Survivors from an early 18th-century woman’s library

By David Pearson

I’m always interested to see unusual marks of provenance and I was struck when a bookseller on eBay recently posted an early 18th-century book with an owner’s name, “Jane Deane” tooled onto a label pasted onto the spine, just below the title label.

Label from binding on John Potter, A discourse of church-government, 8vo, London, 1711.

I must buy that, I thought—which I did—and when a week or so later another very similar example was put up by the same dealer, a trend was emerging. On contacting him and finding out that he had three more—after I’d bought the first two—we did a deal and I now have all five together.

It’s clear that this is a little fragment of what was once a uniformly bound and labelled library, that belonged to an early 18th-century lady. The very simple bindings suggest this wasn’t an aristocratic household, but labelling like this indicates some degree of affluence, perhaps a gentry household or one which aspired in that direction. This seems about right when we identify Jane Deane; she may be the lady of that name who died in 1729 or 30, a year or so after marrying Sir John Cullum of Hastede, Suffolk, 5th baronet (d. 1774). She was the daughter of Thomas Deane of Freefolk, Hampshire (1673-ca. 1718), and the granddaughter of another Thomas Deane (1640/1-86), sometime merchant in Boston, who returned to England and bought the manor of Freefolk in the late 1670s. Jane must have been born around 1700. Her mother was also called Jane, and I haven’t traced a date of death for her; she might equally possibly be the book owner. A portrait from St Edmundsbury Museum, purporting to be Jane the daughter, is posted on the web:

Gilbert Burnet’s An exposition of the church catechism, 1710, illustrating the rebinding to make it uniform for Jane’s library.

The books themselves are exactly what I’d expect them to be – mostly devotional, with a sprinkling of history, all in English. Apart from Gilbert Burnet’s Exposition, we have William Cave’s Primitive Christianity (1676), John Potter’s Discourse of church-government (1711), William Sherlock’s Discourse concerning the happiness of good men (1705), and (for light relief) Burnet’s Abridgement of the history of the Reformation (1705).  This kind of book selection—worthy, popular, mainstream theology—is found time and again in the closets of gentry ladies in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. I’m reminded, here, of the books which Elizabeth Freke (1641-1714) noted in her diary as being put into the deal box by her fireside in 1711 (Anselment 172–75), and I would guess that if we could find more of Jane’s library, it would fit a similar pattern. There would, probably, have been one or two titles that a 21st-century mind might find more approachable, but most of Jane’s reading would have been books we rarely read today.

Having said which, I’m not sure that Jane read them much either—the freshness of the bindings, and the crisp clean leaves, suggest to me that they may have spent more time on the shelf than in her hands. There are no internal inscriptions or annotations testifying to any interaction she had with them.  What’s really valuable about these books, I think, is their survival as a little group, representative of the kind of bookshelves which must have existed in lots of ladies’ closets in these kinds of households, up and down the country.  Quite how unusual it was to label them like this is a matter for speculation—it seems hard to believe that this group is unique, but I can’t think of having seen another example quite like it.  I suspect that time has swept others away, but the beauty of having this site is that others may know of, and share, more?

Source: books in a private collection. Photos by David Pearson reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

R. A. Anselment, ed., The remembrance of Elizabeth Freke 1671-1714, Camden Society 5th ser vol. 18, Cambridge, 2001.

Books owned by the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre

By Aya Van Renterghem

Frontispiece of A Brief Relation of the Order and Institute of the English Religious Women at Liège (Liège, 1652)

When considering the many shapes and forms in which early modern female book ownership appears, thoughts and discussions usually turn to the various types of books owned by different women or focus on the difference in ownership between social classes of women, for instance. It is, however, possible to broaden this view and also think about gradations of ownership and about the level of agency female book owners had. I mean by this that we could think about questions such as how much control early modern women had over their choice of books or over the type of books they owned. The Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre collection, currently being catalogued at Palace Green Library, Durham University, presents an interesting case study in this regard and is worth exploring here.

The Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre are a Catholic female religious order founded in 1480 by John à Broeck in Kinrooi (present-day Belgium). His sister Mentha and two of her companions would be the first Canonesses to be professed. The order expanded from there and other convents were opened across the Low Countries: four convents, for instance, were founded in the town of Liège. This is where, in 1642 two English girls, Susan Hawley and Frances Cary, originating from the convent in Tongeren, founded an English branch of the order. It is this English branch that donated their rare books and archive to Durham University in 2018 and is the topic of this blog post. The Canonesses’ reason for choosing this location was of course primarily because Catholicism was freely practised in this area (contrary to England), but it is also worth mentioning that in the History of the Community, it is noted that “[i]t was eventually determined that the English foundation should be at Liège, there being there a College of the Society of Jesus, from the Fathers of which the nuns hoped to receive aid and spiritual direction” (History vii). This will be significant for our discussion of the sisters’ book ownership.

The book collection, which contains mostly religious and educational materials as the Canonesses dedicated much of their efforts to teaching girls and young women, is extensive. It comprises over 650 books dated between 1600 and 1900. The collection was clearly also of importance to the Canonesses, as they went to great efforts to preserve it. In 1794, they escaped Liège, which was then in the hands of the French troops, to find safety in England. Liège had been under French control for some time at this point, but the British involvement in the wars against France in 1793 made life no longer safe for the English convent. Before they began this journey, they had 800 wooden boxes specially made in which they could comfortably carry their books and possessions. All but one of these boxes survived the journey.

This book collection therefore gives an overview of female religious book ownership over a period of 300 years and show us the value of books for these women, even (or especially) within the walls of the convent. However, to gain insight into the collection, the questions are not as straightforward as “Why did the sisters choose these specific books?” or “Who do these books belong to?”

Looking at the inscriptions in the Canonesses’ books, it appears that many of them were previously owned. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the majority of these previous owners were male institutions or men of the cloth who were predominantly Jesuit. A large number of the books contain ownership marks showing that they belonged to the English Jesuit College in Liège, indicated by the letters C.A. or the Latin phrase Collegium Anglicum Societatis Jesu Leodii. This college appears to have been the main provider of reading materials for the sisters, especially for the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books. Furthermore, as CHS 056 shows, a number of the books were also printed at the College.

Though the texts contained in these books can be found elsewhere, some copies were uniquely translated and printed in Liège. Whether this was done with the purpose of giving them to the Canonesses is unclear. Likely also through the Liège College, the Canonesses gained access to books from the wider Jesuit community. CHS 018 for instance, was previously owned by P. Hijacynthus Vander Meer, who was at the Flemish Jesuit college in Tongeren.

Clearly, and not surprisingly given the reason why the Canonesses chose Liège as the location for their convent, the sisters looked at the Jesuit College for guidance and likely this included the provision of reading materials. In her article on the book collections of religious convents in exile, Caroline Bowden mentions a letter written shortly after the convent’s foundation in 1623 by Father Augustine Baker, spiritual advisor at the English Benedictine convent at Cambrai, to his Protestant book-collector friend Robert Cotton requesting books for the nuns (Bowden 343–44). In this letter, he expresses his concern about the availability of spiritual reading materials in English, but further documentation shows that he was equally interested in controlling the selection of texts. For instance, he legislated for the external Visitor to keep a close watch on the contents of the library:

Let the Vicarius have a special care that no books written or printed (even papers of instruction or devotion) that savour not of a religious Monasticall spirit, or that tend not unto it, be kept in the Monasterie: and therefore let the catalogue be examined at everie Visit, and at such time as the Ordinarie shall judge fit.

(Bowden 344)

It is unclear how far this situation was replicated across the English convents on the Continent, but it does further stress the question of how much agency the Canonesses had in purchasing books for themselves. If they did select and buy their own books, did these books have to be approved by their (Jesuit) chaplain? Was the pre-selection by male clerics simply a consequence of practicalities (i.e. it was easier for them to find and purchase books), or was there an element of censorship to this practice?

