King James Bible (1619)

This is one of many bibles we have featured on this blog, and like most of the others, it is an object that fascinating for the extent to which it bears the signs of usage by the family that owned it. This early seventeenth-century King James bible was printed only eight years of the appearance of the very first one; it is bound together with a 1673 copy of the Book of Psalms.

Throughout the book we find scribbling and handwriting, much of it not entirely clear, and some of it apparently by a young person or child. Much of the writing takes the form of conventional family history, noting births of the annotator and family members. As Adam Smyth notes, in his lovely newsletter on the bible of his own family and other early bibles, “These inscriptions represent a reader’s impulse to assert her presence, her place in time, her relationship to an important book, and that evidence of her aliveness is still legible today. These inscriptions have a kind of depth or texture because they record both an exact moment when the note was written (the I-am-here-ness), and immediately imagine a future when that record will be read as past (the I-was-here-ness).” Other inscriptions, if we can call them that, seem much less aware of future readers.

The page below shows that the bible is bound with the Book of Common Prayer. The inscription on the page begins “When the wicked man turneth…,” a quotation from Ezekiel 18:27, “when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” The inscription seems as much to emphasize the quotation as it is a pen trial, though the quotation itself does not appear on this page, so the writer is not simply copying.

Another hand is seen at the bottom of the left page below with a cryptic inscription. It seems to give an incomplete date, “17th 1542” perhaps followed by “J was buried 23 day,” so this may be an item of family history, but if so, only as a reminder to the annotator, not for any other reader.

On this page appear pen trials of numbers, some writing, and a drawing, along with further scribbling next to the dedication to the bible.

There is also the conventional listing of family members, including Mary Chide or Childe, Richard Webb, John Webb, and Mary Webb, along with further calculations, perhaps of ages. But the family history is not as neatly listed as in many other bibles that expect future reading by descendants and others–instead it appears to take the form of pen trials, with its repetition and combination of diagonal and horizontal writing.

Clearer birth dates for Mary Childe and John Webb are given below. Perhaps the writer was practicing for these inscriptions on the page above.

And a further list of family members with now faded dates of birth are given on the page below, some in a different hand. It includes another female member of the family, Ann Webb. A delightful animal of some sort appears among the inscriptions.

Yet another page lists a James Webb in a different hand, along with a location, Eynsford, allowing us to situate this family tentatively in Kent.

For this particular family, the blank pages of the bible, book of prayer, and psalms were a space to record family history, do pen trials, make calculations, and do drawings. The book was used by different family members, probably of different generations, and to different ends. Such scattered writing shows the degree to which the bible could be a book that was not only cherished but also actively in use in the household, open to appropriation and modification by all members of the family, male and female, young and old. We cannot know to what extent or which notations are by women, but their presence as members of the family is clearly marked and kept for posterity.

Source: Book offered for sale by moonlandingpro on 3/1/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Ovid’s Epistles Translated by Several Hands (1680)

Also known as the Heroides, Ovid’s epistles saw their first print translation by George Turberville in 1567. The Heroides are made up of fifteen epistolary poems between famous lovers: Penelope to Odysseus, Medea to Jason, Sappho to Phaon, and so on. This 1680 edition is noteworthy for its preface by John Dryden. “[Y]et this may be said in behalf of Ovid, that no man has ever treated the Passion of Love with so much Delicacy of Thought, and of Expression, or search’d into the nature of it more Philosophically than he,” he writes (A3v).

This copy contains two early owner’s inscriptions. The first, John Sibthorpe, wrote his name on the title page. There were a couple John Sibthorpes of note, including the MP (1669–1718) and botanist (1758–1796), and either could have plausibly owned this book. The inscription that draws the most attention though, if only for its considerably larger size, is on the title page verso.

It reads in a neat italice hand: “Mrs Anne Ayssoghe / her Booke / Jan ye 26 / 1684.” Anne’s unique spelling of her surname has made it difficult to determine what the modern spelling may be (Assow? Eishow?) and thus her identity remains a mystery for now. What does seem to be clear is that she signed (if not acquired) the book on January 26th, 1684 and that she was married at the time she owned this text of romance, passion, and love spurned.

