“A little bundle of time”: Werner Rolevinck’s epic chronicle of the world, 1474

The Fasciculus temporum is an epic chronicle of ecclesiastical and world history, beginning with the biblical account of Creation up to events of the 15th century, such as the invention of printing. As well as being a bestseller in its day, the chronicle is an innovative example of early printing and represents one of the first examples of a writer working closely with a printer to ensure their intentions are carried out. The author in question, Werner Rolevinck (1425-1502), was born near Laer in Westphalia, Germany, the son of a prosperous farmer. He was probably educated in Cologne and in 1447 entered the Carthusian monastery of St. Barbara where he remained until his death. In his years at St Barbara’s, Rolevinck (or Rolewinck) produced more than 50 works, mainly theological and devotional in nature, but he is best known for the Fasciculus temporum, the title of which is commonly translated as “A little bundle of time”.

First printed in Cologne in 1474 and one of the first books by a living author to be published, the Fasciculus temporum became enormously popular and was reprinted in numerous editions and translations, including close to 40 editions during the author’s lifetime. It greatly influenced the major world chronicles that followed, including Hartmann Schedel’s famous Liber cronicarum (“Nuremberg chronicle”), first published by Anton Koberger in 1493.

Woodcut of the Tower of Babel from the 1476 edition, also showing manuscript waste used as endpapers on the Lambeth copy ([ZZ]1476.2)
Lambeth Palace Library holds copies of two later editions of Rolevinck’s chronicle, the first printed in Louvain by Johnann Veldener in 1476 and the other published in Cologne around 1483. The former ([ZZ]1476.2) bears the arms of John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the binding and has leaves from a medieval manuscript as endpapers. The 1483 copy ([ZZ]1500.6.01) is described in the catalogues of the libraries of both Whitgift and Archbishop Richard Bancroft, who purchased Archbishop Whitgift’s books after his death. These editions corrected the errors that slipped into the printing of the first in 1474.

The Fasciculus temporum is an innovative work in several ways, not least in making a significant contribution to the organisation and presentation of historical information on the printed page. More than any previous writer before him, Rolevinck employed the layout of the page to structure his chronicle. The arrangement is complex, presenting unique challenges to the printer by using lines, shapes, images and text to convey the flow of time horizontally across the page. Rolevinck designed his book with two parallel timelines running continuously as the pages are turned, one running from the date of the creation of the world (established as 5199 B.C.) and the other beginning with the birth of Christ. This display allows the reader to compare important historical events with the key events of Christianity; the upper page is devoted to biblical and ecclesiastical history, while the lower part of the page covers secular events, including Classical mythology. A woodcut strip running across the centre of each page is separated from the rest of the text above and below by two sets of lines. Placed inside this band are circles containing the names of popes, saints, classical writers, and legendary figures from the Old Testament.

Rolevinck's_Fasciculus_Temporum,_1474 wiki
Woodcut timeline with text above and below in the Cardiff University copy of the 1474 edition.

The text provides some of the earliest evidence of collaboration between author and printer in the design of printed books. In the colophon of first edition, printer Arnold Ther Hoernen (d.1483 or 1484) states that he is working from a manuscript provided by Rolevinck himself, “following the first exemplar which this venerable author himself wrote by hand completely.” It seems likely that the original manuscript also provided a layout for the printer to follow; Ther Hoernen had to be particularly skilled to replicate this design successfully and the numerous errors which had to be fixed in later editions demonstrate just how difficult a task this turned out to be!

Like many incunabula, the Fasciculus temporum is illustrated with a small number of woodcuts, some of which appear more than once – for example, a woodcut of an anonymous city on fire is used to represent the burning of Troy as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are, however, unique and particularly nice illustrations for Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel, Several different woodcuts are employed to illustrate the second half of the book, which is full of references to signs and omens such as earthquakes, monstrous births, and the appearance of comets and eclipses.

Woodcuts of Noah’s Ark and a rainbow on [a3v] of the 1476 edition. The text was rubricated by hand in red ink after printing following the earlier manuscript tradition ([ZZ]1476.2)
Rolevinck’s timeline takes us right up to his own lifetime with the papacy of Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and highlights the invention of printing and the emerging mass availability of books. Rolevinck first shares his thoughts on book collecting while describing the Library of Alexandria: “From this it is clear what great diligence ancient times showed in collecting books. Let those blush for shame who do not acquire a good supply of books when it can be done, of course, by small cost.” Rolevinck’s belief is that the rise of printing has finally made the noble goal of collecting books available to everyone:

“[Printing is] the art of arts, the science of sciences [which will] enrich and illuminate this world in its evil state. The unlimited virtue of books … is now spread by this discovery to every tribe, people, nation, and language everywhere …”

As one of the first true bestsellers, the Fasciculus temporum certainly played its part in bringing the ‘unlimited virtue of books’ to a wider audience than ever before.


