The Holy Bible (1642)

Another Bible is featured today, containing the wonderful calligraphic signature of Ann Lightfoot. This edition was printed by the shop of Robert Barker, who issued the so-called ‘Wicked Bible’ in 1631 in which the word “not” was omitted from the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Barker and his co-printer Martin Lucas were subsequently each fined the then enormous sum of £300 for the sacrilege and Barker died in a debtors’ prison four years later [1].

In this copy, the recto of the leaf before the title page is boldly signed “Ann Lightfoot. 1769” in elaborate calligraphic script.

Though Ann’s signature brims with personality, it is not possible to definitively identify her, absent any additional information. A candidate may be Ann Lightfoot (1745–1807), who is buried in Berks County, Pennsylvania. An inscription on the first flyleaf verso opposite her signature, “T.H. Judson”, is dated 1882. Judson’s bookplate is also affixed to the front pastedown. Cursory research shows that T.H. Judson was Physical Science Postmaster at Merton College, Oxford, elected in 1875.

The paneled binding may provide some clues to Ann’s status, as it appears to be contemporary and is carefully tooled, suggesting that some money was expended in its commission.

Source: Book offered for sale by Journobooks in April 2022. Images used with permission.


[1] “Robert Barker, Printer to Queen Elizabeth I.” Datchet History. Accessed 30 April 2022.

The Holy Bible (1648)

Featured today is a 1648 King James Bible with the initialed binding of seventeenth-century owner Anne Sheather and signed by her on the verso of the divisional New Testament title page.

Many, though not all, Bible owners reserved their best handwriting for the sacred text. Here, Anne Sheather tries out two different styles, a form of blackletter for her uppermost signature and a stylized italic hand for the lower: “Anne sheather / her booke; i674.” The signatures are underlined and accented with calligraphic scrollwork.

What strikes me as even more remarkable is that the contemporary initialed binding suggest that the book was chiefly owned by Anne. The elaborate gilt-tooled boards feature a centerpiece flanked by the initials “AS.” There are holes in the boards where metal clasps once were, further confirming that this was not an inexpensive binding and suggesting that Anne may have been a woman of some financial means.

Her identity, however, is uncertain. An Ann Sheather seems to have been born around 1631 in Sussex to a Henry Sheather, although sources are conflicted about the surname of her mother. Variants of the name (Shether, Sheether) similarly lead to dead ends.

In any case, it is an interesting example of both female book ownership and binding, and sheds just a little more light on how women valued and interacted with their Bibles in the seventeenth century.

Source: Book offered for sale by Humber Books in May 2022. Images used with permission.

The Whole Book of Psalms (1629)

One publication which reliably contains the early ownership inscriptions of women is The Book of Psalms.

This edition of 1629 was once owned by Mary Crosse, who left an inscription on the verso of a rear flyleaf: “Mary Crosse / Mary Crosse / Her Booke / 1678.” Though the Bible and The Book of Psalms fell solidly within the confines of acceptable reading for women in a century where anxieties about the suitability of certain genres (e.g. literature) for the female sex still lingered, scholars like Femke Molekamp have shown that even prominent religious works encouraged women to come to their own interpretations and produce their own texts.

A surname (or possibly a place name) in an apparently later hand appears at the head of the title page. The book is bound in olive morocco and features a gilt medallion on each board, nestled within gilt-tooled borders. If this binding is contemporary to her signature, we might conclude that Mary had some measure of money at her disposal and that it was an important text to her. Otherwise, there are no clues about who Mary was.

Source: Book offered for sale by James Cummins Bookseller in February 2022. Images used with permission.

Further Reading

Femke Molekamp. “Early Modern Women and Affective Devotional Reading,” European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire 17:1 (2010), 53-74. DOI: 10.1080/13507480903511926

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

Monro, Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions (1693)

Alexander Monro was a Presbyter of the Church of Scotland and Principal of the College of Edinburgh who published a number of polemical religious works between 1691 and 1696. The title page of this particular publication tells us that most of the aforesaid sermons were preached at St. Giles Church in Edinburgh before an audience of judges and magistrates.

The copy here is signed “Anne Cornwall” on the imprimatur page in a contemporary hand. She is one of the many female book owners whose too-common name complicates her identification, but the binding may lend some clues.

The gilt stamp on the binding is that of Sir George Steuart, 5th Baronet of Grandtully and Murthly in Perthshire, Scotland (1750–1827) [1]. The stamp features a helmet with three plumed feathers at the top, two bees within the circle beneath, and an apparent saltire in the base. The book, then, was owned by a Scotsman, which makes a certain amount of sense since the author too was Scottish. We might guess that Anne, whose signature appears to predate the binding, was also Scottish.

She does not appear to have an obvious familial connection to Sir Steuart; his mother was Clementina and his sisters were Clementina and Grizell. It may simply be that Steuart obtained the book as a secondhand purchase and has no link whatever Anne.

