Provenance Mysteries: injury by beard

As of this month we are introducing a new regular blog post: Provenance Mysteries! In these posts we will look at items in the rare book collection which have (as yet) unidentified ownership marks such as mottos, doodles, illegible signatures, etc. If you think you recognise the ownership of one of these books please do let us know at:

The first Provenance Mystery is: Opera, ad multorum codicum Latinorum, eorundem[que] uetustissimorum fidem recognita & castigata, by Flavius Josephus, printed in Cologne in 1524. Although there is a note in Robert Ashley’s hand at signature D6v regarding Joseph Scaliger, the doodles and marginalia as shown in these photos are in someone else’s hand, as yet unidentified. The book’s title page and preliminary leaves up to signature A3 are missing, so any signatures that would normally be found on the title page are now missing.

Injury by beard: Joab stabbing Amasa after grabbing him by the beard

The book has an extensive amount of marginalia and some very amusing doodles, such as the two shown here. The first (see above) depicts an incident from the Bible, when Joab took Amasa by the beard, seemingly to greet him, but then proceeded to plunge a knife in his belly (with thanks to Jennifer Nelson, reference librarian at the Robbins Collection, University of California Berkeley School of Law for identifying this). The second doodle (see below) depicts the funeral of Herod the Great. Both doodles are in reference to the text.

Herod the Great’s funeral procession

It is possible that the hand is that of Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577) the Tudor diplomat and humanist. Queen’s College Cambridge put together an online exhibition of the books in the Old Library’s collection which showed evidence of Smith marginalia.

A depiction of Salomon (?)

Comparison to those images shows some similarities, but not enough to draw any firm conclusions. But the ownership of the collected works of Flavius Josephus would have fit in with the rest of Smith’s collection of books, which consisted of a mix of theology, mathematics, grammar and poetry among other subjects. Smith was considered “one of the foremost classical scholars of the day”. However, a cursory glance through his library list does not find the Josephus amongst the listed books.

As such, it remains a provenance mystery for the time being!

Renae Satterley, Librarian, March 2020

Rare Book of the Month: December 2019

The final rare book of the month for 2019 is Minutes of evidence taken on the second reading of the bill intituled An act to deprive Her Majesty Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the title, prerogatives, rights, privileges, and exemptions of queen consort of this realm, and to dissolve the marriage between His Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth.

Spine title showing the title of the work and presumed date of publication

This is a two volume work bound into one volume, presumably published in London in 1820/1821. ‘Presumably’ because the volume is locked, and the key has never been found in the library’s substantial collection of keys (as shown here)!

Box of keys

These minutes of evidence concern the ‘Queen Caroline Affair’, i.e. Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick. They contain accounts from Italian and British witnesses taken in the House of Lords between August and October 1820 regarding Caroline, who was accused of having an affair with Bartolomeo Bergami (or Pergami) amongst others. Caroline married her cousin George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1795 but they separated soon afterwards and she set off travelling, mostly around the Mediterranean. During her travels rumours of infidelity circulated wildly, and Bergami (a supposed Baron) was singled out as one of her supposed lovers. She returned to England in 1820 when George III died and his son was set to succeed him to the throne.

George IV was not happy with her return, and forced the Cabinet to prepare a bill “of pains and penalties” which would relieve Caroline of her titles and end their marriage. There was a public uproar in Caroline’s favour, as the king was viewed as dissolute and involved in numerous extramarital affairs. She also had strong media support from the Times and other newspapers, from some of the most well-known caricaturists of the 19th century (including George Cruikshank) and from MPs in the House of Commons. The queen was represented by Henry Brougham and Thomas Denman (both members of Lincoln’s Inn) during the proceedings on the bill of pains and penalties in the House of Lords. Many people believed that the unreliable witnesses testifying against the queen had been intimidated and bribed to lie. The bill had three readings in the House of Lords before the Prime Minister (Lord Liverpool) announced that it was to be abandoned, having recognised that it would never pass through the House of Commons. Despite not being acquitted of the charges against her, given the overwhelming public vote in her favour and disapproval with the king, no further action was taken. However her popularity did not last long and she was denied entry to the king’s coronation in 1821. She died approximately a month after.

There are no clues with the book to indicate why it was locked, but presumably it had something to do with the “lurid evidence” that was presented during the proceedings, in particular those details regarding Caroline’s behaviour while living abroad. This set may well be inter-leaved with additional evidence. The full trial account (The trial at large of Her Majesty Caroline) can be read online.