Matthew S. Champion. The fullness of time: Temporalities of the fifteenth-century Low Countries. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

“Fasciculus temporum”. Open book: News from the Rare Books Department of Special Collections at the J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah. Accessed 28 July, 2020. https://openbook.lib.utah.edu/book-of-the-week-fasciculus-temporum/

L. C. Ward. “Authors and authority: The influence of Jean Gerson and the “Devotio moderna” on the Fasciculus temporum of Werner Rolevinck”, in: Die Kartäuser und ihre Welt. Kontakte und gegenseitige Einflüsse, I (Analecta Cartusiana, 62), 1993, pp. 171-188

Mark A. Lotito. The reformation of historical thought. Leiden: Brill, 2019.

Virginia Moscrip. “Werner Rolevinck’s Fasciculus temporum”. University of Rochester Library Bulletin, Vol. IX, No. 3, Spring 1954. Accessed 28 July, 2020. https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/3422

Unchained, but not unchanged: Encountering books and their history in Lambeth Palace Library (Part 1)

Today we are excited to present a guest post from Becky Loughead, formerly of Lambeth Palace Library and now Serials & E-Resources Librarian at the Society of Antiquaries.

One of the fascinating things about working with the historic collection of Lambeth Palace Library is not just the content of the manuscripts and printed books, but the books themselves as objects. What can examining this book tell us about its past? Who owned it, sold it, bought it, gave it as a gift? What does its binding tell us? Did it once have clasps or a chain attached to it? Does it have a shelfmark or title on the outside? What can this tell us about how it was kept or stored?

Matthew the Evangelist in the MacDurnan Gospels (MS 1370)

The chances are, if you’re an avid reader, you have some book shelves at home. You probably shelve your books in the way we’re using to seeing in libraries nowadays – rows of vertical books on a shelf with their spines facing outwards. If you have a lot of books, perhaps you also have some sort of finding aid, ordering the books by author’s surname, or by genre. We’re so accustomed to seeing books laid out in this fashion that it might seems strange – or even counterintuitive – to find out that this was not always the case. In fact, it’s a relatively recent development, and one with which our Medieval and early Renaissance ancestors wouldn’t have been familiar in the libraries and book collections of the day.

The books now in Lambeth Palace Library date back to the late 9th century or early 10th century. The oldest is the stunningly illuminated MacDurnan Gospels, believed to have been written in Armagh, Ireland, and later acquired by King Aethelstan of England (925-940) who donated it to Christ Church, Canterbury.  This was a time when manuscripts were produced by monks in monasteries; an extremely labour-intensive operation involving many hours of copying text by hand. Books, therefore, were extremely valuable, so they were kept in locked chests or cupboards (‘armaria’) to keep them safe from wandering hands.

Librije Zutphen (Netherlands), a 16th-century public library with the lectern system of chaining

Some (but not all) books were chained to reading desks in a church or to lecterns in monastic cloisters. Those chained would be generally be large, heavily-used reference books, rather than the ones we might consider ‘valuable’ in a monetary sense today – these would still be kept securely locked away elsewhere. (Think about the not-for-loan books in the reference section of a modern library: you won’t find an expensive illuminated manuscript bible on the shelves, but you’d likely find a modern printed reference edition.) Chaining was an expensive practice, and some books may also have been available to be loaned under strict conditions, such as on payment of a deposit.

By the end of the medieval period, it was not only monastic institutions which had their own libraries. Universities and theological colleges likewise needed communal book collections for their students, also chaining their books to keep them from “disappearing” from the shelves. In earlier chained libraries, the books were typically chained to long, slanted reading lecterns, like pews in a church.

However, as more books were added to libraries, keeping them stored flat on slanted lecterns became more and more impractical. Some lecterns had shelves built in above or below, where books could be stacked horizontally – but this too posed logistical problems. Imagine trying to pull out your book from the bottom of a pile of heavy tomes! In the late 16th century, a continental technology was brought over to England (an early adopter was Merton College, Oxford) which would soon become the norm for libraries across the country. This was the stall system, where books could be stored upright in vertical rows in back-to-back shelving, lifted down and read on desks beneath.

