There have been already a number of posts relating to examples of dual book ownership, or at least the discovery of multiple inscriptions that contain one female reader. Among them are spousal inscriptions such as Thomas and Isabella Hervey, as well as a discussion alluding to a possible mother or sibling ownership (see the post on Ann and Elizabeth Webb here). This blog looks at books serving as important family heirlooms that exchanged multiple hands but with a clear female role.
Simon Patrick’s devotional work, Advice to a Friend, which was published in 1673, bears the names of two family members: ‘Hellena Rawdon’ and ‘ERawdon’. It forms part of the enormous Conway book collection housed at Armagh Robinson Library. The Conways were a well connected family in seventeenth-century Ireland with keen literary interests. In the early 1640s, for example, Edward 2nd Viscount Conway owned around 8,000 volumes at his residence in Lisburn, County Antrim. A year before his death in 1655, his daughter Dorothy (c. 1630-75) married Sir George Rawdon, 1st Baronet Rawdon, and between the two families they kept this impressive book tradition alive.
The book ownership timeline of Patrick’s Advice to a Friend is difficult to ascertain but it would appear to have been first in the possession of Edward Rawdon, the eldest son of Sir George and Dorothy. Little is known about him. He was born possibly in the late 1650s but didn’t survive to inherit the family estate when Sir George died in 1684. Yet his name on the book indicates a well educated and enthusiastic book owner with a strong commitment to Protestantism.
The same can be certainly said of Hellena (or Helen) Rawdon, née Graham (1663-1710). She was the wife of Arthur Rawdon (1662-95), the third but eldest surviving son of Sir George and Dorothy. She displayed a love for books and reading. According to Brenda Collins, “her upbringing was one of scholarship; she was the granddaughter of Archbishop John Bramhall [of Armagh] and she was well read and very intelligent.” Indeed, two other works in the Armagh collection have her name inscribed: Fasti Danici (1633) by the Danish philosopher, Ole Worm, and a manuscript work by ancient writer Polybius concerning the rise of the Roman Republic, which was translated into English (Collins). Clearly, Helen’s reading interests were broad.
That passion for books was undoubtedly passed on to her children. Following her husband’s death in 1695, she maintained a “strong influence” on her young son, [Sir] John Rawdon, later third Baronet Rawdon. No less than twenty-three books in the Armagh Robinson Library with the Conway crest have Sir John’s inscription on the title page (Collins). While his name is absent on Patrick’s work we should not discount the possibility of his mother giving it to him for private reading. This strong family relationship with books, moreover, suggests that Helen’s possession of Patrick’s Advice to a Friend was a gift from her brother-in-law, Edward. And her youthful but prominent inscription indicates she valued it greatly. Crucially, it enables us to glean a little more about her fascinating character and personality.
Advice to a Friend was published when Patrick was rector of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. (He was subsequently appointed bishop of Chichester 1689, before translating to the see of Ely in 1691.) Offering a form of spiritual healing, Patrick provided both advice and consolation to his Christian readers in situations where they encountered personal loss or faced a religious crisis. His work contained sixteen chapters of advice in the guise of previous sermons and prayers that he delivered, some of which were directed at his future wife, Penelope Jephson, whom he married in 1675.
Indeed, Patrick had a particularly popular female audience. Helen was not the only female reader who consulted his work. The prolific English writer of children’s books in the late 18th century, Mary Ann Kilner, had it with her on her deathbed in 1831, and she in turn obtained Patrick’s Advice to a Friend from a “Mrs Worst” in 1813 as can be seen from the auction catalogue (click here). Moreover, Cornelia Wilde has documented the close friendship he enjoyed with Elizabeth Gauden, whose correspondence with him centered on theological issues and matters of devotional practice . Thus, Helen Rawdon joins a long list of women who were inspired by Patrick’s work, displaying a strong connection with her faith as well as her love of books.
The beautiful eighteenth-century Armagh Robinson Library in Northern Ireland is home to an estimated 42,000 printed books, ranging from the early modern period to the present day. Thanks to the kind permission of the governors and guardians of the library, over the coming months we will be able to post no less than seven books with examples of female book inscriptions.
My thanks to the Very Revd Gregory Dunstan, keeper of Armagh Robinson Library, who kindly provided assistance relating to queries on the Rawdons.
Source: Image reproduced by kind permission of the Governors and Guardians of Armagh Robinson Library.
 Brenda Collins, “Family Networks and Social Connections in the Survival of a Seventeenth-Century Library Collection,” Library & Information History 33.2, 2017 pp 123-142.