Vander Sterre, Het Leven van den H. Norbertus (1623)

Jesuit abbot Johannes Chrysostomus vander Sterre first published his biography of St. Norbert of Xanten in Latin in 1622, exactly 40 years after the saint’s canonization by Pope Gregory XIII. The book saw a Dutch translation the following year, a copy of which is featured in this post. St. Norbert of Xanten was ordained as a priest in 1115 and founded a monastery at Prémontré which became the seat of the Premonstratensian order of Canons regular. He was made archbishop of Magdeburg in 1126 and was instrumental in securing King Lothair III’s defense of Pope Innocent II, whose claim to the papacy was challenged by Anacletus II, the Antipope.

The copy featured here has the ownership inscriptions of two early Dutch female readers. The first reads “Desen boek hoort Aen theresia ver achteren Anno 1721” (This book belongs To theresia ver achteren the year 1721) and is partly obscured in the image by a portion of old musical manuscript binding waste.

An earlier interior inscription on a blank divisional page reads: “DESEN BOECK HOORT TOE MARIA QVINION ANNO i647.” Beneath it, someone, perhaps a child, has copied DESEN in red pencil and made curlicues that almost appear to be in the shape of a bird. The same red pencil appears on the verso, echoing “boeck,” “desen,” and “hoort.”

Despite their distinctive names and bold inscriptions, the women remain unidentified so far. We might tentatively conclude that Maria Quinion was the book’s second owner given the 25-year gap between the original publication date and her inscription date. However, it is equally possible that Maria owned the book earlier and did not inscribe it until 1647. We might also assume that Theresia ver Achteren modeled her later inscription on Maria’s given the same phrase “Desen boeck hoort” and inclusion of a date for her ownership inscription.

Source: Book offered for sale by ElevenEleven Books, Inc. in October 2021. Images used with permission.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Saint Norbert of Xanten.” Encyclopedia Britannica, June 2, 2021.

Richard Barckley, A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man (1598)

Sir Richard Barckley, a knight about whom no biographical information exists, first published the commonplace book A Discourse of the Felicitie of Man, or, His Summun Bonum in 1598. The text was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I and was popular enough to see a “newly corrected and augmented” second edition in 1603 and a reissue by playwright Thomas Heywood in 1631. It serves as a philosophical and metaphysical meditation and advice book on the subject of happiness.

The copy featured here is in a contemporary triple-ruled binding with a blind-tooled centerpiece with scrollwork. The earliest known owner is a “John Mablon in Huggin Lane,” whose inscription appears on a front endpaper. The later name of “Elizabeth Dirdo” is written on the title page verso in a ca. seventeenth-century hand.

Like the author of the book she owned, Elizabeth Dirdo eludes identification. At least one other book with the inscription “Elizabeth Dirdo” survives, a 1640 edition of Sir Richard Baker’s Meditations and Disquisitions upon the Seven Penitentiall Psalmes, now Folger Shakespeare Library STC 1228. Dirdo, also spelled Dirdoe or Durdo, is an uncommon surname. Though limited, these two examples of her book ownership suggest an interest in religious texts.

Source: Book sold by Lux & Umbra Fine and Rare Books on 1 July 2021. Images used with permission.


Richard Barckley. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 11 Sep. 2021, from

Simon Patrick, Advice to a Friend (1673)

By Brenda Collins

This blog provides a useful outlet for the publication and exchange of information about the increasing complexity of findings of female book owners. It enables connections at an individual level to be made between time, space and place and these connections can sometimes be used in the interpretation of other events in the owners’ lives. In the case reviewed here, a book in the collections of the Armagh Robinson Library, Mark Empey interprets the two ownership signatures on the title page of Simon Patrick Advice to a Friend (1673) as those of a woman, Hellena (Helen, Ellen) Rawdon and her brother-in-law Edward Rawdon (see blog here). But I suggest that the E. Rawdon signatory on Hellena Rawdon’s book is Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira (1731-1808) whose husband was Helen’s grandson and therefore great-grandson of George and Dorothy Rawdon née Conway.

Source: Image reproduced by kind permission of the Governors and Guardians of Armagh Robinson Library.

Patrick’s book forms part of a collection originating within the Conway family. Though the first viscount Conway had a book collection, it was the second viscount, Edward (1594-1655) who had deep interests in the acquisition and ownership of books. Conway never inscribed the books with a signature nor were they annotated in the margins; however, a number of books contain signatures or initials of Rawdon descendants of the third viscount, later earl, of Conway (1623-1683) – George Rawdon’s son Arthur, daughter-in-law Hellena, their son, John, grandson John, first earl of Moira and of his wife, Elizabeth, spanning the period from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century.  Thus, a book published in 1673 with a signature of Hellena Rawdon can form part of the Conway collection. There is no evidence that Arthur Rawdon’s elder brother, Edward, who died in his early 20s, owned or inscribed any of his grandfather Conway’s books, and his signature, habitually, was an abbreviation of his first name.

