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 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.
As many of the posts on this blog make clear, early modern books passed through generations of readers and accumulated ownership marks and marginalia that can tell us something about individual female owners as well as about the larger families and networks through which the books moved over time.
In an earlier post, Sarah Lindenbaum introduced a signature by Katherine Rous who wrote “Katherine Rouse / Her Booke” in a rare copy of the 1561 Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments used in the English Church at Geneva printed in Geneva by Zacharie Durand (see blog post here ). The volume was based on Calvin’s liturgy and had been prepared by John Knox for the Protestants who went into exile in Geneva during the reign of Mary Tudor. The volume contains reformed liturgical rites, a catechism, and a metrical Psalter. Prepared quickly in a time of crisis, the book continued to be printed after Elizabeth’s accession, and it cast a long shadow in England and Scotland as it shaped liturgical life for generations. For example, following Knox’s return to Scotland, the form was adopted in Scotland in 1562 as the Book of Common Order.
Lindenbaum hypothesized that Katherine might be from the Rous family from the West Country. I agree, and I propose here that she was likely the Katherine Rous (d. 28 November, 1659) who was the granddaughter of Anthony Rous (d. 1620) and Elizabeth Southcott of Halton, Cornwall; the daughter of Ambrose Rous (d. 1620) and Magdalena Osborne; and the wife (as of 30 December 1617) of Francis Wills of Wivelscombe, Cornwall. Katherine and Francis appear to have lived in the Wivelscombe manor, only 8 miles from her family’s seat at Halton, and they had at least thirteen children (nine sons and four daughters) all baptized at St. Stephens just outside Saltash. A map by John Nordon from 1604 shows both St. Stephens and Halton, the home of “Ant Rowse.” A sermon preached at Anthony Rous’s funeral celebrated the fact that he was a “great grand-father by his eldest” child, a likely reference to Katherine’s children. It is impossible to determine whether Katherine signed the book before or after her marriage, although it was probably before.
Katherine’s ownership mark in the Forme of Prayers is intriguing for several reasons. First, it appears to shed light on her own religious experiences. Katherine signed the book in the volume’s Catechism, in the margins of a page in which the parent (or minister) instructs the child about the function of baptism. Mothers were frequently exhorted to catechize their children and servants in early modern Europe, and they often organized baptisms. Katherine may have chosen to write her name on this page because this was a section of the volume that her mother or grandmother used when catechizing her or because she thought that she would one day use (or was already using) this part of the book in teaching her own children.
The fact that Katherine Rous signed her name in such an old book, however, raises questions. Why would a young woman in the 1610s care about a fifty-year-old liturgical book designed for a community of exiles that no longer existed? And how did she acquire the book in the first place?
The short answer is that the Rouses were part of a community of Puritan non-conformists who complained loudly about the Book of Common Prayer and who envied and used more “reformed” liturgies from other countries. In other words, Katherine Rous was from precisely the kind of family that would own, use, treasure, and pass on a book like Forme of Prayers. In this regard, she might be aligned with earlier Puritan women, like Dorcas Martin (d. 1599), who specifically turned to the Genevan catechism because they were unhappy with the one in the Book of Common Prayer.
The fact that Katherine acquired, signed, and safeguarded this old, un-authorized English liturgical book not only tells us something about her, but it enriches our understanding of the activities of two other generations of Rouses. Katherine’s grandfather, Anthony Rous, and his first wife, Elizabeth, were active Puritans: they attended radical “exercises,” and they sponsored Puritan preachers who criticized the Book of Common Prayer, used the Genevan liturgy, and preached illegally in private houses. They harbored ministers from Scotland, Ireland, and the Netherlands, and between 1583 and 1585, they employed John Cowper, a Presbyterian preacher who had been banished from Scotland, as a chaplain. He “edified” the family by preaching and instructing them “in the points of … salvation.” It is quite possible that the Rous family acquired their book through John Cowper or one of the other non-conformist ministers they sponsored.
Although little is known about Katherine’s parents (Ambrose and Magdalena), her uncle, Francis Rous (1580–1649), was a high-profile Puritan, speaker of the Barebones parliament, provost of Eton College, and a producer of liturgical texts. He too was highly critical of the Book of Common Prayer, claiming in 1621 that he “never yet saw such a common prayer book as was fit to subscribe to.” He was a member of the Westminster Assembly, a group that produced the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1644), which was, in part, inspired by the Scottish Book of Common Order and the Anglo-Genevan Forme of Prayers signed by Katherine. Francis Rous also produced a Book of Psalms in English Meter in 1638 (STC 2737) which was adopted for general use by parliament in 1643 (B2396) and was subsequently adopted in Scotland in 1650.
