John Fletcher, The Tragoedy of Rollo Duke of Normandy (1640)

Today’s book will make its appearance in the forthcoming Spring 2023 Focus on Women sale by Swann Galleries, who have generously allowed it to be previewed here.

Printed in Oxford, The Tragoedy of Rollo is attributed to John Fletcher, although its true authorship has been the subject of scholarly debate. It first appeared in print in 1639 as The Bloody Brother, its text was from a different quarto. John E. Curran, Jr. attributes the play to Fletcher, Philip Massinger, “and probably some others,” while the English Short Title Catalogue suggests that it was probably written by Fletcher and Ben Jonson, then revised by Massinger. Similarly, R. Garnett argued in 1905 that Act IV, Scene II was penned by Jonson. Although the play was included in the Second Folio of Beaumont and Fletcher (1679), Fletcher’s frequent collaborator did not participate in its writing. Others have proposed that George Chapman was one of its writers, or that Fletcher merely revised the play.

Whatever the truth, we can be sure that the playbook’s owners were more focused on plot than author. The titular character is based on the real-life Rollo, a Viking and the first ruler of Normandy. Rollo’s descendants were known as the Normans, who of course famously conquered England in 1066. Fletcher (and / or whoever else wrote the play) gives Rollo a fictional brother, Otto, with whom he wrestles for control of the kingdom. After a brief reconciliation between the two gives way to suspicion and tension, Rollo murders Otto in front of their mother and has several of Otto’s supporters killed. Rollo is ultimately killed by Hamond, captain of his guard, after ordering the execution of Hamond’s brother Allan, and his kinsman Lord Aubrey ascends to the dukedom.

The recto of the first blank leaf is signed “Grace Jefferson’s Book 1696” along the upper edge. Beneath it, later owner Thomas Pennington has tried four different versions of his signature, the first dated 1710. The book later belonged to the Legh family of Norbury Booths Hall, whose armorial bookplate on the front pastedown is dated 1826. The book may have entered the family’s library during Peter Legh’s lifetime, as he lived until 1857. It was owned most recently by collector Kenneth Rapaport.

Like so many women who inscribed books, Grace Jefferson is unidentified, but demonstrates seventeenth-century women’s interest in drama.

Source: Book to be offered for sale by Swann Auction Galleries in Spring 2023. Images used with permission.

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