Edmund Spenser, The Fairie Queene (1596)

By Alison Fraser

While Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene was written for Queen Elizabeth I, the epic was meant for female readership beyond Elizabeth and offered early modern women “a remarkable degree of interpretive agency,” as Caroline McManus has demonstrated.[1] This copy of the second edition of the first part of The Faerie Queene (1596)—from the Rare & Special Books Collection of the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo—demonstrates how one late early modern woman asserted her intellectual agency and physical ownership of the text through a full-page bookplate.  

Mrs. Elizabeth Percival’s tipped-in bookplate distinguishes her from the later male owners of this book, who left their (considerably smaller) bookplates adhered to its boards. The bookplate, bound in and trimmed to appear as though it is part of the book’s original signatures, faces the title page. Its placement ensures that future readers will acknowledge Percival’s intellectual and physical possession. In case they miss it, she also wrote her name in now much faded ink on the title page itself.

The design of Percival’s bookplate was popular in the early eighteenth century, and many of the earliest known bookplates of women readers follow a similar template. In the ornately decorated border, it announces, using majuscule, “The Noble Art and Mystery of PRINTING was first Invented / in the Year 1430. And Brought into ENGLAND in the year 1447.” The bookplate itself has a colophon; it was “Printed at the Theatre in Oxford, March 25, An. Dom. 1721.”

Despite appearances, however, bookplates such as Percival’s may not signify ownership: in her 1895 study of women’s bookplates, Norna Labourchere argues that it is “doubtful” that women’s full-page bookplates served the same purpose as ex-libris bookplates, noting that “the labels themselves often appear as if they have never had been placed within the covers of a volume” and “no libraries have been traced to any of these ladies.”[2] Instead, she theorizes, “printers kept a stock of blank plates, and filled in the name of the customer, with the date, address, etc.” filled out as appropriate, as souvenirs. Since this copy of The Faerie Queene was rebound by Riviere and Son in the early twentieth century, it would be difficult to say for certain that Percival had bound in the plate with the book. However, given that Percival inscribed her name on the title page, it seems reasonable to argue that this was indeed her book. Whether or not full-page labels like Percival’s served as ex-libris bookplates, they did have the function of putting women’s names into print and creating social currency around book ownership.  

Uncovering who Elizabeth Percival was, and what volumes her library might once have held (if any), is a discovery for the future.

Source: Rare & Special Books Collection of the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo. Images reproduced courtesy the Rare & Special Books Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

[1] Caroline McManus, Spenser’s Faerie Queene and the Reading of Women. Cranbury, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002: 147.

[2] Norna Labouchere, Ladies’ Book-plates: An Illustrated Handbook For Collectors and Book-lovers. London: George Bell & Sons, 1895: 2. https://archive.org/details/b29008463/page/2/mode/2up

The Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments (1561)


Today we highlight a scarce edition of the Book of Common Order, printed in 1561 in Geneva, Switzerland by Zacharie Durand and owned by Katherine Rouse. The book’s extended title is The Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, &c. Sed in the Englishe Church at Geneua & Approued by the Famous and Godlye Learned Man, John Caluin, Whereunto are Also Added the Prayers Which Thei Use There in the French Church. According to Oxford Reference, the Book of Common Order is “directory of worship drawn up by J. Knox in 1556 for the English Protestant congregation in Geneva.” The book, also known as the Order of Geneva or Knox’s Liturgy, was subsequently adopted in 1562 by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and a version is still used in worship today.


Rouse signed the fore edge margin of an interior leaf “Katherine Rouse her Booke” in a hand that appears contemporary to the book.



The book is bound in vellum with a manuscript date “AD 1561” on the front cover and manuscript title “Geneva Prayers” on the spine.


As with most of the women owners featured here, Katherine Rouse has not been identified, but may be related to the Rouses of South Devon who were settled in that area in the sixteenth century.

Source: Book sold by Rainford & Parris Books in April 2020 and now in private ownership. Images used with permission.

Dat oude ende dat nieuwe testament (The Old and New Testament, 1526)

By Renske Hoff

The title page of this sixteenth-century Dutch Bible carries a simple ownership mark by Walburch van Manderschijt. This Bible, part of the special collections of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (shelfmark: XC 05039), was printed by Jacob van Liesvelt in Antwerp in 1526. It became Van Liesvelt’s best known edition, as it was the first complete Bible—i.e. including the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the apocryphal books—to be printed in Dutch. Although vernacular complete Bibles (and New Testaments) circulated in manuscript, most late 15th– and early 16th-century biblical publications contained the Epistelen ende evangelien (the Epistles and Gospels). These presented a selection of biblical texts in liturgical order, allowing readers to read, in the vernacular, the passages that would have been read in Latin during Mass.

