet states that as a mature man he is publishing poetry written as a youth (iuvenis). “Youth” here is a relative term. At least if we assume that poems about specific historical occurrences were written reasonably soon after the event, the earliest datable poems in this volume emanate from 1586, the date of the death of Sir Philip Sidney (I.52 , I.108 and I.114) or at most from 1585 ( I.113, about the death of Francis, Earl of Bedford). Strikingly absent from the collection are any poems from the poet’s Oxford days, although during his university years Oxford was beginning to be a hotbed of literary activity, especially in the circle of poets presided over by William Gager of Christ Church. Evidently the Oxford Latin poetry to which he must have been exposed left no visible mark on him, nor he on it. Possibly this was because the kind of short epigrammatic miniature at which he excelled had not yet come into vogue, or maybe he simply was unconscious of any literary talent until he had left Oxford. Nor, for that matter, can one point to any friendship he mentions that seems to date from university days.
7. Judging by the evidence of the present volume, the individual to whom he was closest, and who exerted the greatest influence over him, was the head of his family, his great-uncle Sir Edward [1529 - 1609], NOTE 3 who, being childless, adopted him and made him his heir. Sir Edward was antiquarian, chiefly remembered as the author of a historical memoir, The Winning of the Lordship of Glamorgan out of the Welshmen’s Hands (printed in David Powell’s edition of Humphrey Llwyd’s 1584 Historie of Cambria), a work in which the origins of the Stradling family, and of the other powerful Glamorganshire families to with the Stradlings were linked by intermarriage, play a conspicuous role. NOTE 4 He was also the sponsor of Dr. John Davydd Rhys’ linguistic researches into the Welsh language, a subject in which he himself also dabbled. Since the poet was himself a member of a junior and English branch of the Stradlings, it is not difficult to surmise that his family pride and sense of a Welsh heritage was instilled or at least greatly enhanced by Sir Edward. Hence upon Sir Edward’s death his great-nephew was well prepared to inherit the position of head of the Stradling family and master of the family seat. The extent to which John had been absorbed into Sir Edward’s world can be seen by a comparison with Sir Edward’s correspondence, edited in the nineteenth century by Traherne. Many of the individuals who figure in this correspondence, or in some cases kinsmen thereof, also figure in John's poetry. This is true to the extent that the letters to and from Sir Edward and John’s poetry are perfect complements to each other. It has been written of his family (by Griffiths p. 42):
One of the remarkable features of the Stradlings in the sixteenth century was their gradual identification with, and love for, things Welsh. Like so many of the advenae in Wales in the later middle ages, they had little in common with Welshmen. They served an alien government and married into English families or into those of immigrants like themselves; while their English estates always provided a powerful tie to draw some to live almost entirely in England to prevent others from being closely identified with their indigenous neighbours. A chance occurred in the second half of the fifteenth century largely though that perennial solvent of a class society, matrimony.
Sir Edward illustrates this tendency with a vengeance both in his literary patronage and in his own writings, and this was an important feature of the legacy he bequeathed his great-nephew.
