Lachrimae Lachrimarum by Josuah Sylvester, 1612


This book, with its black mourning pages, laments the ‘untymely Death’ of the 18-year-old Prince Henry Frederick (1594–1612), eldest son of King James I.

How did Prince Henry die?

In 1610, Henry enjoyed lavish celebrations to mark his new role as Prince of Wales. He was an athletic young man, a devout Protestant and a committed patron of the arts. Despite previously being in good health, he contracted a terrible fever in October 1612 and died on 6 November, probably from typhoid. There was a public outpouring of grief, and many authors wrote poems to commemorate the occasion.

Josuah Sylvester’s elegy

This book, Lachrimae Lachrimarum, starts with an elegy by Josuah Sylvester (1562/63–1618), a poet and translator who was sponsored by Prince Henry. Sylvester insists that he’s ‘unfitt’ to write this poem, yet he then goes on to write at length, presenting Henry’s death as God’s punishment for the nation’s sins. He blames atheists, ‘Asses, Hags, Hermaphrodites’ and all sorts of others for provoking God’s vengeance.

Black pages

Alongside the text, the book uses visual symbols and creative printing methods to emphasise the sense of shock and grief surrounding Henry’s sudden death. The black title page with white letters was made by inking an engraved woodblock, rather than using moveable metal type. The right-hand pages are bordered with macabre grinning skeletons, and each left-hand page is printed in black, with Henry’s crest picked out in the white of the paper. Up close, the wood’s grain and the texture of the paper are visible in these pages.

Mourning pages and Tristram Shandy

Mourning pages like these might have inspired Laurence Sterne when he produced his famous black page to mark Yorick’s death in Tristram Shandy (1759).[1] Sterne combined this with many other innovative forms of printing, including a hand-marbled page and a series of squiggly lines to depict his meandering narrative.

[1] See Whitney Trettien,

Full title:
Lachrimæ lachrimarum. or The distillation of teares shede for the untymely death of the incomparable prince Panaretus
1612, London
Book / Quarto / Image / Woodcut / Illustration
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy

Article by:
John Mullan
Rise of the novel, Satire and humour, Language and ideas

Dashes, loops, wiggles and blanks: John Mullan investigates the visual oddities of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

The turbulent 17th century: Civil War, regicide, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

Article by:
Matthew White
Politics and religion

The 17th century was a time of great political and social turmoil in England, marked by civil war and regicide. Matthew White introduces the key events of this period, from the coronation of Charles I to the Glorious Revolution more than 60 years later.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Tristram Shandy

Created by: Laurence Sterne

Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is an innovative, digressive, ...