Holinshed, Sidney and Spenser Lears



The story of Leir, as told by HOLINSHED (The second Booke of the historie of England, chaps. v, vi, ed. 1574  reprinted in H.H. Furness, King Lear Vol. v, 1880 p. 384-386) is as follows:

         Leir the sonne of Baldud, was admitted ruler ouer the Britaines, in the yeere of the world 3105, at what time Ioas raigned as yet in Iuda. This Leir was a prince of right noble demeanor, gouerning his land and subiects in great wealth. He made the towne of Caerlier nowe called Leicester, which standeth vpon the riuer of Sore. It is written that he had by his wife three daughters without other issue, whose names were Gonorilla, Regan, and Cordeilla, which daughters he greatly loued, but specially Cordeilla the yoongest farre aboue the two elder. When this Leir therefore was come to great yeeres, & began to waxe vnweldie through age, he thought to vnderstand the affections of his daughters towards him, and preferre hir whome he best loued, to the succession ouer the kingdome. Whervpon he first asked Gonorilla the eldest, how well shee loued him: who calling hir gods to record, protested, that she loued him more than hir owne life, which by right and reason shoulde be most deere vnto hir. With which answer the father being well pleased, turned to the second, and demanded of hir how well she loued him: who answered (confirming hir saiengs with great othes) that she loued him more than toung could expresse, and farre aboue all other creatures of the world.
         Then called he his yoongest daughter Cordeilla before him, and asked of hir what account she made of him: vnto whome she made this answer as followeth: Knowing the great loue and fatherlie zeale that you haue always borne towards me, (for the which I maie not answere you otherwise than I thinke, and as my conscience leadeth me) I protest vnto you, that I haue loued you euer, and will continuallie (while I liue) loue you as my naturall father. And if you would more vnderstand of the loue that I beare you, assertaine your selfe, that so much as you haue, so much you are worth, and so much I loue you, and no more. The father being nothing content with this answer, married his two eldest daughters, the one vnto Henninus, the Duke of Cornewal, and the other vnto Maglanus, the Duke of Albania, betwixt whome he willed and ordeined that his land should be deuided after his death, and the one halfe thereof immediatelie should be assigned to them in hand: but for the third daughter Cordeilla he reserued nothing.
         Neuertheles it fortuned that one of the princes of Gallia (which now is called France) whose name was Aganippus, hearing of the beautie, womanhood, and good conditions of the said Cordeilla, desired to haue hir in mariage, and sent ouer to hir father, requiring that he mighte haue hir to wife: to whome answere was made, that he might haue his daughter, but as for anie dower he could haue none, for all was promised and assured to hir other sisters alreadie. Aganippus notwithstanding this answer of deniall to receiue anie thing by way of dower with Cordeilla, tooke hir to wife, onlie moued thereto (I saie) for respect of hir person and amiable vertues. This Aganippus was one of the twelue kings that ruled Gallia in those daies, as in the Brittish historie it is recorded. But to proceed.
         After that Leir was fallen into age, the two dukes that had married his two eldest daughters, thinking long yer the gouernment of the land did come to their hands, arose against him in armour, and reft from him the gouernance of the land, vpon conditions to be continued for terme of life: by the which he was put to his portion, that is, to liue after a rate assigned to him for the maintenance of his estate, which in processe of time was diminished as well by Maglanus as by Henninus. But the greatest griefe that Leir tooke, was to see the vnkindnesse of his daughters, which seemed to thinke that all was too much which their father had, the same being neuer so little: in so much, that going from the one to the other, he  was brought to that miserie, that scarslie they would allow him one seruaunt to waite upon him.
         In the end, such was the vnkindnesse, or (as I maie saie) the vnnaturalnesse which he found in his two daughters, notwithstanding their faire and pleasant words vttered in time past, that being constreined of necessitie, he fled the land, and sailed into Gallia, there to seeke some comfort of his youngest daughter Cordeilla whom before time he hated. The ladie Cordeilla hearing that he was arriued in poore estate, she first sent to him priuilie a certeine summe of monie to apparell himselfe withall, and to reteine a certein number of seruants that might attende vpon him in honorable wise, as apperteined to the estate which he had borne: and then so accompanied, she appointed him to come to the court, which he did, and was so ioifullie, honorablie, and louinglie receiued, both by his sonne in law Aganippus, and also by his daughter Cordeilla, that his hart was greatlie comforted: for he was no lesse honored, than if he had beene king of the whole Countrie himselfe.
         Now when he had informed his son in law and his daughter in what sort he had beene vsed by his other daughters, Aganippus caused a mightie armie to be put in readinesse, and likewise a greate nauie of ships to be rigged, to passe ouer into Britaine with Leir his father in law, to see him againe restored to his kingdome. It was accorded, that Cordeilla should also go with him to take possession of the land, the which he promised to leaue vnto hir, as the rightfull inheritour after his decesse, notwithstanding any former grant made to hir sisters or to their husbands in anie maner of wise.
         Herevpon, when this armie and nauie of ships were readie, Leir and his daughter Cordeilla with hir husband tooke the sea, and arriuing in Britaine, fought with their enimies, and discomfited them in battell, in the which Maglanus and Henninus were slaine: and then was Leir restored to his kingdome, which he ruled after this by the space of two yeeres, and then died, fortie yeeres after he first began to reigne. His bodie was buried at Leicester in a vaut vnder the chanell of the Riuer of Sore beneath the towne.
         Cordeilla, the yoongest daughter of Leir was admitted Q. and supreme gouernesse of Britaine, in the yeere of the world 3155, before the bylding of Rome 54, Uzia was then reigning in Juda, and Jeroboam ouer Israell. This Cordeilla after hir father's deceasse ruled the land of Britaine right worthilie during the space of fiue yeeres, in which meane time hir husband died, and then about the end of those fiue yeeres, hir two nephewes Margan and Cunedag, sonnes to hir aforesaid sisters, disdaining to be vnder the gouernment of a woman, leuied warre against hir, and destroied a great part of the land, and finallie tooke hir prisoner, and laid hir fast in ward, wherewith she tooke suche griefe, being a woman of a manlie courage, and despairing to recouer libertie, there she slue hirselfe '


