Provenance Mysteries: Lucio Marineo Sículo’s De las cosas memorables de España

Our Provenance Mystery for November features a guest post from Dr. Alexander Samson, Reader in Early Modern Studies, University College London.

Middle Temple’s copy of the 1539 edition of Lucio Marineo Sículo’s De las cosas memorables de España is missing the title page and preliminaries. In addition to damage to the early leaves, the volume has been the subjected to an unsympathetic 19th century rebinding, which has left the fascinating and copious marginalia in the gutter illegible and cropped chunks of the annotations from the outer margins. Despite the ravages of time, the copy is a fascinating example of an early modern English reading of Spain.

Marginalia on the first leaf

Born around 1444 in Vizzini, Sicily, part of Aragón’s Mediterranean empire, Lucas di Marinis, as he was baptised, did not learn to read until the age of twenty-five, studying in Catania, then Palermo and travelling finally to Rome, where in 1478 he joined the proto-Academia de Pomponio Leto and adopted the Latinate name by which he became known, Lucius Marineus Siculus. Moving to Spain as a client of Fadrique Enríquez, he joined the university of Salamanca as Professor of Oratory and Poetry (1485 – 97), before being persuaded to become a chaplain to Isabel la Cátolica and more importantly write a life of Fernando’s father Joan II, the first of a series of commissions that transformed him into a royal chronicler. His publication career encompassed editions of Latin and familiar letters, a chronicle of Aragón, a life of Ferdinand and Isabella, as well as the chorography we have before us. Foreshadowing a genre whose popularity exploded in the 1540s, the Opus de rebus Hispaniae memorabilibus / De las cosas memorables de España appeared curiously in Latin and vernacular editions in 1530 and 1533 at Alcala, before the posthumous 1539 edition from Juan de Brocar in Middle Temple, whose 81 extant copies is just pipped by the 94 copies of the 1533 Latin edition, following the author’s death in 1536 at the age of ninety two.   


There appear to be two distinct annotators of the volume, distinctive inks and different mixes of languages distinguish the comments, underlinings, lists and manicules. On the other hand, it is possible that the two sets of marginalia were by the same person, made at different times, the darker set switch between Spanish and Latin and are mostly limited to listing and underlining place names in the text, with occasional Latin translations of Spanish terms, while the lighter alternate between English and Spanish, are more discursive and extensive, although they disappear at sig d ii. The hands do appear very similar. Of course, any Spanish book in the Middle Temple’s collections raises the spectre of its founder Robert Ashley. However, this example lacks the markings that he typically used to lay claim to the volumes in his library. Again though it could be that it was an early acquisition before his books had coalesced into a collection or library. Its subject matter fits with the acute interest Ashley developed in Spanish history apparent from his copies of Florián de Ocampo, Juan Fernández de Velasco, Pedro González de Mendoza, Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesilla, amongst others, and his translation of Miguel de Luna’s Historia verdadera del rey don Rodrigo. Nevertheless, the hand is not his.


The encyclopaedic nature of De las cosas memorables de España, digesting Siculus’ prior historical work on Hispania’s past, both published and still in manuscript, is reflected in the way it was read. The annotations in the darker ink ‘indexicalise’ places and names, suggesting its use as a work of reference; on the first leaf of book one, for example, querying ‘unde Hispania?’, next to the section propounding theories about the name’s origin. The etymological, toponymic interests of this annotator are trumped in interest for us by the second set of annotations, which contain tantalising clues as to the identity of their English author. Beneath the first in the obsequious section of prefaratory epistles exchanged by Siculus with the pope’s orator amongst others, a note unrelated to the contents of the page records that ‘In a stone of the churche called St. Justo & Pastor in the towne of Alcala de Henares towards the market place are graved the woordes following’, followed by a transcription of a Spanish inscription recording how Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros ‘dio a esta villa diez mil hanegas de trigo con que el dinero de el no se emplea sino en trigo para que el pan vaya siempre en crecimiento y el precio en baja pone se aqui para que no cumpliendo assi qualquiera pueda reclamar’ [gave to this town ten thousand bushels of wheat which money from him may not be spent on anything other than wheat so that the amount bread will always grow and the price fall, it is written here so that should this not be fulfilled whoever may sue for legal redress].