The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a copy of Antoinette Bourignon’s The Confusion of the Builders of Babel (1708), which is bound with Parts I through III of the author’s The Academy of Learned Divines and signed Anne Cornwall. It would be interesting to note if the hand is the same and, if so, whether the Folger volume has any further clues to Anne’s identity.

Update June 7, 2022: While updating the website’s finding aid, Martine Van Elk noticed that we had previously featured a Lady Anne Cornwall in April 2020. The hand in the 1618 Bible is not dissimilar, but Lady Anne Cornwall died in 1657, so naturally she could not have been the owner of the 1693 Monro sermons. However, she did have a daughter of the same name and it is quite likely that one or more of her sons would have also named their daughters Anne Cornwall. At this time, a relation between the two Annes cannot be proven, but Lady Anne’s Bible hints at a possible identity of the later Anne Cornwall.


“Steuart, George, Sir, 5th Baronet (1750 – 1827) (Stamp 1).” British Armorial Bindings, University of Toronto Libraries. Accessed 25 April, 2022.

Source: Book offered for sale by robinrarebooks in April 2022. Images used with permission.

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

The Holy Bible, Containing the Olde Testament and the New (1618)

By Mark Byford

The gift of a Bible in the early modern period was always an important mark of care and/or respect for the person it was given to, since in an avowedly Protestant country it was seen as holding the keys of salvation.  This book was bought as just such a gift for an early modern woman, retaining the inscription recording this act on the front pastedown: “The gift of John Cleobury parson of Burford to the Lady Anne Cornwall, 1619.” 

Cleobury had been made rector of Burford in Shropshire following the death of his predecessor a few years earlier in 1614.  Lady Anne was born the daughter of Sir Gilbert Littleton, who lived at Frankley, thirty miles away in Worcestershire.  By the time she received this Bible, she was around forty-five years old and had spent much of her life in Burford, having married Cleobury’s patron, the Baron of Burford, Sir Thomas Cornwall, many years earlier, and borne him no fewer than twelve children. 

This Bible was no ordinary gift.  It was printed in 1618, just seven years after the first printing of the translation which we often describe as the “King James Bible” or the “Authorised Version.”  At this point the new translation, which was to become the most famous of all English versions, was still establishing itself in the godly community where the Geneva version of the Bible had for so long provided what they saw as the best Bible text.  So it may have been seen by Anne as an object of curiosity and interest, containing an unfamiliar recounting of very familiar and vitally important texts.  The donor’s reverence for the object, or perhaps for its owner, was underscored by the binding which, although it is now a shadow of its former self, was clearly of exquisite quality.  With gilded edges, gauffred with flower patterns, its covers were elaborately decorated with flowers and plants composed of silver thread and coloured silks, sewn onto a cream silk ground, and held closed with elaborate silk ties.  Restored recently by James Brockman, it is now housed in a purpose-made box crafted by him specifically to protect its delicate binding from further damage. 

Such books were high-status objects in Jacobean society, often revered for what they represented, rather than necessarily being used. As a result, modern collectors can sometimes find such Bibles disappointingly pristine inside, lacking any evidence that gives clues about the importance of the text for its owner.  This is not the case here, however.  Anne Cornwall took the trouble to sign her name twice, once on the first page of Genesis, and once opposite the title page to the New Testament. 

And it is clear that she used the Bible for the daily cycle of worship prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer, as well as for regular Bible reading, often with important passages highlighted. 

In terms of worship, Anne has noted in the Book of Psalms within the Bible which of the psalms was indicated to be read or sung for morning and evening prayer through the thirty-day cycle indicated in the Book of Common Prayer.  She may have used this for her personal devotions or to follow the service in Church. 

Judging from her markings, most of Anne’s reading was focused in the New Testament.  That said she also carefully read through the Book of Isaiah, the prophet who most clearly foretold Jesus’ birth, and who was described from at least the time of St Jerome onwards as “the fifth evangelist.”  Many of its verses supplied important insights marked with a small hand, or manicule, in the margin.  When it comes to the Gospels, Anne appears to use her pen differently, marking each verse as she read it, and perhaps reflected on what it had to tell her, as witnessed in this opening from St Matthew’s gospel. 

Anne was not to die until 30th January 1656/7, buried in the chancel of Eastham some six miles from Burford, where the funeral slab records her as being 87 years old.  Her husband Thomas had died many years before in 1635.  Yet just over twenty-five years earlier, in 1630, they had commissioned a monument in Burford church, with the inscription recording that, “These statues represent now living the son of Sir Thomas Cornwall knight and Anne his lady daughter of Sir Gilbert Littleton, of Frankley in the County of Worcester, by whom he hath issue Richard Cornewayle, Sir Gilbert Cornewaylle, Knight, Thomas, George, Robert, James and Alfred Cornewaylle, twins and five daughters videlicet [namely] Katherin, Mary, Ann, Elizabeth, Margaret. This memento was made by Sir Thomas Cornwaylle, Kt., in the year of our Lord God 1630, and in the year of the age himself 58 and of his lady 56.”  The arithmetic respecting Anne’s age differs between this monument and the one in Eastbury, but its power for us lies principally in the statues, still surviving after almost four centuries, and showing Sir Thomas and his wife at prayer, their Bibles open before them.