Signature of Edward Rawdon. Letter to his mother dated Apr 9 1675. HA15641, Hastings Collection, Huntington Library, California

Hellena and her husband Arthur Rawdon, together with their son John and grandson John all signed books with Conway’s crest as well as books of their own acquisition. Grandson John Rawdon married his third wife, Elizabeth Hastings, in 1752, and they became the earl and countess of Moira in 1762. The E in the signature of E Moira (in a letter from the Countess of Moira in 1782) seems very similar to that of the E inscribed on the book by Simon Patrick. This suggests that Elizabeth Rawdon inscribed her signature on the Patrick book before she became the countess of Moira. 

Tracing of signature of Elizabeth, Countess of Moira. Letter to Bishop of Dromore, 7 December 1782. Granard Papers T3765/J, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Many other Conway/Rawdon books in the Robinson Library are signed by the countess of Moira with the letter M (Moira) at the head or foot of the title page, which would only have been possible after her husband’s ennoblement. Elizabeth Rawdon, née Hastings, viewed any ancestral entitlements highly and valued her Conway connection. For all the Rawdons, the signatures provided endorsement of the connection that they felt had been wrongfully denied. Emphasis on tracing the family connections between the ownership of Advice to a Friend by a seventeenth-century woman and her grandson’s wife should not be allowed to obscure their intellectual capabilities. Hellena Rawdon was scholarly with a breadth of interests; other books in the Robinson Library with her signature include several on botany and on garden design, a passion shared with her husband, Arthur.[1] The countess of Moira also had a scholarly upbringing and interests which she demonstrated in later life.[2] She led intellectual soirées in Dublin in the 1780s and 1790s and was a patron and friend of a wide range of literary, cultural and political figures in Ireland and in Britain. For both women, the printed word provided access to knowledge beyond their immediate environments, which was of benefit in their everyday lives.

Source: Book in the Armagh Robinson Library. Images reproduced with permission.

[1] E. Charles Nelson, “Sir Arthur Rawdon (1662-1695) of Moira: His life and letters, family and friends, and his Jamaican plants,” Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society Vol.10, 2nd series 1977/8–1981/2, 30-52.

[2] ‘Rawdon, Elizabeth (1731-1808), countess of Moira, literary patroness, and amateur antiquarian’, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Mr. William Shakespear’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (1685)

By V. M. Braganza

Title page of the Fourth Folio of Mr. William Shakespear’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies (1685), up for auction at Christie’s as part of the Theodore B. Baum sale in September 2021.

But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Shakespeare, The Tempest (5.1.59-66)

You are what you read—at least, that’s how I have always understood the feeling of dissolving into a book. Books absorb us into their pages: we feel our edges blur and disappear. The world goes away, until reality breaks the charm and we resurface and reappear among the living.

Except when we don’t. Sometimes, those who are forgotten by history live on only in the books they left behind, fathoms beneath our memory of the past. That is exactly what happened to Charlotte Rowe (1718-1739), daughter of Nicholas Rowe, England’s fourth Poet Laureate and the first editor of Shakespeare’s works. Charlotte Rowe was swallowed by a book. In fact, she disappeared into the Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1685).

Rowe’s signature on recto of the frontispiece leaf. The shadow of the intaglio portrait of Shakespeare on the verso is visible to the keen eye.

Charlotte is concealed by Shakespeare both historically and literally. If there’s a place one would least expect to find her name inscribed, it’s in Poets’ Corner, the most iconic pilgrimage site for lovers of English literature—yet there she is. Anyone who explores Westminster Abbey in London will soon find themselves in an alcove in the south transept crammed with tombs and memorials to some of the greatest English writers. In this part of the cathedral, there’s hardly an inch of space that isn’t carved with famous names. A visitor can’t take so much as a step without trodding on Charles Dickens or coming nose to nose with Geoffrey Chaucer. Even after the inscriptions had carpeted the stone floor and climbed up the marble walls, names began appearing in the stained-glass windows too. Poet’ Corner is one of the most magical places a passionate reader can find herself. The stone itself is alive, and one of its most electrifying features is an elaborate monument to Shakespeare.

The monument to Shakespeare in Poets’ Corner. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Drawn in by the sheer prominence of Shakespeare’s statue, most visitors don’t notice what sits just a few feet away. Next door is the tomb of Nicholas Rowe, which includes a memorial to his daughter, Charlotte.

The most prominent figures in the Rowe monument are a bust of Rowe and a symbolic statue of a mourning woman holding an open book. A carving of Charlotte in profile in a round frame hovers diffidently in the background. Even though it sits directly within view, it would easily escape the casual observer’s notice.

This only surviving portrait of Charlotte reflects the apparent position of many women. They hover in the background, metaphorically and spatially. Where their names survive, they play second fiddle to men’s names and achievements. And, too often, we can barely get a clear enough view of them to put a face to the name. The tiny glimpse we get of Charlotte raises more questions than answers.