The chained library of Hereford Cathedral

The best surviving example of this can still be seen at Hereford Cathedral (the Chained Library was established in 1611). A chain was attached to the fore-edge of the book, typically on the corner of the front cover, and the end of the chain was attached to a steel rod running along the bottom of each shelf. Having the spines facing inwards meant the books could be lifted down off the shelf and opened, alleviating the need to turn them around. This meant the chain wouldn’t become tangled.

The library of Sion College (a college, guild of parochial clergy, and almshouse founded in 1630) was another such chained library in its early days. In 1996, when Sion College Library was closed, its manuscripts and pre-1850 books were transferred to Lambeth Palace Library. Many of its books still show evidence of chaining.

Chained joined
Holes in the upper boards of these Sion College Library books show where a chain had once been stapled. The binding leather was damaged on the latter when the chain was later removed. (Sion Arc Octavo A46.3/AB1H and Sion Arc Quarto A52.0/T97)
Benefactors joined
The Sion College Library Benefactor’s Book, 1629-1703, was chained to a desk on display. Part of the chain is still attached. (Sion L40.2/E64)

But did chaining actually work? Unfortunately – at least for Sion College – having chains didn’t make their library theft-proof. The Benefactors’ Book describes a substantial bequest by Thomas James, who died in 1711 and left some 3,000 volumes to the college. An assessment of the collection was carried out, and it was discovered that “several of those chain’d [books], have at sundry times been broke of ye chains, and stole away, notwithstanding ye strictest diligence & attendance of the Library Keeper, and all imaginable methods that he used to prevent it.”


Another entry of 1718 reads: “The foremention’d Books are now in ye Library. But some others have been stollen; & some of these are liable to be stollen; notwithstanding their chaines, & all possible care besides.

By the late 1800s, the mass availability of cheaply printed books meant chained libraries were redundant, and the practice died out. Part two of this article will look what happened when the chains came off…

References and further reading:

Chain, chest, curse: Combating book theft in Medieval times, Erik Kwakkel, medievalbooks.nl, published July 10th, 2015.

Reading in restraint: The last chained libraries, Allison Meier. AtlasObscura.com, published May 8th, 2014.

Libraries used to chain their books to shelves, with the spines hidden away, Colin Schultz, Smithsonian.com, published September 6th, 2013.

The chained library: a study of four centuries in the evolution of the English library, Burnett Hillman Streeter. Macmillan, 1931.

The last of the great chained libraries, Jenny Weston. medievalfragments.wordpress.com, published May 10th 2013.

The English library before 1700: studies in its history, edited by Francis Wormald and C. E. Wright. Athlone Press, 1958.

The Popish Plot

In an era of fake news and questionable political advisers, the Popish plot is a reminder that the political intrigues and scandals of the past could be equally as strange as those of today and that they could have deadly consequences. An invented plot about a Catholic conspiracy to kill Charles II in 1678 led to numerous trials, executions and the exclusion of Catholics from both Houses of Parliament for 150 years. In terms of the hysteria caused and the number of people killed, the Popish plot can be compared to the Salem witch trails in America. Yet what is remarkable about the whole affair is that leading politicians and Parliament encouraged the investigations which went on for three years.

To understand how an event like this could have taken place, it is worth remembering the extent of anti-Catholicism in the 17th century. Following Elizabeth I’s religious settlement, Catholics experienced continued persecution and Jesuits were executed as traitors. The memory of the Gunpowder plot of 1605 continued to fuel fears of a Catholic attempt to assassinate the King and take over the country. Charles I and Archbishop Laud’s religious policy was seen as reintroducing aspects of Catholicism into the Church of England and was a key factor in the outbreak of the British Civil Wars. Anti-Catholic feeling was again stirred by the Great Plague and Great Fire of London, for which Catholics were often blamed. The Test Act of  1673 ensured that anyone taking public office had to deny the Catholic belief in transubstantiation and receive communion in the Church of England.

