PREFACE TO THE READER.
It is dangerous (gentle reader) to range in so large a field as I haue here vndertaken, while so manie sundrie men in diuers things may be able to controll me, and manie excellent wits of our countrie (as well or better occupied I hope) are able herein to surpasse me; but seeing the best able doo seeme to neglect it, let me (though least able) craue pardon to put them in mind not to forget their natiue countries praise (which is their dutie) the incouragement of their woorthie countriemen, by elders aduancements; and the daunting of the vicious, by foure penall examples, to which end (as I take it) chronicles and histories ought cheefelie to be written. My labour may shew mine vttermost good will, of the more learned I require their further enlargement, and of fault-finders dispensation till they be more fullie informed. It is too common that the least able are readiest to find fault in matters of least weight, and therefore I esteeme the lesse of their carping, but humblie beseech the skilfull to supplie my want, and to haue care of their dutie; and either to amend that wherein I haue failed, or be content with this mine endeuour. For it may please them to consider, that no one can be eie-witnesse to all that is written within our time; much lesse to those things which happened in former times, and therefore must be content with reports of others. Therein I haue beene so carefull, that I haue spared no paines or helpe of freends to search out either written or printed ancient authors, or to inquire of moderne eie-witnesses for the true setting downe of that which I haue here deliuered: but I find such want in writers for the necessarie knowledge of things doone in times past, and lacke of meanes to obteine sufficient instructions by reporters of the time present; and herewith the worthie exploits of our countriemen so manie, that it greeueth me I could not leaue the same to posteritie (as I wished) to their well deserued praise. But I haue here imparted what I could learne, and craue that it may be taken in good part. My speech is plaine, without any rhetoricall shew of eloquence, hauing rather a regard to simple truth, than to decking words. I wish I had beene furnished with so perfect instructions, and so many good gifts, that I might haue pleased all kinds of men, but that same being so rare a thing in any one of the best, I beseech thee (gentle reader) not to looke for it in me the meanest.
But now for thy further instruction, to vnderstand the course of these my labours. First concerning the historie of England, as I haue collected the same out of manie and sundrie authors, in whome what contrarietie, negligence, and rashnesse sometime is found in their reports; I leaue to the discretion of those that haue perused their works: for my part, I haue in things doubtfull rather chosen to shew the diuersitie of their writings, than by ouer-ruling them, and vsing a peremptorie censure, to frame them to agree to my liking: leauing it neuerthelesse to each mans iudgement, to controll them as he seeth cause. If some-where I shew my fansie what I thinke, and that the same dislike them; I craue pardon, speciallie if by probable reasons or plainer matter to be produced, they can shew mine errour; vpon knowledge whereof I shall be readie to reforme it accordinglie. Where I doo begin the historic from the first inhabitation of this Ile, I looke not to content ech mans opinion concerning the originall of them that first peopled it, and no maruell: for in matters so vncerteine, if I cannot sufficientlie content my selfe (as in deed I cannot) I know not how I should satisfie others. That which seemeth to me most likelie, I haue noted, beseeching the learned (as I trust they will) in such points of doubtfull antiquities to beare with my skill: sith for ought I know, the matter is not yet decided among the learned, but still they are in controuersie about it, and as yet Sub iudice lis est. Well, howsoeuer it came first to be inhabited, likelie it is, that at the first the whole Ile was vnder one prince and gouernour, though afterwards (and long peraduenture before the Romans set any foot within it) the monarchie thereof was broken, euen when the multitude of the inhabitants grew to be great, and ambition entred amongst them: which hath brought so manie good policies and states to ruine and decaie.
The Romans hauing once got possession of the continent that faceth this Ile, could not rest (as it appeareth) till they had brought the same also vnder their subiection: and the sooner doubtlesse, by reason of the factions amongst the princes of the land, which the Romans (through their accustomed skill) could turne verie well to their most aduantage. They possessed it almost fiue hundreth yeares, and longer might haue doone, if either their insufferable tyrannie had not taken awaie from them the loue of the people as well here as else-where; either that their ciuill discord about the chopping and changing of their emperours had not so weakened the forces of their empire, that they were not able to defend the same against the irruption of barbarous nations. But as we may coniecture by that which is found in histories, about that time, in which the Romane empire began to decline, this land stood in verie weake state: being spoiled of the most part of all hir able men, which were led awaie into forren regions, to supplie the Romane armies; and likewise (perhaps) of all necessarie armour, weapon, and treasure: which being perceiued of the Saxons, after they were receiued into the Ile, to aid the Britons against the Scots and Picts then inuading the same, ministred to them occasion to attempt the second conquest, which at length they brought to passe, to the ouerthrow not onelie of the British dominion, but also to the subuersion of the Christian religion here in this land: which chanced (às appeareth by Gildas) for the wicked sins and vnthankefulnesse of the inhabitants towards God, the cheefe occasions and causes of the transmutations of kingdoms, Nam propter peccata, regna transmatantur à gente in gentem.