Charlotte was born in 1718, the same year her father died. She never knew him personally, yet she owned a copy of Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio. Nicholas Rowe based his 1709 edition of Shakespeare primarily on the Fourth Folio which, at the time, was the most recently published version of the plays. It was also highly inaccurate, containing substantially different texts to those published in Shakespeare’s time and the First Folio (1623). Modern editors, who regard Shakespeare’s language as almost sacred, aim to recover it as accurately as possible. Today, the Fourth Folio’s differences are damning.

But that’s not how many of Rowe’s contemporaries would have seen it. From the late seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, writers and editors often took a liberty that would horrify Bardolaters today: they rewrote Shakespeare. Unthinkable though it seems to us, it wasn’t uncommon for Shakespeareans to take it upon themselves to ‘improve’ the plays. Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate before Rowe, was put off by the unbearably tragic ending of King Lear—so he simply rewrote the play to give it a happy ending. In fact, it was Tate’s version, in which Lear and his beloved daughter Cordelia survive, and not Shakespeare’s original which ends in both characters’ deaths, that was performed on the English stage from 1681 until the mid-nineteenth century. For more than a hundred years, Shakespeare’s King Lear wasn’t Shakespeare’s King Lear!

In some ways, Rowe was ahead of his time. He pioneered many editorial features of Shakespeare’s plays that we take for granted: he divided the plays into five acts each, added stage directions, and included a Dramatis Personae, or list of characters, at the beginning of each play. He also claimed that he had compared “several Editions” to reproduce as nearly as possible “the Exactness of the Author’s Original Manuscripts.” In reality, his edition shows that he simply followed the Fourth Folio, and even included several plays incorrectly attributed to Shakespeare. But, in a time of Tates who freely abridged Shakespeare’s works, it was the thought that counted. Rowe was the first to express a desire to recover the author’s own versions—and Shakespeare’s original words have been pearls which editors have sought ever since.

That the daughter whom Rowe never met owned a copy of the Fourth Folio raises some unanswerable questions. Was this inscribed book her father’s copy, perhaps inherited after his death? Did Charlotte long to know more about the father she would never meet? And how might such a desire have driven her interest in Shakespeare? How would she have read a play like King Lear, in which death thwarts a reunion between a father and daughter? And is there a copy of Rowe’s 1709 six-volume edition with his daughter’s signature still waiting to be found—or have these volumes been drowned in the tides of time if they ever existed at all?

On these questions, Charlotte’s copy of the Fourth Folio is as silent as the grave. The book contains no further substantial annotations beyond her signature. Charlotte herself died at the age of twenty-one, giving birth to a daughter, Charlotte Fane (1739-1762), who would die, in her turn, at the age of twenty-three. The bare skeleton of these facts survives to tantalize us with truths we many never conjure from the pages of books. Charlotte’s Fourth Folio whispers,

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

The Tempest (1.2.474–479)

So Shakespeare seemed to Rowe—so Rowe might have seemed to Charlotte. So Charlotte appears to us.

The best historical writing makes the past and its inhabitants come alive. But what are we to do with those individuals who have undergone a sea change into something strange and elusive? Many women’s histories exist but remain undiscovered—but even more have been reduced to flickers and flashes, as indistinct as water is in water. In the face of large-scale social inequity and subsequent historical neglect, women have disappeared into the books they owned and read. As a result, rare books are some of the most evocative places we can look for and attempt to discover them. When we do so, whether as historians or curious readers, we seek the pearls of great price that humankind has unwisely thrown away: the books and people time’s tempests have submerged.

Many heartfelt thanks go to Rhiannon Knol for showing me this book and, as ever, to the members of the Books and Manuscripts Division at Christie’s, for their warm and wonderful support.

Source: Book offered for sale by Christie’s, September 14, 2021. All images reproduced with permission.

Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (1673)

This copy of a second edition of Richard Allestree’s The Ladies Calling has an interesting set of marks showing a rich history of ownership. Allestree’s books have been featured repeatedly on this blog, showing the special interest of female readers in his conduct manual with its sections on modesty, meekness, compassion, piety, and other feminine virtues as well as, in the second part, explanations of expectations for virgins, wives, and widows.

This particular copy was clearly a treasured book, as its beautiful morocco binding and gold decorations suggest.

The foredge features additional decoration with angels’ faces and flowers.

The title pages, endpaper, and flyleaves of the book show both women and men read it and wanted to mark their ownership. The title page has been marked by a woman named Elice Christmas, whose hand suggest a later date.

Inside the book, there are two male bookplates, the first of which tells us the book belonged at some point to Harry Lawrence Bradfer Lawrence (1887-1965), an antiquarian and book collector.

