Sir John Suckling


Beaurline, Plays

The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Plays, ed. L.A. Beaurline (Oxford, 1971)

Beaurline, SP, 59 (1962)

L.A. Beaurline, ‘New Poems by Sir John Suckling’, Studies in Philology, 59 (1962), 651-7


Herbert Berry, Sir John Suckling's Poems and Letters from Manuscript (London, Ontario, 1960)


The Works of Sir John Suckling: The Non-Dramatic Works, ed. Thomas Clayton (Oxford, 1971)


Authorial Manuscripts

Except for a few pieces of juvenilia and some original letters, the Cavalier poet Sir John Suckling has left scarcely more authorial manuscripts of any of his works than has Richard Lovelace, although some of Suckling's poems do seem to have had limited circulation in manuscript copies. The single known manuscript deposit of any significance relating to him — one first made generally known in 1960 by Herbert Berry — is the Cranfield Papers, now in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone (U269). Predominantly the papers of Suckling's uncle, Lionel Cranfield (1575-1645), first Earl of Middlesex, of Copthall, near Epping, Surrey, this collection later came into the possession of the Sackville family of Knole, Sevenoaks. Besides seven autograph letters by Suckling to his uncle, one to his cousin Mary (probably his ‘Aglaura’), and scribal copies of yet another letter, as well as of his epistolary tract To Mr. Henry German (SuJ 157), the papers include a group of early scribal copies of several poems published in Fragmenta Aurea (1646) (SuJ 4, SuJ 9, SuJ 39, SuJ 80, SuJ 98), as well as some anonymous poems (SuJ 35-6, SuJ 83-6, SuJ 88-92) which both Beaurline and Clayton have argued are very probably youthful compositions by Suckling. Four of the poems in the first group (SuJ 4, SuJ 9, SuJ 39, SuJ 83), with another of uncertain authorship (SuJ 134), are written on two quarto bifolia pinned together (U269 F 36, No. 42) in an accomplished italic hand which Clayton has correctly identified (p. ciii) as that of the Earl of Middlesex's steward and family tutor John Langley (His hand can be compared, for instance, in a series of letters written by him, 1636-44, which incidentally include references to Suckling, in U269/1 E128). Clayton is probably correct also in supposing that Langley is likely to have been responsible for a copy on a separate bifolium (U269 F36, No. 46) of The Wits (SuJ 98), written in a variant secretary hand which, nevertheless, betrays some of Langley's characteristics. Clayton (pp. xcix-c) discusses the possibility that items in the second group (of which two examples are illustrated by him after p. xcviii) might be written in the youthful and immature hand of the poet himself. There would, however, seem to be two distinct hands present here. One, responsible for nine unascribed poems (SuJ 83-6, SuJ 88-92) on a bifolium endorsed in a later hand ‘Verses on pious subjects’ (U269 F36, No. 37), is in a neat, bold, but probably immature, predominantly italic hand, which tends to lean to the right. The other, responsible for two poems subscribed ‘J Sucklyn Esqr’ (SuJ 35-36) on the rectos of another bifolium (U269 F36, No. 38), is in a more accomplished, fairly upright, predominantly italic, but still probably immature hand, somewhat comparable in its elegant stylishness, and even in certain decorative mannerisms, to that of John Langley (and certainly consistent with someone whom Langley may have tutored). Its somewhat ornate ‘signature’ does bear some rudimentary or vestigial resemblance to Suckling's known later signature, so it is just possible that this is a relatively neat juvenile version of Suckling's later, degenerate hand. Nevertheless, granted the huge changes to which handwriting can be subject over a long period (and the extant juvenile exercises of Milton are a case in point), the likelihood remains that these are scribal or other Cranfield family copies, conceivably transcribed from Suckling's own manuscripts. The importance of the Cranfield Papers is discussed by Thomas Clayton also in ‘Sir John Suckling and the Cranfields’, TLS (29 January 1960), p. 68.

Letters and Documents

Some of Suckling's ‘letters’ — such as those to the Earl of Dorset, to Henry Jermyn and to an unidentified (or imaginary) correspondent (on the ‘Scotish business’) — are in effect epistolary tracts and are so categorized below (SuJ 140-157.5). What might also be regarded as virtually a literary exercise is that edited in Fragmenta Aurea (1646) as ‘A Letter to a Friend to diswade him from marrying a Widow which he formerly had been in love with, and quitted’ (SuJ 153.5-153.8). Clayton also discusses (pp. xcv-xcvi), and rejects (on the reasonable grounds of its being written in 1628, when Suckling was barely nineteen), a pamphlet first published in 1641 as The Coppy of a Letter Written to the Lower House of Parliament touching Divers Grievances and Inconveniences of the State &c. This tract (which begins ‘If my Country had held me worthy to have served in this Parliament…’ and which was not attributed to him until many years later) can be found in numerous manuscripts, invariably anonymous.

Setting these examples apart — as well, incidentally, as various documents by his father, Sir John Suckling. MP (1569-1627), Master of Requests and Privy Councillor, which have occasionally been misattributed to the poet in sale catalogues and the like — a number of letters by Suckling the poet are preserved in the autograph originals or early manuscript copies and are given entries below (SuJ 173-187).