         The following extract from SIR PHILIP SlDNEY'S Arcadia (lib. ii, pp. I33-I38, ed. 1598, as quoted in the Clarendon ed. reprinted in H.H. Furness, King Lear Vol. v, 1880 p 386-388 and K. Muir, King Lear 1975 p. 232-235) contains the story which is called, in ed. 1590, 'The pitifull state, and story of the Paphlagonian vnkinde king, and his kind sonne, first related by the son,  then by the blind father ':

         It was in the kingdome of Galacia, the season being (as in the depth of winter) verie cold, and as then sodainlie growne to so extreame and foule a storme, that neuer any winter (I thinke) brought forth a fowler child: so that the Princes were euen compelled by the haile, that the pride of the winde blew into their faces, to seeke some shrowding place which a certain hollow rocke offering vnto them, they made it their shield against the tempests furie. And so staying there, till the violence thereof was passed, they heard the speach of a couple, who not perceiuing them, being hid within that rude canapie, held a straunge and pitifull disputation, which made them step out, yet in such sort, as they might see vnseene. There they perceiued an aged man, and a young, scarcelie come to the age of a man, both poorely arrayed, extreamely weather-beaten; the olde man blind, the young man leading him: and yet through all those miseries, in both there seemed to appeare a kind of noblenesse, not sutable to that affliction. But the first words they heard, were these of the old man. Well Leonatus (said he) since I cannot perswade thee to leade me to that which should end my griefe, and thy trouble, let me now intreat thee to leaue me: feare not, my miserie cannot be greater then it is, and nothing doth become me but miserie: feare not the daunger of my blind steps, I cannot fall worse then I am: and do not I pray thee, do not obstinately continue to infect thee with my wretchednesse: but flie, flie from this region only worthie of me. Deare father (answered he) do not take away from me the only remnant of my happinesse: while I haue power to do you seruice, I am not whollie miserable. Ah my sonne (said he, and with that he groned, as if sorrow straue to bleake his heart) how euill fits it me to haue such a sonne, and how much doth thy kindnesse vpbraid my wickednesse? These dolefull speeches, and some others to like purpose (well shewing they had not bene borne to the fortune they were in,) moued the Princes to go out vnto them, and aske the younger what they were? Sirs (answered he with a good grace, and made the more agreeable by a certaine noble kind of piteousnesse) I see well you are straungers, that know not our miserie, so well here knowne, that no man dare know, but that we must be miserable. Indeed our state is such, as though nothing is so needfull vnto vs as pitie, yet nothing is more dangerous vnto vs, then to make our selues so knowne as may stirre pitie; but your presence promiseth that crueltie shall not ouer-runne hate: and if it did, in truth our state is sunke below the degree of feare.
         This old man (whom I leade) was lately rightfull Prince of this countrie of Paphlagonia, by the hard-hearted vngratefulnesse of a sonne of his, depriued, not onely of his kingdome (whereof no forraine forces were euer able to spoyle him) but of his sight, the riches which Nature graunts to the poorest creatures. Whereby, and by other his vnnaturall dealings, he hath bene driuen to such griefe, as euen now he would haue had me to haue led him to the top of this rocke, thence to cast himselfe headlong to death: and so would haue made me, who receiued my life of him, to be the worker of his destruction. But noble Gentlemen, said he, if either of you haue a father, and feele what dutifull affection is engraffed in a sonnes heart, let me intreat you to conueigh this afflicted Prince to some place of rest and securitie: amongst your worthie acts it shall be none of the least, that a king of such might and fame, & so vniustlie oppressed, is in any sort by you relieued.
         But before they could make him answere, his father beganne to speake. Ah my sonne, said he, how euill an Historian are you, that leaue out the chiefe knot of all the discourse? my wickednesse, my wickednesse: and if thou doest it to spare my eares, (the only sense now left me proper for knowledge) assure thy selfe thou doest mistake me: and I take witnesse of that Sunne which you see (with that he cast vp his blind eyes, as if he would hunt for light) and wish my selfe in worse case then I do wish my selfe, which is as euill as may be, if I speake vntrulie, that nothing is so welcome to my thoughts, as the publishing of my shame. Therefore know you Gentlemen (to whom from my heart I wish that it may not proue some ominous foretoken of misfortune to haue met with such a miser as I am) that whatsoeuer my son (o God, that truth binds me to reproch him with the name of my son) hath said is true. But besides those truthes, this also is true, that hauing had in lawfull mariage, of a mother fit to beare royall children, this sonne (such a one as partly you see, and better shall know by my short declaration) and so enioyed the expectations in the world of him, till he was growne to iustifie their expectations (so as I needed enuie no father for the chiefe comfort of mortalitie, to leaue another ones-selfe after me) I was caried by a bastard sonne of mine (if at least I be bound to beleeue the words of that base woman my concubine, his mother) first to mislike, then to hate, lastlie to destroy, or to do my best to destroy this sonne (I thinke you thinke) vndeseruing destruction. What wayes he vsed to bring me to it, if I should tell you, I should tediouslie trouble you with as much poisonous hypocrisie, desperate fraud, smooth malice, hidden ambition, and smiling enuie, as in anie liuing person couId be harboured: but I list it not; no remembrance of naughtinesse delights me but mine owne; and me thinks, the accusing his traps might in some maner excuse my fault, which certainlie I lothe to do. But the conclusion is, that I gaue orders to some seruants of mine, whom I thought as apt for such charities as my selfe, to Ieade him out into a forrest, and there to kill him.
