On this blog we have largely featured English examples of female book ownership, but we aim to include examples from many different countries, so we are always grateful when a non-English example comes our way. This sixteenth-century publication combines two works by the French Dominican preacher and author Pierre Doré (c. 1500–1559). This particular copy does not have the original title page, so someone, at some point, wrote the title and some biographical details on a flyleaf, but the entire book, including the original title page of this edition, has been digitized and put online by University of Gent, here.
Someone has also written the title on the spine of the book (which is missing a substantial number of pages), but Isaiah Cox points out that the title mistakenly gives the date as 1586, even though this is the 1540 edition.
Les allumettes du feu divin (The Matchsticks of Divine Fire) and Les voyes de paradis (The Roads to Paradise) are, in Andrew Pettegree’s words, “works of Catholic edification and forceful refutations of heresy” (114) that were published when Calvinist ideas were spreading. Malcolm Walsby notes more generally that Les allumettes “sought to encourage Catholics to use the life of Christ as an example of piety” (32). Placing a signature on a work like this announces one’s religious stance and identity to others in a potentially volatile religious climate.
An early reader named Marianne Godarde has written her name in the book three times, spelling her name in various ways.
Additional notes in the book may also be hers although they are difficult to decipher.
While we have no way of identifying this reader more precisely, it is important to look at practices for marking one’s name in different countries and considering both placement and handwriting as modes women used to present themselves to their immediate family and household but also to larger circles of contemporary and future readers.
It is possible that Godarde wrote her name on the title page and on other missing pages of the book. She may have been practicing writing her name as the decorative “d” and the double name on the two pages in the book next to each other suggest. However, the more deliberate placement of her name next to “La seconde voye de paradis” (the second path to paradise) rather than in the bottom or top margin potentially indicates a special interest in that section of the book. Once the lettering under her name and the annotations on the other pages are looked at more closely, more may become clear about this particular French book user.
Source: book offered for sale by RareTome.com. Images reproduced with permission.
Andrew Pettegree, The French Book and the European Book World (Leiden: Brill, 2007).
Malcolm Walsby, “Promoting the Counter-Reformation in Provincial France: Printing and Bookselling in Sixteenth-Century Verdun.” Books in Motion in Early Modern Europe: Beyond Production, Circulation and Consumption, eds. Daniel Bellingradt, Paul Nelles, and Jeroen Salzman (Cham: Palgrave, 2017), 15–37.
In 1638 the French Jesuit Paul de Barry (1587–1661) published his third book, entitled La Solitude de Philagie ou l’adresse pour s’occuper avec profit aux Exercices spirituels une fois tous les ans durant huict ou dix jour. It was printed in Lyon in the printing house of Claude I Rigaud (1583–1628), which at that time was operated by his widow and his son-in-law Philippe Borde (d. 1669). De Barry, who was rector of the Jesuit colleges of Aix and Nîmes and later provincial of Lyon, was an esteemed preacher, but first and foremost a prolific author. Carlos Sommervogel, who composed the Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, attributes no fewer than twenty-five works to him. La Solitude de Philagie, which was first printed in 1638, must have been quite popular as it was reprinted no fewer than fourteen times until 1692 and new editions appeared half-way through the nineteenth century (in 1854 and 1859).
Eight years after its publication, the text was translated into Dutch by Guilliam van Aelst, who, as is mentioned on the title page, was “gheboortigh van Antwerpen” (“born in Antwerp”). Van Aelst, who passed away before 1646, was an active translator with a strong connection to the Jesuits. Before he translated De Barry’s La Solitude de Philagie into De eensaemheydt van Philagia, Dienende tot Gheestelijcke Oeffeninghe in eensaemheydt. Van acht ofte thien gheduerighe daghen ’s Iaers, Van Aelst published De Thien eerste Boecken Der Nederlandtsche Oorloge in 1645, which was a translation of De bello Belgico decades duae, 1555–1590 (Antwerp, 1635) by the Roman Jesuit Faminio Strada (1572–1649). In 1651 he translated the Traité de l’Amour de Dieu (De Liefde Godts), which was colloquially known as Theotimus (Lyon, 1616), by St Francis de Sales (1567–1622), who was educated by the Jesuits, later bishop of Geneva and a renowned mystic and reformer, as well as an inspiration for many members of the Society of Jesus, including De Barry.
Like its French counterpart, De eensaemheydt van Philagia was quite successful. After the first edition was published in 1646 by Jacob van Ghelen, whose printing house was located at the Eiermarkt in Antwerp, three more editions (in four versions) were printed. The second edition (“Den II Druck”) was printed again by Van Ghelen in 1649. In 1655 his colleague Arnout I van Brakel (1606–75) reissued this print, in identical form—even Van Ghelen’s 1649 colophon is present—but with a modified title page. That is to say, the printer’s name was altered and the date of publication was changed to 1655. In 1664, Van Brakel, whose shop was located at the other end of the Antwerp cathedral at the Wijngaardbrug, produced the third edition in a new lay-out. In 1711, the text was reprinted once more by Joannes Paulus Robyns, again in Antwerp.
Solitude as the Road to Holiness and Spiritual Perfection
With his Solitude de Philagie De Barry wanted to provide a tool for people who strive to make progress towards spiritual perfection and serve God, both within monasteries and in the world. In order to help these lovers of holiness—hence the word Philagia, a combination of φίλη (philè) and ἅγία (hagia) in, in the title—go through the three stages of the contemplative process (the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways), the Jesuit wrote spiritual exercises that should be done in eight or ten days. During this period the readers should act as if they were living in a large desert and personify solitude to talk to only with God and their own soul. In this way, they can overcome their evil inclinations and arrive at great purity of conscience and peace of mind.
After a short introduction containing the intentions of the author, a long list of general notes to be read in preparation for the eight- or ten-day exercises follows. Before starting, one must, for example, complete or suspend all one’s work, provide oneself with appropriate literature (apart from Thomas a Kempis’s Imitatio Christi, De Barry recommends works by fellow Jesuits), and contemplate on past sins in preparation for confession. Once these eight pages of instructions are mastered, the devotee can start the eight or ten days of meditations, the maintaining (‘onderhoudinghe’) of inner attitudes and devotional acts (e.g. the intimacy of the heart, the preparation for the yearly confession and the examination of conscience in preparation), and investigations (of the virtues for example).
On the first day, one should contemplate the reason why one is created. The second day is dedicated to repentance for the sins of the previous life. On the third day, faint-heartedness and sluggishness in the service of God take center stage. Next, one must consider what happens to one at the end of life. On day five to seven one should imitate Christ in the three stages of his life: in his youth, during his apostolate, and during his passion and death. The last three days of the process revolve around love owed to God, the unity with God, and the love for the Holy Sacrament. Once that whole process has been completed and readers have worked their way through nearly seven hundred pages of text, they are prepared for the New Year.
The Dedication by Catharina van Aelst
De Barry dedicated his original French La Solitude de Philagie “au glorieux S. Joseph, le plus aimable et le plus ayme de tous les Saincts, apres Jesus, & Marie’ (“to the glorious St Joseph, the most lovable and most loving of all the Saints, after Jesus and Mary”). The German translation by Martinus Sibenius also dedicated the text to Joseph, “der Mutter GOTtes allerwürdigstem Bräutigam, und allerweisesten Regierer des Worts, das Fleisch worden ist” (“the Mother of GOD’s most worthy Bridegroom, and most wise Ruler of the Word that became flesh”). With a general dedication like this, the book was aimed at all readers, men and women alike. In the Dutch version, however, the original dedication was replaced by a text by Catharina van Aelst, the daughter of the translator. Her father had passed away at the time that she wrote the dedication, “op den Voor-avont van’t Jaer 1646” (“on the Eve of the Year 1646”; fol. a6v):
Desen soo kostelijcken Lust-hof, van mijnen goeden Vader saeligher tot alghemeyn gherief van ons Nederlandt uyt de Fransche sprake overgeset, ende met meer andere sijne Boecken aen my als erfenisse ter handt ghekomen zijnde, alsoo hy aen een eighelijck van ons even nutbaer ende dienelijck is. (fol. A5v)
(This so precious Garden of Delight has been translated from French by my good late Father for the general benefit of our Netherlands, and has come to me as an inheritance, together with more of his other Books, so that it is as useful as it is serviceable to all of us).
In her signature to the dedication, Catharina added the letters G.D. to her name. They can also be found after her initials on the title page of the 1646 edition: “[De eensaemheydt van Philagia] Wordt aen alle Gheestelijcke Dochters voor een Gheluck-saeligh Nieuw Jaer ghegunt Door C.V.A.G.D.” (“[The eensaemheydt of Philagia] is presented in kindness to all Spiritual Daughters for a Happy New Year by C.V.A.G.D.”). The abbreviation means that Catharina identified herself as a “Geestelijke Dochter” (“Spiritual Daughter”) or filia devota. She was one of the many single, Catholic women in the early modern Low Countries—often called “kloppen” or “kwezels”—who chose a chaste life dedicated to God outside monasteries and in secular contexts, often under the spiritual guidance of and in obedience to secular priests or, as in this case, Jesuits.