Rare Book of the Month: November 2019

The November 2019 rare book of the month is The additional case of Elisabeth, claiming the title and dignity of Countess of Sutherland, by her guardians. Wherein the facts and arguments in support of her claim are more fully stated, and the errors in the additional cases exhibited for the other claimants are detected To be heard at the bar of the House of Lords, upon the day of [blank] 177[blank]. The book’s title page omits the publication information, but it was published in London 1770. The book was written by David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes. The final leaf contains a folio pedigree, a portion of which is illustrated here.

Pedigree chart

Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland (nee Lady Elizabeth Sutherland) was born in 1765 to Mary, wife of William, 18th earl of Sutherland, but her parents died when she was only a year old. With their deaths she became the sole heiress to her father’s title and estates, her elder sister having died in 1765/6. She became the ward of a consortium of men including the Duke of Atholl, Earl of Elgin and Sir David Dalrymple amongst others. Sir David’s book was published in order to counter a claim by Sir Robert Gordon, the male heir of the twelfth Earl of Sutherland (d. 1594) to the Earldom of Sutherland in 1770. Elisabeth’s claim to the title and estate was confirmed by the House of Lords in 1771. According to the Gentleman’s Magazine, in its obituary notice for the Duchess in 1839, this was the “most ancient title existing in Britain”.

Elizabeth married George Leveson-Gower, Viscount Trentham and accompanied him to Paris when he was ambassador to France in 1790-92, at the start of the French Revolution.

Throughout her life the Duchess remained a patron of the arts and an artist herself, publishing a book about Orkney in 1807, illustrated with her etchings: Views in Orkney and on the north-eastern coast of Scotland: taken MDCCCV and etched MDCCCVII.

Our copy of The additional case of Elisabeth contains two signatures on the title page. The first, that of John Heller, has been scratched out, replaced by James William Mylne, of Lincoln’s Inn: ‘Ja. Wm. Mylne Lincoln’s Inn’. Mylne was the co-author of Reports of cases argued and determined in the High Court of Chancery during the time of Lord Chancellor Brougham and Sir John Leach, Master of the Rolls … [1832-1835].

Title page

According to a letter written by Dalrymple and reprinted in Notes & Queries, third series, volume 9, p. 152, the book became scarce as many copies of it were sent to the House of Lords from Scotland, and were meant to be brought to London by sea, but this original contingent was lost “on the passage”: It is not clear if the book was in fact printed in London, or in Scotland, but the English Short-Title Catalogue gives London as the original place of publication.

Renae Satterley


November 2019

Rare Book of the Month: October 2019

The October 2019 rare book of the month is John Jortin’s Life of Erasmus, printed in London in two volumes in 1758-1760.

With the invaluable assistance of staff at Chawton House and local historian Jane Hurst, we have been able to provide some clues about the ownership of this volume, which has a decorative bookplate (or book label) of Ann Prowting.

Ann Prowting’s bookplate

I at first was tempted to believe that this could be Ann-Mary Prowting, a known friend of Jane Austen. After enquiring for help at Chawton House, the home of Jane Austen, Ms. Hurst pointed out that Ann-Mary was known as such, and thus this bookplate most likely belonged to the Ann Prowting (1737-1774) who married John Jortin’s son, Rogers Jortin, or possibly her mother, also called Ann. The latter died in 1780. Rogers Jortin was a member of Lincoln’s Inn, and thus the connection to Ann Prowting (junior) is more likely than to her mother. Ann Jortin was buried, and had a memorial tablet, in St. Dunstan’s in the East, alongside her mother and father, William Prowting. William established “St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics” according to his memorial stone. This hospital was established in 1750 in Moorfields and was closed in 1916. The records of the hospital and the charity have been digitised by the Wellcome Library:  

John Jortin (1698-1770) was a literary critic and ecclesiastical historian and the son of a French Huguenot refugee. He became rector of St. Dunstan’s in the East in 1751 and archdeacon of London in 1764. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Jortin was influenced by Jean Le Clerc’s studies on Erasmus when publishing this work. Alexander Chalmers, in his General Biographical Dictionary, refers to the plan of the book as “highly objectionable” as it consists of a “vast mass of facts” and opinions simply listed in chronological order.