8. The Stradlings are not infrequently described as a Catholic family. This certainly was true of Sir Edward’s father Sir Thomas and others of his generation, in the reign of Mary, and Griffiths (p.39) presents evidence that Sir Edward was at least suspected of being a crypto-Catholic and that some of the other members of the family were overt Recusants. It is less clearly true of our poet. There are no overt signs of Catholicism in his epigrams, with the possible exception of II.109. In contrast to the epigrams of Fitzgeoffrey and many other contemporary poets, however, the absence of expressions of anti-Catholicism in Stradling’s poetry is notable. This is especially true in his mini-cycle about the Gunpowder Plot beginning at IV.64. A couple of items (such as IV.70) are at most anti-Jesuit, and two poems (II.53 and II.54) are written against Jacques Clement, the monk who assassinated Henri III of France. A large number of items in the collection express normal English patriotism and duty towards the sovereign. Certainty is obviously impossible, but all of this would be consistent with the idea that Stradling was a loyalist Catholic of the Lord Monteagle variety, who clung to the Old Religion but were as patriotic and horrified of the Jesuits as anybody else. Such Catholics loyalists, as long as they remained quiet about their faith, were not only tolerated but even remained eligible for office and honors. I do not mean to press the point (which may well be wrong), but it might serve to explain one feature of Epigrammatum Libri Quatour that might otherwise seem problematic. Much Latin poetry of the age was written by young men on the make, anxious to display their talents, their learning, and their loyalty in the hope of securing patronage and professional advancement. This is why courtly flattery is standard fare in much Anglo-Latin poetry of the time. Stradling, of course, had no similar need to hunt for patrons given the existence of Sir Edward, and in view of his excellent prospects he was liberated from considerations of careerism. Nevertheless, his volume is liberally larded with flattering effusions addressed to Elizabeth, James, and a large number of ecclesiastical and secular grandees. In at least one poem his flattery goes so distinctly “over the top” that it will no doubt strike some readers as either disgusting or unintentionally humorous (IV.128, in which he avers that King James has a closer relationship to the Almighty than did his two namesakes among the Apostles). One wonders whether the copious inclusion of such stuff was dictated by a Catholic’s special need to issue conspicuous protestations of loyalty. If so, the effort paid off handsomely. In several poems (such as II.90 and IV.1) Stradling expresses the hope that his volume will fall into James’ hands. No doubt he or his supporters took care that it did, and one wonders whether Epigrammatum Libri Quatour played a part in his subsequent knighting and ennoblement.
9. Epigrammatum Libri Quatour was published at London in 1607, impensis Georgii Bishop et Ioannis Norton (Short Title Catalogue 23354, Early English Books reel 1010). I have corrected printing errors and imposed modern punctuation. I should like to express thanks to John Morgan of the Department of Classics, University of Wales, Swansea, for providing me with a very enlightening local map, and to Charile Mitchell of the University of North Carolina for helping me identify Bull the headsman. I am particularly pleased to express my thanks to Dr. Hugh Stradling for calling my attention to his impressive Web site devoted to the Stradlings of St. Donat’s, containing much valuable information about John and his great-uncle Sir Edward, and directing me to valuable bibliographical references.
10. The reader interested in learning more about the Glamorganshire society in which Stradling moved will also wish to read Linsi-Woolsie, (1613) written by another Oxford-educated Welshman at least distantly related to Stradling by marriage, William Gamage.
NOTE 1 Biographies in Wood II.396 - 8, Traherne pp. xiiif., Hurlow 29f., Williams 37 - 46, and the D. N. B. The full text of Wood’s biography of Stradling may be read here.
NOTE 2 They have been published in The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington, ed. Sir Norman E. McClure, Philadelphia, 1930.
NOTE 3 Biographies in Wood II.50f., Traherne pp. x - xii, Hurlow 27 - 29, G. Williams, “The Stradlings of St. Donat’s,” in S. Williams (ed.), Vale of History 90 - 94, Williams 29 - 37, Griffiths 39 - 43, and the D. N. B.
NOTE 4 There is a modern edition at James pp. 147 - 169.
The Dictionary of National Biography (London, 1885 - ), abbreviated D. N. B.
Foster, Joseph, Alumni Oxonienses (in four volumes, London, 1891 - 2, reprinted Nendeln, 1968)
Griffiths, Ralph A., Conquerors and Conquered in Medieval Wales (New York, 1994)
Hurlow, The Rev. W. G., The Story of St. Donat’s (National Magazine Co. Ltd., St. Donat’s, no date)
Traherne, the Rev. John Montgomery (ed.), Stradling Correspondence: A Series of Letters Written in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (London, 1840).
James, Brian Ll. James (ed.), Rice Merrick Morganiae Archaeiographia (South Wales Record Society, Barry Island, South Glamorgan, 1983)
Venn, John and J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses; a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900 (in ten volumes, Cambridge, University Press, 1922 - 54)
Williams, Glanmor, “The Stradling Family,” in Roy Denning (ed.), The Story of St. Donat’s Castle and Atlantic College (Cowbridge, 1983) 17 - 54.
Wood, Anthony à, Athenae Oxonienses, Fasti Oxonienses, and Life of Anthony à Wood (ed. Philip Bliss, in four volumes, London, 1813 - 22, reprinted Hildesheim, 1969).