Catharina dedicated her father’s translation of De Eensaemheydt of Philagia to “alle gheesteliicke dochters. Beminde mede-Susters” (“all spiritual daughters, Beloved fellow Sisters”; fol. a2r). She encourages them to follow the example of Solomon in the Song of Songs 4. 16, who took his bride to the garden of delight. This can be done, she states referring to the eensaemheydt of De Barry’s title, by seeking the pleasure garden of solitude. It is there “dat onsen aldersoetsten Bruydegom Jesus noch alle daghen onse Zielen trouwt” (“that our most sweet Groom Jesus marries our Souls every day”; fol. A2v), in order to pull them “uyt de slavernije des duyvels, te weten, uyt het wereldts leven” (“out of the slavery of the devil, namely, of worldly life”). Subsequently, she explains that the “aldermeest gheachten Lust-hof van onsen Hemelschen Bruydegom, inden welcken hy sijnen aldermeesten lust heeft” (“most esteemed Pleasure-ground of our Heavenly Bridegroom in which he takes the most pleasure”; fol. a3v) is the bonus hortus virginitatis (delightful garden of virginity). In order to see to what exalted holiness and spiritual perfection of the soul solitude could lead, Catharina encourages people to look especially at
de heylighe en Lofweerdighe Societeyt Jesu, de welcke inden selven Lust-hof uyt Godt ontfanghen ende voort-gebraght, met het selve sogh onderhouden ende op-ghevoedt zijnde, tot alsulcke overvloedighe Heyligheydt ende volmaecktheydt ghekomen is, dat sy de heele wijde wereldt, ende onder andere oock ons haere Gheestelijcke Kinderen soo rijckelijck, als wy tot ons groot voordeel ende gheluck daghelijcks bevinden, vande selve is mededeelende. (fol. A5r–v)
(the holy and Praiseworthy Society of Jesus, which, received and brought forth from God in the same Garden of Delight, being nurtured and educated with the same milk, has come to such abundant Holiness and perfection, that it lets the whole wide world and also, among others, us its Spiritual Children, share the same so richly, as we experience to our great benefit and happiness every day).
Catharina’s dedication, which encourages the mystical wedding and the virginal matrimony of the soul with Christ, is written as a New Year’s wish. The fact that it is composed by a spiritual daughter of the Jesuit order and addressed to other spiritual daughters shifts the intended audience of De Barry’s devotional treatise. Rather than at a general audience, the text is now aimed at female addressees, and more specifically, female religious addressees. But which readers did the text actually reach?
For the Love of Holiness: The Readers of De eensaemheydt van Philagia
Not all the extant copies I have seen contain ownership inscriptions. A good number of the ones that do, however, indeed belonged to women. In many cases the ownership inscriptions point out that the books were owned by individuals, albeit all members of religious communities. One copy of the 1646 edition, for example, was owned by Marijken de Raedt, who was a zwartzuster (Alexian sister) in the community in Aalst in East Flanders, which had been founded there in 1475 in order to take care of the sick (especially the plague victims) and continued to exist until 2020, when the remaining sisters moved to a neighbouring residential care center (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 13; see Figure 1). A second copy (Kontich: Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde, no shelfmark) made its way to Maria Theresia Peeters, who was a “beggijntien op het vermaert beggijn hof tot Lier” (“beguine in the renowned beguinage of Lier”), located some twenty kilometers southeast of Antwerp. When Marijken and Maria Theresia lived is not clear.
When Sister Josephine Vanherberghen, who was a hospital sister in the Sint-Janshospitaal in the Brabantine city of Tienen (near Louvain), lived is not clear either. She owned a copy of the 1649 edition and left the mark of her ownership on the flyleaf of her book (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14 bis): “Gasthuis Thienen Suster Josephine Vanherberghen.” Another copy of the same, second edition, however, was owned in the nineteenth century by a grey sister (grauwzuster), likely of the Third Order of St Francis. On the flyleaf at the front she wrote that she owned the book during the time of Sister Ida: “Van zuster MariAnna Spillebijkx grouw zuster geproffest den 7 october 1834 als zuster Ida overste was ende die is gestorven den 13 Mert 1839” (“Of Sister MariAnna Spillebijkx grey sister professed on 7 Oct 1834 as sister Ida was superior, who died on 13 March 1839”; Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3446). Unfortunately, the book does not mention in which community the women lived. Interestingly, at another (later?) point in time the book was owned by a man. In the lower margin of the title page, a certain Frederic Verachter wrote his name.
A copy of the 1655 edition (i.e. the second edition as it was published by Arnout I van Brakel) also switched hands, but this time from woman to woman (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 15). Judging from the location of the ownership inscription on the flyleaf as well as the handwriting, which is considerably older than the other signature, the book was initially owned by Maria Barbara Melijn and later transferred to Maria Bal who owned it in 1796. Both women indicate that they kept the book with the permission of their superior (“met orlof van haer oversten”). This indicates of course that these women were also members of a religious community. Possibly they lived in the female Dominican convent of Antwerp. The State Archives in that city own a donation deed that states that after the death of Peter Melijn (a building contractor who supervised fortification works in and around Antwerp between 1660 and 1680) six hundred gulden should be transferred to the Dominican convent where his daughter Maria Barbara Melijn was professed in 1670.
A second copy of the same 1655 edition also contains two ownership inscriptions (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, F 88500, flyleaf at the front). Initially, the book was owned by someone who noted down two little verses: “Het is een vremdt gemoedt / Dat noch mint, noch minnen doet” (“It is a strange disposition / That neither loves nor enables to love”) and “En houdt voor geenen vriendt / Die verandert als den windt” (“And regard as no friend / Who alters like the wind”). In between likely the same person added an emblem with the initials A.M.V. and the date 1730. Subsequently Sister Coleta Bouckaert added her name under the verse lines. Again, she is difficult to identify. A beguine with this name passed away in the Groot Begijnhof in Ghent on 27 or 28 February 1832 at the age of sixty-two. However, around the same date a Sister Coleta Bouckaert was prioress of the convent of St Trudo in Odegem near Bruges (canonesses regular of the order of St Augustine). This makes it impossible at this stage to establish whether the book was located in Ghent or in Bruges in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The last edition that was published by Van Brakel in 1664 also found its way into women’s hands. The copy that is currently kept in the Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience in Antwerp (shelfmark F 126879) belonged, according to a note on the front flyleaf, to Sister Francoise Schrijnmaeckers in 1704. Whether she owned it earlier or later than Sister Tresa Boon, who left her ownership inscription at the back of the title page, is impossible to say. In any case Tresa was very concerned about her soul’s post-mortem well-being. She explicitly asked the readers of her inscription to pray for her after her death: “Tot behoef van suster Tresa Boon. Bidt voor mijn siel naer mijn doot op dat ick sondaers mach bevrijdt woorden van de eeuieghe doot” (“For the sake of Sister Tresa Boon. Pray for my soul after my death that I, sinner, may be freed from the eternal death”).
All the aforementioned copies of the Eensaemheydt of Philagia were owned by individual women who were members of religious communities. Two other books also circulated in women’s convents but were destined for common use. The 1655 edition that is nowadays at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp (A 2221) explicitly mentions on the front flyleaf that the book is meant “Voor het gemeyn van Blyenberch” (“for common use of Bleyenberg”), a community of Victorines in Mechelen. The Norbertine sisters in Antwerp kept their copy (of the first edition of 1646) according to a note on the title page in their church: “Ecclesia Norbertinarum Antw[erpiensis]” (Museum Plantin-Moretus, A 3443). The third book (1649 edition) did not belong to a female community, but rather to the professed house of the Jesuits in Antwerp: “Dom[us] Prof[essa] Soc[ietatis] Jesu Antverpiae” (Ruusbroecgenootschap, 3060 E 14, 1e ex).
The last three books with ownership inscriptions I have found thus far probably belonged to lay people. On the flyleaf at the front of a copy held by the Museum Plantin-Moretus (A 3437), we read that “Dezen boek hoert toe aan Jozephina Lammens” (“This book belongs to Jozephina Lammens”). As Jozephina did not add “Sr” to indicate a religious profession to her name, we may assume that she was a lay woman or perhaps a spiritual daughter like Catharina van Aelst. The book with shelfmark BIB.ACC.012562 in the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Ghent (a copy of the 1649 edition) seems to have belonged to a couple: a note on the cover page expresses the hope that “Jehan en Marie wordt den besten trost” (“to Jehan and Marie the best consolation will come”), presumably in the hereafter. The 1664 version that is now in the Universiteitsbibliotheek at Ghent (BIB.158T008) has an ownership inscription on the front flyleaf that shows it belonged to a man: “Hic liber pertenet ad me Carolum Tileman anno 1762” (“This book belongs to me, Carolus Tileman, anno 1762”). He can be tentatively identified as the student who was mentioned in the Album studiosorum of the University of Leiden in 1756 and was born in The Hague in 1736. If this identification is correct, this specimen is an outlier in many respects. It is not only the sole book thus far that has only been owned by a man and a student, but it is also the only copy that made its way to the Protestant north of the Low Countries.