Portrait frontispiece and title page

Without further evidence of her book collection, it is difficult to know if Life of Erasmus was typical of her library. As she went to the trouble of placing her own bookplate into the work, it is safe to assume that she placed a high value on her books. The mid-eighteen century saw a rise in print runs and reduced production costs in the publishing trade. This combination meant that more people than ever could afford to buy books. The increased ownership of books led to larger “private libraries [that] stimulated informal education in the household, [and] regulated domestic stability.” (Mark Towsey, 2013)

The ownership of books by women was discussed in the July 2019 rare book of the month post, which discussed one of our incunabula. By the 18th century, book ownership amongst women was much more common and the details of their ownership, through bookplates, signatures and bindings more prevalent, yet still remains more difficult to trace and analyse than male book ownership. It is interesting that this bookplate shows Ann’s maiden name. Did she purchase the book before meeting Rogers Jortin? Was it a gift, potentially to woo her? Did she continue to use her maiden name to identify her books? How big was her collection?

In 1895 Norna Labouchere wrote a fascinating account of women’s bookplates, entitled Ladies’ Book-plates: an illustrated handbook for collectors and book-lovers. This was presumably published in response to the 19th century passion for collecting bookplates, and is a good resource for the study of women’s book owning history. It can be read online at the Internet Archive.

Renae Satterley


October 2019

September rare book: Guest Blog: On “A collection of entrees, of declarations, barres, replications, reioinders, issues, verdits, iudgements, executions, proces, continuances, essoines, and diuers other matters . . .”

In August our rare book of the month was William Rastell’s A collection of entrees, of declarations, barres, replications, reioinders, issues, verdits, iudgements, executions, proces, continuances, essoines, and diuers other matters. Here Kate Mitas, an antiquarian bookseller based in San Francisco, California, guest blogs about the work for our September rare book.


Title page A collection
Title page to A Collection of Entrees; close-up of the printer’s name

William Rastell’s A collection of entrees, of declarations, barres, replications, reioinders, issues, verdits, iudgements, executions, proces, continuances, essoines, and diuers other matters . . . , printed in 1596 by the newly-widowed Jane Yetsweirt. It is a monumental book in its own right — a groundbreaking work on pleading when it was first published in 1564, this edition is now the standard one used by such scholars of legal history as Sir John Baker — but it is the book’s little-known printer I would like to focus on here. Jane Yetsweirt only operated her printing business from 1595 – 1597 and printed just 13 titles in that time. Still, she has the distinction of being the only woman to hold the letters patent to print common-law books in the Elizabethan era. The patent was a valuable printing privilege that, had she received it 30 years earlier, would have made her fortune. Instead, her brief, fraught career was plagued by contention with the Stationers Company, and in 1597 she simply disappears from the printing records. Was she hounded out of the trade by the Stationers, as some have suggested? Did she die in 1597, as others (including the British Book Trade Index) imply? The answers to these questions are more complicated than they might seem at first glance, and are intricately interwoven with the history of printing patents in the 16th century, the rise of the Stationers Company, and the choices available to an Elizabethan woman printer.

The patent to print common law books was a relatively recent creation in Jane Yetsweirt’s time, particularly its development into a right of monopoly for its holder. Prior to 1553, several law printers competed in the field, including, from the late 15th century on, Richard Pynson; John and William Rastell; Robert Redman and his widow, Elizabeth Pickering, the first woman law printer to print under her maiden name; Thomas Berthelet, who became the king’s printer; William Powell; and Richard Tottell. By mid-century, only Thomas Berthelet, William Powell and Richard Tottell were still in the running. In 1553, however, several key things happened: Berthelet was dismissed as king’s printer, Powell ceased printing law, possibly due to a law suit he was involved in at the time, and Tottell, who now had a de facto monopoly, was granted a seven-year patent to print all common law books, except those which had a specific privilege and with the provision that the books had to be first licensed by a judge or the equivalent thereof. In 1555 a more extensive patent dropped the licensing requirement and granted Tottell sole printing rights over common-law books, making him a monopolist in name as well as in practice, and in 1559 the patent was renewed for life.