The page preceding and the page featuring the frontispiece provide us with names of three previous owners. The bookplate tells us it belonged to Sir Edward Wilmot (1693-1786), a physician and later baronet from Derby. A woman named Mary Pooley wrote her inscription above the frontispiece.

Perhaps most interestingly, the third inscription shows evidence of female gift giving: “Mrs Chathrine Orson her book Given her by Mrs Cathrine Buttler anno Domini 1698.”

The use of “Mrs” for both owner and gift giver hints at a kind of formality, perhaps indicative of their relationship. But it also suggests that this inscription serves less as a personal moment in that relationship, and instead hints at an awareness of the fact that others will read it. As the reader records that one “Mrs” had given the book to another, she seems to be making a public self-representation of her own status and that of her friend that can be read alongside the book’s content. Both she and her friend, the inscription suggests, meet the expectations set by Allestree for proper, married womanhood.

Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold on 11/29/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Ben Jonson, Workes (1616, 1640)

This set of Ben Jonson’s Workes includes a first volume printed in 1616 and a second volume printed in 1640. The first volume shows an interesting instance of use of an older manuscript as endpaper.

Pen trials appear on the flyleaf of the volume and a bookplate has been pasted onto the endpaper. The bookplate belonged to John Stackhouse, possibly the botanist, whose bookplate is in a collection in the British Museum.

For our purposes the second volume is even more interesting. The title page, which shows the book was printed for Richard Meighen, has several inscriptions on it that show women’s interest in displaying their ownership.

A “William Owen Esq” has signed the book twice, once around the word “Viz.” and his name appears again twice times before the list of plays, as if appropriating each title as his. At the very top of the page, a relative has written “Madm Elizabeth Owen her book.” The same name appears between the lines immediately below, and perhaps she is also the person who has copied the date, 1640, and the word “Printed” at the bottom of the page. The positioning of the “her book” phrase at the very top seems designed to override all other claims to ownership below.

Still, the name Elizabeth appears three more times on the page, twice crossed out, as is made visible by RetroReveal.

Although it is difficult to read the last name or other words that have been crossed out and we cannot tell whether these are by the same woman, it is clear that the female owner or owners of the volume wanted to mark their ownership on the title page. Title pages can, as in this instance, become spaces for competing marks and pen trials, as we have seen before on this blog.

Source: book offered for sale by Whitmore Rare Books, July 2021. Images reproduced with permission.

Book of Common Prayer (1676)

By Steve Murdoch

In the University Library of Uppsala University there is evidence of female book ownership. In this case it is a 1676 copy of the English Book of Common Prayer noted simply as an English volume from the seventeenth century on a library shelf-mark pasted on the inside cover.[1] There are several notable features about this book. The title page is missing, but otherwise the binding and remaining pages are in reasonably good order.

Ownership of this work is attributed to Anna Elisabeth Leyell (fl.1696), whose inscription reads:

Anna Elisabeth Leyell
Hir. Book. Borne
the twenty seventh
Day of Aprill
Anno Christi

On the outer end-leaf a marginal note has been added. It has been struck out and rendered illegible although the initials ‘F.G.L’ remain visible (as you can see here).[2] To date, that is where the biographic interest in or knowledge of this work has ended.

However, we can certainly say more about owner of the book than the brief entry in the library catalogue allows and perhaps even speculate at the provenance of it. We are helped to some degree by a prayer found on the page opposite to the dedication to Anna Elisabeth. It is written in very clear English hand.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

O Holy and Eternal Jesus, who hast
begotten by thy word, renewed us by
thy Spirit, fed us by thy Sacrements
and by the daily ministry of thy word,
Still goe on to build us up to life eternall
let thy most holy Spirit be present,
with me and rest upon me in the –
hearing thy sacred word, that I may doe
it humbly, reverently, without –
Prejudice, with a mynd ready and desireous
to learnne and to obey, that I may be –
readily furnished and Instructed to Every
good work, and may practice all thy –
Holy lawes and Commandments, –
to the glorie of thy holy name, o holy
and Eternal Jesus amen –[3]

In 1694, the Swedish Crown and Church began to seriously clamp down on non-Lutherans in the country. The British Resident, Dr John Robinson, noted that foreigners were being forced to either embrace Lutheranism or “have no exercise of religion” at all.[4] New restrictions from the Swedish Church against Anglicans were certainly recorded by Robinson again in 1695.[5] However, as an ordained Church of England minister it is unimaginable that Robinson did not continue to preach to his countrymen thereafter in the sanctuary of the English Residence. This is where both the date and survival of Anna Elisabeth’s Book of Common Prayer is of particular interest.