Although De Barry does not seem to have had a distinct readership in mind, the dedication that Catherine added to her father’s Dutch translation clearly steered the reception of De eensaemheydt of Philagia. The majority of the books that have been studied thus far found their way to women who lived their lives as the Brides of Christ Catharina envisaged. Interestingly, however, most of the women who owned a copy lived such a life within (enclosed) convents of various orders, and not as the filiae devotae Catharina and the publisher seem to have had in mind when they addressed the book to “alle Gheestelijcke Dochters” (“All Spiritual Daughters”). Whether or not it was intended to, the book evidently reached a wide female audience and thereby played an important role in spreading Jesuit spirituality and mysticism to women’s religious communities in the Southern Low Countries.
Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875.
“Barry, Paul de.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. I (1890), cols 945–57.
“Barry, Paul de.” In Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique, doctrine et histoire, ed. by Marcel Viller and others, 16 vols. Paris: Gabriel Beauchesne et ses fils, 1937–94. I (1937), cols 1252–55.
De Vlieger-De Wilde, Koen, ed. Adresboek van zeventiende-eeuwse drukkers, uitgevers en boekverkopers in Vlaanderen / Directory of Seventeenth-Century Printers, Publishers and Booksellers in Flanders. Antwerp: Vereniging van Antwerpse Bibliofielen, 2004.
De Vroede, Maurits. “Kwezels” en “Zusters”: De geestelijke dochters in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Brussels: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Letteren en Schone Kunsten van België, 1994.
Monteiro, Marit Edin. Geestelijke maagden: Leven tussen klooster en wereld in Noord-Nederland gedurende de zeventiende eeuw. Hilversum: Verloren, 1996.
Olthoff, Frans. De boekdrukkers, boekverkoopers en uitgevers in Antwerpen sedert de uitvinding der boekdrukkunst tot op onze dagen. Antwerp: J.-B. Buschmann, 1891.
“Sibenius, Martin.” In Carlos Sommervogel and others, Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jésus, 12 vols. Brussels: Schepens, 1890–1932. VII (1896), cols 1181–84.
Stracke, D.A. “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.” De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49
Van Honacker, K. Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht. Antwerp: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002. Identification number BE–A0511/Y1/010)
Verheggen, Evelyne M.F. Beelden voor passie en hartstocht: Bid- en devotieprenten in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, 17de en 18de eeuw. Zutphen: Walburg, 2006.
 This blog was inspired by the module ‘Vrouwen en literatuur in de vroegmoderne tijd’ of the undergraduate course Neerlandistiek in de praktijk (University of Antwerp, academic year 2021–22). My gratitude goes to my students Robin Van Gestel and Mie Verschooten for their enthusiastic exploration of the copy of De Barry’s De eensaemheydt van Philagia in the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich.
 It is not very clear who Guilliam van Aelst was, nor how many translations can be attributed to him. For an extensive discussion on both questions, see D.A. Stracke, “Guilliam van Aelst en Guillaume van Aelst S.J.,” in De Gulden Passer 6 (1928), 239–49.
 In the same year Paul De Barry’s text was also translated into German by Martinus Sibenius SJ (1604–68): Einöde Philagiae, Das ist Weiß unnd Manier, die Geistliche Exercitia einmal im Jahr, acht oder zehen Tag lang nützlich zu verrichten (Köln: Michael Dehmen [the Elder], 1646). This German translation was also reprinted eight times before 1738.
 The dedication of Van Aelst’s translation of De Sales’ De Liefde Godts (1651) is also written by Catharina van Aelst. This time the book is dedicated to Joanna van Lathem, abbess of the Cistercian abbey of Roosendael near Mechelen between 1639 and 1662, with whom she had a family connection. In the dedication, Catharina mentions “andere boecken” (“other books”) written by her “Vader saliger” (“late father”), as well as a female sibling and cousins, who seem to be nuns in the abbey of Roosendael.
 For this blog I consulted the Heritage Collections in Antwerp (Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience, Museum Plantin-Moretus, and Ruusbroecgenootschap), the Museum voor Heem- en Oudheidkunde in Kontich, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in Brussels, and the digital copies that are available on Google Books.
 “Schenkingsakte ten belope van 600 fl., na het overlijden van Peter Melijn te overhandigen aan het klooster van de dominicanessen, waar zijn dochter Maria Barbara Melijn was geprofest. 1670.” See K. Van Honacker, Het archief van de families de Lannoy, Melijn, de Heuvel en Meyers met inbegrip van het archief van de heren van Zwijndrecht (Antwerpen: Het Rijksarchief in België, 2002; identification number: BE–A0511/Y1/010).
 Announcement of the deceased by the civil registry in Ghent in Den vaderlander, 26, Thursday 1 March 1832, p. 4.
 U. Berlière and others, eds, Monasticon Belge, 8 vols(Maredsous: Abbaye de Maredsous, 1890–1993), vii (1977–89): Province de Flandre Orientale, 1028 and 1061–62.
Album studiosorum academiae Lugduno Batavae xdlxxv–mdccclxxv: accedunt nomina curatorum et professorum per eadem secula (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1875), col. 1055.
In the Catalogue of Scandinavian Books in the British Library Printed Before 1801, librarian Peter Hogg remarks that, regarding Iceland, “it is noteworthy that a higher proportion of the owners than in any other country were women.” Ownership inscriptions of women are indeed common in early Icelandic prints of any library. You can find many by clicking through digitized books in the repository of the National and University Library of Iceland.
One book I came across there contains a striking full-page painted ownership mark. Colourful interlocking rings containing the initials S. T. D. fill out the verso side of the front flyleaf of a copy of Ein ný húspostilla (“a new house postil”).
This collection of devotional texts was published in 1597 by bishop Guðbrandur Þorláksson, a crucial figure in the history of printing in Iceland. Most books from this period are religious works, usually small octavo editions on poor quality paper, reflecting the scarcity of resources in this fairly remote print shop. This húspostilla is no different. It is stained, creased, and mended at the edges – traces of heavy use over centuries.
The ownership mark contains only initials, but even from those it is immediately clear that this was a woman’s book. Most Icelanders don’t have family names, instead using their fathers’ first names with the suffix –son or –dóttir (‘daughter’). The D. therefore indicates a feminine name. A note on the preceding page, signed and dated 1779 at Reykhólar, gives us her full name, Sigríður Teitsdóttir. She can be identified as the daughter of Margrét Jónsdóttir and Teitur Arason, sýslumaður (a kind of local offical) of Barðastrandarsýsla, an administrative district covering the southernmost part of the Westfjords region of Iceland. The family lived at Reykhólar, a small cluster of farms, where Sigríður was born in the early eighteenth century.
The painted bookplate was likely made for Sigríður by her son-in-law, the painter, bookbinder, and scribe Hjálmar Þorsteinsson. A very similar design featuring the same interlocking rings can be spotted on the title page of the manuscript JS 162 fol, dated 1783.
He probably made the bookplate a few years earlier, since the dedication in Sigríður’s own, rather shaky handwriting tells us that she bequeathed the book to her son Jochum Jónsson in 1779: “Þessa Postillu gjef Jeg underskrifud syne mijnum elskulegum Jochum Jons syne og -óska hann lese hana og […]. Reykholum þann 27. Augusti Anno 1779. Sigridur Teitsdotter” (This postil I, the signatory, give to my beloved son Jochum Jónsson and wish that he may read it and […]. Reykhólar, August 27th 1779. Sigríður Teitsdóttir).
Another note on the inside of the front cover, made 80 years earlier, indicates that the book had previously belonged to Eggert Snæbjörnsson, Sigríður’s maternal grandfather.
Her family was clearly well-off economically, and Sigríður herself went on to marry a vicar. It is therefore likely that there were many books in the family. Incidentally, a number of Icelandic manuscripts can be linked to her male relatives. This húspostilla shows that there wasn’t just a household library, but that she also had her own personal books. Her name also shows up in a copy of the 1766 edition of Meditationes passionales, today in the British Library. There may very well be more of her books out there, dispersed across libraries in Iceland and elsewhere.
 Peter Hogg, Catalogue of Scandinavian Books in the British Library Printed Before 1801 3 (London: British Library, 2007), p. xix.
 For an overview of Sigríður’s family tree, see Bogi Benediktsson á Staðarfelli, Sýslumannaæfir 2 (Reykjavík: Hið Islenzka bókmentafélag, I prentsmiðju Einars þórðarsonar, 1881), accessed October 30, 2022, https://archive.org/details/sslumannafir00orgoog, 122–25.
 Author’s transcription and translation, names normalized to Modern Icelandic spelling in the English version.