The two men behind the invented plot, Titus Oates and Israel Tonge, were certainly an odd pair. Titus Oates’ father was the vicar of Hastings in Kent and Oates himself spent some time at Cambridge but did not graduate. He was eventually ordained after lying about having a degree and later served as a chaplain on board HMS Adventure. Israel Tonge was almost 30 years older than Oates, had a degree from Oxford and had even taught at the short-lived Durham College during the Commonwealth. After this he became a chaplain at the British garrison at Dunkirk and then vicar of St Mary Staining in London which was burnt down in the Great Fire. Tonge and Oates first met in 1677 and they agreed to write a series of anti-Catholic pamphlets. Strangely, Oates supposedly became a Roman Catholic at this time and was admitted to the English College at Valladolid in Spain. After being expelled he was admitted to the Jesuit College of St Omer in France and again was expelled in June 1678. Oates would later claim that he had not actually converted and his time abroad was just a way to learn more about the Jesuits from the inside.

Titus Oates
Engraving of Oates, unknown artist. [Prints 023/048]
The fabricated plot began in August 1678 when Oates and Tonge wrote a manuscript that accused the Jesuits of planning to assassinate Charles II. Tonge showed the manuscript to Christopher Kirkby, a chemist who knew the King. It was Kirkby that informed the King of the plot and although sceptical Charles agreed that Tonge should have an audience with Lord Danby, the Lord High Treasurer and leading minister in Parliament. Danby took the plot much more seriously, and an investigation was called for. Predictably, Oates’ name kept coming up in the investigation and he was summoned to provide an account before the magistrate Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey in early September. Oates then came before the Privy Council where he specifically accused Sir George Wakeman (Queen Catherine of Braganza’s doctor) and Edward Colman (former Secretary of the King’s brother James, Duke of York) of planning the assassination. Remarkably, when Colman’s house was searched, letters were found from the French Jesuit Ferrier, confessor to Louis XIV, about his hope for a dissolution of the current English Parliament to be replaced by a more pro-French one. Colman had also written about his hopes for returning England to Catholicism and even though this did not relate directly to Oates’ accusations, such correspondence could be interpreted as treason.

The real turning point in how the plot was viewed came on 12 October when Godfrey disappeared and was then found dead five days later. The presumed murder sent shockwaves through the court and the House of Lords requested that all Catholics be sent at least 20 miles outside of London. Charles called Parliament on 21 October and Oates and Tonge again gave accounts of the supposed plot. This time Oates accused five members of the House of Lords and Parliament agreed to have them arrested. There was a political dimension to this as the arrest of the Lords was led by the Earl of Shaftesbury, leader of the opposition to Danby. The impeachment and trials of the “five popish Lords” as they became known dragged on over the next two years (see below). In the meantime the public became increasingly on edge and the rest of the year became known as ‘Godfrey’s autumn’. One of the ways in which Godfrey was remembered as a Protestant ‘martyr’ was the production of the ‘Godfrey dagger’ (this has been featured in a previous blog on the Library’s artefacts) . Thousands of these were sold in London and the Library has a particularly fine example, with engraving on the blade and a silver hilt.

Godfrey dagger
Godfrey Dagger. [Artefact 94]
On 30 October Charles II agreed that all Catholics (exempting tradesmen and property owners) should leave London and could not come within twelve miles of the city. There was further panic on 1 November when gunpowder was discovered in a house near Parliament, however this turned out to be the store for the King’s fireworks. When Bonfire night was celebrated many people burned an effigy of Pope Innocent XI rather than Guy Fawkes. Perhaps surprisingly, there was no violence in the streets and no Catholics were killed by the public. Instead, the first person to be executed as a result of the plot was William Staley, on 27 November. Staley was a Catholic banker who had supposedly said the King was a heretic and he would kill him, most likely while drunk. He was sentenced by Sir William Scroggs, the Lord Chief Justice who was convinced by the plot and became notorious for condemning people on next to no evidence. Indeed, Edward Colman was executed a week later even though the letters in question were written a few years before and were unrelated to Oates’ accusations.

The next development in the plot came on 21 December with the arrest of Miles Prance, who was a Catholic servant of the Queen. Oates had already accused Catherine of treason but her loyalty to the King and support from the House of Lords ensured her safety. After several confessions and recantations, Prance eventually accused three workmen of Godfrey’s murder and implicated Thomas Godden, the Queen’s chaplain. With no evidence the three workmen were sentenced to death in February 1679 and Godden fled for France. Public uncertainty and anger continued though as shown in the broadside, England’s grand memorial... This shows Godfrey in the centre as “the Kingdom’s martyr” and the text recounts the supposed Jesuit involvement in the Great Fire and Oates and Tonge’s ‘revealing’ of the plot. The supposed actions of the murderers of Godfrey are depicted – the people accused by Prance – two priests called Kelly and Fitzgerald who ‘disappeared’ or may not have existed at all, and the workmen Robert Green, Henry Berry and Lawrence Hill.

