Thursday, 19 July 2007

Oxford seal

As my trip draws to a close, I take note of something I’ve encountered often while here: the seal of Oxford University, which dates back to approximately 1400. Appropriately, the central focus of the seal is a book. There are seven book clasps along the sides, and scholars argue about their symbolic meaning, as well as the origin of the three crowns. The inscription inside the book is “Dominus illuminatio mea,” or “The Lord is my light.” While centered here at Oxford for the past month I have seen and learned about many books from the early modern period, with librarians, scholars, and colleagues. I look forward to continuing the project in the future.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


During the 16th century, printing came to Wales, and there were connections to the Counter-Reformation. The first book printed in Welsh (Yn Y Lhyvr Hwnn, or In this Book, by John Price, of Brecon) had appeared in 1546. Toward the end of the century, the first book was printed in Wales. Y Drych Cristianogawl, or The Christian Mirror appeared in 1586 or 1587, having been printed in a cave near Llandudno. The book was produced in secret because it was a Catholic work, and would have been prohibited. A false imprint was put on the title page, stating in Latin that the book was printed in Rouen in 1585. In fact, the work of the press was never finished, as those involved fled after authorities learned of the activity.

Sunday, 15 July 2007


Kenilworth Castle is one of the largest historic sites in England. A walk through its ruined structures affords a view of the monarchs and noble figures who lived there. It was founded by Geoffrey de Clinton in the 1120s, and expanded in later years by other owners. In 1563 Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) granted it to her favorite, Robert Dudley, who spent enormous sums to convert and expand it. In 1575 the queen visited, and a 19 day “great entertainment” was held. There is a connection to printing: the activities were recounted, in the form of a satire, in the book “A Letter: whearin, part of the entertainment unto the Queenz Maiesty at Killingwoorth Castl, in warwik Sheer, in this soomerz Progess, 1575, is signified…” Apparently no copies of this edition survive, though later 16th century printings do. Written in Warwickshire dialect, the author was probably William Patten (died in or after 1598), though for many years the name of Robert Laneham was put forward.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Brasenose College

Our last exhibition took place today at Brasenose College, which was the college of John Foxe (1517?-1587), the author of Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days, also known as the Book of Martyrs. And so it was appropriate that the exhibition dealt almost exclusively with various editions of this title. It is important to look at the various editions because they changed so much over time. The first edition appeared in 1563, and during the next 130 years there were 9 editions. John King, one of the directors of our seminar, has written that the book served as a window on early modern English history, and that "this sensational book came to exert a greater influence upon the consciousness of Renaissance England than any other book aside from the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer."

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Taylor Institution

The Taylor Institution serves as Oxford's center for the study of modern European languages and literatures. It has three libraries: the Main Library, the Modern Languages Faculty Library, and the Slavonic and Modern Greek Library. According to the Taylor Institution website, the research library "contains the largest specialist collection in this field in Britain." There are many rare books dating especially from the 17th century forward, though I myself visited to look at an early 16th century work in German. The reading room of the Main Library, located on the upper floor, is a beautiful place to work, with tall book shelves, paintings, and a fireplace.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Bodleian Library, part II

Our penultimate book exhibition and workshop took place at the Bodleian, in the Clarendon building. This structure was built in the early 18th century by a pupil of Christopher Wren to house the Oxford University Press. The press vacated the building in the 19th century, and since 1975 it has been part of the library system. Again, we saw and discussed many interesting books and manuscripts. I spent much of my time looking at a copy of Calvin's Institutes which was owned by Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), the famous French classical scholar who lived for many years in England. This book is remarkable because of the extensive handwritten notations of Casaubon. The notations provide a way for us to study how an important text was read by one of the most learned men of his time.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Queen's College

Queen's is one of the oldest colleges at Oxford, having been founded in 1340, and it has had a library throughout its history. Today the library is located in a late 17th century building featuring both baroque and rococo elements. Although little remains from the medieval library, Queen's today still possesses one of the largest rare book collections among the Oxford colleges. Treasures relating to the seminar's period of focus include the Catholicon from Gutenberg's workshop, a Boccaccio owned by Pope Pius V (1566-1572), and David Garrick's copy of the Shakespeare first folio. I also saw an early copy of Luther's German bible, shown here.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Luther's Galatians