         But those theeues (better natured to my son then myselfe) spared his life, letting him go to learne to liue poorely: which he did, giuing himselfe to be a priuate souldier in a countrey here by: but as he was ready to be greatly aduanced for some noble peeces of seruice which he did, he heard newes of me: who (drunke in my affection to that vnlawfull and vnnaturall sonne of mine) suffered my selfe so to be gouerned by hlm, that all fauours and punishments passed by him, all offices and places of importance distributed to his fauorites; so that ere I was aware, I had left my selfe nothing but the name of a King: which he shortly wearie of too, with many indignities (if any thing may be called an indignitie, which was laid vpon me) threw me out of my seat, and put out my eyes; and then (proud in his tyrannie) let me go, neither imprisoning, nor killing me; but rather delighting to make me feele my miserie; miserie indeed, if euer there were anie; full of wretchednesse, fuller of disgrace, and fullest of guiltinesse. And as he came to the crowne by so vniust means, as vniustlie he kept it, by force of straunger souldiers in Cittadels, the neasts of tyrannie, and murderers of libertie; disarming all his owne countrimen, that no man durst shew himself a wel-willer of mine: to say the truth (I thinke) few of them being so (considering my cruell follie to my good sonne, and foolish kindnesse to my vnkind bastard:) but if there were any who felt a pitie of so great a fall, and had yet any sparkes of vnslaine dutie left in them towards me; yet durst they not shew it, scarcelie with giuing me almes at their doores; which yet was the onlie sustenance of my distressed life, no bodie daring to shew so much charitie, as to lend me a hand to guide my darke steps: till this sonne of mine (God knowes, worthy of a more vertuous, and more fortunate father) forgetting my abhominable wrongs not recking daunger, and neglecting the present good way hee was in of doing himselfe good, came hither to do this kind office you see him performe towards me, to my vnspeakeable griefe; not onlie because his kindnesse is a glasse euen to my blind eyes of my naughtinesse, but that aboue all griefes, it grieues me he should desperatelie aduenture the losse of his well-deseruing life for mine, that yet owe more to Fortune for my deserts, as if he would carie mudde in a chest of Chrystall: for well I know, he that now raigneth, how much so euer (and with good reason) he despiseth me, of all men despised; yet he will not let slip any aduantage to make away him, whose iust title (ennobled by courage & goodnesse) may one day shake the seat of a neuer secure tyrannie. And for this cause I craued of him to leade me to the top of this rocke, indeed I must confesse, with meaning to free him from so serpentine a companion as I am. But he finding what I purposed, onely therein since he was borne, shewed himselfe disobedient vnto me. And now Gentlemen, you haue the true storie, which I pray you publish to the world, that my mischieuous proceedings may be the glorie of his filiall pietie, the onlie reward now left for so great a merite. And if it may be, let me obtaine that of you, which my sonne denies me: for neuer was there more pity in sauing any, then in ending me, both because thein my agonie shall end, & so you shal preserue this excellent young man, who else wilfully followes his owne ruine.
         The matter in it self lamentable, lamentably expressed by the old Prince (which needed not take to himselfe the gestures of pitie, since his face could not put of the markes thereof) greatly moued the two Princes to compassion, which could not stay in such harts as theirs without seeking remedie. But by and by the occasion was presented: for Plexirtus (so was the bastard called) came thether with fortie horse, onely of purpose to murder this brother; of whose comming he had soone aduertisement, and thought no eyes of sufficient credite in such a matter, but his owne; and therefore came him selfe to be actor, and spectator. And as soone as he came, not regarding the weake (as he thought) garde of but two men, commaunded some of his followers to set their handes to his, in the killing of Leonatus. But the young Prince (though not otherwise armed but with a sworde) how falsely soeuer he was dealt with by others, would not betray him selfe: but brauely drawing it out, made the death of the first that assaulted him, warne his fellowes to come more warily after him. But then Pyrocles and Musidorus were quickly become parties (so iust a defence deseruing as much as old friendship) and so did behaue them among that companie (more iniurious, then valiant) that many of them lost their liues for their wicked maister.
         Yet perhaps had the number of them at last preuailed, if the King of Pontus (lately by them made so) had not come vnlooked for to their succour. Who (hauing had a dreame which had fixt his imagination vehemently vpon some great daunger, presently to follow those two Princes whom he most deerely loued) was come in all hast, following as well as he could their tracke with a hundreth horses in that countrie, which he thought (considering who then raigned) a fit place inough to make the stage of any Tragedie.
