Item of Interest: “Blazing in gold and silver” – Samuel Meyrick’s A critical enquiry into ancient armour (1830)

This month’s Item of Interest post comes from Ken Gibb (Rare Books Librarian), who is delving into the work of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick .

A critical enquiry into ancient armour is the greatest work of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick (1773-1848), a prolific collector of arms and armour. Meyrick inherited a passion for collecting from his father John, an officer in the Honourable Artillery Company and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In the 1820s Samuel began to build up a considerable collection of arms which he arranged in his home in Upper Cadogan Place, London, and welcomed a number of important visitors, including King George IV.

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Kings of England such as Henry VI are depicted wearing their proper armour.

Meyrick published numerous important texts on arms and armour, including a catalogue of his own collections, however it was Sir Walter Scott who suggested that he make drawings of the best pieces he owned. Meyrick’s drawings were then engraved by Joseph Skelton and Samuel wrote detailed descriptions. Meyrick’s magnum opus, A critical enquiry into antient armour as it existed in Europe, but particularly in England, from the Norman conquest to the reign of King Charles II, with a glossary of military terms of the middle ages, to give its full title, was initially released in parts from 1824, but was published in 1830 as a three volume set lavishly illustrated in colour and gilt with Meyrick’s drawings. We hold a copy of this set in the Sion College collection within Lambeth Palace Library [B99/1M57].

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Many of the suits of armour shown were in the possession of the Meyrick family.

With the publication of this book Samuel solidified his reputation as an authority in the study of armour and was able to rectify some historical inaccuracies that found their way to the displays of armour in the Tower of London and other collections (in 1832, Meyrick himself would  be knighted for reorganising the collections at the Tower and at Windsor). The Edinburgh Review said of the new displays that “while we have the very knights in their proper armour, surcoats, etc. before us, blazing in gold and silver, we feel as if the age of chivalry, if once gone, had returned in its glory, and we are transported back to the sentiments as well as the scenes which it inspired.”

By this time Meyrick’s collection had far outgrown its home in London and Samuel felt that it now deserved to be housed in an appropriately grand venue. Having failed to acquire Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire, he hired Gothic Revival architect Edward Blore to design Goodrich Court. Blore had also been responsible for the redesign of Lambeth Palace during the 1820s. The enormous armoury was built to house the most spectacular of Meyrick’s pieces in a suitably impressive setting filled with natural light.

Goodrich_Court
A depiction of Meyrick’s Goodrich Court with Goodrich Castle in the background, from Wanderings and excursions in South Wales, 1844.

On Meyrick’s death in 1848 his cousin Augustine inherited both Goodrich Court and the armour collection. After the collection had been displayed at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), the finest items were sold at auction in 1869, many of them to Frederic Spritzer, a French dealer. These were later purchased by Sir Richard Wallace and now form part of the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, Westminster.

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A knight armed for the Bond

References:

“Dr Meyrick on ancient armour”, Edinburgh review. (Jan. 1824). 39, 5, pp. 346-363.

Meyrick, Samuel Rush (1830?). A critical inquiry into antient armour. London: Dowding.

Roscoe, T. and Meredith, C. (1844). Wanderings and excursions in South Wales with the scenery of the River Wye. London: Longman.

Samuel Rush Meyrick (2017). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Rush_Meyrick

Item of Interest: Biography of a Book

We are excited to introduce a new series of monthly blog posts, each of which will focus on a particular “Item of Interest” within Lambeth Palace Library. From a closer examination of books and manuscripts in our collections to glimpses into the work that is carried out by our staff, we hope these posts will offer an intriguing insight into our world renowned library.

To get us started this month, Jessica Hudson (Sion Project Cataloguer) is exploring the provenance of an item in the Sion College Collection.

Biography of a Book:

“Where words fail, music speaks”, so said Hans Christian Andersen, but the copy of Antiquae musicae auctores septem (G81.1/M47) found among the works in the Sion College Collection, speaks volumes about its ownership history. Through the inscriptions and marginal notes that it bears on its pages, it tells of the hands that it passed through, the traded paths that it followed and reveals the voice and thoughts of its former owners.

