Katherine Rous (d. 1659) and the Genevan Forme of Prayers (1561)

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.[1] 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.[2]  It is impossible to determine whether Katherine signed the book before or after her marriage, although it was probably before.

Detail from John Nordon’s Speculum Britanniae. Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge MS 0.4.19, fol. 179r. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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.

Forme of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments used in the English Church at Geneva (Geneva: Zacharie Durand, 1561; not in the STC). Image re-used from Lindenbaum’s post. Privately owned.

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.[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.  

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

[1] 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.

[2] Charles FitzGeffrey, Elisha his Lamentation, A Sermon Preached at the Funeralls of Sir Anthony Rous (London, 1622), 49.

[3] 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.

[4] White, “Women Writers,” 204.

[5] Colin Burrow. “Rous, Francis (1580/81–1659), religious writer and politician.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 5 Aug. 2022.

The Church Catechism Broke into Short Questions (1732)

There are a number of different and interesting debates we can have about early modern female book ownership, many of which have been presented here over the last two years by the team (and yes, we’ve celebrated our two year anniversary in early December). Imagine, then, the levels of intrigue and excitement when we add the rare inclusion of sketches or doodles into the mix!

The anonymously composed The Church Catechism Broke into Short Questions, housed at Armagh Robinson Library, offers a fascinating insight into the ways books were used. It includes the names of two female readers – ‘Ms Dogson’ and Cortilia Garston – suggesting that the book was not owned by the individuals concerned but probably used for a collective group, like a text book for pupils. Interestingly, the dates are recorded exactly a year apart: Dogson wrote her name on 20 July 1739, while Cortilia added her details the following year. It was almost as if they were attending some religious summer school.

‘Cortilia Garston her Book, July the 20th 1740 / Ms Dogson hor Book July xxth 1739′

This seems increasingly likely when examining the book’s content. Published in Dublin in 1732, The Church Catechism marked the beginning of a sustained period of catechising across religious denominations in Britain and Ireland. It was composed for children and adolescents. Indeed, such was its popularity that John Wesley subsequently published an amended version entitled Instructions for Children (Dublin, 1744) with the intent of making available a simpler version so younger readers could engage more with the text and its content.

As Mary Clare Martin contends: ‘catechising played an important part in domestic religious education in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … [Not only did it involve] household worship (which could be conducted by women) but also relationships between siblings. It demonstrates that catechizing could provide opportunities for asking questions and spending ‘quality time’ with parents and / or children, rather than embodying an alienating form of rote-learning.’

So works like The Church Catechism opened up new roles for women; it created a platform to bring them closer to God in a private setting while simultaneously reinforcing their piety in a society where religion dominated so many aspects of life. More importantly, it enabled women have greater influence in the domestic setting by leading prayers and strengthening family bonds.

But how did children or adolescents react to that supposed ‘quality time’? Catechetical books weren’t exactly riveting reading! What’s particularly striking about the example here is the inclusion of doodle sketched by one of the female readers, offering a brilliant insight into how the book was received.

The rough drawing presents an individual with an enlarged head, rolled eye, and distinctive hair. It may have been a self-portrait of the bored young student. More likely, the image took aim at her uninspiring teacher because adjacent to the sketch is a name that is only partially visible: ‘Mis Too[k?]’. Was that the actual name of the teacher? Or did the mischievous pupil scribble ‘Miss Took’ as a play on words – as in ‘mistook’ – in reference to her strict religious instructor? Given how doodles are usually associated with boredom the latter argument seems to be the more compelling. At any rate, it captures a wonderful moment where a female book owner reveals her feelings about catechisms or at least the way in which the content was being taught.

Mis[s] Too[k] – the teacher?

But what of the sketcher’s identity? Why might we assume it to be a woman? Closer analysis of the drawing, together with the book ownership inscriptions, are revealing. Not only does the ink match those of Ms Dogson’s signature but there are also clear similarities in the way she writes the letters ‘m’, ‘s’ and ‘o’ beside the doodle, leaving little doubt as to who was the culprit. Perhaps John Wesley was right to make The Church Catechism simpler to read. Or perhaps Ms Dogson just didn’t see a future for herself in religious education.

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

Further reading

Mary Clare Martin, ‘Catechizing at Home, 1740–1870: Instruction, Communication and Denomination, Studies in Church History, 55 (2019), pp. 256-273

Hannah Woolley, The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673)

Hannah Woolley’s hugely popular work has been featured on our blog before. The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) contained not the recipes for which Woolley was famous but directions on how to behave properly. Yet, there is a twist: Woolley herself denounced the work in a later publication; it appears to be an unauthorized edition with a complicated history and uncertain authorship. The frontispiece is not an image of Woolley and is itself the subject of speculation, as Heather Wolfe has explained in a fascinating blog post.

Adding to the interest of this book, the printer was Anne Maxwell, who had a long career independently of her husband (after his death), spanning from 1660 to 1684. The English Short Title Catalog credits her with having printed 98 works, including a number of works by the famous writer Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. It is difficult to know to what extent Maxwell was responsible for or aware of the unauthorized printing; usually the publisher and bookseller Dorman Newman is named as the offending party. But Maxwell reprinted the work for another bookseller, Edward Thomas, after Woolley had complained in her 1674 Supplement to The Queen-like Closet that she had been “much abus’d / By a late printed Book, my Name there us’d: / I was far distant when they printed it, / Therefore that Book to own I think not fit.”

Regardless of the tricky status of the authorship of The Gentlewomans Companion, it seems unlikely that the two female owners who inscribed their name in this copy were aware of the controversy; the name Hannah Woolley had ensured the work’s success. This copy has signatures on the opening and closing pages of the book: Eliz[abeth] Bamford and Ann Starkey, who added the conventional phrase “Her Book.”

Source: copy at the Huntington Library, shelf mark W3276A. Photos by Martine van Elk.

Further Reading

Maureen Bell, “Women in the English Book Trade,” Leipziger Jahrbuch zur Buchgeschichte 6 (1996): 13-45.

Katherine Ellison, “Introduction to The Gentlewomans Companion.” Emory Women Writers Resource. Emory University, n.d.

Heather Wolfe, “About that frontispiece portrait of Hannah Woolley…The Collation: Research and Exploration at the Folger. September 5, 2018.