Book of Common Prayer (1678)

By Dr Michael Durrant


A small folio edition of the English Book of Common Prayer (1678), which is now housed at Bangor University Library, contains numerous handwritten notes, annotations, signatures, and ownership marks, dated from the late-seventeenth century through to the mid-eighteenth century. If we narrativize these inscriptions and place them in chronological order, the earliest markups are probably dated to the period between 1688 and 1702. This is likely because a reader has manipulated the book’s contents to keep it up to date, manually redacting or augmenting references to Charles II and his wider family, and substituting them with the names of the post-1688 co-monarchs, William and Mary. The image below offers one example of these editorial revisions (sig. G3r). In this image, we can see the reader has transformed the determiner ‘his’ to read ‘their’; ‘CHARLES’ has been scribbled over, replaced in the margin with ‘William and Mary’; ‘King and Govenour’ has been modified to read ‘King and Queen’, while the ‘ERINE’ of ‘Queen CATHERINE’ has also been blotted out, with the remaining ‘C’, ‘T’, and ‘H’ letters being cannily amended using pen and ink so that it reads ‘M’, ‘R’, and ‘Y’. Reference to the then ‘James Duke of York’, and future Catholic King James II, have been thoroughly defaced, too, replaced by the addition of ‘Catherine Queen Dowager [and] her Royal Highness the Princess Anne of Denmark’.


On the book’s left board various members of the ‘Moyle’ family—Thomas, Randle, Elisabeth, and Jane—have each signed their names. Randle’s name appears five times (a sixth example seems to be obscured by a book plate). At least one of Randle’s signatures is accompanied by the proprietary phrase, ‘His Book’. Each of his signatures are dated 1751, although his name appears again towards the very end of the book (sig. Yy2r), this time dated 1766, which is some fifteen years after he made inscriptions on the left board. Just beneath Randle’s 1751 signatures, and in a different hand, is the name ‘Thomas Moyle’, which is accompanied by ‘His Book 1753’. This has been written in a more ornate italic style. At the bottom of the left board is the name ‘Elisabeth Moyle’, which is dated ‘1759’, and immediately to the left of that appears to be the faint outline of the name ‘Jane’, which has been partially blotted out.


Thomas Moyle was a freeholder who resided in Stratford, in the parish of West Ham, Essex. Thomas married his wife Sarah (née Jones) on 30 October 1766 at St Botolph’s, Bishopsgate. The signature on his marriage license provides an exact match to the one visible on the left board of BX5145.A4, and evidence from Thomas’s last will and testament, probated on 14 August 1787 (NA PROB 11/1156/157), suggests that he, Randal, Elisabeth, and Jane were siblings. Thomas bequeathed the majority of his goods and estate, valued at £200, to Sarah; the remainder of his est ate was shared between his sister ‘Jane’, his brother, ‘Randall’, and the surviving children of his then deceased sister, ‘Elisabeth’. Because of Thomas’s marriage license, which stipulates that he was twenty-one when he married Sarah, it is possible to deduce that he was about forty-two when he died, and around eight years old when he made his mark this 1678 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.

Claims to textual ownership were also made by Thomas and Randle’s sisters, Elizabeth and Jane. On the book’s right board, Elisabeth and Jane’s names appear again, this time accompanied by two devotional poems. Both of these inscriptions appear to be written in the same hand, and the writing style manifest at the back of the book matches Elisabeth’s 1759 signature at the front. The first example, headed ‘Elizabeth Moyle’, mingles a proprietary claim with reference to a sound traditionally associated with illness, death, and burial:

Elizabeth Moyle
Hir Book God gave her Grace here
In to look and when her [lifs] pesing
Bell doeth tole the Lord Have mercey
on her sole[.]

The second inscription, headed ‘Jane’, taps into orthodox Christian metaphors of the body-as-ship and the sea-as-world:

Jane Moyle
This world a sey our soole a ship
Which stormy wind doth tos
and if wee let our ancor slip
we are in danger to Be lost[.]


These lines have been adapted from the Particular Baptist minister Benjamin Keach’s Spiritual Melody of 1691, where it appeared under the heading ‘Hymn 104’:

This World’s a Sea, our Soul’s a Ship
With raging Tempest tost;
And if she should her Anchor slip,
She doubtless will be lost[.][1]

Keach’s introductory note stipulates the hymn’s provinance: ‘Heb. 6. 19. Which Hope we have as the Anchor of the Soul’, although Keach might also have had in mind any number of literary engagements with this metaphor, including Francis Quarles’s book of Emblemes (1643), where an accompanying verse to his emblematic depiction of Psalm 62:15 includes the line, ‘The world’s a sea; my flesh a ship that’s mann’d’.[2] Significantly, Elisabeth’s (or ‘Jane’s’) commonplacing has brought with it several deviations from the 1691 verse, notably the substitution of the gendered pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’, used by Keach to describe the ship, with ‘wee’ and ‘our’. This grammatical shift emphasizes personal participation and interaction, an issue that is enacted visibly on the book’s left board, where a formerly blank space has been transformed into a sociable one by each of the Moyle children.

Source: Bangor University, Archives and Special Collection; Call number: General Rare Books Large, BX5145.A4 1678). Photographs by Michael Durrant, used with permission.

[1] Benjamin Keach, Spiritual Melody, Containing near Three Hundred Sacred Hymns (London: John Hancock, 1691), p.254.

[2] Keach, p.254; Francis Quarles, Emblemes (Cambridge: Francis Eglesfield, 1643), Book 3, p.169.


One thought on “Book of Common Prayer (1678)

  1. Pingback: Book of Common Prayer (1679) – Early Modern Female Book Ownership

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