Richard Allestree, The Lively Oracles Given to Us, or, The Christians Birth-right and Duty (1678)

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Richard Allestree’s works survive in large numbers and seem to have been exceptionally popular with female readers; I feel sometimes as if every other copy of an Allestree book I see has the early inscription of a female owner within. So it is with this copy of his 1678 The Lively Oracles Given to Us, or, The Christians Birth-right and Duty.

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Mary Fulford has written her name along the top edge of the title page. Fulford was also the owner of Peppa, or, The Reward of Constant Love: A Novel (1689), written by a “young gentle-woman.” Her signature appears in the Beinecke Library’s copy of the novel, and  EEBO proves that it is the same Mary Fulford! She may have owned the 1696 An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, as well, likewise anonymously penned by “a lady.” Cambridge University Library’s bibliographic record tells us that their copy contains the ownership inscription of Mary Fulford and the armorial bookplate of Francis Fulford.


The Allestree was later owned by C.r Harris Esqr of Haine. His bookplate is affixed to the verso of the marbled front flyleaf.

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Source: Book offered for sale by eBay seller georgekp57, 4/4/19. Images used with permission.

Aristotle’s compleat master-piece (1723)

This work, falsely attributed to Aristotle, is one of the best known manuals on reproduction and sex published in the early modern period. This particular edition, the third, contained, like the ones before it, a compendium of beliefs on conception, pregnancy, and birth, along with detailed recommendations and descriptions of intercourse, including bawdy poems, which gave it a reputation as a sex manual.

Mary Fissell has written extensively on its tremendous popularity, which lasted all the way into the twentieth century. The book emphasizes the need for female pleasure in order for conception to occur and thus authorizes its frank and often deliberately erotic discussion of sex and illustrations of naked women, as seen on the title page and a separate front leaf. Alluding to a popular belief, the image features a black child, apparently conceived by white parents who looked at a black man during copulation, and a hairy woman, whose mother looked at an image of John the Baptist wearing animal skins at the point of conception.

Although the bawdy verses and descriptions of genitals and sex have received much attention, Fissell notes that “the book also provided a solid framework of contemporary knowledge about the basics of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant health, detailing topics such as the signs of pregnancy, how to tell false labor from true, the various positions the baby might present in, etc. Not surprisingly, since it was plagiarized from another midwifery book, this information was largely unexceptional” (Birds). In addition, there were “dozens of recipes for household remedies and a guide to physiognomy.”

Along with practical recommendations for housewives and midwives, the book includes a section on monstrous births, featuring for instance a description of a boy born with one head, one body, four ears, four arms, two thighs, two legs, and four feet. There is also a description and image of a hairy child born in France in 1579.

There are many reasons why a woman might have wanted to own this book, aside from its instructions on sex and midwifery. It provides advice on how to conceive, what to do after conception, how to determine whether you are carrying a boy or a girl, and so on. In light of the medical content, it is not surprising that appended to it is A Treasure of Health, or The Family Physician, a short text filled with home remedies for a variety of conditions.

This particular copy of the book contains a female signature on the title verso, “elisabeth Scott her book” along with the date “1743.”

We are, unsurprisingly, not able to trace this particular owner and whether she was a midwife or just an interested reader. Fissell has found a variety of copies of Aristotle’s Masterpiece with female inscriptions. In a 2014 article, she discusses an inscription by a woman named Sarah in the library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and adds, “there’s Alice Burton in a copy at the New York
Academy of Medicine, Elizabeth Vincent and Sarah Fackerall, two different women readers, separated by a century, in a first edition in the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library, and at Johns Hopkins there is a first edition inscribed by Elizabeth Wright” (“Material,” 144). Elizabeth Scott, it seems, was one of many women who owned and likely used and enjoyed this book.

Many thanks to Patrick Olson for calling our attention to this book and for his meticulously researched description of it in his catalog, to which this post is much indebted.

Source: Book offered for sale by Patrick Olson Rare Books, September 2021; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Mary Fissell, “Material Texts and Medical Libraries in the Digital Age,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 15.2 (2014): 135-145.