Source: Book offered for sale by Julian Roberts Fine Books in October 2020 and since sold. Images used with permission.

Thomas Fuller, The Historie of the Holy Warre (1651)

This is the third time our blog has featured a book by clergyman and royalist Thomas Fuller, showing the enduring popularity of his work among women readers. Our last post was about The Church History of Britain, a timely work with a historical account of the lead-up to the Civil Wars, owned by Arundell Penruddock, wife of the ill-fated royalist conspirator John Penruddock. The Historie of the Holy Warre had less immediate relevance, dealing with the history of the crusades.

It is easy to see why this book would be a favorite with readers, as it includes both an impressive frontispiece and a foldout map, indicative of a general readerly interest in maps and visuals in historical works of this kind.

The other copy of this work we featured on this blog included female writing that suggested possibly a younger owner. As in that copy, this particular copy features elaborate handwriting, but in this case it is impressive calligraphy, a favorite pastime of women, who could thus show their versatility with the pen.

What makes this copy particularly interesting is its apparent Anglo-Dutch provenance. Interestingly, a former owner with a Dutch name, Gaspar vanden Bussche, signed with the English phrase “his book,” dating his inscription 1673. Anna Dilbo, whose last name is English, signed with Dutch phrasing, “Anno 1662 Den 24 octobre in London.” The proximity in date of the two inscriptions and the evidence of the last names as well as the phrasing of the inscriptions (and the location in Anna’s) point to a family with a history of crossing between the two countries.

Source: Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold October 4, 2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Henry Isaacson, Saturni Ephemerides (1633)

Known today more for its distinctive engraved title page by William Marshall (the illustrator responsible for the frontispiece in Eikon Basilike of a kneeling King Charles I) than its content, Saturni Ephemerides, sive, Tabula Historico-Chronologica was written by theologian Henry Isaacson (1581–1654) and published in 1633. It was never reprinted, but judging by the high number of surviving copies reported to the ESTC, the print run seems to have been sufficient to meet public demand.

Writes Joel Faber of the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies:

The six pages of “authorities” Isaacson references range from Ovid and Boccaccio to Bede and Holinshed. The first section offers an abridged history of the “Four Monarchies” (Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome) before moving to the chronology table which comprises most of the book. Isaacson begins this section with the biblical patriarchs and proceeds through to the time of the book’s composition with various European locations each receiving their own columns. Alongside each year Isaacson also includes noteworthy events such as the founding of cities, universities, and the births and deaths of famous figures such as Sir Philip Sidney and John Harington with notes about their accomplishments. Appended to the work is a Christian history of Britain that lists the successions of bishops and archbishops. At the end of the book is an index which organizes the “famous men” that Isaacson includes into categories such as poets, musicians, philosophers, mathematicians, painters, grammarians, and others.

This copy is noteworthy for the inscription on A1v, The Frontispiece Explained. Beneath the tailpiece, the former owner made the inscription “Wm Thompson booke / bought of mrs Susanna Pelham.” Thompson also signed the book at the foot of the title page.

Thompson’s hand appears to date from the seventeenth century. The intriguing inscription raises more questions than it answers. Neither William Thompson or Susanna Pelham can be easily identified, Thompson because his name is so common, Susanna because there are many possible permutations and spellings of her name, from Susan to Suzanne. It seems likely that she was a private seller, though how she came to signal that her book was for sale and how she attracted Thompson as a buyer is unknown. Was she a former owner and reader of the book? Or was the book one of many wares she was offering for sale, not necessarily a personal possession? At any rate, it was a transaction and not a gift, as so many books exchanged between women and men were.

Source: Book offered for sale by Forest Books in May 2021. Images used with permission.


Joel Faber (20 November, 2018). “New Acquisition: Saturni Ephemerides Sive Tabula Historico-Chronologica (1633).” Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies.

The Church Catechism Broke into Short Questions (1732)

There are a number of different and interesting debates we can have about early modern female book ownership, many of which have been presented here over the last two years by the team (and yes, we’ve celebrated our two year anniversary in early December). Imagine, then, the levels of intrigue and excitement when we add the rare inclusion of sketches or doodles into the mix!