A plaque celebrating Cisneros’ contribution to Álcala was affixed to the Catedral Magistral de San Justo y San Pastor in 1995. At the end of the preliminaries hangs the mysterious aphorism ‘que quien dineros tienen [sic] haze lo que quiere’ [those who have money do what they like], a quotation from Feliciano de Silva’s Segunda Celestina, a copy of which from c. 1540 is found in Middle Temple library with the name of Thomas Skeffington on the title page, possibly the member of parliament for Leicestershire who lived 1550 – 1600. In a list of rivers found later on there is another significant annotation relating to the underlining of the Tajuna, a river which attracted the attention of Ashley in his copy of Ocampo’s Cinco Libros and Historia del Monte Celia. On sig. b iiii a little sketched plan of Toledo Cathedral with details of its size and composition again hint at an English traveller who supplemented Siculus’ compendium with contemporary details recorded by the traveller. Overleaf and most intriguing of all, picking up on the other annotators list, the English traveller annotates Siculus recording ‘en el camino mio’ [on my journey], ‘chinchon, St Martin de la Vega, Valdemoro, y a mano izquierda Torrejon…’ [Chinchón, San Martin de la Vega, Valdemoro, and on the left hand side Torrejón…]. The route is in dialogue with both the text and the original annotations. Might it be possible to identify from this itinerary across the plains of Madrid the English traveller owner of this volume? Could this be another of Skeffington’s books, although we may never know if he travelled to Spain himself?   

Dr. Alexander Samson,

Reader in Early Modern Studies, University College London

Provenance Mysteries: Thomas Hood’s The making and use of the geometricall instrument, called a sector

The October 2020 provenance mystery features Thomas Hood’s The making and use of the geometricall instrument, called a sector, printed in London by John Windet in 1598.  

This Thomas Hood (active 1582-1598) is not to be confused with the poet of the same name (1799-1845). According to Erwin Tomash and Michael R. Williams, the sector was a calculating instrument in use from the 16th to the 21st century and is also known as a proportional compass. While Galileo Galilei is often cited as the first inventor of the sector, Hood’s invention is contemporary to Galileo’s and Hood was the first to publish a book about his invention; Galileo was notoriously secretive about his knowledge and instruments. The sector could be purchased in London from Charles Whitwell (active 1594-1606) and Robert Becket. Whitwell lived ‘without Temple Barre against St. Clement’s Church’ in 1598. Whitwell’s sector can be viewed at the Science Museum. Edmund Gunter (1581-1626), in 1624, proposed a design of the sector which now tends to be the most well-known version.

Page one of the notes, with the heading

Thomas Hood was a lecturer in mathematics for the City of London. In his inaugural address of 1558 he declared: ‘the Lawyer thinketh him selfe cunning enough to handle his case, and therefore would laugh, if he should heere, that he standeth in need of our profession [i.e. mathematicians], yet have I knowne his sentence re-claimed by one of my coate’.

Page two of the notes

The mystery surrounding this book concerns the extensive contemporary manuscript notes found at the end of it. There are four pages of notes written and signed by a ‘D.G.’. The notes are headed: ‘In all eight lined tryangles the proportion of one syde to an other is such as the sine of of the angle, representing the one syde, hath to the sine of the angle each pertinge the other syde’. The notes then go on to discuss this theorem. But who was ‘D.G.’ (or D.C. or in a pinch b.C.)? They have gone to the trouble of writing out very comprehensive notes on this theorem, including illustrating the notes with quite beautiful diagrams. Was it a fellow mathematician? A contemporary of Hood? An instrument maker? Unfortunately there is simply not enough information in the book to give us any further clues.

Page three of the notes
Page four of the notes, with the initials D.G.

As ever, if you have any comments on this provenance mystery, contact the library at:

Renae Satterley

October 2020

Provenance Mysteries: Nova medicinæ methodus …

The September 2020 provenance mystery features Nova medicinæ methodus, nunc primu[m] & condita & ædita, ex mathematica ratione morbos curandi, by Johann Virdung von Hassfurt, printed in Etteling in 1532.

