Henry Montgomery, an imperial bishop

This blog post is more personal than previous efforts where I have chosen one of the library’s treasures or a historical event. Henry Montgomery (1847-1932) was vicar of my church, St Mark’s, Kennington, before becoming Bishop of Tasmania and later Secretary of the SPG. Before writing this I knew very little of Montgomery’s life and views, and it seems an appropriate time to reflect on this history. Many libraries, archives and museums are re-evaluating the origin, content and descriptions of their material following the rise to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement this year. 

The Library holds correspondence from Montgomery in the papers of Archbishops Benson, Frederick Temple and Davidson. Montgomery’s own papers are MSS 4537-4543 and contain personal letters from Henry’s father Robert, and his father-in-law Frederic Farrar and correspondence relating to his leadership of the SPG and several volumes of his memoirs. I was also surprised to find out that the British Museum holds objects and photographs taken by Montgomery during his travels through the Pacific.    

Montgomery was born in Cawnpore (now Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh) in Northern India to Robert and Ellen Jane (née Lambert) Montgomery in 1847. His father was part of the Anglo-Irish gentry from County Donegal and had entered the Indian Civil Service. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857 Robert removed the weapons from the Indian garrison in Lahore and was knighted for his actions. Henry spent most of his youth in England attending Harrow and then studying at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was ordained as a priest in 1872 and was a curate at Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, then Christ Church, Southwark, and St Margaret’s, Westminster (on Parliament square). Montgomery’s mentor during this time was Frederic William Farrar, who later became Dean of Canterbury. Just like Montgomery, Farrar was born in India and studied at Trinity, and he was Montgomery’s housemaster at Harrow and vicar at St Margaret’s.

The closeness of their relationship goes some way to explaining how Montgomery married Farrar’s daughter Maud (who was only 16) in 1881, two years after he became vicar of St Mark’s, Kennington. Maud and Henry had nine children, most notably Bernard Montgomery, the World War II General at El Alamein who became Field Marshal. In 1887 Henry’s father died, which led to a brief time of financial difficulty for the family as Henry now had to pay off the debt on their estate in Ulster. His time in Kennington involved balancing numerous visits to parishioners and a growing family, Maud later recalled that “He could work in his study with the children playing about the room, and many of his sermons were written in the nursery overlooking the Oval cricket ground.”[1]

Henry and Maud Montgomery outside the Fig Tree entrance to Lambeth Palace (MS 4541, f. 72)

The turning point in Montgomery’s life came in 1889 when he was appointed Bishop of Tasmania. At this time Australia was still seen as a region for missionary activity but Montgomery was also keen to grow the Anglican Church across the Pacific. He continued the construction of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart while spending many months in rural areas and mining towns. Overall the number of church buildings in the diocese increased from 75 to 125.[2] He was passionate about upholding morals in a frontier society and founded a home for former prostitutes and vulnerable women. Gambling was another concern, highlighted by his opposition to George Adams’ Tattersall’s lotteries which were legalized in 1895. Montgomery also visited the Bass Strait islands every year, particularly Cape Barren Island where there was a school for Indigenous Australians, however the teacher Edward Stephens was deeply unpopular.[3]

Over time it became clear that Montgomery wanted a larger role across a wider geographical area. Beyond Tasmania he argued for the creation of the diocese of New Guinea after the south-eastern part of the island was annexed by Queensland in 1884. He visited the diocese of Melanesia in 1892 including the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, writing of his experiences in The Light of Melanesia (1896). Reflecting on his time as bishop, Montgomery wrote to Archbishop Temple in 1901: “It is because the work is all missionary here that I love it so. Great questions such as education, temperance, social problems between classes, come to me as duties. Missionary questions come to me as joys”.[4]

Montgomery’s vision and dedication had not gone unnoticed and in January 1902 he became Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and retained his episcopal title. According to Steven Maughan, this was his opportunity to pursue his goal to “reinvigorate the Church itself by directly linking the fortunes of Anglicanism with the British Empire.”[5] Montgomery wanted the church to be led by a united leadership of Anglo-Saxons that would uphold imperial values around the world. However, there were signs that the church was beginning to become uneasy about its relationship with empire. For example, the celebration of Empire Day in 1904 was not officially encouraged by Archbishop Davidson. Montgomery’s paternalistic racist views – common in the 19th century – were beginning to be challenged by a younger generation of churchmen such as C.F. Andrews in India.

