Margaret Cavendish, The Life of …William Cavendish (1667)

By Mark Empey and Martine van Elk

So far, on this blog we have only featured one example of a female-owned copy of a work by Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), her Poems and Fancies (1653), which has two female signatures in it. Thus far, we have been unable to identify those two with certainty. Today, we are presenting another example, one that not only offers a fascinating insight into women who read Cavendish but also reveals an intriguing connection between the book owner and the author.

The popularity of Cavendish as an author is well established. The findings of the European Research Council-funded project RECIRC: the Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700 show that of the 1,878 female authors in the database, Cavendish is in the top three most popular women writers. Even more revealing, the project’s research shows that The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puissant Prince William Cavendish, Duke, Marquess, and Earl of Newcastle received the highest number of receptions (8, see here). By Liza Blake’s count, no fewer than 99 copies of this book survive in libraries and private collections (Digital Cavendish–Locating Margaret Cavendish). All of the receptions traced in RECIRC were, curiously, attributed to male book owners.

This particular copy of the book has an inscription by Henrietta Holles. It is noteworthy not only because it shows evidence of women reading a work by a female author but also because of the family connection between reader and writer.

‘Henrietta Holles her Book 1708’

Henrietta Holles was born on the 11 February 1694. Her parents were John Holles, Duke of Newcastle-on-Tyne (1662-1711), and Lady Margaret Cavendish (1661-1715/16). Her mother was the daughter of Henry Cavendish, second Duke of Newcastle-on-Tyne (1630-1691), who was the son of William Cavendish and his first wife, Elizabeth Howard. In other words, Henrietta was the great-granddaughter of William Cavendish and related to Margaret Cavendish the author through marriage.

Thus, her interest in The Life of William Cavendish at the age of fourteen may have had as much to do with a desire to learn about her family’s legacy as with the popularity of one of seventeenth-century England’s greatest female writers.

By the time Holles signed the book, Margaret Cavendish had been dead for 35 years; it seems likely the book was passed down to her by her mother, who was herself only twelve when Margaret Cavendish died.

We know that Holles was a keen reader. At the age of twelve, her mother gave her The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety by Richard Allestree. Two years later–the same year she read The Life of William Cavendish–she was given Richard Parr’s The Life of the Most Reverend Father in God, James Usher (Goulding). 

As multiple posts on our blog show, Allestree was popular among women readers. However, Parr’s work is more striking in this particular context. An interest in the Irish archbishop’s distinguished career cannot be discounted. Yet it could also be suggested that Parr’s account was used as a manual to learn classical languages. Included in the book was correspondence to and from Ussher in English, Latin and Greek. In other words, Lady Cavendish seems to have used books to supervise and satisfy her daughter’s religious, linguistic and familial curiosities.

The personal relationship between the book and its book owner is not the only aspect of interest in this copy. As James Fitzmaurice has noted, in virtually all extant copies of the book corrections have been made, mostly in the form of inked out passages. In his essay on the hand-corrections Cavendish had carried out before giving away or selling her books, he notes that The Life of William features two main passages that are most frequently inked out. He found this to be true in 43 out of 44 volumes he consulted (the exception is in the Nottingham Central Public Library, 304). In highlighting both the Duke’s strategic capabilities and obedience to the Crown, Cavendish had originally included the observation that the king ordered her husband to command the royal troop “by none but himself.” To this she added “they remain’d upon duty without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty until His Majesty had reduced his Rebellious Subjects” (9). However, after having the book printed, Cavendish had the phrase “without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty” inked out.

Crossed out on the page: “without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty”

A second passage, on p. 26, accuses Lord Goring and Sir Francis Mackworth of “invigilancy and carelessness,” an accusation that is also usually inked out. Fitzmaurice speculates that on the one hand, the deletion may serve the purpose of fulfilling the promise Cavendish made to her husband, according to a prefatory letter, not to “disgrace” any particular person but also notes on the other that these deletions in fact draw more attention to what is underneath; in some copies he has seen, “the inked out words are supplied in contemporary hands” (302). This is not the case in this particular copy. Cavendish’s precise motive for these deletions will remain a matter of speculation.

Meanwhile, Henrietta Holles would marry Edward Harley, Second Earl of Oxford (1689-1741) a mere five years after she put her inscription in The Life of William.

