Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1615)

In September 2020, we featured a guest post from Alison Fraser on a second edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene that showcased the remarkable early bookplate of early eighteenth-century reader Elizabeth Percival. As Fraser notes, Spenser wrote the work for Queen Elizabeth I. However, the romance had a wider appeal to other courtly women—and those who were not courtly at all. A 1615 edition now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SR/OS 95.2) contains veritable layers of women’s ownership inscriptions: Eustasia Trelawny, Mary Wentworth, Elizabeth Kelly, Catherine Powny, and the forenames Jane and Kate. A 1609 edition at the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies (PR2358 .A1 1609) is signed by Frances Twysden Villieres, Countess of Jersey (1753–1821) and her youngest daughter Harriet Bagot Villiers (1788–1870), and also contains the earlier inscription of a reader named Elizabeth. The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a 1596 copy of the book (STC 23082 copy 1) that is signed by an Ann Stewart on one of the front endpapers. In 2012, Rachel Stevenson’s honors thesis centered on a 1679 copy of Spenser’s Works owned by Letitia Thomson. Writes Stevenson: “Thomson is especially remarkable in her attention to detail and cross-referencing, interacting with [Thomas] Warton’s footnotes, his text, and the text of The Faerie Queene.”

What is notable about these manifold signatures is that they span the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, speaking to the work’s continued popularity with a female readership. The owner of the featured book today appears to fall in the eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century based on her handwriting. An effaced inscription on the upper edge of A2r of her 1615 copy of The Faerie Queene reads: “Catherine C[…?] her Book and the gift of h[…?] […?] E[…?]. Beneath is another annotation in a minute hand, unfortunately too faded and crossed out to read.

There is enough here to say that Catherine received the book as a gift, but because her surname is too illegible to transcribe, the relationship between the giver and her cannot be ascertained. The word beginning with H may read “her,” which would indicate that she received the book from a friend or relative.

Source: Book offered for sale by Michael Laird Rare Books LLC in February 2021 and since sold. Images used with permission.

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Louis de Lesclache, Les avantages que les femmes peuvent recevoir de la philosophie (1667)

This is an unusual work for our blog, first because it is French (we’d love to feature more instances of French female book ownership) and second because it is a work of philosophy. Louis de Lesclache (c. 1620?-1671) was known for writing instructional works. He authored a range of books of grammar, but also books that explained philosophy to ordinary readers. For instance, one of his earliest works is explains philosophy in tables, creating a clear picture of a discipline that might be otherwise closed off to the less educated. This particular book is less an explanation of philosophy and instead an argument that philosophy is useful to women. Lesclache not only makes the case that women are capable of studying philosophy, but also that doing so is necessary, enables them to understand the world and control their passions, and thus renders them perfect.

This copy of the first edition of Lesclache’s book contains two female names, Marie Jacobé de Soulange and Madelen de Soulange, both in the same handwriting. A different person, F. Merant, has put an inscription on the title page, and since “de merant” is also included among the female names, this seems to be another family member. The pen trials and handwriting on this page pictured here might suggest a younger reader.

Source: Book offered for sale by Olson Rare Books, 4/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Hugo Grotius, The Truth of Christian Religion (1680)

This blog has featured many religious works, and like those texts, this particular example suggests that ownership inscription can reveal one’s affiliation and religio-political position. This copy of Simon Patrick’s 1680 translation of De veritate religionis Christianae (1627) by Hugo Grotius gives us little information about its female owner. The inscription reads, “J. Patrick’s gift to AP. f[ro]m her to SP.” We do not know who AP is and can rely only on the pronoun “her” for the gender of the owner. It is possible that P stands for Patrick and that these three persons were all related to each other. It is tempting to imagine that these are all related to Simon Patrick, the translator himself, but I cannot find evidence of this, and the name Patrick is a common one.

Simon Patrick, then Dean of Peterborough and later Bishop of Ely, was a defender of the Anglican church. He was an Armenianist, making the choice for Hugo Grotius, also an Armenianist, an obvious one. A gift of this book suggests the reader has an investment in Arminianism, and the passing on of the gift has the potential to strengthen a small network of like-minded believers.

