Book of Common Prayer (1679)

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The Book of Common Prayer has been featured multiple times on our website (see here and here). It is the type of religious work that was handled, read, and reread a great deal but also treated with care and preserved well. This copy has evidence of potential female ownership, while it provides us with additional information on the owner(s), as bibles, psalm books, and prayer books often do. Here, we see  a common use to which bibles and books of common prayer were put as repositories of family history. Trusting that these books were handed down from generation to generation, book owners used them as a safe place in which to keep their genealogies. Inscriptions such as these give evidence of what Femke Molekamp calls  “religious reading cultures” (9).

Marginalia in this copy have been slightly cropped but show a series of names beginning with “Elizabeth Walker” at the top and below three male names (Langcaster, James, and John), all of whom appear again at the end of the book. A page at the back of the book details the family history of William and Elizabeth Walker, giving names and birth dates for 9 children, among whom are three women, Elizabeth, Ann, and Elinor; Elinor died aged six. A tenth name, William Gravely, and Ann’s death date, at age 24, are recorded in a different hand. The following page lists Dinah Harrison, born in 1733, and shows an owner’s inscription: “Rob[e]rt Cook his book 1750.” The hand of Robert Cook is different from the hand listing the names on the previous pages, suggesting that we are seeing the marks of multiple owners. We cannot tell for sure who recorded the four names on the cropped page and the longer list of names, but given the spacing of the marginal names, it could be Elizabeth Walker (either the mother or the daughter).

Unfortunately, no place name is recorded, which would help us trace this family further.

The use of the book is also shown in a marginal note, which partly quotes from one of the prayers in the book, the “collect” spoken at communion: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord, amen” (sig. B5r). The inscription reads: “Self to cleanse my thoughts by the Inspiration of thy holy Spirit to open my Eyes and manifest thyself unto me, and assist me with such a measure of Grace in offering up these my Spiritual sacrifices that they be acceptable to the[e] by Jesus X my Lord amen.” It is impossible to tell who wrote the inscription, but the book as a whole shows the various uses to which religious books, including especially bibles, books of psalms, and the Book of Common Prayer, could be put.

This rare edition, the bookseller explains, includes some special prayers to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the death of Charles I, and the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by Schilbantiquarian on 4/26/19.

Further Reading

Femke Molekamp, Women and the Bible in Early Modern England: Religious Reading and Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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