George Puttenham


Camden Society edition

Accounts and Papers relating to Mary Queen of Scots, ed. Allan J. Crosby and John Bruce, Camden Society, 93 (1867), pp. 67-134.


Acts of the Privy Council of England, ed. John Roche Dasent, NS Vols VII-XIII (London 1893-96).


Mark Eccles, ‘George Puttenham’ in ‘Brief Lives: Tudor and Stuart Authors’, Studies in Philology, 74 (1982), 108-9.


Steven W. May, account of George Puttenham in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Willcock & Walker

George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge, 1936).


Charles Murray Willis, Shakespeare and George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (St Leonards-on-Sea, 2003).


Puttenham's Literary Works

George Puttenham has commonly been accepted as the author of The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589), largely on the basis of a reference in Edmond Bolton's Hypercritica (written c.1621): ‘the Arte of English Poetry [is] the Work (as the Fame is) of one of [Queen Elizabeth's] Gentlemen Pensioners, Puttenham’. The reference is supported by other passing comments on Puttenham elsewhere by Sir John Harington and Richard Carew. George's brother, Richard (1520-97), as well as John, Lord Lumley (1534?-1609), have been advanced as less plausible candidates: see Sidney Lee's account in the original Dictionary of National Biography; B. M. Ward, ‘The Authorship of the Arte of English Poesie: A Suggestion’, Review of English Studies, 1 (1925), 284-308; Willcock & Walker, pp. xi-xliv; Roderick L. Eagle, ‘“The Arte of English Poesie” (1589)’, N&Q, 201 (May 1956), 188-90; and Steven W. May's account in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

No manuscript of The Arte itself is known, although extracts from the printed text can be found in manuscript miscellanies: e.g. PtG 4.5.

The author of The Arte of English Poesie mentions having written at least eleven other works in verse and prose: namely, an eclogue Elpine, a ‘worke’ called Philocalia, verse Triumphals (‘written in honour of her Maesties long peace’), the interludes Lustie London and The Woer, a comedy Ginecocratia, a verse romance Isle of Great Britain, and the prose tracts De Decoro, Ierotekni and Originals and Pedigree of the English Tong (Willcock & Walker, pp. 29, 42, 46, 134-5, 144, 169, 172, 198, 203, 220, 226, 237-8, 247-9, 277), as well as his verse Partheniades which are quoted in The Arte extensively (Willcock & Walker, pp. 181-2, 193, 215-17, 223-4, 234-5, 243-4, 256) and various other unnamed poems.

Of these only Partheniades, apparently written for intended presentation to Queen Elizabeth, is known to have survived in any form. A contemporary copy, written in a not particularly accomplished hand, is among the Cotton Manuscripts (PtG 1). What was possibly another manuscript of the work was owned by William Drummond of Hawthornden: see The Library of Drummond of Hawthornden, ed. Robert H. Macdonald (Edinburgh, 1971), No. 888*.

Another literary composition of sorts which Puttenham produced was at least a partial translation of Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars. A single autograph leaf of this, concerning Tiberius, is among notes he gave to Sir John Throckmorton, which were subsequently incorporated in the State Papers (*PtG 7). Perhaps, in his temporary defiance of the Privy Council in 1578, he rashly presumed to equate them with the tyranny of Tiberius. At any rate, it is not known whether his translation of Suetonius progressed any further than this two-page leaf.

The same may be said of a translation of Claude de Seyssel's political treatise La Grande Monarchie de France, Puttenham's manuscript of portions of which have only recently come to light (*PtG 6). One other notable example of Puttenham's handwriting which has come to light is his revealing memorandum book (*PtG 8) which throws considerable light on Puttenham's finances, his numerous lawsuits, and his books, clothing and jewelry which are here inventoried. Another memorandum book recorded below (PtG 9) would seem to have some association with Puttenham, but is not in his hand and may well have been compiled by members of the Paulet family.