         But then the match had ben so ill made for Plexirtus, that his ill-led life, & worse gotten honour should haue tumbled together to destruction; had there not come in Tydeus & Telenor, with fortie or fiftie in their suit, to the defence of Plexirtus. These two were brothers, of the noblest house of that country, brought vp from their infancie with Plexirtus: men of such prowesse, as not to know feare in themselues, and yet to teach it others that should deale with them: for they had often made their liues triumph ouer most terrible daungers; neuer dismayed and euer fortunate; and truely no more setled in their valure, then disposed to goodnesse and iustice, if either they had lighted on a better friend, or could haue learned to make friendship a child, and not the father of Vertue. But bringing vp (rather then choise) hauing first knit their minds vnto him, (indeed craftie inough, eyther to hide his faultes, or neuer to shew them, but when they might pay home) they willingly held out the course, rather to satisfie him, then al the world; and rather to be good friendes, then good men: so as though they did not like the euill he did, yet they liked him that did the euill; and though not councellors of the offence, yet protectors of the offender. Now they hauing heard of this sodaine going out, with so small a company, in a country full of euill-wishing minds toward him (though they knew not the cause) followed him; till they found him in such case as they were to venture their liues, or else he to loose his: which they did with such force of minde and bodie, that truly I may iustly say, Pyrocles & Musidorus had neuer till then found any, that could make them so well repeate their hardest lesson in the feates of armes. And briefly so they did, that if they ouercame not; yet were they not ouercome, but caried away that vngratefull maister of theirs to a place of securitie; howsoeuer the Princes laboured to the contrary. But this matter being thus far begun, it became not the constancie of the Princes so to leaue it; but in all hast making forces both in Pontus and Phrygia, they had in fewe dayes, lefte him but only that one strong place where he was. For feare hauing bene the onely knot that had fastned his people vnto him, that once vntied by a greater force, they all scattered from him; like so many birdes, whose cage had bene broken.
         In which season the blind King (hauing in the chief cittie of his Realme, set the crowne vpon his sonne Leonatus head) with many teares (both of ioy and sorrow) setting forth to the whole people, his owne fault & his sonnes vertue, after he had kist him, and forst his sonne to accept honour of him (as of his newe-become subiect) euen in a moment died, as it should seeme: his hart broken with vnkindnes & affliction, stretched so farre beyond his limits with this excesse of comfort, as it was able no longer to keep safe his roial spirits. But the new King (hauing no lesse louingly performed all duties to him dead, then aliue) pursued on the siege of his vnnatural brother, asmuch for the reuenge of his father, as for the establishing of his owne quiet. In which siege truly I cannot but acknowledge the prowesse of those two brothers, then whom the Princes neuer found in all their trauell two men of greater habilitie to performe, nor of habler skill for conduct.
         But Plexirtus finding, that if nothing else, famin would at last bring him to destruction, thought better by humblenes to creepe, where by pride he could not march. For certainely so had nature formed him, & the exercise of craft conformed him to all turnings of sleights, that though no man had lesse goodnes in his soule then he, no man could better find the places whence arguments might grow of goodnesse to another: though no man felt lesse pitie, no man could tel better how to stir pitie: no man more impudent to deny, where proofes were not manifest; no man more ready to confesse with a repenting manner of aggravating his owne euil, where denial would but make the fault fowler. Now he tooke this way, that hauing gotten a pasport for one (that pretended he would put Plexirtus aliue into his hands) to speak with the King his brother, he him selfe (though much against the minds of the valiant brothers, who rather wished to die in braue defence) with a rope about his necke, barefooted, came to offer himselfe to the discretion of Leonatus. Where what submission he vsed, how cunningly in making greater the faulte he made the faultines the lesse, how artificially he could set out the torments of his owne conscience, with the burdensome comber he had found of his ambitious desires, how finely seeming to desire nothing but death, as ashamed to liue, he begd life, in the refusing it, I am not cunning inough to be able to expresse: but so fell out of it, that though at first sight Leonatus saw him with no other eie, then as the murderer of his father; & anger already began to paint reuenge in many colours, ere long he had not only gotten pitie, but pardon, and if not an excuse of the fault past, yet an opinion of future amendment: while the poore villaines (chiefe ministers of his wickedness, now betraied by the author thereof,) were deliuered to many cruell sorts of death; he so handling it, that it rather seemed, he had rather come into the defence of an vnremediable mischiefe already committed, then that they had done it at first by his consent.


