Madame de Villedieu, The Exiles of the Court of Augustus Caesar (1726)


This 1726 English translation of Madame de Villedieu’s Exilez de la Cour d’Auguste has two inscriptions from a female owner named Anna Sourhouse. The second appears on leaf G1r and includes Anna’s middle name, Maria. Madame de Villedieu was a 17th-century writer and her Exilez de la Cour d’Auguste, which first appeared in print in 1673, is not a history but a work of fiction.

Source: This book offered for sale by Roger Middleton, 1/7/19. Images used with permission.


Thomas Bayly, Herba Parietis or The Wallflower (1650)

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Thomas Bayly (or Bayley) was the fourth son of Lewis Bayly, who wrote The Practice of Piety, the hugely popular devotional work. He became involved in Civil War controversies, claiming he was present at a failed attempt to convert Charles I to Catholicism. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Bayly was imprisoned in Newgate after having blamed London for the execution of Charles in a work called The Royal Charter (1649). In prison, he wrote Herba Parietis, a romance work with political overtones. This copy was owned by a woman called Ann Roodhowe: “Ann Roodhowe tis my Name / and with my pen I wrote the same / and if my Pen it had been better ‘twould / have mended every Seller [?].”

Book sold on eBay by Wisdom Pedlars. Twitter posting by @wisdompedlars 11/2/2018.

“Bayly, Thomas (d. c. 1657), Church of England Clergyman and Roman Catholic Controversialist,” by Thompson Cooper, revised by Stephen Wright, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004,


The Holy Bible (1628)

Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5
Harvard Library, Cambridge, MA, USA, STC 2283.5. (I’ve shown the back first because it’s in slightly better shape than the front.)

You’ll probably see a lot of bibles as this blog grows, and at least three women signed their names to this one. The earliest signature belongs to Judith Martin, who must have received and inscribed her copy shortly after it was printed in 1628:


Judeth Martin her
booke, by the gift
of her Brother,
Jos. Andrewe.
Jan: 15th. 1628

Elizabeth Sherod seems to have acquired the book later.

It’s not immediately apparent who created the beautiful embroidered binding, but it is tempting to think it is Judith’s own work.


Note the gilt and gauffered edges, too.

The nineteenth-century signature is a bit trickier, although “Her Book” is very clear. Any guesses?

Houghton STC 2283.5 flyleaf


Source: The Holy Bible (1628). STC STC 2283.5, sig. A1r, endleaf, and binding. Houghton Library, Cambridge, MA, USA. Photographed by Erin A. McCarthy.

Richard Sibbes, A Glance of Heaven (1638)

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By Jenny-Lyn de Klerk

One of my favorite things to discover in the Allison Library’s rare books collection at Regent College (Vancouver, BC, Canada)—even better than pressed flowers and funny marginalia—are signatures from women. As a woman studying the Puritans in her doctoral degree and working with their books as Regent’s Puritan Project Assistant, I find there is something especially heartening and heartwarming about finding signs of female ownership of antiquarian Puritan books. Books I have bought or borrowed, studied or skimmed, written an interpretation of or had my heart interpreted by, have not only been used by me, but women throughout history. Just like them, I may never be famous during my lifetime or remembered long after it, but the comfort, joy, and truth I find in books from Puritans like Sibbes, Burroughs, and Bunyan, have been and will be experienced by many other women.

Sibbes, who is known for emphasizing the biblical metaphor of marriage between Christ and the church, wrote this book to help believers understand and experience the good things God prepared for them. Not surprisingly, he devotes many pages to the concept of love, saying it is “above all other affections, because love is the commanding affection of the soul. It is that affection that rules all other affections. Hatred, and anger, and joy, and delight, and desire, they all spring from love; and because all duties spring from love both to God and man, therefore both tables [of the Ten Commandments] are included in love… it is such an affection as cannot be dissembled… love is the very best affection of truth… without this, all that we do is nothing, and we are nothing… all is empty without love” (pp. 154-157). This first edition not only has a beautiful frontispiece engraving, but also signatures from two women: “Ellinor Grame har book” and “Mary Cawdwell Har Book may 1712 mary Cawdwell.”

Source: currently being catalogued at the Allison Library, Regent College. Photographs by Jenny-Lyn de Klerk.

Dorothy Leigh, The Mother’s Blessing (1640)


By Emily Fine

This 1640 edition of Dorothy Leigh’s popular book The Mothers Blessing contains the names Elizabeth Bewe and Thomas Bewe, as well as two short inscriptions by Elizabeth that identify the book as her own. The first inscription, on the verso side of the title page, reads, “Elizabeth Bewe is my name and with my pen I wrote the Same an if my pen had been better I had write every letter.” The second inscription states “Elizabeth Bewe her Booke God Give Grace therin to looke and when the bell for her doth toll Lord Jesus Christ Receve her Soule Amen” (A6r).

Source: Dorothy Leigh, The Mothers Blessing (1640). STC 15408, title page verso, A6r, M11v, and M12v. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Photographed by Emily Fine.

Aristotle, Operum… philosophorum omnium longè principis noua editio, Graecè & Latiné, ed. Isaac Casaubon (Geneva, 1590)

Micha Lazarus, Trinity College, University of Cambridge


Not a female owner, but a remarkable inscription in memory of a remarkable woman. Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley (1526-1589) was the second wife of William Cecil – probably the most powerful and certainly the longest serving of Elizabeth’s ministers. Mildred’s father, Sir Anthony Cooke, gave his daughters an even better humanist education than his sons. The Cooke sisters were true intellectual aristocracy. Mildred was renowned for her Greek, which she was reputed to speak as fluently as English. She translated several works, including a sermon by St Basil; on one occasion she praised the hospitality of St John’s College, Cambridge (which William Cecil had attended) by writing the fellows a letter in Greek.

