Tottel's Miscellany

Songes and Sonettes, written by the right honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other. Apud Ricardum Tottel. Cum priuilegio ad impri mendum solum. 1557.


Songes and Sonettes, more popularly known as Tottel’s Miscellany, is rightly the best known and most admired of the early printed miscellanies. Although it was not the first printed anthology of lyrics by several authors, Tottel’s Miscellany is the most significant. Rollins did not overstate its importance when he proclaimed that ‘the beginning of modern English verse may be said to date from its publication in 1557’ (Rollins, Tottel, I. 4). Tottel’s Miscellany helped to establish a vernacular lyric tradition in print and provided a model for subsequent anthologizers of English verse.

The volume is described as a collection of ‘songs and sonnets’. There are a number of courtly songs by Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and others in the compilation, including ‘In winter’s just return’, ’Perdy I said it not’, ‘Like as the lark’, and ‘O happy dames, that may embrace’. The lyric ‘Thestilis a silly man, when love did him forsake’ proved popular, appearing in other, later miscellanies, including England’s Helicon. There are also lyrics in the collection that were originally set to the lute and later became popular ballads, such as ’When raging love with extreme pain’ and ’If care do cause me cry, why do not I complain?’.

Tottel’s Miscellany, however, was not intended as a songbook, but as a book of verse (Maynard, 13). Part of the miscellany’s wider significance was due to its role in popularising the sonnet. Wyatt and Surrey were the earliest writers of the sonnet in English and the fourteen-line sonnet dominates the collection, inaugurating a vogue for sonneteering that would, in part, define the English literary renaissance. Another Italian form that is Englished in the collection is the ottava rima, first introduced into England by Wyatt. Other poets represented in the miscellany include Nicholas Grimald, a humanist scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, whose poems are gathered together towards the end of the volume. There is some debate as to whether it was Tottel or Grimald who edited the collection, although Steven May, and others, favour Tottel (May, 2009, 424).

Richard Tottel printed and sold the first seven editions of Tottel’s Miscellany. Two editions appeared in 1557. The first edition included 271 poems, with 40 attributed to Surrey, 97 to Wyatt, 40 to Grimald, and 94 to ‘Uncertain Authors’. The second edition was substantially revised and reorganised, the poems attributed to Surrey remained unchanged, Wyatt lost one poem, while the number of poems attributed to Grimald decreased to 10, and those attributed to ‘Uncertain Authors’ increased to 134. The contents of the miscellany and order of the poems remained the same for subsequent editions. A third and fourth edition appeared in 1559, the sixth edition in 1565, and Tottel’s last edition in 1574. The eighth edition of 1585 was ‘imprinted’ by John Windet, and the ninth and final edition of 1587 by Robert Robinson. Tottel registered his last publications in 1586 and appears to have made over his rights to Windet, who then assigned them to Robinson.

The basis of this critical edition is the second edition of 1585, STC 13861.

Further Reading

Seth Lerer, Courtly Letters in the age of Henry VIII: Literary Culture and the arts of deceit. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Steven May, ‘Popularizing Courtly Poetry: Tottel’s Miscellany and Its Progeny’, in Mike Pincombe and Cathy Shrank eds. The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature, 1485-1603. Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 418-31.

Winifred Maynard, Elizabethan Lyric Poetry and Its Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Elizabeth W. Pomeroy, The Elizabethan Miscellanies: Their Development and Conventions, University of California English Studies 36. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1973.