 According to the registry of names associated with manuscripts in the joint online catalogue handrit.is, the following number of provenances are recorded for members of her family: Eggert Snæbjörnsson: 2, Teitur Arason: 1, Hjálmar Þorsteinsson: 10. There are no manuscripts recorded as belonging to Sigríður herself or female members of her family.
 Jón Jónsson, Meditationes Passionales, Edur Pijslar Hugvekjur […] (Hólar í Hjaltadal, 1766 [copy belonging to the British Library, shelfmark: General Reference Collection 866.l.4.]).
In the hunt for women’s marginalia, the libraries of one of the oldest colleges in Oxford is not the likeliest port of call. Unlike more recently established institutions, many of these august libraries acquired their early modern books at the time of their initial publication. If those volumes were thumbed—or, more to the point, annotated—it was by Merton students, dons, and scholars; and as most Oxford and Cambridge colleges did not admit women until the twentieth century, all of these would have been men.
But in the hunt for women’s marginalia, there is also such a thing as hidden gems. As part of the Marginalia and the Early Modern Woman Writer, 1530–1660, led by Professor Rosalind Smith (ANU), we were fortunate enough to consult all the English-language volumes in our research period held at Merton College, Oxford. Among the many volumes annotated by men, there are several annotated by women which must have passed through hands outside the college environment before making their way to Merton.
One of these gems is The worckes of Thomas Becon (1564), a Protestant reformer. At first glance this appears to be exactly the kind of volume that would not have women’s marginalia; it is a large, expensive folio very much in keeping with the kind of acquisitions Merton and its fellows made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Its initial annotations are in a strong secretary hand with tendencies suggestive of a male reader, such as a strong command of Latin. Nonetheless, under an imposing portrait of Becon, we find the repeated signatures of one ‘Elizabeth Groom’.
Alongside her five signatures and some of her initials, we also find what looks to be a set of hastily written musical notation, using the lines of the decorated plinth illustrated on the recto side as a kind of makeshift stave. Additionally, we get under another of Elizabeth’s signatures, her same hand writing the name of the volume’s author in majuscules almost as imposing as the portrait above it: THOMAS BECON.
All this is compelling enough, but the hand of these italic signatures seem likely to match a piece of marginalia earlier in the volume, one that like the stave notation also suggest a musical inclination.
On fol. cclxvii (verso) of The Sickemans salve, containing religious and moral instruction to sinners, we find what appears to be Elizabeth Groom (the only italic hand in the volume) extracting lines of verse.
The text is partly crossed out but it reads:
Ioy to the person of my loue though her do me disdaine Fixt are my thoughts and cannot be remoued but Still i loue in vaine oh shall i loose the sight of my ioy and harts delight or shall i sease my sute oh or shall i sttrive to tuch oh it ware to much [she is forbid]en frut
These lines read like an amorous complaint poem, with a lovesick male suitor pining for his unavailable beloved. That the verses appear here under a section of Sick Mannes salve about sin and the desire for redemption seems incongruous. After all, Becon instructs the reader on how to rid oneself of sin, not how to pine for it. And yet, the verses explore the kinds of sin that might make one turn to counsel in the first place. Indeed the last line’s reference to ‘forbidden fruit’ introduces an element of religious interdiction that might send one, chastened, to read their Becon.
As the photo above shows, the last line of the marginalia has been cut off, probably due to rebinding. The reason we can reconstruct it is that the verses originate from a popular ballad that also came to be collected in later books of song. The ballad is represented multiple times in the excellent English Broadside Ballad Archive, where it is dated between 1609-1632; that website contains a performance of how the ballad would have sounded (link). The ballad was one of many songs collected in the 1662 Cantus, Songs and Fancies compiled by T.D. (likely Thomas Davidson).
Why did Elizabeth Groom use a folio volume of devotional instruction to write down these ballad verses? Did the large print volume simply offer attractively ample margins? Or did she perhaps choose this page because of its counterbalancing moral instruction, or because its printed marginal reference to Psalm 130—an archetypal religious complaint—chimed with the plaintive sentiments of the ballad?
Other tantalizing questions arise, too. Was she writing the ballad down from memory, as perhaps would explain her erratic approach to lineation? Or was she instead copying it down from a broadside or perhaps a book of collected songs?
These verses must have felt valuable enough to Elizabeth to be worth copying, collecting, and preserving in this way. This is itself interesting, especially because the ballad is clearly written from a male persona to a female beloved. Are we, then, to interpret Elizabeth as imagining herself the forbidden fruit desired by a male beloved; or is she perhaps using the ballad to imagine herself in the agential position of the male speaker and desirer, bringing suits and striving to touch? After all, we know from women’s manuscript songbooks that women tended to collect and perform both male- and female-persona lyrics. We can only speculate that part of the appeal of these other-gendered verses was the ludic and perhaps emancipatory possibility of women singing oneself into other minds and circumstances, including male ones.
Marginalia are a window into a person’s mind. Annotations on a page show a mind at the work of reading and responding to reading. Other marginal marks are still more spectral; they can hint at an emotional state, like the boredom of a doodle, or the determination of practicing a signature. The marginalia in this volume are a burst of readerly life in the middle of a grey disquisition against sin: it evokes the enjoyment of music, the heartache of rejection, the imagining of desiring or being desired—no less than ‘joy’ and ‘disdain’ within one line.
There is a trove of interest in Merton College Library, but Elizabeth Groom’s sparky verses are a singularly unexpected find. We are lucky to have found her.
We would like to acknowledge The Warden and Fellows of Merton College Oxford for allowing us access to the archive and for the generous use of these images.
Source: Merton College Oxford, shelfmark 12.E.6. Images by Jake Arthur, reproduced with permission.
 Jake Arthur & Sarah C. E. Ross (2022) “‘Presenting a Book to Orinda’: Anne Twice, Katherine Philips, and John Oldham in New York Public Library, Drexel MS 4175,” The Seventeenth Century, 37:4, 565-589, DOI: 10.1080/0268117X.2021.1969999, cf. page 4.
Madeleine-Angélique de Gomez (1684–1770) was a highly successful playwright and novelist, whose popularity transcended borders. This is volume two of the third edition of a translation of her work that is especially interesting because it was done by the author Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756); it has recently come to receive attention for its depiction not only of polite society and romance, but also of empire and slavery (Persons).
This particular copy is exciting because it has a female signature in it, and one that possibly belongs to a female owner we featured earlier on this blog, here. In that post, on a copy of George Savile’s The Lady’s New Year’s Gift (1688), I discussed how the dating of the signature and the various other inscriptions in the book allowed us with fair degree of certainty to identify the owner as Mary Brooke (1723-1782), who married Richard Supple (1720-1797) and whose son, Richard Brooke Supple (1758-1829) became a Baronet. The signature looks somewhat similar to the one in this translation of Madame de Gomez’s work, though the capital letters M and B and the letter e look different.
Of course someone’s handwriting can change over time, and the date tells us that the inscription in Savile’s book was most likely made when Brooke was still young. It may remain a bit of a mystery whether this is indeed the same owner as the Mary Brooke who inscribed Haywood’s translation. On a back flyleaf of La belle assemblée there is more handwriting to look at, potentially providing more clues.
The writing on these page looks to be in the hand of the Mary Brooke who signed the title page. The passage is copied, as is noted at the top, from Racine’s Athalie, a tragedy published in 1691. It is a speech by Joad, the Jewish high priest, who helps Joash, the rightful heir, regain his throne from the tyranous Athalie. It contains advice to Joash on how to avoid becoming a tyrant, warning against flattery.
The combination of La belle assemblée and Racine’s play show a fascination with French culture and possibly a facility with or an interest in mastering the French language (even though the novella itself is in translation). An ownership inscription and the copied passage are ways of positioning oneself culturally and aligning oneself with particular social groups. Given the choice of passage, it also suggests a political interest that may have affected how Mary Brooke read La belle assemblée.
Our thanks to Dr. Kurtis Kitagawa for photos and descriptions and preliminary research on the female owners of books in his library.
Source: book in private ownership. Photos published with permission.
Annie Persons, “Translation and Empire in Haywood’s La belle assemblée.” In A Spy on Eliza Haywood: Addresses to a Multifarious Writer, edited by Aleksondra Hultquist and Chris Mounsy. New York: Routledge, 2021.
This 1612 edition of La perspective avec la raison des ombres et miroirs by Salomon de Caus (1576-1626) is a fascinating book. The work develops a theory of perspective in drawing by the French Huguenot De Caus, a hydraulic engineer, architect, and garden designer who designed gardens, fountains, grottoes, and aviaries for Queen Anna of Denmark, King James’s eldest son Prince Henry, and his sister Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia.
La perspective develops a theory of perspective drawing, ranging in subjects from anamorphosis to shadows and mirrors. It also includes wonderful paper flaps and pop ups. Christies notes that it is “apparently only the second book printed in England to make use of folding or pop-up flaps in illustrations, after John Dee’s Euclid of 1570.”