The book was presented to Anna Elisabeth to celebrate her birth in the period immediately following the legislation designed to thwart any non-Lutheran confessional practices as observed by Robinson. Nevertheless, we know that the British community of resident Scots and English continued to hold services in private houses in both Stockholm and Gothenburg for this purpose.[6] Sometimes they were joined by French Huguenots and Dutch Calvinists. The fact that so many types of non-Lutherans could meet together in solidarity in spite of the persecution of their confession may well explain the language used on Anna Elisabeth’s book plate. We know for sure it was not her native language, nor that of her parents. Indeed, the Leyell family is extremely well known as Kathrin Zickermann (among others) has demonstrated.[7]

When looking into Anna Elisabeth’s heritage we can, thanks to her book ownership, expand on the brief information given in the library catalogue and point out, if not correct, some information about her in other sources. For example, in the Swedish peerage, Anna Elisabeth’s date of birth is given as 7 April 1696, some 20 days in error compared to the entry in her book.[8] She was born in Älvkarleö in the north of the Uppsala region and lived until 20 April 1762. Anna Elisabeth was one of ten siblings, all children of David Leyell and Margareta Lundia (aka Mörling). This is of great interest to historical linguists and scholars of language retention as both her parents were Swedish-born and educated. Her father was born in Stockholm in 1660, the son of a Scottish immigrant merchant, David Leyell of Arbroath. Her mother was adopted by her noble stepfather, Lars Månsson Mörling.

Photograph by Helena Backman.

And this brings us back to the question of who presented her with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer? The dedication and the prayer opposite are written in English and not the Scots of Anna Elisabeth’s migrant grandparents. It was certainly gifted by someone who was keen to maintain an Anglican association and British heritage. Given the date, the language and the book, and inscription, one could be tempted to speculate that it came from a friend of the family – perhaps even Rev Dr John Robinson himself. A comparison of Robinson’s contemporary diplomatic correspondence to the prayer reveals a close similarity in the clarity and style of language, but with too many small differences to persuade a seasoned paleographer to identify him definitively as the source.[9] He may have moderately formalized his style compared to that used in his correspondence given what he was writing and the book he was inscribing it in. More likely is that it was someone of similar education from among the wider English community. Nevertheless, we have certainly been able to flesh out the details of the owner and hope that the catalogue entry is amended to bring Anna Elisabeth Leyell back into historical focus.

We would like to thank Helena Backman from Uppsala University Library for providing us with digital images of the book consulted for this blog, and Emma Forsberg for facilitating our initial contact with the library team.

Source: Uppsala University Library. Images reproduced with permission.

[1] “Uppsala Univ. Bibliotek. Bokband 1600-t, England, I.” See Uppsala University Library, The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church. According to the use of the Church of England; together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches. London, printed by the assigns of John Bill and Christopher Barker, printers to the Kings most excellent majesty 1676. Cum privilegio, 1676.

[2] Speculatively Frederika Georgina Leijel (1835–1865), a member of the same Swedish Leyell family (though not a descendant of Anna Elisabeth). Further research will be required to establish this. She does appear to be the best fit of the Leyell family assuming that is what the ‘L’ stands for.

[3] The prayer is published in Rev Jeremy Taylor, The rule and exercises of holy living. In which are described the means and instruments of obtaining every vertue, and the remedies against every vice, and considerations serving to the resisting all temptations. Together with prayers containing the whole duty of a Christian, and the parts of devotion fitted to all occasions, and furnish’d for all necessities, Robert Vaughan, engraver. (Printed by R. Norton for Richard Royston at the Angel in Ivielane, London, 1650), p.373. Ad Sect. 4, “A prayer to be said before hearing or reading the word of God.” For more on Taylor and his works see John Spurr, “Taylor, Jeremy (bapt.1613, d. 1667), Church of Ireland bishop of Down and Connor and religious writer.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[4] June Milne, “The Diplomacy of Dr John Robinson at the Court of Charles XII of Sweden, 1697-1709,” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 30 (1948), p. 77

[5] John R. Ashton, “Henry Maister of Gothenburg: His Life and Times,” Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 70 (1998), p. 99.

[6] Ashton, “Henry Maister,” p. 90; Frederic Bedoire, Hugenotternas Värld: från religionskrigens Frankrike till Skeppsbroadelns Stockholm (Stockholm, 2009), p. 217.

[7] Kathrin Zickermann, “Scottish Merchant Families in the early Modern Period,” in Northern Studies 45 (2013), pp. 100–18.

[8] Gustaf Magnus Elgenstierna, Den introducerade svenska adelns ättartavlor, 9 vols. (Stockholm, 1925–36), vol. IV, pp. 518–22.

[9] The National Archives of Great Britain, SP 32/10 f.172. Dr John Robinson to Lord Ambassador Williamson, 7 May 1698.

Roger L’Estrange, Seneca’s Morals (1682)

This book is a translation and abbreviated version (“by way of Abstract”) of Seneca’s Epistulae morales, originally published in 1678 by Roger L’Estrange. The man now known as a fervent royalist and censor of the press after the Restoration published a number of translations, but this was the most popular (ODNB). Interestingly, this edition of the treatise, with its explanation of stoic morals presented as a beneficial and conducive to a happy life, came out in the middle of a strong Whig propaganda offensive against L’Estrange and shortly after he had survived accusations of being a Catholic and of involvement in the Popish plot. From 1681, he began to publish The Observator, a periodical which was to become, as Harold Love notes, “the most powerful organ of tory propaganda” (ODNB).