Portrait of Lady Henrietta Harley, Countess of Oxford and Countess Mortimer by John Wootten, reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Harley was an avid collector of manuscripts and a bibliophile, so he may well have had a keen interest in this book. Through his marriage to Henrietta, he also became the owner of Wellbeck Abbey, one of the two main homes in which Margaret and William Cavendish lived upon their return to England after the Civil War.

Like her husband, Henrietta collected books, in many of which she made careful note of when she read them. Richard Goulding provides a list of books given her by her husband, found in the Wellbeck Abbey library, which includes works by Shakespeare, Jonson, Katherine Philips, Spenser, Beaumont and Fletcher, and others. He also notes authors gave books to her. It is possible that many of these books are no longer at Wellbeck, given that portions of its collection were sold in the 1950s, which may well explain how her Life of William has ended up for sale. Henrietta corresponded with Lady Mary Wortley Montague, among others, and letters by her are part of the family papers, now housed at the University of Nottingham.

Henrietta had a bookplate made for her (seen here), which remains helpful in reestablishing her collection; the Folger has a copy show owned of a religious work entitled A Dissuasive from Revenge by Nicolas Stratford (1684), which contains with the inscription ‘Given me by my Lord Decr. 1731’ (Folger Catalog), and a copy of A Good Minister of Jesus Christ: A Funeral Sermon for the Reverend Mr. Richard Steel by George Hamond, with the same bookplate and “with manuscript note attributing the volume as a gift of ‘My Lord Sepr: 1739’ (Folger Catalog). After her husband’s death, Henrietta would sell his manuscript collection to the nation in 1753, creating the foundation of what was to become the British Museum, now known as the Harley Manuscripts.

Henrietta herself died in 1755 at the age of 61, perhaps leaving the book about her famous great grandfather to her daughter Margaret or her son Henry.

Source: Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold 9/27/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

James Fitzmaurice, “Margaret Cavendish on Her Own Writing: Evidence from Revision and Handmade Correction,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 85, no. 3 (1991), pp. 297-308.

Richard W. Goulding, “Henrietta Countess of Oxford,” Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 27 (1923).

Lady Dorothy Long’s Library

While most of our posts involve single books or evidence of book ownership in the form of marginalia and signatures, another key area of provenance research is in the form of inventories and book lists. The fascinating database and journal series Private Libraries of Renaissance England have showcased a number of key women for whom the content of larger libraries are known. These lists, whether they are based on inventories or wills, help us determine not only what women read, but also, as Edith Snook notes, how they wanted to present themselves. Indeed, in her essay on the private library of Elizabeth Isham, Snook calls the booklist a form of life writing or “ego document,” a source that can tell us something about women’s senses of identity, particularly for noble women whose profile was of necessity at least to some degree public.

In his chapter in the collection Women’s Bookscapes, Joseph Black predicted that “Unpublished early modern booklists will … continue to turn up” (219). A few months ago, I was delighted to receive a message from Tim Couzens, who offered to share with us and our readers two lists of books that he has found in the papers of Lady Dorothy Long housed at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Though he will be editing and publishing these lists more fully soon, we get here an advance look at the contents. The lists were evidently drawn up to facilitate their placement in the household, as they are books to be put on “the high shelf,” some of them grouped among the “little books to be put on the high shelf.” Whether the “high shelf” indicates that they needed to be placed out of reach or were stored where they were not readily accessible is unclear.

Lady Dorothy Long, née Leche (c. 1620-1710) was married in around 1640 to Sir James Long, second Baronet (1617-1692), a politician. The couple lived in their estate at Draycot, Wiltshire. Sir James had fought on the side of the royalists in the Civil Wars, but nonetheless, according to biographer John Aubrey, befriended Oliver Cromwell through his interests in hawking, a lifelong passion. Aubrey lists James Long under “amici” (friends) in his Brief Lives.

Sir James Long, by an anonymous painter. Oil on canvas, feigned oval. © National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4638.

In their edition of Elizabeth Isham’s autobiographical writings, Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow mention Lady Long (“Dolly”)’s correspondence with Isham’s brother and contrast her style with that of the more sober Isham: “[Long’s] letters employ the banter of a royalist coterie, complete with nicknames and a (mocking) reference to their ‘Academy’, in a style reminiscent of the more familiar and accomplished works of Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips. Lady Long does display an interest in literature, particularly the salacious Ovid, but she mocks the Countess of Dysart’s serious study of Donne.” Long donated to the Ashmolean, and their Book of Benefactors describes her in much different terms, as “the pride and joy of her family and her sex … [She] showed a deep interest in primitive religions and antiquities. Her piety and great good will to this University led her to give a carved ivory crosier [head] which had belonged to Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, to this museum to be placed with the other treasures.”

