Hammond, A Paraphrase and Annotations upon the Books of the Psalms (1659)

The sex of a book-owner is easy enough to determine with a full name. However, plenty of owners throughout Western book history have used initials or a first initial followed by a surname to sign their books. Oftentimes we assume these owners are men, but we sacrifice a more accurate and nuanced picture of book ownership and reading in the early modern period when we default to assumptions of maleness or whiteness.

There are several examples of early women book owners signing books and other documents using only initials. Discussing Elizabeth Puckering (1621/2–1689), David McKitterick says, “More often, and more consistently, she placed her initials ‘EP’ just above or to the side of the beginning of the first line of the text — either the main text or sometimes the preface.” Likewise, Anne Wolferstan, granddaughter of famous bibliophile Frances Wolfreston, initialed her copy of the Satires of Juvenal and Persius “A W” on the title page. Other initialers include Mary Astell, Mary Bankes, Frances Egerton, Sophia Hamilton, and Anne Hyde, Duchess of York (Book Owners Online). Mary Dormer, Countess of Carnarvon (1655–1709), utilized armorial bindings with her initials MC and also inscribed books “M Carnarvon” (BOO). Still other owners like Anne Fanshawe had armorial binding stamps, sans any initials. Elizabeth Talbot Grey’s bindings are distinguished by a Talbot hound with a lolling tongue and smartly curling tail.

In February 2022, I was browsing antiquarian books on eBay when my eye was caught by an unassuming copy of Henry Hammond’s Annotations on the Psalms. As far as seventeenth-century books go, it is common. Dozens of 1659 copies are reported to the ESTC Online and at any given time a copy or two can usually be found for sale on eBay or AbeBooks.

What drew my eye was the inscription on the half-title page: “L Huntingdon. April 1st 1666.” It tickled my memory. For no reason that I could discern, I thought, This is a woman’s inscription. I bought the book, convinced I’d stumbled on something important and unwilling to let it disappear.

It wasn’t long before I recalled Rosalind Smith and Kathy Acheson’s “Women and Marginalia in English Printed Books” seminar at the 2021 virtual Shakespeare Association of America conference. Diana Barnes had presented a wonderful paper on Lucy Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon’s elegiac manuscript poem from her copy of Lachrymae Musarum, a volume of poetry which commemorates her son Henry Hastings, heir to the earldom.

Lucy Hastings was born to Eleanor (née Touchet) and John Davies in 1613. Davies was a politician and poet whose works won the attention of Queen Elizabeth I, while Eleanor was an ardent Protestant who became infamous for publishing pamphlet prophecies from 1625 to her death in 1652. One, From the Lady Eleanor, Her Blessing, to Her Beloved Daughter the Right Honorable Lucy, Countesse of Huntingdon (1622), was addressed to Lucy. With such parents, it is not surprising that Lucy was well-educated. The famed educator and writer Bathsua Makin was her tutor and instructed her in divinity and languages, which included “Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Spanish” (Stevenson & Davidson 246).

In 1623, Lucy was married to fourteen-year-old Ferdinando Hastings when she was approximately eleven years old. The marriage was probably not consummated until she was around seventeen, as Henry, their first child, was not born until ca. 1630.

Lachrymae Musarum, consisting of 39 elegies by male poets minor and major, including Andrew Marvell and Charles Cotton, was published after Henry died of smallpox in 1649. Notably, John Dryden’s first published poem also appears in the volume. The Huntington Library’s copy of the book (RB102354) belonged to Lucy and once contained her manuscript poem on a front flyleaf, which is now detached and stored separately. The poem is in italic script and signed “L H.”

This manuscript’s significance as a poem by Lucy Hastings in her hand was first noted in 1952 by H.T. Swedenberg. In it, she laments her son’s death through imagery of bowels, clay, canker, and dust.

Other examples of Lucy’s writings survive in the Morgan Library, which holds her handwritten bond for £200 dated 3 September, 1667, and the University of Edinburgh Laing manuscript 444, which the Perdita Project describes as “Poems compiled by or for Lucy Davies (c. 1630).” Other manuscripts are held by the Huntington, which has over 50,000 items in its Hastings collection.

Lucy Hastings’ signature on the bond, Morgan Library MA 1475.16 [above]. This more formal version of her signature is similar to the one on her 1656 will at the Huntington Library [below].
The final page of MS Laing III. 444, which features two manuscript poems about a “Blackmoor” woman courting a white boy. The screenshot is from the manuscript digitized through the Perdita Project and is used only for educational purposes.

The University of Edinburgh’s manuscript, described in the Laing handlist as “The first Fifty Psalms in Verse, translated by Sir John Davies, 1624, with other Poems,” contains transcriptions of over fifty Psalms and dozens of poems by John Davies such as “A Maid’s Hymn in Praise of Virginity.” Only two poems in the volume break the Davies pattern. They are on the final page in an apparently different script, one much like Lucy’s, and indeed the initials “L H” appear in the right margin. The uppermost is Henry Rainolds’ “A Blackmoor Maid Wooing A Fair Boy” and the lowermost Henry King’s “The Boy’s Answer to the Blackmoor,” and the pair have been the subject of scholarship by Dr. Brandi K. Adams.

HAF, Box 20, Folder 8, the second of two religious “memoranda books” by Lucy Hastings at the Huntington Library. Her daughter’s ownership inscription “Eliza: Hastings” is in the center of the blank front wrapper, while Lucy’s effaced inscription “Lucy Huntingdon” is beneath. The books contain detailed notes on Bible verses from Proverbs, Ephesians, John, etc. and are in keeping with someone who would be interested in deep reading on the Psalms.

So was the L. Huntingdon who inscribed Hammond’s Annotations Lucy Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon? Huntingdon is often a peerage title, though some individuals from the early modern period like preacher John Huntingdon make clear it was surname, as well. It is also possible that Huntingdon is an alternative spelling of Huntington, a commoner surname, which could make the owner of the book L. Huntington, not Huntingdon.

However, if the Huntingdon is a peerage title rather than a last name, then it is harder to see who besides Lucy could have signed the Hammond. The Huntingdon title attaches only to the earl, his spouse, and his direct male heir (note in the image above how Lucy’s daughter signs her name Eliz: Hastings, not Eliz: Huntingdon). The book was published in 1659 and the inscription dated 1666. The only peerage-linked L. Huntingdon in 1666 would appear to be Lucy. Her husband Ferdinando Hastings, 6th Earl of Huntingdon, died in 1656 and was succeeded by their son Theophilus, born 1650, who did not begin having children himself until the 1670s. His direct heir, also named Theophilus, was not born until 1696.

If the Hammond did belong to Lucy, it is a rare example of a book owned by her; I know of no surviving specimens in institutions besides the Lachrymae Musarum. What understanding does the book bring to her life and work? Was she interested in the Psalms because of her father’s translation, piety’s sake, or both? Her memoranda books, after all, consist of detailed notes on Bible verses. Could her reading of them be connected to her son Henry’s untimely death 17 years earlier?


While the book is not heavily annotated, there are a few marginal references and corrections toward the front of the book, suggesting a close reading. What might such marginalia suggest? Is it in Lucy’s hand or one of her children’s?

The contemporary calf binding of the Hammond is worn, but close inspection reveals a blind rule with stamped corner-pieces on each board, as well as blind-tooled spine compartments. While not a fine binding by any stretch, it would have suited a woman of Lucy’s station.

I welcome readers’ thoughts on whether they believe the book was owned by Lucy Hastings and, if so, how they might contextualize it.

Source: Book in ownership of blog author. Other images featured with permission. My thanks to Martine Van Elk, Philip Palmer, and Danielle Clarke for assisting in my research for this blog.

Further reading

Brink, Jean R. “Royalist Correspondent: Lucy Davies Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 5 (2–3: Renaissance Studies), 1992: 61–63.

“Lucy Hastings, née Davies, Countess of Huntingdon (b. 1613).” In Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology, edited by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson, 246–247. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

O’Donnell, Mary Ann. “Hastings Family Tree, 1381-1874” in “A Survey of the Poetry Collection in Manuscript of the Noble Family of Huntingdon.” Harvard Library Bulletin 28 (3), Fall 2017: v–vi.

John Fletcher, The Tragoedy of Rollo Duke of Normandy (1640)

Today’s book will make its appearance in the forthcoming Spring 2023 Focus on Women sale by Swann Galleries, who have generously allowed it to be previewed here.

Printed in Oxford, The Tragoedy of Rollo is attributed to John Fletcher, although its true authorship has been the subject of scholarly debate. It first appeared in print in 1639 as The Bloody Brother, its text was from a different quarto. John E. Curran, Jr. attributes the play to Fletcher, Philip Massinger, “and probably some others,” while the English Short Title Catalogue suggests that it was probably written by Fletcher and Ben Jonson, then revised by Massinger. Similarly, R. Garnett argued in 1905 that Act IV, Scene II was penned by Jonson. Although the play was included in the Second Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher (1679), Fletcher’s frequent collaborator did not participate in its writing. Others have proposed that George Chapman was one of its writers, or that Fletcher merely revised the play.

