Mulmutius Dunwallow

William Rankins (1598)

Historical Records


To playwrights in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 50v (Greg I.96):

Lent vnto the company the 3 of octobʒ 1598 }
to by a boocke of mr Ranckenes called mvl } iijli
mvtius donwallow the some of . . . . . . . . . . . . . }

Theatrical Provenance

The Admiral's players were at the Rose when they bought Mulmutius Dunwallow from Rankins; it was their first recorded purchase of his work. In January through April of 1601, after the Admiral's company had moved to the Fortune playhouse, Rankins, in collaboration with Richard Hathway, took payments from the company for three plays: "Hannibal and Scipio", "Scogan and Skelton", and "The Conquest of Spain by John of Gaunt".

Probable Genre(s)

Harbage calls the play a Pseudo-history, but there is no reason not to think the play treated its narrative seriously, as a history play.

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain

In the wake of the civil war between Ferrex and Porrex (sons of Gorboduc, a young warrior named Mulmutius Dunwallow (or "Dunwallo Molmutius", and other variations) emerged as a military leader of considerable skill and craft (Geoffrey, ch. XVII). After the death of his royal father, Cloten, Dunwallow took over the kingdom of Cornwall. He then began to wage a campaign to enlarge his territories. He defeated and killed Ymner (Pinner), King of Loegria; then he attacked Rudauc (Rudaucus), King of Kambria, and Stater (Staterius), King of Albany, who had joined forces against him. This alliance joined two competent adversaries; the kings took the battle to Dunwallow's territory and held off his army of 30,000 through a day of heavy fighting. Dunwallow, therefore, employed a ruse to defeat these foes. He chose 600 of his most courageous young fighters and had them dress in the armor of the enemies they had just slain; he similarly disguised himself. In this manner he and his warriors slipped in amongst the invading army, killing numerous of the enemy including the two kings. But, fearing that his own army would similarly mistake him and his men for the enemy, he had the warriors put back on their native armor (as did he) and rejoin the battle with their countrymen. As a result, Dunwallow and his forces won the battle by the end of the day. He then marched into the invaders' lands, taking their cities, fortifications, and people. Thus the entire island came under his control; he fashioned a crown of gold for himself as a sign of victory and rule
In contrast to the martial beginning of his reign, Dunwallow governed peacefully for 40 years. His most notable achievement was a set of laws called the Molmutine Laws. The singular feature of these laws was a kind of sanctuary, in which guilty men who sought refuge in temples of the gods and cities should be allowed to depart as if forgiven (even the roads leading to the temples and cities were declared safe zones). The laws also protected husbandmen and their ploughs. The laws were so successful that the population of cut-throats and bandits were unable to profit from their trade. When he died, Dunwallow was buried in the city of Trinovantum (London) near the Temple of Concord, which he had built to celebrate the establishment of his legal code.

Holinshed's Chronicles (1587)

Holinshed comments on the reign of Mulmutius Dunwallo [Mulmucius Dunwallō] in "The Description of Britaine" (1587, Vol. 1, p. 116) and "The Third Booke of the Historie of England" (1587, Vol. 2, p.15). There are several unique details in each account, but neither mentions the Odysseus-like military ruse of disguising Mulmutius and 600 of his men in enemy armor.

An Historicall description of the Iland of Britaine ... (1587, Vol. 1, p. 116)
Holinshed's source for this piece of the Dunwallow story includes a law and its description not evident either in Geoffrey of Monmouth's narration or Holinshed's account in "The Third Booke of the Historie of England: Of Mulmucius ...." This law is called "the wager for battle," and it is explained as follows:
[Dunwallow] made the law for wager of battell, in cases of murder and felonie, whereby a theefe that liued and made his art of fighting, should for his purgation fight with the true man whom he had robbed, beleeuing assuredlie, that the gods (for then they supposed manie) would by miracle assigne victorie to none but the innocent partie.

Holinshed's source then observes that, while many of Dunwallow's laws had become part of current English law, the "wager for battle" had not: "the benefit of wager of battell is restreined" (1587, Vol. 1, p. 116). Other details specific to this account: Dunwallow's gold crown is said to be "the verie first of that mettall (if anie at all were before in vse) that was worne among the kings of this nation"; and the sons of Dunwallow—Beline and Brenne (Belinus and Brennius)—are said to have divided their father's kingdom "fauourablie ... between them."