Not surprisingly, Tottell’s monopoly made him a rich man. What it didn’t make him, however, was a family man, and on November 18, 1577 — 15 years before Tottell’s death — the reversion expectant on his monopoly when he died was granted for 30 years by letters patent to Nicasius Yetsweirt, a clerk of the signet, secretary for the French tongue to Queen Elizabeth, and Jane’s soon-to-be father-in-law. Jane Elkin and Nicasius Yetsweirt’s son, Charles, would be married on May 13, 1578 at All Hallows, London Wall.

1577 was a significant year for other reasons. That year, a petition entitled “The Griefes of the Printers, glass sellers and Cutlers sustained by reason of privileges granted to private persons” complained that the system of monopolies was beggaring those poor printers who weren’t fortunate enough to have obtained privileges themselves. Moreover, “Richard Tothill” was specifically charged with “the printinge of all kindes of lawe bookes, which was common to all Printers / who [Tottell] selleth the same bookes at excessive prices, to the hinderance of a greate nomber of pore studentes . . .” From that year on, Tottell’s patent was challenged by a number of other printers, including the Queen’s printer, Christopher Barker.

In 1593, Richard Tottell died, having outlived Nicasius Yetsweirt and leaving the reversion of the patent in question. Charles claimed that it had passed to him as his father’s representative, and in this he was eventually successful: in March 1594 he received a new grant of letters patent, giving him the monopoly on common-law books along with two works on statues that had been in dispute, for a period of 30 years. A few days later he notified the Stationers Company, promised to send them a copy of the patent, and set about printing the nine works that would bear his imprint that year.

All was not well, however. The Stationers were unhappy that Charles had been granted the patent and, in 1595, tried unsuccessfully to purchase it from him. As a result, some stationers began printing books which infringed on the patent, forcing Yetsweirt to sue in Chancery to protect his rights. This infringing on patents was no small matter: the presence of pirated editions on the market drove down the value of the patent holder’s books and jeopardized the value of the patent itself. But it was also the only way printers without privileges could challenge the practice — and, let’s be honest, make some much-needed cash. Roger Ward, an early practitioner of this entrepreneurial method of protest, who admitted to printing more than 10,000 pirated ABCs, defended himself by arguing that “a verye small number in respecte of the reste of the Companye of Stacioners Prynters havinge gotten all the best bookes and Coppyes to be printed by themselfes by Priuyledge, wherby they make bookes more De[a]rer than otherwise the[y] would be, and havinge lefte verye littell or nothinge at all for the resydue of the Companye of the Prynters to lyve upon . . . “[1] Livelihoods were at stake on both sides of the issue.

Before entering the printing trade, Charles, like his father, had been the Queen’s secretary for the French tongue and had been in line to become one of the clerks of the signet (it is unclear from my research if he did, in fact, take the position after his father vacated it). In other words, both he and Jane had friends in high places. Consequently, on March 27, 1595, the earl of Essex wrote a pleading letter on Charles’s behalf to Lord Keeper Puckering, noting that “when many contend against one, and great ability of wealth against lesser means, your Lordship, may easily judge how, by cabals, and renewing of controversies from time to time, by prolonging of the suit, and in the meane while intruding on his priviledge, they may put the gentleman to extreme loss and trouble.”[2] The earl’s letter notwithstanding, and, in fact, at the height of the trouble, Charles Yetsweirt died, on April 25, 1595.

And so, enter Jane Yetsweirt. A new widow ten years her husband’s junior, Jane inherited not only Charles’s patent to print common-law books, but his ongoing dispute with the Stationers Company and its rogue printers. It was not an auspicious beginning.

“As the time hath not been long, neither the days many, since it pleased God to cast upon me the burthen of this tedious contention touching the validity of Mr. Yetsweirt’s patent of printing laws,” Jane herself wrote to Lord Keeper Puckering sometime in 1595, presumably not long after Charles’s death, “ . . . so have I not slacked to give it that diligence in following, and care to bring it to an unquestioned end, that might stand with the duty of other offices, which this time of my heavy desolation has cast upon me and becomed my sex and calling. . . .  If in this cause I should not stand in the right, I must say great wise men in the laws of this land have deceived me, and I should be heartily sorry.”[3]

The situation was not so easily resolved. On May 7, the earl of Essex again wrote to the Lord Keeper, this time on Jane’s behalf. The same day, Jane decided to try a higher power, Lord Treasurer Cecil:

“It may please your Lordship to remember what troubles I am left in by the death of     Mr. Yetsweirt with the Stationers about the patent of printing the laws which is mine only stay of maintenance. The thing hath been very chargeable onto us especially by hindrances received through their contentions. I am not apt of so little as eight of nine hundred pounds and a further loss of four or five hundred pounds will fall upon me if their disordered costs of contentions and intrusions hold on. Before the death of Mr. Yetsweirt this matter received hearing by the Lord Keeper [Puckering] and Master of the Rolls [Egerton]. Who did at that time order that the Stationers should forebear finishing the impression there now in hand with which order they have since infringed . . .  My good Lord accept my humble tears in good part and bestow some part of your favor upon me — not because I deserve them but because I need them. Let my contenders know that I have a protector . . . “

Jane was obviously in a very tenuous position financially with regard to the patent, and it is important to note that, despite all of this, she still managed to bring out two books that year, after which the suit appears to have been resolved. In 1596 she issued three new books, including our Rastell, and in 1597 another six or seven (the last bears no date, and could have been published in 1598).

Interestingly, though, Jane was not quite so hard up or so in need of male protection as one might gather from the tone of the above letter. Widows in Elizabethan England had the same legal status as men, and, as the owner of an estate (Sudbury) and widow of some means, she was certainly not facing destitution. Still, widows occupied territory that inherently challenged the social norms of what was expected of women at the time. Some used this position and its freedoms to their advantage; others followed expectations and remarried after a period of mourning.

So, to circle back around to the questions at the beginning: what happened to Jane? Well, it turns out that, despite prevailing against the Stationers, at least for a time, she fell squarely into the second camp of widows. On June 16, 1597, after a two year period of mourning, she married Sir Philip Botoler of Watton Woodhall, Hertfordshire, and retired to the country. The next year, Jane and Philip Botoler formally surrendered their letters patent to print common law books in Chancery, possibly by arrangement with Thomas Wight and Bonham Norton, who were granted the patent the next day, on March 10, 1598, for a period of 30 years.

As for the patent itself, and the contention within the Stationers? Thomas Wight and Bonham Norton didn’t hold it for long. Within a year, Norton surrendered his portion of the partnership in order to became a publisher in his own right. Six years after that, in 1605, Wight sold his privilege to the Stationers Company for a whopping £1,000, and the Stationers, satisfied at last, made it part of their English Stock. As such, its proceeds were divvied up among all of the Company’s shareholders, each according to his, and, by 1660, when women were admitted to the Company, her portion.

Kate Mitas

[1] James Raven, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007). 70.

[2] Susan M. Allen, “Jane Yetsweirt (1541 – ?): Claiming Her Place”. Printing History, Volume IX, Number 2, 1987. (New York: American Printing History Association, 1987). 7.

[3]  Ibid., 8.

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 February 2017.

Second work
First page of the second work, included at the end, possibly Leksys by Lavrentiĭ Zyzaniĭ

The February rare book of the month is a truly unique work- the Bukvar’ iazyka slavenska, printed at the Vilnius Orthodox Holy Spirit Monastery in Ev’e (or Vievis), Belarus in 1618. There is only one other copy so far recorded, at the Royal Library in Denmark, and that is reportedly incomplete.

The work is a primer of the Old Church Slavic language, produced by the ‘Printing House of the Orthodox Fraternity’, one of the oldest monastic printing houses in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They were known for printing books on the Old Church Slavic, Old Belarusian and Polish languages. The ‘Bukvar’ contains an alphabet and prayers and was intended for religious learning as well as basic instruction in the language. The title as given above has been transliterated from the Old Church Slavic alphabet. The work is cited in the bibliography Cyrillic Books printed before 1701 in British and Irish Collections: A Union Catalogue, p. 70.

Title page
Title page of the book showing the inscription

The copy at Middle Temple Library has a contemporary inscription on the title page which seems to read: ‘Liber de linguâ sclavoniâ sclavoniâ’ (the ‘sclavoniâ’ is repeated, possibly due to the obstruction caused by the printed words). This copy is unusual in that it contains six (possibly originally eight) pages of another work at the end of the volume. This second work is dated to 1596 and is possibly the Leksys by Lavrentiĭ Zyzaniĭ (ca. 1570-ca. 1635). Part of the reason that the Bukvar is so scarce is due to the fact that educational works such as primers were ephemeral in nature- heavily read and used, and often discarded due to wear and tear.