The book concerns the practice of medicine. Virdung was a German astrologer who visited England in 1503 ‘to learn magic’ according to an article by Lynn Thorndike written in 1937. Virdung ostensibly wrote to Johannes Trithemius regarding George Sabellicus. In 1507 Reynaldus de Novimagio (a 15th century printer) published Trithemius’s response to this letter, in which Sabellicus is described as ‘faustus junior’ and accused of being a ‘charltan and imposter’, and thus setting him up as the inspiration for the character of Faust.

Title page showing the ‘Lupus’ comment

As can be seen in the images here, the title page shows a variety of marginalia:

  • Someone has used ink to elaborately block out ‘Hasfurto Virdungo’ in the author’s name, but added in ‘Haffurto’
  • An original inscription has been scored out, but the same motto and cipher appears at the top of the title page: ‘fer et vince’
  • An inscription reading, in part: ‘carnifex qu[a]e nomi[n]e [huis?] p[er] [statiss?] viri de[?]e[?]it &c. Lupus nomine lupus [?] lupus natura et habitua
Title page close-up of the ‘fer et vince’ motto

The motto ‘fer et vince’ is repeated on folio A1r of the book (not shown here). The book is bound with a second work, Ad astrorum iudicia facilis introductio, by Claude Dariot, 1557. Within this work, on the verso of the first leaf there is an inscription: ‘Samuel Vuolphius fer et vince’. This is possibly Samuel Wolf (1549-1591), putting the final inscription above into context (lupus is the Latin word for wolf). Wolf was a Polish poet, but we cannot say definitively if this is hand. You can read an example of his work here. It was common practice in the early modern period to bind works together- it saved on the cost of binding to bind more than one title into a ‘sammelband volume’.

As ever, if you have any comments on this provenance mystery, contact the library at:


David Shaw has written in to add more insight, and to correct the original transcription, which reads:

carnifex qui nomen huius prestantissimi viri deleuit &c.
Lupus nomine lupus animo Lupus natura et habitu.’

He has translated this as: a scoundrel (literally ‘hangman’) who deleted the name of this eminent man. Wolf by name, a wolf in his soul, a wolf by nature and a wolf in his appearance.

The name which was written back in to compensate for the name that was inked out should have been transcribed as ‘Hasfurto’, and not ‘Haffurto’. 

As David has suggested, this could indicate a sequence of “academic hostilities” perhaps. We continue to investigate the potential provenance link to Samuel Wolf and will update the post if further evidence is found.

Renae Satterley

September 2020

Rare Book of the Month: #Throwback

In this regular feature we re-post the rare book of the month articles that were originally published on the Middle Temple website. Below is the rare book which first appeared in July 2017.

Title page.

The July 2017 rare book of the monthis De primatu Petri et Apostolicae Sedis potestate libri tres … contra Centuriarum auctores (“Three Books on the Primacy of Peter and the Power of the Apostolic See … against the Authors of the Centuries”), by Onofrio Panvinio. This book, printed in Venice in 1591, aimed to counter the arguments of Protestants against papal primacy. Since the Reformation, Protestants had rejected the idea that the Roman pontiff had supreme episcopal jurisdiction as pastor and governor of the Universal Church.

The Italian church historian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-1568) was born in Verona. At the age of eleven he entered the Augustinian Order. He was sent to Naples and Rome to study theology. From his adolescence Panvinio, however, was captivated by history. At the age of nineteen he wrote a chronicle of the order; two years later he would transcribe the calendars of ancient Rome (the Fasti Capitolini), numerous fragments of which had been found in the Roman Forum. There followed research into the history of several noble Roman families, ancient Roman history, the history of the Popes and, from 1559 onward, the history of papal elections.

