Tottel’s Miscellany

Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Others

‘Hers will I be, and onely with this thought
                                Content my selfe, although my chance be nought’

Tottel’s Miscellany – the first printed anthology of English poetry – was published in 1557 and subsequently inspired many major Elizabethan writers including Shakespeare, Marlowe and Spenser. Collected by the pioneering publisher Richard Tottel, the anthology brought together elegies and epigrams, sonnets, poems about fortune and friendship, riddles, moral odes – and above all verse about love, such as Wyatt’s poem which begins ‘They flee from me, that sometime did me seke’, and Surrey’s passionate sonnet ‘Complaint of a lover rebuked’. For the first time, the Tudor public was given access to works that had previously been privately circulated by the aristocracy, and the idea of the anthology – a coherent collection of verse that could express a multi-stranded response to the uncertain worlds of love and politics – was born. The major poets of Henry VIII’s court, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were first printed in the volume, along with a large collection of diverse, intriguingly anonymous poems that were both moral and erotic, intimate and universal. 

The collection was published during the reign of Mary, when the burning of Protestant ‘heretics’ was at its peak. It would have been unwise to attack the Marian regime; however, Tottel was careful to exclude any poems that directly praised it, perhaps suggesting a subversive politics at work beneath the anthology’s surface. There are over fifty sonnets in the collection, and their prominence partly contributed to their increasingly high profile in English poetry – a move away from the longer, more leisurely poems that also appear in the volume.

This edition of the Miscellany (which retains original spellings) is accompanied by on-page glosses, explanatory notes, appendices, a further reading section and an introduction by Amanda Holton and Tom MacFaul which discusses the political and religious climate of the period, the variety of verse included, and the intriguing and often dramatic lives of the poets, editors and publishers involved in the collection.

Tom MacFaul is Fellow and Departmental Lecturer in English at Merton College, University of Oxford. He is the author of Male Friendship in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries (2007) and Poetry and Paternity in Renaissance England: Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne and Jonson (2010), and of many articles on Renaissance poetry and drama.

Amanda Holton was educated at Oxford, and is now a Visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton. She has particular interests in Chaucer, the love lyric, and the relationship between medieval and Renaissance poetry. Her books include The Sources of Chaucer's Poetics (2008). Amanda was awarded an Early Career Fellowship in 2005, during which she helped to produce this publication.

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