As with many of the unusual or unique books in the rare book collection at Middle Temple, this volume most likely came from the Robert Ashley bequest of 1641. Although there is no marginalia in his hand in the work, Ashley was known to have an interest in languages. He collected a large number of general works on languages, as well as other foreign language primers. Some examples include Thomas Erpenius’s 1620 Rudimenta Linguae Arabicae; Hieronymus Megiser’s 1612 Institutionem Linguae Turcicae; and 3 works so far identified on the Hebrew language. Ashley also translated works from French, Italian, Latin and Spanish into English, as well as translating a work from French to Latin. He often annotates books in his collection, using the language of the book to make his own notes. We know that he could read (and presumably write and speak) French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, some Hebrew and Greek, as well as possibly Dutch. Ashley was also a bibliophile, and it is possible that he collected this work solely for that reason.

As the work is so scarce, we have made a digital copy available through the creative commons license, which means that it can be downloaded and used for non-commercial purposes.

Renae Satterley


February 2017


Rare Book of the Month: August 2019

The August 2019 rare book of the month is William Rastell’s A collection of entrees, of declarations, barres, replications, reioinders, issues, verdits, iudgements, executions, proces, continuances, essoines, and diuers other matters, printed in London in 1596 by Jane Yetsweirt.

Title page A collection
Title page to A Collection of Entrees

Recent research on female printers in the 16th to 18th centuries has brought a hidden aspect of women’s work to light: according to Maureen Bell, over “300 women [have been] identified as connected with the [book] trade between 1557 and 1700.” Women often co-managed the printing businesses with their husbands, and continued managing the business on their own after their husband’s death. Their names can be difficult to track down however, due to the use of ‘widow’ and initials rather than full names on title pages.

Printer's name
Close-up of the printer’s name

Elisabeth Pickering, widow of Robert Redman, was probably the earliest female printer of law books in England, and the earliest to print using her maiden name. After Redman’s death, Elisabeth married William Cholmeley, at which point she sold the printing business to William Middleton. After William Cholmeley’s death, she married Ranulph Cholmeley, who later became Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. In 1541, Elisabeth printed The great Charter called in Latyn Magna Carta. As Ranulph was not a freeman of London, once they were married Elisabeth was no longer able to be a member of the Stationers’ Company in her own right. In 1551 the Company wanted to become incorporated and employed Cholmeley to act as their lawyer. Incorporation would allow the Company to extend the jurisdiction of their book trade beyond London. It is believed that Elisabeth assisted Ranulph with his work on the Stationers’ incorporation. Elisabeth died in 1562 and was buried in St. Dunstan-in-the-West.

Abridgment title page
Title page to Abridgment des touts les cases, 1597

One of the earliest female printers managing a late 16th/early 17th century printing press in London was Jane Yetsweirt, who inherited the press from her husband Charles in 1595. Charles had a patent for the printing of law texts which was passed onto Jane. These patents were lucrative exclusivity agreements with the Stationers’ Company; printing law texts was one of the more lucrative of the contracts. Jane consistently had to fight with the Company to retain her rights, however, with the Earl of Essex writing to various dignitaries on her behalf. She continued to print until her death in 1597, but the patent for printing common law books to Thomas Wight and Bonham Norton in that same year.

Elizabeth Flesher was another 17th century printer who inherited the business from her husband James Flesher. She printed a number of legal works, including John Fortescue’s De laudibus legum Angliae in 1672. The English Short Title Catalogue lists over 30 law books printed by ‘E.’ or ‘Eliz.’ Flesher. She also printed theological works and books by Robert Boyle.

Renae Satterley


September 2019

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 January 2017.

Frontispiece vol. 1.jpg
Frontispiece of volume one.

In honour of the knighthood awarded to Master Mark Rylance’s in the 2017 New Year Honours, the January 2017 rare book of the month is Gilbert Burnet’s 1715 The History of the Reformation of the Church of England … the fourth edition. Sir Mark, who was admitted as an honorary Bencher to Middle Temple in 2003, played Thomas Cromwell (who was an important figure in the Reformation) in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, broadcast in 2015.

Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) was born in Edinburgh on 18 September 1643 and died in London in 1715; he is buried in St. James Churchyard in Clerkenwell and his memorial remains intact in the church. Burnet’s career was somewhat turbulent and he fell in-and-out of favour with the crown at various points during his lifetime. Despite this, in 1675 he was appointed as chaplain to the Rolls Chapel as well Thursday lecturer at St. Clement Danes. This allowed him to spend “the next ten years … preaching and writing”, living in relative comfort at Lincoln’s Inn Fields; his neighbour was Sir Thomas Littleton. He left England in 1685 upon the succession of James II. Upon arriving in the Netherlands in 1686, he was invited by William, Prince of Orange and Princess Mary to come live in The Hague and subsequently became William’s chaplain. He was thus part of the 1688 expedition from The Netherlands to England to overthrow James II. In 1689 he was appointed Bishop of Salisbury.

He began work on The History of the Reformation in 1677. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, it was “the first attempt to write an account of the English Reformation from authentic sources”. As such, each volume in this fourth edition has an additional section entitled ‘A collection of records, letters, and original papers’. Brunet’s access to these authentic sources was somewhat patchy and as he did not “commit the time and attention to detail” required to complete a work of this scale, it was unfortunately full of errors. The first volume was nonetheless a huge success and Burnet was awarded the degree of doctor of divinity by the University of Oxford.

The History of the Reformation was originally published in one volume in 1679 with the second volume being published in 1681; the third did not appear until 1714. Various editions and abridgments of the work were published from 1679 to 1753. The fourth edition was printed by J. Walthoe, B. Tooke, J. Nicholson, D. Midwinter and B. Cowse and appeared in three volumes as a folio set. In the fourth edition, volume three was often issued separately, as it was the first edition of the supplement, printed by J. Churchill. The work has a number of full-sized engraved portrait plates, as well as engraved frontispieces to volumes one and two. The title page to each volume is printed in red and black. Its folio size, along with its numerous plates and illustrations would have made this is a reasonably expensive purchase in 1715. The copy held at Middle Temple Library was presumably purchased or acquired through donation by the Library around the time of publication and it retains its original 18th century calf binding with blind-tooled decoration.

Thomas Cromwell

Burnet was a prolific writer and the Library has three other contemporary works by him: The memoires of the lives and actions of James and William Dukes of Hamilton and Castleherald (1677); The life and death of Sir Matthew Hale (1684); Bishop Burnet’s History of his own time (1724-34). On display here are the frontispieces to volumes one and two, and the portrait of Thomas Cromwell (1485?-1540). All three volumes are in need of restoration. If you are interested in sponsoring the work (the whole set or only one volume) please email me at:

Renae Satterley, Librarian

January 2017

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 December 2016.

The final rare book of the month for 2016 is the 1580 Le liver des assises & plees del corone, printed by Richard Tottell and edited by John Rastell. It was originally published by Rastell himself in 1514 with the title Tabula libri assisaru[m] [et] pl[ac]itorum corone, hence the common name, or uniform title, of ‘Liber Assisarum’ for all subsequent editions. An earlier abridgment appeared circa 1502, printed by Richard Pynson and entitled Tabnla [i.e. Tabula] li. ass[is]a[rum]. This earlier work was, according to the English Short Title Catalogue, “An alphabetical abridgement of selected cases ranging in time from Edward I through Edward IV, in part derived from the manuscript of [the 1514 Tabula libri assisarum] and from [Nicholas Statham’s Abridgment des libres annales, 1490], and sometimes attributed to William Callow.”

John Rastell (born circa 1475, died 1536) was a printer and lawyer. As the admissions records held in the Archive only start in 1501, his admission record does not exist. However, he is referred to in the Minutes of Parliament as an ‘outer barrister’ in 1502, along with Christopher Saint German, the author of Dialogus de fundamentis legum Anglie et de conscientia in 1528. This work is later translated as The dialogues … between a doctor of divinity and a student in the laws of England, also known popularly as Doctor and student. This work of 1554/6, like the 1580 Liber Assisarum, was printed by Richard Tottell. Rastell had a successful legal career for “over twenty years” in addition to starting a printing business around 1509. As per the Dictionary of National Biography, he “concentrated on producing law books” including Fitzherbert’s Abridgement of 1514/6, which was co-printed with Wynken de Worde, one of the earliest printers in England after Caxton. Rastell died in poverty at the Tower of London in 1536, having been committed there by Thomas Cranmer for denying “clerical rights to tithe in 1535”.