It is difficult to imagine that the first owners of this edition of the book L’Estrange translated were unaware of his politics. Ownership of the book, in other words, provides some potential indication of the owner’s stance in contemporary controversy, even if the bulk of the book itself does not directly address it.

This particular copy was a present from a mother to a daughter. It is inscribed, “Margrett Lowther geven me by my Mother 1692” and underneath, there is another inscription that reads “Margrett Lowther her book.”

I have been unable to locate the Margaret Lowther in question (FamilySearch comes up with several possibilities). The other signature, both on the flyleaf and on the title page and possibly by Margaret’s mother or another relative, is not easy to decipher (“H. Lowther”?).

It seems Margaret practiced writing in two different hands, and the capital letter M also shows that this is both signature and an instance of a pen trial.

By 1692, four years after the Glorious Revolution and fourteen years after the book’s original publication, L’Estrange was politically powerless, plagued by ill health and other personal tragedies, himself probably much in need of Seneca’s advice. Margaret Lowther may not have known much about L’Estrange if she was young when she received the book from her mother, but L’Estrange’s epistle “To the Reader” makes ample mention of seventeenth-century politics and accuses the Whigs of being impostors and hypocrites. Politics aside, women throughout the early modern period were attracted to stoicism, and this maternal gift shows a desire to convey Senecan philosophy to a daughter in an accessible form. What is interesting about the book is that it is ostensibly directed at male readers, and Seneca’s advice is, unlike other advice books presented to early modern young women, not specifically geared to the female experience.

Source: offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, 12/10/2019, and since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Love, Harold. “L’Estrange, Sir Roger (1616–1704), author and press censor.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

King James Bible (1619)

This is one of many bibles we have featured on this blog, and like most of the others, it is an object that fascinating for the extent to which it bears the signs of usage by the family that owned it. This early seventeenth-century King James bible was printed only eight years of the appearance of the very first one; it is bound together with a 1673 copy of the Book of Psalms.

Throughout the book we find scribbling and handwriting, much of it not entirely clear, and some of it apparently by a young person or child. Much of the writing takes the form of conventional family history, noting births of the annotator and family members. As Adam Smyth notes, in his lovely newsletter on the bible of his own family and other early bibles, “These inscriptions represent a reader’s impulse to assert her presence, her place in time, her relationship to an important book, and that evidence of her aliveness is still legible today. These inscriptions have a kind of depth or texture because they record both an exact moment when the note was written (the I-am-here-ness), and immediately imagine a future when that record will be read as past (the I-was-here-ness).” Other inscriptions, if we can call them that, seem much less aware of future readers.

The page below shows that the bible is bound with the Book of Common Prayer. The inscription on the page begins “When the wicked man turneth…,” a quotation from Ezekiel 18:27, “when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” The inscription seems as much to emphasize the quotation as it is a pen trial, though the quotation itself does not appear on this page, so the writer is not simply copying.

Another hand is seen at the bottom of the left page below with a cryptic inscription. It seems to give an incomplete date, “17th 1542” perhaps followed by “J was buried 23 day,” so this may be an item of family history, but if so, only as a reminder to the annotator, not for any other reader.

On this page appear pen trials of numbers, some writing, and a drawing, along with further scribbling next to the dedication to the bible.

There is also the conventional listing of family members, including Mary Chide or Childe, Richard Webb, John Webb, and Mary Webb, along with further calculations, perhaps of ages. But the family history is not as neatly listed as in many other bibles that expect future reading by descendants and others–instead it appears to take the form of pen trials, with its repetition and combination of diagonal and horizontal writing.

Clearer birth dates for Mary Childe and John Webb are given below. Perhaps the writer was practicing for these inscriptions on the page above.

And a further list of family members with now faded dates of birth are given on the page below, some in a different hand. It includes another female member of the family, Ann Webb. A delightful animal of some sort appears among the inscriptions.

Yet another page lists a James Webb in a different hand, along with a location, Eynsford, allowing us to situate this family tentatively in Kent.

For this particular family, the blank pages of the bible, book of prayer, and psalms were a space to record family history, do pen trials, make calculations, and do drawings. The book was used by different family members, probably of different generations, and to different ends. Such scattered writing shows the degree to which the bible could be a book that was not only cherished but also actively in use in the household, open to appropriation and modification by all members of the family, male and female, young and old. We cannot know to what extent or which notations are by women, but their presence as members of the family is clearly marked and kept for posterity.

