Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1638)

Though Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia was popular among readers of all sexes, the surviving copies often contain women’s ownership inscriptions. This 1638 edition was owned by Joseph and Elizabeth Campbell. Elizabeth has signed the verso of one page “Elizabeth Campbell with my hand.”


Source: Book offered for sale by G.W. Stuart, Jr., 6/10/19. Image used with permission.

Simon Patrick, The Parable of a Pilgrim (1667)

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This devotional work was written by Simon Patrick, a theologian and author of many works of biblical commentary. He eventually became Bishop of Ely. A woman named Sarah Barnes (?) wrote her name on the title page of the work, as we often see with names on title pages splitting up the inscription into two, so it is spread out. Though it is hard to make out, there seems to be a year ending in 63 at the end of the inscription, perhaps 1763. If that is the case, this book would have been close to a hundred years old when she owned it.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay, 6/18/2019 by bookseller Neil Summersgill. Images reproduced with permission.

Aphra Behn, The Counterfeit Bridegroom (1677)

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We have only showcased a few books on this website so far that were both owned and written by a woman, and as we have seen in the case of Hannah Woolley, attribution can be problematic. Here is another instance of problematic attribution: a play that has been attributed to Aphra Behn. The Counterfeit Bridegroom, published  in 1677, is an adaptation of No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s (1613) by Thomas Middleton. However, the play was published anonymously and Behn’s authorship has been questioned, and we cannot know if this particular female reader even knew this was perhaps a play by Behn. A woman named Millisent Smith wrote her name twice on a page, once at the very top and once upside down next to the text. The handwriting looks as if it may be that of a young person. The positioning of the writing next to the prologue and the double presence of her name suggests she may have been practicing her signature, a way of claiming ownership that disregards the actual content of the book. It is difficult to date the handwriting, which may well be later than the seventeenth century.

Credit: book in the Boston Public Library collection. Images taken from Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799, reproduced with permission.

Thomas Vincent, John Turner, Robert Perrott, and M. Pemberton, The Death of Ministers Improved . . . to which is added a sermon upon that occasion by Richard Baxter (1678)

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By Jenny-Lyn de Klerk

This book and sermon written after the death of a beloved minister Henry Stubbs, shows the deep fellow-feeling experienced by the members of a church with each other and their pastors, as well as the Puritan practice of using the death of a loved one as an opportunity to think about one’s own life and death. In Baxter’s sermon, he exhorts his listeners to reflect on Stubbs’ life of “devotedness to God, in his Christian and Ministerial work, notwithstanding all expected difficulties and oppositions, which he resolved with unmoved patience to undergo to the joyful finishing of his course” (p. 3) and use it as a motivation to do the same with their lives. This book is signed by three women: “Grace … her Book,” “mrs. maisy …” and “mrs Mary Lee Brooke”

Source: Allison Library, Regent College. Shelf mark BX 9318 .V46 1678. Photographs by Jenny-Lyn de Klerk.

Richard Allestree, The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety (1667)


This 1667 first edition of Richard Allestree’s The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety has a detailed gift inscription from an owner named Christiana Isabella Harvey. Harvey records that the book was given to her “by the Reverend Dr. Nicholas” on “Novemb. 7. 1686.”Allestree’s book was one of a series of devotional manuals or books that, as Edmund Christie White puts it, “presented practical guidance in an easily comprehensible style on how to live a life of devotion, and they were structured to promote methodical, repeated reading” (273). White notes that these works were especially popular in Restoration England.

Seller Antiquates noted that Christiana Isabella Harvey was later the “wife of English author Hamon L’Estrange (1674–1769).” Harvey was born in 1673 and died in January 1756, so the book by Allestree must have been given to her when she was only thirteen. She would go on to have three daughters. This book is also signed by one of them, Isabella L’Estrange.


Source: Book was offered for sale by Antiquates in 2017. Images used with permission.

Further Reading

J. M. Rigg, and Norma Landau. “L’Estrange, Hamon (bap. 1674, d. 1767), legal and religious writer.” Oxford Dictionary of National BiographySeptember 2004. Oxford University Press.

Edmund Christie White, “Paradise Regained and the Restoration Church of England: Pieties in Dialogue.” Milton Studies vol. 56, 2015, pp. 273-99.

Book of Common Prayer (1679)


The Book of Common Prayer has been featured multiple times on our website (see here and here). It is the type of religious work that was handled, read, and reread a great deal but also treated with care and preserved well. This copy has evidence of potential female ownership, while it provides us with additional information on the owner(s), as bibles, psalm books, and prayer books often do. Here, we see  a common use to which bibles and books of common prayer were put as repositories of family history. Trusting that these books were handed down from generation to generation, book owners used them as a safe place in which to keep their genealogies. Inscriptions such as these give evidence of what Femke Molekamp calls  “religious reading cultures” (9).

Marginalia in this copy have been slightly cropped but show a series of names beginning with “Elizabeth Walker” at the top and below three male names (Langcaster, James, and John), all of whom appear again at the end of the book. A page at the back of the book details the family history of William and Elizabeth Walker, giving names and birth dates for 9 children, among whom are three women, Elizabeth, Ann, and Elinor; Elinor died aged six. A tenth name, William Gravely, and Ann’s death date, at age 24, are recorded in a different hand. The following page lists Dinah Harrison, born in 1733, and shows an owner’s inscription: “Rob[e]rt Cook his book 1750.” The hand of Robert Cook is different from the hand listing the names on the previous pages, suggesting that we are seeing the marks of multiple owners. We cannot tell for sure who recorded the four names on the cropped page and the longer list of names, but given the spacing of the marginal names, it could be Elizabeth Walker (either the mother or the daughter).

Unfortunately, no place name is recorded, which would help us trace this family further.

The use of the book is also shown in a marginal note, which partly quotes from one of the prayers in the book, the “collect” spoken at communion: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord, amen” (sig. B5r). The inscription reads: “Self to cleanse my thoughts by the Inspiration of thy holy Spirit to open my Eyes and manifest thyself unto me, and assist me with such a measure of Grace in offering up these my Spiritual sacrifices that they be acceptable to the[e] by Jesus X my Lord amen.” It is impossible to tell who wrote the inscription, but the book as a whole shows the various uses to which religious books, including especially bibles, books of psalms, and the Book of Common Prayer, could be put.

This rare edition, the bookseller explains, includes some special prayers to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the death of Charles I, and the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by Schilbantiquarian on 4/26/19.

Further Reading

Femke Molekamp, Women and the Bible in Early Modern England: Religious Reading and Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

The Bible, That Is, the Holy Scriptures Conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament (1586)


This 16th-century Bible, bound with a 1584 Book of Psalms, is adorned with the florid 17th-century signature of Ann Kent. She appends her inscription: “Her Book April ye 27th. An: Dni: 1696.”


Though women’s signatures in Bibles are quite common, it is rare to see an inscription so intricate. Ann may have been inspired to show off her calligraphy as a result of the text’s sacred nature.

Source: Book offered for sale by Cobnar Books, 4/24/19. Images used with permission.