On this blog we have largely featured English examples of female book ownership, but we aim to include examples from many different countries, so we are always grateful when a non-English example comes our way. This sixteenth-century publication combines two works by the French Dominican preacher and author Pierre Doré (c. 1500–1559). This particular copy does not have the original title page, so someone, at some point, wrote the title and some biographical details on a flyleaf, but the entire book, including the original title page of this edition, has been digitized and put online by University of Gent, here.
Someone has also written the title on the spine of the book (which is missing a substantial number of pages), but Isaiah Cox points out that the title mistakenly gives the date as 1586, even though this is the 1540 edition.
Les allumettes du feu divin (The Matchsticks of Divine Fire) and Les voyes de paradis (The Roads to Paradise) are, in Andrew Pettegree’s words, “works of Catholic edification and forceful refutations of heresy” (114) that were published when Calvinist ideas were spreading. Malcolm Walsby notes more generally that Les allumettes “sought to encourage Catholics to use the life of Christ as an example of piety” (32). Placing a signature on a work like this announces one’s religious stance and identity to others in a potentially volatile religious climate.
An early reader named Marianne Godarde has written her name in the book three times, spelling her name in various ways.
Additional notes in the book may also be hers although they are difficult to decipher.
While we have no way of identifying this reader more precisely, it is important to look at practices for marking one’s name in different countries and considering both placement and handwriting as modes women used to present themselves to their immediate family and household but also to larger circles of contemporary and future readers.
It is possible that Godarde wrote her name on the title page and on other missing pages of the book. She may have been practicing writing her name as the decorative “d” and the double name on the two pages in the book next to each other suggest. However, the more deliberate placement of her name next to “La seconde voye de paradis” (the second path to paradise) rather than in the bottom or top margin potentially indicates a special interest in that section of the book. Once the lettering under her name and the annotations on the other pages are looked at more closely, more may become clear about this particular French book user.
Source: book offered for sale by RareTome.com. Images reproduced with permission.
Andrew Pettegree, The French Book and the European Book World (Leiden: Brill, 2007).
Malcolm Walsby, “Promoting the Counter-Reformation in Provincial France: Printing and Bookselling in Sixteenth-Century Verdun.” Books in Motion in Early Modern Europe: Beyond Production, Circulation and Consumption, eds. Daniel Bellingradt, Paul Nelles, and Jeroen Salzman (Cham: Palgrave, 2017), 15–37.
This is an unusual work for our blog, first because it is French (we’d love to feature more instances of French female book ownership) and second because it is a work of philosophy. Louis de Lesclache (c. 1620?-1671) was known for writing instructional works. He authored a range of books of grammar, but also books that explained philosophy to ordinary readers. For instance, one of his earliest works is explains philosophy in tables, creating a clear picture of a discipline that might be otherwise closed off to the less educated. This particular book is less an explanation of philosophy and instead an argument that philosophy is useful to women. Lesclache not only makes the case that women are capable of studying philosophy, but also that doing so is necessary, enables them to understand the world and control their passions, and thus renders them perfect.
This copy of the first edition of Lesclache’s book contains two female names, Marie Jacobé de Soulange and Madelen de Soulange, both in the same handwriting. A different person, F. Merant, has put an inscription on the title page, and since “de merant” is also included among the female names, this seems to be another family member. The pen trials and handwriting on this page pictured here might suggest a younger reader.
Source: Book offered for sale by Olson Rare Books, 4/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.
The Sisters of the Visitation of Mary were an order of nuns founded in seventeenth-century France by Jeanne Françoise de Chantal. Born in 1572 to the Frémyot family of Dijon, at the age of twenty she married Christophe du Rabutin, Baron de Chantal. After bearing six children, she was widowed before the age of thirty and dedicated herself to a religious life under the tutelage of her friend, François de Sales, Bishop of Geneva (living in Annecy). Together they founded the Visitation order in 1611. It was dedicated to caring for the elderly, the sick and the poor. The order proved popular and expanded to eighty-six houses by the time de Chantal died in 1641. This copy of the rules of the order was owned by the chapter on the Rue St Jacques, Paris, founded in 1623; they kept it in their library, as the inscription says.