Source: Book offered for sale by moonlandingpro on 3/1/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Ovid’s Epistles Translated by Several Hands (1680)

Also known as the Heroides, Ovid’s epistles saw their first print translation by George Turberville in 1567. The Heroides are made up of fifteen epistolary poems between famous lovers: Penelope to Odysseus, Medea to Jason, Sappho to Phaon, and so on. This 1680 edition is noteworthy for its preface by John Dryden. “[Y]et this may be said in behalf of Ovid, that no man has ever treated the Passion of Love with so much Delicacy of Thought, and of Expression, or search’d into the nature of it more Philosophically than he,” he writes (A3v).

This copy contains two early owner’s inscriptions. The first, John Sibthorpe, wrote his name on the title page. There were a couple John Sibthorpes of note, including the MP (1669–1718) and botanist (1758–1796), and either could have plausibly owned this book. The inscription that draws the most attention though, if only for its considerably larger size, is on the title page verso.

It reads in a neat italice hand: “Mrs Anne Ayssoghe / her Booke / Jan ye 26 / 1684.” Anne’s unique spelling of her surname has made it difficult to determine what the modern spelling may be (Assow? Eishow?) and thus her identity remains a mystery for now. What does seem to be clear is that she signed (if not acquired) the book on January 26th, 1684 and that she was married at the time she owned this text of romance, passion, and love spurned.

Source: Book offered for sale by Julian Roberts Fine Books in October 2020 and since sold. Images used with permission.

Henry Isaacson, Saturni Ephemerides (1633)

Known today more for its distinctive engraved title page by William Marshall (the illustrator responsible for the frontispiece in Eikon Basilike of a kneeling King Charles I) than its content, Saturni Ephemerides, sive, Tabula Historico-Chronologica was written by theologian Henry Isaacson (1581–1654) and published in 1633. It was never reprinted, but judging by the high number of surviving copies reported to the ESTC, the print run seems to have been sufficient to meet public demand.

Writes Joel Faber of the Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies:

The six pages of “authorities” Isaacson references range from Ovid and Boccaccio to Bede and Holinshed. The first section offers an abridged history of the “Four Monarchies” (Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome) before moving to the chronology table which comprises most of the book. Isaacson begins this section with the biblical patriarchs and proceeds through to the time of the book’s composition with various European locations each receiving their own columns. Alongside each year Isaacson also includes noteworthy events such as the founding of cities, universities, and the births and deaths of famous figures such as Sir Philip Sidney and John Harington with notes about their accomplishments. Appended to the work is a Christian history of Britain that lists the successions of bishops and archbishops. At the end of the book is an index which organizes the “famous men” that Isaacson includes into categories such as poets, musicians, philosophers, mathematicians, painters, grammarians, and others.

This copy is noteworthy for the inscription on A1v, The Frontispiece Explained. Beneath the tailpiece, the former owner made the inscription “Wm Thompson booke / bought of mrs Susanna Pelham.” Thompson also signed the book at the foot of the title page.

Thompson’s hand appears to date from the seventeenth century. The intriguing inscription raises more questions than it answers. Neither William Thompson or Susanna Pelham can be easily identified, Thompson because his name is so common, Susanna because there are many possible permutations and spellings of her name, from Susan to Suzanne. It seems likely that she was a private seller, though how she came to signal that her book was for sale and how she attracted Thompson as a buyer is unknown. Was she a former owner and reader of the book? Or was the book one of many wares she was offering for sale, not necessarily a personal possession? At any rate, it was a transaction and not a gift, as so many books exchanged between women and men were.

Source: Book offered for sale by Forest Books in May 2021. Images used with permission.


Joel Faber (20 November, 2018). “New Acquisition: Saturni Ephemerides Sive Tabula Historico-Chronologica (1633).” Centre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies.

George Parker, Double Ephemeris (1700)

Paul Salzman

In 2015 The State Library of Victoria acquired a spectacular collection of early modern books and manuscripts, bequeathed by the physicist and barrister John Emmerson.[1] The collection has a focus on the Civil War but ranges well beyond it and amounts to over five and a half thousand items. There are a considerable number of books with female signatures, but here I want to concentrate on a somewhat unusual book, which may be seen as her/their book via reference, rather than ownership.

Emmerson collected a significant number of almanacs, mostly concentrated in the second half of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century. His copy of George Parker’s 1700 Double Ephemeris, as was often the case with almanacs, is interleaved with recipes, medical formulae, and astrological calculations.[2]

It is important to recognize that, while many almanacs were ephemeral publications, designed to last for no longer than the year they were created for, many were interleaved with so-called blanks and were intended to be a more permanent record of the year. Or, as in this case, they could serve, in the same way that family receipt books did: as a compendium of information that lasted far longer than a year. In the example I discuss here, this is indeed the case. The almanac as a whole has been annotated more than once in a few different hands and inks, although the majority of these are in a single hand. The interleaves contain recipes, medical formulae, and accounts, while the printed monthly calendars have mostly appointments and reminders written into the spaces. The recipes, mostly for medicines, are written in a clear hand and contain so few corrections that it is clear they are fair copies of what were presumably preceding rough notes. And the volume has been bound to last, in plain, blind-ruled calf.