The anonymously composed The Church Catechism Broke into Short Questions, housed at Armagh Robinson Library, offers a fascinating insight into the ways books were used. It includes the names of two female readers – ‘Ms Dogson’ and Cortilia Garston – suggesting that the book was not owned by the individuals concerned but probably used for a collective group, like a text book for pupils. Interestingly, the dates are recorded exactly a year apart: Dogson wrote her name on 20 July 1739, while Cortilia added her details the following year. It was almost as if they were attending some religious summer school.

‘Cortilia Garston her Book, July the 20th 1740 / Ms Dogson hor Book July xxth 1739′

This seems increasingly likely when examining the book’s content. Published in Dublin in 1732, The Church Catechism marked the beginning of a sustained period of catechising across religious denominations in Britain and Ireland. It was composed for children and adolescents. Indeed, such was its popularity that John Wesley subsequently published an amended version entitled Instructions for Children (Dublin, 1744) with the intent of making available a simpler version so younger readers could engage more with the text and its content.

As Mary Clare Martin contends: ‘catechising played an important part in domestic religious education in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … [Not only did it involve] household worship (which could be conducted by women) but also relationships between siblings. It demonstrates that catechizing could provide opportunities for asking questions and spending ‘quality time’ with parents and / or children, rather than embodying an alienating form of rote-learning.’

So works like The Church Catechism opened up new roles for women; it created a platform to bring them closer to God in a private setting while simultaneously reinforcing their piety in a society where religion dominated so many aspects of life. More importantly, it enabled women have greater influence in the domestic setting by leading prayers and strengthening family bonds.

But how did children or adolescents react to that supposed ‘quality time’? Catechetical books weren’t exactly riveting reading! What’s particularly striking about the example here is the inclusion of doodle sketched by one of the female readers, offering a brilliant insight into how the book was received.

The rough drawing presents an individual with an enlarged head, rolled eye, and distinctive hair. It may have been a self-portrait of the bored young student. More likely, the image took aim at her uninspiring teacher because adjacent to the sketch is a name that is only partially visible: ‘Mis Too[k?]’. Was that the actual name of the teacher? Or did the mischievous pupil scribble ‘Miss Took’ as a play on words – as in ‘mistook’ – in reference to her strict religious instructor? Given how doodles are usually associated with boredom the latter argument seems to be the more compelling. At any rate, it captures a wonderful moment where a female book owner reveals her feelings about catechisms or at least the way in which the content was being taught.

Mis[s] Too[k] – the teacher?

But what of the sketcher’s identity? Why might we assume it to be a woman? Closer analysis of the drawing, together with the book ownership inscriptions, are revealing. Not only does the ink match those of Ms Dogson’s signature but there are also clear similarities in the way she writes the letters ‘m’, ‘s’ and ‘o’ beside the doodle, leaving little doubt as to who was the culprit. Perhaps John Wesley was right to make The Church Catechism simpler to read. Or perhaps Ms Dogson just didn’t see a future for herself in religious education.

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

Further reading

Mary Clare Martin, ‘Catechizing at Home, 1740–1870: Instruction, Communication and Denomination, Studies in Church History, 55 (2019), pp. 256-273

George Parker, Double Ephemeris (1700)

Paul Salzman

In 2015 The State Library of Victoria acquired a spectacular collection of early modern books and manuscripts, bequeathed by the physicist and barrister John Emmerson.[1] The collection has a focus on the Civil War but ranges well beyond it and amounts to over five and a half thousand items. There are a considerable number of books with female signatures, but here I want to concentrate on a somewhat unusual book, which may be seen as her/their book via reference, rather than ownership.