"The Third Booke of the Historie of England: Of Mulmucius the first king of Britaine, who was crowned with a gold crown, his lawes, his foundations, with other his acts and deeds" (Holinshed II. 15)
Holinshed's source for "Of Mulmucius ..." does not mention the "wager for battle." Also, it attributes the division of the kingdom to Dunwallow, not his sons. It claims further that Dunwallow is considered the first king of Britain because "he was the first that bare a crown" (Holinshed II. 15). This account bears the following unique details:
• An attempt to date the reign of Dunwallow: "in the yeere of the world 3529, after the building of Rome 314, and after the deliuerance of the Israelites out of captiuitie 97, and about the 26 yeere of Darius Artaxerxes Longimanus," the fifth king of the Persians.
• Alternate names for Dunwallow: "Donebant," as in the English chronicle; "Molle," as written in "the old booke." Thorpe provides a time chart that assigns Dunwallow's sons approximately to 390 BCE, thus by inference Dunwallow's forty year reign to approximately 430-390 BCE (287).
• A Mapquest moment: the source attempts to identify the location of the temple (here called "the temple of peace"); he cites a popular but undocumented opinion that the site was "the same which now is Blackwell hall, where the market for buieng and selling of cloths is kept."
•Integration of the Molmutine Laws: this source claims that Gildas translated the laws from "British speech into the Latine"; later, King Alfred had the laws translated from Latin into English "and mingled in his statues."
• Nation building: this source credits Dunwallow with the establishment of the towns of "Malmesburie and the Uies"; he is also said to have begun "the foure great high waies of Britaine, the which were finished by his sonne Blinus."
•Commerce: Dunwallow is credited here with establishing "weights and measures, with the which men should buy and sell."
•Law and Order: Dunwallo "deuised sore and streight orders for the punishing of theft."

The Mirror for Magistrates, eds. 1575, 1587, 1610

Dunwallow does not receive his own poem in The Mirror for Magistrates, but the three kings in league against him do: Pinnar, Stater, and Rudacke. Each has a lament on his defeat by Dunwallow, who is consistently presented as the rightful ruler and superior force in morality and martial prowess. The date of the decisive battle is given as 441 BC. (The source here is the 1815 edition by Haslewood of Parts I & II by John Higgins; it reprints the 1587 text with collations from 1575 and 1610.)
• Pinnar of Logria: Pinnar confesses his own outsized ambition when the British kingdom was thrown into chaos by the failures of Ferrex and Porrex. This admission is complemented by praise of Dunwallow, characterized as "in armes a worthy man" (1587; the 1610 poem calls Dunwallow "Lion-like" [Haslewood, 173-4]).
• Stater of Scotland: Stater calls himself and fellow kings usurpers who were "recklesse" in wit and reason. He bewails his witness of his soldiers' slaughter "before [his] owne eyes." Like Pinnar, he praises Dunwallow as "of noble renowne" (1587; Haslewood, 175-6).
• Rudacke of Wales: Rudacke repeats Pinnar's claim that the vacuum left by Ferrex and Porrex tempted him to seek undeserved power. He speaks of the lawlessness in the land ("The vice of the subjects dayly increast"), to which the kings responded with "vile ambition, blinde, blockish, accurst." Like Pinnar and Stater, Rudacke acknowledges that Dunwallow's claim on the kingdom was "by the lawe," and he puts his alliance of kings in stark contrast: "Our consciences guilty, our souldiers agast:/ Our enmy with honour had souldiers of trust" (1587, Haslewood, 178-81).

In addition to the common admission of their unworthiness and Dunwallow's right, the three kings perceive their collective defeat in terms of Fortune and the fall of princes. The final stanza in Rudacke's lament expresses the moral:

Let Lordings beware how aloft they doe rise,
[For] by Princes and commons theyr climing is watcht.
No sooner they haue at the scepter once snatcht,
But guilty themselues they deeme worthy to die,
And God's iustice such sentence [t'accomplish] doth hie.
(1587; Haslewood, 181)

Spenser's Faerie Queene, Book II, cantos 37-40

Spenser has Arthur read the same story of Dunwallow in the library at Alma's castle in Book II as Geoffrey and Holinshed tell, but without many specifics; like Holinshed, Spenser omits the Odyssean ruse of Dunwallow's disguising his warriors and himself in the enemy's armor in order to mount a surprise attack. In place of details Spenser supplies characterization of potential use to a later dramatist. For example, he attributes Dunwallow's taking up arms to pity for a nation cannibalized by the heirs of Brute (37.3-5). He emphasizes Dunwallow's wisdom (37.8), especially with the law of sanctuary which Spenser claims was "reueald in vision" (39). By continuing the genealogy to Dunwallow's sons, Brennus and Bellinus (40), and beyond them to Bellinus' son, Gurgunt, Spenser makes more familiar to his audience the narratives that dramatists in addition to Rankins would take up and the Admiral's men would stage, namely Cutlack, 1594, and Belinus and Brennius, 1610.
Then vp arose a man of matchlesse might,

And wondrous wit to menage high affaires,

Who stird with pitty of the stressed plight

Of this sad Realme, cut into sundry shaires

By such, as claymd themselues Brutes rightfull haires,

Gathered the Princes of the people loose,

To taken counsell of their common cares;

Who with his wisedom won, him streight did choose

Their king, and swore him fealty to win or loose.