Mary Fissell, “When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle’s Masterpiece.” The Public Domain Review, August 18, 2015.

Vander Sterre, Het Leven van den H. Norbertus (1623)

Jesuit abbot Johannes Chrysostomus vander Sterre first published his biography of St. Norbert of Xanten in Latin in 1622, exactly 40 years after the saint’s canonization by Pope Gregory XIII. The book saw a Dutch translation the following year, a copy of which is featured in this post. St. Norbert of Xanten was ordained as a priest in 1115 and founded a monastery at Prémontré which became the seat of the Premonstratensian order of Canons regular. He was made archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126 and was instrumental in securing King Lothair III’s defense of Pope Innocent II, whose claim to the papacy was challenged by Anacletus II, the Antipope.

The copy featured here has the ownership inscriptions of two early Dutch female readers. The first reads “Desen boek hoort Aen theresia ver achteren Anno 1721” (This book belongs To theresia ver achteren the year 1721) and is partly obscured in the image by a portion of old musical manuscript binding waste.

An earlier interior inscription on a blank divisional page reads: “DESEN BOECK HOORT TOE MARIA QVINION ANNO i647.” Beneath it, someone, perhaps a child, has copied DESEN in red pencil and made curlicues that almost appear to be in the shape of a bird. The same red pencil appears on the verso, echoing “boeck,” “desen,” and “hoort.”

Despite their distinctive names and bold inscriptions, the women remain unidentified so far. We might tentatively conclude that Maria Quinion was the book’s second owner given the 25-year gap between the original publication date and her inscription date. However, it is equally possible that Maria owned the book earlier and did not inscribe it until 1647. We might also assume that Theresia ver Achteren modeled her later inscription on Maria’s given the same phrase “Desen boeck hoort” and inclusion of a date for her ownership inscription.

Source: Book offered for sale by ElevenEleven Books, Inc. in October 2021. Images used with permission.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Saint Norbert of Xanten.” Encyclopedia Britannica, June 2, 2021.

Richard Barckley, A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man (1598)

Sir Richard Barckley, a knight about whom no biographical information exists, first published the commonplace book A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man, or, His Summun Bonum in 1598. The text was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I and was popular enough to see a “newly corrected and augmented” second edition in 1603 and a reissue by playwright Thomas Heywood in 1631. It serves as a philosophical and metaphysical meditation and advice book on the subject of happiness.

The copy featured here is in a contemporary triple-ruled binding with a blind-tooled centerpiece with scrollwork. The earliest known owner is a “John Mablon in Huggin Lane,” whose inscription appears on a front endpaper. The later name of “Elizabeth Dirdo” is written on the title page verso in a ca. seventeenth-century hand.

Like the author of the book she owned, Elizabeth Dirdo eludes identification. At least one other book with the inscription “Elizabeth Dirdo” survives, a 1640 edition of Sir Richard Baker’s Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Seven Penitentiall Psalmes, now Folger Shakespeare Library STC 1228. Dirdo, also spelled Dirdoe or Durdo, is an uncommon surname. Though limited, these two examples of her book ownership suggest an interest in religious texts.

Source: Book sold by Lux & Umbra Fine and Rare Books on 1 July 2021. Images used with permission.


Richard Barckley. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 11 Sep. 2021, from

Simon Patrick, Advice to a Friend (1673)

By Brenda Collins

This blog provides a useful outlet for the publication and exchange of information about the increasing complexity of findings of female book owners. It enables connections at an individual level to be made between time, space and place and these connections can sometimes be used in the interpretation of other events in the owners’ lives. In the case reviewed here, a book in the collections of the Armagh Robinson Library, Mark Empey interprets the two ownership signatures on the title page of Simon Patrick Advice to a Friend (1673) as those of a woman, Hellena (Helen, Ellen) Rawdon and her brother-in-law Edward Rawdon (see blog here). But I suggest that the E. Rawdon signatory on Hellena Rawdon’s book is Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira (1731-1808) whose husband was Helen’s grandson and therefore great-grandson of George and Dorothy Rawdon née Conway.

Source: Image reproduced by kind permission of the Governors and Guardians of Armagh Robinson Library.

