Book of Common Prayer (1676)

By Steve Murdoch

In the University Library of Uppsala University there is evidence of female book ownership. In this case it is a 1676 copy of the English Book of Common Prayer noted simply as an English volume from the seventeenth century on a library shelf-mark pasted on the inside cover.[1] There are several notable features about this book. The title page is missing, but otherwise the binding and remaining pages are in reasonably good order.

Ownership of this work is attributed to Anna Elisabeth Leyell (fl.1696), whose inscription reads:

Anna Elisabeth Leyell
Hir. Book. Borne
the twenty seventh
Day of Aprill
Anno Christi
1696

On the outer end-leaf a marginal note has been added. It has been struck out and rendered illegible although the initials ‘F.G.L’ remain visible (as you can see here).[2] To date, that is where the biographic interest in or knowledge of this work has ended.

However, we can certainly say more about owner of the book than the brief entry in the library catalogue allows and perhaps even speculate at the provenance of it. We are helped to some degree by a prayer found on the page opposite to the dedication to Anna Elisabeth. It is written in very clear English hand.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

O Holy and Eternal Jesus, who hast
begotten by thy word, renewed us by
thy Spirit, fed us by thy Sacrements
and by the daily ministry of thy word,
Still goe on to build us up to life eternall
let thy most holy Spirit be present,
with me and rest upon me in the –
hearing thy sacred word, that I may doe
it humbly, reverently, without –
Prejudice, with a mynd ready and desireous
to learnne and to obey, that I may be –
readily furnished and Instructed to Every
good work, and may practice all thy –
Holy lawes and Commandments, –
to the glorie of thy holy name, o holy
and Eternal Jesus amen –[3]

In 1694, the Swedish Crown and Church began to seriously clamp down on non-Lutherans in the country. The British Resident, Dr John Robinson, noted that foreigners were being forced to either embrace Lutheranism or “have no exercise of religion” at all.[4] New restrictions from the Swedish Church against Anglicans were certainly recorded by Robinson again in 1695.[5] However, as an ordained Church of England minister it is unimaginable that Robinson did not continue to preach to his countrymen thereafter in the sanctuary of the English Residence. This is where both the date and survival of Anna Elisabeth’s Book of Common Prayer is of particular interest.

The book was presented to Anna Elisabeth to celebrate her birth in the period immediately following the legislation designed to thwart any non-Lutheran confessional practices as observed by Robinson. Nevertheless, we know that the British community of resident Scots and English continued to hold services in private houses in both Stockholm and Gothenburg for this purpose.[6] Sometimes they were joined by French Huguenots and Dutch Calvinists. The fact that so many types of non-Lutherans could meet together in solidarity in spite of the persecution of their confession may well explain the language used on Anna Elisabeth’s book plate. We know for sure it was not her native language, nor that of her parents. Indeed, the Leyell family is extremely well known as Kathrin Zickermann (among others) has demonstrated.[7]

When looking into Anna Elisabeth’s heritage we can, thanks to her book ownership, expand on the brief information given in the library catalogue and point out, if not correct, some information about her in other sources. For example, in the Swedish peerage, Anna Elisabeth’s date of birth is given as 7 April 1696, some 20 days in error compared to the entry in her book.[8] She was born in Älvkarleö in the north of the Uppsala region and lived until 20 April 1762. Anna Elisabeth was one of ten siblings, all children of David Leyell and Margareta Lundia (aka Mörling). This is of great interest to historical linguists and scholars of language retention as both her parents were Swedish-born and educated. Her father was born in Stockholm in 1660, the son of a Scottish immigrant merchant, David Leyell of Arbroath. Her mother was adopted by her noble stepfather, Lars Månsson Mörling.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

And this brings us back to the question of who presented her with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer? The dedication and the prayer opposite are written in English and not the Scots of Anna Elisabeth’s migrant grandparents. It was certainly gifted by someone who was keen to maintain an Anglican association and British heritage. Given the date, the language and the book, and inscription, one could be tempted to speculate that it came from a friend of the family – perhaps even Rev Dr John Robinson himself. A comparison of Robinson’s contemporary diplomatic correspondence to the prayer reveals a close similarity in the clarity and style of language, but with too many small differences to persuade a seasoned paleographer to identify him definitively as the source.[9] He may have moderately formalized his style compared to that used in his correspondence given what he was writing and the book he was inscribing it in. More likely is that it was someone of similar education from among the wider English community. Nevertheless, we have certainly been able to flesh out the details of the owner and hope that the catalogue entry is amended to bring Anna Elisabeth Leyell back into historical focus.

We would like to thank Helena Backman from Uppsala University Library for providing us with digital images of the book consulted for this blog, and Emma Forsberg for facilitating our initial contact with the library team.

Source: Uppsala University Library. Images reproduced with permission.


[1] “Uppsala Univ. Bibliotek. Bokband 1600-t, England, I.” See Uppsala University Library, The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church. According to the use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches. London, printed by the assigns of John Bill and Christopher Barker, printers to the Kings most excellent majesty 1676. Cum privilegio, 1676.

[2] Speculatively Frederika Georgina Leijel (1835–1865), a member of the same Swedish Leyell family (though not a descendant of Anna Elisabeth). Further research will be required to establish this. She does appear to be the best fit of the Leyell family assuming that is what the ‘L’ stands for.

[3] The prayer is published in Rev Jeremy Taylor, The rule and exercises of holy living. In which are described the means and instruments of obtaining every vertue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations. Together with prayers containing the whole duty of a Christian, and the parts of devotion fitted to all occasions, and furnish’d for all necessities, Robert Vaughan, engraver. (Printed by R. Norton for Richard Royston at the Angel in Ivielane, London, 1650), p.373. Ad Sect. 4, “A prayer to be said before hearing or reading the word of God.” For more on Taylor and his works see John Spurr, “Taylor, Jeremy (bapt.1613, d. 1667), Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor and religious writer.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. https://www-oxforddnb-com.ezproxy.st-andrews.ac.uk/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-27041.

[4] June Milne, “The Diplomacy of Dr John Robinson at the Court of Charles XII of Sweden, 1697-1709,” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 30 (1948), p. 77

[5] John R. Ashton, “Henry Maister of Gothenburg: His Life and Times,” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 70 (1998), p. 99.

[6] Ashton, “Henry Maister,” p. 90; Frederic Bedoire, Hugenotternas Värld: från religionskrigens Frankrike till Skeppsbroadelns Stockholm (Stockholm, 2009), p. 217.

[7] Kathrin Zickermann, “Scottish Merchant Families in the early Modern Period,” in Northern Studies 45 (2013), pp. 100–18.

[8] Gustaf Magnus Elgenstierna, Den introducerade svenska adelns ättartavlor, 9 vols. (Stockholm, 1925–36), vol. IV, pp. 518–22.

[9] The National Archives of Great Britain, SP 32/10 f.172. Dr John Robinson to Lord Ambassador Williamson, 7 May 1698.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.