Given these contrasting descriptions, it is fascinating to think, with Snook, of the two lists of books that belonged to Long as a form of life writing to counter the narratives of royalist eccentricity and piety.

Here is Tim Couzen’s transcription, along with his preliminary identifications of the books in brackets:

Little books to put ith highe Shelf. [15 July 1704, from content]

Narrative oth Fire at London [An Historical narrative of the Great and Terrible Fire of London, Sept 2nd1666. Gideon Harvey. This may be an original of the book published more generally by W. Nicoll in 1769.]

Epitome of Husbandry [The Epitome of the Art of Husbandry: comprising all necessary directions for the Improvement of it. Etc, by J.B. Gent (Joseph Blagrave), 1675.]

Flatmans Poems [Dr. Thomas Flatman (1635–1688) Fellow of the Royal Society, Poet and miniature painter. Probably Poems and Songs (1674).]

Counr Manners Legacy tos Son. [Counsellor Manners, His Last legacy to His Son: etc. Probably the first edition, published in 1673, by Josiah Dare.]

Dr Gouge Domestick dutys [Of Domesticall Duties, eight treatises etc. by William Gouge, 1622.]

Pasquin risen from ye Dead [London, 1674.]

Nat: Culverwel on ye Light of Nature [Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), An elegant and learned discourse of the Light of Nature, 1652.]

The History of Joseph &c: [Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews. Probably the 1700 edition.]

Theopanila Broms Poems [William Sales’s Theophania (London, 1655) and Alexander Brome’s Poems.]

G [Gaius] Velleius Paterculus [Roman Historian (c 19BC – c AD31). There are several early editions.]

Evagoros. [Evagoros. [Two possible identifications: Paul Salzman has suggested this is Evagoras, a Romance by L.L. Gent (London, 1677). A second possibility is the Greek oration by Isocrates on the King of Salamis (Unknown edition). Given the mixture of romances, for Dorothy Long’s own use, and text books from her grandson, James, it is not possible to be certain, but the former seems much more likely.]

Bookes to put into ye High Shelfe ye 15o July 1704. 

The Countise Montgomerys Urania [romance by Mary Wroth (1587–1653), dedicated to Countess of Montgomery; the book was first published in 1621.]

Orlando Furiosa: Abraham Cowleys workes [Two separate books. The first is Orlando Furioso, an Italian epic poem of Ludovico Ariosto (1516–1532), presumably in an early, but un-named translation.  Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), was an English poet, with 14 printings of his works published between 1668 and 1721.]

Mrs Phillipes’s Verses. orinda. [Katherine Philips (1631/32–1664), known as “The Matchless Orinda,” was an Anglo-Welsh royalist poet, translator, and woman of letters. After her death, in 1667, an authorized edition of her poetry was printed entitled Poems by the Most Deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda, which included her translations of Pompee and Horace.]

Scarrons Comicall Romance [Paul Scarron (1610–1660) was a French dramatist and novelist. The Roman Comique was reworked by a number of English authors.]

The Lusiad. or Portingales His: a Poem [The Lusiads is a Portuguese epic poem written by Luis vaz de Camoes (c1524/5–1580) and first published in 1572. The date and author of the early translation is not stated.]

The warres of Justinian [The history of the warres of the Emperour Justinian in eight books: etc. Written in Greek by Procopius etc. Englished by Sir Henry Holcroft (1586–1650). Published in 1653.]

Micrographia. By Rob: Hooke [Likely to be a first edition (1665) directly from the author. The book is listed in the 1846 Draycot House contents catalogue.]

The Civell warrs of Spain [Joseph Black has identified this as Prudencio de Sandoval, The Civil Wars of Spain (published in multiple editions from 1652 to 1662) This book is also listed in the 1795 Draycot House Inventory.]

Phillipe De Comines. [An early translation from French of the Memoirs of Philippe de Commines. The usual publication date for Volume 2 is 1712.]

Cornelius Tacitus Tacitus Arriana. [The Annales of Cornelius Tacitus: The description of Germanie. Translated by Richard Greenway and Sir Henry Savile (1549–1622). Published London, 1640; Ariana is a romance by Jean Desmarets, Sieur de Saint Sorlin, originally translated in 1636.]

Of Goverment of obeydiense by Jo: Hall. [Of Government and obedience as the stand directed and determined in Scripture and reason, four books by John Hall of Richmond. London, 1654.]