Patrick’s book forms part of a collection originating within the Conway family. Though the first viscount Conway had a book collection, it was the second viscount, Edward (1594-1655) who had deep interests in the acquisition and ownership of books. Conway never inscribed the books with a signature nor were they annotated in the margins; however, a number of books contain signatures or initials of Rawdon descendants of the third viscount, later earl, of Conway (1623-1683) – George Rawdon’s son Arthur, daughter-in-law Hellena, their son, John, grandson John, first earl of Moira and of his wife, Elizabeth, spanning the period from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century.  Thus, a book published in 1673 with a signature of Hellena Rawdon can form part of the Conway collection. There is no evidence that Arthur Rawdon’s elder brother, Edward, who died in his early 20s, owned or inscribed any of his grandfather Conway’s books, and his signature, habitually, was an abbreviation of his first name.

Signature of Edward Rawdon. Letter to his mother dated Apr 9 1675. HA15641, Hastings Collection, Huntington Library, California

Hellena and her husband Arthur Rawdon, together with their son John and grandson John all signed books with Conway’s crest as well as books of their own acquisition. Grandson John Rawdon married his third wife, Elizabeth Hastings, in 1752, and they became the earl and countess of Moira in 1762. The E in the signature of E Moira (in a letter from the Countess of Moira in 1782) seems very similar to that of the E inscribed on the book by Simon Patrick. This suggests that Elizabeth Rawdon inscribed her signature on the Patrick book before she became the countess of Moira. 

Tracing of signature of Elizabeth, Countess of Moira. Letter to Bishop of Dromore, 7 December 1782. Granard Papers T3765/J, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Many other Conway/Rawdon books in the Robinson Library are signed by the countess of Moira with the letter M (Moira) at the head or foot of the title page, which would only have been possible after her husband’s ennoblement. Elizabeth Rawdon, née Hastings, viewed any ancestral entitlements highly and valued her Conway connection. For all the Rawdons, the signatures provided endorsement of the connection that they felt had been wrongfully denied. Emphasis on tracing the family connections between the ownership of Advice to a Friend by a seventeenth-century woman and her grandson’s wife should not be allowed to obscure their intellectual capabilities. Hellena Rawdon was scholarly with a breadth of interests; other books in the Robinson Library with her signature include several on botany and on garden design, a passion shared with her husband, Arthur.[1] The countess of Moira also had a scholarly upbringing and interests which she demonstrated in later life.[2] She led intellectual soirées in Dublin in the 1780s and 1790s and was a patron and friend of a wide range of literary, cultural and political figures in Ireland and in Britain. For both women, the printed word provided access to knowledge beyond their immediate environments, which was of benefit in their everyday lives.

Source: Book in the Armagh Robinson Library. Images reproduced with permission.

[1] E. Charles Nelson, “Sir Arthur Rawdon (1662-1695) of Moira: His life and letters, family and friends, and his Jamaican plants,” Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society Vol.10, 2nd series 1977/8–1981/2, 30-52.

[2] ‘Rawdon, Elizabeth (1731-1808), countess of Moira, literary patroness, and amateur antiquarian’, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Mr. William Shakespear’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (1685)

By V. M. Braganza

Title page of the Fourth Folio of Mr. William Shakespear’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (1685), up for auction at Christie’s as part of the Theodore B. Baum sale in September 2021.

But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Shakespeare, The Tempest (5.1.59-66)

You are what you read—at least, that’s how I have always understood the feeling of dissolving into a book. Books absorb us into their pages: we feel our edges blur and disappear. The world goes away, until reality breaks the charm and we resurface and reappear among the living.

Except when we don’t. Sometimes, those who are forgotten by history live on only in the books they left behind, fathoms beneath our memory of the past. That is exactly what happened to Charlotte Rowe (1718-1739), daughter of Nicholas Rowe, England’s fourth Poet Laureate and the first editor of Shakespeare’s works. Charlotte Rowe was swallowed by a book. In fact, she disappeared into the Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1685).

Rowe’s signature on recto of the frontispiece leaf. The shadow of the intaglio portrait of Shakespeare on the verso is visible to the keen eye.