The Saxons obteining possession of the land, gouerned the same, being diuided into sundrie kingdoms, and hauing once subdued the Britons, or at the least-wise remooued them out of the most part of the Ile into od corners and mountaines; fell at diuision among themselues, and oftentimes with warre pursued ech other, so as no perfect order of gouernement could be framed, nor the kings grow to any great puissance, either to mooue warres abroad, or sufficientlie to defend themselues against forren forces at home: as manifestlie was perceiued; when the Danes and other the Northeasterne people, being then of great puissance by sea, began misserablie to afflict this land: at the first inuading as it were but onelie the coasts and countries lieng neere to the sea, but afterwards with manie armies they entred into the midle parts of the land. And although the English people at length came vnder one king, and by that meanes were the better able to resist the enimies; yet at length those Danes subdued the whole, and had possession thereof for a time although not long, but that the crowne returned againe to those of the Saxon line: till shortlie after, by the insolent dealings of the gouernours, a diuision was made betwixt the king and his people, through iust punishment decreed by the prouidence of the Almightie, determining for their sinnes and contempt of his lawes, to deliuer them into the hands of a stranger; and therevpon when spite and enuie had brought the title in doubt, to whom the right in succession apperteined, the Conquerour entred, and they remained a prey to him and his: who plucked all the heads and cheefe in authoritie so cleerelie vp by the roots, as few or none of them in the end was left to stand vp against him. And herewith altering the whole state, he planted such lawes and ordinances as stood most for his auaile and securitie, which being after qualified with more milde and gentle lawes, tooke such effect, that the state hath euer sithens continued whole and vnbroken by wise and politike gouernement, although disquieted sometime by ciuill dissention, to the ruine commonlie of the first moouers, as by the sequele of the historie you may see.
For the historie of Scotland, I haue for the more part followed Hector Boece, Iohannes Maior, and Iouan Ferreri Piemontese, so far as they haue continued it, interlaced somtimes with other authours, as Houeden, Fourdon, and such like; although not often, bicause I meant rather to deliuer what I found in their owne histories extant, than to correct them by others, leauing that enterprise to their owne countrimen: so that whatsoeuer ye read in the same, consider that a Scotishman writ it, and an Englishman hath but onelie translated it into our language, referring the reader to the English historie, in all matters betwixt vs and them, to be confronted therewith as he seeth cause. For the continuation thereof I vsed the like order, in such copies and notes as Maister Wolfe in his life time procured me; sauing that in these last yeares I haue inserted some such notes as concerned matters of warre betwixt vs and the Scots, bicause I got them not till that part of the English historie was past the presse.
For Ireland, I haue shewed in mine epistle dedicatorie in what sort, and by what helps I haue proceeded therein; onelie this I forgot to signifie, that I had not Giraldus Cambrensis, and Flatsburie, vntill that part of the booke was vnder the presse, and so being constreined to make post hast, I could not exemplifie what I would out of them all, neither yet dispose it so orderlie as had beene conuenient, nor pen it with so apt words as might satisfie either myselfe, or those to whose view it is now like to come. And by reason of the like haste made in the impression, where I was determined to haue transposed the most part of that which in the English historie I had noted, concerning the conquest of Ireland by Hen. the second, out of Houeden & others, I had not time thereto; and so haue left it there remaining where I first noted it, before I determined to make any particular collection of the Irish histories, bicause the same commeth there well inough in place, as to those that shall vouchsafe to turne the booke it may appeare.
For the computation of the yeares of the world, I had by Maister Wolfes aduise followed Functius; but after his deceasse, M. W. H. made me partaker of a Chronologie, which he had gathered and compiled with most exquisit diligence, following Gerardus Mercator, and other late Chronologers, and his owne obseruations, according to the which I haue reformed the same. As for the yeares of our Lord, and the kings, I haue set them downe according to such authors as seeme to be of best credit in that behalfe, as I doubt not but the learned and skilfull in histories it shall appeare. Moreouer, this the reader hath to consider, that I doo begin the yeare at the natiuitie of our Lord, which is the surest order (in my fansie) that can be followed.
For the names of persons, townes, and places, as I haue beene diligent to reforme the errours of other (which are to be ascribed more to the vnperfect copies than to the authors) so may it be that I haue some-where committed the like faults, either by negligence or want of skill to restore them to their full integritie as I wished. But what I haue performed, aswell in that behalfe as others, the skilfull reader shall easily perceiue, and withall consider (I trust) what trauell I haue bestowed to his behoofe in this huge volume; crauing onelie, that in recompense thereof he will iudge the best, and to make a freendlie construction of my meaning, where ought may seeme to haue escaped my pen or the printers presse, otherwise than we could haue wished for his better satisfaction. Manie things being taken out as they lie in authors, may be thought to giue offense in time present, which referred to the time past when the author writ, are not onelie tollerable, but also allowable. Thereforé (good reader) I beseech thee to weigh the causes and circumstances of such faults and imperfections, and consider that the like may creepe into a far lesse volume than this, and shew me so much fauour as hath beene shewed to others in like causes. And sithens I haue doone my good will, accept the same, as I with a free and thankefull mind doo offer it thee; so shall I thinke my labour well bestowed. For the other histories, which are alreadie collected, if it please God to giue abilitie, shall in time come to light, with some such breefe descriptions of the forren regions whereof they treat, as may the better suffice to the readers contentation, and vnderstanding of the matters conteined in the same histories, reduced into abridgements out of their great volumes. And thus I ceasse further to trouble thy patience, wishing to thee (gentle reader) so much profit, as by reading may be had, and as great comfort as Gods holie spirit may endue thee with.