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Charles Tilney (c. 1585)

Historical Records

Buc's note

An undated note in the hand of Sir George Buc on the title page of one of five surviving copies of Locrine (printed 1595) reads:

Char. Tilney wrote <a>

Tragedy of this mattr <wch>
hee named Estrild: <& wch>
J think is this. It was l<lost ?>
by his death. & now [?] s<ome ? >
fellow hath published <it.>
J made the dūbe shewes for it.
wch J yet have. G. B<.>.

Locrine, Fondation Martin Bodmer, thumbnail.jpg Locrine Estrild Buc's note, Fondation Martin Bodmer, thumbnail.jpg

Buc signature on the title page of Locrine; reproduced with permission from the Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cologny, Geneve.

Theatrical Provenance

Unknown; information welcome.

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The story would have to be a pseudo-biography of Estrildis, daughter of the King of Germany, in the time of the war between Brute, first king of the Britons, versus Humber, King of the Huns, c. 1115-1075. B.C.E. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Estrildis was one of three captives aboard the ship of Humber, which held the spoil of Humber's recent conquests in Germany. Locrine, eldest son of Brute, defeated Humber in battle (Humber fled and drowned in the River Humber). Locrine then pillaged Humber's ships and claimed the girls. It was Estrildis who set him on fire, however: "so fair was she that scarce might any be found to compare with her for beauty, for no polished ivory, nor newly-fallen snow, nor no lilies could surpass the whiteness of her flesh" (Sacred Text).

A more recent version of Estrild's story than Geoffrey of Monmouth's is in The Mirror of Magistrates, as expanded in 1574 by John Higgins. (tbc)

References to the Play

The only surviving reference to "Estrild" is Buc's note (See Historical Records.)

Critical Commentary

The context for discussion of "Estrild" by scholars is the play, Locrine, initially in regard to Buc's handwritten note on the title page of one copy of the 1595 printing of Locrine and subsequently in regard to its having been an early version of Locrine somehow revised into and absorbed by the author or reviser of the extant play. Through arguments on the authorship of Locrine, "Estrild" is drawn into discussions of Selimus as well as the identity of the person referred to on the title page of Locrine as W. S.

Collier, in Catalogue of Early English Literature at Bridgewater House (1837), described the Buc note on the title page of Locrine (41); he added to that description in 1865 in Bibliographical Account of Early English Literature by providing a biographical blurb on Charles Tilney as well as asserting that "the authorship of "Locrine," false imputed to Shakespeare, is thus decided" (i.93-5, esp. 95).

Fleay knew of Buc's note, because he quotes Richard Simpson (without citation) as misattributing Locrine to Charles Tilney, whose name occurs in this matter only in the Buc note(BECD, 2.321))

Chambers knew of Collier's comments on Buc's note, indicating Tilney's authorship of Locrine; but, skeptical generally of Collier's claim and persuaded by other evidence, Chambers inclined to date Locrine in 1591. He did, however, allow that the extant text might be "a very substantial revision" (4.27).

Greg, in the context of examining three manuscript notes by Sir George Buc, reviewed the contributions of John Payne Collier to scholarly awareness of Buc's note on the title page of one of five surviving copies of Locrine. He credited Collier with having been the "earliest informant"of Buc's note, which he also "reproduced, evidently in hand-traced facsimile," without the heading (312). Greg was primarily concerned with whether the Buc note was a Collier forgery, and he decided that it was not. In the course of his examination of the note, Greg claimed to have transcribed it accurately (in a note, he says, "None of the previous attempts are reliable" [314]). He closed with musings on the truth quotient in Buc's note on the Locrine title page: "Buc was in an excellent position to ascertain the authorship of contemporary drama. ... Was he correct in his conjecture—for it is nothing more—that Charles Tilney's Estrild was identical with W. S.'s Locrine?" (319-20). Greg decided to let "literary historians .. thresh out" that question (320). However, as a note to his statement about Buc's authority in identifying Tilney's authorship, Greg pointed to the uncertain date of Buc's note, observing that if it were early, Buc had no "connextion with the Revels Office" then, and if it were late, "that [Buc] died insane" (319, n.2).

Maxwell, acknowledging that the title page of Locrine implies strongly that the play had been "reworked or revised," added that the "original need not have been an old play" (26). He reviewed the sources of Locrine, which would necessarily have been the sources of "Estrild," whatever the authorial link between the two plays might have been. He credited Theodor Erbe in Die Locrinesage und die Quellen des pueudo-Shakespeareschen Locrine with a "comprehensive study" of the uses of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caxton, and Holinshed by the author of Locrine, but noted that Erbe had "overlooked" The Mirror of Magistrates as source (27). Endorsing the use of that source (as explored by Willard Farnham, "John Higgins' 'Mirror' and 'Locrine'," Modern Philology 23.3 [1926]: 307-313), Maxwell offered an additional source for two scenes featuring Estrild: Thomas Lodge's "Complaint of Elstred," printed in 1593, in the collection entitled Phillis (33). The composition date of Lodge's complaint is not known, but Maxwell thought it more likely that the author of Locrine "knew it in its printed form" (38). As his argument moved into a discussion of Robert Greene in relation to authorship of Selimus and Locrine, Maxwell claimed that "it is not of real importance to my thesis that the reviser of Locrine be recognized as indebted to Lodge's poem" (68). However, for the authorship of "Estrild," that debt is crucial; further, the link requires that Lodge's complaint be written and in circulation in time for Charles Tilney to have consulted it for his "Estrild," c. 1585.

