The John Nichols Project

Article excerpt

THE role of ceremony and visual splendor in what John Nichols (1745-1826) called Queen Elizabeth I's "plan of popularity" has long fascinated scholars and the general public alike. (1) From the pioneering work of Roy Strong and Frances Yates, to more recent studies such as those by Philippa Berry, Susan Doran, and Mary Hill Cole, pageants, progresses, entertainments, and all aspects of court culture have been regarded as integral to Elizabeth's sovereignty. (2) To a greater or lesser extent, the work of these and all scholars of Elizabethan England has been assisted by John Nichols's collection of Elizabethan historical, literary, and visual texts, published in its second and "definitive" edition in 1823: The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. (3) The three volumes of this work contain detailed accounts of the Queen's summer and winter progresses. The journeys to and from her hosts--private, civic, and institutional--are illustrated with reference to a wide range of documents sourced from regional archives, libraries, and private owners, including the correspondence of eyewitnesses, members of the royal entourage, and the hosts themselves, who express pride, excitement, anxiety, and apprehension at the approach of their unpredictable and irascible guest. But Nichols's Progresses is a storehouse of other kinds of documentary evidence that helps shed light on related, often surprising, aspects of Elizabethan England. There are, for example, the official account of the baptism of Prince Henry Frederick in August 1594; records of receptions of foreign dignitaries, including the Queen's infamous rebuke (in Latin) to the Polish ambassador on July 25, 1597; a description of Baron Olbracht Laski's visit to Oxford in June 1583; Paul Hentzner's commentary on his trips to royal residences such as Whitehall and Greenwich Palace; and a wide range of receipts, lists, and inventories that inform us of the annual wage paid to the Queen's distiller in 1580, and that, for example, [251.sup.li] [13.sup.s] [8.sup.d] was spent on "Black cloth" for "mourners and other officers" to commemorate the death of Henri II in 1559. (4)

It is fitting that, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, an interdisciplinary and international team of scholars has returned to Nichols's Progresses in order to produce a new edition of source materials for the life and reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. The John Nichols Project, now in its eleventh year, will produce an old-spelling edition of Nichols's early modern sources, to be published in five volumes by Oxford University Press under the title John Nichols's The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth I: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources. (5) This new edition will return to Nichols's early modern sources and edit them afresh, supplementing the texts with up-to-date commentary and annotation together with a range of supporting materials, including one hundred illustrations; bibliographies; indexes of names, officeholders and biblical allusions; twenty-six appendices; and specially commissioned translations and maps.

The first half of this essay traces the history of the John Nichols Project from its inception in 2000 to the present day, outlining the aims behind the project, its structure and methodology, and how its personnel responded to the challenges--some foreseen, others unforeseeable--of producing an edition of the Progresses fit for the twenty-first century and beyond. The second half of the essay surveys the project's contribution to scholarship thus far and anticipates ways in which the new edition, when published, will contribute further. New archival discoveries are discussed, and finally, the essay reflects on the significance of the volumes in the context of future trends in editing and research.

The History of the John Nichols Project

All successful research projects have a complex pre-history and rely on a combination of strategy and serendipity. …