Emmerson collected a significant number of almanacs, mostly concentrated in the second half of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century. His copy of George Parker’s 1700 Double Ephemeris, as was often the case with almanacs, is interleaved with recipes, medical formulae, and astrological calculations.[2]

It is important to recognize that, while many almanacs were ephemeral publications, designed to last for no longer than the year they were created for, many were interleaved with so-called blanks and were intended to be a more permanent record of the year. Or, as in this case, they could serve, in the same way that family receipt books did: as a compendium of information that lasted far longer than a year. In the example I discuss here, this is indeed the case. The almanac as a whole has been annotated more than once in a few different hands and inks, although the majority of these are in a single hand. The interleaves contain recipes, medical formulae, and accounts, while the printed monthly calendars have mostly appointments and reminders written into the spaces. The recipes, mostly for medicines, are written in a clear hand and contain so few corrections that it is clear they are fair copies of what were presumably preceding rough notes. And the volume has been bound to last, in plain, blind-ruled calf.

There is throughout the entries by the main hand a sense that this is someone like an apothecary, or a doctor, with recipes for various medicines, including one for the enticing “Merry Pill.”

Formulae are often written using scientific symbols. The bulk of the almanac is almost certainly his, not her, book, especially given the momentarily unscientific note, “Azoons I’m as sick as a Dog I vowd I would make him look like a Cuckold as he is.” However, there are some fascinating moments when I think we can at least speculate that this is also her/their book.

On a leaf opposite the June calendar, underneath a recipe beginning with a formula to “stiffen or purefie [symbol for lead] or pewter,” in a quite different hand and ink someone has written: “Ann Burgess Nat ye 15th of June about 5 in ye morning – 1683.”

There is a line drawn to separate this entry from the recipes/formulae above. While it is difficult to be certain, this entry looks to be later than the interleaved material. There are a number of possibilities, all of them equally plausible. Ann Burgess may have been recording her own date and time of birth in response to the astrological material contained in the book. It is possible that she is a later writer than the person who wrote the interleaved material. While many almanacs were treated as being ephemeral, as Adam Smyth and Louise Curth have shown, almanacs could become repositories of knowledge and autobiographical material, and might well be handed down in families as receipt books were.[3] That would seem to be the case in this instance, though again I can only speculate as to where Ann Burgess might have been placed in the chain of transmission: her hand, if it is hers, points to the early eighteenth century. (It is of course also possible that the interleaved material and the reference to Ann’s birth were written at around the same time, but just by different members of the family.)

There are three other women mentioned in sone detail in the almanac, all of them appearing on the final pages of the first ephemeris, in what seem to be a series of appointments. The appointments (if that is what they are) are written in the same hand in the spaces under the “remarkable days” column for December. Under Advent Sunday we have “mrs ludwell at a Chandlers shop in Beech lane.” Under 2 in Advent, we have “mrs Shakemaple, next door to ye [3 tun] in Rosemary lane.”[4]

Rosemary Lane, located in the City, was renamed Mint Street in the nineteenth century; it had a famous rag fair and a reputation for being disorderly.[5] There are a number of Shakemaples listed as being in the area around 1700, with an Ann Shakemaple listed in the Parish Register as having died in 1726 at St Botolph, Bishopsgate, though there is no certainty that this is our Mrs Shakemaple.[6] .(While perhaps raising a smile from modern readers, Shakemaple was not such an unusual name in the late seventeenth century.)

On the back flyleaf at the top we have “mrs Bromley,” “Mrs Shakemaple for ye 30 spilln [?],” and I think the alchemical symbol for calx (oxide) and tincture Regalis, described in The Complete English Dispensatory (1719) as “a universal medicine” – which implies that Mrs Shakemaple, and perhaps also Mrs Bromley, were involved in the supply of some materials that were either for alchemical or medicinal purposes. I have not thus far been able to track these women down, but it does seem at least likely that Mrs Shakemaple for one ran an apothecary shop in Rosemary Lane. Another supplier of material necessary for the work of an apothecary (or alchemist) is noted in September: “Mrs Russell. Crucibles.” There are also appointments with “Ann Rutler Quaker at Cold harbour in dowgate Mortgagee” (Coldharbour was in the City of London, Dowgate is a ward), and a note referring to “Mrs Knightingale defunct” and “Katherine Tooke executor.”

So I would maintain, for the purposes of this blog, that this is indeed a suitable book to be seen as her/theirs as well as his.

Source: The State Library of Victoria (Australia), Shelfmark RAREMM 325/24. Images reproduced with the permission.