Then made he head against his enimies,

And Ymner slew, or Logris miscreate;

Then Ruddoc and proud Stater, both allyes,

This of Albanie newly nominate,

And that of Cambry king confirmed late,

He ouerthrew through his owne valiaunce;

Whose countreis he redus'd to quiet state,

And shortly brought to ciuill gouernaunce,

Now one, which earst were many, made through variaunce.

Then made he sacred lawes, which some men say

Were vnto him reueald in vision,

By which he freed the Traueilers high way,

The Churches part, and Ploughmans portion,

Restraining stealth, and strong extortion;

The gracious Numa of great Britanie:

For till his dayes, the chiefe dominion

By strength was wielded without pollicie;

Therefore he first wore crowne of gold for dignitie.

Donwallo dyde (for what may liue for ay?)

And left two sonnes, of pearelesse prowesse both;

That sacked Rome too dearely did assay,

The recompence of their periured oth,

And ransackt Greece well tryde, whe[n] they were wroth;

Besides subiected Fraunce, and Germany,

Which yet their prayses speake, all be they loth,

And inly tremble at the memory

Of Brennus and Bellinus, kings of Britan.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Greg II thought the play "may have been an old piece" on the legendary first king of Britain (#154, p. 198). He rejected William Hazlitt's reading of the title as "(Mul) Mucius [Scoevola] done by Marlow."

Chambers, ES referred to "Mulmutius Dunwallow" as "another old play" like "Tristram of Lyons," deciding that "it must be uncertain whether [the Admiral's men] played them" (2.170).

Knutson expands on Greg's and Chambers' suggestion that Mulmutius Dunwallow was not a new play by grouping it with other titles for which payments were less than 80s (p. 160).

Gurr groups "Mulmutius Dunwallow" among plays with "incomplete payments" in one context (29), and in another he categorizes it with plays "initially paid for but probably abandoned later" (p. 105)

For What It's Worth

On the issue of the £3 payment as an indication that the play was either secondhand (Greg, Knutson) or incomplete (Gurr), Rankins is recorded twice in the diary as receiving what might have been a loan. As there is no entry of repayment, the loan might have been applied to payments for plays.

In the first instance, Rankins was lent 2s on 8 February 1600/1 "in eareste," but in earnest for what the entry does not say. Rankins was at the time collaborating with Richard Hathway on "Scogan and Skelton" (Greg I, 85v, p. 134):
Lent vnto mr Ranckens the 8 of febreary } ij s
1600 in eareste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . }
In the second instance, Rankins and Hathway were lent 4s between the 20th and 27th of April 1601, the purpose of which is not specified (Greg I, 86v, p. 136). The pair of playwrights had received 29s in the previous weeks for "The Conquest of Spain by John of Gaunt," itself a sum far lower than the apparent norm in the diary of £6 for new plays.
lent mrr Ranckens }
& mrr hathwaye } iiijs

On the £3 payment further, Henslowe's wording is also an issue: when does ""to by a boocke" mean "payment in full"? On this, theater historians will have different opinions. There is an autograph signature of Rankins in the Diary in conjunction with a payment on "Hannibal and Scipio" (Greg I, 31v, p. 60)

On Dunwallow's "wager of battle": In 2 Henry VI, Shakespeare uses this principle to determine the innocence or guilt of Peter Thump, apprentice, in his claim that his master, Thomas Horner, spoke treason. They fight, and Peter kills Horner, after which King Henry declares that "God in justice hath reveal'd" that Horner was indeed a traitor (II.iii.103).

Works Cited

Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. trans. Sebastian Evans. London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1904. (Internet Archive).
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Knutson, Roslyn L., "The Commercial Significance of the Payments for Playtexts in Henslowe's Diary, 1597-1603," Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 5 (1991): 117-63.
Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. 1590, 1596. (Luminarium)
The Mirror for Magistrates. Parts I & II by John Higgins. ed. Joseph Haslewood. London: 1815.EEBO
Thorpe, Lewis, trans. The History of the Kings of Britain. London: Penguin Books, 1966.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 21 September 2012.