Cass[andra?] Sanders on Memory &c. [The title is obscured by the fold; the first book is Cassandra the fam’d romance: the whole work: in five parts / written originally in French: now elegantly rendred into English by a person of quality. Cassandra is a translation of a romance novel by Gaultier de Coste La Calprenède, translated in 1652. Possible second work is unidentified.]

Pasquil risen from ye Dead to put higher [see above.]

Standly’s 7: wise Men &c. [Thomas Stanley (1625–1678) was an English Author and translator. The History of Philosophy, 3 volumes published in 1655, 1656, and 1660, includes the seven wise men (sages) of Greece.]

A larg print of Cardinall Richeleis House [Probably the Chateau de Richelieu, south of Chinon, Touraine, rather than the Palais Royal in Paris.]

Nero Ceazar. & ye warr of Jugurth &c: [Two separate books. The first title is possibly Nero Caesar, or Monarchy Depraved. An Historical Work, by Edmund Bolton (published 1627). The second is an early English translation of Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus). The Warre of Jugurth is by Thomas Heywood, 1608.]

The collection of books is, as Tim Couzens notes in his email to me, largely associated with her schooling of her grandsons, Sir Giles and Sir James Long (later 5th Baronet), before they went on to tutors and governors and to Oxford. But many women’s collections included works of history and politics, whether or not they used them to educate their children.

Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs Katherine Philips, Folger Shakespeare Library, P2035.

Readers of this blog will be particularly interested to see both Mary Wroth’s Urania and Katherine Philips’s Poems in the listing, and, compared with other such inventories, there are surprisingly few devotional books. Though Margaret Cavendish is missing, the presence of Philips certainly shows, much like the romance texts, an affiliation with royalist culture. Links between different books are evident: Thomas Flatman, author of a book of poems listed here, had written a dedicatory poem for Philip’s collection, and as it happens, another copy of Philips’s poems we have featured on this site (housed by the Folger Shakespeare library) was owned by Hannah Flatman, Thomas Flatman’s wife.

Generally, Long’s inventories reveal her political affiliations, her investment in learning (or teaching the boys in her family), and a wide range of interests in romance, history, philosophy, and poetry, with only minor concerns with household management and domestic advice so commonly found in women’s inventories and little in books of devotion that normally dominate such libraries. Perhaps those books were placed on the lower shelves.

We want to thank Tim for providing us with transcriptions and pictures of the two lists of books owned by Lady Dorothy Long and Sara Morrison and Anabel Loyd for permission to reproduce both the transcription and images.

Source: Wiltshire and Swindon History Center 2943B/1/35. Draft letters and notes by Lady Dorothy Long [No description] (1686-1704). 35 documents.

Further Reading

Joseph L. Black, “Women’s Libraries in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England Project.” Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 214–229.

Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow, “Introduction to the Online Edition.” Elizabeth Isham’s Autobiographical Writings. Center for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick, 2015.

Tim Couzens, Hand of Fate: The History of the Longs, Wellesleys and the Draycot Estate in Wiltshire. ELSP, 2001.

PLRE.Folger: Private Libraries in Renaissance England. Ed. Joseph L. Black et al. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Private Libraries in Renaissance England vols. 8-9 (2014–16).

Thomas Seccombe (rev. Henry Lancaster), “Long, Sir James, second baronet (bap. 1617, d. 1692), politician.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Date of access 23 Jan. 2022, <>.

Edith Snook, “Elizabeth Isham’s ‘own Bookes’: Property, Propriety, and the Self as Library.” Women.’’ Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 77–93.

Thomas Fuller, The Historie of the Holy Warre (1651)

This is the third time our blog has featured a book by clergyman and royalist Thomas Fuller, showing the enduring popularity of his work among women readers. Our last post was about The Church History of Britain, a timely work with a historical account of the lead-up to the Civil Wars, owned by Arundell Penruddock, wife of the ill-fated royalist conspirator John Penruddock. The Historie of the Holy Warre had less immediate relevance, dealing with the history of the crusades.

It is easy to see why this book would be a favorite with readers, as it includes both an impressive frontispiece and a foldout map, indicative of a general readerly interest in maps and visuals in historical works of this kind.

The other copy of this work we featured on this blog included female writing that suggested possibly a younger owner. As in that copy, this particular copy features elaborate handwriting, but in this case it is impressive calligraphy, a favorite pastime of women, who could thus show their versatility with the pen.