[1] For a brief account of the collection, see Paul Salzman, “The John Emmerson Collection in the State Library of Victoria,” forthcoming in The Library, June, 2021. Together with Rosalind Smith, Sarah C. E. Ross, Patricia Pender, Mitchell Whitelaw, and Anna Welch, I am currently involved in a major research project in conjunction with the library: “Transforming the Early Modern Archive: The Emmerson Collection at the State Library of Victoria”:

[2] RAREMM 325/24.

[3] Louise Hill Curth, English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550-1700 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007); Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), chap. 1; and see Barnard Capp’s pioneering and essential English Almanacs 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).

[4] I have had various helpful suggestions for the difficult to decipher words that might be “7 htn” (short for inhabitants) from Laurie Johnson; “the Gun/3 Guns,” Richard Hawtree, Tom Charlton; “3 Tuns,” Matthew Steggle and Benny Goldberg, who also provided alchemical assistance.

[5] See Janice Turner, “An Anatomy of a ‘Disorderly’ Neighbourhood: Rosemary Lane and rag Fair c. 1690-1765,” PhD Dissertation, University of Hertfordshire, 2014.

[6] Thanks to Susan Wiseman for this information.

Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (1632)

Liam Sims (Rare Books Specialist, Cambridge University Library)

Fig. 1. Title page with inscription by Nathaniel Dalton.

Earlier this year I spent some time examining the Shakespeare folios at Cambridge University Library, on behalf of the Shakespeare Census, edited by Adam Hooks and Zachary Lesser. The First Folio of 1623 has long been the recipient of attention, from collectors and academics alike. But the later folios (1632, 1663/4 and 1685) have not – until now – been as well studied.

Until the end of the nineteenth century Cambridge University Library had only the fourth folio of 1685, which arrived in the Library in 1715 with the vast library (30,000 volumes) of John Moore, Bishop of Ely. The collection had been purchased by King George I for the huge sum of £6450 and presented to Cambridge. But in 1894 copies of all four folios arrived on our shelves. In this group the second folio of 1632 (shelfmark SSS.10.7) is particularly interesting when it comes to provenance, chiefly for the inscription of a woman – Anne Browne – made in the late seventeenth century. This appears on the blank recto of the “To the Reader” leaf along with half a dozen other inscriptions, some dated and others not. These include “Samuel Sampson 1673,” and undated “Charles Sampson” and “William Watts his book 1693.” Who Anne Browne actually was is hard to say. She may have to remain simply as one of a number of untraceable names associated with this copy.

Fig. 2. Anne Browne’s inscription (upper right) on recto of ‘To the reader’ leaf.

One of its early owners (whether Anne or not is impossible for me to say) read the text extremely closely and made amendments to it (I hesitate to use the word corrections as I’m not sure they are). For example, in The Winter’s Tale (p. 281) the printed text “I appointed him to murther you,” by Camillo, is amended to “I am appointed by him to murther you.” The four folios give slightly different renderings of this passage: the first “I am appointed him to murther you” and the third and fourth “I appointed him to murder you.” Another example occurs in Henry IV, Part 1, when on p. 70 the phrase “Supposition, all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes” is amended to begin with the word “Suspicion.” One final example comes in the form of a description of action on the stage in Henry VI, Part 3 (p. 151): next to the line “I marry Sir, now lookes he like a King” is added in the margin “She put’s on his Head a paper-crown.” It would be hard to imagine anyone sitting though a performance of Shakespeare with a folio on their lap, but perhaps such an addition was made mid-performance. I am no scholar of Shakespeare reception and leave it to others to mull this over.

Fig. 3. Annotation to margin of Henry VI, Part 3 (p. 151).

Later, the book was in Oxford: a Nathaniel Dalton, who matriculated at Queen’s College Oxford in 1772, has boldly inscribed the title page (see fig. 1 above). It may have been Dalton who commissioned the volume’s current binding of full scarlet morocco, gilt, by John Mackenzie of Westminster (executed between 1817 and 1850). It was acquired in this binding by Samuel Sandars (1837–94), a Cambridge student in the 1850s and friend of Cambridge University Librarians Henry Bradshaw and Francis Jenkinson. It came to the Library in 1894, upon his death, as part of his collection of about 1500 volumes of early English books and fine bindings. A rich assemblage, it continues to give up secrets about its contents and will do so long into the future.

