Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (1678)

By David Pearson

The men of the Dymoke family of Scrivelsby—a small village out in the Lincolnshire wolds—had a distinctive job title; they were King’s Champions. The title, and its responsibilities, were passed down the generations from at least the fourteenth century onwards. Sir John Dymoke (d. 1381) is the first family member with a name and a date, but his ancestors had done the job before him; the key responsibility was to appear in arms on the monarch’s coronation day, offer to fight anyone who challenged their right to the throne, and drink their health when no one came forward. These formalities were dispensed with in the early nineteenth century, but in characteristic English fashion the traditions live on, and to this day the Scrivelsby estate belongs to the Dymokes, and the title continues. The Queen’s Champion today is Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke, 34th holder of the role, and a chartered accountant.[1]

When not being Champions, the Dymokes could turn to their family library, and we know of at least a couple of them who seem to have owned books in the seventeenth century. An armorial binding stamp of a sword – the heraldic badge of the Dymokes – is attributed to Sir Edward Dymoke (d.1624), and his great-grandson Charles Dymoke (1667-1703) used a bookplate, dated 1702, though we don’t know the extent of his library.[2] But reading was not, of course, reserved to the men of Scrivelsby and this post is about a book which belonged to Charles’s wife Jane.

She was born Jane Snoden, in 1663, the daughter of Robert Snoden of Horncastle, Lincolnshire. We know little about her family and upbringing; the Snodens were a gentry family from those middle shires of England, originally from Norringhamshire, and produced a Bishop of Carlisle earlier in the seventeenth century. It seems safe to assume that she would have had a fairly privileged upbringing, comfortable if cloistered, taught what she would need in order to become mistress of her own household once a suitable match was arranged. Which it was in 1687, when she married Charles Dymoke, he of the bookplate.

Much of the genealogical detail can be found on the Internet, but also in her own hand in a copy of the fifth edition of The Ladies Calling (Oxford, 1678), which she inscribed on the flyleaf “J Dymoke”, before writing beneath a chronology of births, marriages, and deaths, of the kind that is so commonly found in devotional books as well as Bibles. The order of the entries is rather haphazard, but looks to have been written all at the same time, recording key dates in her life; she begins with her marriage, in 1687, then notes Charles’s death in January 1702 (1703, in modern style), aged 36. Her mother’s and father’s deaths follow, and at the end she notes that she herself was born on 8 March 1663 (1664), at 8 o’clock in the morning. Finally, another hand has added “Mrs Dymoke dyed Jany ye 4th 1744.” She did not marry again, and the couple had no children (the title of Champion passed to Charles’s brother Lewis); she was a widow for over 40 years.

The book is certainly an unexceptional one for her to own – it is, rather, exactly the kind of English-language devotional material which regularly filled up ladies’ bookshelves. There were countless copies of this Restoration period bestseller owned by women of the time, only a small proportion of which are still extant today. As an individual copy, it also matches expectations; it is bound in nicely but not extravagantly gilt-tooled black goatskin, particularly attractively decorated on its title-less spine, with gilt leaf edges and marbled paper endleaves. I think it quite probable that it was bought like this off the shelf of a fashionable bookseller, who would stock books like this ready-bound in a range of moderately upmarket styles, knowing that there would be a steady demand for ladies just like Mrs Dymoke. There are no annotations through the book, but the leaves are not pristine; they are a little browned, and regularly stained with little spots and blotches. It seems likely that she read it. Whether she found (as the chapter “Of widows” told her) that “Marriage is so great an adventure”, but that “the conjugal love transplanted into the grave … improves into piety,” we will never know; we can only hope that she found the book a worthwhile read.

Source: book in private ownership. Photos by David Pearson, reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

A. J. Musson, “Dymok [Dymmok] family (per. c. 1340–c. 1580),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

[1] There is an article on the medieval Dymoke family in ODNB. A Google search on ‘Dymoke Scrivelsby’ will produce various websites with more information on the family and their historic role.



One thought on “Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (1678)

  1. Pingback: Richard Allestree, The Gentlemans Calling (1696), The Ladies Calling (1700), and The Lively Oracles Given to Us, or, The Christians Birth-Right and Duty (1696) – Early Modern Female Book Ownership

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