However, Van Liesvelt’s Bible type proved highly successful. Early readers such as Walburch van Manderschijt embraced the novelty of the complete Bible, despite—or perhaps because—the fact that they demanded new reading practices. As the Bibles contained much more text, which was no longer organised in the order of the liturgy, readers needed to apply new methods to navigate through the book and comprehend the text it offered. Paratextual elements surrounding the main text, such as liturgical tables, running titles, chapter summaries, and lists of contents, could help readers find their way through the book. Jacob van Liesvelt’s folio-sized, complete Bible of 1526 has been widely discussed with regard to its Luther-based translation and prologue, and the novelty of printing the entire Bible in one volume. However, little attention has been devoted to questions concerning the readership of this new type of Bible. Who were the owners and readers of this edition and how did they interact with the book?

This copy provides the name of one of them. Walburch van Manderschijt was a German-Dutch countess, born in 1468 to Konrad van Manderschijt and Walburga van Horne. At the age of seventeen, Walburch married Willem I, Count of Neuenahr. After he died, she married Frederik van Egmont, Dutch Lord of IJsselstein and Count of Buren and Leerdam, in 1502. He died in 1521, after which Walburch spend her last years in the Huis van Ysselstein, a large house in the Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which Frederik bequeathed to her. Although the house was demolished in the eighteenth century, the address—Orthenstraat 36—can still be visited. Walburch’s exact date of death is unknown, but the absence of any documentation dating beyond 1530 leads to the assumption that she died around 1530/1531.

1566 Sketch of ‘s Hertogenbosch by
L. van Peteghem, Rijksarchief Noord-Brabant

Besides these biographical facts, little is known about Walburch. The various archival sources that contain her name imply that she was quite aware of her financial rights and opportunities. For instance, a charter of June 17, 1505 states that she should receive an annual allowance of 600 guilders from her husband Frederik, allowing her to take care of her German estates and in order to secure her income in case she would be widowed. In 1518, Walburch signed a similar charter, this time concerning the financial agreement between her son Willem II and his wife. Furthermore, sources dating from 1499 and 1527 document how she drew up her will and secured her children’s inheritances.

Walburch van Manderschijt presumably acquired the Liesvelt Bible while she lived in the Huis van Ysselstein. Assuming that she died shortly after 1530, she probably was the first owner of the book. As Walburch did not leave any annotations in the book other than her name, we do not know in what ways she used and read the book. Other questions that remain open are, for instance, why she preferred this complete edition, if and how she used the paratextual material, and what she thought of the fact that Jacob van Liesvelt based his Dutch translation on Martin Luther’s German Bible editions. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Countess Walburch—twice widowed and about sixty years old—was one of the first people in the Low Countries to possess and use a complete Bible. It was through curious first buyers and readers like her that this new vernacular Bible type took root in the sixteenth-century Low Countries.

Source: Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (shelfmark: XC 05039). Photos by Renske Hoff, reproduced with permission.

Walter Travers, A full and plaine declaration of Ecclesiasticall Discipline (1574)

By Mark Byford

This book, which advocated that the English church should do away with government by bishops and move instead to a Presbyterian model, was sufficiently unorthodox to be printed abroad, by Michael Schirat in Heidelberg, in order to evade censorship.  While it was likely to have been smuggled into England in a barrel, the elaborate binding betrays a book that was anything but hidden by its first owner. 

And to compound the public association with this illicit text, that owner, Mary Mildmay (1527/8–1577), wrote her name boldly across the title page, making it clear that this was very much her book, not her husband’s.  The complex subject matter of the work, and the quality of her handwriting, both imply that she was an exceptionally well-educated member of the elite. 

Mary’s brother was none other than Elizabeth’s so-called “spymaster general,”Sir Francis Walsingham, and like him she was a convinced Protestant.  She had been married since 1546 to an equally illustrious reformer, Sir Walter Mildmay (1520/21–1589), the founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. 

