Giovanni Thommaso Minadoi, Historia della guerra fra Turchhi et Persiani (Venice, 1594)

This Italian history of the Turko-Persian wars shows no signs of previous female ownership on its pages. Rather, the Bodleian shelfmark–“Seld. 4°.M.14. art.”– reveals the book’s location among the collection of printed books and manuscripts given to the Bodleian Library by legal counselor and antiquarian John Selden upon his death in 1654.

It is the volume’s parchment binding that reveals evidence of female book ownership. Stamped with the Talbot hunting dog and the initials “E.G.,” this volume was once part of the library of Elizabeth (née Talbot) Grey, the Countess of Kent (1582-1651).

Elizabeth Grey’s ownership of books that were integrated into the Bodleian Library through Selden’s bequest has been largely undocumented. Seemingly unable to imagine a female book collector, John Sparrow mistakenly interpreted the “E.G.” stamped on the covers as that of Edward Gwynne, another prominent seventeenth century book collector. See “The Earlier Owners of Books in John Selden’s Library,” See Bodleian Quarterly Record 6 (1931): 263-271.

Philip Oldfield’s British Armorial Bindings Database has helped rectify that error and more. On this site, Oldfield compiles a list of eleven volumes bearing Elizabeth Grey’s armorial stamp (or variations of it) in collections throughout the UK.

The intimate relationship between the Countess of Kent and John Selden explains why some of “her” books ended up catalogued as “his.” Born Elizabeth Talbot in 1582, she was the daughter of Mary (née Cavendish) Talbot (1556–1632) and Gilbert Talbot, seventh Earl of Shrewsbury (1552–1616). In 1601, she married Henry Grey, who became the eighth Earl of Kent in 1623. Henry Grey died in 1639, and the Countess took up permanent residence at her home in Whitefriars, London. John Selden, her long-time legal advisor and friend, moved in with her later that year and continued living with the Countess until her death on 7 December 1651. In her will, she left a large portion of her material possessions to Selden. When he died on 30 November 1654, his decision to leave his extensive library of books and manuscripts (over 6,000 volumes) to the Bodleian Library meant that some of “her” books with the armorial stamp were recorded as “his.” The binding of this volume and some others, however, remain to tell us differently.

For other books in the Countess’s library, we have a manuscript catalogue (see Bodleian Library MS Selden Supra 111). A list of 179 titles were recorded in her rooms at Whitefriars when an library inventory was completed after Selden’s death. For a transcription of the list and more on the collection of her books at Whitefriars, stay tuned for the forthcoming volume of Private Libraries of Renaissance England. General Editors R. J. Fehrenbach and Joseph L. Black. (Forthcoming).

Thanks are due to the Bodleian Library for permission to publish images of their holdings.

If you have more information about the Countess of Kent’s books in other libraries or collections, I’d love to hear from you. Tweet @TaraLLyons or email tllyons@ilstu.edu.

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