What makes this copy particularly interesting is its apparent Anglo-Dutch provenance. Interestingly, a former owner with a Dutch name, Gaspar vanden Bussche, signed with the English phrase “his book,” dating his inscription 1673. Anna Dilbo, whose last name is English, signed with Dutch phrasing, “Anno 1662 Den 24 octobre in London.” The proximity in date of the two inscriptions and the evidence of the last names as well as the phrasing of the inscriptions (and the location in Anna’s) point to a family with a history of crossing between the two countries.

Source: Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold October 4, 2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Thomas Fuller, The Church-History of Britain (1655)

This first edition of The Church History of Britain (1655), bound with The History of the University of Cambridge and a short history of Waltham Abbey, is one of many history books for which we have found evidence of female ownership in the early modern period. Thomas Fuller, whose work has featured on this website before, was a clergyman and a moderate royalist, who lived during the turbulent times of the Civil Wars and their aftermath, which had a deep impact on his career. He was known for his support for peace, preaching sermons that urged King and Parliament to reconcile during the war and attempting unsuccessfully to aid in negotiations between the two. As W. B. Patterson notes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, “Fuller’s career was shattered by the defeat of the royalist cause,” though he managed to convert this defeat into a professional opportunity as a historian, producing important works of history.

The Church History contains no fewer than 166 dedications, a sign of the troubled state of Fuller’s professional life in the 1650s, but also, Patterson explains, of wider support: “Each of its eleven books and each of the appended works is dedicated to a member of a noble family. There are also dedications of sections of the book to merchants and lawyers in London and gentry in the counties around London. These patrons evidently helped to support his research and the publication of the work. They comprise an extensive network of persons apparently supportive not only of Fuller’s work but of the monarchy and the established church of the pre-war period.”

What makes this copy of the book particularly important is its female owner’s inscription. The book contains the signature of Arundell Penruddock, born Freke (c. 1616–1666), wife of the royalist John Penruddock (1619–1655).

John Penruddock was a member of the landed gentry in Wiltshire and a well-known royalist conspirator, who attempted to restore the Stuarts to the throne in the uprisings associated with the secret organization the Sealed Knot. When he was tried for treason and condemned to death, Arundell made a number of failed petitions for clemency on his behalf, most importantly to Oliver Cromwell himself. But her efforts proved in vain, and Penruddock was beheaded in 1655. Sarah-Jayne Ainsworth gives a full account of these and later petitions in this blog post, showing that Arundell continued to attempt to restore her husband’s property to her family on behalf of her seven children and to restore her husband’s reputation after the Restoration, with some degree of success.

Fuller’s book came out in the year of Penruddock’s execution, and since Arundell signed it in 1657, we can only wonder about her feelings upon reading it so soon after her husband’s death. As Patterson writes, “Fuller’s book … provided an explanation for the tumultuous religious and political events of his own time, and it included the first detailed account of the decades immediately prior to the civil wars to be published.” Thus, to Arundell, Fuller’s work may have offered important historical perspective on the events that affected her family so personally. Although it is not pictured here, the bookseller notes that this copy also contains a 19th century Penruddock bookplate.

Source: Book offered for sale by Colin Page Books, 12/1/20, and since sold. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

Ainsworth, Sarah-Jayne. “The Penruddock Petitions: The Aftermath of a Royalist Revolt, 1655-1660.” The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England. 12 May 2020.

Durston, Christopher. “Penruddock, John (1619–1655), royalist conspirator.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  21 May 2009.

Patterson, W. B. “Fuller, Thomas (1607/8–1661), Church of England clergyman.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 3 January 2008.  

John Weever, Ancient Funerall Monuments (1631)

While it is fairly common to find women’s ownership inscriptions in Bibles, Psalters, and other religious and devotional works, it is less common to find them in works of history, which is one of the reasons that Elizabeth Hamby’s copy of John Weever’s Ancient Funerall Monuments is so interesting.


She inscribed the book along the top edge of the title page: “Elizabeth Hamby her booke i660.” Hamby is one of the many women who, to use Paul Morgan’s words, “resist[s] identification,” but her more distinctive surname may yet guide us to a definitive answer. One possibility is that she was the elder Elizabeth Hamby of Lamberhurst, Kent mentioned in a March 13, 1678 entry for Allegations for Marriage Licenses . . . Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1660 to 1679 [1].


Given that the inscription in the Weever is dated 1660 and that another text places the younger Hamby’s age at marriage around seventeen, we can safely assume that the mother and not the daughter was the signer of the book [2].