As a printed work it charts the history of ancient Greek music through eminent writers of ancient times (such as Aristoxenus), drawn together and edited by the Danish scholar Marcus Meibom (1630-1711). Meibom was best known as an historian of music and he was also, incidentally, a Librarian. Antiquae musicae examines musical theory with mathematical precision and is not only regarded as Meibom’s most significant work, but one that stands as a pioneer in its field and a milestone in musical scholarship. It was printed in 1652 by Louis Elzevir at his workshop in Amsterdam and the title page includes the principal printer’s device used by Elzevir which depicts Minerve with the motto, “Ne extra oleas” (“nothing but the olive”). Bound in vellum with gently yapped edges, it is a fine volume and an interesting addition to the library. As an artefact however, it has yet more to tell.

A potted account of the book’s movements over the course of its history can be found on the front flyleaf, where there is an inscription which reads:

Image 1J W Callcott. Bought of Mr. Faulder Bond St. out of the collection of Dr. Shepherd, Canon of Windsor

With a little research it has been possible to flesh out the named characters, lending an interesting tale of provenance which reminds us that the history of a book extends beyond its composition, printing and binding and rolls through time, being shaped by its owners and readers.

The first name that appears is that of John Wall Callcott who was born on 20th November 1766 in Kensington.  He was elder brother to the renowned artist Sir Augustus Wall Callcott (20 February 1779 – 25 November 1844), after whom the engraved portrait of John (see below) was created. During his early schooling John Callcott learned Greek and Latin and was evidently still proficient in later years, as attested by the Antiquae musicae auctores septem which includes parallel Greek and Latin text. Indeed some of the extensive marginalia found in the book is likely to come from Callcott as he digested, interpreted and commented on the work. Although a promising student of the classics, Callcott’s true passion lay with music, an interest derived from listening to the organ being played during regular visits to Kensington parish Church where his father Thomas had found employment as a brick layer. From around 1778 Callcott received musical instruction from Henry Whitney, the church organist, and would later become a pupil of Haydn (1732 –1809). From here he developed his skills and would grow to become a composer of some renown. During his adult life Callcott was celebrated principally for the award-winning glees that he composed (such as Drink to me only with thine eyes) and for his extensive knowledge of musical theory, becoming a highly regarded teacher and scholar of music (lecturing for example at the Royal Academy of Music). This facet makes his link to the book more poignant, as he may well have gained greater insight into musical theory from reading this very volume, applying his knowledge when he later produced his own much praised work Musical Grammar in 1806. Beyond the book, there is a further Lambeth connection with Callcott, as he was appointed organist to the Asylum for Female Orphans in Lambeth in 1789.

Sadly Callcott suffered a nervous breakdown in 1808 from which recovered, only to relapse in 1813. He was committed to the Fishponds Asylum, where he would spend his final years. Callcott died on 15th May 1821 and was buried in Kensington churchyard.

Image 2John Wall Callcott by Frederick Christian Lewis Sr, after original by Sir Augustus Wall Callcott. (Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery).

A further inscription on the title page of volume I tells us that it was in 1797 that Calcott purchased Antiquae musicae from “Mr. Faulder, bookseller in Bond Street”. The bookdealer has been identified as Robert Faulder (1747/48-1815). Robert was both a bookbinder and bookseller operating from New Bond Street in the late 18th century (his premises included 42 New Bond St from 1780-1811 and numbers 48 and 46 New Bond St in 1811). Faulder began trading in 1780, having completed his apprenticeship with James Robson (1733 – 1806). He was freed from his apprenticeship in 1779 while working for the Merchant Taylors’ Company. One of Faulder’s premises is depicted in a satirical cartoon entitled “Sandwich Carrots”, which was produced in 1796 by the engraver James Gillray (1756-1815). Looking beyond the somewhat salacious figures in the scene, you can see his shop front filled with numerous volumes (though the titles on display are added for comedy value, rather than being an accurate reflection of Faulder’s stock). The male character purportedly represents the notorious 5th Earl of Sandwich and strangely forms a connection with the last link in our provenance chain through his father the 4th Earl of Sandwich who was the patron of the earliest owner recorded in the inscription.