Each of us in the seminar is conducting research on a particular topic relating in some way to printing during the Reformation. My project concerns Martin Luther's Commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians. I became interested in this book because Vassar owns a copy of the first English edition of the work, printed in 1575. Luther re-wrote the text several times, and there were 21 printings between 1519 and 1546. Most of the printings were in Latin, though some were in German, and one was in Dutch. I am focusing on the paratextual elements of the commentary, that is, everything outside of the text itself. Pictured here is the title page of the German translation of 1538. It features an important Reformation pictorial theme: the Law (on the left) and the Gospel (on the right).

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

St. John's College Library

We took a tour of St. John’s College Library. St. John’s has a long history, having been founded in 1555, and today it is reported to be the wealthiest college at Oxford. The Old Library was built in 1596-98, and was the first to feature seats and desks between the cases (an arrangement common to other Oxford libraries). The library contains about 370 manuscripts dating from the 10th century to the present; many of them are Oriental and Greek manuscripts. There are also significant holdings of early printed books, and we were able to see several examples in a special exhibit prepared for us. On the morning of our visit, I happened to read William Roper’s “The Life of Sir Thomas More,” which was written around 1556, and published in 1626. It was an amazing coincidence that in the exhibit I saw William Roper’s own copy of “The Works of Sir Thomas More Knyght,” printed in London in 1557.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Maggs Rare Books

London is an important center of the rare book trade. The Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) is the main organization for dealers in the British Isles; it boasts 256 members. ABA sponsors the Olympia Book Fair (one of the most prestigious in the world), the Chelsea Book Fair, and the Edinburgh Premier Book Fair. Maggs Rare Books was established in 1853, and therefore is one of the oldest and largest firms operating today. Members of our seminar attended a reception at Maggs in Berkeley Square. During the event we were able to look at more books connected to our field of study.

Monday, 2 July 2007

University of London

On June 28 we visited the Senate House Library at the University of London. During the afternoon we were treated to a special program of lectures. Librarian Karen Attar gave an overview of collections of early books at the university, and incunabulist Lotta Hellinga spoke on the first century of European printing. After a break, Elisabeth Leedham-Green of the University of Cambridge discussed access to books in England during the sixteenth century, and Robert Harding of Maggs Rare Books spoke on books in the hands of Tudor and early Stuart British readers, collectors, and binders. We also had time to see a wonderful exhibition of 16th century English books in the library. Highlights for me included works printed by William Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, and Richard Pynson.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

British Library, part II

The British Library holds one of the world's greatest collections of Western early printed books: nearly 2.5 million dating from 1454 to 1914. The day after having seen the exhibition "Sacred," our group had our own private exhibition, organized by librarian Adrian Edwards. Unfortunately there is not enough room here to list all of the amazing books we saw that relate to the Reformation. Highlights for me included the Mainz bible of 1462, printed by Fust and Schoeffer; Martin Luther's German New Testament, which first appeared in September, 1522; and bibles owned by Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.

British Library

Our group visited the British Library in London and toured the exhibition "Sacred," which presents some of the rarest and most exquisite books and manuscripts from the faith traditions of judaism, christianity, and islam. We saw a number of books dealing with our subject. Of special note was the Tyndale New Testament. We had walked the streets that Tyndale walked in Antwerp, seen his college at Oxford, and now saw one of the three copies of this book that are known to be in existence. Though printed, the British Library copy features beautiful illuminations produced by hand throughout. The library purchased this copy in 1994 for over a million pounds. It is considered by some to be the most important printed book in the English language.