Edmund Godfrey broadside
England’s grand memorial: the unparallel’d plot to destroy His Majesty, subvert the Protestant religion… [Prints 024/005]
The Popish plot had now become part of the wider struggle for Parliamentary influence between Charles’ minster Danby, and the opposition led by Shaftesbury. Danby was impeached, in part for his handling of the plot but more because of his own secret negotiations with Louis XIV over a possible war with the Dutch. Charles dissolved Parliament to prevent Danby’s trial and the new Parliament saw Shaftesbury introduce the Exclusion Bill which would have removed the Duke of York’s succession rights. Charles prorogued Parliament several times until the Exclusion Bill was defeated in the House of Lords in October 1680. Two political factions began to emerge over the exclusion debate, the Whigs who were in favour, and the Tories who were opposed. Public opinion was always a consideration, helped by the fact that the Licensing of the Press Act had expired in 1679.

Throughout 1679 and 1680 the trials of the five Catholic lords were continually delayed and rearranged. Eventually, William Howard, Viscount Stafford (whose great-grandfather had been executed and whose grandfather died imprisoned in the Tower during Elizabeth I’s reign) was the only one put on trial and was executed in December 1680. The others were imprisoned for several years with Baron William Petre dying in January 1684. The last victim of the plot was Oliver Plunkett, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh. Originally arrested in Ireland in December 1679, the Earl of Shaftesbury had Plunkett brought to London to be tried at Westminster Hall. Like many others, although it was clear that he had never been involved in any threats to the King, he was found guilty. The deaths of such high profile figures as Stafford and Plunkett were the final straw for the increasingly discredited plot. Plunkett was to be the last Roman Catholic priest executed for his religion in England.

What of Oates himself?  As the plot gained ground in 1678 Oates was treated as a hero, he received a grace-and-favour house in Whitehall with £1,200 a year. He wrote A true narrative of the horrid plot and conspiracy of the popish party… (1679) [KA448 2.01], unlike most political pamphlets of the day, this was printed in folio size. After Plunkett’s death, opinion turned against Oates and he was told to leave his apartment and was then arrested for sedition. He was imprisoned for the rest of Charles II’s reign and when James II became King he was convicted for perjury and repeatedly whipped and pilloried. With the revolution of 1689 and accession of the Protestant William III, Oates was let out of prison and received a government pension, eventually dying in 1705. By this time the Act of Settlement in 1701 had made it a legal requirement that the monarch must be Protestant. Oates’ Popish plot was not only the final deadly act of officially sanctioned anti-Catholicism in England, it also quickened the development of modern two-party politics.

Work during lockdown

Working at home since lockdown began in March, Library staff have had to reprioritise work since access to the collections on site has not been possible. Although requiring new priorities, this has presented an opportunity to add content to catalogues; work on projects to enhance existing data; and disseminate existing data for wider access.

For example, you can now view additional images uploaded to our online system, including selected images from the Archbishops’ Registers which have been digitised. These include this striking image of the arms of Archbishop Pole.


From more recent times, we are also adding a fine collection of images from the 1960s created by the Church Information Office. You can also see images of selected artefacts within the collection, and read more about some of them in this blog post.

Access to images (now totalling some 24,500 across the manuscript, archive and printed book holdings) is also being enhanced by the addition of tags to the system, which will help users to browse images by format, type and collection. This project is ongoing. You can also access links to material within the collections which is accessible in ‘book’ format.

Work is also in progress to add links from the archives catalogue to the image management system where digitised images exist, to help guide users to relevant content – especially important as they cannot currently access sources on site. This also applies to content hosted externally, for instance sources relating to Australasia now available online, and early modern manuscripts (the Bacon, Talbot and Shrewsbury papers) which are now available on a subscription basis.

Enhancement of the catalogue has included additional data for the extensive archive of the British Council for Churches, founded in 1942 and covering a multitude of topics about ecumenical relations and social issues in the later 20th century.