Image 3Sandwich-Carrots! – dainty Sandwich-Carrots, engraved by James Gillray (1756-1815)

In 1797 (the year that Callcott purchased the book) Faulder had run into a little hot water when the satirist John Williams (known by the pseudonym of Anthony Pasquin) sued him for libel (a further 42 publishers were to be tried following Faulder’s hearing). The case surrounded the sale of copies of a poetical work produced by William Gifford, The Baviad. Williams claimed that the volume defamed him and many across the land. The case was heard by Lord Kenyon, who dismissed the charges leaving Faulder free to continue on with his business. The proceedings were published in 1811 around the time of Williams’ death of typhus which he had contracted in America where he had fled following the failed court case.

Dr Anthony Shepherd (born 1721) is the final intriguing character recorded who touches the life of our book. He was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge graduating in 1744 and continued his education at Christ’s College where he gained his MA in 1747. He would rise to become Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge in 1760 and was appointed as George III’s Master of Mechanics in 1763. He had a great taste for music and it is possible that the more extensive notes which are found in the margins of the book are those of Shepherd. However, his musical abilities apparently never outshone his talent for astronomy.

Image 4Anthony Shepherd (1721?–1796), Plumian Professor of Astronomy (1760–1796), by Gerard van der Puyl (1750–1824). (Image courtesy of The Old Schools, University of Cambridge).

As a clergyman Shepherd held a series of livings including Canon of Windsor (1777-1796) and Rector of Eastling, Kent (1782-1796). However, he always resided in Cambridge, attending to his duties at the University. There are several documents held within Lambeth’s archives which are linked to Shepherd’s clerical career, including his ordination papers (FP XLII f. 14).

Despite his evidently sharp mind, the daughter of Dr Charles Burney rather unkindly described Shepherd as “dullness itself”. Although a little colour is added to his character through his association with Captain Cook who named the Shepherd islands after his friend in 1774. Shepherd died the year before Faulder’s brush with the law, but it is through him that we have an interesting connection between the church, music and the volume now in the Sion Collection – neatly rounding off our story.

References:

Gifford, William (1811). The Baviad and Maeviad. 8th edition. London: John Murray: https://archive.org/stream/baviadandmaevia01pasqgoog#page/n157/mode/2upp , pp. 129-179.

Husk, G. & Grove G. (n.d.). A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Callcott, John. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Music_and_Musicians/Callcott,_John

John Wall Callcott. Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911. http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/c/john_wall_callcott.html

John Williams (satirist) (2017). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Williams_(satirist)

Library of Congress (n.n.) Sandwich-Carrots! – dainty Sandwich-Carrots. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001695088/

Olleson, P. (2004). Callcott, John Wall (1766-1821). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, pp. 543-544. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oxford University (n.d.). British Book Trade Indexhttp://bbti.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Taub, Liba (2004). Shepherd, Anthony (1721?–1796). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, pp. 240-241. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Gentleman’s Magazine (1796). Volume LXVI, pt. 2. London.

‘Faith seeking understanding’: Finding Saint Anselm at Lambeth Palace Library

Today marks the launch of the second year of The Community of Saint Anselm, a community of prayer, theological reflection and service, based at Lambeth Palace and established by Archbishop Justin Welby for Christians aged 20-35. The Community draws its name from Saint Anselm of Canterbury – a Benedictine monk, renowned scholar and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1114.  Standing out in history as a teacher, philosopher and theologian (Vaughn, 2012), Anselm expounded the close relationship between knowledge of God and love of God, encapsulated in his motto, ‘faith seeking understanding’.  It is therefore fitting that his prayers, letters and theological texts find a home among the manuscripts and earliest of printed books treasured in the Library of Lambeth Palace.