The questions do not end there: even within the walls of the convent, further inscriptions suggest that book ownership was not a clear-cut matter. Concerning this, Bowden notes that book ownership in convents worked from the principle that all books belonged to the convent and that individual sisters were allowed to keep certain texts in their cells for different lengths of time (353). The Canonesses’ collection largely confirms this, but I think further nuance can be added. CHS 010, for instance, which plainly states “Gertrude Aston my booke 1658” suggests that a number of sisters also had their own books. It is possible that they brought these with them when they joined (which is likely the case for CHS 010) or perhaps they were given them as presents by relatives or friends.

CHS 063 further demonstrates, by using a slightly different phrasing, “Mary Baptist her book with leave,” that this was not necessarily without input from the superiors. CHS 063 is also interesting because the topmost inscription on the flyleaf shows that the book was previously owned by Thomas Hyacinth Brown in 1776 (who was a Catholic Reverend based in Leicestershire). Based on similar inscriptions in other books from the collection, this could mean that the book belonged to the convent and that Mary Baptist had received special leave to keep it in her cell to read. Alternatively, she may have bought it second-hand or was given it by Reverend Brown and received permission to keep it.

Although this seems like a very particular distinction to make, the note “lent to M. Felicitas” in CHS 048 suggest that this was relevant to the community. Mary Baptist’s note is also written in ink, while the lending note was written in pencil. It is also possible that this distinction is time-related: in this case Mary Baptist was allowed to keep the book for a long time (potentially for life), while M. Felicitas was only allowed to borrow it for a short period of time. Looking at the collection as a whole, however, these individual ownership marks are, though not rare by any measure, also not the norm.

Most frequently, books, such as CHS 024 for example, indicate that the books belonged to the Reverend Mother’s room. Further inscriptions show that some books were part of the library or school collection.

Further investigation and cataloguing of this collection will undoubtedly lift the veil even further on early modern female book ownership in the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre’s collection, as well as female religious orders more broadly. Despite the relatively closed-off nature of convents, this information is relevant on a wider scale as the materials read by the sisters and kept in their libraries would also (indirectly) inform the generations of girls and women who were taught by them.

Source: books in Palace Green Library, Durham University. Photos by Dr. Danielle Westerhof, Rare Books Librarian at Palace Green Library, reproduced with permission.

Further reading

Caroline Bowden, “Building Libraries in Exile: The English convents and Their Book Collections in the Seventeenth Century,” British Catholic History 32.3 (2015), pp. 343–382.

Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, History of the New Hall Community of Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre (Bruges: St-Trudo Abdij, 1997).

Note: This post was edited on 5/28/20 to correct a historical inaccuracy.

Thomas Gouge, The Young Man’s Guide (1696)

The Young Man’s Guide through the Wilderness of the World to the Heavenly Canaan, a book clearly aimed at a male readership, was inscribed a female reader with her name, date of purchase, and the price of purchase. We feature many books on this website that were given by or to women, but this one is clear on who bought it and when: “this book belonges to me margaret campbell march 12th 1698 price 10 pence.”

Son of the famous William Gouge, a Puritan divine best known for his work Of Domesticall Duties (1622), Thomas Gouge wrote this book of advice for young men, warning them of the many vices they might be prone to, such as anger, drunkenness, wantonness, swearing, lying, and “Back-biting, or Tale-bearing.” It is intriguing to imagine a female reader picking up this book, perhaps to prepare for educating her sons.

As a book plate tells us, the book was part of the library of Patrick Hume, 1st Earl of Marchmont and Lord Polwarth. It is not surprising that the book was owned by this Presbyterian family. The annotations on the title page and above the bookplate may be early shelf marks for the Earl’s library.