Paul van Somer, Portrait of Sir Walter Mildmay (c.1522-1589), reproduced from Wikimedia

Sir Walter was very much one of Elizabeth I’s most trusted servants, so in the end he and his wife would have read this text with approval but would have held back from actively advocating its more radical opinions.  Their Cambridge college was known for its strong Protestant leanings: when Elizabeth remarked, “Sir Walter, I hear you have erected a Puritan foundation,” his reply was, “no, madam, far be it from me to countenance anything contrary to your established laws; but I have set an acorn which, when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof” (Lehmberg 226). Mary died in March 1577, just three years after this book was published. 

The later inscription of the motto of Mildmay Fane, second Earl of Westmoreland “Solus Deus Protector Meus. W,” shows that the book passed down the family through Mary’s favourite grandchild, also Mary (1581/2–1640), daughter of Sir Anthony Mildmay. This Mary Mildmay was Mildmay Fane’s mother, having married Francis Fane, the first earl, in 1599.  

Source: book in private collection. Photos by Mark Byford, reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

S. E. Lehmberg, Sir Walter Mildmay and Tudor government. Austin, TX, 1964.

“Mildmay, Sir Walter (1520/21–1589), administrator and founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge,” by L. L. Ford, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2008. https://doi-org.access.authkb.kb.nl/10.1093/ref:odnb/18696

Geneva Bible (1597)

This 1597 Geneva bible is bound with several other works, including a Book of Common Prayer (ca. 1630) and a Book of Psalms (1595). The 1597 Geneva bible is famously known as the Breeches bible, because it translates the line about Adam and Eve covering their bodies after the fall as …

As regular readers of our blog will know, such books, which were much used and cherished, often feature both owner’s signatures and family history. The same is true in this case. The book appears to have moved from one family to another. Inside the binding, we find the inscription “Mary Smith her book” dated 1746 and a larger inscription, “Ann Pitt,” for 1764.

Elsewhere, next to the title page for the book of psalms, a genealogy is included, featuring a number of women, among whom are Ann, daughter of Mary Smith (born 1732), Mary born 1735, and Elizabeth born 1735.

Source: book offered for sale on eBay and Etsy, 1 December 2019, and reproduced with permission from the seller Isaiah Cox, Rare Tome.

Barbara Golde and the Duchess of Suffolk: the Sermons of Hugh Latimer (1549)




The Folger Library copy of the sermons of Hugh Latimer printed in 1549 (STC 15270.5; bound with 15274) bears traces of women’s book patronage and ownership: Katherine Willoughby Brandon, the Duchess (dowager) of Suffolk (1519-80) sponsored the book which was printed with her coat of arms on the verso of the title page; and an unknown woman, Barbara Golde, inscribed her name on the title page.

In 1549 the reformist preacher Hugh Latimer delivered seven high-profile sermons in front of King Edward VI and the court at the large outdoor pulpit at Westminster Palace (see Wabuda). Latimer ruffled feathers by lambasting some of his auditors for their moral failings, but he praised both the Duchess of Suffolk and Queen Katherine Parr as exemplary reformed Christians.

The sermons were printed with a dedication in which Thomas Some boldly aligned the duchess with the Old Testament prophetess, Huldah (3v). Suffolk’s coat of arms are found in at least 10 religious volumes printed between 1548 and 1549, and Nicholas Lesse praised her as one “at whose handes . . . the common people hath received already many comfortable & spiritual consolations, instructions, and teachings” (A5v-A6r).

The Folger library copy provides evidence of several readers who presumably received such “consolations, instructions, and teachings” from this Latimer-Suffolk collaborative volume. The volume was signed by Barbara Golde who placed her name in a prominent spot on the title page. Sadly there are no other records of Golde’s book ownership in the ESTC. The volume is also signed by R. Brown and R. Barker. There are a few marginal markings but it is impossible to determine who made them. Manuscript and printed waste (from 1548) were used as guards when the book was bound.


Hugh Latimer, The First Sermon of Master Hugh Latimer. John Day, 1549. STC 15270.5.

Nicholas Lesse, trans. A Very Fruitful and Godly Exposition upon the Fifteenth Psalm. John Day, 1548. STC 10429.

“Latimer, Hugh (c. 1485–1555).” by Susan Wabuda. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  September 23, 2004. Oxford University Press, Date of access 5 May. 2019.

Book Source: Folger Library, STC 15270.5; bound with 15274. Photos by Micheline White with permission from the Folger Library.