As for John Weever, he is perhaps best remembered as the author of the 1599 Epigrammes in the Oldest Cut, and Newest Fashion. The book contains, among others, an epigram upon Shakespeare in Shakespearean sonnet form, which some scholars believe suggests that Weever read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets when they still circulated only in manuscript form. Ancient Funerall Monuments is the result of Weever’s extensive travels across England, Scotland, Italy, and Frances over a period of around thirty years to collect information on funerary monuments. Weever was most interested in the actual inscriptions on the monuments and less with their heraldic or architectural features, though there are a small number of illustrations within the book.



Hamby’s copy of the text appears to retain its original calf binding (albeit rebacked), and other evidence within the book (“three neat early ink ownership names to first three leaves”) might provide further clues about where Hamby obtained it and how it may have left her possession.

Source: Book offered for sale by Lyppard Books, 3/7/20. Images used with permission.

Further Reading

[1] Armytage, George J., ed. Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, 1558 to 1669; Also, for Those Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1660 to 1679. (London: The Harleian Society, 1886), 276.

[2] Foster, Joseph, ed. London Marriage Licenses, 15211869 (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1887), 26364.

Memorialls of Margaret de Valoys, trans. Robert Codrington (1664)

140- 712q tp

The Folger Library’s copy of The Memorialls of Margaret of Valois is a late edition of this popular book. First printed in 1641 in a translation by Robert Codrington, an Oxford scholar, the book was published thirteen times until 1664, sometimes under different titles which highlighted “the civill war” in France and the St. Bartholomew massacre. Marguerite was the daughter of one French king, the sister of three, and the wife of yet another, Henri de Navarre who became Henri IV. She wrote her Memoires in the 1590s but they were “not printed until 1628 after her death” (Bauschatz 29).

The Folger’s copy (shelfmark 140- 172q) was owned by Ann Rediatt, who wrote her name and the date 1706 in large calligraphic flourishes on the front flyleaf.

140- 712q

Ann appears to have read her book with pen in hand, witnessed by what appears to be a large inkblot on the front cover and a few extensive notes in the text.

140- 712q binding

In the first of the notes, Ann takes issue with Marguerite de Valois’ reference to a story from “the Infancy of Themistocles, and Alexander” in which Themistocles is alleged to have lain down “in the middle of a Street” daring a carter’s horses to ride over him.  Ann corrects her: “The Queen thus committed an oversight, it was not Themistocles but Alcibiades who threw himself upon the Street in Athens where he and some of his companions were playing at Dice. . . ” (5).

140- 712q

Ann continues her long note on the following page, saying “the other boys broke away but Alcibiades threw himself directly upon his face before the Wagon, and stretching himself out, bad the fellow drive on if he pleased.”

140- 712q

Ann gives her source as Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades, which she may have read in Latin as she gives the reference as “Vide Plutarch in Vit. Alcib.”

At the very end of the book, Ann delivers her opinion on the moral to be learned from reading about the queen’s rather colorful life: “Valois! This book is better than all the Systems of all the Philosopher’s for the great purpose of undeceiving the most part of Mankind who have foolishly taken it into their heads, ‘That to be great and rich is to be happy!’”

140- 712q [230]

We have not identified Ann Rediatt, but we do have the testimony of her well-known predecessor, Dorothy Osborne. Writing to her longtime fiancee, Sir William Temple, in 1653, Dorothy said: “I have read your Reine Marguerite, and will return it you when you please. If you will have my opinion of her, I think she had a good deal of wit, and a great deal of patience for a woman of so high a spirit. She speaks of too much indifference of her husband’s several amours . . . I think her a better sister than a wife, and believe she might have made a better wife to a better husband” (60).

Source: Folger Library, shelfmark 140- 172q. Photographs of book by Georgianna Ziegler. Reproduced with permission. 

Further Reading

Cathleen M. Bauschatz, “‘Plaisir et Proffict’ in the Reading and Writing of Marguerite de Valois,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 7.1 (1988): 27–48.

Dorothy Osborne, Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple: 1652–54, ed. Edward Abbott Parry. London, 1903.

William Sanderson, A Compleat History of the Lives and Reigns of Mary Queen of Scotland and of her son…James the Sixth (1656)

There are so many benefits to researching book history. Among the obvious advantages is that the topic sheds light on the political, religious, social, cultural and material world that readers immersed themselves in. Such areas of investigation are no less fascinating when studying the rapidly evolving field of early modern female book ownership. Why did women feel the need to inscribe their names? Is that sufficient proof they engaged with their book? Can we make sound conclusions about the interests or curiosities of the individual, or even the collective? Are there any identifiable trends among women readers? The questions are endless!