What makes this unusual as a work owned (at least temporarily), received as a gift, and then passed on, by a woman is the ambitious theological nature of this book by the famous humanist, theologian, and jurist Grotius. Many religious books owned by women concentrate on practical devotion or advice such as the one other book by Simon Patrick we have featured before, which, as Mark Empey explains, was a book with advice for those who have lost a friend, consisting largely of sermons and prayers. This translation shows evidence of a different, more intellectual type of reading practice.

Source: Book offered for sale by Louis Caron, 12/1/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

John Watson, The Gentleman and Citizen’s Almanack for the Year of Our Lord, 1733

Well! After profiling a copy of the 1616 Maison Rustique, or, The Countrey Farme with the ownership inscription of Mary Howard, I reached out the Dublin City Library and Archive to inquire about another Mary-Howard-owned book: a 1733 edition of John Watson’s almanac, published in Dublin.


Howard twice signed the recto of the blank leaf at the end of the almanac, making ample pen trials, too. This Mary Howard is clearly not the same owner of the Maison Rustique. This Mary Howard’s hand is later and more italic, and neither the uppercase nor the lowercase H in Howard are formed like the H in the other’s inscription. Still, it is nice to be able to add an Irish (presumably) woman to the website for the first time.


As is clear from this title page, Watson’s almanac provided information on calendars, feast days, and so on, but also contained directories of names, of prominent individuals, such as members of royalty and nobility, as well as merchants, traders, and soldiers.

The book is also signed “T.M. Ray” on the title page.

Source: Book held by the Dublin City Library and Archive. Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive.

Henrick Peetersen van Middelburch, Den Bibel. Tgeheele Oude ende Nyeuwe Testament (1535)

Renske Hoff

Between 1532 and 1546, the Antwerp printer Henrick Peetersen van Middelburch published two complete Dutch Bibles as well as multiple New Testaments. He did not initiate new translations or publication formats for his editions but efficiently drew on the high success rates of Bibles from fellow Antwerp printers, in particular Jacob van Liesvelt, Willem Vorsterman, and Michiel Hillen van Hoochstraten. His 1535 complete Bible edition, for instance, very closely resembles Jacob van Liesvelt’s Bible of 1534, in text and paratext. This relative lack of ‘originality’ has led to an underrepresentation of Peetersen’s Bible editions in most scholarly works on early modern Dutch Bibles. However, Peetersen’s printing and publishing endeavours clearly display to what extent the Dutch early modern Bible business was precisely that: a business. Peetersen provided readers with editions with plenty paratextual and visual elements, in neat lay-out, and with translations identical to those of Bibles that already proved their success. His Bibles reflect, in a way, not so much a striving towards originality, but rather the prosperous status quo.

This copy of Peetersen van Middelburch’s complete Bible edition from 1535, kept at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel (signature: Bibel-S. S.40 101), was owned by Princess-Countess Elisabeth Sophie Marie von Schleswig-Holstein-Norburg (1683-1767). She glued her bookplate onto the flyleaf in the front of the book. Elisabeth Sophie Marie was an ardent book collector and was also responsible for several religious publications. She started collecting Bibles in 1740, and within less than 25 years, she brought together a total of roughly 1,100 books, which she eventually left to be kept in Brunswick Palace, nearby Wolfenbüttel, in 1764. In addition to this large number of Bibles, she also owned books on natural history, literary works, and tracts by and about women.

Elisabeth Sophie Marie collected Bibles in various languages. Her library contained, for instance, 47 polyglot Bibles, 9 medieval Latin manuscripts, 19 Hebrew Bibles, and 9 Arabic Bibles. The Peetersen van Middelburch Bible was among no fewer than 34 Bibles printed in the Low Countries. In 1752, a preliminary catalogue of the book collection was published. The catalogue is fully available online as part of the exhibition ‘Luthermania’ of the Herzog August Bibliothek: http://www.luthermania.de/buch/show/1184#page/6/mode/2up. The frontispiece of the catalogue provides an imaginary, architectonical depiction of Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s library, surrounded by putti, and overlooked by a portrait of the book collector herself.