Intriguing connections exist between a Campbell family and the Earl, suggesting a likely identification for the female owner. Margaret Campbell (d. 1722) was the daughter of Sir George Campbell of Cessnock (c. 1639-1704). George Campbell had been involved in the Rye House Plot, a Presbyterian conspiracy against Charles II, together with Patrick Hume. Margaret married the eldest living son of Patrick Hume, Alexander, who would later become the 2nd Earl of Marchmont (1675-1740).

Portrait of Alexander Hume-Campbell, 2nd Earl of Marchmont, by Michael Dahl. Reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

Their marriage happened in July 1697, the same year Patrick Hume was created Earl of Marchmont. Margaret and Alexander had their first child, a daughter, in 1698, the year of the inscription. Could Margaret have bought the book eight months after her marriage, while she was pregnant with her first baby, to get ready for raising a son? She had seven more children after her eldest daughter, including five sons, whom she may have brought up with Gouge’s advice in mind. If this is the Margaret Campbell who wrote the inscription, she used a book plate that belonged to her father-in-law, a likely scenario if she lived with her husband at Patrick Hume’s estate. In that case, the inscription would have been a clear reminder to the reader that the book might be part of the Earl’s collection, but it actually belonged to Margaret, who bought it for 10 pence.

Source: book offered for sale on eBay by Wisdompedlars. Images reproduced with permission. A portrait of Margaret can be seen here.

Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet (1681)

One of the more interesting considerations as this blogging site progresses will be tracing the regularity of specific books that bear female inscriptions. Tentative research findings have found that religious works, particularly bibles but also prayer books, psalters, and sermons, feature prominently among female book collections [1]. In a world where faith and religious convictions were a central component of early modern life this is hardly surprising. Consequently books that are neither religious nor theological usually spike our interests because they offer different perspectives of women’s individual reading habits and preferences. When female-authored works come to light it raises equally fascinating questions about gendered reading practices and the reputation of women writers. (On this, a search through the RECIRC database is well worth your time!)

‘Ann Webb hur book’
‘Elizab Webb her book’

Of the female-authored works we might expect to find women’s ownership inscriptions are books by the noted English writer Hannah Woolley, who published on household topics such as recipes and domestic advice [2]. Sure enough, she is no stranger to this website featuring on two occasions already. Her Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, a Guide to the Female Sex – a hugely popular work published in 1673 that outlined how women should behave – was owned by Ann Starkey (you can access the post here). Another favourite among female readers was Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet, Or, Rich Cabinet; the sole illustration depicting six scenes of women in the kitchen serving as a clear reminder of its target audience. It recorded an impressive five editions between 1670 and 1685. A recent post (click here) has uncovered a copy of the first edition being in the possession of Thomasin Francklyn from Hampshire. But now we can reveal a third (and fourth!) female admirer of Woolley’s works.

The six scenes include a woman adding mixture into a three-legged pot over an open fire, distilling medicine, making bread, and cooking dinner using pots on a spit over a fire

Ann and Elizabeth Webb’s ownership of the fourth edition of The Queen-like Closet (1681) is striking for a number of reasons. First, it reaffirms the continued appeal for Woolley’s work on household management among women. The Webbs’ desire for a copy eleven years on from when it first went to press highlights Woolley’s increasing influence and the significant contribution she had on matters concerning domestic life.

Th fourth edition of Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet, published in 1681, owned by Ann and Elizabeth Webb

Second, the inscription marks left by Ann and Elizabeth leave tantalising questions about who owned the book. Do they indicate single or dual ownership? Could it be that it was initially purchased by Ann and subsequently handed down to Elizabeth? What might their relationship say about reading practices? If they were mother and daughter, or sisters, does this add to our understanding of the influence senior female figures had on the reading habits of younger kinswomen?

Third, while female ownership of The Queen-like Closet is unsurprising, the fact that Ann and Elizabeth stamped their names on their copy suggests they greatly valued the book. Furthermore, it builds on our expanding knowledge about how texts by women were circulated. Most important of all, it sheds further light on the reputation of early modern women writers [3].

Source: Huntington Library, Rare Books 424744. Photographs by Martine van Elk, reproduced with permission.