Source: Cambridge University Library, shelf mark SSS.10.7. Images reproduced by permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

Charles I, Eikon Basilike (1649)

Scott Schofield

Fig. 1: Title page with famous foldout with engraving of Charles I at prayer and “The Explanation of the Embleme.” Call number: A185.

Less than six weeks after King Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, nearly twenty separate editions of Eikon Basilike, popularly known as The King’s Book, were circulating throughout England. By the end of summer, the edition count would run to more than 35. Various formats of the work, ranging from large octavos to miniature duodecimos, were printed and sold surreptitiously by a range of stationers. While the book’s main structure of twenty-eight chapters detailing political events from 1640–1648 would remain common in all printed editions, new letters, prayers, poems, portraits, and other paratexts were added within weeks of the first printing. When we speak of the materiality of the Eikon, therefore, we need to think of it in iterative terms, as a text that would mutate, in both form and content, over a very short window of time. By looking closely at copies of Eikon Basilike, we not only begin to see the extent of these changes in print, but also how various intermediaries, particularly stationers and book owners, reacted to the textual flux by supplementing and customizing their copies to reflect the ever-changing composition of the book (fig. 1).[1]

Fig. 2: The upper board with gilt centrepiece crown and initials CR (i.e. Charles Rex) to Barbara Whyte’s copy of Eikon Basilike. Call number: A15.

Western University in London, Ontario owns more than 30 copies of the Eikon Basilike, and more than two thirds of those copies carry some evidence of past ownership.[2] Among the most interesting examples are those with early female provenance. In one copy, bound in contemporary calf with a gilt centrepiece, Barbara Whyte has signed her name twice on the front endpaper of her book (figs. 2 and 3). While the repeating of one’s signature was not unusual in surviving books from this period, examples in different hands or styles are less common.[3] Of particular note here is the addition of “13 June 1649” to the first signature, the earliest date inscribed in any of Western’s copies. While I have not been able to identify Barbara Whyte, I can’t help but see her inscribing and dating of this controversial book in the year of the execution as a bold assertion of ownership.

Fig. 3: Inscriptions of Barbara Whyte with date and Barbara White. Call number: A15.

A second example with evidence of female ownership appears in what is the smallest of Western’s copies. Still in its original binding, the boards are decorated in a simple faded gold-tooled frame with corner ornaments, while the flat spine contains nine flowers repeated in gilt. Printed in black and red by Richard Bentley for John Williams (fig. 4), the copy contains an initial printed leaf with a crown and a seal with Latin motto. 

Fig. 4: Titlepage of small format edition of Lettice Cuff’s copy of Eikon Basilike. Call number: A233/233a-mini.

It is here, above the crown, that Lettice Cuff has signed and dated her copy (fig. 5). Volume 6 of John Lodge and Mervyn Archdall’s The Peerage of Ireland or Genealogical History of the Present Nobility of that Kingdom (Dublin, 1789) mentions one Lettice Cuff as wife of Henry Dodswell of Athlone Esq. in a larger passage that begins with John Digby of County Kildare, Ireland. While the passage doesn’t provide dates for Lettice Cuff, it does mention that her only daughter died in 1731 (p. 287).  It seems possible, if not likely, that this is the same Lettice Cuff who signed her copy of Eikon Basilike in 1688.

Fig. 5: The inscription of “Lettice Cuff 1688.” Call number: A233/233a-mini.

In this final example, we see two traces of female ownership through gift giving. The first, in black ink, reads “To my daughter Frances Bouchiry [?] 1700” while the second, in pencil, reads “To My Dear Daughter Sarah Amy Hersent [?] 1725” (Fig. 6). Taken together, the inscriptions allow us to see the same book passing through several hands and different families, but ultimately ending as the possession of two different female owners. With the first inscription we get the addition of biblical scripture, which in this case might be read as a critique of the false leaders who oversaw the regicide in 1649 or perhaps a reminder of similar troubles to be cautious of in 1700. At the very least, to include this excerpt of Jeremiah 5.30 above the inscription suggests the gift comes with a warning.  