SPENSER (The Faery Queene, 1590, Second Booke, Canto x, 27, p. 130, ed. Kitchin, 1877,  reprinted in H.H. Furness, King Lear Vol. v, 1880 p. 391,392):

27.  Next him King Leyr in happy peace long raind,
   But had no issue male him to succeed,
   But three faire daughters, which were well uptraind
   In all that seemed fit for kingly seed;
   Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
   To have divided. Tho when feeble age
   Nigh to his utmost date he saw proceed,
   He cald his daughters, and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did love her parentage.

28.  The eldest Gonorill gan to protest,
   That she much more than her owne life him lov'd;
   And Regan greater love to him profest
   Then all the world, when ever it were proov'd;
   But Cordeill said she loved him, as behoov'd:
   Whose simple answere, wanting colours faire
   To paint it forth, him to displeasance moov'd,
   That in his crowne he counted her no haire,
But 'twixt the other twaine his kingdom whole did shaire.

29.  So wedded th' one to Maglan King of Scots.
     And th' other to the King of Cambria,
     And 'twixt them shayrd his realme by equall lots;
     But without dowre, the wise Cordelia
     Was sent to Aganip of Celtia.
     Their aged syre, thus eased of his crowne,
     A private life led in Albania
     With Gonorill, long had in great renowne,
That nought him griev'd to beene from rule deposed downe.

30.  But true it is that, when the oyle is spent,
     The light goes out, and weeke is throwne away;
     So when he had resignd his regiment,
     His daughter gan despise his drouping day,
     And wearie waxe of his coutinuall stay;
     Tho to his daughter Regan he repayrd,
     Who him at first well used every way;
     But when of his departure she despayrd,
Her bountie she abated, and his cheare empayrd.

31. The wretched man gan then avise too late,
     That love is not, where most it is profest;
     Too truely tryde in his extremest state;

     At last resolv'd likewise to prove the rest,
     He to Cordelia him selfe addrest,
     Who with entyre affection him receav'd,
     As for her syre and king her seemed best;
     And after all an army strong she leav'd,
To war on those, which him had of his realme bereav'd,

32.  So to his crowne she him restor'd againe,
     In which he dyde, made ripe for death by eld,
     And after wild it should to her remaine:
     Who peacefully the same long time did weld,
     And all men's harts in dew obedience held;
     Till that her sisters' children, woxen strong
     Through proud ambition, against her rebeld,
     And overcommen kept in prison long,
Till wearie of that wretched life her selfe she hong.