William Baldwin and A Mirror for Magistrates


  • My thanks to Dermot Cavanagh and R. W. Maslen for reading and remarking on earlier versions of this essay, and to the valuably trenchant commentary of the anonymous readers for the press.


Over the last two decades, the first edition of A Mirror for Magistrates, compiled by William Baldwin in 1559, has been frequently claimed as a radical text composed by a group of poets committed to the promotion of various political liberties in the face of state repression. This essay argues that such claims tend to emphasize the solidarity of the poets at the expense of their individual differences, which, in turn, has led to a fundamental misreading of the part played by Baldwin in the production of the original version of the Mirror. It argues that the evidence of the prose narrative he wrote to explain how the text came into being, whilst not reliable on every point, nevertheless tells a very different story. Baldwin, though compiler, seeks to extricate himself from responsibility for the Mirror, and this is because, far from defying state repression, he yielded to it, representing himself and the others as harmless scholars rather than political radicals. In short, Baldwin depoliticizes A Mirror for Magistrates.