[Ritson's Bibliographia Anglo-Poetica; Fleay's Biographical Chron. of the English Drama; De Fonblanque's Annals of the House of Percy, ii. 365; W.C. Hazlitt's Bibliographical Collections.]
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PERCY, WILLIAM (1575-1648), poet, probably born at Topcliffe, near Thirsk, Yorkshire, was third son of Henry Percy, eighth earl of Northumberland. He matriculated from Gloucester Hall (afterwards Worcester College), Oxford, on 13 June 1589, aged 15. Barnabe Barnes, son of the bishop of Durham, was studying at Oxford at the same time, and Barnes and Percy strengthened at the university a friendship doubtless previously begun in the north. 'To the right noble and vertuous gentleman, M. William Percy,' Barnes dedicated his 'Parthenophil' in 1593. Percy was ambitious to emulate his friend's literary example. In 1594 he published a collection of 'Sonnets to the fairest Coelia' (London, by Adam Islip, for W[illiam] P[onsonby]), and closed the slender volume with a madrigal in praise of Barnes's poetic efforts, entitled 'To Parthenophil upon his Laya and Parthenophe.' Only twenty pieces are included, and none are impressive. The work was reprinted by Sir Egerton Brydges at the Lee Priory Press in 1818; by Dr. Grosart in his 'Occasional Issues' in 1877, and by Mr. Arber in his 'English Garner' (vi. 135-50). Copies of the rare original belong to the Duke of Northumberland and Mr. A. H. Huth.
In an address to the reader prefixed to the sonnets, Percy promised 'ere long to impart unto the world another poeme more fruitful and ponderous.' It is doubtful if this promise were literally fulfilled. His only other acknowledged publication is 'a poor madrigall,' signed 'W. Percy, Musophilus: spes Calamo occidit,' in Barnes's 'Four Bookes of Offices,' 1606. But six plays by him — all amateurish dramatic essays — remain in manuscript in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire. Of these Joseph Haslewood printed two for the first time for the Roxburghe Club in 1824. The one, entitled 'The Cuck-queanes and cuckolds errants, or the bearing down the Inn: a comoedye,' is in prose, and is introduced by a prologue spoken by Tarleton's ghost. The other, 'The Faery Pastorall, or Forest of Elues,' is chiefly in blank verse. The four unpublished plays are: 'Arabia Sitiens, or a Dream of a Dry Year,' 1601; 'The Aphrodisial, or Sea Feast,' 1602; 'A Country's Tragedy in Vacuniam, / p.442 / or Cupid's Sacrifice,' 1602; and 'Necromantes, or the two supposed Heads,' a comical invention acted by the children of St. Paul's about 1602. In 1619 Thomas Campion included in his 'Epigrammata' a friendly and appreciative address to Percy in Latin verse (bk. ii. No. 40; cf. edit by Mr. A. H. Bullen, p.325).
Percy seems to have lived a troubled life. At one time he was in the Tower on a charge of homicide. In 1638 he was residing obscurely in Oxford, 'drinking nothing but ale' (Strafford Letters, ii. 166). He died at Oxford in May 1648, 'an aged bachelor in Penny farthing Street, after he had lived a melancholy and retired life many years.' He was buried on 28 May in Christchurch Cathedral.