The Reigne of King Henry the Second, written in seaven Bookes. By His Majesties Command.

London: Printed by A. M. and John Beale for Benjamin Fisher … 1633.

8vo., pp. [216], with the engraved frontispiece portrait by Robert Vaughan (A2), and with the initial and medial blanks, but wanting the terminal blank O8; central section of A1 (blank, previously used as the front pastedown) repaired, lower corner of O7 restored (no loss); a very good copy in contemporary limp vellum, with the gilt arms of Robert Kemp, first Baronet of Gissing, within a wreath, to front cover; new endpapers, silk ties replaced; preserved in a cloth box.


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First edition of a verse history dedicated to Charles I. May’s literary career had begun with his translation of Lucan’s strongly anti-imperial Pharsalia (1626-7), which also influenced several of his stage tragedies. But his republicanism was muted thereafter, and indeed his Continuation of Lucan (1630) was dedicated to King Charles, who then commissioned May’s verse histories of Henry II (1633) and Edward III (1635). ‘These poems, while they do not follow an obvious Caroline propaganda purpose, are sympathetic to the dilemmas of royal power’ (Oxford DNB). Charles purportedly came to May’s defence in 1634 after an altercation at court with the Lord Chamberlain, calling May ‘his poet’; but his loyalty was not rewarded, and May sided with Parliament in the 1640s, turning propagandist.

Provenance: Robert Kemp (d. 1647), admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1605 (as was May himself in 1615), was appointed Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Charles I in 1631, making his ownership of this book ‘borne by his [Charles’s] command, and not to live but by his gratious acceptation’ all the more appropriate; Kemp was created a baronet in 1642.

STC 17715; Pforzheimer 686.

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