Oxford University Press

Printing in Oxford began during the time period we are studying. In 1478 Theodoric Rood put out the first book, and printing for the university continued intermittently for the next hundred years or so. In 1586 an ordinance of the Star Chamber granted Oxford a press and an apprentice. In 1636 a charter of Charles I allowed Oxford to print "all manner of books." So there has been a university press in operation here continuously since the late 16th century. Shown here is a type case from the press, dating from the 17th century.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The Oxford Martyrs

The Oxford Martyrs were bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer is remembered especially for his work on the Book of Common Prayer, which was first printed in 1549, and then revised in 1552 and again in later years. Each of the churchmen was tried and convicted of heresy at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. They were burned at the stake, the first two in 1555, and Cranmer in 1556. The actual place where the burning occured is commemorated in Broad Street with cobbled stones that form a cross. The Martyr's Memorial, pictured here, is a nearby Victorian monument completed in 1843.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

William Tyndale and the English Bible

William Tyndale (ca. 1494-1536) has been called “the father of the English Reformation,” and is known for his translation into English of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament. He attended Hertford College, Oxford, receiving degrees in 1512 and 1515. As an ordained priest he later studied at Cambridge, where he came into contact with Erasmus. By the early 1520s was working on a translation of the Bible into English. Church authorities did not support this effort, though, which forced him to flee to the continent, where he met Martin Luther and others. Tyndale’s English New Testament was published at Worms in 1526, and copies were smuggled into England. Tyndale was condemned as a heretic, and he went into hiding, continuing to translate other parts of the Bible. He was arrested in Antwerp and burned at the stake outside Brussels in 1536. Tyndale’s influence on later editions of the English Bible, particularly the King James version, is great, and he has been called an architect of the English language. The stained glass window shown here is located at Hertford College; it depicts the reformer holding a book above a printing press scene. The names of other reformers are listed on the side windows, and there are several inscriptions, including “Every man in his own language.”

Monday, 25 June 2007

Bodleian Library

My colleagues and I will be conducting research at a variety of institutions during the seminar. Much of our work, however, will be centered in the Bodleian Library, which is the main research library at Oxford. We received a wonderful introduction to the library from David Vaisey, former director of the library. Mr. Vaisey pointed out that the early history of the library is intimately tied to our areas of interest, namely the Protestant Reformation, and the revolution that was printing. Duke Humphrey gave a large collection of manuscripts in the 15th century, but during much of the 16th century the library declined. Thomas Bodley donated books and supported renewed growth, and "Bodley's Library" was formally opened in 1602. In 1610 the library began to receive a copy of every book registered with the Stationers' Company in London, and so the collections are unusually extensive. The Bodleian developed as a bastion of Protestant scholarship.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Erasmus House

Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466?-1536) was one of the greatest northern humanists. He produced a Greek New Testament, the Novum Instrumentum, and other works. He was also a friend of printers, with whom he collaborated on the publication of key texts. Today one can visit his home in Anderlecht, Belgium, where he lived for 5 months in 1521. I was fortunate to see not only the house, but also the current exhibit on "Erasmus and his Printers." Afterward I toured the philosophical garden, which is adjacent to the museum.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Plantin-Moretus Museum

The Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp is one of the best places in Europe to learn about early printing. Christopher Plantin (ca. 1520-1589) ran one of the largest printing businesses of his time. He is especially known for the printing of the polyglot bible (1573), which featured the text of the bible in several languages, side by side. Today the museum has wonderful collections of type, cases, presses, artifacts, and books. Here we see the inner courtyard of the museum, facing the rooms used as a bookstore, and a press used to print from copper plates.


The seminar begins in Antwerp, Belgium. This city was an important center of printing in the early 16th century. The first bibles in French, Dutch, and English were printed here. Pressures against printers increased, and after the 1540s, fewer Protestant texts were printed in Antwerp.


This summer I am participating in a summer seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. "The Reformation of the Book, 1450-1700" will investigate various topics relating to the creation and dissemination of books during the early modern period, with special emphasis on England. The seminar will take place in Antwerp, London, and Oxford. As someone involved in the teaching of courses on the history of the book and the Reformation at Vassar College, I am greatly looking forward to this experience.