Work has also been undertaken to add more links between the catalogue database and the complementary authority databases for personal and corporate names, and places. These authority records aim to guide users to key content within the collections, which has become increasingly important as, since its inception in 2002, the archives catalogue has now grown to nearly 750,000 descriptive records. For instance, the collections contain rich sources for the history of Lambeth Palace itself, but a search within the catalogue database would present an unmanageable number of results. Searching via the place authority record produces a more coherent set of descriptions.

Additions to the catalogue include parish names for the series of maps documenting changes to parish boundaries. This forms part of rich holdings of maps within the collections.


Staff have also taken the opportunity to export catalogue data from our own system to websites which allow researchers to search across data for numerous archive repositories, hence exposing our rich content to a wider user base. The Archives Hub site now hosts 214 of our collection descriptions, including holdings from both the Library and the Church of England Record Centre.

Work is also in progress to add detailed catalogues to the Discovery site hosted by the National Archives.

Other aspects of work will not be immediately apparent to users but will facilitate access to material in future. For instance, further work has taken place to populate the catalogue with data on the papers of Archbishop Carey which (aside from speeches and photographs, already available in the online catalogue) are due from release from 2022.

More than 100,000 printed books records have been upgraded during lockdown, almost half the total number of records in the printed books catalogue. Library staff have also updated 10,000 name and subject authority files, researched citations, and contributed to projects to report Lambeth Palace Library’s printed books holdings to appropriate union catalogues, such as the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

The lockdown has also provided an opportunity for staff to share their knowledge of the collections with each other via a series of briefings and presentations, some of which have also formed the foundation of blog posts.

The waste is not a waste: fragments of a miniature Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in the binding of a 17th century book

When a book is bound, the main text block is surrounded by a few ‘endpapers’ that divide the body of the work from its cover. In modern books, these pages are almost always blank, and you may have flipped past them without really thinking about it. However, in works printed from the 15th to 18th centuries, it was common for the endpapers to contain part of a recycled text, either from a complete book which had been acquired by a binder’s shop to be dismantled, or printed sheets direct from a printshop that had been found to have errors. In the instance of whole volumes being recycled, binders frequently made use of medieval manuscripts that in some cases were already several hundred years old when they were cut apart. While chopping up these meticulously scribed and sometimes beautiful items may seem a shocking thing to do now, it is less surprising in the context of the decades following the Reformation and, at least in England, the dissolution of the monasteries and their monastic libraries.[1]

Manuscript waste
Music manuscript waste used as an endleaf in the third volume of Corpus iuris canonici. Lyon, 1584. [**H1936.R6]
While not all waste has survived, not least because of rebindings undertaken in the 19th and early 20th centuries, manuscript fragments that do survive as waste are often of great interest to scholars, particularly if the fragment can be identified as being from a well-known author or work or there is a tantalising possibility of reconstructing a text in full.[2] Journal articles abound on such discoveries in library collections, often unique or near unique items, and in one recent case ending with a plea to other librarians to keep an eye out for other leaves of the same volume.[3] Printed waste in early modern bindings – either using sheets rejected from a printer or printed books subsequently recycled – does not seem to inspire the same breadth of scholarship as the manuscript fragments, but this doesn’t mean such items are uninteresting.

Printed  waste endpapers
Sheet B of John Taylor’s abridgement of The Booke of Martyrs  (London , 1631) used as endpapers in a copy of William Gouge, The saints sacrifice, London, 1632. [A26.16A/G72] Title page is in bottom right corner.
The waste pictured [above and below] was found last year whilst cataloguing an octavo from the Sion College collection. It is an uncut portion of a miniaturized edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, dated 1631. When fully folded and cut, it would have measured just 5 cm in height. Miniature printed books had been created since the advent of moveable type as items that were perfect for portability and discreet reference, as well as a challenge for printers and items that could show the skill of an individual shop. However, because of their small size miniature books are easily lost and many are therefore understandably rare.

Printed waste as endpapers
Sheet B of John Taylor’s abridgement of The Booke of Martyrs  (London , 1631) used as endpapers in a copy of William Gouge, The saints sacrifice, London, 1632. [A26.16A/G72] Dedication is in bottom left corner.
Throughout the early modern period, miniature books were predominantly religious in subject with books of hours, prayer books, and psalters being the most common items produced in the 16th and 17th century. The turn of the 17th century also saw the advent of miniature abridged versions of the Bible – often written with children in mind and sometimes composed in verse to make them easier to remember.[4] The most popular of these “thumb bibles” was rendered in verse by John Taylor, the ‘Water Poet’, so called for his previous occupation as a waterman on the Thames, with the titles Verbum Sempiternum for the Old Testament and Salvator Mundi for the New Testament.[5] An 18th century reprinting of that work had an encouragement to the reader facing the title page: “Reader, come buy this Book, for tho’ it’s small, tis worthy the perusal of all.”.[6] Taylor also created an abridgement of Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, and it is an edition of this abridgement that is found in uncut form in our Sion book.