The book also has the signature of Sister Marie Xavier Pilles, which you can just see in the upper left of the flyleaf verso, across from the title page.
De Chantal was influenced by the writings of St Augustin, as well as Introduction to a Devout Life by her spiritual mentor, François de Sales, and writings of Teresa of Àvila and Catherine of Siena. Among the rules listed is one saying that at the beginning of the year, the nuns will receive copies of either The Imitationof Christ (by Thomas à Kempis) or The Spiritual Combat (by Fr. Lawrence Scupoli). The rules also give instructions for locating the chair of the Reader who would read to the nuns during meals. It should be in the center of the refectory near a window and with a chandelier close by and a bookshelf on the wall; very practical specifications.
Source: Book offered for sale by Olson Rare Books, 4/2020; since sold. Images reproduced with permission.
Recording early modern female book inscriptions can be as frustrating as it is fascinating. While one of the more satisfying aspects is making seemingly invisible women visible enthusiasm can be curbed by the fact that it is almost impossible to find information about the individual concerned, especially women readers at non elite level. So what is the point of pursuing research with clear limitations? What can we take from female book inscriptions, particularly if there are no additional marks other than a name on the title page?
In truth, not much. But that is not to say the exercise is pointless. At the very least, female book inscriptions raise the profile of the genre and encourages researchers to keep pushing the boundaries in early modern women’s book ownership. Though information about readers at the lower end of the social spectrum might yield little return there are nevertheless opportunities by engaging with the text.
Jane Dobson’s copy of Abel Boyer’s lexicon (now in Armagh Robinson Library) is a case in point. We know nothing about Dobson or her family but her ownership of the ninth edition of Boyer’s highly popular work The Compleat French-Master for Ladies and Gentlemen (1725) is striking for two reasons. First, it clearly shows Dobson was well educated as indicated by her eagerness to develop her linguistic capabilities. Second, it suggests that she not only purchased books for intellectual rather than material purposes, but she also likely had multiple books in her custody. Indeed, Dobson was plainly well acquainted with lexicographical works in circulation.
Boyer was established in the field of compiling dictionaries. He was born in Castres in 1667 but undertook most of his studies in the Netherlands on account of his Protestant convictions. At the age of twenty-two, he moved to England where he struggled to make ends meet. It was not until he became acquainted with Allen Bathurst, later Earl Bathurst, that his fortunes changed when he assumed the role of tutor. It was through the Bathurst family connection that he subsequently found himself working in the English court.
In the early 1690s Boyer was appointed tutor to the young Duke of Gloucester, the only surviving son of Queen Anne and the royal consort, Prince George of Denmark, but the boy tragically died at the age of eleven in 1700. It is interesting that Boyer continued to keep the dedication to the prince on the title page in subsequent editions, perhaps indicating how close the two men had become over the course of the duke’s studies.
When Boyer’s work was first published in 1695 its full title was The compleat French-master for ladies and gentlemen being a new method, to learn with ease and delight the French tongue, as it is now spoken in the court of France. It was sub-divided into three parts: grammar, vocabulary, and “a short and plain French-Grammar, for ladies and young gentlemen that do not yet understand Latin.” By 1725, the book’s appeal extended to a wider readership. The ninth edition expanded to include phrases and dialogues “on all manner of subjects,” dialogues of wit and humour, examples of French poetry, a collection of French songs, choice proverbs in both English and French, and a selection of “the best French books, fit for a Lady’s, or Gentleman’s Library.”
Thus, Dobson’s ownership of The Compleat French-Master highlights a keen interest in languages. She may have been eager to learn (or improve) her linguistic skills whether it be for the purpose of conversing in a second language or expanding her literary interests. Indeed, the latter option is a distinct possibility. Research has shown the growing popularity of French writers in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and the Netherlands. In the case of Britain, moreover, French female authors like Madame de Scudéry, Madame de Villedieu, and Madame de la Fayette were notably prominent in English private libraries. (For those interested in the extent to which French female authors circulated in the Anglophone world you can explore the freely accessibly RECIRC database.) This is not to claim that Dobson read or collected works by female authors. Once again, we cannot say with any degree of certainty. However, digital humanities projects led by Prof. Marie-Louise Coolahan (RECIRC) and Prof. Alicia Montoya (Mediate) have given us plenty of scope to explore what people read in the early modern period.