Whatever the truth, we can be sure that the playbook’s owners were more focused on plot than author. The titular character is based on the real-life Rollo, a Viking and the first ruler of Normandy. Rollo’s descendants were known as the Normans, who of course famously conquered England in 1066. Fletcher (and / or whoever else wrote the play) gives Rollo a fictional brother, Otto, with whom he wrestles for control of the kingdom. After a brief reconciliation between the two gives way to suspicion and tension, Rollo murders Otto in front of their mother and has several of Otto’s supporters killed. Rollo is ultimately killed by Hamond, captain of his guard, after ordering the execution of Hamond’s brother Allan, and his kinsman Lord Aubrey ascends to the dukedom.

The recto of the first blank leaf is signed “Grace Jefferson’s Book 1696” along the upper edge. Beneath it, later owner Thomas Pennington has tried four different versions of his signature, the first dated 1710. The book later belonged to the Legh family of Norbury Booths Hall, whose armorial bookplate on the front pastedown is dated 1826. The book may have entered the family’s library during Peter Legh’s lifetime, as he lived until 1857. It was owned most recently by collector Kenneth Rapaport.

Like so many women who inscribed books, Grace Jefferson is unidentified, but demonstrates seventeenth-century women’s interest in drama.

Source: Book to be offered for sale by Swann Auction Galleries in Spring 2023. Images used with permission.

Margaret Cavendish, Poems, and Fancies: Written by the Right Honourable, The Lady Newcastle (1653)

When this book was first published in 1653, Dorothy Osborne wrote to her sweetheart William Temple: “a book of poems newly come out, made by my Lady Newcastle … they say ’tis ten times more Extravagant than her dress.”[1] This rather “catty” remark concerned Margaret Lucas Cavendish, wife of William Cavendish, marquess of Newcastle. Margaret had married her much older husband in Paris in 1645 where she was serving as a maid of honor at the court of exiled Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. As part of the company of royalist exiles, the Cavendishes lived mainly in Antwerp where Margaret had time to write (and presumably to experiment with her wardrobe creations). In 1651 when she traveled back to London to try to recoup some of her husband’s estates, she took her poems with her and arranged to have them published. This was her first book in print.

For Margaret, poetry was a continuing process, and seeing her works in print often led to further corrections–some of which she made herself in copies of her own books before giving them as gifts and others made by herself or the printers in subsequent editions. This 1653 edition of Poems, and Fancies was the first of three, appearing in 1664 and 1668. But the 1653 edition itself occurs with variations, and the particular copy here belongs to the third variant, where her ‘royalist’ title on the title page has been reduced from “Countess” to simply “Lady,” a nod to the times under Cromwell’s Protectorate.[2]

The first owner of this copy to sign her name on the title page was Elizabeth Pain, inscribing the date as “13th January 16[?]3.” It’s tantalizing that an ink blot prevents us from knowing the exact year. We do know that the book was published early in 1653, but was Elizabeth one of its first owners, or did she acquire it ten or twenty years after the book was published? And who was Elizabeth Pain? There are many Pain, Pains, Paynes, etc. in seventeenth-century England and some in America. Was she the wife of William Payne of Essex, clergyman, ultimately prebendary of Westminster, who married Elisabeth Squire in 1675? There is no indication that they had any children, but the substantial library came up for auction in 1698 and 1699. More likely she was from a family that spelled their name “Pain” or “Paine,” since the subsequent owners, “Elias Harry Paine and Mary Paine, their book 1747” use that spelling. The family might have been in New England, since the proceeds of this sale are to benefit Historic Deerfield, and the book may just have stayed on this side of the Atlantic.

Whatever the case, Elizabeth Pain staked out her ownership right below “The Lady Newcastle” on the title page, a practice followed by other women book owners who sometimes seem to make a point of attaching their name to that of another woman associated with a book. For example, several copies of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia have women’s inscriptions on the page dedicating the book to his sister, Lady Mary Sidney.

The later inscription by Harry and Mary Paine suggests that the book came down in the family, a frequent occurrence, making them more than books but objects that carry an accrued genealogy. Joint ownership marks by husband and wife are not uncommon in seventeenth-century books, and extend into the eighteenth century as well, but the particular inscription here “thair book” suggests, as Katharine Acheson has written about another book, “not only their shared investment in the content of the book, but a quality of their relationship which enables them to share possessions within the marriage.”[3] In other words, the inscription suggests a companionate marriage in which husband and wife might have enjoyed reading aloud to each other. Margaret herself had such a relationship with William who was also an author.

This particular copy of Cavendish’s Poems holds yet another layer of meaning, since it was sold by “a Lady”–a designation that sounds vaguely quaint since it was used frequently in bygone book auctions and is obviously still used to protect the privacy of an owner. (Sometimes, “property of a Gentleman” is also found.) Women have collected books for a very long time–recorded in Europe since at least the fourteenth century­–but they often found it difficult to enter the predominantly white, male society of bibliophiles with the ambiance of a gentleman’s club. That began to change with major collectors such as Lisa Unger Baskin (books and ephemera by and about women and their work); Mary P. Massey (herbals); Caroline Schimmel (women in America), and many, many others, including young women who are now being encouraged to take up collecting by the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize.[4] No doubt Margaret would have been pleased to find another one of her books in the company of women.

The beautiful binding is a modern creation by skilled American binder Philip Dusel who specializes in re-creating seventeenth- and eighteenth-century styles.

Source: Book offered for sale by Christies on December 7, 2022. Images reproduced with permission.


[1] Letter 18. Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple (1652-1654), edited by Edward Abbott Parry (London: Dutton, 1888), https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/osborne/letters/letters.html.

[2] On these editions see Liza Blake, Textual and Editorial Introduction to Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies: A digital critical edition. http://library2.utm.utoronto.ca/poemsandfancies/textual-and-editorial-introduction/.

[3] Katherine Acheson, “The Occupation of the Margins: Writing, Space, and Early Modern Women,” in Acheson, ed. Early Modern English Marginalia (New York and London: Routledge, 2019),

[4] https://www.honeyandwaxbooks.com/prize.php

Paul de Barry’s Eensaemheydt van Philagia (1646): A Jesuit Manual for Contemplation for Women

By Patricia Stoop

In 1638 the French Jesuit Paul de Barry (1587–1661) published his third book, entitled La Solitude de Philagie ou l’adresse pour s’occuper avec profit aux Exercices spirituels une fois tous les ans durant huict ou dix jour.[1] It was printed in Lyon in the printing house of Claude I Rigaud (1583–1628), which at that time was operated by his widow and his son-in-law Philippe Borde (d. 1669). De Barry, who was rector of the Jesuit colleges of Aix and Nîmes and later provincial of Lyon, was an esteemed preacher, but first and foremost a prolific author. Carlos Sommervogel, who composed the Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, attributes no fewer than twenty-five works to him. La Solitude de Philagie, which was first printed in 1638, must have been quite popular as it was reprinted no fewer than fourteen times until 1692 and new editions appeared half-way through the nineteenth century (in 1854 and 1859).[2]

Eight years after its publication, the text was translated into Dutch by Guilliam van Aelst, who, as is mentioned on the title page, was “gheboortigh van Antwerpen” (“born in Antwerp”). Van Aelst, who passed away before 1646, was an active translator with a strong connection to the Jesuits.[3] Before he translated De Barry’s La Solitude de Philagie into De eensaemheydt van Philagia, Dienende tot Gheestelijcke Oeffeninghe in eensaemheydt. Van acht ofte thien gheduerighe daghen ’s Iaers, Van Aelst published De Thien eerste Boecken Der Nederlandtsche Oorloge in 1645, which was a translation of De bello Belgico decades duae, 1555–1590 (Antwerp, 1635) by the Roman Jesuit Faminio Strada (1572–1649). In 1651 he translated the Traité de l’Amour de Dieu (De Liefde Godts), which was colloquially known as Theotimus (Lyon, 1616), by St Francis de Sales (1567–1622), who was educated by the Jesuits, later bishop of Geneva and a renowned mystic and reformer, as well as an inspiration for many members of the Society of Jesus, including De Barry.

Figure 1: Title page of the first edition of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia (Antwerpen: Jacob van Ghelen, 1646). Copy owned by Marijken de Raedt, an Alexian sister in Aalst. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13. Reproduced with permission.

