George Buck

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For other people named George Buck, see George Buck (disambiguation).
Cover page of Buck's biography of Richard III

Sir George Buck (or Buc) (c. 1560 – October 1622) was an English antiquarian, historian, scholar and author, who served as a Member of Parliament, government envoy to Queen Elizabeth I and Master of the Revels to King James I of England.

He began his career carrying dispatches for the government and served in the war against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and on the Cadiz expedition of 1596. He was appointed Esquire of the Body in 1588 and a Member of Parliament for Gatton, Surrey in the 1590s, also acting at times as an envoy for Queen Elizabeth. In 1603, on the accession to the throne of King James I, he was appointed Deputy Master of the Revels, becoming Master in 1610. Also in 1603, Buck was made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and knighted. In 1606, he began the licensing of plays for publication, not previously a function of the Revel's Office. As Master of the Revels, Buck was responsible for supervising plays in Britain and censoring, among other works, Shakespeare's later plays and revivals, especially with respect to the depiction of social relations, religion and politics.

Buck's writings include a verse work, "Daphnis Polystephanos: An Eclog...." (1605), that sets forth a chronology of the monarchs of England. His treatise "The Third Universite of England" (1615) accounts for the educational facilities in London. His major prose work was The History of King Richard the Third, which he left in rough draft at his death. His great-nephew extensively altered it and finally published it in 1646 as his own work. Buck defended King Richard III, examining critically the accusations against him. He also discovered and introduced important new historical sources, especially the Croyland Chronicle and the Titulus Regius that justified Richard's accession to the crown.

Buck died in debt because the Exchequer delayed for nine years in paying his wages to him.

Early life and career[edit]

Buck was baptised on 1 October 1560 in Holy Trinity, Ely, Cambridgeshire. He was the eldest son and probably second of the four children of Robert Buck (d. January 1580) and Elizabeth Nunn, née Petterill, of Brandon Ferry, Suffolk.[1][2] His grandfather, Sir John Buck, a supporter of Richard III, was executed following the Battle of Bosworth Field, in which he was injured.[3]

Buck was educated privately by his step-sister's husband, Henry Blaxton, then at Blaxon's Chichester School,[3] then probably at Cambridge University[4] and Thavie's Inn before finishing his education at the Middle Temple in 1585.[3] He carried dispatches for the government from France in 1587[5] and served under his patron the Lord Admiral, Howard of Effingham, against the Spanish Armada in 1588 and on the successful Cadiz expedition of 1596 under Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, also acting as emissary from its commanders to Queen Elizabeth.[6] He was appointed Esquire of the Body in 1588 and was the Member of Parliament for Gatton, Surrey in the parliaments of 1593 and 1597.[1] He continued to act as an envoy for the queen for several years thereafter.[3]

Master of the Revels[edit]

In the 1590s Buck was in competition with playwright John Lyly for the office of the Master of the Revels, then held by Buck's relation by marriage, Edmund Tylney, when next the post fell vacant.[7] Lyly felt that the queen had given him reason to hope for it,[8] but by 1595, if not earlier, Buck had caught her eye.[9] In 1597 the Queen seems to have promised Buck the reversion.[1] Lyly was vocal in his distress, writing letters of protest and supplication to the queen and to Cecil.[10] The reversion was formally conferred on Buck in 1603, on the accession to the throne of King James I; he was appointed at that time as Deputy Master and worked as Tylney's assistant until Tylney's death in 1610.[11] Also upon the accession of James I, Buck was made a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and knighted. At the same time, he inherited his aunt's lands in Lincolnshire.[3] In 1606, apparently on his own initiative, he began the licensing of plays for publication, not previously a function of the Revel's Office.[12][3] George Chapman's The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608) was censored when it appeared on the stage, causing a scandal when the players violated that censorship.[13]

The function of the Master of the Revels was to censor plays before they were performed in public theatres and to supervise all arrangements for performances at Court. Buck was thus responsible for censoring, among other works, Shakespeare's later plays, and for supervising performances of them and of any plays of his own revived for Court performance, which he would have had to re-censor, due to the new 1606 regulations added against blasphemy. Buck noted on the title page of George-a-Green; or the Pinner of Wakefield that he had discussed its authorship with Shakespeare.[14] Censorship was exercised in matters of sex and other social relations, religion and politics. Judging from his notes in two manuscript play scripts that show his hand, The Second Maiden's Tragedy (1611) and John van Olden Barnavelt (1619), Buck seems to have been conscientious and gentle in his censorship. The particular quirks he shows as censor are concern with factual accuracy and courtesy to women.[1][15]

Buck wrote a treatise on the Revels Office, The Art of Revels, but it appears to be lost.[3]

Scholarly work[edit]

Buck was an historian and minor poet. His main verse work, "Daphnis Polystephanos: An Eclog...." (1605), sets forth a chronology of the monarchs of England.[3] It mentions Richard III favourably: "because / All accusations of him are not proued, / And he built churches, and made good law's / And all men held him wise, and valiant...", he deserves his rank as a Plantagenet.[16] His treatise "The Third Universite of England" (1615) accounts for the educational facilities in London, from cosmetology to law and medicine, including heraldry, poetry, music, athletics and drama, and enumerates the diversity of arts, crafts, culture, wealth and populace of the city.[17] This earned him, in William Maitland's estimate, the place after Stow as an early historian of London.[18]

