Provenance Mysteries: Les oeuvres de Mes-Dames des Roches de Poetiers

Now that lockdown has eased somewhat, we will revert to a monthly provenance mystery.

The August 2020 provenance mystery features some intriguing contemporary marginalia, found in the library’s copy of Les oeuvres de Mes-Dames des Roches de Poetiers, printed in Paris in 1578.

1. Title page

Unlike the majority of books in the collection, this work has retained its original limp parchment binding. Careful examination shows the remnants of ties (probably leather) on the right hand side of the front cover. These would have held the parchment covers closed. Previous shelfmarks and identification codes (?) are present on the front cover and the title page: B.6; (12); (6). There is possibly as well a bookseller’s code, in the form of the O surrounded by three dots.

2. Binding (Front cover)

Les ‘Dames des Roches’ were Madeleine Neveu Des Roches (1520-1587) and her daughter, Catherine Fredonnoit Des Roches (1542-1587). They were famous and highly regarded 16th century poets from Poitiers, who both died on the same day in the plague epidemic of 1587. In addition to poetry, they published prose, translations and other works. They hosted a well-attended salon for over twenty years, which was frequented by their fellow writers. Poitiers was a centre for intellectual and poetical humanism in the 16th century. To learn more about their life and work, this article by Madeleine Lazard is worth reading: https://www.persee.fr/doc/albin_1154-5852_1990_num_3_1_1290.

Image 6: Pandora’s box

Les oeuvres was the mother and daughter’s first collaborative work of poetry and prose. Kendall Tarte has written that their: “use of a surname based on landholdings, rather than the name of a husband or father, gave the women a means to affirm their mother-daughter bond on the title pages of their works.”

Image 11: French wars of religion

As our anonymous annotator here has noted, and as Kendall Tarte noted in her entry in the Oxford Bibliographies, Madeleine’s poetry engaged “with local events of the Wars of Religion.” In this image we can see that the annotator has written: “Conforme aux guerres civiles de la France.” Poitiers was sacked in 1562 by Protestants, and under siege in 1569; two of Madeleine’s houses were burned down in the siege.

Image 14: The poet Sapho

The annotator has underlined passages and used brackets to indicate passages of interest, in addition to writing more detailed notes. Some are not entirely legible, such as the one in image 14: “[?] le nom de [?] le poete je crois que ce soit Sapho.” In image 6 they have made reference to Pandora’s box: “La boete [i.e. boîte] de pandore.”

One would like to think that the annotator was a woman, but there is unfortunately nothing to indicate this. The book contains no other provenance clues: no signatures, initials, dates, etc. The only way that we may know who the annotator was is by comparing to similar marginalia in another work, from an identified holograph.

As ever, if you have any comments on this provenance mystery, contact the library at: library@middletemple.org.uk.

Renae Satterley

August 2020

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