One of the more conventional approaches is exploring the connection between readers and their books. In other words, what is the owner looking to get out of the content? Examining the political, religious or social context might provide us with clues. The example here of Margaret Magee is an interesting case study particularly because it reveals how historical works were read and interpreted. Was history a tool for expanding one’s knowledge about the past or was its purpose to satisfy a reader’s expressed needs? More specifically, to what extent did historical information fuel a deeper sense of national consciousness?

As her inscription clearly indicates, Magee had William Sanderson’s A Compleat History of the Lives and Reigns of Mary Queen of Scotland, And of Her Son and Successor, James The Sixth, King of Scotland (1656) in her possession by the end of the seventeenth century. She may have purchased it at an earlier date. However, given that she wrote ‘Margeret Magee her book 1699’ would suggest it was acquired at that time. As book historians have argued, inscriptions could be seen as a statement of possession which was most likely written at the time of purchase.

Examining Sanderson’s work can also help us get a better sense of Magee’s personality. The author was an historian and staunch royalist. He was appointed secretary to Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, who was chancellor of Cambridge University from 1628-49. Sanderson’s political support for the Stuarts during the Interregnum was unwavering. In addition to his work on the reigns of Mary and James (1656), he wrote a history of Charles I two years later. It clearly endeared him to King Charles II following the Restoration in 1660 as he was not only rewarded with a knighthood but also promoted to Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

It was not necessarily Sanderson’s royalist viewpoint that appealed to Magee but possibly his assessment of Scottish monarchs. At the risk of making lofty presumptions her surname suggests she may have been of Scottish descent even though she resided in London. On 17 July 1719 she included her address on the inside of the book: ‘next dore to the three hatts in Islinton’. The Three Hats was a well-known public house in early eighteenth-century London. Indeed, her house may have been included in the striking watercolour by T. H. Shepherd which was published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1823 (see the image here). However, it’s the timing of Magee’s acquisition that is noteworthy, coming at a time when discussions were starting about a potential union between England and Scotland. Though it was not formally agreed until 1707, we might tentatively consider Magee’s second inscription as voicing her opposition to the union by endorsing a book that highlighted Scotland’s independent and illustrious past when it stood toe-to-toe with their Tudor neighbours. A big claim, perhaps, but not altogether unreasonable.

Whatever her reasons, whether it was because of her love of history or her possible Scottish sympathies, Magee greatly valued her purchase. Sanderson’s work was considerably dated when she penned her name to it. Much scholarship had been subsequently been done in the intervening forty-three years. Moreover, the fact that she saw a need to inscribe ‘Margaret Magee her book’ a second time in 1719 surely indicates an affinity with Sanderson’s work and, arguably, a longing for Scotland’s independence.

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

Memoires du Cardinal de Retz (1731)

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.

Samuel Daniel and John Trussel’s A Continuation of the Collection of the History of England (1636)

By V. M. Braganza

Rare books invite readings not only of their printed texts, but of their hidden histories and past lives. This copy of Samuel Daniel and John Trussel’s A Continuation of the Collection of the History of England (1636) conceals within its pages a surreptitious tie to a famous moment in early modern performance history.

The volume, bound in contemporary calfskin, bears an inscription on the recto of its initial endleaf (below) identifying its owner thus: “Ex Dono Honoratissima Socrûs | D[omi]na Arabella St John ./ | Eduardus wise”. [1]

This standard Latin formula identifies the book as “The gift of the most honorable mother-in-law[,] Lady Arabella St John” to Edward Wise (Suarez). The giver was evidently Arabella St John (née Egerton) (ca. 1602-1671). She was the wife of Oliver St John, 4th Baron St John of Bletso and 1st Earl of Bolingbroke, and mother-in-law of Sir Edward Wise (sometimes “Wyse”) of Sydenham, thrice MP for Okehampton and the recipient of the gift (Cracroft). This latter relationship narrows the date of inscription to sometime between 1651, when Arabella’s daughter (also named Arabella) married Edward Wise, and 1671, when she herself died. The lightly scrawled “Thom[a]s” in another hand below the closural mark of the inscription was probably the work of Edward and Arabella Wise’s second son – the giver’s grandson – Thomas Wise.