Like its French counterpart, De eensaemheydt van Philagia was quite successful. After the first edition was published in 1646 by Jacob van Ghelen, whose printing house was located at the Eiermarkt in Antwerp, three more editions (in four versions) were printed.[4] The second edition (“Den II Druck”) was printed again by Van Ghelen in 1649. In 1655 his colleague Arnout I van Brakel (1606–75) reissued this print, in identical form—even Van Ghelen’s 1649 colophon is present—but with a modified title page. That is to say, the printer’s name was altered and the date of publication was changed to 1655. In 1664, Van Brakel, whose shop was located at the other end of the Antwerp cathedral at the Wijngaardbrug, produced the third edition in a new lay-out. In 1711, the text was reprinted once more by Joannes Paulus Robyns, again in Antwerp.

Solitude as the Road to Holiness and Spiritual Perfection

With his Solitude de Philagie De Barry wanted to provide a tool for people who strive to make progress towards spiritual perfection and serve God, both within monasteries and in the world. In order to help these lovers of holiness—hence the word Philagia, a combination of φίλη (philè) and ἅγία (hagia) in, in the title—go through the three stages of the contemplative process (the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways), the Jesuit wrote spiritual exercises that should be done in eight or ten days. During this period the readers should act as if they were living in a large desert and personify solitude to talk to only with God and their own soul. In this way, they can overcome their evil inclinations and arrive at great purity of conscience and peace of mind.

After a short introduction containing the intentions of the author, a long list of general notes to be read in preparation for the eight- or ten-day exercises follows. Before starting, one must, for example, complete or suspend all one’s work, provide oneself with appropriate literature (apart from Thomas a Kempis’s Imitatio Christi, De Barry recommends works by fellow Jesuits), and contemplate on past sins in preparation for confession. Once these eight pages of instructions are mastered, the devotee can start the eight or ten days of meditations, the maintaining (‘onderhoudinghe’) of inner attitudes and devotional acts (e.g. the intimacy of the heart, the preparation for the yearly confession and the examination of conscience in preparation), and investigations (of the virtues for example).

On the first day, one should contemplate the reason why one is created. The second day is dedicated to repentance for the sins of the previous life. On the third day, faint-heartedness and sluggishness in the service of God take center stage. Next, one must consider what happens to one at the end of life. On day five to seven one should imitate Christ in the three stages of his life: in his youth, during his apostolate, and during his passion and death. The last three days of the process revolve around love owed to God, the unity with God, and the love for the Holy Sacrament. Once that whole process has been completed and readers have worked their way through nearly seven hundred pages of text, they are prepared for the New Year.

The Dedication by Catharina van Aelst

De Barry dedicated his original French La Solitude de Philagie “au glorieux S. Joseph, le plus aimable et le plus ayme de tous les Saincts, apres Jesus, & Marie’ (“to the glorious St Joseph, the most lovable and most loving of all the Saints, after Jesus and Mary”). The German translation by Martinus Sibenius also dedicated the text to Joseph, “der Mutter GOTtes allerwürdigstem Bräutigam, und allerweisesten Regierer des Worts, das Fleisch worden ist” (“the Mother of GOD’s most worthy Bridegroom, and most wise Ruler of the Word that became flesh”). With a general dedication like this, the book was aimed at all readers, men and women alike. In the Dutch version, however, the original dedication was replaced by a text by Catharina van Aelst, the daughter of the translator. Her father had passed away at the time that she wrote the dedication, “op den Voor-avont van’t Jaer 1646” (“on the Eve of the Year 1646”; fol. a6v):

Desen soo kostelijcken Lust-hof, van mijnen goeden Vader saeligher tot alghemeyn gherief van ons Nederlandt uyt de Fransche sprake overgeset, ende met meer andere sijne Boecken aen my als erfenisse ter handt ghekomen zijnde, alsoo hy aen een eighelijck van ons even nutbaer ende dienelijck is. (fol. A5v)[5]

(This so precious Garden of Delight has been translated from French by my good late Father for the general benefit of our Netherlands, and has come to me as an inheritance, together with more of his other Books, so that it is as useful as it is serviceable to all of us).

In her signature to the dedication, Catharina added the letters G.D. to her name. They can also be found after her initials on the title page of the 1646 edition: “[De eensaemheydt van Philagia] Wordt aen alle Gheestelijcke Dochters voor een Gheluck-saeligh Nieuw Jaer ghegunt Door C.V.A.G.D.” (“[The eensaemheydt of Philagia] is presented in kindness to all Spiritual Daughters for a Happy New Year by C.V.A.G.D.”). The abbreviation means that Catharina identified herself as a “Geestelijke Dochter” (“Spiritual Daughter”) or filia devota. She was one of the many single, Catholic women in the early modern Low Countries—often called “kloppen” or “kwezels”—who chose a chaste life dedicated to God outside monasteries and in secular contexts, often under the spiritual guidance of and in obedience to secular priests or, as in this case, Jesuits.

Catharina dedicated her father’s translation of De Eensaemheydt of Philagia to “alle gheesteliicke dochters. Beminde mede-Susters” (“all spiritual daughters, Beloved fellow Sisters”; fol. a2r). She encourages them to follow the example of Solomon in the Song of Songs 4. 16, who took his bride to the garden of delight. This can be done, she states referring to the eensaemheydt of De Barry’s title, by seeking the pleasure garden of solitude. It is there “dat onsen aldersoetsten Bruydegom Jesus noch alle daghen onse Zielen trouwt” (“that our most sweet Groom Jesus marries our Souls every day”; fol. A2v), in order to pull them “uyt de slavernije des duyvels, te weten, uyt het wereldts leven” (“out of the slavery of the devil, namely, of worldly life”). Subsequently, she explains that the “aldermeest gheachten Lust-hof van onsen Hemelschen Bruydegom, inden welcken hy sijnen aldermeesten lust heeft” (“most esteemed Pleasure-ground of our Heavenly Bridegroom in which he takes the most pleasure”; fol. a3v) is the bonus hortus virginitatis (delightful garden of virginity). In order to see to what exalted holiness and spiritual perfection of the soul solitude could lead, Catharina encourages people to look especially at

de heylighe en Lofweerdighe Societeyt Jesu, de welcke inden selven Lust-hof uyt Godt ontfanghen ende voort-gebraght, met het selve sogh onderhouden ende op-ghevoedt zijnde, tot alsulcke overvloedighe Heyligheydt ende volmaecktheydt ghekomen is, dat sy de heele wijde wereldt, ende onder andere oock ons haere Gheestelijcke Kinderen soo rijckelijck, als wy tot ons groot voordeel ende gheluck daghelijcks bevinden, vande selve is mededeelende. (fol. A5r–v)

(the holy and Praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which, received and brought forth from God in the same Garden of Delight, being nurtured and educated with the same milk, has come to such abundant Holiness and perfection, that it lets the whole wide world and also, among others, us its Spiritual Children, share the same so richly, as we experience to our great benefit and happiness every day).

Catharina’s dedication, which encourages the mystical wedding and the virginal matrimony of the soul with Christ, is written as a New Year’s wish. The fact that it is composed by a spiritual daughter of the Jesuit order and addressed to other spiritual daughters shifts the intended audience of De Barry’s devotional treatise. Rather than at a general audience, the text is now aimed at female addressees, and more specifically, female religious addressees. But which readers did the text actually reach?

For the Love of Holiness: The Readers of De eensaemheydt van Philagia

Not all the extant copies I have seen contain ownership inscriptions.[6] A good number of the ones that do, however, indeed belonged to women. In many cases the ownership inscriptions point out that the books were owned by individuals, albeit all members of religious communities. One copy of the 1646 edition, for example, was owned by Marijken de Raedt, who was a zwartzuster (Alexian sister) in the community in Aalst in East Flanders, which had been founded there in 1475 in order to take care of the sick (especially the plague victims) and continued to exist until 2020, when the remaining sisters moved to a neighbouring residential care center (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13; see Figure 1). A second copy (Kontich: Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde, no shelfmark) made its way to Maria Theresia Peeters, who was a “beggijntien op het vermaert beggijn hof tot Lier” (“beguine in the renowned beguinage of Lier”), located some twenty kilometers southeast of Antwerp. When Marijken and Maria Theresia lived is not clear.

When Sister Josephine Vanherberghen, who was a hospital sister in the Sint-Janshospitaal in the Brabantine city of Tienen (near Louvain), lived is not clear either. She owned a copy of the 1649 edition and left the mark of her ownership on the flyleaf of her book (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14 bis): “Gasthuis Thienen Suster Josephine Vanherberghen.” Another copy of the same, second edition, however, was owned in the nineteenth century by a grey sister (grauwzuster), likely of the Third Order of St Francis. On the flyleaf at the front she wrote that she owned the book during the time of Sister Ida: “Van zuster MariAnna Spillebijkx grouw zuster geproffest den 7 october 1834 als zuster Ida overste was ende die is gestorven den 13 Mert 1839” (“Of Sister MariAnna Spillebijkx grey sister professed on 7 Oct 1834 as sister Ida was superior, who died on 13 March 1839”; Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3446). Unfortunately, the book does not mention in which community the women lived. Interestingly, at another (later?) point in time the book was owned by a man. In the lower margin of the title page, a certain Frederic Verachter wrote his name.