Further Reading:

[1] Marie-Louise Coolahan and Mark Empey, “Women’s Book Ownership and the Reception of Early Modern Women’s Texts, 1545–1700,” Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Ownership, Circulation, Reading, ed. Leah Knight, Elizabeth Sauer and Micheline White (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018).

[2] Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

[3] For more on this visit RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700:

Richard Baxter, Rich. Baxter’s Confession of His Faith (1655)

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This is not the first time the nonconformist Richard Baxter has featured on our blog (see here). This copy of minister Richard Baxter’s Confession of His Faith is signed “Jane Stawell” on the title page. Baxter was a nonconformist, who was even controversial among Puritans for his eclectic ideas. His position led to his imprisonment and a testy relationship with Cromwell. Baxter was, according to N. H. Keeble, extremely popular and published “a string of bestsellers” in the seventeenth-century. The Confession of His Faith is one of many Puritan works signed by women that must have had special meaning to its readers at a time of social and political upheaval.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by u.n.c.c. history, 12/12/2018. Images used with permission.

Further Reading

N. H. Keeble, “Baxter, Richard (1615-1691).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

Thomas Ken, A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester Colledge (1686)

Folger Library 269114

It may seem unusual for a woman to mark her ownership in a book designed for a boy’s college, but here we have Elizabeth Legh noting the gift from her father, Richard Legh, on May 22, 1687. The book, now in the Folger Library, had only been published the year before and was also directed to “all other Devout Christians,” as noted on the title page.

269114 sig detail

Elizabeth’s father, Richard Legh died only three months after the gift, on August 31, 1687. He was a longtime Member of Parliament for Cheshire, the site of their home, Lyme Park, now under the National Trust. There is no indication that he was educated at Winchester, but the book could be used as a devotional guide by anyone.

Richard Legh by Peter Lely, 1664. Lyme Park. National Trust Photo

The book is bound in rich red morocco leather with Elizabeth’s initials on the front and back covers; perhaps her father had this done or perhaps she paid for the special work. Someone at a later time pasted a note to the binding which helpfully identifies the owners but rather spoils the appearance!

269114 binding

It is unusual to know so much about a woman book owner and her family, unless she herself was an author or collector. Elizabeth’s portrait is at Lyme Park with her father’s.

Elizabeth Legh, Lady Master. British School, 1700-1714. Lyme Park. The Legh Collection. National Trust Photo

In September 1690, at the age of 24, Elizabeth became the second wife of Sir Streynsham Master, who was 50 at the time.

Sir Streynsham Master, attrib. Charles D’Agar, 1714. National Portrait Gallery, NPG 6107

Sir Streynsham had had a long career as an administrator for the East India Company and founded the first Anglican church in India in Madras. By the time he and Elizabeth married, he was back in England, and they lived in Holborn, London with houses in Derbyshire. He was knighted by King William, while a director of the new East India Company. He and Elizabeth had three children, but she died in 1714; he survived her for ten more years.

Source: Folger Library 269114. Photographs of book by Georgianna Ziegler. Reproduced with permission.

Memoires du Cardinal de Retz (1731)

So far, our blog has featured signed books from England, the Low Countries, and Sweden, but not yet from France. I encountered this series of books during the annual Deventer Bookmarket in 2019. A woman named Catherine Mann signed all three of her volumes of the Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz, a work that gives a historical account of the early parts of the reign of Louis XIV.

This book by Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz (1613–1679), the opponent of Cardinal Richelieu in the Fronde or French Civil Wars, is a memoir addressed to an unnamed lady, perhaps appealing to this particular female reader. The signature certainly shows a woman’s interest in history and French politics.

Unfortunately, we do not know the date of the signature or even the nationality of this female reader, but whoever she was, she wrote her name carefully in all three volumes of this book.

Source: book seen at the bookmarket in Deventer on August 4, 2019, offered for sale by Antiquariaat Klikspaan. Photos by Martine van Elk; taken and reproduced with permission.