She used her standing to gather around her a strong intellectual community, and built up one of England’s finest private scholarly libraries. After her death on 4 April, 1589, some of her books were distributed, as she had ordered, to Christ Church in Oxford, St John’s in Cambridge, and Westminster school. Other books of hers survive at Hatfield House, including some she had acquired from Roger Ascham and his circle of Cambridge humanists.

Mildred Cecil didn’t live to see Isaac Casaubon’s great volume of Aristotle’s complete works, the first bilingual edition to be published. But this copy bears her name nonetheless. The title page is inscribed:

Ex dono Gulielmi Caecilij Baronis
Burghlei ob memoriam Mildredae
vxoris defunctae

[‘A gift of William Cecil, Baron Burghley, in memory of his deceased wife Mildred’]

The title page also bears an old shelfmark, ‘F.4.1’, and a few other inscriptions, none of which can be traced with certainty: Deus prouidebit [‘God will provide’], Alienum est omne quicquid optando uenit [‘Everything that comes [to you] by your own wish is not your own’, from Seneca’s Epistles 8], and in Greek, μητὲ μέλι μητὲ μελίσσας ἀνεὺ πόνου [‘neither honey nor bees without labour’, adapted from Sappho, fragment 113, which became proverbial]. Nor can we be sure who received the gift. Doubtless it was given to an institution, but mottoes of this kind are normally the work of individuals rather than libraries.

The volume was printed in March 1590, so it must have been donated at least a year after Mildred passed away. Two other books, now at Trinity and Sidney Sussex colleges in Cambridge, have bookplates that show they were likewise donated by Cecil in her memory. He must have kept making donations in his wife’s name for a year or two.

Cecil was devastated by Mildred’s death; he arranged a lavish funeral for her featuring more than 300 mourners, and wrote a moving epitaph at Westminster Abbey. Perhaps Casaubon’s magnificent new Graeco-Latin Aristotle was another collegiate purchase, enabled by gifts Cecil left them to continue Mildred’s lifelong support of classical scholarship. No less than her funeral, Cecil would have seen this magnificent edition as testament to her learning as well as the ‘harty love which I did beare hir, with whom I lyved in the state of matrimony forty and tow yers contynually without any unkyndnes’.

Source: Harvard, Houghton Library, shelfmark f *56-1812. Photographs by Micha Lazarus.


Allen, Gemma, The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).

Bowden, Caroline, ‘The Library of Mildred Cooke Cecil, Lady Burghley’, in Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550-1700, Volume 1: Early Tudor Women Writers, ed. Elaine V. Beilin (Farnham, 2009), 399-425.

Croft, Pauline, ‘Mildred, Lady Burghley: The Matriarch’, in Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils, ed. Pauline Croft (New Haven, London, 2002), 283-300.

Selwyn, Pamela, ‘An Armorial Binding of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley’, in The Founders’ Library, University of Wales, Lampeter: Bibliographical and Contextual Studies: Essays in Memory of Robin Rider, ed. William Marx, Trivium, 29-30 (Lampeter, 1997), 65-78.

Roger Boyle, Parthenissa, That Most Fam’d Romance (1676)

In a 1676 edition of Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, That Most Fam’d Romance, currently offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, is the early armorial bookplate of a woman reader, Cary Coke, née Newton. The bookplate features the impaled arms of Coke (1680–1707) and her husband, Edward, and reads “Cary Coke Wife of Edward Coke of Norfolk 1701.”


Her accompanying inscription on the front paste-down reads “C Coke /168/.” An inscription above that, apparently in the same hand, says “K s Y.”

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The Cokes resided at the manor of Hill Hall in Holkham, which was later supplanted by Holkham Hall, built by the their son Thomas. Hill Hall contained a substantial ancestral library, and Cary Coke appears to have singled out at least some of its books for her own. A 1922 essay, “Some Notes Upon the Manuscript Library at Holkham,” published in The Library by C.W. James, Holkham Hall’s librarian, describes Coke as a “pretty young wife” whose bookplate in several of the library’s illuminated manuscripts attests to her “pleasure” in them. In her 1908 book Coke of Norfolk and His Friends: The Life of Thomas William Coke, First Earl of Leicester of Holkham, A.M.W. Stirling, a descendant of the Cokes, remarks upon Coke’s “dainty volumes” and the “little labels” she placed in therein. The distinctly feminine characterization of Coke’s book ownership by James and Stirling is curious.

Both Parthenissa‘s late 17th-century publication date and Cary’s inscription, with its possible shelf-mark, indicate that the book was probably acquired by Coke herself rather than gleaned from the ancestral Coke library. Books now at the Bodleian Library further suggest that Coke formed her own library within Hill Hall. One is a volume of 12 plays commencing with the 1693 George Etherege comedy, The Man of Mode, or, Sr Fopling Flutter. Coke has inscribed another volume, The Historie of the Life and Death of Mary Stuart Queene of Scotland (1636), “C.Coke /15/.” Her books at the Bodleian include a 1700 edition of Don Quixote and a 1689 edition of King Lear. All of the volumes are affixed with Coke’s bookplate. A further book, her copy of a 1690 English translation of Scudery’s Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, now untraced, was offered for sale by the bookseller E. Jeans of Norwich in 1860.

We can infer from Parthenissa and these volumes that Coke, like Frances Wolfreston, was a lover of drama, romances, and literature. Unfortunately, her book-collecting was cut premature by her death at the age of only twenty-seven.

Source: Book offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, 1/21/19. Images used with permission.