Bolton, EDMUND, historian, antiquary, and poet,. born c. 1575; died c. 1633. The genuine loyalty to the Catholic Faith which seems to have marked the career of this eccentric and unfortunate genius is indicated by the second name which appears in a signature of his preserved in Harleian MS. 6521 at the British Museum—”Edmundus Maria Boltonus”.
The same MS. furnishes us with a clue to sundry details of his life. He seems to have been born of Catholic parents in Leicestershire, and must have been of good family and position, for he claims to have continued “many years on his own charge a free commoner at Trinity Hall, Cambridge”, and after going to London to study law to have lived there “in the best and choicest company of gentlemen”. There can be no doubt that there was a strong Catholic element among the lawyers of the Inner Temple (Richard Southwell, the father of the martyr, might be named as one example among many), and the tone of the drama and much of the lighter literature of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean period shows that the Bohemian society into which Bolton and his fellows were thrown was often pronouncedly papist. But while many who for a while were Romanizers, like his friend Ben Jonson, ultimately fell away, Bolton, much to his credit, remained stanch to his principles. Of his ability and zeal in the pursuit of knowledge there can be no question. He was the friend of Cotton and Camden, whose antiquarian researches he shared, and as a writer of verses he was associated with Sidney, Spenser, Raleigh, and others in the publication of “England’s Helicon”. Many influential friends, including for example the Duke, then Marquess, of Buckingham, tried to help him in his pecuniary embarrassments, but there seems no doubt that his Catholicism stood in the way of his making a living by literature. For instance, a life of King Henry II which he had prepared for an edition of Speed’s “Chronicle”, then in course of publication, was rejected on account of the too favorable aspect in which he had depicted St. Thomas of Canterbury. It seems, however, that through Buckingham’s influence he obtained some small post about the court of James I, and in 1617 he proposed to the king some scheme for a royal academy or college of letters which was to be associated with the Order of the Garter, and which was destined in the mind of its designer to convert Windsor Castle into a sort of English Olympus. James I gave some encouragement to the scheme, but died before it was carried into execution. With the accession of Charles I, Bolton seems to have fallen on evil days. The last years of his life were mostly spent either in the Fleet or in the Marshalsea as a prisoner for debt, to which no doubt the fines he incurred as a “recusant convict” largely contributed. The exact date of his death is unknown. Besides his contributions in English verse to “England’s Helicon” Bolton wrote a certain amount of Latin poetry. He is best remembered, however, as the author of “The Elements of Armories”, a curious heraldic dialogue published anonymously in 1610, and of “Nero Caesar, or Monarchie depraved”, a book of Roman history dealing in part with the earliest notices of Britain. A translation of the “Histories” of Florus which he also published is signed “Philanactophil” (i.e. friend of the king’s friend). Bolton’s “Hypercritica”, a useful work of literary criticism, was published long after his death.