anselms-arms
Arms of Archbishop Anselm, from MS 555 f.4

Anselm himself was committed to monastic life and learning.  Despite being turned away when he first sought to become a monk at the age of 15, he went on to become an influential Prior and Abbot of Bec monastery in France, where he taught the monks and wrote a number of works that gained him a reputation for deploying reason to understand faith, and developing the ontological argument for the existence of God (Shannon, 1999). These works can be found in a number of manuscripts held at Lambeth Palace Library, dating from the 12th to 15th century.  The earliest of these is a manuscript compilation of Anselm’s treatises and a collection of his letters, compiled and copied in the 1120s by historian and monk, William of Malmesbury (MS 224).

ms224
MS 224 f.152r, with headline and numbers added in red by Archbishop Parker

When asked to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, Anselm saw it as his duty to lead the church in moral and doctrinal teaching, and to continue to develop his own understanding alongside that of his monks at Christ Church Canterbury (Shannon, 1999). It was here that the second earliest volume of Anselm’s work held at the Library was made, in the late 1120s: a major collection of letters that remained at the Cathedral Priory until the Dissolution (MS 59). 

ms59-f-64
MS 59 f.64

Along with several of the Anselm manuscripts in the Library today, both of these volumes feature in Archbishop Abbott’s catalogue of Archbishop Bancroft’s personal library, the founding collection of Lambeth Palace Library in 1610.  They also bear the classmarks of Cambridge University, where they would be preserved during the Commonwealth occupation of Lambeth Palace.  A list of contents written in the hand of Archbishop Sancroft in both volumes shows the care afforded to them on their return to Lambeth, while headlines added in MS 224 by Matthew Parker, Archbishop to Elizabeth I, and annotations in MS 59 believed to indicate Thomas Cranmer’s ownership (Selwyn, 1996), demonstrate that these volumes had long been the subject of close attention by earlier Archbishops. One annotator’s references to ‘alius liber epistolarum’ in MS 224 suggest that these volumes may even have been studied side by side.  Further enforcing the long-standing esteem in which Anselm’s works were held, these works can also be found adorned within presentation volumes, such as a fine late 14th or early 15th century illuminated copy of his meditations copied alongside work from Bernard of Clairvaux and undoubtedly prepared for a dignitary (MS 194).

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MS 194 f.1

Thomas Becket requested Anselm’s canonization in 1163, shortly after his own appointment as Archbishop, and a copy of the Bull of Pope Alexander III responding to this request can be found in Lambeth’s collections (MS 159 f.76v). It lies within a volume of Saints’ Lives, bound for Archbishop Sancroft, which also contains a Life and Miracles of Anselm written by his chaplain and secretary, Eadmer of Canterbury, as well as the only known copy of Anselm’s Life written by John of Salisbury, Bishop of Chartres, on Thomas Becket’s request. The presence of a second bull regarding his canonization, however, listed within Archbishop Morton’s Register for 1494, suggests that he may not actually have been canonized until three centuries later (Reg. Morton 1, f.220).

The path did not run straight for Anselm, however, and the earliest archival item in the Library’s collections to make reference to him evidences the more troubled aspects of Anselm’s career. Thought to date from 1100, the document is a notice from King Henry I in Latin and English, confirming the ownership of Anselm and the Canterbury monks of all the lands that they held in the time of King Edward and King William I (CM/XI/1).  This marked the return of lands confiscated by William II after Archbishop Lanfranc’s death, which were temporarily given back as a condition of Anselm’s acceptance of the Archbishopric, but seized again in 1095 as part of the long-running Investiture Controversy over whether the King or Pope had primary authority to invest ecclesiastical symbols of office. Even after this notice, the Controversy continued and, having already spent five years of his office in exile in 1095-1100, Anselm was exiled again from 1103-1106, until the dispute was settled at the Synod of Westminster in 1107 (Kemp, [n.d.]).

