Elizabeth Elstob and the history of women’s education in Queens’ Old Library.



By Emma Anderson, Library Graduate Trainee.

In Queens’ Old Library, we are fortunate to have two copies of Elizabeth Elstob’s 1709 translation of Ælfric of Eynsham’s English-Saxon Homily on the Birth-Day of St Gregory [E.9.15 and C.20.10]. This is a spectacular work of trilingual academia, featuring annotated translations and commentaries between Old and contemporary English and Latin. Elizabeth Elstob, the translator and scholar, was noteworthy in many ways, not in the least for being a published author and scholar at a time in which men dominated academia. The President of Queens’ College at the time, Henry James, was a subscriber of Elstob’s work, which accounts for the presence of her book in the Old Library; this shows that societal interest in women’s education was becoming increasingly widespread, and had supporters even in male-only institutions such as Queens’ was in the eighteenth century.

Title page of Elstob’s work.

Elstob was born into an affluent merchant family in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 29th September 1683. She commentated later that Old English had been easy for her to learn, as it had commonalities with the language that she had heard in the North as a child. She was educated at home, in subjects including Latin, which was unusual for women in the period. In 1702 she moved in with her brother in London, and along with him became a member of a scholarly community interested in Anglo-Saxon texts. Elstob built a large network of subscribers and patrons from this community, including Old English scholars such as George Hickes and Humfrey Wanley, and the literary figure and politician Robert Harley. She forged connections with scholars at The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford to expand her circle of patrons and to gain access to the Old English manuscripts held at those institutions. She also participated in the circle of intellectuals headed by the writer and philosopher Mary Astell (1666–1731). By 1709, she had amassed 268 subscribers for the English-Saxon Homily on the Birth-Day of St Gregory, 116 of which were women. Ultimately, through Robert Harley, she successfully petitioned Queen Anne for the funding to publish her work.

Elstob’s skill as a translator and commentator is immediately evident on leafing through the pages of her text; she offers side-by-side translations, an Old English alphabet, and extensive notes on the historic nations of Anglo-Saxon England and the influence of Old English on contemporary language. Further, Elstob’s work is clearly signalled as her own. At the beginning of her translation, Ælfric’s original text is marked out with an engraved initial featuring an image of his face. Elstob’s translation is marked out as her own with a similarly engraved initial depicting her own face. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, certain writers and scholars – both female and male – had begun to champion the cause of women’s education, seeing it as beneficial for society. In 1694, Mary Astell published an outright plea for an institution for women’s higher education, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of Their True and Greatest Interest; notably, this not only about women, but addressed to women. Against this background, the image of Elstob’s face at the head of her work becomes a visual reminder of the movement declaring women’s right to, and suitability for scholarly pursuits.

Engraved portraits of Ælfric and Elstob, showing them side by side and at the head of their respective texts.

However, in this publication, she goes a step further than simply demonstrating women’s intellectual capacity. In her dedication, addressed to Queen Anne, she describes the spiritual genealogy of Christianity through important women, highlighting their fundamental role in effecting the conversion of empires and nations. She points out that:

‘the introduction of the Christian Faith, into the Roman Empire, was effected by the ever glorious Helena, and the conversion of the English much promoted, by the endeavours of the first English Christian Queen Berhta…’

– Elstob, p. 5
Initial ‘I’, surrounded by Mary, Jesus, Helena the mother of Constantine, Queen Bertha and Queen Elizabeth.

She links the achievements of these ‘two truly Royal Ladies’ (p. 7) to the ‘Restitution of [Christianity] from many corruptions, by Your illustrious predecessor Queen Elizabeth’, arguing that women leaders had an essential role in ensuring the success of Christianity both in England and beyond. This idea is charmingly illustrated in the engraved initial ‘I’ that opens the dedication. Five figures surround the initial: Jesus, Mary, and three female figures, who are identifiable as the three women discussed in the dedication. This opens the book with a visual statement of the authority of women in spiritual matters. The ‘I’ in the centre appears almost like another figure, implying that Elstob herself is one of their companions. The notion of women as scholars and promoters of Christianity is presented not as something new or deviant from any norms, but as a long-established universal truth.