De primatu Petri was a digest of sources relating to the primacy of St Peter. It was originally to be dedicated to Pope Pius V in 1566. The manuscript remained stuck, however, with the ecclesiastical authorities. These were keen to ensure that special care was taken in approving a book of such high significance. Until his death in 1568, Panvinio was unable to get the manuscript back from Cardinal Marcantonio Colonna and was thus unable to send it to another Cardinal, Otto von Waldburg, who wanted to have it published. The commission charged in 1570-1572 with finding Catholic answers to the most influential Protestant church history (Ecclesiastica historia, known as the Magdeburg Centuries) may have considered publishing De primatu Petri, but, if so, the plan was aborted.

In De primatu Petri, Panvinio aimed to counter the arguments of the Centuriators of Magdeburg by collecting and ordering testimonies, starting from the Bible, which proved that the primacy was given to St Peter by Christ, that Peter exerted it during his lifetime (Bk I) and that all the succeeding popes used it as well (Bk II). Panvinio took pride in answering the Centuriators’ polemical and insulting language, and their mixture of truth and lies, with a factual and orderly presentation of testimonies from authors who wrote mainly before the time of Emperor Charlemagne (d. 814) (“conviciis et maledictis a quibus ego vehementer abhorreo”; preface to Bk I).

Bk I (the only one published) contained two chapters dealing with the arguments of the Magdeburg Centuries against the primacy and a very long chapter where he picked apart the entire treatise of Ulrich Velenus from 1520 (who claimed that Peter had never come to Rome), citing all of it and trying to refute it passage by passage (see M. Flacius et al., Ecclesiastica historia, 13 vols, Basel 1559-74, Centuria I, cols 524-30, “Argumenta contra primatum Petri”; U. Velenus, In hoc libello … probatur Apostolum Petrum Romam non venisse, s.l. ca. 1520).

Beginning of the second part of the work (pars secunda).

Popes Gregory XIII and Sixtus V in 1585 granted Paolo Panvinio (Onofrio’s brother) and Marco Antonio Lanfranchi the privilege to publish the work as soon as it had been examined by the Inquisition. It was held back by the Inquisitors for another four years and was finally printed in 1589. In the dedication of the first edition to Sixtus V, Cardinal Colonna (the head of the Congregation of the Index of Prohibited Books) did not mention the Inquisition at all: he simply stated that after Panvinio’s death his literary executioners had approached him because Panvinio, on his deathbed, had uttered the wish that this work should be published. The scholar and editor Latino Latini had made editorial revisions (checking, in particular, Panvinio’s references to church fathers), while some theologians including Cardinal Guglielmo Sirleto had been consulted to confirm that the book could indeed be published.

Panvinio’s De primatu Petri was reprinted in Venice in 1591 (which is the copy in the Middle Temple Library); in Rome in 1698, in Bibliotheca maxima pontificia, edited by J. T. de Rocaberti, and in Venice again in 1762, in Thesaurus theologicus, edited by F. A. Zaccaria.

On Panvinio see the biographical entry ‘Panvinio, Onofrio’, in Dizionario biografico degli italiani, lxxxi (Rome 2014), pp. 36-39, available online at  For a detailed summary of the contents of De primatu, see also J. L. Orella y Unzué, Respuestas católicas a las Centurias de Magdeburgo (1559-1588), Madrid 1976, pp. 284-95.

Stefan Bauer

Marie Curie Fellow

Lecturer in Early Modern History (from September 2017)

University of York

July 2017

Provenance Mysteries: In Clementinarum volumen commentaria

This week’s provenance mystery features In Clementinarum volumen commentaria, by Francesco Zabarella, printed in Venice in 1579. This is a work of canon law consisting of commentaries on the Constitutions of Pope Clement V (the first to reside in Avignon when the Curia was moved there from Rome). According to the Free Library of Philadelphia website: “Clement’s Constitutions comprise his decretals (papal letters that bear on canon law) and those of several of his predecessors. This compilation, along with five others, formed the main body of ecclesiastical law for the Catholic Church until the early twentieth century. Soon after it was disseminated, the Constitutions acquired a number of commentaries.”

The work is a mystery for two reasons. The first is the scant ownership information on the title page, which consists of the initials B.G., and the second is the manner in which the book has been branded with the words ‘Card. Zabaris. Clement.’ into the bottom fore-edge.

