Cyrano de Bergerac, The Comical History (1687)

By Sophie Floate

In my work cataloguing the rare books of several Oxford College libraries, I come across many interesting clues as to the provenance of the books. Though some books were bought directly from the booksellers by the colleges, others came from alumni, who in turn acquired their books from a variety of sources. I was cataloguing a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac’s A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Worlds of the Moon and Sun, printed in London in 1687, in the library of Hertford College, Oxford, when I noticed a distinctive signature on one of the endpapers.

Feeling sure I had seen this signature before, I searched these pages and found Sarah Lindenbaum’s blog post of March 30, 2020. The inscription in our book matches the others found by Sarah, this time with the date 1706 and the price 3s 6d. We can’t be sure how this book ended up in Hertford College Library, though it has certainly been here since the 19th century, as it has an ownership note of “Magdalen Hall Library” on the title page.

Magdalen Hall later became the second iteration of Hertford College (the first Hertford College was founded in 1740 but dissolved in 1805) when it was refounded in 1874–you can read more about its history here: However, there is an earlier, as yet unidentified, provenance inscription on the first free endpaper, which pre-dates Katherine’s.

This edition of Cyrano de Bergerac’s work, first published posthumously in France in 1657, also has a correction, possibly by Katherine, on a torn page (leaf ²B8).

It is an interesting work to add to the others found by Sarah, continuing to show the breadth of Katherine’s interests. This early work of science fiction inspired the work of later writers such as Jonathan Swift and Voltaire and touches on philosophy, religion, and politics.

Hertford Library collection is open to researchers ( and partly catalogued on the university catalogue SOLO. There is still much to be discovered within the collections at Hertford College, and the ongoing cataloguing project will hopefully provide more interesting examples of early female owners.

Images by Sophie Floate, © Principal, Fellows and Scholars of Hertford College, University of Oxford. Reproduced with permission.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1615)

In September 2020, we featured a guest post from Alison Fraser on a second edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene that showcased the remarkable early bookplate of early eighteenth-century reader Elizabeth Percival. As Fraser notes, Spenser wrote the work for Queen Elizabeth I. However, the romance had a wider appeal to other courtly women—and those who were not courtly at all. A 1615 edition now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SR/OS 95.2) contains veritable layers of women’s ownership inscriptions: Eustasia Trelawny, Mary Wentworth, Elizabeth Kelly, Catherine Powny, and the forenames Jane and Kate. A 1609 edition at the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies (PR2358 .A1 1609) is signed by Frances Twysden Villieres, Countess of Jersey (1753–1821) and her youngest daughter Harriet Bagot Villiers (1788–1870), and also contains the earlier inscription of a reader named Elizabeth. The Folger Shakespeare Library holds a 1596 copy of the book (STC 23082 copy 1) that is signed by an Ann Stewart on one of the front endpapers. In 2012, Rachel Stevenson’s honors thesis centered on a 1679 copy of Spenser’s Works owned by Letitia Thomson. Writes Stevenson: “Thomson is especially remarkable in her attention to detail and cross-referencing, interacting with [Thomas] Warton’s footnotes, his text, and the text of The Faerie Queene.”

What is notable about these manifold signatures is that they span the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, speaking to the work’s continued popularity with a female readership. The owner of the featured book today appears to fall in the eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century based on her handwriting. An effaced inscription on the upper edge of A2r of her 1615 copy of The Faerie Queene reads: “Catherine C[…?] her Book and the gift of h[…?] […?] E[…?]. Beneath is another annotation in a minute hand, unfortunately too faded and crossed out to read.

There is enough here to say that Catherine received the book as a gift, but because her surname is too illegible to transcribe, the relationship between the giver and her cannot be ascertained. The word beginning with H may read “her,” which would indicate that she received the book from a friend or relative.

Source: Book sold by Michael Laird Rare Books LLC in February 2021. Now in the Rare Books collection at California State University Long Beach. Images used with permission.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Werter (1780)

This two-volume second edition of the famous epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was published in translation in London and contains particularly interesting provenance. As a small inscription on the title page shows, the book was owned by Henrietta Masterman (1766–1813).

Henrietta Masterman, the daughter of Henry Masterman, lost her father at age five and became an heiress of Settrington. In 1795, she married Sir Mark Sykes (1771–1823), a baronet, MP for York, and book collector, whose magnificent collection was auctioned in 1824, as shown in this catalogue.