Source: Images reproduced by kind permission of the Governors and Guardians of Armagh Robinson Library.
 Alicia C. Montoya and Rindert Jagersma, “Marketing Maria Sibylla Merian, 1720–1800: Book Auctions, Gender, and Reading Culture in the Dutch Republic,” Book History, Volume 21 (2018), pp 65, 67.
 Marie-Louise Coolahan and Mark Empey, “‘There are Numbers of Very Choice Books’: Book Ownership and the Circulation of Women’s Texts, 1680–98,” in Jennie Batchelor and Gillian Dow (eds), Women’s Writing 1660–1830: Feminisms and Futures (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), pp 139–55.
This post concerns a now-sad copy, with a board detached, of volume one (of three) of a heavily illustrated manual on practical perspective, intended for painters, engravers and others in the design trades.
It was inscribed in the mid-eighteenth century by an eleven-year-old English girl visiting Paris, who a few years later became a recognized amateur artist and printmaker. Our copy of Jean Dubreuil, La perspective pratique, necessaire à tous peintres, graveurs, architectes, brodeurs, sculpteurs, orfèvres, tapissiers, et autres qui se meslent de desseigner […] première partie, seconde edition (Paris, Jean Dupuis, 1663) has a neatly-written note to front free endpaper “Louisa Augusta Grevile, Paris, 23d. of Aug.st 1754.”
This was Lady Louisa Augusta Greville (1743–1779). What she was doing in Paris, I have not discovered. She was the daughter of an earl (Earl Brooke, who became also the earl of Warwick). As an artist, we do not know what professional training she might have had or how much she was reliant simply on teaching herself from books such as the present one. She was to produce etchings based on her own drawings and after artists including Nicolaes Berchem, Annibale Carracci, Pietro Francesco Cittadini, Guercino, Matteo Ricci, and Salvator Rosa. She made her first known dated print in 1757 and, as a teenager, was awarded prizes for her drawings by the Society of Arts, in 1758, 1759, and 1760. Holdings of her prints can be found in the British Museum and Calke Abbey, Derbyshire (National Trust). Her last year of production was 1770, which was the year of her marriage, to William Churchill of Henbury, Dorset (d.1808).
On Louisa Augusta’s death, this item from her professional library—which, when she acquired it, presumably had all its volumes—remained with her immediate family, first her husband and then probably their son, William Churchill (d. 1835). The bookplate of husband or son is affixed to front pastedown.
In 1836, one Caroline Greville wrote her name directly below Louisa Augusta’s. This new owner is likely to have been Lady Caroline Greville, who died, unmarried, in 1844. She was Louisa Augusta’s niece, the daughter of Louisa Augusta’s brother George Greville (1746–1816). Caroline would not have known her aunt, as her parents only married in 1776. However, from where she places her inscription, we can see that she was keen to create an association with her. Possibly contributing to Caroline´s understanding of Louisa Augusta was a shared family background of connoisseurs and collectors.
Caroline’s father, who became the earl, was a renowned art collector; her father’s brother Charles Francis Greville (1749–1809) was a collector of plants and minerals and patron of the painter George Sandby (1730–1809); her grandfather (Louisa Augusta’s father) was a patron of Canaletto; and his brother-in-law (Louisa Augusta’s maternal uncle) was the collector and diplomatist Sir William Hamilton (1731–1803). Social and cultural experiences derived from this family milieu may have helped Louisa Augusta form her ambitions as an artist.It was unusual for a woman to have made a mark in this connoisseurs’ world. It is quite possible that this impressed Caroline.