This particular copy of the book is extremely significant in terms of its provenance since it is bound in vellum bearing the arms of Elizabeth Stuart and her husband Frederick I, King of Bohemia.
Their armorial stamp can also be seen on the binding of the British Library copy of Jean Baptiste Legrain’s Decade contenant la vie et gestes de Henry le Grand Roy de France et de Navarre (1614), shown in the British Library’s database of bookbindings, here.
In her excellent biography of Elizabeth, Nadine Akkerman notes that 1612, when the book came out, was when De Caus “allegedly taught her and her brother Henry art and music … the year after he had designed Anna’s French garden in Greenwich” (110), though she is careful to note that there is no clear source that helps us establish De Caus’s role as tutor (431, n. 11). De Caus dedicated La perspective to Henry, who would die later that year.
Bookseller Detlev Auvermann suggests the book may have been given to Elizabeth by De Caus on the occasion of her marriage in 1613, which certainly appears to be a possibility. It is not included in a list of eighty books sent to Elizabeth in 1622, while she lived in exile in the Netherlands. As Emily Rose’s article on the list shows, Elizabeth’s reading was broad and multilingual–the list itemizes books in four languages. Rose notes that a few books from her collection are extant but does not list La perspective among them.
In any case, Elizabeth was, as Rose explains, “an avid book collector” (156). Akkerman discusses her early representation as reader in a youthful portrait in which she holds her prayer book with an inscription by her mother. In a twist, she covers the last word of the inscription with her thumb, an indication of a type of agency, writes Akkerman, for a “young woman whose legacy was contested from the moment she was born” (45).
Akkerman recounts how in 1614, two years after La perspective was published, De Caus was made “Master of the Gardens, Fountains and Grottoes of Heidelberg Castle.” Elizabeth would continue to be his patron and employer until 1619, as he worked with her not only as garden designer but also as designer of masques, another art form that requires a keen sense of perspective (see Akkerman, 110-112).
Source: book offered for sale 5/22/2022 by Detlev Auvermann Rare Books; images reproduced with permission.
Nadine Akkerman, Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Hearts. Oxford University Press, 2021.
In my work cataloguing the rare books of several Oxford College libraries, I come across many interesting clues as to the provenance of the books. Though some books were bought directly from the booksellers by the colleges, others came from alumni, who in turn acquired their books from a variety of sources. I was cataloguing a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac’s A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun, printed in London in 1687, in the library of Hertford College, Oxford, when I noticed a distinctive signature on one of the endpapers.
Feeling sure I had seen this signature before, I searched these pages and found Sarah Lindenbaum’s blog post of March 30, 2020. The inscription in our book matches the others found by Sarah, this time with the date 1706 and the price 3s 6d. We can’t be sure how this book ended up in Hertford College Library, though it has certainly been here since the 19th century, as it has an ownership note of “Magdalen Hall Library” on the title page.
Magdalen Hall later became the second iteration of Hertford College (the first Hertford College was founded in 1740 but dissolved in 1805) when it was refounded in 1874–you can read more about its history here: https://archive-cat.hertford.ox.ac.uk/researchGuides/briefGuide. However, there is an earlier, as yet unidentified, provenance inscription on the first free endpaper, which pre-dates Katherine’s.
This edition of Cyrano de Bergerac’s work, first published posthumously in France in 1657, also has a correction, possibly by Katherine, on a torn page (leaf ²B8).
It is an interesting work to add to the others found by Sarah, continuing to show the breadth of Katherine’s interests. This early work of science fiction inspired the work of later writers such as Jonathan Swift and Voltaire and touches on philosophy, religion, and politics.
Hertford Library collection is open to researchers (https://www.hertford.ox.ac.uk/and-more/rarebooks-archives/rare-books) and partly catalogued on the university catalogue SOLO. There is still much to be discovered within the collections at Hertford College, and the ongoing cataloguing project will hopefully provide more interesting examples of early female owners.
We often find extensive evidence of use in early modern Protestant bibles, including transcribed sermons, commonplaced passages from other religious books, forms of cross-referencing, annotation, and self-accounting, alongside pen trials, signatures, doodles, ownership marks, recipes, financial accounts, and (perhaps especially) family histories. As other entries in this blog will attest, it is not unusual to find extensive lists of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded on the pastedowns and endleaves of early modern protestant bibles, books objects that could remain in active use long after their production, serving as participatory sites of material accumulation and readerly intervention for a broad socio-economic cross-section of users, and usually over very long periods of time.
Bangor University’s copy of the third edition of ‘THE BYBLE | CRANMER VERSION’ (1540), otherwise known as the Great Bible, nicely illustrates this point (Fig. 1). As I have written elsewhere, Bangor’s Great Bible is replete with a range of readerly interventions, including handwritten signatures, ownership marks, pen trials, and forms of commonplacing, which are variously dated from the mid-sixteenth century through to the early decades of the twentieth century. These inscriptions were made by up to ten separate individuals, although only three of them, all male, can be identified as former owners. These include a man called Benjamin Rogers, who identifies himself as a “yomon” residing in “Rowin[g]ton” in Warwickshire, and who is active in its margins between 1710 and 1743; one “Rev J[ohn] T[heodosius] Jones” (c. 1786–1851), a “Vicar of Saintbury” in Gloucestershire, and a former Master of the Grammar School of King Edward VI, Stratford-upon-Avon; and finally Richard Hughes (1837–1930), an Anglesey-based farm labourer who donated this Great Bible to Bangor University in 1930.
Benjamin Rogers is by far the most active book user in Bangor’s Great Bible. His name appears over 200 times throughout, and it is usually accompanied by the formulaic phrase “His Booke” or by his favoured passage adapted from Proverbs, “Give me neither poverty nor Riches but food.” Benjamin’s presence is also experienced in generic aphorisms—”Benjamin Rogers is my name and with my pen I writ[e] the | Same and if my pen it had been better I should have mended | Every Letter”—or, continuing the theme of mending, in the numerous examples of patchwork repair undertaken within the book, which see Benjamin reaching in to dress wounded pages with hand-written supplements (Figs. 2-3).
There is, to put it another way, a very real sense that Bangor’s Great Bible is “His Booke.” Indeed, Benjamin’s claims to ownership feel almost overwhelming, and he appears to have had a surveillant eye set on the presence of hands that are not his own. As can be seen in Figures 4 and 5, printed manicules situated within the margins of the text incite self-reflexive phrases like “the hand” or, in one instance, “wittnes my hand,” an expression that seems almost to will the typographical hand to point away from the biblical text and back to Benjamin as reader and owner. Elsewhere, an inscription dated 1670—this time a reworked passage from Owen Feltham’s bestselling essay collection, Resolves: Divine, Moral, Political (1620), which is signed by one “George Rogers”—prompts Benjamin, later in 1733, to respond with “hand of that man.” Whether or not George Rogers was a relative of Benjamin Rogers is unclear, but his “hand of that man” phrase, which loiters on the periphery of George’s earlier inscription, seems curiously combative.
From another perspective, however, Benjamin’s focus on hands (his own and those of others) need not be read as a sign of his guarded attitude to book ownership. The book’s emotive/devotional force seems to be located in a sense that Benjamin is not, in fact, alone, that his hands are in communal alignment with others. In one instance, for example, Benjamin’s claims to book ownership will spill over into a broader claim to patriarchal possession in marriage, and in doing so he introduces us to a female figure who can be incorporated into this book’s history of ownership: “Benjamin Rogers His Book 1739 | Susanna Rogers His Wife” (Fig. 6).
Evidence from the marriage register for St Nicholas’ Church, Warwick, suggests that this inscription was made about sixteen years after a “Benjamin Rogers of Rowington” married “Susannah Ward of Claverton” on the 13 January 1723. In that time, Susanna made her presence felt within Bangor’s Great Bible, although, unlike Benjamin, she never deployed the ownership phrase, “Her Book.” Instead, we find her formulating her signature in the margins of the Book of Esau, cautiously repeating the “S” “S” “S” “S” of “Susanna” as she prepares to write out her name in full (Fig. 7); a “Susanna” also appears once in the margins of the Book of Job, six times in the margins of the Book of Numbers, and twice in Deuteronomy; further, the letter “S” appears randomly in several other sections within Bangor’s Great Bible, which together hint at her readerly presence even if that “S” did not form itself into a fuller “Susanna.”
Susanna is/was there, moving through the book’s pages with a pen in her hand, making herself known in ways that are less insistent than that of her husband, but that are still visible to us. The same is true of other women, and other men, who materialise on an interleaved sheet that appears at the back of Bangor’s Great Bible, situated between the main text block and the lower board. There we find the name “Mary Elderidge,” which has been written out at least three times, as well as the signatures of “Thomas Reynolds,” “Joseph Bernard,” and a “Thomas Drury,” which is dated “1740.” On the same sheet we find the ubiquitous “Benjamin Rogers,” who, nestled within this messy, overlapping cluster of hands, has dated his own inscriptions “1739,” “1740,” and “1741” respectively (Fig. 8).