Aristotle, Operum… philosophorum omnium longè principis noua editio, Graecè & Latiné, ed. Isaac Casaubon (Geneva, 1590)

Micha Lazarus, Trinity College, University of Cambridge


Not a female owner, but a remarkable inscription in memory of a remarkable woman. Mildred Cecil, Lady Burghley (1526-1589) was the second wife of William Cecil – probably the most powerful and certainly the longest serving of Elizabeth’s ministers. Mildred’s father, Sir Anthony Cooke, gave his daughters an even better humanist education than his sons. The Cooke sisters were true intellectual aristocracy. Mildred was renowned for her Greek, which she was reputed to speak as fluently as English. She translated several works, including a sermon by St Basil; on one occasion she praised the hospitality of St John’s College, Cambridge (which William Cecil had attended) by writing the fellows a letter in Greek.

She used her standing to gather around her a strong intellectual community, and built up one of England’s finest private scholarly libraries. After her death on 4 April, 1589, some of her books were distributed, as she had ordered, to Christ Church in Oxford, St John’s in Cambridge, and Westminster school. Other books of hers survive at Hatfield House, including some she had acquired from Roger Ascham and his circle of Cambridge humanists.

Mildred Cecil didn’t live to see Isaac Casaubon’s great volume of Aristotle’s complete works, the first bilingual edition to be published. But this copy bears her name nonetheless. The title page is inscribed:

Ex dono Gulielmi Caecilij Baronis
Burghlei ob memoriam Mildredae
vxoris defunctae

[‘A gift of William Cecil, Baron Burghley, in memory of his deceased wife Mildred’]

The title page also bears an old shelfmark, ‘F.4.1’, and a few other inscriptions, none of which can be traced with certainty: Deus prouidebit [‘God will provide’], Alienum est omne quicquid optando uenit [‘Everything that comes [to you] by your own wish is not your own’, from Seneca’s Epistles 8], and in Greek, μητὲ μέλι μητὲ μελίσσας ἀνεὺ πόνου [‘neither honey nor bees without labour’, adapted from Sappho, fragment 113, which became proverbial]. Nor can we be sure who received the gift. Doubtless it was given to an institution, but mottoes of this kind are normally the work of individuals rather than libraries.

The volume was printed in March 1590, so it must have been donated at least a year after Mildred passed away. Two other books, now at Trinity and Sidney Sussex colleges in Cambridge, have bookplates that show they were likewise donated by Cecil in her memory. He must have kept making donations in his wife’s name for a year or two.

Cecil was devastated by Mildred’s death; he arranged a lavish funeral for her featuring more than 300 mourners, and wrote a moving epitaph at Westminster Abbey. Perhaps Casaubon’s magnificent new Graeco-Latin Aristotle was another collegiate purchase, enabled by gifts Cecil left them to continue Mildred’s lifelong support of classical scholarship. No less than her funeral, Cecil would have seen this magnificent edition as testament to her learning as well as the ‘harty love which I did beare hir, with whom I lyved in the state of matrimony forty and tow yers contynually without any unkyndnes’.

Source: Harvard, Houghton Library, shelfmark f *56-1812. Photographs by Micha Lazarus.


Allen, Gemma, The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).

Bowden, Caroline, ‘The Library of Mildred Cooke Cecil, Lady Burghley’, in Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550-1700, Volume 1: Early Tudor Women Writers, ed. Elaine V. Beilin (Farnham, 2009), 399-425.

Croft, Pauline, ‘Mildred, Lady Burghley: The Matriarch’, in Patronage, Culture and Power: The Early Cecils, ed. Pauline Croft (New Haven, London, 2002), 283-300.

Selwyn, Pamela, ‘An Armorial Binding of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley’, in The Founders’ Library, University of Wales, Lampeter: Bibliographical and Contextual Studies: Essays in Memory of Robin Rider, ed. William Marx, Trivium, 29-30 (Lampeter, 1997), 65-78.

The Holy Bible (1599)


When looking for early modern Chinese books in the Special Collections of the University of Colorado Library, Katherine Alexander came across this instance of English female book ownership (see her blog post about it): a 1599 bible in which a woman named Susanna Harding inscribed her signature no fewer than three times. Interestingly, she also noted the price and date of purchase: “Her Bible Cost 2 s [shillings], the first Day of December 1742.” This means she acquired a bible that was 143 years old, making it “Her Book.” This type of inscription is common in early modern books, and it is helpful in terms of dating the signature, the moment of acquisition, and book prices. Two other owners (presumably not related to Susanna Harding since she bought it) signed the book before her, Thomas Finch in 1686 and George Heath in 1714.

Source: University of Colorado, Boulder, Special Collections, shelf mark BS170 1599. Photo taken by Katherine Alexander and reproduced with permission.