Charlotte is concealed by Shakespeare both historically and literally. If there’s a place one would least expect to find her name inscribed, it’s in Poets’ Corner, the most iconic pilgrimage site for lovers of English literature—yet there she is. Anyone who explores Westminster Abbey in London will soon find themselves in an alcove in the south transept crammed with tombs and memorials to some of the greatest English writers. In this part of the cathedral, there’s hardly an inch of space that isn’t carved with famous names. A visitor can’t take so much as a step without trodding on Charles Dickens or coming nose to nose with Geoffrey Chaucer. Even after the inscriptions had carpeted the stone floor and climbed up the marble walls, names began appearing in the stained-glass windows too. Poet’ Corner is one of the most magical places a passionate reader can find herself. The stone itself is alive, and one of its most electrifying features is an elaborate monument to Shakespeare.

The monument to Shakespeare in Poets’ Corner. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Drawn in by the sheer prominence of Shakespeare’s statue, most visitors don’t notice what sits just a few feet away. Next door is the tomb of Nicholas Rowe, which includes a memorial to his daughter, Charlotte.

The most prominent figures in the Rowe monument are a bust of Rowe and a symbolic statue of a mourning woman holding an open book. A carving of Charlotte in profile in a round frame hovers diffidently in the background. Even though it sits directly within view, it would easily escape the casual observer’s notice.

This only surviving portrait of Charlotte reflects the apparent position of many women. They hover in the background, metaphorically and spatially. Where their names survive, they play second fiddle to men’s names and achievements. And, too often, we can barely get a clear enough view of them to put a face to the name. The tiny glimpse we get of Charlotte raises more questions than answers.

Charlotte was born in 1718, the same year her father died. She never knew him personally, yet she owned a copy of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio. Nicholas Rowe based his 1709 edition of Shakespeare primarily on the Fourth Folio which, at the time, was the most recently published version of the plays. It was also highly inaccurate, containing substantially different texts to those published in Shakespeare’s time and the First Folio (1623). Modern editors, who regard Shakespeare’s language as almost sacred, aim to recover it as accurately as possible. Today, the Fourth Folio’s differences are damning.

But that’s not how many of Rowe’s contemporaries would have seen it. From the late seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, writers and editors often took a liberty that would horrify Bardolaters today: they rewrote Shakespeare. Unthinkable though it seems to us, it wasn’t uncommon for Shakespeareans to take it upon themselves to ‘improve’ the plays. Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate before Rowe, was put off by the unbearably tragic ending of King Lear—so he simply rewrote the play to give it a happy ending. In fact, it was Tate’s version, in which Lear and his beloved daughter Cordelia survive, and not Shakespeare’s original which ends in both characters’ deaths, that was performed on the English stage from 1681 until the mid-nineteenth century. For more than a hundred years, Shakespeare’s King Lear wasn’t Shakespeare’s King Lear!

In some ways, Rowe was ahead of his time. He pioneered many editorial features of Shakespeare’s plays that we take for granted: he divided the plays into five acts each, added stage directions, and included a Dramatis Personae, or list of characters, at the beginning of each play. He also claimed that he had compared “several Editions” to reproduce as nearly as possible “the Exactness of the Author’s Original Manuscripts.” In reality, his edition shows that he simply followed the Fourth Folio, and even included several plays incorrectly attributed to Shakespeare. But, in a time of Tates who freely abridged Shakespeare’s works, it was the thought that counted. Rowe was the first to express a desire to recover the author’s own versions—and Shakespeare’s original words have been pearls which editors have sought ever since.

That the daughter whom Rowe never met owned a copy of the Fourth Folio raises some unanswerable questions. Was this inscribed book her father’s copy, perhaps inherited after his death? Did Charlotte long to know more about the father she would never meet? And how might such a desire have driven her interest in Shakespeare? How would she have read a play like King Lear, in which death thwarts a reunion between a father and daughter? And is there a copy of Rowe’s 1709 six-volume edition with his daughter’s signature still waiting to be found—or have these volumes been drowned in the tides of time if they ever existed at all?