The SPG had its own problems, for example the bicentenary appeal in 1901 had only raised 20 per cent of its target. To encourage the discussion of issues faced in the colonial mission field a new journal The East and the West, a Quarterly Review for the Study of Missions was started in 1903. Montgomery wanted the SPG to be seen as the home of moderate broad churchmen compared to the more Anglo-Catholic Universities’ Mission to Central Africa or the more evangelical Church Missionary Society. From the beginning of his Secretaryship Montgomery envisaged a conference that would bring the Church of England together in facing the challenges of modern mission through a united commitment to the empire. In the event though, the Pan-Anglican Congress of 1908 “came to focus primarily on the internal order of the communion and the home problems of the church”.[6] The empire could not be used to unite church parties as Montgomery intended and he began to realise that such an ‘imperial church’ was untenable.

Despite this, Montgomery maintained his enthusiasm for Anglican involvement in ecumenical missions and represented the SPG at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Along with Bishop Gore and Bishop Talbot he helped to sway Archbishop Davidson’s decision to deliver the opening address.[7] Of the only 19 non-Westerners at the conference Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah (later bishop of Dornakal in the Church of South India) spoke out against the attitudes of many missionaries, “Too often you promise us thrones in heaven, but will not offer us chairs in your dining room”.[8] Unfortunately it would take at least another generation for many missionaries to change their behaviour and attitudes.

Bishop Montgomery visiting the Great Wall of China, 1910 or 1911 (MS 4542, f. 79)

While he was Secretary of the SPG, Montgomery’s love of travel did not diminish and following the Edinburgh Conference he embarked on a seven month tour of East Asia. In 1916 he preached the triennial missionary sermon before the General Convention of the US Episcopal Church in St Louis, Missouri. Retiring in 1918, he continued to write, producing several biographies of other missionary bishops. While Montgomery’s dedication as a parish priest, bishop and missionary leader can be appreciated, his racist views were firmly rooted in the nineteenth century. As bishop of Tasmania he worked tirelessly, travelling across his diocese and the wider Pacific, and as Secretary of the SPG he modernised its structures and collaborative efforts. The course of Montgomery’s life was very much when ‘imperial Christianity’ was at its peak and this is a major – and painful – part of his legacy.

By David Thomas, Library Assistant


[1] Quoted in Withycombe, Robert, Montgomery of Tasmania: Henry and Maud Montgomery in Australasia (Brunswick East: Acorn Press, 2009), p. 15.

[2] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montgomery-henry-hutchinson-7629 Accessed 27/11/2020.

[3] Stephens, Geoffrey, ‘H.H. Montgomery – the Mutton Bird Bishop’, p. [10]. http://anglicanhistory.org/aus/hhmontgomery/mutton1985.pdf Accessed 07/12/2020.

[4] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montgomery-henry-hutchinson-7629 Accessed 27/11/2020.

[5] Maughan, Steven, ‘An archbishop for Greater Britain: Bishop Montgomery, missionary imperialism and the SPG, 1897-1915’ in Three centuries of mission: the united Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1701-2000 (London : Continuum, 2000), p. 360.

[6] Maughan, Steven, ‘An archbishop for Greater Britain: Bishop Montgomery, missionary imperialism and the SPG, 1897-1915’ in Three centuries of mission: the united Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1701-2000 (London : Continuum, 2000), p. 367.

[7] Dore, Michael, ‘The Evangelisation of the World in this Generation’, p 1. Accessed through https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/uspg/content/pages/documents/1596801269.pdf 4/11/2020.

[8] Dore, Michael, ‘The Evangelisation of the World in this Generation’, p 3. Accessed through https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/uspg/content/pages/documents/1596801269.pdf 4/11/2020.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at Lambeth Palace Library

This blog post is part of this year’s ‘Explore Your Archive Week’, which runs from 21st-29th November 2020. Today’s theme is science.

According to naturalists, Earth is home to an estimated 15 million species of flora and fauna. Of these only about 2 million have been officially identified by scientists. To put it another way, 86% of land-based species and 91% of underwater species have yet to be studied, despite 18,000 new species being discovered every year.

