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  • Title: Holinshed on King Lear
  • Author: Raphael Holinshed
  • Editor: Michael Best

  • Copyright Michael Best. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Editor: Michael Best
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    Holinshed on King Lear

    1Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Selections)

    From the fifth chapter, the reign of King Leir

    Leir, the son of Baldud, was admitted ruler over the Britons in the year of the world 3105, at what time Joas reigned in Judah. This Leir was a prince of right noble demeanor, governing his land and subjects in great wealth. He made the town of Caerleir, now called Leicester, which stands upon the river of Sore. It is written that he had by his wife three daughters without other issue, whose names were Gonorilla, Regan, and Cordeilla, which daughters he greatly loved, but specially Cordeilla the youngest far above the two elder. When this Leir therefore was come to great years and began to wax unwieldy through age, he thought to understand the affections of his daughters towards him, and prefer her whom he best loved to the succession over the kingdom. Whereupon he first asked Gonorilla, the eldest, how well she loved him; who, calling her gods to record, protested that she loved him more than her own life, which by right and reason should be most dear unto her. With which answer the father, being well pleased, turned to the second and demanded of her how well she loved him, who answered, confirming her sayings with great oaths, that she loved him more than tongue could express and far above all other creatures of the world.

    Then called he his youngest daughter, Cordeilla, before him and asked of her what account she made of him, unto whom she made this answer as followeth: "Knowing the great love and fatherly zeal that you have always borne towards me (for the which I may not answer you otherwise than I think, and as my conscience leadeth me), I protest unto you that I have loved you ever and will continually (while I live) love you as my natural father. And if you would more understand of the love that I bear you, ascertain yourself that so much as you have, so much you are worth, and so much I love you and no more."

    The father, being nothing content with this answer, married his two eldest daughters, the one unto Henninus the Duke of Cornwall, and the other unto Maglanus the Duke of Albania, betwixt whom he willed and ordained that his land should be divided after his death and the one half thereof immediately should be assigned to them in hand; but for the third daughter, Cordeilla, he reserved nothing.

    Nevertheless it fortuned that one of the princes of Gallia (which now is called France), whose name was Aganippus, hearing of the beauty, womanhood, and good conditions of the said Cordeilla, desired to have her in marriage, and sent over to her father requiring that he might have her to wife; to whom answer was made that he might have his daughter, but as for any dower he could have none, for all was promised and assured to her other sisters already. Aganippus, notwithstanding this answer of denial to receive any thing by way of dower with Cordeilla, took her to wife, only moved thereto (I say) for respect of her person and amiable virtues. This Aganippus was one of the twelve kings that ruled Gallia in those days, as in the British history it is recorded. But to proceed.

    5After that Leir was fallen into age, the two dukes that had married his two eldest daughters, thinking it long ere the government of the land did come to their hands, arose against him in armor, and reft from him the governance of the land, upon conditions to be continued for term of life; by the which he was put to his portion, that is, to live after a rate assigned to him for the maintenance of his estate; which in process of time was diminished as well by Maglanus as by Henninus. But the greatest grief that Leir took was to see the unkindness of his daughters, which seemed to think that all was too much which their father had, the same being never so little, insomuch that going from the one to the other he was brought to that misery that scarcely they would allow him one servant to wait upon him.

    In the end, such was the unkindness, or (as I may say) the unnaturalness which he found in his two daughters, notwithstanding their fair and pleasant words uttered in time past, that, being constrained of necessity, he fled the land and sailed into Gallia, there to seek some comfort of his youngest daughter, Cordeilla, whom before time he hated. The lady Cordeilla, hearing that he was arrived in poor estate, she first sent to him privately a certain sum of money to apparel himself withal and to retain a certain number of servants that might attend upon him in honorable wise as appertained to the estate which he had borne; and then, so accompanied, she appointed him to come to the court; which he did, and was so joyfully, honorably, and lovingly received both by his son-in-law, Aganippus, and also by his daughter, Cordeilla, that his heart was greatly comforted, for he was no less honored than if he had been king of the whole country himself.

    Now when he had informed his son-in-law and his daughter in what sort he had been used by his other daughters, Aganippus caused a mighty army to be put in readiness and, likewise, a great navy of ships to be rigged to pass over into Britain with Leir, his father-in-law, to see him again restored to his kingdom. It was accorded that Cordeilla should also go with him to take possession of the land, the which he promised to leave unto her as the rightful inheritor after his decease, notwithstanding any former grant made to her sisters or to their husbands in any manner of wise.