Anthony Rous and his nephew, Francis, left many traces of their lives in print and in the archives. The fortuitous survival of Katherine Rous’s signature and book reminds us that women also read and valued books, and the trace she left makes a small, but valuable, contribution to our understanding of English Puritanism.
 J. L. Vivian, ed., The Visitations of the County of Cornwall, Comprising the Herald’s Visitation of 1530, 1573, and 1620 with Additions (Exeter, 1887), 413, 560.
 Charles FitzGeffrey, Elisha his Lamentation, A Sermon Preached at the Funeralls of Sir Anthony Rous (London, 1622), 49.
 Micheline White, “Women Writers and Religious and Literary Circles in the Elizabethan West Country: Anne Dowriche, Anne Lock Prowse, Anne Lock Moyle, Elizabeth Rous, and Ursula Fulford.” Modern Philology 103.2 (2005): 187-214; 204. Patrick Collinson, Elizabethan Puritan Movement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, rpt. 1990), 276.
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.
This is the third time our blog has featured a book by clergyman and royalist Thomas Fuller, showing the enduring popularity of his work among women readers. Our last post was about The Church History of Britain, a timely work with a historical account of the lead-up to the Civil Wars, owned by Arundell Penruddock, wife of the ill-fated royalist conspirator John Penruddock. The Historie of the Holy Warre had less immediate relevance, dealing with the history of the crusades.
It is easy to see why this book would be a favorite with readers, as it includes both an impressive frontispiece and a foldout map, indicative of a general readerly interest in maps and visuals in historical works of this kind.
The other copy of this work we featured on this blog included female writing that suggested possibly a younger owner. As in that copy, this particular copy features elaborate handwriting, but in this case it is impressive calligraphy, a favorite pastime of women, who could thus show their versatility with the pen.
What makes this copy particularly interesting is its apparent Anglo-Dutch provenance. Interestingly, a former owner with a Dutch name, Gaspar vanden Bussche, signed with the English phrase “his book,” dating his inscription 1673. Anna Dilbo, whose last name is English, signed with Dutch phrasing, “Anno 1662 Den 24 octobre in London.” The proximity in date of the two inscriptions and the evidence of the last names as well as the phrasing of the inscriptions (and the location in Anna’s) point to a family with a history of crossing between the two countries.
Source: Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold October 4, 2020. Images reproduced with permission.
Between 1532 and 1546, the Antwerp printer Henrick Peetersen van Middelburch published two complete Dutch Bibles as well as multiple New Testaments. He did not initiate new translations or publication formats for his editions but efficiently drew on the high success rates of Bibles from fellow Antwerp printers, in particular Jacob van Liesvelt, Willem Vorsterman, and Michiel Hillen van Hoochstraten. His 1535 complete Bible edition, for instance, very closely resembles Jacob van Liesvelt’s Bible of 1534, in text and paratext. This relative lack of ‘originality’ has led to an underrepresentation of Peetersen’s Bible editions in most scholarly works on early modern Dutch Bibles. However, Peetersen’s printing and publishing endeavours clearly display to what extent the Dutch early modern Bible business was precisely that: a business. Peetersen provided readers with editions with plenty paratextual and visual elements, in neat lay-out, and with translations identical to those of Bibles that already proved their success. His Bibles reflect, in a way, not so much a striving towards originality, but rather the prosperous status quo.
This copy of Peetersen van Middelburch’s complete Bible edition from 1535, kept at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel (signature: Bibel-S. S.40 101), was owned by Princess-Countess Elisabeth Sophie Marie von Schleswig-Holstein-Norburg (1683-1767). She glued her bookplate onto the flyleaf in the front of the book. Elisabeth Sophie Marie was an ardent book collector and was also responsible for several religious publications. She started collecting Bibles in 1740, and within less than 25 years, she brought together a total of roughly 1,100 books, which she eventually left to be kept in Brunswick Palace, nearby Wolfenbüttel, in 1764. In addition to this large number of Bibles, she also owned books on natural history, literary works, and tracts by and about women.
