London: Grafton, 1548. FIRST EDITION. Woodcut title page and full-page woodcut colophon, numerous woodcut historiated initials, including the large woodcut on the first text leaf. Contemporary calf, rebacked; title repaired at top, not affecting any printing. Signature of Thomas Spring dated 1663 on title and the word Dartmouth written in pen on the verso of title, contemporary annotation on first text leaf. Overall an excellent copy, very little browning, sharp impression. Item #15907
First edition, first issue of Hall’s chronicles of English history, famed as one of Shakespeare’s major sources. Spanning from the accession of Henry IV in 1399 and the War of the Roses to the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the text serves primarily as a moral exemplar and cautionary political tale. It was fundamental in cementing the memory of Richard III as a villainous ruler. Unlike other chroniclers, Hall weaves his own eye-witness accounts into the narrative, bringing a dramatic immediacy to these political mechanisms. Hall’s text reiterates his respect for the monarchy and royal ceremony and is decidedly sympathetic to the Protestant cause. He is also one of the earliest historians to suggest that the Tudor house would restore England to its rightful glory after the political strife and economic upheavals of the fifteenth century. Of particular interest is the chronicle’s role as inspiration and source material for William Shakespeare’s plays on the Wars of the Roses—Richard II, Henry IV (parts one and two), Henry V, Henry VI (parts one, two and three) and Richard III.
Hall (1497–1547), lawyer, historian, and member of Parliament, likely viewed the production of this chronicle as his life’s mission. Although he died before his magnum opus could be completed, Hall left the manuscript to the King’s printer, Richard Grafton (c. 1507–1573), who completed and published the text.