One such discovery is the Popa langur, a new species of monkey identified mere weeks ago in a remote region of Myanmar. Named after the extinct volcano where it was discovered, the Popa langur has already been given the unenviable status of being critically endangered. It is estimated that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species become extinct each year, however, unlike the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event which saw the sudden mass extinction of 75% of all plant and animal species 66 million years ago, science points to humans as being almost entirely responsible for the current rates of species extinction.

On this dispiriting thought, we turn our attention to the topic of today’s post, early depictions of animals in Lambeth Palace Library’s collection. Early scientific illustrations remain a valuable resource to naturalists, particularly when the animal in question became extinct prior to the development of photography. We shall also look at illustrator’s early attempts to depict animals newly discovered by Europeans. Some of the results are so fantastical that we can be confident that the illustrators must have used secondary information to produce them. Either that, or they took egregious liberties with their artistic licence.

Our first animal, the dodo, is something of a poster child for extinct animals. The earliest recorded mention of the dodo was made by Dutch sailors in the late sixteenth century on the island of Mauritius. Due to a previous lack of natural predators, the dodo became easy prey for sailors and other invasive species, notably the ship’s rats. Interestingly, there is some debate in the contemporary sources as to the edibility of the dodo with one Dutch naval officer, Admiral Jacob Cornelis van Neck, describing it as “lothsome.”[1]The last accepted sighting of the dodo was in 1662, a mere 64 years after it had first been discovered. Cohabitation between humans and the dodo was brief and ultimately fatal for the flightless bird. As a result, there are few illustrations of the dodo which were drawn from live specimens.

Dodo from Herbert’s Some Years Travels into Divers Parts of Africa, and Asia the Great (LPL, B13.5/H41)

Sir Thomas Herbert was one of the few who did make a visual record of the dodo during his travels to Mauritius in 1629. His encounter with the dodo, alongside a drawing, can be found in his book Some Years Travels into Divers Parts of Africa, and Asia the Great (LPL, B13.5/H41), first published in 1634. However, despite having seen live dodos in the wild, Herbert’s attempts to capture their likeness left a little to be desired. In his drawing, the beak is noticeably raptor like, starkly different from the long, hooked beak seen in skeletal remains.

We turn our attention now to The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (LPL, B18.1/P54). Published in 1789, The Voyage… is an account of the ‘First Fleet’, a fleet of 11 ships sent to Australia in 1787 to establish a British penal colony. Published as the official account, The Voyage… details the first years of Britain’s colonial activities in Australia, including their interactions with Aboriginal Australians. The book includes maps, charts and, importantly for our purposes, illustrations of species newly discovered by the colonists.

Australia’s geological isolation and climatic events has resulted in a unique ecosystem. The overwhelming majority of fauna found in Australia is endemic to the country. We can only begin to imagine what the early colonists made of these weird and wonderful creatures. However, much like Herbert’s dodo and it’s falconesque beak, the artist has used the features of more familiar animals as reference points. As a result, the kangaroo has a distinctly shrew-like snout. It also sits flat on the ground, whereas real life kangaroos use their tails for balance. The drawing of the Wulpine Opossum, or as it is known today, the Common Brushtail Possum, is also far more reminiscent of the European pine marten than it is of a possum. However, compared with the following illustrations, it is at least possible to identify these animals as being a kangaroo and a possum.

Kangaroo from The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (LPL, B18.1/P54).
Common Brushtail Possum from The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (LPL, B18.1/P54).

The following woodcuts are taken from Bernhard von Breidenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (LPL, [ZZ]1486.6). Published in 1486, the Peregrinatio… is a remarkable record of Breidenbach’s pilgrimage from Oppenheim near Mainz to the Holy Land. With the assistance of the book’s illustrator, Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht, Breidenbach describes their journey in incredible detail, producing the first ever printed illustrated travel guide. The book contains several woodcuts of intricate panoramic cityscapes, including one of Venice which measures five-feet-long.