His major prose work was The History of King Richard the Third, which he left in rough draft at his death, and which, in 1731, was burnt around the edges in the Cotton library fire. Before that, the work had suffered more serious damage, coming into the hands of Buck's great-nephew, George Buck, who used it, as he did others of Buck's works: he produced manuscript copies that he dedicated to various patrons from whom he sought advancement, passing them off as his own. Gradually he altered the History, cutting it, making it look like something written in his own time rather than earlier by deleting names of Buck’s learned contemporaries who had shared sources and viva voce information with him, and altering or deleting documentation of sources, with the details of which, also, his copyist was careless. Finally in 1646 he published a version of the History which was slightly over half the length of the original. A second issue (usually referred to erroneously as a second edition) appeared the next year.[19] Professor Arthur Kincaid, the editor of Buck's original manuscript published in 1979, was able to find all but seven of the hundreds of sources Buck meticulously documents.[20] Historians long debated the authenticity of Buck's summary of a letter from King Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York, to John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk, which is now lost. Most of the summary itself was burned in the fire, but it says that she asks Norfolk to be a "mediator for her to the King". Since Kincaid's edition and demonstration of the authenticity of Buck's other references, scholars have accepted the letter as authentic, although they debate what the original text might have said, and whether it meant that Elizabeth wished to marry Richard, or simply that she pledged her fealty to him and, perhaps, wished the King to help arrange a marriage for her.[21]

Buck originated the pattern adopted by all later defences of Richard III. He adopts the lawyerly attitude that none of the accusations against Richard is proved, and suspicion has no weight. He first summarises Richard's life, then discusses the accusations against him in turn, criticising sources of information about them on the basis of their reasons for bias. He also discovered and introduced important new historical sources, such as the Croyland Chronicle and through it the only surviving copy of the petition in Parliament (Titulus Regius) that declared Edward IV's children illegitimate and justified Richard III's accession to the crown[22] – a document that King Henry VII tried—and almost managed—to suppress by an Act of Parliament and by destroying all known copies.[citation needed] He also was the first to accuse Margaret Beaufort of murdering the Princes in the Tower.[citation needed] William Camden praised Buck's scholarship, calling him "a man learned in letters and who observed much in histories and shared it with me".[23]

Last years and death[edit]

Overwhelmed by debt due to the Exchequer's delay since 1613 in paying wages to him and his Revels Office associates, Buck fell from favour, became insane by April 1622 and died in October of that year.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kincaid, Arthur. "Buck (Buc), Sir George (bap. 1560, d. 1622)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Online edn., May 2008 (subscription required), accessed 23 January 2012
  2. ^ Eccles, pp. 418–19
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Palmer, "Buck (or Buc), George", pp. 26–27
  4. ^ Kincaid, Arthur. Introduction, pp. xxvii and xxx, in Buck, History (1979)
  5. ^ Pipe Rolls, E 351/542, f. 94v, cited in Eccles, p. 424
  6. ^ Eccles, pp. 428–30
  7. ^ Many sources, depending on the Dictionary of National Biography, identified Tylney and Buck as uncle and nephew, but their familial relationship seems to have been more distant. See Eccles.
  8. ^ Letter from Lyly to Robert Cecil, 22 December 1597, in Chambers, p. 96
  9. ^ Letter from Charles Howard of Effingham, quoted in Eccles, p. 426
  10. ^ Chambers, pp. 96–98
  11. ^ Halliday, p. 74; and Dutton, passim
  12. ^ Dutton, pp. 148–51
  13. ^ Auchter, p. 65
  14. ^ Shakespeare remembered only that the play was written by a clergyman, but it was authored by Robert Greene. See Shapiro, p. 254; and Nelson, Alan H. "George Buc, William Shakespeare, and the Folger George a Green", Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 49, 1998, pp. 74–78
  15. ^ Auchter, pp. 334–35
  16. ^ Buck, Sir George (1605). Daphnis Polystephanos: An eclog treating of crownes, and of garlandes, and to whom of right they appertaine. Addressed, and consecrated to the Kings Maiestie", London: Printed by G. Eld for Thomas Adams, sig. E4v
  17. ^ Buck, George. "The Third Universite of England", printed as an appendix to Stow, John (1615). The Annales or Generall Chronicle of England, sig. Oooo 3v, London
  18. ^ Maitland, William (2nd ed. 1756). The History and Survey of London, London: Osborne, Shipton & Hodges
  19. ^ Kincaid, Introduction, pp. lxiv–lxxxvi, in Buck, History (1979)
  20. ^ Kincaid, Introduction, pp. cxii–cxiii, in Buck, History (1979)
  21. ^ Hervey, p. 8; and Weir, p. 137
  22. ^ Buck, History (1979), p. 6
  23. ^ Camden, William (1600). Britannia, London, 1600, sig. C5, Aaaav (Translation from Latin)


  • Auchter, Dorothy (2001). Dictionary of Literary and Dramatic Censorship in Tudor and Stuart England, London: Greenwood Press
  • Buck, Sir George (1619). The History of King Richard the Third, Gloucester: Alan Sutton, (ed.) Kincaid, Arthur (1979; 2nd edition 1981)
  • Chambers, Edmund K. (1923). The Elizabethan Stage, Oxford: Clarendon Press, vol. 1
  • Dutton, Richard (1991). Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama, London: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Eccles, Mark (1933). "Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels", in Sisson, Charles Jasper. Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. 409–506
  • Halliday, F. E. (1964). A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964, Baltimore: Penguin
  • Hervey, Mary F. S. The Life, Correspondence and Collections of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1921)
  • Palmer, Alan and Veronica Palmer (eds.) (1999) Who's Who in Shakespeare's England, Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 0312220863
  • Shapiro, James (2010). Contested Will, Faber
  • Weir, Alison (2013). Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Jonathan Cape