The next recorded owner was the painter and civil servant Angelo Collen Hayter (1819–1898). The natural son of the painter Sir George Hayter (1792–1871), he had exhibited portraits at the Royal Academy in the years 1848–1852 but had given up professional artistry by the time he acquired the volume, or volumes, in 1870. He was more successful in his new career, which saw him rise to chief reviewer of wills in the government offices at Somerset House. He would not have obtained the item for immediate professional needs, but he may have been intrigued by the provenance.
As for subsequent ownership, the book carries an old penciled price (10 shillings). It was acquired as part of lot 607 at Mallam’s (Oxford) on 29 January 2020. In the lot there was also an English student’s manuscript, c.1800, on the subject of perspective, and folded loosely into that other item are bibliographical notes from the twentieth century, relating to our volume, which by then certainly appears to have been single. The writer of the notes checked books in Cambridge University Library and may have been connected to the university. Both the present volume and that manuscript have since the sale been acquired from me by the bookseller Susanne Schulz-Falster.
Source: book in private ownership. Photos by Leo Cadogan, reproduced by permission.
 On Greville, see: ‘Greville, Louisa Augusta, Lady‘, in Benezit Dictionary of Artists online (henceforth Benezit) (published 31 October 2011; accessed 26 August 2020); also notes by Nicholas Stogdon, on the Sanders of Oxford website (henceforth Stogdon (Sanders)), and on the British Museum website. British Museum holdings of her prints can be seen here and Calke Abbey holdings here.
 On William Churchill of Henbury (d.1835), see An inventory of the historical monuments in Dorset, volume 2, south east (London, 1970), Sturminster Marshall (283-290), on the
British History Online website. A note on Greville´s husband is found in Stogdon (Sanders), who mentions Greville and her husband having a son and cites the husband´s contemporary memorial notices. These last indicate that, although he remarried after Greville´s death, he only had that one child. William was therefore Greville´s son.
 On Lady Caroline Greville, see Cracroft’s Peerage, ‘Warwick Earl of (GB, 1759)’; also (confirming her non-married status), Sarah Spencer, Lady (afterwards Lady Lyttelton), Correspondence of Sarah Spencer, Lady Lyttelton, 1787-1870, edited by her great-granddaughter, the Hon. Mrs. Hugh Wyndham (London 1912), 118 n.4.
 On Caroline’s father, see Matthew Kilburn, ‘Greville, George, second earl of Warwick and second Earl Brooke (1746–1816)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biographyonline (henceforth ODNB) (published 25 September 2014); see also Michael P. Cooper, ‘Greville, Charles Francis (1749–1809)’, ODNBonline (published 25 September 2014); and Geoffrey V. Morson, ‘Hamilton, Sir William (1731–1803)’, ODNBonline (published 25 September 2014). On Caroline’s grandfather (Louisa Augusta’s father), Francis Greville, first earl of Warwick (1719–1773), see Kilburn (above). For more family artistic connections see Stogdon (Sanders).
 On Angelo Collen Hayter see ‘Hayter, Angelo Collen’, Benezit Dictionary of Artists (published 31 October 2011); also Barbara Coffey Bryant, ‘Hayter, Sir George (1792–1871)’, ODNBonline (published 17 September 2015).
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.
So far, our blog has featured signed books from England, the Low Countries, and Sweden, but not yet from France. I encountered this series of books during the annual Deventer Bookmarket in 2019. A woman named Catherine Mann signed all three of her volumes of the Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz, a work that gives a historical account of the early parts of the reign of Louis XIV.
This book by Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz (1613–1679), the opponent of Cardinal Richelieu in the Fronde or French Civil Wars, is a memoir addressed to an unnamed lady, perhaps appealing to this particular female reader. The signature certainly shows a woman’s interest in history and French politics.
Unfortunately, we do not know the date of the signature or even the nationality of this female reader, but whoever she was, she wrote her name carefully in all three volumes of this book.
Source: book seen at the bookmarket in Deventer on August 4, 2019, offered for sale by Antiquariaat Klikspaan. Photos by Martine van Elk; taken and reproduced with permission.