In addition, nine folio pages containing ‘Epistles’ by Sir John Suckling written ‘in an old hand’ were sold at Sotheby's, 11 June 1860, lot 707, to Sealey. Unless, perhaps, they be satirical verse epistles on the poet (such as those in SuJ 197-239), they too might conceivably relate to the elder Suckling.

As for documents by Suckling the poet, only one bearing his signature — an indenture for the sale of the Manor of Roos Hall in 1638 — is currently known (*SuJ 188).

Manuscript Copies of Verse

Among the relatively small number of contemporary or near contemporary copies of various of Suckling's poems recorded in the entries below, perhaps the most promising for textual editors is the so-called ‘Thomas Killigrew commonplace book’ at the University of Texas (see SuJ 33, SuJ 55, SuJ 66, SuJ 73, SuJ 99, SuJ 121, SuJ 164, SuJ 167, SuJ 171). This is a large collection of verse, principally of song-lyrics, a number of them relating to poems set by Henry Lawes, and evidently compiled by royalists in the Interregnum and Restoration.

A manuscript — which might conceivably be one of the miscellanies recorded below — of ‘Poems by Sir John Suckling, &c.’ was included in the Quarto section of the Joseph Lilly sale at Sotheby's, 27 January to 1 February 1873 (5th day), lot 1548, and sold to Pickering. A later, undated catalogue of Pickering & Chatto, ‘A Catalogue of Old and Rare Books’ [c. 1910?] includes, as item 3851 on p. 562, a quarto nonce volume of printed works by Thomas Randolph with ‘inserted at the end…twenty-four pages in contemporary handwriting, containing transcripts of some of Randolph's poems, Sir John Suckling's “Sessions of the Poets”, [cp. SuJ 93-9] and his “Ballade uppon a Wedding” [cp. SuJ 16-25] etc. etc.’. This intriguing volume remains untraced or unidentified.

Satirical Poems on Suckling

Clayton also edits (Appendix A, pp. 181-210) a number of ‘poems and letters closely associated with Suckling’. Among these is a small group of verse satires on Suckling's well-known behaviour in the First Bishops' War of 1639, one of which (purportedly ‘Sir John Suckling's Answer’) has sometimes been regarded as actually by him (rather than as a comic persona poem). Three of these poems were especially subject to contemporary circulation in manuscript, years before they were ever published, and are given entries below (SuJ 197-239).


The Cranfield papers at Maidstone, Kent, contain other references to Suckling, as noted earlier. Sir Tobie Matthew, for instance, writes to Middlesex on 23 September 1639, ‘Sr. John Sucklin told mee this day, at Mr. Treasurers, that he sends a man downe to you to morrow morning…’ (U269/1 CP71), and there is also a copy of Suckling's ‘Examination’ (U269/1 CP25).

A licence dated 22 October 1629 for Suckling to go with one Collier to Utrecht to serve as a soldier is recorded in a ‘Register of licences to pass beyond the Seas’ in the National Archives, Kew (E 157/14, f. 87r (rev.)). It is briefly discussed in Allan P. Green, ‘An Unnoticed Fact of the Life of Sir John Suckling’, N&Q, 222 (May-June 1977), p. 205; and see also Kees van Strien, ‘Sir John Suckling in Holland’, English Studies, 76/5 (September 1995), 443-54.

To add to the documentation cited by Clayton (pp. xxxvi-xxxvii) for accounts of the fracas in 1638 when Suckling was physically assaulted by Sir John Digby, there is a letter on the subject by Ambrose Randolph among the papers of Lord Braybrooke in the Essex Record Office, Cheltenham (D/DBy C21, f. 89).

An official contemporary copy of Sir Edward Bishop's petition to the House of Commons on 2 May 1642, accusing Suckling of bribery and threats during his election as M.P. in 1640-44, was sold at Sotheby's, 27 January 1987, lot 688, to Quaritch, and is now in the British Library (Add. MS 64121). John Aubrey's autograph ‘brief life’ of Suckling is in the Bodleian (MSS Aubrey 6, ff. 109v-10v; Aubrey 8, f. 10v) and is edited in Clark (1898), II, 240-5. Notes on Suckling by William Oldys (1696-1761) are written in his exemplum of Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatick Poets (Oxford, 1691), now in the British Library (C.28.g.1, pp. 496-9). Notes on Suckling by the Rev. Joseph Hunter (1783-1861) in his Chorus Vatum Anglicanorum (Volume III) are also in the British Library (Add. MS 24489, ff. 25r-6v). An exemplum of The Poems, Plays and other Remains of Sir John Suckling, ed. W.C. Hazlitt, 2 vols (London, 1892), heavily annotated by George Thorn-Drury, KC (1860-1931), is in the Bodleian (Thorn-Drury e. 6, and also his index in MS Eng. misc. e. 349, f. 38v). These useful annotations are discussed in T.S. Clayton, ‘Thorn-Drury's Marginalia on Sir John Suckling’, N&Q, 204 (April 1959), 148-50.

Peter Beal