Charles I, Eikon Basilike (1649)

By Joseph Black

First published within days of the execution of its putative author, King Charles I, and appearing in about sixty editions within a year, Eikon Basilike. The Pourtraicture of His Sacred Majestie in his Solitudes and Sufferings (1649) was a seventeenth-century bestseller.[1] It is also a book with an increasingly well-documented history of ownership by early modern women. All six copies currently listed in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England project database (plre.folger.edu) are associated with women: three copies, including one in French, in the library of Lady Anne (Stanhope) Holles (d.1651), two in the library of Lady Elizabeth (Talbot) Grey, Countess of Kent (d.1651), and one in the library of Lady Dorothy (Percy) Sidney, Countess of Leicester (d.1659). Sarah Lindenbaum noted on this site (July 1, 2019) a copy signed by “Anna Vyvyan” in the early eighteenth century, and Scott Schofield has posted on this site (April 19, 2021) an account of three copies with female ownership held by the library of Western University in London, Ontario: one inscribed “Barbara Whyte” and dated 13 June 1649, another inscribed “Lettice Cuff” and dated 1688, and a third, passed down first “To my daughter Frances Bouchiry [?] 1700” then subsequently gifted “To My Dear Daughter Sarah Amy Hersent [?] 1725.” Laura Lunger Knoppers has addressed the widespread presence of early ownership marks and gift inscriptions in copies of Eikon Basilike, including the “relatively high number of female signatures,” a history of inscription that foregrounds the book’s cultural status as material legacy.[2]

The “Heneretta: Maria Pitches Juń” who inscribed “Her Book” on this copy of Eikon Basilike, currently in a private collection, claimed with her signature not only the book itself but also other forms of legacy. One legacy is familial: born in 1715 in Bildeston, Suffolk, Henrietta Maria Pitches was named after her mother, Henrietta Maria (Capel) Pitches (c.1695-1726): “Juń” is an abbreviation for “Junior.” The use of “Junior” for a daughter bearing the same name as her mother is unusual but not unknown, and that is clearly the reading here. The other legacy is cultural: Henrietta and her mother were both evidently named after Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669). The name announced the family’s political-cultural affiliations, and what book more appropriate for a namesake of the Queen to possess than the book that represented the textual and material legacy of the executed King? The status of the book as material legacy is in addition signalled by its fine binding. This copy is Wing E283 (Madan #21), an octavo edition dated 1648 but published in the second half of March 1649. The gold-tooled “lozenge or diamond”-style binding likely preceded the book’s acquisition by Henrietta Maria Pitches: the British Library holds two copies of Eikon Basilike decorated in a manner similar to this copy by the Restoration binder Thomas Dawson of Cambridge.[3] Henrietta Maria Pitches either acquired this finely decorated copy or was gifted or inherited a copy bound in a manner appropriate to the suggestive association with her royal namesake.

In August 1738, Henrietta Maria Pitches married the “eminent Jeweller” Robert Nelson, bringing with her a substantial dowry of £3000.[4] The wedding announcement notes that she was niece to the Bishop of Ely, the Reverend Robert Butts (1684–1748), who in 1712 had married her aunt, Elizabeth Pitches (1686–1734). Bishop Butts had been a chaplain to George II and before his translation to Ely in 1738 had been Bishop of Norwich, an appointment he won through a patron’s influence with Queen Caroline (ODNB). As befitting her name, Henrietta Maria Pitches enjoyed connections with church and court.

This copy of Eikon Basilike features one additional signature: the name “Charlotte Wentworth” (unidentified) is inscribed on the front pastedown in a hand later than Henrietta Maria Pitches’ but still early: the ink is brown and the signature likely dates from the later eighteenth or earlier nineteenth centuries. This inscription was covered up when new blank pastedowns were glued over the originals and new free endpapers added. These changes themselves probably date from before the twentieth century: the replacement endpapers are handmade and look eighteenth century. Additional evidence of early provenance or reader engagement may have been lost with the disappearance of the original free endpapers.

One additional piece of information helps round out the story of this inscription. A copy of Richard Allestree’s Ladies Calling (1675) sold in a 2005 auction at Christie’s is also signed “Henrietta Maria Pitches”: but this Henrietta Maria is the mother, as the book is also signed, in the same hand, “Heneretta Maria Capoll.”[5] Henrietta Maria (Capel) Pitches was the daughter of William Capel of Stow Hall, Suffolk and Mary Capel (1670-1724); her husband, Richard Pitches (1668-1727), father of Henrietta Maria Pitches “Juń,” served as rector in the parish of Hawstead, Suffolk.[6] The current location of this copy of Allestree is unknown. It had been collected by Lady Hilda Ingram (1891-1968), who concentrated on fine bindings: the Christie’s auction catalogue describes the Allestree as featuring “Contemporary black morocco elaborately tooled in gilt with wide border round sides composed of tulips, roses, fleurons, birds heads with infilled corner pieces surrounding a central diamond shaped decoration composed of the same tools, the whole within a narrow border of pointillé dots, semi-circles, etc., gilt spine and edges.” Mother and daughter evidently shared a taste for quality decorated bindings, and it is possible that Henrietta Maria Pitches “Juń” acquired her Eikon Basilike from her mother, but that her mother’s provenance markings were lost when the endpapers were replaced: the signatures in the Allestree appear on the front free endpaper, the original of which is no longer present on this copy of  Eikon Basilike.

Source: Book in private ownership. Images posted with permission.


[1] The standard bibliography remains Francis F. Madan, A New Bibliography of the Eikon Basilike of King Charles the First (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1950). Madan offers an authoritative discussion of the book’s authorship, concluding that it was written by John Gauden but probably includes some authentic writings by Charles (126-63).

[2]  Laura Lunger Knoppers, Politicizing Domesticity from Henrietta Maria to Milton’s Eve (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011), 86-93 (88).

[3] See shelfmarks Davis75 and c118d50 in the British Library “Database of Bookbindings”:  https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings/. Davis75 is strikingly similar, though the binding tools employed are not identifiably identical with those on with this copy. For overviews of the decorative characteristics of fine bindings in the second half of the seventeenth century, see Howard M. Nixon, English Restoration Bookbindings: Samuel Mearne and His Contemporaries (London: British Library, 1974), and David Pearson, English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800: A Handbook (2005; rpt. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2014), 68-73, 133-38. 

[4] Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, vol. 8 (London, 1738), 435.

[5] Christie’s, Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts, 2 November 2005, lot 1.

[6] Sir John Cullum, The History and Antiquities of Hawsted, in the County of Suffolk (London, 1734), 37. Stow Hall is probably West Stow Hall, a still-surviving Tudor manor that features Elizabethan wall-paintings depicting the “Four Ages of Man”: https://weststowhall.com.

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