A copy of the 1655 edition (i.e. the second edition as it was published by Arnout I van Brakel) also switched hands, but this time from woman to woman (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15). Judging from the location of the ownership inscription on the flyleaf as well as the handwriting, which is considerably older than the other signature, the book was initially owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and later transferred to Maria Bal who owned it in 1796. Both women indicate that they kept the book with the permission of their superior (“met orlof van haer oversten”). This indicates of course that these women were also members of a religious community. Possibly they lived in the female Dominican convent of Antwerp. The State Archives in that city own a donation deed that states that after the death of Peter Melijn (a building contractor who supervised fortification works in and around Antwerp between 1660 and 1680) six hundred gulden should be transferred to the Dominican convent where his daughter Maria Barbara Melijn was professed in 1670.[7]

Figure 2: Title page of Paul de Barry, De eensaemheydt van Philagia, in the second edition issued by Arnout I van Brakel (Antwerpen, 1655). Copy owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and Maria Bal. University of Antwerp, Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15. Reproduced with permission.

A second copy of the same 1655 edition also contains two ownership inscriptions (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, F 88500, flyleaf at the front). Initially, the book was owned by someone who noted down two little verses: “Het is een vremdt gemoedt / Dat noch mint, noch minnen doet” (“It is a strange disposition / That neither loves nor enables to love”) and “En houdt voor geenen vriendt / Die verandert als den windt” (“And regard as no friend / Who alters like the wind”). In between likely the same person added an emblem with the initials A.M.V. and the date 1730. Subsequently Sister Coleta Bouckaert added her name under the verse lines. Again, she is difficult to identify. A beguine with this name passed away in the Groot Begijnhof in Ghent on 27 or 28 February 1832 at the age of sixty-two.[8] However, around the same date a Sister Coleta Bouckaert was prioress of the convent of St Trudo in Odegem near Bruges (canonesses regular of the order of St Augustine).[9] This makes it impossible at this stage to establish whether the book was located in Ghent or in Bruges in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The last edition that was published by Van Brakel in 1664 also found its way into women’s hands. The copy that is currently kept in the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp (shelfmark F 126879) belonged, according to a note on the front flyleaf, to Sister Francoise Schrijnmaeckers in 1704. Whether she owned it earlier or later than Sister Tresa Boon, who left her ownership inscription at the back of the title page, is impossible to say. In any case Tresa was very concerned about her soul’s post-mortem well-being. She explicitly asked the readers of her inscription to pray for her after her death: “Tot behoef van suster Tresa Boon. Bidt voor mijn siel naer mijn doot op dat ick sondaers mach bevrijdt woorden van de eeuieghe doot” (“For the sake of Sister Tresa Boon. Pray for my soul after my death that I, sinner, may be freed from the eternal death”).

All the aforementioned copies of the Eensaemheydt of Philagia were owned by individual women who were members of religious communities. Two other books also circulated in women’s convents but were destined for common use. The 1655 edition that is nowadays at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp (A 2221) explicitly mentions on the front flyleaf that the book is meant “Voor het gemeyn van Blyenberch” (“for common use of Bleyenberg”), a community of Victorines in Mechelen. The Norbertine sisters in Antwerp kept their copy (of the first edition of 1646) according to a note on the title page in their church: “Ecclesia Norbertinarum Antw[erpiensis]” (Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3443). The third book (1649 edition) did not belong to a female community, but rather to the professed house of the Jesuits in Antwerp: “Dom[us] Prof[essa] Soc[ietatis] Jesu Antverpiae” (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14, 1e ex).

The last three books with ownership inscriptions I have found thus far probably belonged to lay people. On the flyleaf at the front of a copy held by the Museum Plantin-Moretus (A 3437), we read that “Dezen boek hoert toe aan Jozephina Lammens” (“This book belongs to Jozephina Lammens”). As Jozephina did not add “Sr” to indicate a religious profession to her name, we may assume that she was a lay woman or perhaps a spiritual daughter like Catharina van Aelst. The book with shelfmark BIB.ACC.012562 in the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Ghent (a copy of the 1649 edition) seems to have belonged to a couple: a note on the cover page expresses the hope that “Jehan en Marie wordt den besten trost” (“to Jehan and Marie the best consolation will come”), presumably in the hereafter. The 1664 version that is now in the Universiteitsbibliotheek at Ghent (BIB.158T008) has an ownership inscription on the front flyleaf that shows it belonged to a man: “Hic liber pertenet ad me Carolum Tileman anno 1762” (“This book belongs to me, Carolus Tileman, anno 1762”). He can be tentatively identified as the student who was mentioned in the Album studiosorum of the University of Leiden in 1756 and was born in The Hague in 1736.[10] If this identification is correct, this specimen is an outlier in many respects. It is not only the sole book thus far that has only been owned by a man and a student, but it is also the only copy that made its way to the Protestant north of the Low Countries.

Although De Barry does not seem to have had a distinct readership in mind, the dedication that Catherine added to her father’s Dutch translation clearly steered the reception of De eensaemheydt of Philagia. The majority of the books that have been studied thus far found their way to women who lived their lives as the Brides of Christ Catharina envisaged. Interestingly, however, most of the women who owned a copy lived such a life within (enclosed) convents of various orders, and not as the filiae devotae Catharina and the publisher seem to have had in mind when they addressed the book to “alle Gheestelijcke Dochters” (“All Spiritual Daughters”). Whether or not it was intended to, the book evidently reached a wide female audience and thereby played an important role in spreading Jesuit spirituality and mysticism to women’s religious communities in the Southern Low Countries.

Further reading

Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. I (1890), cols 945–57.

“Barry, Paul de.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. by Marcel Viller and others, 16 vols. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses fils, 1937–94. I (1937), cols 1252–55.

De Vlieger-De Wilde, Koen, ed. Adresboek van zeventiende-eeuwse drukkers, uitgevers en boekverkopers in Vlaanderen / Directory of Seventeenth-Century Printers, Publishers and Booksellers in Flanders. Antwerp: Vereniging van Antwerpse Bibliofielen, 2004.

De Vroede, Maurits. “Kwezels” en “Zusters”: De geestelijke dochters in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 1994.

Monteiro, Marit Edin. Geestelijke maagden: Leven tussen klooster en wereld in Noord-Nederland gedurende de zeventiende eeuw. Hilversum: Verloren, 1996.

Olthoff, Frans. De boekdrukkers, boekverkoopers en uitgevers in Antwerpen sedert de uitvinding der boekdrukkunst tot op onze dagen. Antwerp: J.-B. Buschmann, 1891.

“Sibenius, Martin.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. VII (1896), cols 1181–84.

Stracke, D.A. “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.” De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49

Van Honacker, K. Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht. Antwerp: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002. Identification number BE–A0511/Y1/010)

Verheggen, Evelyne M.F. Beelden voor passie en hartstocht: Bid- en devotieprenten in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Zutphen: Walburg, 2006.


[1] This blog was inspired by the module ‘Vrouwen en literatuur in de vroegmoderne tijd’ of the undergraduate course Neerlandistiek in de praktijk (University of Antwerp, academic year 2021–22). My gratitude goes to my students Robin Van Gestel and Mie Verschooten for their enthusiastic exploration of the copy of De Barry’s De eensaemheydt van Philagia in the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich.

[2] I have counted the editions mentioned in the Universal Short Title Catalogue and Sommervogel’s list here.

[3] It is not very clear who Guilliam van Aelst was, nor how many translations can be attributed to him. For an extensive discussion on both questions, see D.A. Stracke, “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.,” in De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49.

[4] In the same year Paul De Barry’s text was also translated into German by Martinus Sibenius SJ (1604–68): Einöde Philagiae, Das ist Weiß unnd Manier, die Geistliche Exercitia einmal im Jahr, acht oder zehen Tag lang nützlich zu verrichten (Köln: Michael Dehmen [the Elder], 1646). This German translation was also reprinted eight times before 1738.

[5] The dedication of Van Aelst’s translation of De Sales’ De Liefde Godts (1651) is also written by Catharina van Aelst. This time the book is dedicated to Joanna van Lathem, abbess of the Cistercian abbey of Roosendael near Mechelen between 1639 and 1662, with whom she had a family connection. In the dedication, Catharina mentions “andere boecken” (“other books”) written by her “Vader saliger” (“late father”), as well as a female sibling and cousins, who seem to be nuns in the abbey of Roosendael.