Title page of the works of the Water Poet
Engraving by Thomas Cockson portraying John Taylor: title page of All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet, London, 1630. [Sion K24.4/T21]
Much has been written about the work that is now commonly called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, its influence, and its readership.[7] First published in 1563, it was coming up on its seventh complete edition around the time of Taylor’s abridgement in 1616, and Taylor’s was not the first attempt at abridgement (though it appears to be the first successful one); all of which gives a sense of a continuous and eager readership and a potential market for miniature editions.[8]

It appears, however, that the edition of the martyrology from which we have a fragment may have never been finished. Rather than a complete work making its way into circulation as a pocket reference book, these sheets were instead present in a binder’s workshop to be used to surround another text, in our case a commentary on the 116th psalm which was published the following year. The English Short Title Catalogue records just one other fragment of this particular edition, which like ours exists as an uncut sheet. The other listed fragment has only one sheet with signature “B”, whereas we have a sheet “C” as well. It is possible that there are other copies that have not been recorded; older cataloguing standards did not require the recording of manuscript and printed waste and so many examples of waste are still probably unrecorded, and even waste that has been recorded in library catalogues may not be identified. It is often difficult to do so: think about how you would identify a book by two of its middle pages, or just a portion of one arbitrary, possibly even unnumbered, page. Identification has become much more achievable since the advent of fully text searchable works online, but in many institutions, including Lambeth, the bulk of work on fragments has yet to be done. Who’s to say what other exciting discoveries are waiting inside the boards of our books?


Evenden, Elizabeth and Thomas Freeman. Religion and the Book in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Highley, Christopher and John N. King, eds. John Foxe and his World. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017.

King, John N. “Guides to Reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” Huntington Library Quarterly, 68, no. 1-2 (2005): 133-150. Accessed 29 May, 2020. doi:10.1525/hlq.2005.68.1-2.133

McCann, Wesley. “Irish Booklore: An Unrecorded Belfast Edition of John Taylor’s “Verbum Sempiternum”.” The Linen Hall Review 6, no. 2 (1989): 14-15. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20534078

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Riain, Dagmar Ó. “Ireland’s Oldest Music Manuscript?” History Ireland 5, no. 3 (1997): 11-13. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/27724478.

Sawyer, Daniel. “Rediscovered Manuscript Fragments of “The Prick Of Conscience” in the Library of Queens’ College, Cambridge.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 15, no. 4 (2015): 515-539. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24900125.

Smyth, Adam. “Printed Waste: ‘Tatters Allegoricall.’” In Material Texts in Early Modern England, 137-174. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781108367868.005.

Thomson, R. M. “More Fragments Of Solinus in Cambridge Libraries.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 16, no. 1 (2016): 125-131. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/26626350.

Voigts, Laura, and Frank Stubbings. “”Promptorium Parvulorum”: Manuscript Fragments at Emmanuel College and Their Relation to Pynson’s “Editio Princeps”.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 9, no. 4 (1989): 358-371. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/41154666

[1] Adam Smyth, “Printed Waste: ‘Tatters Allegoricall.’” In Material Texts in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 144-145, 153.

[2]Ibid., 148.

[3] R. M. Thomson, “More Fragments of Solinus in Cambridge Libraries.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 16, no. 1 (2016), 131; for instances of articles about manuscript discoveries see for example Sawyer, 2015; Riain, 1997; and Voigts & Stubbings, 1989.

[4] Wesley McCann, “Irish Booklore: An Unrecorded Belfast Edition of John Taylor’s “Verbum Sempiternum”.” The Linen Hall Review 6, no. 2 (1989), 14.

[5] Ibid., 14

[6] Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan (eds) The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 144)

[7] (see for example Evenden and Freeman, 2011; King, 2005; and Highley & King, 2017)

[8] John N. King, “Guides to Reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”. Huntington Library Quarterly, 68, no. 1-2 (2005), 148-149