On these questions, Charlotte’s copy of the Fourth Folio is as silent as the grave. The book contains no further substantial annotations beyond her signature. Charlotte herself died at the age of twenty-one, giving birth to a daughter, Charlotte Fane (1739-1762), who would die, in her turn, at the age of twenty-three. The bare skeleton of these facts survives to tantalize us with truths we many never conjure from the pages of books. Charlotte’s Fourth Folio whispers,

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

The Tempest (1.2.474–479)

So Shakespeare seemed to Rowe—so Rowe might have seemed to Charlotte. So Charlotte appears to us.

The best historical writing makes the past and its inhabitants come alive. But what are we to do with those individuals who have undergone a sea change into something strange and elusive? Many women’s histories exist but remain undiscovered—but even more have been reduced to flickers and flashes, as indistinct as water is in water. In the face of large-scale social inequity and subsequent historical neglect, women have disappeared into the books they owned and read. As a result, rare books are some of the most evocative places we can look for and attempt to discover them. When we do so, whether as historians or curious readers, we seek the pearls of great price that humankind has unwisely thrown away: the books and people time’s tempests have submerged.

Many heartfelt thanks go to Rhiannon Knol for showing me this book and, as ever, to the members of the Books and Manuscripts Division at Christie’s, for their warm and wonderful support.

Source: Book offered for sale by Christie’s, September 14, 2021. All images reproduced with permission.

Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (1673)

This copy of a second edition of Richard Allestree’s The Ladies Calling has an interesting set of marks showing a rich history of ownership. Allestree’s books have been featured repeatedly on this blog, showing the special interest of female readers in his conduct manual with its sections on modesty, meekness, compassion, piety, and other feminine virtues as well as, in the second part, explanations of expectations for virgins, wives, and widows.

This particular copy was clearly a treasured book, as its beautiful morocco binding and gold decorations suggest.

The foredge features additional decoration with angels’ faces and flowers.

The title pages, endpaper, and flyleaves of the book show both women and men read it and wanted to mark their ownership. The title page has been marked by a woman named Elice Christmas, whose hand suggest a later date.

Inside the book, there are two male bookplates, the first of which tells us the book belonged at some point to Harry Lawrence Bradfer Lawrence (1887-1965), an antiquarian and book collector.

The page preceding and the page featuring the frontispiece provide us with names of three previous owners. The bookplate tells us it belonged to Sir Edward Wilmot (1693-1786), a physician and later baronet from Derby. A woman named Mary Pooley wrote her inscription above the frontispiece.

Perhaps most interestingly, the third inscription shows evidence of female gift giving: “Mrs Chathrine Orson her book Given her by Mrs Cathrine Buttler anno Domini 1698.”

The use of “Mrs” for both owner and gift giver hints at a kind of formality, perhaps indicative of their relationship. But it also suggests that this inscription serves less as a personal moment in that relationship, and instead hints at an awareness of the fact that others will read it. As the reader records that one “Mrs” had given the book to another, she seems to be making a public self-representation of her own status and that of her friend that can be read alongside the book’s content. Both she and her friend, the inscription suggests, meet the expectations set by Allestree for proper, married womanhood.

Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold on 11/29/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

George Herbert, The Temple (1633)

This copy of a second edition of George Herbert’s The Temple has a fascinating provenance, beyond what is usually our upper date limit of 1800, so I felt it was worth a post even though this is not strictly speaking an instance of early modern female book ownership.

Herbert’s book is signed on the title page by Rufus Greene, who helpfully added the date and place of acquisition, London, July 23, 1728. Greene (1707-1777) was a Boston silversmith whose works can be found today in museums, such as the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Image of a tankard in the Fitchburg Art Museum on Wikimedia.

1728, the date in the inscription, is both the year of his marriage and the year he started his business. A portrait of Greene’s wife, Katherine Stanbridge, by John Singleton Copley sold at auction in 2017 and is currently in the Young Museum. Their daughter, Katherine Greene Amory (1731-1777), is today well known for the journal she kept during the American Revolution. She and her husband, John Amory, were loyalists who departed for England, leaving their children in America.