There is throughout the entries by the main hand a sense that this is someone like an apothecary, or a doctor, with recipes for various medicines, including one for the enticing “Merry Pill.”

Formulae are often written using scientific symbols. The bulk of the almanac is almost certainly his, not her, book, especially given the momentarily unscientific note, “Azoons I’m as sick as a Dog I vowd I would make him look like a Cuckold as he is.” However, there are some fascinating moments when I think we can at least speculate that this is also her/their book.

On a leaf opposite the June calendar, underneath a recipe beginning with a formula to “stiffen or purefie [symbol for lead] or pewter,” in a quite different hand and ink someone has written: “Ann Burgess Nat ye 15th of June about 5 in ye morning – 1683.”

There is a line drawn to separate this entry from the recipes/formulae above. While it is difficult to be certain, this entry looks to be later than the interleaved material. There are a number of possibilities, all of them equally plausible. Ann Burgess may have been recording her own date and time of birth in response to the astrological material contained in the book. It is possible that she is a later writer than the person who wrote the interleaved material. While many almanacs were treated as being ephemeral, as Adam Smyth and Louise Curth have shown, almanacs could become repositories of knowledge and autobiographical material, and might well be handed down in families as receipt books were.[3] That would seem to be the case in this instance, though again I can only speculate as to where Ann Burgess might have been placed in the chain of transmission: her hand, if it is hers, points to the early eighteenth century. (It is of course also possible that the interleaved material and the reference to Ann’s birth were written at around the same time, but just by different members of the family.)

There are three other women mentioned in sone detail in the almanac, all of them appearing on the final pages of the first ephemeris, in what seem to be a series of appointments. The appointments (if that is what they are) are written in the same hand in the spaces under the “remarkable days” column for December. Under Advent Sunday we have “mrs ludwell at a Chandlers shop in Beech lane.” Under 2 in Advent, we have “mrs Shakemaple, next door to ye [3 tun] in Rosemary lane.”[4]

Rosemary Lane, located in the City, was renamed Mint Street in the nineteenth century; it had a famous rag fair and a reputation for being disorderly.[5] There are a number of Shakemaples listed as being in the area around 1700, with an Ann Shakemaple listed in the Parish Register as having died in 1726 at St Botolph, Bishopsgate, though there is no certainty that this is our Mrs Shakemaple.[6] .(While perhaps raising a smile from modern readers, Shakemaple was not such an unusual name in the late seventeenth century.)

On the back flyleaf at the top we have “mrs Bromley,” “Mrs Shakemaple for ye 30 spilln [?],” and I think the alchemical symbol for calx (oxide) and tincture Regalis, described in The Complete English Dispensatory (1719) as “a universal medicine” – which implies that Mrs Shakemaple, and perhaps also Mrs Bromley, were involved in the supply of some materials that were either for alchemical or medicinal purposes. I have not thus far been able to track these women down, but it does seem at least likely that Mrs Shakemaple for one ran an apothecary shop in Rosemary Lane. Another supplier of material necessary for the work of an apothecary (or alchemist) is noted in September: “Mrs Russell. Crucibles.” There are also appointments with “Ann Rutler Quaker at Cold harbour in dowgate Mortgagee” (Coldharbour was in the City of London, Dowgate is a ward), and a note referring to “Mrs Knightingale defunct” and “Katherine Tooke executor.”

So I would maintain, for the purposes of this blog, that this is indeed a suitable book to be seen as her/theirs as well as his.

Source: The State Library of Victoria (Australia), Shelfmark RAREMM 325/24. Images reproduced with the permission.

[1] For a brief account of the collection, see Paul Salzman, “The John Emmerson Collection in the State Library of Victoria,” forthcoming in The Library, June, 2021. Together with Rosalind Smith, Sarah C. E. Ross, Patricia Pender, Mitchell Whitelaw, and Anna Welch, I am currently involved in a major research project in conjunction with the library: “Transforming the Early Modern Archive: The Emmerson Collection at the State Library of Victoria”:

[2] RAREMM 325/24.

[3] Louise Hill Curth, English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550-1700 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007); Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), chap. 1; and see Barnard Capp’s pioneering and essential English Almanacs 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).

[4] I have had various helpful suggestions for the difficult to decipher words that might be “7 htn” (short for inhabitants) from Laurie Johnson; “the Gun/3 Guns,” Richard Hawtree, Tom Charlton; “3 Tuns,” Matthew Steggle and Benny Goldberg, who also provided alchemical assistance.

[5] See Janice Turner, “An Anatomy of a ‘Disorderly’ Neighbourhood: Rosemary Lane and rag Fair c. 1690-1765,” PhD Dissertation, University of Hertfordshire, 2014.

[6] Thanks to Susan Wiseman for this information.