1.     Zabarello title page

The liklihood of identifying the initials ‘B.G.’ is scant at best. While the recording of provenance information is becoming much more common in library and short-title catalogues, there is no ideal way to record initials when the full name is unknown. Searching catalogues for initials will returns thousands of hits, even when restricting date or subject ranges in one’s search. Having said that, the Virtual Authority File and CERL Thesaurus both have an entry for a ‘B.G.’, which is linked to a small prefatory contribution found in Ad Cesaream Regiamqve Maiestates Tuberinus suus cum Priuilegio Cappellanus contra falsas Luteris positiones (castigatum emendatum et revisem per auctorem ipsum), by Joannes Tuberinus, printed in Basel in 1524. Given this publication early date, compared to our work of 1579, however, it does not seem likely that the two people are the same.

The second mystery is how the author and title information was stamped onto the fore-edge. If one examines the photo closely, you will notice that the letters are indented into the paper. This can be achieved in two ways. The first is through branding, using a type of hot iron. The use of such ‘fire marks’ is often found in religious libraries, such as monasteries, seminaries, and colleges. According to this website:, this was a practice typical to Colonial New Spain, although it is highly doubtful that this book originated from outside Europe. The book is bound in limp parchment, which is also typical of such religious libraries.

The second manner is by indenting the letters into the fore edge, possibly with heavy metal type, then inking the indentations. It seems more likely that this was the method used in this book, but due to lockdown we are unable to examine the book in more detail. Whatever method was used, identifying the book on the bottom fore edge suggests that the books were laid flat, and indicating the author/title in this manner would make them easier to find.

If you recognise the initials or branding on show here, or have further comments about the annotations found within this copy, please do get in touch:

Rare Book of the Month: #ThrowBack

In this regular feature we re-post the rare book of the month articles that were originally published on the Middle Temple website. Below is the rare book which first appeared in June 2017.

Title page of Warning to the dragon and all his angels, by Lady Eleanor Douglas (1590-1652), printed in London in 1625.

The June 2017 rare book of the month is Warning to the dragon and all his angels, by Lady Eleanor Douglas (1590-1652), printed in London in 1625. Douglas is also known as Lady Eleanor Davies (née Touchet) and Eleanor Audley. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that she “was to be fluid in the use of the names which birth and marriage gave her, deploying them in pamphlet and petition according to context and the identity she was presenting”.

Lady Eleanor was the fifth daughter of the eleventh Baron Audley (1550/1-1617, admitted Middle Temple 1573/4). She could read Latin and English, and most likely had a good understanding of the law as she administered her father’s estate after his death. She married Sir John Davies (admitted Middle Temple 1588, called to the Bar 1595, died 1626) in 1609. Despite the fact that Davies was much older than her, they had three children together. The family moved to London in 1619 after Sir John was relieved of his position as attorney-general for Ireland; by 1623 Lady Eleanor was living in Berkshire.

A warning to the dragon and all his angels, 1625, is the first of many pamphlets published by Douglas. Her prophetic visions were first inspired in the same year by a heavenly voice which declared “there is Ninteene yeares and a halfe to the day of Judgement and you as the meek Virgin”. Many of her prophecies were anagrams and she believed that a version of her name (Eleanor Audelie) was an anagram of ‘Reveale O Daniele’.

A warning presents “political developments in Europe as a fulfilment of the books of Daniel and Revelation”. Her pamphlets angered her husband to such an extent that he burned them all, leading Lady Eleanor to predict his death within three years’ time. Davies died in December 1626. She subsequently married Sir Archibald Douglas in 1627, but he also burned her prophecies, leading her to announce that he would be punished by God with a mental disorder. Douglas’s prophecies also angered some in the court of Charles I, but she was consulted by Queen Henrietta Maria on her first pregnancy.

In 1631, her brother, Mervin Touchet (1593-1631, admitted Middle Temple 1610/11), second Earl of Castlehaven was executed on charges of sodomy and abetting the rape of his wife; he was the “first peer to be tried for felony under Charles I”. Douglas and her family petitioned the king for mercy, but Charles I refused to investigate the Earl’s allegations of corruption on the part of his wife and son, who stood to gain an immense inheritance upon his death. Douglas published various tracts, starting in 1633, to exonerate her brother.