Katherine’s son John Amory Jr married Catherine Willard and their daughter, Catherine Willard Amory (1794-1831) wrote her own signature in Herbert’s book.

Her inscription shows her desire to give us both her family history and the history of the book’s ownership: “Catherine W. Amory formerly belonging to her Great Grandfather Rufus Greene.”

One of her portraits, by Alvan Clarke, was painted in the year of her death and is currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Portrait at the Museum of Fine Arts; reproduced from Wikimedia.

While we do not know when Catherine W. Amory made the inscription, it skips over the generations between herself and her great-grandfather, creating a direct link between nineteenth- and eighteenth-century ownership of Herbert’s famous collection of poems and between the two of them as readers.

Source: Book offered for sale by Manhattan Rare Books, July 2021. Images reproduced with permission.

Ben Jonson, Workes (1616, 1640)

This set of Ben Jonson’s Workes includes a first volume printed in 1616 and a second volume printed in 1640. The first volume shows an interesting instance of use of an older manuscript as endpaper.

Pen trials appear on the flyleaf of the volume and a bookplate has been pasted onto the endpaper. The bookplate belonged to John Stackhouse, possibly the botanist, whose bookplate is in a collection in the British Museum.

For our purposes the second volume is even more interesting. The title page, which shows the book was printed for Richard Meighen, has several inscriptions on it that show women’s interest in displaying their ownership.

A “William Owen Esq” has signed the book twice, once around the word “Viz.” and his name appears again twice times before the list of plays, as if appropriating each title as his. At the very top of the page, a relative has written “Madm Elizabeth Owen her book.” The same name appears between the lines immediately below, and perhaps she is also the person who has copied the date, 1640, and the word “Printed” at the bottom of the page. The positioning of the “her book” phrase at the very top seems designed to override all other claims to ownership below.

Still, the name Elizabeth appears three more times on the page, twice crossed out, as is made visible by RetroReveal.

Although it is difficult to read the last name or other words that have been crossed out and we cannot tell whether these are by the same woman, it is clear that the female owner or owners of the volume wanted to mark their ownership on the title page. Title pages can, as in this instance, become spaces for competing marks and pen trials, as we have seen before on this blog.

Source: book offered for sale by Whitmore Rare Books, July 2021. Images reproduced with permission.

Book of Common Prayer (1676)

By Steve Murdoch

In the University Library of Uppsala University there is evidence of female book ownership. In this case it is a 1676 copy of the English Book of Common Prayer noted simply as an English volume from the seventeenth century on a library shelf-mark pasted on the inside cover.[1] There are several notable features about this book. The title page is missing, but otherwise the binding and remaining pages are in reasonably good order.

Ownership of this work is attributed to Anna Elisabeth Leyell (fl.1696), whose inscription reads:

Anna Elisabeth Leyell
Hir. Book. Borne
the twenty seventh
Day of Aprill
Anno Christi

On the outer end-leaf a marginal note has been added. It has been struck out and rendered illegible although the initials ‘F.G.L’ remain visible (as you can see here).[2] To date, that is where the biographic interest in or knowledge of this work has ended.

However, we can certainly say more about owner of the book than the brief entry in the library catalogue allows and perhaps even speculate at the provenance of it. We are helped to some degree by a prayer found on the page opposite to the dedication to Anna Elisabeth. It is written in very clear English hand.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

O Holy and Eternal Jesus, who hast
begotten by thy word, renewed us by
thy Spirit, fed us by thy Sacrements
and by the daily ministry of thy word,
Still goe on to build us up to life eternall
let thy most holy Spirit be present,
with me and rest upon me in the –
hearing thy sacred word, that I may doe
it humbly, reverently, without –
Prejudice, with a mynd ready and desireous
to learnne and to obey, that I may be –
readily furnished and Instructed to Every
good work, and may practice all thy –
Holy lawes and Commandments, –
to the glorie of thy holy name, o holy
and Eternal Jesus amen –[3]

In 1694, the Swedish Crown and Church began to seriously clamp down on non-Lutherans in the country. The British Resident, Dr John Robinson, noted that foreigners were being forced to either embrace Lutheranism or “have no exercise of religion” at all.[4] New restrictions from the Swedish Church against Anglicans were certainly recorded by Robinson again in 1695.[5] However, as an ordained Church of England minister it is unimaginable that Robinson did not continue to preach to his countrymen thereafter in the sanctuary of the English Residence. This is where both the date and survival of Anna Elisabeth’s Book of Common Prayer is of particular interest.