[6] For this blog I consulted the Heritage Collections in Antwerp (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, Museum Plantin-Moretus, and Ruusbroecgenootschap), the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels, and the digital copies that are available on Google Books.

[7] “Schenkingsakte ten belope van 600 fl., na het overlijden van Peter Melijn te overhandigen aan het klooster van de dominicanessen, waar zijn dochter Maria Barbara Melijn was geprofest. 1670.” See K. Van Honacker, Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht (Antwerpen: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002; identification number: BE–A0511/Y1/010).

[8] Announcement of the deceased by the civil registry in Ghent in Den vaderlander, 26, Thursday 1 March 1832, p. 4.

[9] U. Berlière and others, eds, Monasticon Belge, 8 vols(Maredsous: Abbaye de Maredsous, 1890–1993), vii (1977–89): Province de Flandre Orientale, 1028 and 1061–62.

[10] Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875), col. 1055.

The Bible (1589) [Geneva Bible]

The 1589 Geneva Bible featured today is bound in contemporary leather with a 1591 edition of The Whole Booke of Psalms and signed five different times by female reader Jane Horsley. Like many 16th-century books, it contains layers of ownership inscriptions from various eras.

Jane, who has repeated her inscription (“Jane Horsley Booke 168[1 or 4] / Jane Horsley booke 1679”) twice above one of the woodcut ornaments, was the earliest owner to date the book. Absent any earlier inscriptions, it is difficult to say whether she acquired the then 90-year-old Bible as a secondhand purchase or inherited it from a family member.

As with most of the female book owners featured within this blog, her identity is ambiguous. We know she cannot be the Jane Reay of Newcastle who married John Horsley of Milburne Grange in 1699, as our Jane used the surname Horsley as early as 1679.

Subsequent inscriptions can sometimes be a clue to an earlier female owner’s identity, but in Jane’s case the Hansons are almost certainly unrelated. One page covered in genealogical records, some faded and others clear, reads in part:

Grace Hanson Born July 3[d?] day 1724 and babtizd July 3[?]

Samuell Hanson born [M]arch 16 1726 and babtizd M[ar]ch 31

Rachel Hanson Born Febr.y 25 1727/8 and babtizd march 16

Fanny Hanson Born June 21 1731 died 6 Mar.

Jon Hanson Born about midle of February January 1733-4

Joshua Hanson Book Bought on ye year of our Lord 1729

On the verso of the divisional New Testament title page, yet another inscription reads “John Iles and for yor[?]. Beneath it is a line to indicate a separation and the inscription “John Iles Borne June y 25 and Baptized July 2nd 1714.” Further down the page is another inscription by Joshua Hanson, “If any one upon me loke I am Joshua Hanson Book ~ ~ .” It is possible that Jane Horsley could have married an Iles, though probably likelier that the book had left her possession sometime in the roughly thirty-year period between the 1680s and 1714.

The book remained in the Hanson family early into the 20th century, when it was gifted to the Cheales family. From the bookseller’s description:

The bookplate of Samuel Hanson (1804-1882) bears the family crest and logo, Deo favente et sedulitate (By the favour of God and by assiduity). Samuel passed it onto his son Sir Reginald Hanson (1840-1905) on the 5th of December 1880. Sir Reginald Hanson was a conservative MP and elected Lord Mayor of London in 1886 during which time Queen Victoria celebrated her Jubilee year. Having previously been knighted, in 1887 he entertained Her Majesty and was created a Baronet. The Bible was gifted by Lady Hanson to the Cheales family on July 14, 1905, three months after Sir Reginald passed away. It has remained with the Cheales family until now. 

Samuel, the second child recorded in the family genealogy, therefore inherited the book from his father Joshua and passed it onto his own son Reginald two years before his death.

While it is true that more recent book owners tend to be easier to identity, it also cannot be denied that male book owners are, as a whole, easier to identify than female. Even John Iles can be identified and is linked to the Hanson family. In 1723, the widow Grace Iles (née Mallory) married Joshua Hanson. She was married in 1713 to an Iles; hence the June 25th birth of John Iles in 1714. Remarkably, the Hanson family Bible is mentioned in the first volume of Yorkshire Notes and Queries (1888), page 156. It is likely that Sir Reginald Hanson made it available to the editor of the book.

It is splendid to have so much information about the Iles and Hanson families, but frustrating to be unable to easily find the same basic biographical data for Jane. Despite writing her name on the book’s title page, her identity disappears amid the other ownership markings.

Source: Book offered for sale by Archives Fine Books (Brisbane) in November 2022. Images used with permission.

Guðbrandur Þorláksson, Ein ný húspostilla (1597)

By Charlotte Epple

In the Catalogue of Scandinavian Books in the British Library Printed Before 1801, librarian Peter Hogg remarks that, regarding Iceland, “it is noteworthy that a higher proportion of the owners than in any other country were women.”[1] Ownership inscriptions of women are indeed common in early Icelandic prints of any library. You can find many by clicking through digitized books in the repository of the National and University Library of Iceland.

One book I came across there contains a striking full-page painted ownership mark. Colourful interlocking rings containing the initials S. T. D. fill out the verso side of the front flyleaf of a copy of Ein ný húspostilla (“a new house postil”).

This collection of devotional texts was published in 1597 by bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson, a crucial figure in the history of printing in Iceland. Most books from this period are religious works, usually small octavo editions on poor quality paper, reflecting the scarcity of resources in this fairly remote print shop. This húspostilla is no different. It is stained, creased, and mended at the edges – traces of heavy use over centuries.

The book was given this leather binding in 1773, according to an inscription on the front pastedown: “Þesse goda bök er nu a ny innbunden Anno 1773 19. Jan” (This good book is now newly bound Anno 1773 19 Jan).

The ownership mark contains only initials, but even from those it is immediately clear that this was a woman’s book. Most Icelanders don’t have family names, instead using their fathers’ first names with the suffix –son or –dóttir (‘daughter’). The D. therefore indicates a feminine name. A note on the preceding page, signed and dated 1779 at Reykhólar, gives us her full name, Sigríður Teitsdóttir. She can be identified as the daughter of Margrét Jónsdóttir and Teitur Arason, sýslumaður (a kind of local offical) of Barðastrandarsýsla, an administrative district covering the southernmost part of the Westfjords region of Iceland. The family lived at Reykhólar, a small cluster of farms, where Sigríður was born in the early eighteenth century.[2]

The painted bookplate was likely made for Sigríður by her son-in-law, the painter, bookbinder, and scribe Hjálmar Þorsteinsson. A very similar design featuring the same interlocking rings can be spotted on the title page of the manuscript JS 162 fol, dated 1783.[3]

He probably made the bookplate a few years earlier, since the dedication in Sigríður’s own, rather shaky handwriting tells us that she bequeathed the book to her son Jochum Jónsson in 1779: “Þessa Postillu gjef Jeg underskrifud syne mijnum elskulegum Jochum Jons syne og -óska hann lese hana og […]. Reykholum þann 27. Augusti Anno 1779. Sigridur Teitsdotter” (This postil I, the signatory, give to my beloved son Jochum Jónsson and wish that he may read it and […]. Reykhólar, August 27th 1779. Sigríður Teitsdóttir).[4]

The dedication in Sigríður’s own hand

Another note on the inside of the front cover, made 80 years earlier, indicates that the book had previously belonged to Eggert Snæbjörnsson, Sigríður’s maternal grandfather.

Inscriptions from three different centuries, including a pencil note stating that the book was restored in 1914

Her family was clearly well-off economically, and Sigríður herself went on to marry a vicar. It is therefore likely that there were many books in the family. Incidentally, a number of Icelandic manuscripts can be linked to her male relatives.[5] This húspostilla shows that there wasn’t just a household library, but that she also had her own personal books. Her name also shows up in a copy of the 1766 edition of Meditationes passionales, today in the British Library.[6] There may very well be more of her books out there, dispersed across libraries in Iceland and elsewhere.

Source: Copy Í252Þór digitised by the National and University Library of Iceland, permalink: https://baekur.is/bok/277502e2-849a-4f16-b631-89af3713a293. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Bogi Benediktsson á Staðarfelli. Sýslumannaæfir 2. Reykjavík: Hið Islenzka bókmentafélag, I prentsmiðju Einars þórðarsonar, 1881. https://archive.org/details/sslumannafir00orgoog.

Hogg, Peter. Catalogue of Scandinavian Books in the British Library Printed Before 1801 3. London: British Library, 2007.

Jón Jónsson. Meditationes Passionales, Edur Pijslar Hugvekjur […]. Hólar í Hjaltadal, 1766 [copy belonging to the British Library, shelfmark: General Reference Collection 866.l.4.].