Lady Eleanor’s name printed backwards at the first page of text.

In 1633 she also travelled to Amsterdam with her husband, where she had more of her prophecies printed and smuggled back into England. Archbishop Laud had the tracts publicly burned after she presented him with a manuscript prophecy- a “warning of his judgment at hand”. She was subsequently arrested, fined and imprisoned. In 1635 she was arrested and committed to Bethlem Hospital (also known as Bedlam) for causing various disturbances in Lichfield Cathedral. She was transferred to the Tower of London in 1638 and was released from there in 1640.

Despite all of the calamities in her life, she published her prophecies up until the year of her death; the English Short Title Catalogue lists 74 titles in all (69 of which are unique titles, the others being reprints), but given the number of her works that were burned, it is highly likely that many more were published. Despite (or due to) her seemingly difficult personality, Douglas is notable for being “one of the first English women to see her works through the press”, although Cambridge University Press’s Orlando project notes that her works are “vehement, opinionated, and hard to read, for Douglas’s handling of words and syntax takes little account of rules or norms. Her theological and political beliefs are idiosyncratic and her imagery, steeped in that of bible prophecy, is sometimes impenetrable”.

Provenance Mysteries: Dialogo en que particularmente se tratan: las cosas acaecidas en Roma: el ano de M.D.XXVII and Dialogo de Mercurio y Caron.

This week’s provenance mystery features two works which are bound together into one volume: Dialogo en que particularmente se tratan: las cosas acaecidas en Roma: el ano de M.D.XXVII and Dialogo de Mercurio y Caron. Both were written by Alfonso de Valdes, and printed circa 1530. According to EDIT 16, the former was printed in Venice by Nicolini da Sabbio e Giovanni Antonio & fratelli; it seems likely that this would be the same printer and place for the latter title as well.

Valdes was a Spanish Humanist and promoter of the views of Erasmus of Rotterdam; he corresponded regularly with Erasmus in the 1520’s. He was, on his mother’s side, descended from a family of converted Jews. The Spanish Jews (and their descendants) who were forced to convert to Christianity at the end of the 14th century were referred to as conversos and were not allowed to practise their Jewish faith. According to an article written by Inmaculada Rodríguez-Moranta in 2012, the Dialogo de Mercurio y Caron is a work “in the tradition of the didactic genre and Menippean satire, and evidences a deep influence of the thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam.”

1.     Dialogo de Mercurio title page

The inscriptions are very difficult to read, but according to Isaac Levy (who transcribed the inscriptions described herein) seem to consist of two ownership inscriptions. In the first illustration (Dialogo de Mercurio title page), the upper inscription appears to be that of a “Shelomo …. Halevy”, but the middle letters cannot be distinguished.

The second set of inscriptions in this illustration appear to be that of a student practising their handwriting. The inscriber has used Hebrew characters to write out something in Spanish.  The surname may be Asenyes / Asenyos /  Esenyos, or a variant thereof. The name appears again as Senor…. just below the Middle Temple stamp.

The inscription at the bottom of the title page is slightly easier to read: “Este libro es de [?] … abra…” but the remaining text cannot be made out.

2. Valdes 2

In the second illustration (Valdes 2), the inscription to the left of the doodle possibly reads: “Yud Tasdi Vav” with the potential inscription of “Yishmerehu Tsuru Vegoalo” preceding that. According to Isaac Levy this acronym often accompanies the signatures of Spanish Jews and is a short prayer that they should be guarded by the Almighty. These inscriptions are found on the leaf preceding the title page of Dialogo en que particularmente se tratan… and are written upside down on that leaf.

3. Valdes 3

Thanks to the assistance of an anonymous source, the third illustration (Valdes 3) looks likely to be the handwriting of a Jewish annotator who used the book and the paper to practice writing Hebrew letters, including the beginning of the Hebrew alphabet. It would seem that the scribbler was called David but otherwise the writing was written in the script known as Rashi script, the cursive Hebrew script of Spanish Jewry, and which had nothing to do with Rashi. Although the letters are in Hebrew, the actual language may be either Spanish (Ladino) or perhaps Italian. There is no spacing between the words.