The book was presented to Anna Elisabeth to celebrate her birth in the period immediately following the legislation designed to thwart any non-Lutheran confessional practices as observed by Robinson. Nevertheless, we know that the British community of resident Scots and English continued to hold services in private houses in both Stockholm and Gothenburg for this purpose.[6] Sometimes they were joined by French Huguenots and Dutch Calvinists. The fact that so many types of non-Lutherans could meet together in solidarity in spite of the persecution of their confession may well explain the language used on Anna Elisabeth’s book plate. We know for sure it was not her native language, nor that of her parents. Indeed, the Leyell family is extremely well known as Kathrin Zickermann (among others) has demonstrated.[7]

When looking into Anna Elisabeth’s heritage we can, thanks to her book ownership, expand on the brief information given in the library catalogue and point out, if not correct, some information about her in other sources. For example, in the Swedish peerage, Anna Elisabeth’s date of birth is given as 7 April 1696, some 20 days in error compared to the entry in her book.[8] She was born in Älvkarleö in the north of the Uppsala region and lived until 20 April 1762. Anna Elisabeth was one of ten siblings, all children of David Leyell and Margareta Lundia (aka Mörling). This is of great interest to historical linguists and scholars of language retention as both her parents were Swedish-born and educated. Her father was born in Stockholm in 1660, the son of a Scottish immigrant merchant, David Leyell of Arbroath. Her mother was adopted by her noble stepfather, Lars Månsson Mörling.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

And this brings us back to the question of who presented her with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer? The dedication and the prayer opposite are written in English and not the Scots of Anna Elisabeth’s migrant grandparents. It was certainly gifted by someone who was keen to maintain an Anglican association and British heritage. Given the date, the language and the book, and inscription, one could be tempted to speculate that it came from a friend of the family – perhaps even Rev Dr John Robinson himself. A comparison of Robinson’s contemporary diplomatic correspondence to the prayer reveals a close similarity in the clarity and style of language, but with too many small differences to persuade a seasoned paleographer to identify him definitively as the source.[9] He may have moderately formalized his style compared to that used in his correspondence given what he was writing and the book he was inscribing it in. More likely is that it was someone of similar education from among the wider English community. Nevertheless, we have certainly been able to flesh out the details of the owner and hope that the catalogue entry is amended to bring Anna Elisabeth Leyell back into historical focus.

We would like to thank Helena Backman from Uppsala University Library for providing us with digital images of the book consulted for this blog, and Emma Forsberg for facilitating our initial contact with the library team.

Source: Uppsala University Library. Images reproduced with permission.

[1] “Uppsala Univ. Bibliotek. Bokband 1600-t, England, I.” See Uppsala University Library, The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church. According to the use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches. London, printed by the assigns of John Bill and Christopher Barker, printers to the Kings most excellent majesty 1676. Cum privilegio, 1676.

[2] Speculatively Frederika Georgina Leijel (1835–1865), a member of the same Swedish Leyell family (though not a descendant of Anna Elisabeth). Further research will be required to establish this. She does appear to be the best fit of the Leyell family assuming that is what the ‘L’ stands for.

[3] The prayer is published in Rev Jeremy Taylor, The rule and exercises of holy living. In which are described the means and instruments of obtaining every vertue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations. Together with prayers containing the whole duty of a Christian, and the parts of devotion fitted to all occasions, and furnish’d for all necessities, Robert Vaughan, engraver. (Printed by R. Norton for Richard Royston at the Angel in Ivielane, London, 1650), p.373. Ad Sect. 4, “A prayer to be said before hearing or reading the word of God.” For more on Taylor and his works see John Spurr, “Taylor, Jeremy (bapt.1613, d. 1667), Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor and religious writer.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[4] June Milne, “The Diplomacy of Dr John Robinson at the Court of Charles XII of Sweden, 1697-1709,” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 30 (1948), p. 77

[5] John R. Ashton, “Henry Maister of Gothenburg: His Life and Times,” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 70 (1998), p. 99.