The image above suggests that, whilst this book may be “His,” it is clearly also an object that moved within a larger community, and it got folded into these other lives as it moved. As such, Bangor’s Great Bible serves as evidence not of an isolated reader/book owner, but one whose reading practices were enlivened, and even authorised by, a wider network of men and women within and outside of the Rogers family. Benjamin’s “wittnes my hand” inscription seems to suggest as much, pointing us to the forms of early modern “witnessing” that Jason Scott-Warren has described, in which claims to book ownership were staged before observing, participating audiences. In the case of Bangor’s Great Bible, this audience was made up of women like Mary and Susanna, and, if we can say that, between 1710 and 1743, Bangor’s Great Bible was his book, it’s conceivable that this was made possible by the fact that it passed through their hands as well.
Source: The Byble in Englyshe: that is to saye the conte[n]t of al the holy scrypture, both of yer olde, and new testame[n]t, with a prologe therinto, made by the reuerende father in God, Thomas Archbyshop of Cantorbury. This is the Byble apoynted to the vse of the churches (Bangor University Library, shelf mark X/EC1 1540). Images reproduced with the permission of Bangor University Archives and Special Collections.
We have posted before on The Lady’s New Year’s Gift by George Savile on this blog, suggesting that the book had lasting appeal for women readers. We have recently encountered more evidence of the advice book’s popularity. A copy of the book has appeared at auction recently, bearing multiple traces of female ownership and passing down of the book from one generation to another.
The title page, as shown above, carries the signature “Mary Isham.” But front and end pages in the book show more signatures:
Jane and Mary have helpfully dated their signatures. Jane Isham’s 1706 signature is followed by Mary Brooke’s 1738 signature, which indicates that the book was a gift of her mother. This leaves us with the Mary Isham on the title page, which seems a different hand from Mary Brooke’s and possibly an earlier one.
While Isham is a relatively common name, some investigation has brought up an identification, beginning with a rector in Barby, Northamtonshire, named Thomas Isham (d. 1676), who was married to Mary, who died in 1684. Thomas and Mary had a son named Zacheus Isham (1651-1705), who became a clergyman and had a rather distinguished career at Oxford and beyond, including a position as chaplain to the Bishop of London and a prebendary in St. Paul’s Cathedral. He married Elizabeth Pittis, and they had eight children. Their third daughter was named Jane (c. 1699-1757), who is possibly be the person who signed her name twice in this book; if so, she signed the book when she was only seven years old. Her older sister and second daughter of Zacheus and Elizabeth was Mary Isham (c. 1696-1750), who possibly wrote the signature on the title page and who married Arthur Brooke (c. 1695-1754). Their eldest daughter was Mary Brooke (1723-1782), the likely writer of the note about receiving the book from her mama in 1738, when she would have been fifteen years old. This Mary married Richard Supple (1720-1797), and their son, Richard Brooke Supple (1758-1829) became a Baronet. The Ishams were related to another aristocratic Isham family as Zacheus Isham was a cousin of Sir Thomas Isham, third Baronet of Lamport, in turn a nephew of Elizabeth Isham, now best known for her diaries.
The book appears, then, to have been passed from sister to sister and then mother to daughter, as Mary Brooke’s inscription tells us. If Mary Brooke’s mother signed the title page, then all three women made note of their ownership. Alternatively, it is possible that the “Mary Isham” on the title page is the signature of Mary and Jane’s grandmother, also named Mary Isham, who died six years after the book was published. If that is the case, the object shows evidence of even more generations of female book ownership, as this particular family appears to have cherished the advice of Savile to his daughter.
Source: Book sold at auction February 10, 2022, by Forum Auctions. Images reproduced with permission.
While most of our posts involve single books or evidence of book ownership in the form of marginalia and signatures, another key area of provenance research is in the form of inventories and book lists. The fascinating database and journal series Private Libraries of Renaissance England have showcased a number of key women for whom the content of larger libraries are known. These lists, whether they are based on inventories or wills, help us determine not only what women read, but also, as Edith Snook notes, how they wanted to present themselves. Indeed, in her essay on the private library of Elizabeth Isham, Snook calls the booklist a form of life writing or “ego document,” a source that can tell us something about women’s senses of identity, particularly for noble women whose profile was of necessity at least to some degree public.
In his chapter in the collection Women’s Bookscapes, Joseph Black predicted that “Unpublished early modern booklists will … continue to turn up” (219). A few months ago, I was delighted to receive a message from Tim Couzens, who offered to share with us and our readers two lists of books that he has found in the papers of Lady Dorothy Long housed at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Though he will be editing and publishing these lists more fully soon, we get here an advance look at the contents. The lists were evidently drawn up to facilitate their placement in the household, as they are books to be put on “the high shelf,” some of them grouped among the “little books to be put on the high shelf.” Whether the “high shelf” indicates that they needed to be placed out of reach or were stored where they were not readily accessible is unclear.
Lady Dorothy Long, née Leche (c. 1620-1710) was married in around 1640 to Sir James Long, second Baronet (1617-1692), a politician. The couple lived in their estate at Draycot, Wiltshire. Sir James had fought on the side of the royalists in the Civil Wars, but nonetheless, according to biographer John Aubrey, befriended Oliver Cromwell through his interests in hawking, a lifelong passion. Aubrey lists James Long under “amici” (friends) in his Brief Lives.
In their edition of Elizabeth Isham’s autobiographical writings, Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow mention Lady Long (“Dolly”)’s correspondence with Isham’s brother and contrast her style with that of the more sober Isham: “[Long’s] letters employ the banter of a royalist coterie, complete with nicknames and a (mocking) reference to their ‘Academy’, in a style reminiscent of the more familiar and accomplished works of Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips. Lady Long does display an interest in literature, particularly the salacious Ovid, but she mocks the Countess of Dysart’s serious study of Donne.” Long donated to the Ashmolean, and their Book of Benefactors describes her in much different terms, as “the pride and joy of her family and her sex … [She] showed a deep interest in primitive religions and antiquities. Her piety and great good will to this University led her to give a carved ivory crosier [head] which had belonged to Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, to this museum to be placed with the other treasures.”
Given these contrasting descriptions, it is fascinating to think, with Snook, of the two lists of books that belonged to Long as a form of life writing to counter the narratives of royalist eccentricity and piety.
Here is Tim Couzen’s transcription, along with his preliminary identifications of the books in brackets:
Little books to put ith highe Shelf. [15 July 1704, from content]
Narrative oth Fire at London [An Historical narrative of the Great and Terrible Fire of London, Sept 2nd1666. Gideon Harvey. This may be an original of the book published more generally by W. Nicoll in 1769.]
Epitome of Husbandry [The Epitome of the Art of Husbandry: comprising all necessary directions for the Improvement of it. Etc, by J.B. Gent (Joseph Blagrave), 1675.]
Flatmans Poems [Dr. Thomas Flatman (1635–1688) Fellow of the Royal Society, Poet and miniature painter. Probably Poems and Songs (1674).]
Counr Manners Legacy tos Son. [Counsellor Manners, His Last legacy to His Son: etc. Probably the first edition, published in 1673, by Josiah Dare.]
Dr Gouge Domestick dutys [Of Domesticall Duties, eight treatises etc. by William Gouge, 1622.]
Pasquin risen from ye Dead [London, 1674.]
Nat: Culverwel on ye Light of Nature [Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), An elegant and learned discourse of the Light of Nature, 1652.]
The History of Joseph &c: [Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews. Probably the 1700 edition.]
Theopanila Broms Poems [William Sales’s Theophania (London, 1655) and Alexander Brome’s Poems.]
G [Gaius] Velleius Paterculus [Roman Historian (c 19BC – c AD31). There are several early editions.]
Evagoros. [Evagoros. [Two possible identifications: Paul Salzman has suggested this is Evagoras, a Romance by L.L. Gent (London, 1677). A second possibility is the Greek oration by Isocrates on the King of Salamis (Unknown edition). Given the mixture of romances, for Dorothy Long’s own use, and text books from her grandson, James, it is not possible to be certain, but the former seems much more likely.]
Bookes to put into ye High Shelfe ye 15o July 1704.
The Countise Montgomerys Urania [romance by Mary Wroth (1587–1653), dedicated to Countess of Montgomery; the book was first published in 1621.]
Orlando Furiosa: Abraham Cowleys workes [Two separate books. The first is Orlando Furioso, an Italian epic poem of Ludovico Ariosto (1516–1532), presumably in an early, but un-named translation. Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), was an English poet, with 14 printings of his works published between 1668 and 1721.]
Mrs Phillipes’s Verses. orinda. [Katherine Philips (1631/32–1664), known as “The Matchless Orinda,” was an Anglo-Welsh royalist poet, translator, and woman of letters. After her death, in 1667, an authorized edition of her poetry was printed entitled Poems by the Most Deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda, which included her translations of Pompee and Horace.]
Scarrons Comicall Romance [Paul Scarron (1610–1660) was a French dramatist and novelist. The Roman Comique was reworked by a number of English authors.]