The presence of Hebrew writing in a book by a conversos is probably not surprising. It is possible that the unknown inscriber was learning how to write Hebrew, and/or was also of Jewish descent, and interested in retaining and practising their heritage. 

If you recognise the handwriting on show here, or have further comments about the annotations found within this copy, please do get in touch:

Provenance Mysteries: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium

This week’s provenance mystery features De revolutionibus orbium coelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus, printed in Basel in 1566.

As this blog post is about the potential provenance of this item, rather than its content, we will not go into great detail about this seminal work, apart to point out that this is the second ‘edition’ of the book; the first was published in 1543. The blog post author will hold her hand up and admit, as Arthur Koestler suggested in 1959, that I have never read the book. However, as Owen Gingerich’s work showed, many Renaissance readers did read this book and, in many instances, left behind evidence of their reading (see: r

The copy held at Middle Temple Library is an example of a copy which was read, and more importantly, annotated. In the images here we can see two pages (at least) have been annotated in the margins by a Renaissance reader. This reader has also underlined relevant passages and ordered the points by numbering them in the margins. The annotator has also outlined Copernicus’s queries and solutions.

1.    Marginalia on folio a1r
1.    Marginalia on folio a1v

This is a provenance mystery because this is not Robert Ashley’s hand: it is far too elegant and neat. The book was in Ashley’s collection, however, and formed part of his 1641 bequest. During the lockdown, we are reliant on photographs that were taken at an earlier date, hence there are only two from the book currently available. According to the catalogue record, however, there are two different hands represented in the book. These photographs only show one of those hands.

According to Sachiko Kusukawa, “extant copies with identical annotations have revealed the existence and teaching activities of itinerant mathematical tutors such as Jofrancus Offusius and Paulus Wittich.”. There is no evidence present in these two photographs to show if that is the case here, unfortunately. Whoever the annotator of this copy was, they were in good company, as we know that Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler did read the book.

The English mathematician and astronomer Thomas Digges was also familiar with Copernicus’s work. According to Pietro Daniel Omodeo, Digges’s A perfit description of the caelestial orbes, which was included in his father Leonard’s book, Prognostication of 1576 was “mainly a paraphrase of the cosmological chapters of De revolutionibus.

If you recognise the handwriting on show here, or have further comments about the annotations found within this copy, please do get in touch:

Rare Book of the Month: #ThrowBack

In this new regular feature we re-post the rare book of the month features that were originally published on the Middle Temple website. Below is the rare book which was originally featured in May 2017.

The May 2017 rare book of the month is Discorso dell’essenza del fato, e delle forze sue sopra le cose del mondo, e particolarmente sopra l’operazioni de gl’huomini, by Baccio Baldini, printed in Florence in 1578.

Book open to show the inscription by Ubaldini and the signature of Bowyer

This slim folio book on fate and fatalism is interesting due to its provenance. On the blank leaf facing the title page we find an annotation: “Alla Prudentiss:a Virtuosiss:a et Feliciss:a Elisabetha Regina d’Inghilt.a Petruccio Ubaldino, in segno di vero desiderio della lunga felicita di sua Mta. 1586”. In other words, presented to Queen Elizabeth I in 1586 by Petruccio Ubaldino (Ubaldini).

Although Petruccio Ubaldini (flourished 1545-1599) was a citizen of Florence who was in Henry VIII’s army by 1545, on the Scottish borders. By 1550 he had translated into Italian Boece’s Scotorum historiæ. By 1562 Ubaldini was based in London performing various duties: teaching Italian, transcribing official letters and copying and illuminating texts. He had various financial difficulties, but by 1575 had managed to obtain “an annual state pension from the queen”. Throughout this time period, he presented the queen with various manuscripts, written and illuminated himself. By 1579 his finances and career had improved, and in 1581 he started receiving monies from the London printers John Wolfe and Richard Field for his collaborative work with them, including the printing of several of Machiavelli’s works. It should be noted that Wolfe also printed two of Robert Ashley’s translations, L’Uranie ou muse celeste and A comparison of the English and Spanish nation, both 1589. The Library holds four works written by Ubaldini and one translated by him.  