Portrait of Sir Mark Sykes, Lady Henrietta Masterman Sykes, and Sir Tatton Sykes (1808) by Sir Thomas Lawrence. York Museums Trust.

We don’t know when Masterman acquired Goethe’s book or to what extent its style and subject matter influenced her writing, but given her use of her maiden name in the inscription, we can speculate that she had it in her possession before 1795.

Henrietta was herself an author. She wrote a collection of stories, a book of poems, and two Gothic novels, the most successful of which was Margiana, or Widdrington Tower (1808), published anonymously and set in the fifteenth century. Its dark narrative of murder, love, and deceit was much enjoyed by Jane Austen, who wrote in a 1809 letter:

“We are now in Margiana, & like it very well indeed. – We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain.”

A bookplate shows the book was later owned by Barbara Hylton-Madge, the mother of poet Charles Madge.

Source: book offered for sale in September 2020 by Simon Beattie, described in detail in his Goethe catalog. Images reproduced with permission.

Ann Yearsley, The Royal Captives (1795)

Royal Captives binding

The eighteenth-century writer Ann Yearsley (1753-1806) is mainly known for her poetry, but she also took advantage of a popular trend and wrote a four-volume Gothic novel.  Gothics were all the rage at the time (think Jane Austen’s spoof in Northanger Abbey, 1817).

Ann Yearsley by Wilson Lowry, after unknown artist. Line engraving, 1787. NPG D8852.
@ National Portrait Gallery, London

Yearsley was a complex woman; trained by her mother to be a milkwoman, but also to read and write, she was quite literate, and her volumes of poetry were taken up by Bluestocking writer Hannah More and members of the aristocracy.  After some disagreement, Yearsley separated from More but went on to a successful literary career that included a play performed in her hometown of Bristol, more poems, and this novel, The Royal Captives.  The subtitle promises “A Fragment of Secret History Copied from an Old Manuscript.”  In fact, the plot is an adaptation of a story from seventeenth-century French history about the man in the iron mask, which has thrilled audiences for a long time.

Royal Captives tp

No wonder such a book would be popular.  The copy seen here, held by The Second Shelf in London, is an American edition, published in Philadelphia in the same year that the London edition came out.  It prints four volumes in two, and both volumes contain the names of various owners including “Ann Brewster,” “Eunice,” “Katherine,” and “James.”

Royal Captive sigs.
RC Dimon sig v.1

The most prominent owner, who wrote her name numerous times in both volumes is Sally Dimon.  In the first volume she pens “Sally Dimon. — Fairfield” and beneath that “Sally Dimon read this Book the 20 of [July] 18002.”  

In the second volume, we can barely see another note in faded ink: “Miss Sally Dimons Book Presented by her Brother/ Fairfield March 8, 1799.”

RC Dimon sig v.2

Sally may well have been a descendant of the Dimon family who settled Fairfield, Connecticut in the seventeenth century.  In any case, we assume she enjoyed The Royal Captives, in which she would have found not only an exciting plot but also sympathy for women and the lower classes.

Source: book offered for sale by The Second Shelf, 9/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

La Calprenède, Cassandra, the Famed Romance (1652)

This copy of the first translation into English of Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède’s voluminous romance work Cassandra was just the sort of book one might expect women to want to read. Indeed, early moderns often worried about excessive romance reading by women. The book was signed twice by a woman named “Lucie Bourne.”

In each case, she wrote her name on both sides of the title to paratextual material. She may also be responsible for pen marks on another page.

Although it is impossible to make out what has been crossed out, use of RetroReveal shows just below the crossed out section, another signature by Lucie Bourne, this time accompanied by the phrase “her book.”

The book also contains a signature, judging by the handwriting of a later date. Thomas Pickering is possibly the person featured on this website.

Source: book offered for sale on eBay on 12/17/19 by seller allenpeach. Images reproduced with permission.

Edward Reynolds, A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul of Man (1656); Ben Jonson, The Works (1692)


One of the aims of Early Modern Female Book Ownership is to document women owners in the hope of discerning patterns of ownership, whether broader or localized to an individual. In Katherine Blount’s case, I had drafted a post in spring 2019 about a 1656 edition of Edward Reynolds’ A Treatise of the Passions and Faculties of the Soul of Man once in her possession and offered for sale by Blackwell’s Rare Books. She inscribed a front endpaper of the book “Katherine Blount Given me by Sr Thomas=Pope Blount, July ye 10th. 1696.”