The Lusiad. or Portingales His: a Poem [The Lusiads is a Portuguese epic poem written by Luis vaz de Camoes (c1524/5–1580) and first published in 1572. The date and author of the early translation is not stated.]
The warres of Justinian [The history of the warres of the Emperour Justinian in eight books: etc. Written in Greek by Procopius etc. Englished by Sir Henry Holcroft (1586–1650). Published in 1653.]
Micrographia. By Rob: Hooke [Likely to be a first edition (1665) directly from the author. The book is listed in the 1846 Draycot House contents catalogue.]
The Civell warrs of Spain [Joseph Black has identified this as Prudencio de Sandoval, The Civil Wars of Spain (published in multiple editions from 1652 to 1662) This book is also listed in the 1795 Draycot House Inventory.]
Phillipe De Comines. [An early translation from French of the Memoirs of Philippe de Commines. The usual publication date for Volume 2 is 1712.]
Cornelius Tacitus Tacitus Arriana. [The Annales of Cornelius Tacitus: The description of Germanie. Translated by Richard Greenway and Sir Henry Savile (1549–1622). Published London, 1640; Ariana is a romance by Jean Desmarets, Sieur de Saint Sorlin, originally translated in 1636.]
Of Goverment of obeydiense by Jo: Hall. [Of Government and obedience as the stand directed and determined in Scripture and reason, four books by John Hall of Richmond. London, 1654.]
Cass[andra?] Sanders on Memory &c. [The title is obscured by the fold; the first book is Cassandra the fam’d romance: the whole work: in five parts / written originally in French: now elegantly rendred into English by a person of quality. Cassandra is a translation of a romance novel by Gaultier de Coste La Calprenède, translated in 1652. Possible second work is unidentified.]
Pasquil risen from ye Dead to put higher [see above.]
Standly’s 7: wise Men &c. [Thomas Stanley (1625–1678) was an English Author and translator. The History of Philosophy, 3 volumes published in 1655, 1656, and 1660, includes the seven wise men (sages) of Greece.]
A larg print of Cardinall Richeleis House [Probably the Chateau de Richelieu, south of Chinon, Touraine, rather than the Palais Royal in Paris.]
Nero Ceazar. & ye warr of Jugurth &c: [Two separate books. The first title is possibly Nero Caesar, or Monarchy Depraved. An Historical Work, by Edmund Bolton (published 1627). The second is an early English translation of Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus). The Warre of Jugurth is by Thomas Heywood, 1608.]
The collection of books is, as Tim Couzens notes in his email to me, largely associated with her schooling of her grandsons, Sir Giles and Sir James Long (later 5th Baronet), before they went on to tutors and governors and to Oxford. But many women’s collections included works of history and politics, whether or not they used them to educate their children.
Readers of this blog will be particularly interested to see both Mary Wroth’s Urania and Katherine Philips’s Poems in the listing, and, compared with other such inventories, there are surprisingly few devotional books. Though Margaret Cavendish is missing, the presence of Philips certainly shows, much like the romance texts, an affiliation with royalist culture. Links between different books are evident: Thomas Flatman, author of a book of poems listed here, had written a dedicatory poem for Philip’s collection, and as it happens, another copy of Philips’s poems we have featured on this site (housed by the Folger Shakespeare library) was owned by Hannah Flatman, Thomas Flatman’s wife.
Generally, Long’s inventories reveal her political affiliations, her investment in learning (or teaching the boys in her family), and a wide range of interests in romance, history, philosophy, and poetry, with only minor concerns with household management and domestic advice so commonly found in women’s inventories and little in books of devotion that normally dominate such libraries. Perhaps those books were placed on the lower shelves.
We want to thank Tim for providing us with transcriptions and pictures of the two lists of books owned by Lady Dorothy Long and Sara Morrison and Anabel Loyd for permission to reproduce both the transcription and images.
Source: Wiltshire and Swindon History Center 2943B/1/35. Draft letters and notes by Lady Dorothy Long [No description] (1686-1704). 35 documents.
Joseph L. Black, “Women’s Libraries in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England Project.” Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 214–229.
Edith Snook, “Elizabeth Isham’s ‘own Bookes’: Property, Propriety, and the Self as Library.” Women.’’ Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 77–93.
The Rasmussen Hines Collection holds a copy of the third edition of Sir John Suckling’s works, Fragmenta Aurea (1658), with a complex and interesting #herbook provenance.
The first dated inscription in this copy is that of “Anne Boyle,” 1673. Although not a terribly unusual name, several other inscriptions in the volume, including the names “Coote” and a cut-off “Blesinton,” allow us to identify Anne confidently as Lady Anne Coote Boyle (1658–1725), Viscountess Blessington. Anne was the daughter of Charles Coote, the second Earl of Mountrath (1628–1672) and Alyce Meredith. Anne’s grandfather Charles, first Earl of Mountrath (a brutal soldier and rapacious acquirer of Irish land, and by all accounts a ruthless oppressor of Irish Catholics), led Parliamentary forces in Ireland and served in the protectorate parliaments but managed, with his ally Roger Boyle (Lord Broghill and the future Earl of Orrery), to switch sides, offering his support to Charles II prior to the Restoration and becoming Earl of Mountrath for his efforts. Coote’s son Charles, the second Earl and Anne’s father, outlived his father by only ten years and seems not to have been a significant political player; however, the Cootes were major Protestant landowners with several large ironworks and strongly positioned for success after the Stuarts returned. In 1672, the same year as her father’s death, Anne Coote married Murrough Boyle (c. 1645–1718), a member of the powerful Boyle clan and cousin to Mountrath’s ally Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. The following year, Murrough Boyle became the first Viscount Blessington (originally spelled “Blesinton”). In addition to Anne’s 1673 signature, this ornate signature several pages later, which appears to read “A Blesint—,” is likely also hers.
Murrough Boyle, Viscount Blessington, was a man with literary ambitions – he was the author of a tragic play entitled The Lost Princess, which a critic described as “truly contemptible” (Doyle, “Boyle, Murrough”). As a member of the Boyle family, he also had numerous literary connections that make this copy of Fragmenta Aurea’s provenance particularly interesting. Roger Boyle, first Earl of Orrery, was himself an accomplished author and friend to many writers, including John Suckling himself. One of Suckling’s poems in Fragmenta Aurea, “Ballade upon a Wedding,” may have been written to commemorate Roger Boyle’s marriage to Margaret Howard. Orrery and his siblings – Richard Boyle, second Earl of Cork, and his wife, Elizabeth Clifford, Katherine Boyle Jones, Lady Ranelagh, Mary Boyle Rich, Countess of Warwick, Robert Boyle, the chemist, and Francis Boyle, first Viscount Shannon, and his wife Elizabeth Killigrew, sister of writers William and Thomas Killigrew – were all, in their own rights, major figures in the English literary and intellectual circles of the mid to late seventeenth century.
In her discussion of the Boyle women’s life writing, Ann-Maria Walsh emphasizes the significance of dynastic marriages to the Protestant “New English” families of landowners in Ireland, and Murrough and Anne’s marriage sits within a complex and shifting network of alliances. Anne’s grandfather, Charles Coote, was allied with Roger Boyle, the first Earl of Orrery; they served together as two of the three lord justices of Ireland in 1660. In this context, a marriage between the two families makes sense. Murrough Boyle, however, came with his own set of baggage. He was the son of Michael Boyle, archbishop of Dublin and the lord chancellor of Ireland. Although Michael Boyle and his father had benefited from the influence of their more powerful cousins, particularly the earls of Cork, Michael Boyle married the Hon. Mary O’Brien in the 1640s. Mary was the sister of Murrough O’Brien, the first Earl of Inchiquin and a long-time enemy of Orrery. Michael Boyle aligned himself with the O’Briens, even serving as Inchiquin’s emissary during delicate negotiations. The Inchiquin-Orrery feud is too complex to detail here; however, the two men decided to make peace during the late 1660s, cementing their friendship with a marriage between Orrery’s daughter Margaret and Inchiquin’s son William in 1665. Orrery’s son Henry would also marry Inchiquin’s daughter Mary in 1679. The 1672 marriage between Anne Coote, daughter of a close Orrery ally, and Murrough Boyle, cousin of Orrery and nephew of Inchiquin, whose branch of the Boyles had recently been reconciled with the Cork/Orrery branch, fits into this pattern of dynastic and political alliances. The personal connection between Orrery and Suckling, particularly the link between Orrery’s own wedding and one of the volume’s poems, make this book a remarkably evocative item for Anne to have acquired, or at least inscribed, the year of her own marriage into the Boyle family.