[6] Ashton, “Henry Maister,” p. 90; Frederic Bedoire, Hugenotternas Värld: från religionskrigens Frankrike till Skeppsbroadelns Stockholm (Stockholm, 2009), p. 217.

[7] Kathrin Zickermann, “Scottish Merchant Families in the early Modern Period,” in Northern Studies 45 (2013), pp. 100–18.

[8] Gustaf Magnus Elgenstierna, Den introducerade svenska adelns ättartavlor, 9 vols. (Stockholm, 1925–36), vol. IV, pp. 518–22.

[9] The National Archives of Great Britain, SP 32/10 f.172. Dr John Robinson to Lord Ambassador Williamson, 7 May 1698.

Roger L’Estrange, Seneca’s Morals (1682)

This book is a translation and abbreviated version (“by way of Abstract”) of Seneca’s Epistulae morales, originally published in 1678 by Roger L’Estrange. The man now known as a fervent royalist and censor of the press after the Restoration published a number of translations, but this was the most popular (ODNB). Interestingly, this edition of the treatise, with its explanation of stoic morals presented as a beneficial and conducive to a happy life, came out in the middle of a strong Whig propaganda offensive against L’Estrange and shortly after he had survived accusations of being a Catholic and of involvement in the Popish plot. From 1681, he began to publish The Observator, a periodical which was to become, as Harold Love notes, “the most powerful organ of tory propaganda” (ODNB).

It is difficult to imagine that the first owners of this edition of the book L’Estrange translated were unaware of his politics. Ownership of the book, in other words, provides some potential indication of the owner’s stance in contemporary controversy, even if the bulk of the book itself does not directly address it.

This particular copy was a present from a mother to a daughter. It is inscribed, “Margrett Lowther geven me by my Mother 1692” and underneath, there is another inscription that reads “Margrett Lowther her book.”

I have been unable to locate the Margaret Lowther in question (FamilySearch comes up with several possibilities). The other signature, both on the flyleaf and on the title page and possibly by Margaret’s mother or another relative, is not easy to decipher (“H. Lowther”?).

It seems Margaret practiced writing in two different hands, and the capital letter M also shows that this is both signature and an instance of a pen trial.

By 1692, four years after the Glorious Revolution and fourteen years after the book’s original publication, L’Estrange was politically powerless, plagued by ill health and other personal tragedies, himself probably much in need of Seneca’s advice. Margaret Lowther may not have known much about L’Estrange if she was young when she received the book from her mother, but L’Estrange’s epistle “To the Reader” makes ample mention of seventeenth-century politics and accuses the Whigs of being impostors and hypocrites. Politics aside, women throughout the early modern period were attracted to stoicism, and this maternal gift shows a desire to convey Senecan philosophy to a daughter in an accessible form. What is interesting about the book is that it is ostensibly directed at male readers, and Seneca’s advice is, unlike other advice books presented to early modern young women, not specifically geared to the female experience.

Source: offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, 12/10/2019, and since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Love, Harold. “L’Estrange, Sir Roger (1616–1704), author and press censor.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (1696)

Richard Allestree is a perennial favorite among early modern readers, and we have repeatedly featured books by him on this website. Among those books, The Ladies Calling seems to have been especially popular. This is the third time the book has come up on the blog, and there are certain to be more.

The book, with its impressive frontispiece, was recently sold along with the companion volume The Gentleman’s Calling, which features, as the bookseller notes, contains an owner’s inscriptions by William Moore, written when he was attending the university.

The Ladies Calling, in its fourth edition, was bound very carefully, with floral devices and, originally, gilt edges, showing a degree of investment in the book, which may be have been a gift.

The female ownership inscription reads “Ann Ambrose her book 1720.”


Source: Book offered for sale by Page One, Too on 6/10/19. Images used with permission.