The 1580 Liber is a selection of law reports covering year one to fifty of Edward III. It forms part of the series of Year Books, which were the annual reports of cases from the reign of Edward II to Henry VIII and are the law reports of medieval England. As printing was not invented until circa 1450, in Germany, and came to England in 1476, imported by William Caxton from Bruges (or Ghent), the Year Books remain a mix of manuscript and printed reports. Boston University School of Law provides a database which indexes all of the printed reports from the year books, as well as reports printed “only in alphabetical abridgments”:

Liber assisarum

The Middle Temple copy of the ‘Liber assisarum’ was owned by Robert Ashley (1565-1641), the founder of the Library, as evidenced by the extensive marginalia and Liber assisarum_annotationscross-referencing notes. In the image here, we can see how he makes reference from 22 Ass. 93 (i.e. 22 Liber assisarum 93) to 16 Eliz. D fo. 326 b. and 5 Coke fo. 107 (i.e. 16 Elizabeth I Dyer’s King’s Bench Reports, folio 326 and 5 Coke’s Reports, folio 107, although the case begins on folio 106). Turning to these volumes in the Library, we find evidence of Robert Ashley’s marginalia and annotations as well.

Renae Satterley


December 2016

Rare Book of the Month: July 2019

The July 2019 rare book of the month is Plotinus’s Opera, printed in Florence in 1492. The book’s longer title is: Prohemium Marsilii Ficini Florentini in Plotinum ad Magnanimum Laurentium Medicem patriae servatorem.

Plotinus inscription
 The inscription from Wyndsor to Bryngkeley which appears on the verso of the first leaf (incunabula rarely have title pages). It reads: ‘Fratis Ric[hard] Bryngkeley ex dono ven[er]ab[i]lis gen[er]ose Katherine Wyndyssor’, and is possibly dated [15]13.
As per the inscription shown here (above), the book was donated by Katherine Wyndsor (dates unknown) to Richard Bryngkeley (active 1489-1526) who was a Franciscan friar based in a Cambridge convent from 1489-1506. His surname is often spelled Brinkeley or Brinkley, and he is known to have owned a small number of important medieval manuscripts, including the Codex Leicester. Unfortunately little is known about either Wyndsor or Bryngkeley: neither appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or the excellent A Who’s Who of Tudor Women. We may assume that Wyndsor was a wealthy patron of Bryngkeley’s, as the acquisition of a large folio work such as this would have been expensive and would require access to specialist book dealers.

The book consists of the collected philosophical works by Plotinus. Plotinus was born in Lycopolis, which is now Upper Egypt, and he moved to Rome at the age of 40. His philosophical essays were written approximately ten years later and collected together by his pupil Porphyry “in six Enneads (i.e. groups of nine)”. Plotinus’s works influenced early Christianity’s conception of the Holy Trinity: Plotinus’s triad consisted of the One, the Mind and the Soul. This Florentine imprint is the first published Latin translation of Plotinus’s works: his native language was Greek. Marsilio Ficino was the translator, and his commentary became a “central text in Renaissance Neoplatonism”. Neoplatonism refers to the revival of Plato’s philosophy in the Renaissance and Ficino translated all of Plato’s Greek works into Latin. Plotinus is considered the originator of Neoplatonism.

Plotinus marginalia
 Some of the marginalia which appears in the text.

Tracing female book ownership in the early modern period presents a number of difficulties. Although researchers, librarians and cataloguers are generally improving their skills at recording provenance in catalogue records, there is no agreed-upon manner to indicate if the previous owner was a woman, and the idea of indicating a book owner’s gender raises many philosophical and cultural issues. Alternative online resources are addressing some of these problems. A blog entitled Early Modern Female Book Ownership features books from the 16th to 18th centuries owned by women and explores not only book ownership, but also women’s signatures and how “women presented themselves textually”. With some manipulation, CERL’s Owners of Incunabula database can be searched based on gender alone, and reveals 347 female book owners. 13 of these are ‘female’ institutions, however, such as convents.

As Katherine Wyndsor’s life details are unknown to us, we can only guess at the extent of her book ownership and reading habits. It seems likely that she would have owned other books. The interpretation of the ‘X.3’ in the inscription as a date of 13 seems reasonable in the context of the two owners involved, and thus we can at least place her as a female book owner of the early 16th century.


Renae Satterley


July 2019