To my frustration, I could find little information about Blount, apart from the fact that she was the wife of the 2nd Baronet, Sir Thomas Pope Blount (1670–1731), who married a Katherine Butler in 1695 and therefore must have given Reynolds’ book to her shortly after their marriage. An absence of information is an all-too-common problem in researching the lives of women, both in the early modern period and in more recent times. Many are unknown to the historical records except insofar as they are related to husbands, fathers, and other men.

A few months after I drafted my post about Blount, Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers offered for sale “an early Ben Jonson folio with contemporary female provenance.” Although the book was sold thereafter and now resides at the Beinecke Library under shelf-mark 2020 +1, Jarndyce was kind enough to allow me to share images of it on this website. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the previous owner was none other than Katherine Blount.



The hoped-for patterns have emerged. To begin with, we can now link two books recently offered for sale to the same owner, somewhat of a rarity given that we are at the mercy of serendipity when it comes to booksellers’ wares. We can also guess that Blount may have regularly dated new acquisitions to her library and described her sources. The Reynolds book was a gift from her husband, but the 1692 edition of Jonson’s works appears to have been her own purchase, one for which she paid 18 shillings.

The best source of information about Blount’s life I have been able to find so far is an obscure text called A History of Tyttenhanger, written by Lady Jane Van Koughnet of Tyttenhanger House and published in 1895 [1]. Blount was the daughter of James Butler and Grace Caldecott of Amberley Castle, an edifice which is still standing today. She was born in 1676 and became the mistress of Tyttenhanger when she was nineteen, though she and her husband resided primarily at Twickenham. Just as Paul Morgan suggests that Frances Wolfreston was a “stronger character” than her husband, who was described as “meeke and virtuous” in his funeral epitaph, Van Koughnet makes clear that Katherine Blount was worth more notice than Thomas Pope Blount.

Sir Thomas was of a kind disposition, and greatly beloved . . . but there is nothing of his left that points to any talent or taste in particular. His wife, on the contrary, was a brilliant woman, full of cleverness and highly cultivated, fond of poetry, a lover of all that was refined and artistic, interesting herself in the passing world of her day, and gifted with a mind full of energy. Sir Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of her is handsome and determined-looking. She was a friend of Alexander Pope, with whom she corresponded. (65)

Van Koughnet goes on to describe Blount’s “large collection of all sorts of curiosities,” the remnants of which survived at Tyttenhanger at the time of writing. Blount owned, among other objets d’art, a “Chinese cabinet containing a collection of coins,” “Chinese idols, [a] boxwood Romululs and Remus with the wolf, . . . engravings, [and an] ivory crucifix.” Perhaps the most interesting of Blount’s surviving treasures is a “sheath with the ornamental arrows which she wore at a fancy ball, where she went dressed to represent Diana” (66–67).

Unfortunately, Van Koughnet does not say much about Blount’s book collection. Van Koughnet’s remaining pages about Blount mainly consist of letters that Blount received from her eldest surviving son Harry and his tutor. In spite of Blount’s “great pains with the education of her children,” Harry Pope Blount had difficulty managing money and appealed constantly to his mother, after she was widowed in 1731, to rescue him from his debts (68). He did briefly succeed her after she died on March 2nd, 1753, but the Tyttenhanger estate ultimately fell to his sister Catherine Blount Freman and to her daughter Catherine Freman Yorke in 1763. Upon her death, Katherine Blount left to her son “her books, prints, coins, medals, rarities, and curiosities” (91).

Katherine has been at least nominally recognized for her book collecting. Her name is listed in William Carew Hazlitt’s bibliography A Roll of Honour: A Calendar of the Names of over 17,000 Men and Women Who Throughout the British Isles and in Our Early Colonies Have Collected MSS and Printed Books from the XIVth to the XIXth Century, along with a Juliana Blount, relation unknown.


Blount also appears twice in a 1905 record of London book auctions as the recipient of a presentation copy of a third edition of Sir Thomas Pope Blount’s essays [2]. This Blount would have been her father-in-law, the 1st Baronet, who died the same year that the book was published.

blount 2blount 3

I have since been able to link an additional seven books to her library:

Bacon, Sir Francis. The Essays or Counsels, Civil & Moral (London: Printed by T.N., [1673]) Inscribed “Katherine Blount, 1697.” Whereabouts unknown. Cf. Book-Prices Current, volume 27 (1913), p. 499.

