Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Shirley, John (1366?-1456)
SHIRLEY, JOHN (1366?–1456), translator and transcriber, born about 1366, is said to have been the son of a squire who had travelled widely in foreign countries. He has not been identified with any of the numerous Shirleys recorded in the ‘Stemmata Shirleiana’ (cf. pp. 39–40), but he was ‘a great traveller in divers countries,’ and on the monumental brass to his memory in St. Bartholomew-the-Less both he and his wife are pictured in the habit of pilgrims. He speaks of his own ‘symple understondynge,’ and, according to Professor Skeat, he was ‘an amateur rather than a professional scribe;’ but Richard Sellyng [q. v.] sent Shirley his poem to revise (Harl. MS. 7333, f. 36). In 1440 he was living ‘att the full noble, honourable, and renomed cité of London’ ‘in his great and last age’ (Addit. MS. 5467, f. 97). He died on 21 Oct. 1456, and was buried with his wife Margaret—by whom he had eight sons and four daughters—in the church of St. Bartholomew-the-Less, London, where an inscription to his memory is preserved by Stow (Survey, ed. Strype, 1720, bk. iii. pp. 232–3).
Shirley translated from the Latin into English: 1. ‘A full lamentable Cronycle of the dethe and false murdure of James Stewarde, late kynge of Scotys, nought long agone prisoner yn Englande yn the tymes of the kynges Henrye the fift and Henrye the sixte;’ the manuscript belonged to Ralph Thoresby (Bernard, Cat. MS. Angliæ, p. 230, No. 7592, art. 6); it passed from him to John Jackson, on the sale of whose library it was bought by the British Museum, where it now forms ff. 72–97 of Addit. MS. 5467. It was printed by Pinkerton in the appendix to vol. i. of his ‘Ancient Scotish Poems’ (1786), separately in 1818, and again in 1837 by the Maitland Club. The same manuscript contains two other translations by Shirley. 2. ‘De Bonis Moribus’ (ff. 97–210), translated out of the French of John de Wiegnay. 3. ‘Secreta Secretorum,’ or the ‘Governance of Princes’ (ff. 211–24), translated out of the Latin.
Shirley's main importance was as a transcriber of the works of Chaucer, Lydgate, and others. His collections of their poems, including one or two by himself, are extant in Harl. MSS. 78, 7333, Addit. MS. 16165, Ashmole MS. 59, Trin. Coll. Cambr. MS. R 3, 20, and the Sion MS. of Chaucer, and it is on his authority that the following works are attributed to Chaucer: the ‘A.B.C.,’ the ‘Complaint to Pity,’ the ‘Complaint of Mars,’ the ‘Complaint of Anelida,’ the ‘Lines to Adam,’ ‘Fortune,’ ‘Truth,’ ‘Gentilnesse,’ ‘Lak of Stedfastnesse,’ the ‘Complaint of Venus,’ and the ‘Complaint to his Empty Purse’ (Skeat, Chaucer, i. 25, 53–9, 73). Harl. MS. 2251, often ascribed to Shirley, was written in Edward IV's reign, parts of it being copied from one of Shirley's MSS.[Cat. Harl. MSS. and Addit. MSS.; Black's Cat. Ashmole MS. cols. 95–104; Bernard's Cat. MSS. Angliæ; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib.; Warton's Engl. Poetry, 1840, ii. 389; Ritson's Bibl. Anglo-Poet. pp. 101–2; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 22, vii. 30. See also arts. Chaucer, Geoffrey and Lydgate, John.]