Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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HOWELL , JAMES ( 1594? - 1666 ), author ;

second son of Thomas Howell , curate of Llangamarch , Brecknock , and later rector of Cynwil and Aber-nant, Carms. Educated at Hereford Free School , James Howell entered Jesus College Oxford in 1610 and graduated in 1613 . He took up a business career and after 1616 travelled on the Continent for some years. The knowledge of foreign languages that he acquired during this period and on a tour in France in 1622 led to his being used on diplomatic errands . From 1622 to 1624 he was on a mission in Spain and Sardinia , and in 1632 he was at the Danish court , where his command of Latin proved useful. In 1627 he was elected as M.P. for Richmond, Yorks. After 1639 he acted as a secret agent for Strafford , the lord deputy of Ireland , and consequently, in 1643 , the Commons put him in the Fleet , where he remained a prisoner till 1651 . In 1661 he was made historiographer royal as a reward for his support of Charles I . He was buried in the Temple church 3 Nov. 1666 . A monument erected to him was badly damaged during an air raid on May 10/11 1941 , but most of the inscription on the tablet on the east wall is still legible.

Howell was acquainted with such eminent writers and thinkers as Edward , lord Herbert of Cherbury (q.v.) and Ben Jonson . On Jonson 's death in 1637 he wrote a tribute in the form of an elegy. His political allegory, Dodona's Grove , was translated into French and Latin , and England's Teares , an appeal for peace in 1644 , was rendered into Latin and Dutch . In his political pamphlets he espoused the king 's cause while he lived, but when Cromwell was made Protector , Howell praised him for dissolving the Long Parliament . Moving with the times, Howell laid himself open to the charge of inconsistency.

A gifted linguist , Howell compiled an English - French - Italian - Spanish dictionary, as well as a collection of proverbs derived from these languages and from Welsh . Fully conversant with Welsh , he never loses an opportunity to quote from his native tongue and to refer to what he considered the racial and linguistic affinities of his people.

As a writer he is now chiefly remembered for his Familiar Epistles . Into them Howell pours all his knowledge of men and affairs and his insatiable curiosity in many fields. Their liveliness has combined with their natural style to win for them a lasting popularity.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ;
  • E. Bensly , in Aberystwyth Studies (Aberystwyth, 1912-1935) , iii-vi, viii, ix;
  • W. H. Vann , Notes on the Writings of James Howell (Texas, 1924) , 1924 ;
  • Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society , 1902-3 ;
  • The Red Dragon , 1883 ; iii;
  • The Welsh Outlook Monthly Journal of National Social Progress , 1920 , vii, 1928 , xv;
  • [and see under Owen, James].


Emeritus Professor Herbert Gladstone Wright, M.A., (1888-1962), Bangor

Published date: 1959