The book also includes several animals that were purportedly encountered during the journey. These included camels, giraffes, and a breed of long eared goat. These all seem fairly reasonable; however, it appears that Reuwich couldn’t help but embellish the truth slightly. For example, while it is very likely that the pilgrims encountered crocodiles during their travels down the Nile, Reuwich’s long-necked attempt looks far more dragon like. Similar treatment has been given to the salamander, which looks like the stylised version often seen in heraldry. Naturally, a unicorn has been included for good measure. The final animal, an ape, can be seen holding a walking-stick and leading the camel. Despite its fantasy safari, the Peregrinatio… proved to be a best seller and was reprinted thirteen times over the next 30 years.

Image from Bernhard von Breidenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (LPL, [ZZ]1486.6)

Reuwich wasn’t alone in trying to make his illustrations appear more exotic. Olaus Magnus, the exiled Archbishop of Uppsala, Sweden, had an apparent fascination with walruses and included several of them in his work. However, we would be forgiven for thinking that these walruses were in fact some mythical sea monster of Magnus’ own creation. In his Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (LPL, B64.1/M27), first published in 1555, a boar headed monster with four pronounced legs can be seen scaling the cliffs as it is hunted by some sailors. To say that it bears little resemblance to an actual walrus would be an understatement.

A possible reason behind Magnus’ embellishments is that he wanted to present the North as being a mysterious land full of strange and wondrous things, no doubt to impress the people he was exiled with. The fact that he had never actually seen a walrus should also be considered.

A ‘walrus’ from Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus by Olaus Magnus (LPL, B64.1/M27)

Our look into the fantastic beasts of Lambeth Palace Library has taken us across the globe, from Australia’s arid outback to the polar seas. While it may be suggested, and with good reason, that some of the animals shown above were victims of an artist’s overactive imagination, they are a fascinating insight into the known world at various points in history. We’ll conclude this blog post with a look at the Lambeth Apocalypse (LPL, MS 209), written in the late thirteenth century. Nestled in one of the margins we find a little porcupine. There isn’t much more to say about him, except, just look at those toes!

Porcupine from the margin of the Lambeth Apocalypse (LPL, MS 209)

[1] J.P. Hume, “The history of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the penguin of Mauritius”, Historical Biology, vol. 18(2), (Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Taylor & Francis, 2006), p. 80.

The First Black Anglican Bishop: Samuel Ajayi Crowther

Samuel Ajayi Crowther (LC 37, f.95)

With October 2020 marking the 60th anniversary of the independence of Nigeria from British rule, this is an opportune moment to reflect on the remarkable life of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first black Anglican bishop and a renowned linguistic scholar, who was born at Oshogun in Nigeria around 1807.

He was captured in war in 1821 and in 1822 he was sold to a Portuguese slave ship, only to be freed by the Royal Navy on the same day as he was sold. He was taken into the care of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), became literate in English, and was baptized as Samuel Crowther in 1825.

In 1826 Crowther travelled to England, where he attended Islington parish school. Returning to Africa the following year, he attended the new Fourah Bay College, founded by the CMS in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to train Africans as schoolmasters, catechists and clergymen. He was appointed tutor there in 1834.

He trained at the CMS Missionary College in Islington and was ordained by the Bishop of London in 1843. His scholarly work included the publication of his dictionary and grammar of Yoruba in 1843 and his translations of the Book of Common Prayer and Bible into Yoruba; he also made studies of other languages.

In 1864 Crowther was consecrated Bishop of Western Africa, presiding over African clergy in the Niger mission, since European clergy, refusing to serve under an African, remained under the white bishop of Sierra Leone. In his later years similar conflict, and the suspension of African clergy including his son, Dandeson Coates Crowther, Archdeacon of the Lower Niger, resulted in the Niger delta churches declaring themselves a self-governing pastorate within the Anglican Communion. Bishop Crowther died in 1891.

This image dates from 1888, and forms part of a series of photographs of bishops among the records of the Lambeth Conference. In addition to this and other photographs in the Library’s collections, there are items of Bishop Crowther’s correspondence among the records of the Lambeth Conferences, and among the papers of Archbishops Tait and Benson. Further papers are held among the records of the Church Missionary Society at Birmingham University.

Unchained, but not unchanged: Encountering books and their history in Lambeth Palace Library (Part 2)

Continuing our guest post on chained libraries and book shelving by Becky Loughead from the Society of Antiquaries Library. Catch up with Part 1 here.