Portrait of Elisabeth Sophie Marie of Schleswig-Holstein-Norburg (1747) by Balthasar Denner, in the collection of the Herzog August Library

Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s collection testifies to her broad interest in the development of Bible translations, from the Middle Ages up to the eighteenth century. Although Elisabeth Sophie Marie was Lutheran herself, she collected Bibles across confessional divides. Her Bible collection functioned as a way to delve into the historic, multilingual background of the confessional dynamics of her own time. As a representative of popular Bible reading cultures in the sixteenth-century Dutch context, the 1535 Peetersen van Middelburch Bible clearly fitted this purpose.

Source: Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel: Bibel-S. 4° 101. Reproductions by the Herzog August Bibliothek. All images reproduced with permission.

Futher reading

Bepler, Jill. “Die fürstliche Witwe als Büchersammlerin. Spuren weiblicher Lektüre in der Frühen Neuzeit.” Der wissenschaftliche Bibliothekar. Festschrift für Werner Arnold. Ed. Detleve Hellfaier et al. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009. 19–40.

Gleixner, Ulrike. “Die lesende Fürstin: Büchersammlungen als lebenslange Bildungspraxis.” Vormoderne Bildungsgänge. Selbst- und Fremdbeschreibung in der Frühen Neuzeit. Ed. Juliane Jacobi et al. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2010. 207–24.

Thomas Fuller, The Church-History of Britain (1655)

This first edition of The Church History of Britain (1655), bound with The History of the University of Cambridge and a short history of Waltham Abbey, is one of many history books for which we have found evidence of female ownership in the early modern period. Thomas Fuller, whose work has featured on this website before, was a clergyman and a moderate royalist, who lived during the turbulent times of the Civil Wars and their aftermath, which had a deep impact on his career. He was known for his support for peace, preaching sermons that urged King and Parliament to reconcile during the war and attempting unsuccessfully to aid in negotiations between the two. As W. B. Patterson notes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Fuller’s career was shattered by the defeat of the royalist cause,” though he managed to convert this defeat into a professional opportunity as a historian, producing important works of history.

The Church History contains no fewer than 166 dedications, a sign of the troubled state of Fuller’s professional life in the 1650s, but also, Patterson explains, of wider support: “Each of its eleven books and each of the appended works is dedicated to a member of a noble family. There are also dedications of sections of the book to merchants and lawyers in London and gentry in the counties around London. These patrons evidently helped to support his research and the publication of the work. They comprise an extensive network of persons apparently supportive not only of Fuller’s work but of the monarchy and the established church of the pre-war period.”

What makes this copy of the book particularly important is its female owner’s inscription. The book contains the signature of Arundell Penruddock, born Freke (c. 1616–1666), wife of the royalist John Penruddock (1619–1655).

John Penruddock was a member of the landed gentry in Wiltshire and a well-known royalist conspirator, who attempted to restore the Stuarts to the throne in the uprisings associated with the secret organization the Sealed Knot. When he was tried for treason and condemned to death, Arundell made a number of failed petitions for clemency on his behalf, most importantly to Oliver Cromwell himself. But her efforts proved in vain, and Penruddock was beheaded in 1655. Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth gives a full account of these and later petitions in this blog post, showing that Arundell continued to attempt to restore her husband’s property to her family on behalf of her seven children and to restore her husband’s reputation after the Restoration, with some degree of success.

Fuller’s book came out in the year of Penruddock’s execution, and since Arundell signed it in 1657, we can only wonder about her feelings upon reading it so soon after her husband’s death. As Patterson writes, “Fuller’s book … provided an explanation for the tumultuous religious and political events of his own time, and it included the first detailed account of the decades immediately prior to the civil wars to be published.” Thus, to Arundell, Fuller’s work may have offered important historical perspective on the events that affected her family so personally. Although it is not pictured here, the bookseller notes that this copy also contains a 19th century Penruddock bookplate.

Source: Book offered for sale by Colin Page Books, 12/1/20, and since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne. “The Penruddock Petitions: The Aftermath of a Royalist Revolt, 1655-1660.” The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England. 12 May 2020. https://petitioning.history.ac.uk/blog/2020/05/the-penruddock-petitions-the-aftermath-of-a-royalist-revolt-1655-1660/.

Durston, Christopher. “Penruddock, John (1619–1655), royalist conspirator.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  21 May 2009. https://doi-org.access.authkb.kb.nl/10.1093/ref:odnb/21893.

Patterson, W. B. “Fuller, Thomas (1607/8–1661), Church of England clergyman.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 3 January 2008. https://doi-org.access.authkb.kb.nl/10.1093/ref:odnb/10236.  

John Spottiswoode, The History of the Church of Scotland (1655)

John Spottiswoode’s The History of the Church of Scotland, subtitled Beginning the Year of Our Lord 203, and Continued to the End of the Reign of King James the VI, was first published in 1655 and now survives in numerous copies. Spottiswoode was an archbishop in Scotland, a theologian, and an historian. He originally wrote the history at the request of James VI and I, though it was not published until sixteen years after Spottiswoode’s death. In 1633, he crowned Charles I in Edinburgh, but his good standing with the monarch was not to last:

He was appointed Chancellor of Scotland by King Charles I (1635), but Spottiswoode found himself caught between a monarch intent on introducing an unpopular prayer book, which resulted in riots in St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh, and the people. Thus in 1638, while the people signed the National Covenant, the King dismissed Spottiswoode from the Chancellorship for having failed to enforce the Episcopacy, yet the General Assembly in Glasgow reintroduced Presbyterianism, deposing him as Archbishop and excommunicated him. (Gazetteer for Scotland)

A copy of the first edition featuring two early women’s ownership inscriptions was offered for sale by Aardvark Books, ABAA in February 2021.

The eyecatchingly distinctive name of Easter Bird appears on a rear flyleaf, followed by the name of Leonard Stanley in a similar hand and the year 1802. There are several eighteenth-century documents featuring individuals with this name, so in spite of its unusualness–or at the very least, its uncommon spelling (Easter may be a version of Ester or Esther)–this particular Easter Bird has not been identified. The pound sign and numerals to the right of the names, which appear contemporary to the writing, at least seem to narrow Easter to the United Kingdom.

Beneath pen trials is another woman’s inscription, Elizabeth Redman. Like Easter’s inscription, it appears to date from the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century. The unread lines above Easter’s inscription appear to be in an earlier hand.

Though the book has since sold, the bookseller’s original description mentions several four-leaf clovers laid into the book. These enclosures, along with the markings described above, shows that the book was the site of much activity, not all of it related to reading! The book’s marbled calf binding appears to date from around the time of the women’s signatures.

Source: Book offered for sale by Aardvark Books 2/5/2021; since sold. Images used with permission.

Further Reading
“Archbishop John Spottiswoode: 1565-1639″ Gazetteer for Scotland.

Missel Romain (1692)

The lovely binding on this Roman Missal looks to be original, dating from the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. The decorative tooling and raised bands on the spine are heightened with gold, but the book shows signs of use, as we can see from the dark stains on the front cover. This is not surprising as it would have been frequently taken to mass by its owners. A missal is a book setting out the form of the mass as well as other prayers and liturgy used by the Catholic Church.

In late seventeenth-century France, various missals appeared under the influence of religious reform groups, especially the Gallicanists, headed by Bossuet, the renowned Bishop of Meaux. Except for the offices of Holy Week, missals were generally published in Latin. This one, however, says that it is “translated into French” and is based on the official missal following (c.1570) from the Council of Trent. Mary Maire, owner of the book, may not have known Latin and would have found this translation easier to use. (According to ESTC, the first English version was not available until 1737-38; probably also an unofficial publication, as the place “London” is questionable.)

That Mary was English is indicated by her signature “Marie Maire Her Book” on the engraved title page. The Maires were a Catholic family in the north of England, most likely from France originally, as the name suggests (“maire” means “mayor”). A prominent branch of the family lived at Lartington Hall in County Durham. Thomas Maire of Lartington married Mary Fermor (1673-1729), so the missal might have been hers. The book itself would have been imported from the continent, but the imprint “Cologne: Chez Jean de La Pierre” is probably false. According to the Bibliothèque Nationale, that imprint was a pseudonym for printing prohibited religious books, which would have included the missal in French, and also books written by Quietists, members of a heretical Catholic sect. The books were probably disseminated from Amsterdam. Interestingly, one of the other titles carrying this imprint is Poésies et Cantiques Spirituels [Poems and Spiritual Songs] 1722, by Madame Guyon (Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon), a French mystic, who had earlier run into trouble with the Catholic authorities because of her beliefs.

Source: Book offered for sale by Patrick Olson Rare Books, December 2019. Images reproduced with permission.

George Sandys, Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems (1638)

George Sandys (1578–1644) is today best known for his travel writing (especially his Relation of a Journey, 1615) and for his translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1632). In 1636, he first published his Paraphrase upon the Divine Poems, which included versions of the psalms and hymns of the bible. Paraphrases of psalms and other biblical texts were extremely popular in the early modern period. Women themselves engaged in this type of writing and seem to have been eager to read many different versions. Sandys was an Arminianist, and so reading, owning, and especially inscribing this particular version of the psalms with one’s name announces the reader’s own religious beliefs.

This copy of Sandys’s A Paraphrase Upon the Divine Poems (1638) was obviously cherished by its owners, considering the beautiful black Morocco binding.

The inside reveals evidence of male and female ownership: there are pen trials, a short Latin quotation, and a variety of signatures. Among the female signatures is one by An Selby, one by Elizabeth Bath, and one by Anne King, who apparently also copied down the imprint and date for the book. The Latin quotation is from Prosper of Aquitane: “Roma caput mundi / quisquid non possided / armis religione tenett” (Rome capital of the world what it doesn’t possess by arms it holds by religion).

The name Anne King is intriguing: the book contains a dedicatory poem by Henry King (1592–1669), churchman, poet, and acquaintance of Sandys, John Donne, and others. Henry’s sister was the poet Anne King, and even though much about her is uncertain, a possible date of birth is 1621. If this beautifully bound book was a presentation copy, it is possible that it was given to Henry or his sister.

The other names, An Selby and John Howell, can potentially be traced to the Selby family in Kent, owners of the estate of Ightham Mote. This geneaology has an Ann Selby born in 1703 (died 1747), whose grandmother was Elizabeth Howell, daughter to John Howell (who died in 1682). A will of William Selby, Ann’s grandfather, can be found here.

Two bookplates indicate later ownership, by W. H. Corfield and classicist Thomas Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church, whose library was sold at auction in 1880. 

Many thanks to Tony Worcester, the owner of this book, for sharing these images and information with us.

Source: Book in private ownership. All images reproduced with permission.

Richard Allestree, The Gentlemans Calling (1696), The Ladies Calling (1700), and The Lively Oracles Given to Us, or, The Christians Birth-Right and Duty (1696)


The anonymously published The Gentlemans Calling (1660) and The Ladies Calling (1673) were advertised on the title page as written by the same author as the tremendously popular The Whole Duty of Man (1657); all three, along with The Lively Oracles (1678) were written by Richard Allestree (c. 1621–1681), royalist, theologian, and provost of Eton College. The Ladies Calling was a hugely popular, if very conservative, conduct book for women. It appeared in 12 editions by 1727 and continued to make its mark well into the eighteenth century. In fact, Sarah Apetrei writes that it gained “almost canonical authority in advice manuals of the eighteenth century” (3) and goes on to argue that it actually ended up having unintended consequences as it “became a source of inspiration for a generation of women writers who, between 1680 and 1710, launched a remarkable attack on the ‘tyranny of customs’ which had excluded them from education opportunities, and consigned them to subjection in marriage” (3–4).

We cannot, therefore, know how individual women read the book, but we do see many female ownership inscriptions, such as one discussed in an earlier post on this blog.

The woman owner of this particular copy, Mary Phipps, had it bound with the two other works by Allestree, allowing for ready comparison of the moral recommendations for women with those for men, along with the general recommendations for Christians given in The Lively Oracles. The style of Phipps’ handwriting suggests that she made her inscription in the 18th century, further proof of Allestree’s continued popularity.


Source: Book offered for sale by Flora Books on 6/10/19. Images used with permission.

Further Reading

Sarah Apetrei, Women, Feminism, and Religion in Early Enlightenment England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Book of Common Prayer (1699)

The Book of Common Prayer used by the Church of England was first drafted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and published in 1549, marking the break with the older Latin Catholic rite. According to the Act of Uniformity passed that year, it was to be used in all church services throughout the kingdom. Cranmer produced a more distinctly Protestant version in 1552 during the reign of Edward VI, but subsequent revisions in 1559 and 1662 gave it again a more Catholic turn.

This copy, printed in 1699 (and including the Psalms, 1700), was owned by Mary Knapp, who wrote her name boldly at the top of the title page. The book is only 7.5 inches high, making it easy to hold, and we might imagine that Mary received it as a special gift and carried it with her to church services, where she could have enjoyed looking at the illustrations during long hours in the pew.

The book is now in a modern binding, but it contains 44 engravings that were hand-colored and gilded in the period. The pages are further lined with red ink.

The engravings themselves, depicting biblical scenes, coupled with their bright decoration, indicate a high-church or Laudian influence on this particular edition of the BCP. Such decoration is also more representative of the reigns of Charles II and James II than of the more staunchly-Protestant William, who with Queen Mary succeeded Catholic James at the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. In fact, Bill and Newcomb began printing the BCP around 1678, and one of the editions they produced in that year added illustrative plates and included a portrait of Charles II. In 1691 they produced a copy with engravings by Van de Gucht but these are not the same as the ones used here. By the time Bill brings out this edition of 1699, he is still using engravings but has placed King William’s portrait as the frontispiece. That and the designation “Printers to the Kings Most Excellent Majesty” declare the official ties between church and state; the monarch as “Defender of the Faith.”

Source: Book offered for sale by Andrew Cox Books, 2/28/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Coustumier et directoire pour les soeurs religieuses (1637)

The Sisters of the Visitation of Mary were an order of nuns founded in seventeenth-century France by Jeanne Françoise de Chantal. Born in 1572 to the Frémyot family of Dijon, at the age of twenty she married Christophe du Rabutin, Baron de Chantal. After bearing six children, she was widowed before the age of thirty and dedicated herself to a religious life under the tutelage of her friend, François de Sales, Bishop of Geneva (living in Annecy). Together they founded the Visitation order in 1611. It was dedicated to caring for the elderly, the sick and the poor. The order proved popular and expanded to eighty-six houses by the time de Chantal died in 1641. This copy of the rules of the order was owned by the chapter on the Rue St Jacques, Paris, founded in 1623; they kept it in their library, as the inscription says.

The book also has the signature of Sister Marie Xavier Pilles, which you can just see in the upper left of the flyleaf verso, across from the title page.

De Chantal was influenced by the writings of St Augustin, as well as Introduction to a Devout Life by her spiritual mentor, François de Sales, and writings of Teresa of Àvila and Catherine of Siena. Among the rules listed is one saying that at the beginning of the year, the nuns will receive copies of either The Imitation of Christ (by Thomas à Kempis) or The Spiritual Combat (by Fr. Lawrence Scupoli). The rules also give instructions for locating the chair of the Reader who would read to the nuns during meals. It should be in the center of the refectory near a window and with a chandelier close by and a bookshelf on the wall; very practical specifications.

Source: Book offered for sale by Olson Rare Books, 4/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

“Jeanne-Françoise de Frémyot, Baronne de Chantal,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://iep.utm.edu/chantal/