Another interesting piece of provenance is the ‘William Bowyer’ written on the title page. This is not, of course, the William Bowyer admitted to Middle Temple in 1553, as he died in 1569/70. It could refer to his eldest son, to whom Bowyer donated all of his “bokes escriptes writinges and monuments … as be of my own hande writing” (Dictionary of National Biography). While we do not have a death date for that William Bowyer, we know that he “died young”. Bowyer the elder’s younger son, Robert Bowyer, was keeper of the records in the Tower of London, and inherited his father’s historical and heraldic manuscripts. Presumably his brother pre-deceased him, and thus it is possible the books passed to Robert, or were sold off; Robert died in 1621.

But how did the book come to reside in Middle Temple Library if it was at one point in the possession of Queen Elizabeth I? We unfortunately simply do not know but, as with most of the rare book collection, it most likely was part of the 1641 Robert Ashley bequest. Although it could have been donated at one point by the Bowyer family to the Inn, we do not have any evidence of this. The book is listed in the first printed catalogue of 1700.

The full text version of the book can be viewed at:

Renae Satterley


May 2017

Provenance Mysteries: Medicinæ practicæ priores libri tres

This week’s provenance mystery blog post was written by David Pearson. Prior to retirement in 2017 David was Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries at the City of London Coporation; Director of the University of London Research Library Services; and Librarian at the Wellcome Trust amongst other roles. He has recently published a new edition to his Provenance Research in Book History, published by the Bodleian Library. This mystery is found in Laurent Joubert’s Medicinæ practicæ priores libri tres, printed in Lyon in 1577.

Anyone who has been to one of my full week or shorter courses and workshops on provenance will know that I often include a session on Frustrations. There are so many ways in which provenance evidence can be manifested in books, with skills to hone for recognising them, but there are just as many ways in which we end up looking at a jigsaw with missing pieces. Any training on provenance research should always cover the problems, and help us accept that there are many puzzles which are just insoluble.

When Renae asked me to do a guest posting for this blog, selecting an image from a few she would send, I guessed what might be coming – we like to think we know a trap when we see one. I wasn’t disappointed: illegible names, cropped marginalia, old unidentifiable pressmarks, anonymous manicules and underlining. Provenance frustrations take many forms.


This image struck me as a nice example of one of the simpler of those forms, which manifests itself in many ways. Initials, which look as though they stand for someone’s name, may turn up inscribed in books (on titlepages, flyleaves or elsewhere), stamped internally or onto covers, on bookplates, sometimes on leaf edges. Or, are they not a name? – might they be a bookseller’s code, or stand for something else?  The evidence may be ambiguous. In my experience, if you don’t have a spelled-out name somewhere else in the book, or some other clue that suggests an identification, initials are usually a dead end.

Title Page

So, who is J D?  The letters look to have been written on this titlepage within fifty years or so of the late 16th-century imprint date. If they were lower down, and smaller – particularly if they were around the imprint rather than the device – we would suspect they were a bookseller’s code, but here they do look like the initials of a name. John Donne?  Middle Temple Library, lots of Donne’s books there – wouldn’t that be nice?  Which would be a provenance pitfall, rather than a frustration, which can often be hard to resist; the eyes of hope can easily be tempted to turn possible into probable, or just think it’s worth mentioning the possibility, when really the case is too thin for that. Provenance research needs to be forensically evidence-based, avoiding the speculative and fanciful. It doesn’t look to me like the J or the D which Donne typically wrote in the many examples of his inscription which do survive. The book has early marginalia and manicules – quite possibly the work of J D, though we can’t be sure of that – and its binding has no clues to help; the two parts of the book have been bound in the wrong order, with the second bound before the first.

The straight answer is, I don’t know who J D is, I doubt that we will ever know, and we just have to live with that. Except that somewhere, there may be another book or books in which the same J D wrote his initials with more besides, or spelt out his name, and someone may know where that is. If so, please step forward and tell us – otherwise, just one more of those frustrations.