William Harrison was a historian and topographer known for his Description of Britaine in Raphael Holinshed's* Chronicles (1577, 1587), but he is also important for his recently rediscovered manuscript, "Great English Chronology." Born in London on 18 April 1534, Harrison attended St. Paul s and Westminster schools, receiving the bachelor of arts (1556) and master of arts (1560) from Christ Church, Oxford, and the bachelor of divinity from Cambridge (1571). He took Catholic orders in 1556 but, influenced by the Oxford Martyrs, rejected popery before Elizabeth I s* accession in 1558. Harrison became chaplain to William Brooke, Lord Cobham, who made him rector of Radwinter, Essex (1559-93). He also held St. Olave, Silver Street, London (1567-71), Wimbish, Essex (1571-81), and St. Thomas Apostle, London (1583-87), and was a canon of Windsor (1586-93). He died still working on his "Chronology" and left a manuscript dated 1587 on weights and measures.
The Description includes his own work on England and his English transla­tion of John Bellenden s Scottish translation of Hector Boece s description of Scotland in Historia gentis Scotorum a prima gentis origine (1527). It is a lively account of topography, people, buildings, customs, institutions, products, and so on. Harrison attributed greater significance to his "Chronology," a world history from creation to 1593. Central to his view is the ongoing conflict between the True Church and the satanic Church of Cain (i.e., Catholicism). Past, present, and future form a continuum revealing God s plan, which Harrison sought to discern through an accurate chronology. A moderate Puritan, he believed the struggle against popery more urgent than further Anglican reform, doubted the state s ability to accomplish the latter, thought the apocalypse imminent, and emphasized the scriptural covenant line as a guide to behavior. Though he re­jected Hermeticism, he remained unscientific, believing that reason applies only when nature is explained by Scripture.
F. J. Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, 1967.
G. J. R. Parry, A Protestant Vision: William Harrison and the Reformation of Elizabethan England, 1987.
William B. Robison

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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