Elisabeth Sophie Marie collected Bibles in various languages. Her library contained, for instance, 47 polyglot Bibles, 9 medieval Latin manuscripts, 19 Hebrew Bibles, and 9 Arabic Bibles. The Peetersen van Middelburch Bible was among no fewer than 34 Bibles printed in the Low Countries. In 1752, a preliminary catalogue of the book collection was published. The catalogue is fully available online as part of the exhibition ‘Luthermania’ of the Herzog August Bibliothek: http://www.luthermania.de/buch/show/1184#page/6/mode/2up. The frontispiece of the catalogue provides an imaginary, architectonical depiction of Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s library, surrounded by putti, and overlooked by a portrait of the book collector herself.
Elisabeth Sophie Marie’s collection testifies to her broad interest in the development of Bible translations, from the Middle Ages up to the eighteenth century. Although Elisabeth Sophie Marie was Lutheran herself, she collected Bibles across confessional divides. Her Bible collection functioned as a way to delve into the historic, multilingual background of the confessional dynamics of her own time. As a representative of popular Bible reading cultures in the sixteenth-century Dutch context, the 1535 Peetersen van Middelburch Bible clearly fitted this purpose.
Source: Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel: Bibel-S. 4° 101. Reproductions by the Herzog August Bibliothek. All images reproduced with permission.
Bepler, Jill. “Die fürstliche Witwe als Büchersammlerin. Spuren weiblicher Lektüre in der Frühen Neuzeit.” Der wissenschaftliche Bibliothekar. Festschrift für Werner Arnold. Ed. Detleve Hellfaier et al. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009. 19–40.
Gleixner, Ulrike. “Die lesende Fürstin: Büchersammlungen als lebenslange Bildungspraxis.” Vormoderne Bildungsgänge. Selbst- und Fremdbeschreibung in der Frühen Neuzeit. Ed. Juliane Jacobi et al. Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2010. 207–24.
Bibles were among the books most frequently owned in early modern households, and they have often featured on our blog. As Femke Molekamp has noted, “The Bible lay at the heart of early modern female reading culture” (1). While the Geneva bible was the most important of the different bible translations to English women in the sixteenth century and continued to be popular in the seventeenth century, the King James Bible became a formidable rival and was, as is true of the Geneva Bible, not only read and used, but also personalized with bindings with clasps, as seen in this 1630 edition.
Early modern readers not only read and annotated bibles but also used them to record their family history. As repositories of genealogy, Molekamp has helped us to think of how bible pages were transformed from devotional subject matter, to be read individually or aloud with family and other members of the household, into historical archives and spaces for recording dates of birth and death. This is also the case in this particular copy of the King James Bible, where family history, interestingly, is not recorded on the front fryleaf or in the back, but right in the middle.
Several female names are present in these annotations: Ann Hawkins is recorded as having died in 1784 (a month is missing). What seems to be the same hand records other family members: Anne Eyer, born in 1709; Thomas, born in 1711; John born in 1714; Elizabeth, born in 1717; and Mary was born in 1721. Probably an earlier attempt at recording these dates is seen on another page, only recording the births of Anne and Thomas.
It is always tricky to identify individuals, even with such detailed information, without being able to visit parish records, but FamilySearch locates some of the individuals listed, whose parents were Thomas and Elizabeth Eyres and all of whom were christened in Portsmouth in the Saint Thomas Church: Anne Eyres was christened on 28 July 1709; her younger brother Thomas, on 12 November 1711, and John on 29 March 1714. I have not found Mary or Elizabeth or further relevant dates.
Even with these identifications, we do not know if a woman (maybe their mother) wrote the names in the bible. We also do not know when the inscriptions were made or who recorded the death of Ann Hawkins in 1784, which is possibly the married name of Anne Eyres. But the use of the Bible, even in what seems like a casual way, to record dates that are important to a particular family shows both that the book was cherished as a repository of information and the expectation that it would be handed down generations. The last annotation seen here was made 154 years after this Bible was produced and published.
Even though we don’t know whether the annotator was female and what the exact relation of Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary was to this particular Bible, the presence of female names lays a kind of claim to the book for the female reader and gives women a permanent place in a material object that was valued highly by its owners. Female marks of ownership, in other words, can include not simply the statement of whose book you are looking at, but in a larger sense, can be the simple act of recording someone’s existence in a book, permanently inscribing that person’s importance to it.
Offered for sale on eBay by Rarebiblesandmore in July 2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.
Femke Molekamp, Women and the Bible in Early Modern England: Religious Reading and Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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. 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.” 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.
 Caroline McManus, Spenser’s Faerie Queene and the Reading of Women. Cranbury, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2002: 147.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
S. E. Lehmberg, Sir Walter Mildmay and Tudor government. Austin, TX, 1964.
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.