    Hereupon, when this army and navy of ships were ready, Leir and his daughter Cordeilla, with her husband, took the sea and arriving in Britain fought with their enemies and discomfited them in battle, in the which Maglanus and Henninus were slain; and then was Leir restored to his kingdom, which he ruled after this by the space of two years, and then died forty years after he first began to reign. His body was buried at Leicester in a vault under the channel of the river of Sore beneath the town.

    From the sixth chapter

    The gynarchy of Queen Cordeilla, how she was vanquished, of her imprisonment and self-murder; the contention between Cunedag and Margan, nephews, for government, and the evil end thereof

    10Cordeilla, the youngest daughter of Leir, was admitted Queen and supreme governess of Britain in the year of the world 3155, before the building of Rome 54, Uzia then reigning in Judah, and Jeroboam over Israel. This Cordeilla, after her father's decease, ruled the land of Britain right worthily during the space of five years, in which mean time her husband died; and then about the end of those five years her two nephews Margan and Cunedag, sons to her aforesaid sisters, disdaining to be under the government of a woman, levied war against her and destroyed a great part of the land, and finally took her prisoner and laid her fast in ward wherewith she took such grief, being a woman of a manly courage and despairing to recover liberty, there she slew herself, when she had reigned (as before is mentioned) the term of five years.

    Cunedagius and Marganus, nephews to Cordeilla, having recovered the land out of her hands, divided the same betwixt them, that is to say, the country over and beyond Humber fell to Margan, as it stretcheth even to Caithness, and the other part lying south and by west, was assigned to Cunedagius. This partition chanced in the year of the world 3170, before the building of Rome 47, Uzia as then reigning in Judah, and Jeroboam in Israel. Afterwards, these two cousins, Cunedag and Margan, had not reigned thus past a two years, but through some seditious persons, Margan was persuaded to raise war against Cunedag telling him in his ear how it was a shame for him being come of the elder sister not to have the rule of the whole isle in his hand. Hereupon overcome with pride, ambition, and covetousness, he raised an army and entering into the land of Cunedag, he burned and destroyed the country before him in miserable manner.

    Cunedag, in all haste to resist his adversary, assembled also all the power he could make, and coming with the same against Margan, gave him battle, in the which he slew a great number of Margan's people and put the residue to flight, and furthermore pursued him from country to country till he came into Cambria, now called Wales, where the said Margan gave him eftsoons a new battle; but being too weak in number of men he was there overcome and slain in the field by reason whereof that country took name of him being there slain, and so is called to this day Glau Margan, which is to mean in our English tongue, Margan's land. This was the end of that Margan after he had reigned with his brother two years or thereabouts.

    . . .

    From the eighth chapter, Gorboduc and his sons

    Gorbodug, the son of Kinimacus, began his reign over the Britons, in the year after the creation of the world 3418, from the building of the city of Rome 202, the 58th of the Jews' captivity at Babylon. This Gorbodug by most likelihood, to bring histories to accord, should reign about the term of 62 years, and then, departing this world, was buried at London, leaving after him two sons, Ferrex and Porrex, or after some writers, Ferreus and Porreus.

    Ferrex, with Porrex his brother, began jointly to rule over the Britons in the year of the world 3476, after the building of Rome 260, at which time the people of Rome forsook their city in their rebellious mood. These two brethren continued for a time in good friendship and amity till at length, through covetousness and desire of greater dominion provoked by flatterers, they fell at variance and discord, whereby Ferrex was constrained to flee into Gallia and there purchased aid of a great duke called Gunhardus or Suardus and so returned into Britain, thinking to prevail and obtain the dominion of the whole island. But his brother Porrex was ready to receive him with battle after he was landed, in the which battle Ferrex was slain with the more part of his people. The English chronicle saith that Porrex was he that fled into France and at his return was slain and that Ferrex survived. But Geoffrey of Monmouth and Polychronicon are of a contrary opinion. Matthew Westmonasteriensis writeth that Porrex, devising ways to kill Ferrex, achieved his purpose and slew him. But, whether of them soever survived, the mother of them was so highly offended for the death of him that was slain, whom she most entirely loved, that setting apart all motherly affection she found the means to enter the chamber of him that survived in the night season and as he slept, she, with the help of his maidens, slew him and cut him into small pieces, as the writers do affirm. Such was the end of these two brethren after they had reigned by the space of four to five years.