National and University Library of Iceland. “JS 260 Fol.” https://handrit.is/manuscript/view/is/JS02-0162 [digital catalogue entry]


[1] Peter Hogg, Catalogue of Scandinavian Books in the British Library Printed Before 1801 3 (London: British Library, 2007), p. xix.

[2] For an overview of Sigríður’s family tree, see Bogi Benediktsson á Staðarfelli, Sýslumannaæfir 2 (Reykjavík: Hið Islenzka bókmentafélag, I prentsmiðju Einars þórðarsonar, 1881), accessed October 30, 2022, https://archive.org/details/sslumannafir00orgoog, 122–25.

[3] “JS 260 Fol.” accessed November 1, 2022, https://handrit.is/manuscript/view/is/JS02-0162 [digital catalogue entry]. The manuscript contains bishop’s sagas and the illustration is located at the bottom of the title page.

[4] Author’s transcription and translation, names normalized to Modern Icelandic spelling in the English version.

[5] According to the registry of names associated with manuscripts in the joint online catalogue handrit.is, the following number of provenances are recorded for members of her family: Eggert Snæbjörnsson: 2, Teitur Arason: 1, Hjálmar Þorsteinsson: 10. There are no manuscripts recorded as belonging to Sigríður herself or female members of her family.

[6] Jón Jónsson, Meditationes Passionales, Edur Pijslar Hugvekjur […] (Hólar í Hjaltadal, 1766 [copy belonging to the British Library, shelfmark: General Reference Collection 866.l.4.]).

The Worckes of Thomas Becon (1564)

by Jake Arthur

In the hunt for women’s marginalia, the libraries of one of the oldest colleges in Oxford is not the likeliest port of call. Unlike more recently established institutions, many of these august libraries acquired their early modern books at the time of their initial publication. If those volumes were thumbed—or, more to the point, annotated—it was by Merton students, dons, and scholars; and as most Oxford and Cambridge colleges did not admit women until the twentieth century, all of these would have been men.

But in the hunt for women’s marginalia, there is also such a thing as hidden gems. As part of the Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530–1660, led by Professor Rosalind Smith (ANU), we were fortunate enough to consult all the English-language volumes in our research period held at Merton College, Oxford. Among the many volumes annotated by men, there are several annotated by women which must have passed through hands outside the college environment before making their way to Merton.

One of these gems is The worckes of Thomas Becon (1564), a Protestant reformer. At first glance this appears to be exactly the kind of volume that would not have women’s marginalia; it is a large, expensive folio very much in keeping with the kind of acquisitions Merton and its fellows made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Its initial annotations are in a strong secretary hand with tendencies suggestive of a male reader, such as a strong command of Latin. Nonetheless, under an imposing portrait of Becon, we find the repeated signatures of one ‘Elizabeth Groom’.

sig. AAAAiv, t.p. verso of ‘The thyrd parte of the Bookes’

Alongside her five signatures and some of her initials, we also find what looks to be a set of hastily written musical notation, using the lines of the decorated plinth illustrated on the recto side as a kind of makeshift stave. Additionally, we get under another of Elizabeth’s signatures, her same hand writing the name of the volume’s author in majuscules almost as imposing as the portrait above it: THOMAS BECON.

All this is compelling enough, but the hand of these italic signatures seem likely to match a piece of marginalia earlier in the volume, one that like the stave notation also suggest a musical inclination.

On fol. cclxvii (verso) of The Sickemans salve, containing religious and moral instruction to sinners, we find what appears to be Elizabeth Groom (the only italic hand in the volume) extracting lines of verse.

fol. cclxvii (verso) of The Sickemans Salve

The text is partly crossed out but it reads:

Ioy to the person of my loue though her do me disdaine
Fixt are my thoughts and cannot be remoued but
Still i loue in vaine oh shall i loose the sight
of my ioy and harts delight or shall i sease my
sute oh or shall i sttrive to tuch oh it ware to much
[she is forbid]en frut

These lines read like an amorous complaint poem, with a lovesick male suitor pining for his unavailable beloved. That the verses appear here under a section of Sick Mannes salve about sin and the desire for redemption seems incongruous. After all, Becon instructs the reader on how to rid oneself of sin, not how to pine for it. And yet, the verses explore the kinds of sin that might make one turn to counsel in the first place. Indeed the last line’s reference to ‘forbidden fruit’ introduces an element of religious interdiction that might send one, chastened, to read their Becon.

As the photo above shows, the last line of the marginalia has been cut off, probably due to rebinding. The reason we can reconstruct it is that the verses originate from a popular ballad that also came to be collected in later books of song. The ballad is represented multiple times in the excellent English Broadside Ballad Archive, where it is dated between 1609-1632; that website contains a performance of how the ballad would have sounded (link). The ballad was one of many songs collected in the 1662 Cantus, Songs and Fancies compiled by T.D. (likely Thomas Davidson).

Why did Elizabeth Groom use a folio volume of devotional instruction to write down these ballad verses? Did the large print volume simply offer attractively ample margins? Or did she perhaps choose this page because of its counterbalancing moral instruction, or because its printed marginal reference to Psalm 130—an archetypal religious complaint—chimed with the plaintive sentiments of the ballad?

Other tantalizing questions arise, too. Was she writing the ballad down from memory, as perhaps would explain her erratic approach to lineation? Or was she instead copying it down from a broadside or perhaps a book of collected songs?

These verses must have felt valuable enough to Elizabeth to be worth copying, collecting, and preserving in this way. This is itself interesting, especially because the ballad is clearly written from a male persona to a female beloved. Are we, then, to interpret Elizabeth as imagining herself the forbidden fruit desired by a male beloved; or is she perhaps using the ballad to imagine herself in the agential position of the male speaker and desirer, bringing suits and striving to touch? After all, we know from women’s manuscript songbooks that women tended to collect and perform both male- and female-persona lyrics.[1] We can only speculate that part of the appeal of these other-gendered verses was the ludic and perhaps emancipatory possibility of women singing oneself into other minds and circumstances, including male ones.

Marginalia are a window into a person’s mind. Annotations on a page show a mind at the work of reading and responding to reading. Other marginal marks are still more spectral; they can hint at an emotional state, like the boredom of a doodle, or the determination of practicing a signature. The marginalia in this volume are a burst of readerly life in the middle of a grey disquisition against sin: it evokes the enjoyment of music, the heartache of rejection, the imagining of desiring or being desired—no less than ‘joy’ and ‘disdain’ within one line.

There is a trove of interest in Merton College Library, but Elizabeth Groom’s sparky verses are a singularly unexpected find. We are lucky to have found her.

We would like to acknowledge The Warden and Fellows of Merton College Oxford for allowing us access to the archive and for the generous use of these images.

Source: Merton College Oxford, shelfmark 12.E.6. Images by Jake Arthur, reproduced with permission.


[1] Jake Arthur & Sarah C. E. Ross (2022) “‘Presenting a Book to Orinda’: Anne Twice, Katherine Philips, and John Oldham in New York Public Library, Drexel MS 4175,” The Seventeenth Century, 37:4, 565-589, DOI: 10.1080/0268117X.2021.1969999, cf. page 4.

William Watt, The Principles of Christian Religion Explained (1731)

First published in 1699, the Principles of the Christian Religion Explained by William Wake (1657-1737), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1716, would become one of the most popular catechistical works of the period. About twenty editions were published through the eighteenth century, including in French translation, and editions continued to appear into the early decades of the nineteenth century. As the title-page inscription on this copy indicates, Catharine Clarke bought this fifth edition (1731) from Daniel Shatford on April 25, 1743, for four shillings and six pence. The evidence of date, price, and source of purchase usefully fills out the scene of acquisition. The primary missing component is place: but other inscriptions in the book suggest that Catharine Clarke and Daniel Shatford both lived in Colonial America and that the likely site for this transaction was New York City.

An inscription on the recto of the first free endpaper reads: “Lemuel Bingham His Book Novm.–11–1819 Bought by me in Boston about four years ago” followed by “4/6” or 4 shillings and six pence: Bingham evidently paid the same price for the book that Clarke had paid more than seventy years earlier. The “Boston” here is Boston, Massachusetts, not Boston, Lincolnshire: Lemuel Bingham (1795-1885) was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A printer by trade, he remained in Massachusetts until 1820, when he moved to North Carolina to work as a newspaper editor; he would remain there until his death, eventually establishing newspapers in several towns in the state.[1]

A dated inscription by a different owner on the opening page of Watt’s dedication (A2r), “EC Edw Carnean’s 1805,” aligns with a Massachusetts provenance: an Edward Carnean was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1775.[2]

Other early inscriptions on the second free endpaper feature names too common to be identifiable: “john burk is Book god giv em grace var in to Lo[ok]” (recto) and “Joseph Johnson His Book” (verso).

