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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

[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

Remembering Reformation before the Reformation

Today we are excited to present a guest post from Dr Ceri Law, AHRC Postdoctoral Research Associate for the Remembering the Reformation project based at the Universities of Cambridge and York.

Historia Ioannis Hussi
Historia Ioannis Hussi et Hieronymi Pragensis: martyrum et confessorum Christi (Nuremberg: Katharina Gerlach, 1583), a8v. H4917.(H4) [*]
The ‘500th anniversary of the Reformation’, as 31 October 1517 has repeatedly been referred to, has been a very big deal indeed. The celebration of this anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses (an event which, as many historians have pointed out, may well have never happened) proved stimulating. Books, events and projects years in the making have come to fruition, media (old and new) has been full of documentaries, articles and trending hashtags on Luther, anniversaries and the Reformation.

This, then, was a major cultural event, and anything that helps people to become interested in and learn about the past and the place that religious change played in history is, I think, very much to be welcomed. However, there is a danger that in remembering 31 October 1517 we forget a lot else, and this is what this blog post is about. Here I want to focus on one item from Lambeth Palace Library which features in a digital exhibition prepared by ‘Remembering the Reformation’, the Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, based at the Universities of Cambridge and York that I work for (you can find out more about the project at our website:, and you can find the digital exhibition at

Hus woodcutThis is a striking woodcut showing the execution of the Czech theologian Jan Hus at the Council of Constance in 1415. Surrounded by flames and made to wear a cap covered with devils, marking him out as a heretic, this, as the Latin caption tells us, is Hus ‘while he gave his own body to be burned for Christ’. It is part of a late sixteenth-century text which celebrates Hus and his follower, Jerome of Prague (also executed as a heretic at the Council of Constance) as martyrs.

Gold-tooled armorial binding belonging to Archbishop Whitgift

We get some sense of what Hus meant to later generations of reformers if we look at the owner of this book, John Whitgift (c. 1530-1604), who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1604 (we know that this book belonged to Whitgift because, like many other books in Lambeth Palace Library, it was bound in his arms). In one of his works Whitgift noted that ‘Master Hus, Hierome of Prague, &c, were stirred up even by God to preach his truth, and open the door of his word again’; in this he was expressing a very common Protestant view. In the famous Acts and Monuments of John Foxe (The ‘Book of Martyrs’), too, Hus is celebrated as a proto-Protestant martyr. Like John Wyclif (d. 1384) in England – sometimes described as the ‘Morning Star’ of the Reformation – Hus could be used as evidence of a Protestant history that extended back beyond 1517.

Admittedly, this commemoration of Hus was itself often part of the celebration of Martin Luther. Part of Hus’s importance for later reformers was the role he was supposed to have played in predicting Luther. It was claimed that Hus had declared before his death that another reformer, one that the Catholic Church would not be able to silence, would come 100 years after him. For Luther the 102 years between this and 1517 was close enough (on this see another item in the exhibition, a Lutheran timeline, which has been researched by my colleague Dr Bronwyn Wallace). The celebration of Hus was also part of efforts to answer a constant Catholic criticism of the reformers: ‘where was your church before Luther?’. Having, and commemorating, a history was part of the claims to legitimacy made by various Protestant groups.

But thinking about Hus can also help us, too, to remember the Reformation – and to do so in a way that questions the centrality of Luther and 1517. Hus reminds us that there had been movements that challenged the ideas and authority of the Catholic church long before Luther. The idea of Luther as the start of something new, as a decisive break with the past is a very influential one, but it’s an idea that we should question. The Lutheran Reformation was of huge significance, but it didn’t mark a neat dividing line, as was once suggested, between ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’.