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His father, James Stanyhurst, was recorder of the city, and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons in 1557, 1560 and 1568. Richard was sent in 1563 to University College, Oxford, and took his degree five years later. At Oxford he became intimate with Edmund Campion. After leaving the university he studied law at Furnival's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. He contributed in 1587 to Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland "a playne and perfecte description" of Ireland, and a History of Ireland during the reign of Henry VIII, which were severely criticized in Barnabe Rich's New Description of Ireland (1610) as a misrepresentation of Irish affairs written from the English standpoint. They also caused offense to Catholics for their anti-Catholic perspective. After the death of his wife, Janet Barnewall, in 1579, Stanyhurst went to the Netherlands. After his second marriage, which took place before 1585, to Helen Copley, he became active in the Catholic cause. He lived in the bishopric of Liège, where he got in touch with the Paracelsan movement gathered around Ernest of Bavaria (1554–1612). From then, Stanihurst analysed the relationships between medicine and chemistry.
In the early 1590 he was invited to Spain by King Philip II, who became seriously ill. Stanihurst worked at the great alchemical laboratory in El Escorial. At the same time he informed the state on Catholics interest in England. After his wife's death in 1602 he took holy orders, and became chaplain to the Archduke Albert of Austria in the Netherlands. His son was William Stanyhurst.
He never returned to England, and died at Brussels, according to Anthony à Wood. He translated into English The First Foure Bookes of Virgil his Aeneis (Leiden, 1582), to give practical proof of the feasibility of Gabriel Harvey's theory that classical rules of prosody could be successfully applied to English poetry. The translation is an unconscious burlesque of the original in a jargon arranged in what the writer called hexameters. Thomas Nashe in his preface to Greene's Menaphon ridiculed this performance as his
"heroicall poetrie, infired ... with an hexameter furie
a patterne whereof I will propounde to your judgements. Then did he make heaven's vault to rebounde, with rounce robble hobbleOf ruffe raffe roaring, with thwick thwack thurlery bouncing."
This is a parody, but not a very extravagant one, of Stanyhurst's vocabulary and metrical methods.
Only two copies of the original Leiden edition of Stanyhurst's translation of Virgil are known to be in existence. In this edition his orthographical cranks are preserved. A reprint in 1583 by Henry Bynneman forms the basis of James Maidment's edition (Edinburgh, 1836), and of Edward Arber's reprint (1880), which contains an excellent introduction. Stanyhurst's Latin works include De rebus in Hibernia gestis (Antwerp, 1584) and a life of St Patrick (1587).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Colm Lennon, Richard Stanihurst the Dubliner, 1547-1618: A Biography, with a Stanihurst Text, on Ireland's Past, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1981.
- Colm Lennon, "Richard Stanihurst," The Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 281: British Rhetoricians and Logicians, 1500–1660, Second Series, Detroit: Gale, 2003, pp. 296–303.
- Colm Lennon, "Richard Stanihurst and Old English Identity," Irish Historical Studies, vol. 21, 1978, pp. 121–143.
- Colm Lennon, "Richard Stanihurst's 'Spanish Catholicism': Ideology and Diplomacy in Brussels and Madrid," Irland y la monarcquía Hispánica: Kinsale 1601-2001, Madrid, 2002, pp. 75–88.
- The Alchemical Works of Richard Stanyhurst
- "Richard Stanyhurst". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- "Stanyhurst, Richard". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.