cm_xi_i
CM/XI/I

It was during the earlier of these periods of exile during his tenure as Archbishop that Anselm completed what is often considered his greatest work, Cur Deus homo (“Why God was man”). This is the text printed in the earliest of 7 incunabula containing Anselm’s work held in Lambeth’s collection. Printed between 1474 and 1500 in the continental printing centres of Strasbourg, Passau, Nuremberg and Basel, they illustrate Anselm’s ongoing influence.  This first printed edition of Cur Deus homo is believed to have been printed in 1474 in Strasbourg by George Husner (F220.A6 [**]). Demonstrating Anselm’s typically rational approach, it is formulated as a dialogue between Anselm and his student, Boso, and argues for the necessity of Jesus’ nature as fully human and fully divine in order to atone for mankind’s sin against an infinite God (Williams, 2016). This copy was purchased in 2002 by the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library.

cur-deus-homo
Cur Deus homo f.1r (F220.A6 [**], 1474)
This work features again amongst Lambeth’s incunabula, in an edition printed 11 years later in 1485 in Passau by Johann Petri (F220.A6 [**]).  Here it is bound with Anselm’s short narrative on the Passion of Christ, De planctu Marie, which again takes the form of a dialogue, this time between Anselm and the Virgin Mary, and aimed at a young audience. Bound with a copy of 5th-century priest Julianus Pomerius’ treatise, De vita contemplative, it still retains its original 15th century wooden boards and clasp, and was presented to the Library by the Friends in 2000.

f220-a6
F220.A6 [**] (1485) manuscript pastedown and printed title page
The attention of eminent writers, scholars and theologians is evident in these incunabula.  Opera [et] tractatus beati Anselmi archiepiscopi cantuariēn ordinis Sancti Benedicti (1491), carries a donor inscription gifting the book to Archbishop Tait from R.C. Jenkins in 1869 ([ZZ]1491.2). This was most likely the theological writer Robert Charles Jenkins, rector of Lyminge with Paddlesworth in Kent, and a frequent correspondent with Tait.

tait
Donor inscription from Jenkins to Tait in [ZZ]1491.2, front pastedown
Significantly, one late 15th century edition of Anselm’s works ([ZZ]1500.7) has been signed by historian and martyrologist, John Foxe, who would later include Anselm’s history and letters in his Actes and Monuments. The copy retains its early 16th century blind-stamped binding by Nicholas Speirinck and, along with several of these incunabula, contains fine examples of manuscript waste used in the printed volume’s pastedowns. Its title handwritten on the fore-edge reminds us of the book’s history in libraries at one point shelved with the fore-edges displayed, while a second copy of this edition, transferred from Sion College Library, displays the staple marks of hasps from its previous residence in a chained library (L40.4/43). Sion’s copy also retains a contemporary blind-tooled calf binding with a dragon motif, listed on the animals roll as made in Cambridge.

john-foxe
John Foxe’s inscription on the title page of [ZZ]1500.7
Anselm’s presence in the collections continues throughout the centuries, with further volumes of his works and studies on them dating from the 16th century through to the modern day.  As the second year of the Community of Saint Anselm gets underway, these volumes are further testimony to the influence of this faithful monastic theologian at Lambeth Palace and in Christian thought from the 11th century to today.

e2649-a6
Title page of D. Anselmi Cantuariensis archiepiscopi … in omnes sanctissimi Pauli apostoli epistolas enarrationes … printed in 1533 in Coloniae (E2649.(A6) [**])

Further reading and bibliography

  • Kemp, John Arthur, ‘Saint Anselm of Canterbury: Archbishop and philosopher, in Encyclopaedia Britannica (n.d.)
  • Selwyn, D.G., The Library of Thomas Cranmer (Oxford, 1996)
  • Shannon, William H., Anselm: the joy of faith (New York: Crossroad, 1999)
  • Sharpe, Richard, ‘Collecting Anselm’, in Lambeth Palace Library: treasures from the collection of the Archbishops of Canterbury, edited by Richard Palmer and Michelle P. Brown (London: Scala, 2010), pp.38-39
  • Vaughn, Sally N., Archbishop Anselm 1093-1109: Bec missionary, Canterbury Primate, Patriarch of another world (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012)
  • Williams, Thomas, ‘Saint Anselm‘, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta (2016)

June update from the Library and Record Centre

Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre regularly embark on new projects and acquire and catalogue new material, from rare books and manuscripts to modern publications.  Every two months, we will be posting here a brief update on some of our latest acquisitions, projects and upcoming events, to keep you up-to-date with our most recent news.

Our latest modern accessions

Some highlights from our most recent acquisitions include:

Victorian Parson
The Victorian parson, by Barry Turner (H5175.T8)

For more regular updates on new accessions to the library, please follow us on Facebook.

Thomas Cromwell
Engraved portrait of Thomas Cromwell (Prints 009/009)

Upcoming events

Annual General Meeting of the Church of England Record Society. Followed by a talk by Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch: ‘The Early Career of Thomas Cromwell’.  Monday 4th July, 4pm-6.30pm

Those wishing to attend should send their names in advance to Juliette Boyd, Lambeth Palace Library, juliette.boyd@churchofengland.org or 020 7898 1400, no later than Friday 1 July.  Admittance is not before 3.45 pm, via the main gatehouse of Lambeth Palace.

 

Recently catalogued in the Sion Collection

Highlights among the material recently catalogued from the Sion College Collection (now held at Lambeth Palace Library) include:

B99/1M57
One of 80 fine hand-coloured engraved plates from B99/1M57
  1. Meyrick, Samuel Rush. A critical inquiry into antient armour, as it existed in Europe, particularly in England from the Norman conquest to the reign of King Charles II. London: Dowding, 1830? [B99/1M57]. This three volume set is an important and sumptuous work on the history of armour and weapons, illustrated with 80 engraved plates which have been hand-coloured and illuminated with gold.
  2. Greaves, John. Pyramidographia: or A description of the pyramids in Aegypt, 1646 [B95.4/G79 01]. In 1646, John Greaves, a professor of astronomy at Oxford University, provided the first accurate elevation section of the Great Pyramid. In Pyramidographia, he correctly concluded that the Pyramid was the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu.
  3. Porta, Giambattista della. Magiae naturalis, siue De miraculis rerum naturalium libri IIII. Antwerp: C. Plantin, 1561. [C60.4/P83]. Magia naturalis (“Natural magic”) is a work of popular science by Giambattista della Porta first published in Naples in 1558. Included are observations upon geology, optics, medicines, poisons, cosmetics, metallurgy, magnetism, gunpowder and invisible writing.

News from the Archives

LUNA
Library and Record Centre image catalogue

The papers of Susan Varah, Central President of the Mothers’ Union 1970-76, have been catalogued (MU/MSS/2/14), complementing the archive of the MU held here in the Library. Work has begun to catalogue the papers of Michael Harper (1931-2010), a seminal figure in the charismatic movement within the Anglican church. The Friends of Lambeth Palace Library have purchased for the collection a volume of photographs of Bishops and other clergy dating from the 1860s, in an attractive decorated binding (MS 5077). Work to re-catalogue the Library’s historic records continues. For more information on these collections please see the online archives catalogue.

ICBS 4298
ICBS plan for Castle Combe Church (ICBS 4298)

We are pleased to announce the online launch of the Library/Record Centre image catalogue, LUNA. This provides access to some 22,800 items selected from the collections, including images within the Incorporated Church Building Society archive previously available via the Church Plans Online website.

Material from the Library continues to feature in the press and in publications. An early printed book with concealed annotations was featured on the Radio 4 news (starting at about 27 minutes 30 seconds) and in The Times. The papers of Anthony Bacon, secretary to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, are quoted extensively in a new publication Male Friendship and Testimonies of Love in Shakespeare’s England.

Church of England Record Centre update

CERC shelvesThe archive of the Council for the Care of Churches (CARE) has been fully catalogued and can be searched via the online catalogue.

The following collections are currently being catalogued:

  • Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry
  • Council for Women’s Ministry in the Church
  • Papers of the Secretary to the Church Commissioners
  • Hospital Chaplaincies Council papers
  • Church Information Office papers
  • Westminster Chapter Manor Court records

A project to catalogue and digitise the archive of Canon Basil Clarke, recently transferred from CCB library, has also started.

Thank you for following us!

MS 3561
A beautiful illustration of Saint Barbara, alongside a prayer to her, contained within MS 3561, a 16th-century Book of Hours

Our new Lambeth Palace Library Instagram account now has over 600 followers!  Thank you to all those who have joined us so far. Don’t forget that you can now follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as here on our blog. Join us for some fantastic insights into treasures from our collections, dating from the 9th century to the present day.

Wynkyn de Worde’s “Remorse of Conscience”: a unique survivor

Wynkyn de Worde (died c. 1534) was a printer and publisher in London and is best known for his work with William Caxton. Although Caxton was the first printer to set up shop in England, it was arguably de Worde who proved instrumental in ensuring the success of the printing trade in this country. Through technical innovations and an insistence on high quality materials, he greatly improved the fledgling art of printing and has since been described as ‘England’s first typographer’ (Haley, 1992).

Device of William Caxton which subsequently passed to Wynkyn de Worde in 1492. From ‘Pilgrymage of perfecyon’, printed in 1531 by de Worde

Few details are known about de Worde’s early life. He was thought to have been born in Woerden in Holland (but possibly Woerth in Alsace). It is often assumed he accompanied William Caxton to England as a journeyman printer, working for him as apprentice or foreman until Caxton’s death in 1492, however there is little evidence to support this. We do know that de Worde took over Caxton’s printing house in Westminster around the time of Caxton’s death in 1492, and began by reprinting some of Caxton’s earlier titles. In 1496, following the settlement of a long dispute with Caxton’s family over the will, he was able legally to take control of the enterprise.

In 1500 de Worde transferred the business from Westminster to London and was the first printer to set up a press in Fleet Street, a location that would become synonymous with the printing trade. He published more than 400 books in 800 editions (Mueller, 2002), some of which are now known to exist in just a single copy. One of these unique survivors, The remorse of conscience (1515), is to be found here at Lambeth Palace Library, held within the Sion College Library Collection.

Title page: 'The remors of conscyence: Here begynneth certayne demonstracyons by our lorde to all synfull persones with the remors of mannes conscynce to the regarde of the bounte of our lorde'
‘The remors of conscyence. Here begynneth certayne demonstracyons by our lorde to all synfull persones with the remors of mannes conscynce to the regarde of the bounte of our lorde’

Wynkyn de Worde printed at least three editions of The remorse of conscience,  in 1510, in 1515 and again in 1534 (see Rhodes, 1958). The Sion copy is the only recorded example of the second edition. A fragment only, it was discovered within Sion College’s copy of Albertus Magnus, De officiis (Cologne, 1503) where it had been bound among the flyleaves. The fragment consists of folios 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, and 11 only (the first and second sheets of quire A and the second of quire B). The title (The remors of conscyence) is printed within a wooden scroll, and both the title page and its verso are illustrated with the same fine woodcut of a penitent kneeling before Christ.

De Worde often illustrated his books with woodcuts, not only re-using woodblocks from Caxton’s period but also commissioning new products from skilled craftsmen. These new blocks would be used again and again in different publications, eventually showing evidence of wear, as shown by our copy of the The remorse… The woodcut has a neat crack down the middle, also visible in the previous edition. By the time of the third recorded edition, thought to have been printed in 1534, the same woodblock has been badly broken.

Woodcut of the penitent kneeling before Christ
Woodcut of the penitent kneeling before Christ. Damage to the block is clearly visible.

The remorse of conscience takes the form of a dialogue between God and Man and is also known in earlier manuscript editions as The complaynt of God (Lambeth Palace Library holds two 15th century copies at MS306 and MS853). The author was the poet William Lichfield, whose gravestone at Christ’s College, Cambridge, reads: “William Lichfield, Doctor of Diuinitie, who deceased the yeare 1448, hee was a great student, and compiled many bookes both moral and diuine”.

Bibliography
Haley, Allan. Typographic milestones, London: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.
Meuller, Janel. Cambridge history of early modern English literature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Rhodes, D. E. “The remorse of conscience”, The Library, pp. 199-200, 1958.