James Shirley, The Maides Revenge (1639)

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If you look closely, you can just make out the name “Dorothy” on the title page of this copy of James Shirley’s The Maides Revenge, thought to be printed in early 1640 despite its 1639 imprint date. Filtering the title page in retroReveal clarifies the inscription, located to the left and right of the three small ornaments near the bottom. Writing to the right of the ornaments seems to read “my book,” but it is impossible to say for certain.


I explore using retroReveal to illuminate washed ownership inscriptions in a 2017 blog post on Frances Wolfreston for the Folger Shakespeare Library. Incidentally, Wolfreston also owned a 1639 edition of this same play, which has not yet been traced.

Source: Book offered for sale by ebay seller sweetsmom0_2, 1/4/19. Images used with permission.


The Book of Common Prayer (1720)

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will know that we frequently find women’s inscriptions in the Book of Common Prayer, like bibles a book that people expected to last and be passed down the generation. Books of Common Prayer and Bibles could be used, as we have seen before, as family archives. While clean-looking books may have more visual appeal, from a historical and cultural perspective messy books like this one can be full of interesting information.

This book prominently displays some male signatures, including by William Davison, who not only claimed the book as his, but also seems to be the person who wrote down a family history.

Three different owners, two of whom called William Davison, are featured in inscriptions with a short poem. The top two for James and William appear to be in the same hand; the bottom inscription, by another William Davison, seems to be in a much later hand.

On the following page, inscriptions for William and James are repeated; George Davison has added his; initials appear at the bottom, while a woman named Margaret wrote her name upside down at the top.

Family history made its way onto the page with the frontispiece, where the birth of William Davison is recorded.

A fuller page with familial dates includes information on William and Margaret, both of whom lived to a ripe old age and into the nineteenth century. Mary Davison, daughter of Robert and Margaret Davison, also inscribed her name, claiming the book as hers: “her Book, given her in Memerory [sic] of her Grand Mother Margaret Davison August 17th 1827.” The memorial gift was made less than a month after the dead of Margaret.

Source: Book seen at the bookmarket in Deventer, August 4, 2019, offered for sale by Antiquariaat de Salamander. Photos by Martine van Elk, taken and reproduced with permission.

Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1674)

By Maria Cunningham, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Reed College

Sidney book

This is the thirteenth edition of The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (simply known as the Arcadia) and was first written by Sir Phillip Sidney towards the end of the 16th century. This particular edition was printed at the Golden Ball in Little Britain in 1674. The romantic inscription inside reads:

“Judith Tichborn Her Book Given me [?] by my most renowned and Beloved knight Stephen de La Stanly: 1713.”


Nothing is known about the giver of the book, Stephen de la Stanly. However, some info can be found about the writer of this inscription. Judith Tichborn (or Tichborne) was born about 1685 to Benjamin Tichborne and Elizabeth Gibbs in Tichbourne, Hants, England. On December 16th, 1717, at age 15, she was married to Charles Spencer the 3rd Earl of Sunderland and became Lady Sunderland. Their marriage was mentioned in a letter from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk to her husband, the Honorable George Berkeley:

Image from Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and Her Second Husband, the Hon. George Berkeley. Courtesy of archive.org.

The phrase “without a groat,” which means “a small sum,” implies that Judith brought a nice sum of money to the marriage. Other sources indicate that she was an Irish heiress. The family of Lord Sunderland also had something to say about the marriage. Sarah Churchill, former mother-in-law to Lord Sunderland, criticized his bride as being too young and has “no experience as to family keeping or accounts.” In any event, the couple were married and had three children, all of whom died young. Charles Spencer died in 1722 and was buried with one of their children who had died around the same time. On December 10th, 1724 Judith married Sir Robert Sutton who was the Director of both the South Sea Company and the Charitable Corporation. Judith eventually died on May 17th, 1749 from a fever, after recovering from smallpox.


Source: Special Collections and Archives, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College. Shelf mark PR2340.A1 1674. Photographs by Maria Cunningham.

Further Reading

Cokayne, George E. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant, edited by the Hon. Vicary Gibbs, St Catherine Press, 1910.

Suffolk, Henrietta Hobart Howard. Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and Her Second Husband, the Hon. George Berkeley: From 1712 to 1767, John Murray, 1824.

Rebekah Fisher’s Holy Bible (1676)


 This edition of the Authorized Bible is bound with Sternhold and Hopkins’ Whole Book of Psalms (1676) and decorated with red ruling in ink, done by hand.

265076 binding

You will note on the front cover the initials “R F” which are also repeated on the back.  The edges of the book are gilded and its further decoration with metal hardware consisting of corners and clasps indicates an expensive binding.

265076 binding

The story of the book’s female ownership and its transformation into a valuable family keepsake is told inside.


Most early Bibles show births and deaths recorded by hand.  Here, the birth of Rebekah to William and Mary Fisher on January 7, 1660, as well as her baptism ten days later, are printed on a special decorative sheet, subsequently bound into the book. On the facing leaf, Rebekah has carefully inscribed by hand the receipt of the Bible from her father in 1678, possibly as a gift for her eighteenth birthday.  It appears that the special binding was made for the book at this time as well.  The clue is found in the date on the remaining clasp, which is inscribed “Fisher 78.”