Memorial to Thomas and Anne Cornwall, St Mary’s Church, Burford. Reproduced from

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

Thomas More, Utopia (1685), translated by Gilbert Burnet

As this blogging site indicates the vast majority of discoveries tend to be inscriptions of a single owner. Yet bibliophilism was not always an individual hobby and book ownership was certainly not a private matter. Collective ownership involving women (wives, sisters or daughters) did exist and, crucially, plays a vital role in our understanding of women’s engagement with reading and books.

Thomas and Isabella Hervey’s copy of Thomas More’s Utopia is of considerable importance, not least because it adds to the relatively small number of spousal inscriptions. Together, the couple collected a moderately sized library of which 200 volumes are still at the family estate at Ickworth Hall in Suffolk. In addition, Emma Smith’s superb analysis of the Hervey collection has found more than thirty volumes with their name inscribed on title pages by exploring catalogues of rare book dealers and special collections. As a result, she contends that in excess of 240 extant books can be attributed to Thomas and Isabella. These were later handed down to their son John Hervey, who marked the majority with his bookplate when he was created earl of Bristol in 1702.

John Hervey’s 1702 bookplate after being created earl of Bristol

What is significant about Gilbert Burnet’s 1685 translation of More’s Utopia is that it does not feature in Smith’s assessment. The book’s presence on the Hervey library shelves should come as no surprise, however. Thomas and Isabella displayed an interest in philosophical writers and collected works authored by Erasmus, Montaigne, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Euclid, Seneca and Descartes. 

The 1685 edition was particularly popular among late seventeenth-century readers, chiefly because of Burnet’s editorial changes. He made it more readable compared to the original translation by Raphe Robinson in 1551. In the preface, Burnet stated:

for as it is in the English of his [More’s] Age, and not unlike his Style; so the Translator has taken a Liberty that seems too great for any but the Author himself, who is Master of his own Book, and so may leave out or alter his Original as he pleases…

Burnet’s modernised text, together with the range of other philosophical works owned by Thomas and Isabella, tentatively suggests they intended to read Utopia rather than purchase it for antiquarian purposes.

Burnet’s note in the preface of his translation of Utopia

It is not just the evidence of spousal ownership that is fascinating. In a radio programme for BBC (available to UK residents only:, between 26-31 mins), Smith examines the signatures on their books. She contends that the use of first names indicate a specific form of intimacy. The preference of ‘Tho: & Isabella’ was more a declaration of the couple’s love for one another than a simple mark of ownership. In other words, there was a sentimental and emotional attachment to reading literary texts. As Smith argues it “seems to convey ‘we were here.’ Part of the work of the inscription is to acknowledge Thomas’s changed status as a married man, perhaps particularly after a wearyingly long courtship: ‘I’m married! Look!’” 

The distinctive inscription mark of Thomas and Isabella Hervey

Though the inscriptions are seemingly marked in Thomas’s hand it should not take away from Isabella’s love of books and her husband. Nor should we dismiss the role she surely had in the decision behind the rather unique inscription of “Tho: & Isabella.”

Source: Book offered for sale, 2 March 2020, by Shapero Books. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Emma Smith, “The Seventeenth-Century Library of Thomas and Isabella Hervey,” Early Modern English Marginalia, ed. Katherine Acheson (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019).

Richard Sibbes, The Soules Conflict (1636)

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The Folger Library houses a particularly interesting copy of Richard Sibbes’s The Soules Conflict (1636) with multiple signs of female ownership. (I have reproduced the EEBO version of the title page of the same book held in the Cambridge University Library, since the Folger website does not include a title page.) This book must have been special to its owner Anne Lake, who had it bound by the masterful binder William Nott, also known as the Queen’s binder. Not only did she have a book label (of full page size) pasted on the front of the book, which  includes her name and the date (1638), but the lovely leather binding also displays her initials. Book labels were frequently used by women, either to denote ownership or to include in a book presented as a gift.


Two other owners left their mark on the pastedown: Sir R. Leicester and Mary Griffiths, whose dating shows she owned the book 90 years after Anne Lake acquired it.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was a fairly moderate Puritan theologian and preacher, active in Cambridge and London. Nothing else is known (yet) of Anne Lake or Mary Griffiths.

Source: EEBO Cambridge University copy of STC (2nd ed.) / 22509. Folger Luna, STC 22510. Reproduced with permission by Creative Commons License.

Further Reading

Brian North Lee, Early Printed Boook Labels: A Catalogue of Dated Personal Labels and Gift Labels Printed in Britain to the Year 1760. Pinner: Private Libraries Association and the Bookplate Society, 1976.