The Banquet of Xenophon (London: Printed for John Barnes, 1710) Inscribed “Kath: Blount. Given me by ye Dutchess of Marlborough. 1710.” The National Trust, shelf-mark WIM.

Glanvill, Joseph. Lux Orientalis, or, An Enquiry into the Opinion of the Eastern Sages, Concerning the Praeexistence of Souls (London, 1662) Inscribed by Sir Thomas Pope Blount and Katherine Blount; Katherine’s inscription is dated 1697. Whereabouts unknown. Cf. Catalogue of a Further Choice Portion of the Valuable Library of a Well-Known Collector (Sotheby & Wilkinson, [1858]), p. 33.

Kennett, Basil. Romae Antiquae Notitia, or, The Antiquities of Rome (London: Printed for R. Knaplock, 1721) Inscribed by Blount “Left by my Dear Brother the Revd Mr John Pope Blount (who decas’d Apr. 8. 1734) to the Library at Tittenhanger.” The National Trust, shelf-mark WIM.

Pepys, Samuel. Memoirs Relating to the State of the Royal Navy (London: Printed for B. Griffin, 1690) Inscribed “Katherine Blount price 6s., 1700/1.” Whereabouts unknown. Cf. Walter, Jerrold. The Autolycus of the Bookstalls (London: J.M. Dent, 1902), p. 189–90.

Somers, John. A Discourse Concerning Generosity (London: Printed for J.A., 1695) Inscribed “Kath: Blount” and dated “1705.” British Library, shelf-mark Cf. Rudolph, Judith. Common Law and Enlightenment in England, 1689-1750 (Boydell Press, 2013), p. 193.

Willughby, Francis. The Ornithology . . . In Three Books (London: Printed by Andrew Clarke, 1678) Inscribed “Katherine Blount Given me by Mrs. Pope 1730.” The National Trust, shelf-mark WIM.

These six books demonstrate the breadth of Blount’s reading interests and also confirm that she did indeed systematically date new additions to her library as the inscriptions in her Reynolds and Jonson attest. The acquisition dates of the books described in this essay span a thirty-eight year period from 1696 to 1734. Katherine lived an additional nineteen years after 1734, and it will be interesting to see if any of her books emerge which are dated after this year. Her son Harry sent her a letter in October 1738 thanking her for “ye gift of Theophilus etc: wch I have once read, & design to read it often carefully Over,” so it seems clear that books continued to play an important role in her life and that of her family well into the 1730s, and probably beyond (79).  It would be interesting, too, to delve into how the National Trust came to hold three of her books and whether there are any more besides. Another avenue worth taking would be Blount’s relationships with the women and men who gave her books, particularly Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and “Mrs. Pope.”

Source: Edward Reynolds title offered for sale by Blackwell’s Rare Books. The Jonson was offered for sale in October 2019 and has since been acquired by the Beinecke Library at Yale. Images used with permission.

Additional Reading

[1] Van Koughnet, Lady Jane. A History of Tyttenhanger (London: Marcus Ward & Co., [1895])

[2] Karslake, Frank. Book-Auction Records: A Priced and Annotated Record of London Book Auctions: Vol. II: October 1, 1904–September 30, 1905 (London: Karslake & Co, 1905), p. 202, 348.


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.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1761)

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This tattered copy of the twelfth edition and second volume of Defoe’s famous book was offered for sale on eBay earlier last year. It features a signature of a woman called Susan Havens, surrounded by flourishes and pen strokes, next to the Preface. We don’t know anything about her and are not able to date the signature precisely, but this is yet another instance of a woman proudly inscribing a book to show it is hers.

Source: Book offered for sale on eBay by countryblacksmith on 7/24/19. Images used with permission.

Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (1674)

By Maria Cunningham, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Reed College

Sidney book

This is the thirteenth edition of The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia (simply known as the Arcadia) and was first written by Sir Phillip Sidney towards the end of the 16th century. This particular edition was printed at the Golden Ball in Little Britain in 1674. The romantic inscription inside reads:

“Judith Tichborn Her Book Given me [?] by my most renowned and Beloved knight Stephen de La Stanly: 1713.”