A further work evidently written by Puttenham, but not mentioned in his Arte of English Poesie and not known today in any authorial manuscript, is a prose discourse defending Queen Elizabeth's treatment and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. This discourse, generally entitled An Apology or True Defence of Her Majesty's Honourable and Good Renown, was circulated anonymously in manuscript, but is attributed to Puttenham, apparently by hearsay, in two of the surviving manuscript copies. Puttenham's modern editors Willcock & Walker assumed (pp. xxii-xxiii) that this discourse ‘was undoubtedly undertaken at the Queen's request’, that its circulation was ‘authorised’, and that ‘the manner in which Elizabeth's opinions and feelings are recorded renders it quite impossible that the work was written without her sanction’. Against this assumption is the fact that the work was not given sufficient sanction to be published as an official justification; neither was it unprecedented for courtiers or other aspiring gentlement to write treatises on their own initiative in support of the Queen, for strictly limited circulation, as a means of currying royal favour. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that Puttenham would ever have been directly commissioned by the Queen at this time in view of his current disreputable situation as, in May's words, a ‘fugitive excommunicant’. On the other hand, Puttenham's support of the Queen seems to have borne fruit. He received an official reward for his ‘good, true, faithful and acceptable service’, presumably this Justification, when Thomas Windebank, Clerk of the Signet, secured the Queen's signature to a gift of two leases in reversion for Puttenham in May 1588 (National Archives, Kew, C 66/1315, m. 7). Windebank was the protégé of Lord Burghley, dedicatee of The Arte of English Poesie published by Richard Field in the following year. It is quite possible that it was Burley who commissioned or at least supported Puttenham's discourse on Mary, especially since it went out of its way to exonerate Burley's conduct at a time when he was technically banished from Court in the aftermath of recriminations following Mary's execution. This discourse circulated in manuscript until well into the seventeenth century, costing as much as ten shillings for a professional scriptorium copy, and was not printed until 1867. At present ten manuscript copies of it can be recorded (PtG 2-5).

Letters and Documents

In 1936 Willcock & Walker could cite only a few manuscripts in the Public Records relating to Puttenham, none of them in his hand or bearing his signature. This situation is now radically changed, not only by the relatively recent discovery of many more documents relating to Puttenham in the National Archives, Kew, but also by the coming to light of the Jervoise of Herriard Papers, descending from the Paulet family, now in the Hampshire Record Office. It would be no exaggeration to describe these papers, a number of which bear Puttenham's handwriting, as sensational. They throw clear light on Puttenham's scandalous life, on his unsavoury contemporary reputation; on his numerous acrimonious legal suits; on his sometimes violent feuds with his Hampshire neighbours, not least with his in-laws, the Paulet family, who at one point ransacked his papers; on his questionable financial dealings with his brother-in-law Sir John Throckmorton (d.1580); on his several terms of imprisonment by order of the Privy Council; on his several excommunications; on his incessant adulterous womanising, his bullying of his mistresses, and his steps to off-load his illegitimate children on his retainers and local parson; and the revelations brought by his wife, Lady Windsor, when she successfully petitioned for divorce in 1578, after fifteen years of being robbed, brutalised, and treated as a ‘kitchen slave’ by ‘so evil a man’.

Entries are given below to all currently known documents relating to Puttenham (PtG 10-215), though more will no doubt come to light. A number of these are cited in Charles Murray Willis's book on Puttenham (2003), the quotations and occasional facsimiles in which are fairly useful despite his peculiar take on the subject with respect to Shakespeare. A number are also cited in Steven W. May's article ‘George Puttenham's Lewd and Illicit Career’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 50/2 (Summer 2008), 143-76, as well as in his account of Puttenham in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

The entries also include, as biographically relevant, a small number of documents relating to George Puttenham's elder brother, Richard (d.1597), who fled the country and lived for many years on the continent in order to avoid prosecution for rape.

Peter Beal