In a 1676 edition of Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, That Most Fam’d Romance, currently offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, is the early armorial bookplate of a woman reader, Cary Coke, née Newton. The bookplate features the impaled arms of Coke (1680–1707) and her husband, Edward, and reads “Cary Coke Wife of Edward Coke of Norfolk 1701.”
Her accompanying inscription on the front paste-down reads “C Coke /168/.” An inscription above that, apparently in the same hand, says “K s Y.”
The Cokes resided at the manor of Hill Hall in Holkham, which was later supplanted by Holkham Hall, built by the their son Thomas. Hill Hall contained a substantial ancestral library, and Cary Coke appears to have singled out at least some of its books for her own. A 1922 essay, “Some Notes Upon the Manuscript Library at Holkham,” published in The Library by C.W. James, Holkham Hall’s librarian, describes Coke as a “pretty young wife” whose bookplate in several of the library’s illuminated manuscripts attests to her “pleasure” in them. In her 1908 book Coke of Norfolk and His Friends: The Life of Thomas William Coke, First Earl of Leicester of Holkham, A.M.W. Stirling, a descendant of the Cokes, remarks upon Coke’s “dainty volumes” and the “little labels” she placed in therein. The distinctly feminine characterization of Coke’s book ownership by James and Stirling is curious.
Both Parthenissa‘s late 17th-century publication date and Cary’s inscription, with its possible shelf-mark, indicate that the book was probably acquired by Coke herself rather than gleaned from the ancestral Coke library. Books now at the Bodleian Library further suggest that Coke formed her own library within Hill Hall. One is a volume of 12 plays commencing with the 1693 George Etherege comedy, The Man of Mode, or, Sr Fopling Flutter. Coke has inscribed another volume, The Historie of the Life and Death of Mary Stuart Queene of Scotland (1636), “C.Coke /15/.” Her books at the Bodleian include a 1700 edition of Don Quixote and a 1689 edition of King Lear. All of the volumes are affixed with Coke’s bookplate. A further book, her copy of a 1690 English translation of Scudery’s Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, now untraced, was offered for sale by the bookseller E. Jeans of Norwich in 1860.
We can infer from Parthenissa and these volumes that Coke, like Frances Wolfreston, was a lover of drama, romances, and literature. Unfortunately, her book-collecting was cut premature by her death at the age of only twenty-seven.
Source: Book offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, 1/21/19. Images used with permission.