Curse you W. H. Rylands!

Suddenly it’s the 4th of January and I have but one wee blog entry to offer. That poor start to the year is not for lack of effort. I have two entries slowing germinating in draft form but they are not yet ripe. One topic has consumed more time than expected and that is the subject of this little offering.

English historians researching 15th and 16th century genealogies have some very helpful sources in the form of heraldic ‘visitations’ which are records of official enquiries into the gentry pedigrees in various counties. Most of these visitations were conducted in the first half of the 16th century and were amended and continued by later heralds into the 17th century. Many of these visitations, preserved in manuscript collections, were edited and published by the Harleian Society and other records societies in the 19th and early 20th century but the quality of those editions are variable.1

An attempt to track back the sparse biographical details for George Silver, author of a 1599 book on fencing, consumed more time than it should have thanks to these editions.2 London British Library MS Harley 1544 contains the visitation to Hampshire and a detailed pedigree for the Silver family up to George’s generation and this was edited and published for the Harleian Society in 1913.3 It is not quite as helpful as it could be. I can safely blame the editor, W. H. Rylands, for my troubles.

The introduction to the volume reproduces the 1808 description of the manuscript which explains that the manuscript was begun in 1530, expanded in 1575, and updated selectively by later hands up to 1634.4 The three primary contributors are identifiable by their hands but later additions are less clear. Now, a decent editor would have added some notes about the scholarly apparatus used for the transcription and he would, when possible, note which hand was which in each record, thus allowing readers to better date the individual entries.

Since I’m complaining about this you can guess what Rylands did, or rather what he didn’t do. The entry for the Silver family was originally compiled by the second contributor, Roger Cooke (d. 1593), who endorsed the entry but Rylands does not indicate if Cooke was the only contributor to the entry.5 If it is all the work of Cooke, the entry is accurate to at least 1575 (when Cooke visited Hampshire) and could have been updated from other sources perhaps to 1590 but not later. This is relevant because Silver himself leaves no other traces past 1600 (and the George Silver found in a patent record for 1604 could be any George Silver, not this one specifically). An added complication is that Silver’s wife, (Mary Haydow or Heydon) appears to have re-married before 1613 since that marriage is recorded with her family pedigree for Norfolk.6 Neither marriage (in the Hampshire and Norfolk visitations) are dated. George and Mary are recorded in the register of marriage licenses for the Bishop of London for March 1580 but this isn’t proof of the date for the marriage, only the date for the formal legal registration in London.7

So why do I care? I care because Silver also left an undated manuscript companion to the 1599 book which, for reasons that elude me, had been dated in some secondary sources to circa 1605.8 There is really nothing to support this and while I would like to dismiss, without evidence, an assertion made without evidence (thank you Mr. Hitchens), I feel a compulsion to be thorough. And as readers know, I am, if nothing else thorough.9

There is one way to check this. Go to the BL and look at MS 1544 to see if the Silver entry is in Cooke’s hand and none others. So I have that to look forward to in the new-year.


1 Many of these are indexed in Edward L. C. Mullins, Texts and Calendars: Analytical Guide to Serial Publications, (Royal Historical Society: London, 1958). “And just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Library” so my supervisor says, there appeared Texts and Calendars: 1957-82 v. 2: Analytical Guide to Serial Publications, (Royal Historical Society: London, 1982).

2 The only detailed biography of Silver is Stephen Wright, ‘Silver, George (fl. 1580-1599), Swordsman and Writer on Fencing’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004). Silver’s book is: Paradoxes of Defence …, (Edward Blount: London, 1599).

3 The edition to blame is W. Harry Rylands (ed.), Pedigrees from the Visitation of Hampshire Made by Thomas Benolt, Clarenceulx A[nno] 1530…, (Harleian Society: London, 1913).

4 This information is identical to that catalogue, published as Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts in the British Museum, (King’s Printer: London, 1808), II.

5 Rylands, pp. 61-2.

6 I am stuck using the digitized versions of this text which is printed in landscape but scanned in portrait and it is a royal cow to use online. I have not consulted the print edition in person so I could be mistaken on the lack of dates. William Harvey (ed.), The Visitation of Norfolk in the Year 1563, (Miller and Leavins: London, 1895).

7 See Joseph Lemuel Chester (ed.), Allegations for marriage licences issued by the Bishop of London, 1520 to [1828], (1887), p. 95. It’s worth mentioning that Mary is called ‘spinster’ in this record suggesting she was at least 30 in 1580 and had not borne children. There are no children listed for her at her re-marriage to Edward Edwards either in the Norfolk visitation.

8 This is London, BL ms Sloane 376. The 1605 date appears in Stephen Hand, English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver, (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006) and the same author’s “George Silver’s Four Fights: An Exercise in Reducing Complexity in Combat” in Gregory D. Mele (ed.), In the Service of Mars: Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop 1999-2009, Vol. I, (Freelance Academy Press: Wheaton, IL., 2010), pp. 123-42.

9 I paraphrase what was, in full, “Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” See


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