Fig. 6: Front endpaper showing multiple gift inscriptions to two daughters, one dated 1700 and the other 1725.

The evidence of female ownership found in these three copies of the Eikon offers a potential clue to the importance of this book for women in the early modern period. Indeed, as Laura Knoppers has shown in her examination of copies of the Eikon in libraries in North America and the UK, female ownership marks are commonly found on the title pages, endpapers, and even across the margins of this printed text.[4]  Similar to the copies at Western, those copies examined by Knoppers include examples with single and repeated signatures, statements relating to weddings, baptisms, and deaths, and inscriptions attesting to gifts given or received.  As she writes: “In private closets and cabinets, owned, exchanged, and annotated copies of the Eikon Basilike became the readers’ own material legacies” (p. 90). As scholars increasingly look to the material traces of provenance in early printed books, the Eikon proves a particularly strong case for studying female ownership and use.  

Source: Archives & Special Collections, Western University. All images used courtesy of the James A. and Ellen R. Benson Special Collection, Archives & Special Collections, Western University.

[1] The printing of the Eikon Basilike comes with an incredibly complex record of editions, states and issues. For the standard bibliography, see Francis A. Maden, A New Bibliography of the Eikon Basilike of King Charles the First, with a Note on the Authorship (Oxford UP, 1950). For further discussion of the printings and iterations of the Eikon in its larger historical context, see Kathleen Lynch, “Religious Identity, Stationers’ Company Politics, and Three Printers of Eikon Basilike,” PBSA 101:3 (2007) 285–311 and Robert Wilcher, Eikon Basilike: The Printing, Composition, Strategy, and Impact of ‘The King’s Book in The Oxford Handbook of Literature and the English Revolution, edited by Laura Lunger Knoppers (Oxford UP, 2013), DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199560608.013.0016.

[2] The vast majority of Western’s copies of the Eikon Basilike were acquired in 1968 as part of the G. William Stuart Jr. Collection of Milton and Miltoniana, the largest collection of its kind in Canada.

[3] A good example is Thomas Knyvett (c 1539-1618), who signs his name in both italic and secretary hand.  See David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook (Bodleian Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2019). p. 365. It is possible, however, that the second “Barbara White” is a later addition by another individual with the same name or simply someone playfully copying a signature in variation.

[4] “Material Legacies: Family maters in Eikon Basilike and Eikonoklastes” in Politicizing domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton’s Eve (Cambridge UP, 2012) pp. 68–93; p. 90.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1615)

In September 2020, we featured a guest post from Alison Fraser on a second edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene that showcased the remarkable early bookplate of early eighteenth-century reader Elizabeth Percival. As Fraser notes, Spenser wrote the work for Queen Elizabeth I. However, the romance had a wider appeal to other courtly women—and those who were not courtly at all. A 1615 edition now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SR/OS 95.2) contains veritable layers of women’s ownership inscriptions: Eustasia Trelawny, Mary Wentworth, Elizabeth Kelly, Catherine Powny, and the forenames Jane and Kate. A 1609 edition at the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies (PR2358 .A1 1609) is signed by Frances Twysden Villieres, Countess of Jersey (1753–1821) and her youngest daughter Harriet Bagot Villiers (1788–1870), and also contains the earlier inscription of a reader named Elizabeth. The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a 1596 copy of the book (STC 23082 copy 1) that is signed by an Ann Stewart on one of the front endpapers. In 2012, Rachel Stevenson’s honors thesis centered on a 1679 copy of Spenser’s Works owned by Letitia Thomson. Writes Stevenson: “Thomson is especially remarkable in her attention to detail and cross-referencing, interacting with [Thomas] Warton’s footnotes, his text, and the text of The Faerie Queene.”

What is notable about these manifold signatures is that they span the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, speaking to the work’s continued popularity with a female readership. The owner of the featured book today appears to fall in the eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century based on her handwriting. An effaced inscription on the upper edge of A2r of her 1615 copy of The Faerie Queene reads: “Catherine C[…?] her Book and the gift of h[…?] […?] E[…?]. Beneath is another annotation in a minute hand, unfortunately too faded and crossed out to read.