The practice of chaining books to bookshelves began to die out by the middle of the 17th century and the mass availability of cheaply printed books meant chained libraries were redundant by the 1800s. By this stage it had also become the norm in non-chained collections to shelve books the other way around – with the spine facing outwards. But surprisingly, even after the introduction of the printing press, it took time for this shift to happen.

A contributing factor was the way books were bound and how book binding and decoration evolved. In the medieval period, less-expensively produced books often circulated unbound or with a simple sheet of parchment as a cover. Those which were bound had gatherings of quires sewn together or sewn on to leather cords or thongs, running horizontally across the spine. They were threaded through holes drilled into wooden boards which would then be covered with leather. The leather could be course and uneven, making it difficult to write directly on to the cover or the spine.

Detail of books with clasps and fore-edge titles from a portrait of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, 1544-5, by Gerlach Flicke. (NPG 535)

So, to make life easier, the book’s title, author, or both might be written along the fore-edge itself or on to a vellum fore-edge label. Most of the surviving examples of this in Lambeth Palace Library are found in the early printed books collection – from the early modern period onwards, book collectors and institutions throughout the centuries had their books bound and re-bound, during which process the pages might be trimmed, and any fore-edge text or decoration lost as a result.

Summa divinarum ac naturalium difficilium quaestionum, 1506, H890.T2**

Pragmatica sanctio et cōcor, 1530, H1938.(R6)**

Some have their writing or labels on the head or tail of the book, suggesting that this was the part that would have been visible on the shelf.

Divine Opticks, 1655, A60.6/D61

Commentarii ac disputationes in primam secundae S. Thomae, 1608, H890.T4V*

Sometimes fore-edges were illustrated. Early English examples typically used heraldic designs, often in gold and colour. This was a means of showing ownership at first glance – and by extension, the wealth, power and literary credentials of their owner. These printed books from 1598, left, have the crest of Archbishop Richard Bancroft, who founded Lambeth Palace Library in 1610. Bancroft bequeathed some 5,600 printed books and 400 manuscripts to successive Archbishops of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace.

It wasn’t until into the 16th century when books started to be turned around. It appears this originated in private libraries, when wealthy owners had their books expensively rebound and decorated along the spines. Personal libraries became a fashionable (and expected) feature of the manors and country houses of well-to-do-families; books were placed in free-standing cabinets or bookcases lining the wall, becoming part of the furniture.

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 13th August 1666: “…I to Paul’s Church-yarde, to treat with a bookbinder, to come and gild the backs of all my books, to make them handsome, to stand in my new presses…”. With books reversed, titles eventually made their way on to spines, and the trend of shelving books ‘backwards’ (to the medieval eye) spread to become the norm.  After the last chained libraries – save a very small few preserved for their historical interest – got rid of their chains and re-shelved their books spine-out, the earlier practice was all but forgotten.

Psalter including 150 Psalms translated into English by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, probably published in 1567. Parker had his own private bindery established at Lambeth Palace, which produced this beautifully decorated binding. (E1440.P2**)

And yet, the image of an antiquated library furnished with wooden shelves and stuffed full of dusty, leather-bound books, chained or locked away, remains curiously enduring. In popular culture it has become associated with the fantastical – from Harry Potter sneaking into the Hogwart’s Library Restricted Section (filmed in a former chained library, Duke Humphrey’s Library in the Bodleian, Oxford), the Citadel Library in Game of Thrones – to the Library of Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, famously overseen by its orangutan Librarian (“ook!”). These mysterious libraries are guarded to prevent the secrets of their books from being discovered by enquiring minds, or even chained to stop the most magical and dangerous books from escaping themselves!

Happily, most of manuscripts and printed books are freely available to be consulted in the Reading Room at Lambeth Palace Library (without the worry of them snarling when opened!). There is still a lot of work to be done, however, to add more detailed physical description to our catalogue records in our online printed books catalogue – few entries currently note if the book has a fore-edge title, for example. But our rare books librarians are hard at work cataloguing the Sion College Library collection in detail, including all sorts of provenance information, binding and physical description that might be useful to researchers. No doubt more insights into this fascinating chained collection will yet come to light. Watch this space!

The Sion College Library collection needs you! To help us identify ownership evidence including bookplates, inscriptions, bindings and marginalia in Sion College Library books, please visit the Sion College Library Provenance Project.

References and further reading:

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

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

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

“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