But the man from whom Catharine Clarke purchased the book is identifiable: Daniel Shatford was a merchant in New York City who appears in many mid-eighteenth-century records, including a legal case involving a “free Molatto woman” employed by Shatford who lived in the attic of his house and who committed suicide while incarcerated on suspicion of murdering her infant son.[3] Described in sources as a merchant, Shatford seems not to have been involved in the book trade: an account in the Rothschild archive in The National Archives details his receipt of a shipment of quicksilver, indigo, wood and turpentine.[4] Either he handled some books on the side as a component of his mercantile activities, or he sold the book to Catharine Clarke simply as a private owner selling a book to somebody he knew.

Catharine Clarke unfortunately is not yet identifiable: archival records reveal women of that name born in the first quarter of the eighteenth century in Boston and New York, as well as in smaller towns in Massachusetts. But here is always the hope that other books signed by her will show up and help narrow down the possible identifications.

Lemuel Bingham, likely the last in the chain of owners who left inscriptions in this book, turned the leaf after recording his ownership and added an admonition to book borrowers: “The pressent owner of this Book requests all those who may borrow it to read it through and then be carefull to return it Imediatly LB.” After a pause he continued, evidently feeling this request on its own insufficient to convey the strength of his opinions on the subject of unreturned books: “N.B. as the subscriber has lost many books, by lending them and not have them returned leads him to give this admonition hoping it may be attended to strictly Novm–11–1819 Lemuel Bingham.”

That the book was purchased at an estate auction in Massachusetts suggests, alas, that it may have slipped from Lemuel’s hands before he left (permanently) for North Carolina the year after he acquired it. The copy remains in its original plain coarse-grained leather binding, possibly sheep rather than calf, with old leather repairs to the spine, well used and a testament to the long-running popularity of Watt’s work.

Source: Book in private collection. All photos reproduced with permission.


[1] Dictionary of North Carolina online: https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/bingham-lemuel.

[2] Ancestrylibrary.com. The transcription of this record in the Ancestry Library database reads “Carmean” but the original document attached to the record reads “Carnean.” The inscription in this copy of Watt could read more conventionally as “Carman” rather than “Carnean,” but the spacing of the strokes suggests “ne” rather than “m.”

[3] See Max Speare, “Slavery, Surveillance, and Carceral Culture in Early New York City” (PhD diss. University of California, Irvine, 2022) 148-52. For other records that mention Shatford, including his marriage in 1735, see Ancestrylibrary.com.

[4] The National Archives (TNA): https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/97766e53-a92b-4ab2-9d98-7bf700ed9007

Madeleine-Angélique de Gomez, La belle assemblée (1732)

Madeleine-Angélique de Gomez (1684–1770) was a highly successful playwright and novelist, whose popularity transcended borders. This is volume two of the third edition of a translation of her work that is especially interesting because it was done by the author Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756); it has recently come to receive attention for its depiction not only of polite society and romance, but also of empire and slavery (Persons).

This particular copy is exciting because it has a female signature in it, and one that possibly belongs to a female owner we featured earlier on this blog, here. In that post, on a copy of George Savile’s The Lady’s New Year’s Gift (1688), I discussed how the dating of the signature and the various other inscriptions in the book allowed us with fair degree of certainty to identify the owner as Mary Brooke (1723-1782), who married Richard Supple (1720-1797) and whose son, Richard Brooke Supple (1758-1829) became a Baronet. The signature looks somewhat similar to the one in this translation of Madame de Gomez’s work, though the capital letters M and B and the letter e look different.

Inscription in Savile’s The Lady’s New Year’s Gift
Inscription in La belle assemblée

Of course someone’s handwriting can change over time, and the date tells us that the inscription in Savile’s book was most likely made when Brooke was still young. It may remain a bit of a mystery whether this is indeed the same owner as the Mary Brooke who inscribed Haywood’s translation. On a back flyleaf of La belle assemblée there is more handwriting to look at, potentially providing more clues.

The writing on these page looks to be in the hand of the Mary Brooke who signed the title page. The passage is copied, as is noted at the top, from Racine’s Athalie, a tragedy published in 1691. It is a speech by Joad, the Jewish high priest, who helps Joash, the rightful heir, regain his throne from the tyranous Athalie. It contains advice to Joash on how to avoid becoming a tyrant, warning against flattery.

The combination of La belle assemblée and Racine’s play show a fascination with French culture and possibly a facility with or an interest in mastering the French language (even though the novella itself is in translation). An ownership inscription and the copied passage are ways of positioning oneself culturally and aligning oneself with particular social groups. Given the choice of passage, it also suggests a political interest that may have affected how Mary Brooke read La belle assemblée.

Our thanks to Dr. Kurtis Kitagawa for photos and descriptions and preliminary research on the female owners of books in his library.

Source: book in private ownership. Photos published with permission.

Further Reading

Annie Persons, “Translation and Empire in Haywood’s La belle assemblée.” In A Spy on Eliza Haywood: Addresses to a Multifarious Writer, edited by Aleksondra Hultquist and Chris Mounsy. New York: Routledge, 2021.

Du Bartas, His Devine Weekes and Workes (1605)

There is a tendency to treat books Seriously with a capital S, whether one is a scholar studying book history or is a book owner oneself, carefully inscribing one’s name on the inside cover or making serious notes in the margin. What we often miss is the playfulness that books can inspire. Rosalind Smith’s work has shown that early women’s books often abound with doodles, scribbles, and other marginal ‘trifles.’

This 1605 edition of Joshua Sylvester’s translation of Du Bartas’s Devine Weekes and Works is imperfect, lacking the title page and indeed the entire quire A, and beginning only on leaf B2. As we well know, most owners signed their names toward the front of their books on pastedowns, title pages, and flyleaves, so if this copy was once signed in this way, all of that provenance is long gone.

However, one reader made her lasting mark on page 528 in a circa eighteenth-century hand: “Ann Davis her hand and pen Shee Will bee good but god Knows When and[?].”

This kind of rhyming ownership inscription was not uncommon with eighteenth-century book owners, both male and female. What I love about this variation, which I’ve seen before, is its cheekiness. Like the title of Suzanne Hull’s bibliography of books marketed to women, women in this time period—and well beyond—were expected to be “chaste, silent, and obedient.” Davis’s jocular inscription seems to announce, ‘I’m capable of living up to the expectations for my sex, but you may be waiting awhile!’

Ann made another annotation on page 612: “I love thy pure lily hand / Soft and Smooth.” These are the first two lines of the end stanza to ‘An Ode of the Loue and Beauty of Astraea.’ Did these lines particularly strike her or was she simply echoing them out of boredom or a desire to practice her script?

Due to the commonness of her name, Ann’s identity is a mystery. Something about the irregularity of her hand suggests a young girl to me, perhaps between the ages of eleven and fourteen, still perfecting her handwriting and fashioning an identity for herself. In any case, her rough, playful inscription is the antipode of the meticulous calligraphic ownership inscriptions we have previously featured on the website.

Source: Book offered for sale by Rare Tome in April 2022 and since sold. Images used with permission. UPDATE: Molly Yarn has confirmed that the book has now found a permanent home in the Rasmussen Hines Collection. Thank you, Molly!

Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1651)

Appearing in eight editions (plus additional issues) between 1621 and 1676, seven of them in folio, Robert Burton’s expansive and erudite Anatomy of Melancholy was a seventeenth-century publishing phenomenon. A copy of the 1651 edition of Burton’s Anatomy, held by the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island (shelfmark PR 2223.A1 1651), is the first to appear on the EMFBO site.[1] Furthermore, the evidence here of early modern female book ownership is but one of this book’s several interesting features—including the only known manuscript copy of Katherine Philips’ song “Pompey’s Ghost” in a seventeenth-century printed book or made by a seventeenth-century woman.

The Redwood copy is in a modern binding and lacks the frontispiece and title-page, but it retains two original flyleaves and the half-title that precedes the now missing frontispiece.[2] The earliest provenance appears on the recto of the second of the two flyleaves, where Pleasant Rawlins has enthusiastically inscribed her full name four times: “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book”; “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book Aprill the 1 day 16**” [second line of inscription obliterated and date trimmed]; “Pleasant Rawlins her book / Aprill ye 1 day 1672” [entire inscription obliterated]; and, at the bottom of the page, “Pleasant Rawlins her book.”

Second flyleaf recto (top)
Second flyleaf recto (middle)

She subsequently re-inscribed her name in an accomplished calligraphic hand on the recto of the first flyleaf, the inscription oriented vertically on the page: “Mrs Pleasant Biker / her booke / Aprill Idus Mensis pridie [the day before the Ides of April, i.e. April 12] Anno Domine 1676.”