There is enough here to say that Catherine received the book as a gift, but because her surname is too illegible to transcribe, the relationship between the giver and her cannot be ascertained. The word beginning with H may read “her,” which would indicate that she received the book from a friend or relative.

Source: Book offered for sale by Michael Laird Rare Books LLC in February 2021 and since sold. Images used with permission.

Louis de Lesclache, Les avantages que les femmes peuvent recevoir de la philosophie (1667)

This is an unusual work for our blog, first because it is French (we’d love to feature more instances of French female book ownership) and second because it is a work of philosophy. Louis de Lesclache (c. 1620?-1671) was known for writing instructional works. He authored a range of books of grammar, but also books that explained philosophy to ordinary readers. For instance, one of his earliest works is explains philosophy in tables, creating a clear picture of a discipline that might be otherwise closed off to the less educated. This particular book is less an explanation of philosophy and instead an argument that philosophy is useful to women. Lesclache not only makes the case that women are capable of studying philosophy, but also that doing so is necessary, enables them to understand the world and control their passions, and thus renders them perfect.

This copy of the first edition of Lesclache’s book contains two female names, Marie Jacobé de Soulange and Madelen de Soulange, both in the same handwriting. A different person, F. Merant, has put an inscription on the title page, and since “de merant” is also included among the female names, this seems to be another family member. The pen trials and handwriting on this page pictured here might suggest a younger reader.

Source: Book offered for sale by Olson Rare Books, 4/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Hugo Grotius, The Truth of Christian Religion (1680)

This blog has featured many religious works, and like those texts, this particular example suggests that ownership inscription can reveal one’s affiliation and religio-political position. This copy of Simon Patrick’s 1680 translation of De veritate religionis Christianae (1627) by Hugo Grotius gives us little information about its female owner. The inscription reads, “J. Patrick’s gift to AP. f[ro]m her to SP.” We do not know who AP is and can rely only on the pronoun “her” for the gender of the owner. It is possible that P stands for Patrick and that these three persons were all related to each other. It is tempting to imagine that these are all related to Simon Patrick, the translator himself, but I cannot find evidence of this, and the name Patrick is a common one.

Simon Patrick, then Dean of Peterborough and later Bishop of Ely, was a defender of the Anglican church. He was an Armenianist, making the choice for Hugo Grotius, also an Armenianist, an obvious one. A gift of this book suggests the reader has an investment in Arminianism, and the passing on of the gift has the potential to strengthen a small network of like-minded believers.

What makes this unusual as a work owned (at least temporarily), received as a gift, and then passed on, by a woman is the ambitious theological nature of this book by the famous humanist, theologian, and jurist Grotius. Many religious books owned by women concentrate on practical devotion or advice such as the one other book by Simon Patrick we have featured before, which, as Mark Empey explains, was a book with advice for those who have lost a friend, consisting largely of sermons and prayers. This translation shows evidence of a different, more intellectual type of reading practice.

Source: Book offered for sale by Louis Caron, 12/1/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

John Watson, The Gentleman and Citizen’s Almanack for the Year of Our Lord, 1733

Well! After profiling a copy of the 1616 Maison Rustique, or, The Countrey Farme with the ownership inscription of Mary Howard, I reached out the Dublin City Library and Archive to inquire about another Mary-Howard-owned book: a 1733 edition of John Watson’s almanac, published in Dublin.


Howard twice signed the recto of the blank leaf at the end of the almanac, making ample pen trials, too. This Mary Howard is clearly not the same owner of the Maison Rustique. This Mary Howard’s hand is later and more italic, and neither the uppercase nor the lowercase H in Howard are formed like the H in the other’s inscription. Still, it is nice to be able to add an Irish (presumably) woman to the website for the first time.


As is clear from this title page, Watson’s almanac provided information on calendars, feast days, and so on, but also contained directories of names, of prominent individuals, such as members of royalty and nobility, as well as merchants, traders, and soldiers.

The book is also signed “T.M. Ray” on the title page.

Source: Book held by the Dublin City Library and Archive. Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive.