The Chronicles of Edward Hall are not something that many with an interest in the Tudor period may be aware of but Edward Hall was an astute observer of the period. He was born about 1496 in London and was educated at Eton and at King’s College Cambridge He entered Grays Inn and became a lawyer taking up the position of Common Sergeant of the City of London and judge of the Sheriff’s Court. He became a chronicler during this period when he makes astute observations of life in the City of London and Westminster. Although it cannot be substantiated, it is possible Edward Hall was a Member of Parliament when he writes about the subsidy bill as it passed through the House of Commons such is his insightful writing. He was eventually a member of parliament for Bridgnorth. Hall’s great work, The Union of the Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and York, commonly called Hall’s Chronicle, was first published in 1542. Further editions followed right up until the beginning of the 20th century.
So why are the chronicles of Edward Hall so important?
The Chronicle begins at 1399 when King Henry IV is crowned King of England at the beginning of the Lancastrian period. He writes about the battle between the House of York and the Lancasters and continues the story to the death of King Henry VIII and it is probably here that he writes with the greatest candid observation. Of course Edward Hall was more or less the same age as King Henry and it is obvious he is very well disposed towards him. He could not be called entirely objective, he is respectful and as a lawyer probably cautious in his work but he brings a very valuable insight into the reign of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII. There is so much to catch the eye including the chronicle’s illustrations. His account of King Henry VIII’s love affair with Elizabeth Blount and the birth of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy is an example of an insight to the King not necessarily found elsewhere. To the reader then the chronicle is a fascinating eyewitness account of incidences in the court of King Henry.
William Shakespeare and the Chronicle.
William Shakespeare obviously rated Edward Hall’s chronicle as he used it as one of the prime sources of his historical plays.
The value of the Chronicle in its early stages is not great, but this increases when dealing with the reign of Henry VII and is very considerable for the reign of Henry VIII. Moreover, the work is not only valuable, it is attractive. To the historian it furnishes what is evidently the testimony of an eye-witness on several matters of importance which are neglected by other narrators; and to the student of literature it has the exceptional interest of being one of the prime sources of Shakespeare’s historical plays.