265076 clasp

We do not know who the Fishers were, other than that they probably came from the wealthy middle class, and may well have lived in or near London where such a handsome binding could be acquired.  The book stayed in the family, and about a hundred years later an inscription on the front flyleaf by William Fisher Dimond notes that he received the Bible from his grandmother upon her death, “29 January 1787.”  Her name was Sarah Lucas.  Above his inscription is another in Latin: “Fisher Mount Baker ex dono Matris.”  Unfortunately that writing is not dated, but it may also be an eighteenth-century hand.  We do not know if “Sarah Lucas” was also the “Matris” referred to, or, as seems likely, she was yet a third woman who owned this beautiful volume, a remarkable material and spiritual object revealing early modern women.

Source: The Holy Bible, Containing the Old Testament and the New.  London, 1676. Folger Shakespeare Library, 265076. Photos by Georgianna Ziegler.

Jasper Mayne, Part of Lucian Made English from the Originall (1664)




This calf-bound copy of Part of Lucian Made English from the Originall, translated by Jasper Mayne, contains several inscriptions from the same female owner. The first—”Elizabeth Mallory Her Booke (1694)”—is written upside-down on the frontispiece verso. The rear recto flyleaf has a similar inscription, and a third inscription reads “Eliz: Welles Her Booke” in what appears to be the same hand. Beneath, Elizabeth has written a line of verse: “One minnit gives Invention to Destroey / Whatt to Rebuild would A whole Age Imploy.” Says bookseller Charlie Unsworth, “This comes from William Congreve’s play The Double-Dealer, which was first produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in November or December of 1693 and first appeared in print the following year.” Congreve’s play was reprinted in over a dozen editions between 1694 and 1791, so it would be interesting to see if any of the surviving copies have Welles’s inscription!

The book also contains the early inscriptions of Thomas Hartopp and Ralph Welles, and the bookplate of Charles Whibley (1859–1930), a writer and acquaintance of T.S. Eliot.

Source: Book offered for sale on AbeBooks by Unsworth’s Antiquarian Booksellers, 12/13/2018. Images used with permission.

Giovanni Thommaso Minadoi, Historia della guerra fra Turchhi et Persiani (Venice, 1594)

This Italian history of the Turko-Persian wars shows no signs of previous female ownership on its pages. Rather, the Bodleian shelfmark–“Seld. 4°.M.14. art.”– reveals the book’s location among the collection of printed books and manuscripts given to the Bodleian Library by legal counselor and antiquarian John Selden upon his death in 1654.

It is the volume’s parchment binding that reveals evidence of female book ownership. Stamped with the Talbot hunting dog and the initials “E.G.,” this volume was once part of the library of Elizabeth (née Talbot) Grey, the Countess of Kent (1582-1651).

Elizabeth Grey’s ownership of books that were integrated into the Bodleian Library through Selden’s bequest has been largely undocumented. Seemingly unable to imagine a female book collector, John Sparrow mistakenly interpreted the “E.G.” stamped on the covers as that of Edward Gwynne, another prominent seventeenth century book collector. See “The Earlier Owners of Books in John Selden’s Library,” See Bodleian Quarterly Record 6 (1931): 263-271.

Philip Oldfield’s British Armorial Bindings Database has helped rectify that error and more. On this site, Oldfield compiles a list of eleven volumes bearing Elizabeth Grey’s armorial stamp (or variations of it) in collections throughout the UK.

The intimate relationship between the Countess of Kent and John Selden explains why some of “her” books ended up catalogued as “his.” Born Elizabeth Talbot in 1582, she was the daughter of Mary (née Cavendish) Talbot (1556–1632) and Gilbert Talbot, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury (1552–1616). In 1601, she married Henry Grey, who became the eighth Earl of Kent in 1623. Henry Grey died in 1639, and the Countess took up permanent residence at her home in Whitefriars, London. John Selden, her long-time legal advisor and friend, moved in with her later that year and continued living with the Countess until her death on 7 December 1651. In her will, she left a large portion of her material possessions to Selden. When he died on 30 November 1654, his decision to leave his extensive library of books and manuscripts (over 6,000 volumes) to the Bodleian Library meant that some of “her” books with the armorial stamp were recorded as “his.” The binding of this volume and some others, however, remain to tell us differently.

For other books in the Countess’s library, we have a manuscript catalogue (see Bodleian Library MS Selden Supra 111). A list of 179 titles were recorded in her rooms at Whitefriars when an library inventory was completed after Selden’s death. For a transcription of the list and more on the collection of her books at Whitefriars, stay tuned for the forthcoming volume of Private Libraries of Renaissance England. General Editors R. J. Fehrenbach and Joseph L. Black. (Forthcoming).

Thanks are due to the Bodleian Library for permission to publish images of their holdings.

If you have more information about the Countess of Kent’s books in other libraries or collections, I’d love to hear from you. Tweet @TaraLLyons or email tllyons@ilstu.edu.

James Clifford, The Divine Services and Anthems Usually Sung in His Majesties Chappell and in All Cathedrals and Collegiate Choires in England and Ireland (1664)


This copy of churchman James Clifford’s second edition of The Divine Services and Anthems Usually Sung in His Majesties Chappell bears the inscription of Ann Culliford. Like so many of our women owners on this website, Ann has not been definitively identified. A document now at the Dorset History Centre does contain a parish removal order for an Ann Culliford, wife of William Culliford. (More on removal orders here.) If this is the same Ann, then it is clear that she must have fallen on hard times during some point during her life.



In addition to the lyrics of hymns, Clifford’s book was also issued with a fold-out plate of music entitled “The Scale, or, Basis of Musick,” which tutored the reader in the rudiments of reading music.


Source: Book offered for sale by Keoghs Books, 4/4/19. Images used with permission.