Diaries of Richard Stonley, 1581-1598, V.a.459-V.a.461

Transcription Author

Alan H. Nelson, University of California, Berkeley.


Richard Stonley, esq. (ca. 1520-1599), was one of the four tellers of the Exchequer under Queen Elizabeth I. A man of enormous wealth but precarious finances, he maintained residences in Itchington, Warwickshire; in Doddinghurst, Essex; and in Aldersgate Street, St. Botolph’s without Aldersgate parish, London. Stonley’s Itchington estate lay about a dozen miles east of Stratford-upon-Avon, on the far side of Charlecote, while his Doddinghurst estate was purchased from Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, on 1 December 1579. That Stonley and Oxford were acquaintances if not friends is demonstrated by the fact that in 1575 Oxford owed Stonley £140.

Stonley maintained an extensive library at his Aldersgate residence in London, numbering more than 400 volumes in 1597. Among his books were notable works of literature, listed here with contemporary valuations:

Plautus [xijd]
Sheperds Calender [vjd]
The pallace of pleasure twoe books [ijs vjd]
The first part of Senecas tragedy in Englishe [viijd]
Senecaes 10 Tragidies in Englishe [vjd]
A hundred sundrie Flowers [viijd]
A Tragedy of Freewill [iijd]
Enterludes and Commedies [viijd]
Sheperds Calender [vjd]
Flowers for Latine speakinge out of Terrence [iijd]
Terrentie comedie [xijd]

The individual titles of Stonley’s “Enterludes and Commedies” are unrecorded. Stonley may have kept still more books and still more works of literature at his other residences.

In his diary entry for 12 June 1593, four years before the date of the Aldersgate inventory, Stonley recorded the purchase of two “Book{es}”:

for the Survey of ffraunce w{i}th
the Venus & Adhonay p{er}
Shakspere xijd

Stonley’s attribution of the 1593 Venus and Adonis to “Shakspere” is of particular significance as the author’s name does not appear on its title-page, but rather as a printed signature at the close of the dedication. Scholarly knowledge of this entry is summarized on the Folger Library’s “Shakespeare Documented” website.

In addition to the inventory and the three diaries, some dozen books have been identified in various libraries (including the Folger) carrying Stonley’s distinctive signature.

Intimate details of Stonley’s life are known today because he maintained a diary, of which three volumes survive in the Folger Shakespeare Library: for 1581-82, 1593-94, and 1597-98. The last of these three volumes was written while Stonley lay in the Fleet Prison, London, having been convicted of embezzling some £12,000 from the Exchequer, or treasury. Like other officers of the royal court, Stonley was probably wont to mingle private funds with monies which came to him via his office. Perhaps he had truly been “on the take”; or perhaps he was not sufficiently cautious in distinguishing “mine” from “thine.” In any case, the Crown confiscated his personal property, including the books in his Aldersgate house, generating the 1597 inventory. However tragic this was for Stonley, the inventory, now in The National Archives, Kew, permits us to reconstruct a substantial part of his library.

Stonley’s “Diary,” though incomplete, records the movements, financial transactions, and personal interests of an important Elizabethan gentleman over three different year-spans, 1581-82, 1593-94, and 1597-98. The last span is of particular interest as it records the life of a high-ranking prisoner in the Fleet. To take two examples, Stonley defended his claim to a room, in fact a cell, which had relatively good access to light and air; and he reveals that he was allowed out of prison during daytime hours so long as he paid a keeper to accompany him, and returned by nightfall.

Each day’s diary entry consists of four parts: 1) the date; 2) a passage or adage from the Bible or other standard source, often classical; 3) a list of expenses, often under categories given in the margin (“books,” “law,” “leases”); and 4) a summary of the day’s activities (e.g., “This day I kept Westminster and at home as the day before with thankes to god at night.”

The accompanying transcription covers all entries in all three manuscript volumes, using a semi-diplomatic style which accords with Folger policy. The occasional explanation or clarification is supplied within square brackets.

As originally conceived, the transcription overlooks all daily citations or adages. These overlooked passages will be completed over time.


Additional Manuscript Source:

Inventory of Richard Stonley books following Exchequer commission dated 9 February 1597, now in The National Archives, Kew: TNA E 159/412/435.

Printed Sources:

Leslie Hotson, “The Library of Elizabeth’s Embezzling Teller,” Studies in Bibliography, 2 (1949), 49-61.
Alan H. Nelson, "Shakespeare and the Bibliophiles: from the earliest years to 1616," pp. 49-73, in Robin Myers, Michael Harris, and Giles Mandelbrote (eds.), Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading (London: British Library, 2005).
Jason Scott-Warren, “Books in the Bedchamber: Religion, Accounting and the Library of Richard Stonley,” in John N. King, ed., Tudor Books and Readers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 232-52
Jason Scott-Warren, “Bookkeeping and Life-Writing Revisited: Accounting for Richard Stonley,” Past and Present 230 , suppl. 11 (2016), 151-70
Jason Scott-Warren, Shakespeare's First Reader: The Paper Trails of Richard Stonley (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019)

Online sources:
Shakespeare Documented

Private Libraries of Renaissance England (PLRE) (Search for “Ad4”)

Folger Hamnet record for the Stonley Diaries, including links to full digital images of originals

One of Stonley’s books is now Folger STC 18768: Ochino, Bernardino, Sermons (1570?): T-p: “Richarde Stonley”; lpv: “liber Ric{ard}i Stonley pret{ium}. 8d”.


Digital transcriptions of the “Stonley Diaries” (1581 to 1598)

By Alan H. Nelson, University of California, Berkeley

Richard Stonley’s Diaries: Folger Shakespeare Library MSS V.a.459, 460, 461.