The identity of Nathaniel Richards, author of The Tragedy
of Messalina, The Roman Empress, has not been established with any
certainty, and has been confused by Thomas Seccombe’s account of his life in Biographia
The religious content and didactic tone of The
Celestiall Publican (1630) convinced Seccombe
that the author was the son of Richard Richards, rector of Kentisbury in
Seccombe’s biography was largely accepted until 1909, when Professor G.C. Moore Smith noted that the coat of arms above the engraved portrait of Richards prefixed to Messalina are those of the Richards family of Rowling, Kent, not of Kentisbury, Devon. The Nathaniel Richards of this family was the third son of Captain William Richards. Professor Moore Smith also found a slight family connection between Richards and Mary Hammond, the wife of Sir Thomas Stanly, whom Richards commemorated in two sets of verses.
While little is known about Richards’ education, his
knowledge of Roman history is indicated by his use of Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny
and Juvenal in Messalina, for which he also wrote footnotes in Latin. He
probably lived in
He dedicated Messalina to Viscount Rochford, who in 1629 showed sympathies with Charles I’s critic Sir John Eliot by visiting him in the Tower, and Poems Sacred and Satyricall (1641) was addressed to Alderman Thomas Soames, known as a critic of Ship Money, and elected in 1640 with other radicals as MP for the city.
The recurrent theme of Richard’s work is the destructive power of sexual temptation, and the necessity of divine intervention in resisting it. Bradford imagines him as ‘a man who lived remote from the court but who frequented the playhouses; [e]xcluded from the strangely fascinating world of the court, he found in the Jacobean theatre a means of vicariously taking part in its forbidden pleasures and sins.’ Certainly Messalina reveals him to be something of a tortured soul: ‘as angst-ridden as Marston, as self-divided as Donne, [f]lesh and spirit war furiously within him.’ Nathaniel Richards was a man of his time, embodying the anxieties and conflicts of a society undergoing profound economic, social and religious changes, and on the brink of Civil War.
There are interesting links between the six men who wrote commendatory verses for Richards’ Messalina. Thomas Rawlins was the likely engraver of the portraits in Messalina and Poems Sacred and Satyricall. He was author of The Rebellion, which was almost certainly performed by the same company and in the same playhouse as Richards’ own play, and for which Richards wrote a verse. John Robinson and Thomas Jordan were also associated with the King’s Revels, the former acting the role of Saufellus and the latter playing Lepida in Richard’s play.
Robert Davenport was a poet and dramatist who published in A Crown for a Conqueror; and Too Late to Call Back Yesterday (1623). Stephen Bradwell was a physician, and friend of the dramatist Thomas Heywood. There are no records relating to Thomas Combes.
In Richards’ verse for Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women (1657) he refers to the author as his ‘Familiar acquaintance’.
Two collections of poems:
He is also the presumed author of two other poems:
In all, he wrote sixty-four poems, several of which reflect ideas found in Messalina.
The Celestiall Publican and The Spirituall Sea-Fight are deeply moral, while others take a more satirical tone. A.R. Skemp writes that
[t[he style of the poems is characterised especially by profusion
of similie and metaphor; in which Richards shows ingenuity,
still within the limits of convention. The verse is on the whole
fluent and workmanlike; but in form, as in thought, Richards
fails to show any development. The new verses of the 1641
volume are indistinguishable, in stuff and style, from those
published eleven years earlier.
Two commendatory verses:
See Appendix B
 Baker, David E. (1782, 1985)
 pp. 71
 pp. 70 Ibid.
 pp. 27 Skemp, A.R. (1910) (ed. and intro) to Richards, Nathaniel (1640) The Tragedy of Messallina, The Roman Emperesse London: David Nutt