The Coote connection links Anne to another interesting woman-owned book, which has been described by Kate Lilley. Anne Tighe Coote was the wife of Anne Coote Boyle’s second cousin Thomas and the owner of a 1669 edition of Katharine Phillips’ Poems. Her copy, now held at the National Art Library at the V&A, includes a transcription of a poem entitled “The Teares of the Consort for Mr Tighe Writt by My Lord Blessington 1679,” signed by “Ann: Tighe: August ye 26th 1680.” “Mr Tighe” was Anne Tighe’s first husband, William, who died in 1679; “My Lord Blessington” was, of course, Murrough Boyle, Anne Coote Boyle’s husband. Anne Tighe owned the book before her marriage into the Coote-Boyle family in 1680 (the monogram on the binding, “ANTIGHE,” indicates that it was likely bound, or at least stamped, during her marriage to William Tighe, 1675–1679), but the choice to inscribe it with Murrough Boyle’s poem seems deliberate, a nod to her future husband’s family connections and, likely, an indication that Anne Tighe developed a personal relationship with Anne and Murrough Boyle. Katharine Phillips was closely involved with the Boyle circles – she dedicated various poems to Elizabeth Boyle, Countess of Cork, and her daughters, and the Earl of Orrery wrote one of the volume’s commendatory poems. Clearly, Anne Tighe was aware of the Boyle family’s patronage of Phillips, and this inscription reflects, in Lilley’s words, “a complex web of associations” similar, and related to, the one found in the Coote-Boyle copy of Suckling (121).
Anne Boyle may have only kept Fragmenta Aurea for about a year of her married life. By 1673, some time after she and Murrough became Viscountess and Viscount Blessington (as indicated by the “ABlesint” signature) she had passed it along to a new owner, at least temporarily – “Coote” is written on the dedication page and, although it has been scratched out, “Charles Coote His Booke 1673” appears opposite the title page of The Last Remains of John Suckling.
Taking the date into account, this Charles Coote was most likely Anne’s brother, the third Earl of Mountrath. Like his brother-in-law Blessington, Coote supported Hugh Capel and experienced a brief rise in his political fortunes during the mid 1690s, then a fall into irrelevance.
The signature below Charles’s throws an additional curve ball: “Elizabeth Adshead her booke 169-.” Unfortunately, the binding hides the final digit of Elizabeth’s date, but, if accurate, this suggests that Charles Coote had passed the book along by 1699 at the latest. Based on this, and the loss at the edges, the copy was trimmed and bound sometime after c. 1700.
The matching lower-case “th” in “Elizabeth,” “tho,” and “that” suggests that Elizabeth herself wrote something like “the man is bleest that” below her signature. I have been unable to identify Elizabeth Adshead. A large Adshead family is associated with Cheshire, but I see no links between them and the Coote-Boyles. The line below offers another clue:
It appears to read “alizabeth kinder her,” but there is certainly room for interpretation in that transcription. The similarity between the “d” in Adshead and in “kinder” inclines me to think that Elizabeth Adshead wrote all three lines. If it is a name, perhaps it is her maiden name? It could also be a continuation of the quotation (if such it is) on the line above: “______ hath hinder her,” maybe?
If Charles Coote was the book’s owner until the 1690s, his family’s fortunes could explain how the book ended up with a new owner. As a Protestant supporter of William and Mary, Charles Coote’s estates were forfeited during the Jacobite-Williamite War (1688–1691), although they were restored and enlarged after William’s victory. Many large houses belonging to Williamites were looted. The Coote family supposedly experienced “considerable deprivation” during the War, with Coote’s wife, Isabella, dying “out of grief, pawning her last ring” (Doyle, “Coote, Charles”). The book, along with many of his other belongings, could have left his possession during that period. One more inscription in the book, however, may hint at another owner before 1689-1691:
Although partially scratched out, image manipulation reveals more details:
The date under “1672” appears to be “1679,” although it could also be “169_,” with the last digit cut off during rebinding. I am inclined toward “1679,” however, with the “7” set slightly above the “9” and connected to the “6.” Although it’s difficult to be sure, the handwriting appears to slightly resemble Anne’s above (see the similarity of the “6”); if this is the case, Charles Coote may have returned the book to his sister, who added the additional date and crossed out Charles’s inscription on the later page to reassert her ownership. In that case, a different narrative would be required to explain why the book passed out of the Coote-Boyle family’s hands. Murrough’s father, Michael Boyle, built an enormous mansion at Blessington, in County Wicklow, around the time of Anne and Murrough’s marriage, which was “plundered” in 1689 (Breffny). Perhaps it ended up in the library there? As Walsh explains, however, the Boyle women were extremely mobile, traveling to family properties across Ireland and England. The Cootes either owned or let a London house in Soho Square, where Murrough is known to have stayed with them (Barnard, 331). Either Anne, Charles, or an unknown person could have left, lost, or given away the book in any number of places around England and Ireland, making the timeline of its ownership quite murky.
Speaking of an unknown person, however, if 1679/169_ does not belong with Anne’s inscription, it may be associated with the partially lost text beneath it. That handwriting, in combination with the forceful erasure, is challenging, but I’m currently inclined to read it as “Lord” and something like “Peiret”; if this rings a bell with anyone, I’d be very happy to hear from you!
Source: Rasmussen Hines Collection. Photos by Molly G. Yarn, reproduced with permission.
Toby Christopher Barnard, Making the Grand Figure: Lives and Possessions in Ireland, 1641-1770 (Yale University Press, 2004).
Brian de Breffny, “The Building of the Mansion at Blessington, 1672,” The GPA Irish Arts Review Yearbook, 1988, 73–77.
Kate Lilley, “Katherine Philips, ‘Philo-Philippa’ and the Poetics of Association.” Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. by Patricia Pender and Rosalind Smith (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), pp. 118–39.
Jane H. Ohlmeyer, Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
Ana-Maria Walsh, “The Boyle Women and Familial Life Writing.” Women’s Life Writing and Early Modern Ireland, ed. by Julie A. Eckerle and Naomi McAreavey, Women and Gender in the Early Modern World (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019), pp. 79–98.
 For the Coote-Boyle clan’s involvement in 17th century politics, see (among many others) Ohlmeyer.
 See individual entries in the ODNB and the Dictionary of Irish Biography.
 There are documents related to the negotiation of their marriage and to Murrough Boyle’s financial affairs in the De Vesci papers at the National Library of Ireland [MS 38,748/4; MS 38,831/1-2; MS 38,837].
This work, falsely attributed to Aristotle, is one of the best known manuals on reproduction and sex published in the early modern period. This particular edition, the third, contained, like the ones before it, a compendium of beliefs on conception, pregnancy, and birth, along with detailed recommendations and descriptions of intercourse, including bawdy poems, which gave it a reputation as a sex manual.
Mary Fissell has written extensively on its tremendous popularity, which lasted all the way into the twentieth century. The book emphasizes the need for female pleasure in order for conception to occur and thus authorizes its frank and often deliberately erotic discussion of sex and illustrations of naked women, as seen on the title page and a separate front leaf. Alluding to a popular belief, the image features a black child, apparently conceived by white parents who looked at a black man during copulation, and a hairy woman, whose mother looked at an image of John the Baptist wearing animal skins at the point of conception.
Although the bawdy verses and descriptions of genitals and sex have received much attention, Fissell notes that “the book also provided a solid framework of contemporary knowledge about the basics of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant health, detailing topics such as the signs of pregnancy, how to tell false labor from true, the various positions the baby might present in, etc. Not surprisingly, since it was plagiarized from another midwifery book, this information was largely unexceptional” (Birds). In addition, there were “dozens of recipes for household remedies and a guide to physiognomy.”
Along with practical recommendations for housewives and midwives, the book includes a section on monstrous births, featuring for instance a description of a boy born with one head, one body, four ears, four arms, two thighs, two legs, and four feet. There is also a description and image of a hairy child born in France in 1579.
There are many reasons why a woman might have wanted to own this book, aside from its instructions on sex and midwifery. It provides advice on how to conceive, what to do after conception, how to determine whether you are carrying a boy or a girl, and so on. In light of the medical content, it is not surprising that appended to it is A Treasure of Health, or The Family Physician, a short text filled with home remedies for a variety of conditions.
This particular copy of the book contains a female signature on the title verso, “elisabeth Scott her book” along with the date “1743.”
We are, unsurprisingly, not able to trace this particular owner and whether she was a midwife or just an interested reader. Fissell has found a variety of copies of Aristotle’s Masterpiece with female inscriptions. In a 2014 article, she discusses an inscription by a woman named Sarah in the library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and adds, “there’s Alice Burton in a copy at the New York Academy of Medicine, Elizabeth Vincent and Sarah Fackerall, two different women readers, separated by a century, in a first edition in the University of Pennsylvania’s Van Pelt Library, and at Johns Hopkins there is a first edition inscribed by Elizabeth Wright” (“Material,” 144). Elizabeth Scott, it seems, was one of many women who owned and likely used and enjoyed this book.
Many thanks to Patrick Olson for calling our attention to this book and for his meticulously researched description of it in his catalog, to which this post is much indebted.
Source: Book offered for sale by Patrick Olson Rare Books, September 2021; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.
Mary Fissell, “Material Texts and Medical Libraries in the Digital Age,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 15.2 (2014): 135-145.