The existence of such a person as Arabella Egerton St John is unlikely to set off immediate bells of recognition in anyone’s mind today, but the surname “Egerton” ought to. In fact, Lady Arabella turns out to be lurking in the background – figuratively and perhaps literally – of a very familiar scene. The setting: a wild wood where two brothers lose and recover their sister, who finds her virtue tried by a sylvan tempter. The place: Ludlow Castle, Michaelmas 1634. The performers: then thirty-two-year-old Arabella’s younger siblings, Alice (aged fifteen), John (aged eleven), and Thomas (aged eight). The entertainment, of course, was John Milton’s Comus, written for her father, John Egerton, 1st Earl of Bridgewater, in honor of his appointment as Lord President of Wales.

Whether or not Lady Arabella was actually present to witness the first performance of Milton’s Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle is a matter for further investigation. However, this book has become, as such objects often do, a carrier of many converging histories. It bears witness to, but does not illuminate in any detail, Lady Arabella’s relationship with Edward Wise, who lived with his wife’s family at Melchbourne, Bedfordshire for the first two years of his marriage, from 1651 until 1653 (Radford 361). Perhaps it was during this time that Lady Arabella gave her son-in-law the book as a token of affection or regard. The gift, in any case, suggests a network of amicable family relationships, a stark contrast to the domestic violence at the heart of the Castlehaven rapes involving Arabella’s aunt, uncle, and cousin – which, some scholars believe, inspired Comus (Marcus 243). Through its Egerton provenance, this book brushes against the unrecoverable memory of that iconic performance, tantalizing us with its proximity.

I have expanded breviographs but otherwise transcribed faithfully. Many warm thanks go to Jason Scott-Warren, Gavin Alexander, and Raphael Lyne for weighing in on the transcription.

Source: book offered for sale on eBay on 26 February 2020. Images reproduced with permission from seller Marc-Antoine Leconte.

Further Reading

Michael F. Suarez, ed., “Ex dono,” The Oxford Companion to the Book (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010).

“Bolingbroke, Earl of (E, 1624-1711),” Cracroft’s Peerage: The Complete Guide to the British Peerage and Baronetage.

Mrs. G.H. Radford, “Sydenham,” Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, vol. 27 (Plymouth: William Brendon & Son, 1895).

Leah S. Marcus, “Milton’s Comus,” A New Companion to Milton, ed. Thomas N. Corns (Oxford: Blackwell, 2016).

John Gauden, Eikōn Basilikē: The Pourtraiture of His Sacred Maiesty in His Solitudes and Sufferings (1649)


Charles I was long since executed and his son Charles II dead of apoplexy when Anna Vyvyan signed a copy of the popular Eikon Basilike, with its iconic frontispiece of  a Christlike Charles I kneeling, looking toward the heavens, and gripping a crown of thorns. In fact, Queen Anne was probably already on the throne by the time Vyvyan wrote “Anna Vyvyan her Book 170[…?] & Hand & Pen” on one of the flyleaves. Vyvyan’s ownership of the book could be related to her family background; she was probably a member of the Royalist Vyvyan family of Trelowarren in Cornwall. The Vyvyans were such staunch supporters of the King that they were given a replica of the Anthony van Dyck portrait of Charles I on horseback, which still hangs in the family estate [1].


[1] Coate, M. “The Vyvyan Family of Trelowarren.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 32 (1950): 117. doi:10.2307/3678480.

Source: Book offered for sale by Rootenberg Rare Books, 5/31/19. Images used with permission.

Thomas Fuller, The Historie of the Holy Warre (1640)

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The History of the Holy War was, as the name suggests, a history of the crusades. Thomas Fuller, the author, was a historian and preacher, who became famous for authoring a number of works of history. Mary Stead was given this book, perhaps when she was young as appeared to have used the front page to practice her writing.

Source: Book sold on eBay by Wisdom Pedlars, 3/11/18. Reproduced with permission.


John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1641)

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The famous Book of Martyrs by John Foxe was first published in 1563 and expanded multiple times, including after his death in 1632 and again 1641, of which this is the third volume. As is clear from the title page, there were multiple owners, making it difficult to establish when the female signature was inscribed. The handwriting could be seventeenth- or eighteenth-century. and the last name features such elaborate calligraphy that it is difficult to read. The conventional phrase “Her Book,” however is abundantly clear.

Source: Book sold on eBay by Wisdom Pedlars, @wisdompedlars, 3/25/18. Reproduced with permission.