Berek accepts the Buc note at face value and argues confidently "that by 1586 there existed a play called Estrild on the subject of Locrine, a play which included dumb-shows by Buc which he still had in his possession after 1595, and which for this reason—as well as for others which will emerge—were different from the ones surviving in the printed text of Locrine" (34). Those other reasons include Berek's claim that "both comic scenes and dumb-shows were written by the same person" (35). Without reconciling the ascription of the dumb-shows to Buc, Berek dates the work of that "same person" to "post-1591" (35). Put another way, Berek ascribes to Tilney :Act V, the epilogue, and a few parts of scenes in Acts I-IV" (36). He considers Act V "the part of Locrine most likely to be by Charles Tilney" (36). "Estrild," he claims, was a revenge tragedy presenting Locrine as a just avenger who destroyed the invading Humber and punished him for the death of Albanact" (37). He attributes the "Senecan trappings" to Tilney (38). Derek also cites T. W. Baldwin, in The Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Plays, 1592-1594, as having attributed "Estrild" to the repertory of the Queen's Men (40).

Griffin, asserting the authenticity and reliability of the Buc note, focuses on the biography of Charles Tilney, whom he identifies as a "cousin to Edmund Tilney" (37). Putting that biography together with the politics of the Babington Plot, Griffin argues "that Estrild was more politically sensitive than we might now guess if we did not know who had written it" (38). He asks, "Was Estrild composed as a persuasion-piece along the lines of Gorboduc, half-warning and half-threatening on the succession question?" (39). Given his suggested analogue of Gorboduc, Griffin sees irony in the fact that Thomas Sacville sat in judgment on the Babington conspirators and probably witnessed the execution of Tilney, who, as if a speaker in The Mirror for Magistrates, warned at the block that "'all young gentlemen [should] take warning" from his fate (39).

Knutson discusses "Estrild" in the context of Ur-plays, that is, supposed early versions of now-extant plays. Generally skeptical of lumping together plays that share subject matter as versions of one another, she questions how the author of Locrine might have acquired a copy of "Estrild" and "why he would risk the blowback of finding it into his own, given public awareness of Tilney's treason and the availability of source materials without political baggage" (39).

Sharpe defends the accuracy of Buc's note by defending Buc himself as "a respected scholar and antiquarian" who was furthermore a near-contemporary of Tilney (660). In support of Locrine as old enough to have been written by Tilney, Sharpe discusses its similarity to "the kind of Senecan Inns of Court tragedies pioneered by Norton and Sackville's Gorboduc (1562), even imitating its first scene from its progenitor (660). He would place the revision of "Estrild" into Locrine between 1591 and 1594.

Kirwan is not persuaded (as are Berek and Sharpe) that Buc was identifying Locrine as a lost play by Charles Tilney called "Estrild" (133-4).

For What It's Worth

Richard Dutton, in the Oxford DNB, identifies Charles Tilney as the son of Edmund Tilney's cousin, Phillip. He continues: "Phillip and Edmund Tilney were bitter about the treatment Charles received; in a Star Chamber suit Rafe Bott testified that they ‘thyrsted and longyd to be revengd on him’, believing he had had custody of Charles in the Tower."

Works Cited

Berek, Peter. "Locrine Revised, Selimus,and Early Responses to Tamburlaine." Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 23 (1980): 33-54.
Collier, John Payne. Catalogue of Early English Literature at Bridgewater House. London, Thomas Rodd, F. Shoberl, Jun. 1837.
Dutton, Richard. "Edmund Tilney," Oxford DNB.
Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Internet Sacred Text Archive (Sacred Text Book II).
Greg, W. W. "Three Manuscript Notes by Sir George Buc." The Library 12 (1931): 307-321.
Griffin, Benjamin. "Locrine and the Babington Plot," Notes and Queries 44:1 (1997): 37-40.
Kirwan, Peter. Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha: Negotiating the Boundaries of the Dramatic Canon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "Ur-Plays and Other Exercises in Making Stuff Up." In Lost Plays in Shakespeare's England. Ed. David McInnis and Matthew Steggle. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 31-54.
Maxwell, Baldwin. Studies in the Shakespeare Apocrypha. New York: Greenwood Press, 1956.
Sharpe, Will. "Authorship and Attribution," in William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays, Ed. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen with Jan Sewell and Will Sharpe. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. 641-745.

Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 11 August 2015.