Nothing is known about the giver of the book, Stephen de la Stanly. However, some info can be found about the writer of this inscription. Judith Tichborn (or Tichborne) was born ca. 1685 or 1702 (accounts vary) to Benjamin Tichborne and Elizabeth Gibbs in Tichbourne, Hants, England. On December 16th, 1717, she was married to Charles Spencer the 3rd Earl of Sunderland and became Lady Sunderland. Their marriage was mentioned in a letter from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk to her husband, the Honorable George Berkeley:

Image from Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and Her Second Husband, the Hon. George Berkeley. Courtesy of

The phrase “without a groat,” which means “a small sum,” implies that Judith brought a nice sum of money to the marriage. Other sources indicate that she was an Irish heiress. The family of Lord Sunderland also had something to say about the marriage. Sarah Churchill, former mother-in-law to Lord Sunderland, criticized his bride as being too young and has “no experience as to family keeping or accounts.” In any event, the couple were married and had three children, all of whom died young. Charles Spencer died in 1722 and was buried with one of their children who had died around the same time. On December 10th, 1724 Judith married Sir Robert Sutton who was the Director of both the South Sea Company and the Charitable Corporation. Judith eventually died on May 17th, 1749 from a fever, after recovering from smallpox.


Source: Special Collections and Archives, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College. Shelf mark PR2340.A1 1674. Photographs by Maria Cunningham.

Further Reading

Cokayne, George E. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct, or Dormant, edited by the Hon. Vicary Gibbs, St Catherine Press, 1910.

Suffolk, Henrietta Hobart Howard. Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and Her Second Husband, the Hon. George Berkeley: From 1712 to 1767, John Murray, 1824.

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Novels and Tales of the Renowned John Boccacio (1684)


Elizabeth Hawksmoor signed this late seventeenth-century edition of Boccaccio’s works. Though it is difficult to ascertain the precise date of the hand, it is worth noting that the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor had a daughter named Elizabeth. She is one candidate for the identity of the book’s owner, though the attribution is by no means definitive.

An Elizabeth Hawksmoor also inscribed the title page of a 1661 edition of Silius Italicus’s epic poem Punius, now held Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library. The book includes the inscription, dated 11 October, 1683, of another female owner “R. Remee.”


Source: Book offered for sale by Roger Middleton, 3/22/19. Images used with permission.

Roger Boyle, Parthenissa, That Most Fam’d Romance (1676)

In a 1676 edition of Roger Boyle’s Parthenissa, That Most Fam’d Romance, currently offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, is the early armorial bookplate of a woman reader, Cary Coke, née Newton. The bookplate features the impaled arms of Coke (1680–1707) and her husband, Edward, and reads “Cary Coke Wife of Edward Coke of Norfolk 1701.”


Her accompanying inscription on the front paste-down reads “C Coke /168/.” An inscription above that, apparently in the same hand, says “K s Y.”

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The Cokes resided at the manor of Hill Hall in Holkham, which was later supplanted by Holkham Hall, built by the their son Thomas. Hill Hall contained a substantial ancestral library, and Cary Coke appears to have singled out at least some of its books for her own. A 1922 essay, “Some Notes Upon the Manuscript Library at Holkham,” published in The Library by C.W. James, Holkham Hall’s librarian, describes Coke as a “pretty young wife” whose bookplate in several of the library’s illuminated manuscripts attests to her “pleasure” in them. In her 1908 book Coke of Norfolk and His Friends: The Life of Thomas William Coke, First Earl of Leicester of Holkham, A.M.W. Stirling, a descendant of the Cokes, remarks upon Coke’s “dainty volumes” and the “little labels” she placed in therein. The distinctly feminine characterization of Coke’s book ownership by James and Stirling is curious.

Both Parthenissa‘s late 17th-century publication date and Cary’s inscription, with its possible shelf-mark, indicate that the book was probably acquired by Coke herself rather than gleaned from the ancestral Coke library. Books now at the Bodleian Library further suggest that Coke formed her own library within Hill Hall. One is a volume of 12 plays commencing with the 1693 George Etherege comedy, The Man of Mode, or, Sr Fopling Flutter. Coke has inscribed another volume, The Historie of the Life and Death of Mary Stuart Queene of Scotland (1636), “C.Coke /15/.” Her books at the Bodleian include a 1700 edition of Don Quixote and a 1689 edition of King Lear. All of the volumes are affixed with Coke’s bookplate. A further book, her copy of a 1690 English translation of Scudery’s Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus, now untraced, was offered for sale by the bookseller E. Jeans of Norwich in 1860.

We can infer from Parthenissa and these volumes that Coke, like Frances Wolfreston, was a lover of drama, romances, and literature. Unfortunately, her book-collecting was cut premature by her death at the age of only twenty-seven.

Source: Book offered for sale by The Brick Row Book Shop, 1/21/19. Images used with permission.