The title of this book is misleading -- it is mostly an account of the death of King Richard II, detailing his downfall and overthrow by Henry Bolingbroke, who seized the throne and was crowned as King Henry IV. The imprint states that it was printed in 1599, but it was actually printed decades later. Censorship was not as repressive, pervasive, or effective in Shakespeare's England as it has often been thought to be. Nevertheless, censorship did exist, and so attempts to avoid it -- or to exploit it -- are of particular interest.
Sir John Hayward's The First Part of The Life and raigne of king Henrie the IIII, first published by John Wolfe in 1599, included a Latin dedication to none other than the ambitious earl of Essex. Due to the perceived parallels between the reigns of Richard II and Queen Elizabeth, Hayward's book was immediately suppressed. The dedication to Essex was removed, but a second edition in 1599 was seized and burned. Hayward was interrogated by Francis Bacon, who refused to find any treasonous intent in the book, beyond the fact that Hayward seemed to have plagiarized from Tacitus (a knowledgeable, and much more important recognition, since this book plays a key role in the turn toward Tacitean history writing in the seventeenth century).
Two years later, Essex would act on the ambition often attributed to him in his infamous (and infamously ineffective) rebellion -- which was immediately preceded by a command performance of Shakespeare's Richard II by his theatre company. Once the ill-fated rebellion took place, Hayward was put into the Tower where he spent the rest of Elizabeth's reign, until her death in 1603.
Here at Iowa we have a copy of Hayward's book (catalog record here) with an imprint that says it was published "by Iohn Wolfe" in 1599. This edition, however, was one of a number of editions published after 1599 which nevertheless retained the 1599 imprint. Title-pages can be extraordinarily conservative in subsequent editions (retaining a claim to be "newly corrected," say, long after the initial corrected edition appears), but the false imprint here would seem to be an effective way to avoid any further trouble with the authorities. That is, the book could be reprinted and circulated as nothing more than a stray survivor of the initial suppression in 1599.
There are a few key differences in these "1599" editions which allow scholars to distinguish among them, mostly the differences in the printer's ornaments on the title-page, and the existence of a misprint in the dedicatory epistle. At first glance our edition looks a lot like a "1599" edition that the STC dates to c.1629:
|STC 12997 (1629) - EEBO copy|
|STC 12997a.5 (1639) - EEBO copy|