First flyleaf recto

The obliterations of the two dated “Rawlins” entries look likely to be by Rawlins herself, possibly prompted by her addition of the re-dated inscription under her married name. The same hand has obliterated two instances of the name “John” on the “Rawlins” inscription page, in the same ink and probably at the same time as the other obliterations. On the top left of the “Biker” page, also oriented vertically, is another inscription, probably not by Rawlins/Biker but still early and possibly missing some text due to paper repairs. Difficult to decipher, it reads like a quotation but remains untraced: “[?Jan*** pa**] / I shall Endeavour for the future / To have \no/ constant indareance between us / by Letter.”

Pleasant Rawlins and Mrs Pleasant Biker are the same person: Pleasant Rawlins, daughter of William and Katherine Rawlins, was baptised in the parish of St Botolph Without Aldgate in London on February 1, 1652. She married Samuel Biker (d.1685) at some point between April 1672 (the date of her “Rawlins” inscription) and 1674, the year her daughter Pleasant Biker (d.1696) was baptised, also in St Botolph Without Aldgate, on August 30. Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker died in early 1685, the same year as her husband, and was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on January 12 of that year, at the age of thirty-two.[3]

Pleasant Rawlins was a young woman of twenty when she first inscribed her copy of Burton’s Anatomy. The Latin in her 1676 inscription as well as her practised use of Italic and calligraphic hands, not to mention her ownership of a work like Burton’s Anatomy, suggests a certain level of education. In addition, the thirty-line poem she has copied in the book, beginning on the “Rawlins” inscription page (in the same hand and ink as her signature at the bottom of the page) and continuing onto the facing verso of the preceding flyleaf, suggests a fashionably current literary sensibility. Beginning “From lasting and unclouded Day,” the poem is an extract, often known as “Pompey’s Ghost,” from Katherine Philips’s play Pompey, her translation of Pierre Corneille’s tragedy La mort de Pompeé. “Pompey’s Ghost” is one of the newly written songs Philips innovatively added to the translated play.

The version copied by Rawlins reads:[4]

[second flyleaf recto]

From lasting and unclouded Day,
From joys refin’d above allay
And from a Spring without decay.
I come by Cynthia’s borrow’d bems
To visit my Cornelia’s Drems,
And give them yet sublimer Thems.

Second flyleaf recto

[first flyleaf verso, oriented vertically]

Behold the Man thou love’dst before
Pure streams have wash’d away his Gore
And Pompey now shall bleed no more.
By Death my Glory I resume,
For ’twould have been a harsher doom
T’ outlive the Liberty of Rome.
By me her doubtfull fortune try’d
Falling, bequeaths my Fame this Pride
I for it lived and with it Dy’d.
Nor shall my Vengeance bee withstood
Nor unattempted, with a Flood
off Roman and Egitptian blood.
Cesar himselfe it shall pursue
his days shall troubled bee & few
And hee shall dye by treason too.
hee by severity Divine
shallbee an offring att my shrine
As I was his hee must bee mine
Thy stormy life Ile regrett noe more
For Fate shall waft the soone ashore
[And to thy Pompey the restore]
There none a Guilty Crowne shall weare
nor Cesar bee Dictator there
nor shall Cornelia shed one teare

First flyleaf verso

Rawlins has omitted from Philips’ original the penultimate three-line stanza, probably for reasons of space: working around some pen trials already on the page, she changed hands halfway through the first line of the sixth stanza from her elegant italic to a more cramped secretary, squeezing stanzas six and seven onto the lower half of the left side, then squeezing stanzas eight and nine onto the lower half of the right side (in stanza nine, the final line has been trimmed in rebinding and the final words of the first two lines are covered by a paper repair), then adding the final stanza in an empty space above, breaking up lines to make it fit. The omitted stanza reads, in Philips’ original, “Where past the fears of sad removes / We’l entertain our spotless Loves, / In beauteous, and Immortal Groves.” Rawlins has bracketed stanzas eight and nine, adding an unfortunately illegible (and possibly trimmed) word in the margin (?*eib*).

Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker and her husband Samuel both died in 1685, in London: Samuel was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on February 21, about six weeks after his wife. At some point that same year, the next owner of this copy of Burton’s Anatomy bought it in a location a world away: an inscription across the top of the book’s half-title reads, “Benjamin Newberry Ejus Liber Bought att / Port Royall In Jamaica 1685.” This is probably Benjamin Newberry (c.1653-1711), of Newport, Rhode Island.

Half-title

The Newberrys were a prominent merchant family in Newport and would likely have had trade dealings in Jamaica; the Newport connection could also explain the current presence of the book in the Redwood Library & Athenaeum. The same page features one additional later signature, the (untraced) “Robert Morton / 1828.” If this copy of Burton remained in the possession of the Rawlins/Biker family until the deaths of Pleasant and then Samuel in early 1685, it soon made its way into the hands of somebody with an entrepreneurial sense of the potential transatlantic market for used books. While other copies of Burton’s Anatomy are documented in America in the seventeenth century, including at least one owned by a woman,[8] this book may represent the earliest text by Katherine Philips to make its way across the Atlantic.

Source: Redwood Library & Athenaeum, call number PR 2223.A1 1651. Photos reproduced with permission.


[1] I would like to thank Michelle Farias, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, for drawing this book to my attention during a visit there in January 2022, and Victoria Burke and Elizabeth Hageman for their comments on early versions of this note.

[2] Because the title-page is missing, the holding library has catalogued the copy on the basis of its colophon, dated 1651 (sig. 4A4r). The same colophon appears in the 1652 re-issue, which differs only in its re-dated title-page: the copy may therefore represent the 1652 re-issue (Wing B6182) rather than the 1651 edition (Wing B6181).

[3] The genealogical data presented here all derives from records found in ancestrylibrary.com. This Pleasant Rawlins is not to be confused with her niece, also Pleasant Rawlins (b.1684), who was the teenaged victim of a notorious 1702 case of heiress abduction and forced marriage regarded as a source for Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: see Beth Swan, “Clarissa Harlowe, Pleasant Rawlins, and Eighteenth-Century Discourses of Law,” Eighteenth-Century Novel 1 (2001), 71-93.

[4] Long ‘s’ and initial ‘ff’ regularized, abbreviations silently expanded, and a false start on one stanza omitted.

[5] Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 182.

[6] Salzman, 187-90; Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 (CELM), PsK 575-77; John Cunningham, “Songs Lost and Found: Katherine Philips’s ‘Pompey’s Ghost’,” Music and Letters, advance article 20 May 2022.

[7] The Folger Union First Line Index of English Verse lists five manuscript copies; CELM adds two, one now lost (PsK 578-80); Cunningham, incorporating ongoing research by Nathan Tinker, adds seven more, all copied in the USA in the eighteenth century (20-23). For a study of manuscript copying of other work by Philips by early modern women, see Victoria E. Burke, “The Couplet and the Poem: Late Seventeenth-Century Women Reading Katherine Philips,” Women’s Writing 24.3 (2017), 280-97.

[8] Charles Heventhal Jr., “Robert Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ in Early America,” PBSA 63.3 (1969), 157-75.  Heventhal notes that a copy of the 1632 edition is described in the 1870 catalogue of the Thomas Prince library as signed “Sarah Standish” (159-60). Prince bequeathed his library to Boston’s Old South Church in 1758, and this could be any one of several Sarah Standishes who lived in the New England settlements between the mid-seventeenth century and the date of Prince’s death. The Prince library is currently held by the Boston Public Library, but this copy of Burton’s Anatomy seems no longer to be present in the collection.

The Holy Bible (1648)

Featured today is a 1648 King James Bible with the initialed binding of seventeenth-century owner Anne Sheather and signed by her on the verso of the divisional New Testament title page.

Many, though not all, Bible owners reserved their best handwriting for the sacred text. Here, Anne Sheather tries out two different styles, a form of blackletter for her uppermost signature and a stylized italic hand for the lower: “Anne sheather / her booke; i674.” The signatures are underlined and accented with calligraphic scrollwork.

What strikes me as even more remarkable is that the contemporary initialed binding suggest that the book was chiefly owned by Anne. The elaborate gilt-tooled boards feature a centerpiece flanked by the initials “AS.” There are holes in the boards where metal clasps once were, further confirming that this was not an inexpensive binding and suggesting that Anne may have been a woman of some financial means.

Her identity, however, is uncertain. An Ann Sheather seems to have been born around 1631 in Sussex to a Henry Sheather, although sources are conflicted about the surname of her mother. Variants of the name (Shether, Sheether) similarly lead to dead ends.

In any case, it is an interesting example of both female book ownership and binding, and sheds just a little more light on how women valued and interacted with their Bibles in the seventeenth century.

Source: Book offered for sale by Humber Books in May 2022. Images used with permission.