It is interesting that such a text is present in the collection in Queens’ Old Library. Like many Cambridge colleges, Queens’ specialised in providing an education for future clerics, who at the time could only be male. The education of women was unlikely to be something in which many fellows or students had much interest. An answer may be found in the list of subscribers included at the end of the book. Subscription was a common method of financing the publication of books in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; it constituted an agreement between the bookseller and/or author on one hand and a number of individuals – subscribers – on the other, who would contribute towards the cost of the production of the book. The subscribers would then receive a copy or copies of the book upon publication. The list of subscribers at the back of the English-Saxon Homily includes one ‘Dr. James, Master of Queens’ College, and Regius Professor of Divinity, at Cambridge’ (Elstob p. [184]). It is highly probable that this refers to Henry James, who was President of Queens’ from 1675 to 1717, and the copies of Elstob’s book in the Old Library are likely to be the copies that he received as a subscriber. It it is worth noting that a President of Queens’, an institution devoted to the education of men, had been in contact with Elstob, and presumably had some interest in women’s scholarship.

Elstob’s other publications included a Latin Athanasian Creed containing an Old English interlinear gloss (1708) and The Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue (1715), which was the first grammar of Old English published in Modern English. Unfortunately, her brother’s death in 1715 left Elstob destitute. Then, as now, it was difficult to make a substantial living writing extremely specialised scholarly works; further, the sponsorship for the English-Saxon Homily fell through, as Queen Anne died before she paid it. Elstob attempted to open a school, which was a financial disaster despite demand. She then ran a small school in Evensham for some years, during which time very few records of her exist. Accounts of her reappear in 1739, when she took a position as governess to the children of Margaret Cavendish Bentinck (1715–1785), duchess of Portland. Margaret Cavendish Bentinck was a member of the mid-18th century women’s intellectual circle known as the Bluestockings, and was an avid collector in the realms of botany and porcelain. From her final letters, Elstob seems to have become despondent about the future of women’s education and scholarship in general, reflecting that her contemporary society valued other virtues. However, she remains an inspiration for her perseverance and commitment to academic pursuits, and for her determination to take up space in a male-dominated environment.


Ashdown, Margaret, ‘Elizabeth Elstob, the Learned Saxonist’, The Modern Language Review, 20.2 (1925), 125–46 <https://doi.org/10.2307/3714201&gt;

Clapp, Sarah L. C., ‘The Beginnings of Subscription Publication in the Seventeenth Century’, Modern Philology, 29.2 (1931), 199–224

Damico, Helen, ed., ‘Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756)’, in Medieval Scholarship: Biographical Studies on the Formation of a Discipline (Routledge, 1998)

‘Elizabeth Elstob, Old English Scholar, and the Harleian Library’ <https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2020/08/elizabeth-elstob-and-the-harleian-library.html&gt; [accessed 16 March 2022]

‘Elstob, Elizabeth (1683–1756), Anglo-Saxon Scholar’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/8761&gt;

Hannan, Leonie, ‘The Intellectual Life of Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1756): Community, Patronage, and Production’, History of Intellectual Culture, 11.1, 1–18

Kinnaird, Joan K., ‘Mary Astell and the Conservative Contribution to English Feminism’, Journal of British Studies, 19.1 (1979), 53–75

Llewellyn-MacDuff, Lindsay, ‘Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756)’, Rochester Cathedral <https://www.rochestercathedral.org/textusroffensis/elstob&gt; [accessed 16 March 2022]

Staves, Susan, ‘Church of England Clergy and Women Writers’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 65.1/2 (2002), 81–103

Evolution of zoology in Queens’ collections

By Harry Bartholomew – Queens’ Library Graduate Trainee (2020-21)

From the mere observation of different species to ground-breaking theories on their origins, the study of our fellow members of the animal kingdom has evolved into a discipline of many branches. The latest display in the War Memorial Library illustrates the contributions of those associated with Queens’ College or the larger university to the development of zoology.

The Historia animalium, published 1551-1558 and held in the Queens’ Old Library, is a monumental attempt to compile an inventory of Renaissance zoological knowledge in five volumes. Complete with woodcut illustrations, Historia animalium brings together both ancient and modern sources written about animal habitats, physical features, behaviours, culinary and medicinal uses, as well as the name of the animal in various languages. These illustrations contributed to the foundation of a scientific zoology based, at least to a certain extent, on empirical observation, and gave rise to a new era of zoology relying more on visualisation. The rhinoceros image above was copied from a woodcut print by the German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer, which in turn was based on a written description and sketch of a rhinoceros sent from Gujarat to the King of Portugal in 1515. The author, Conrad Gessner (1516-1565), a physician and naturalist from Zürich, has drawn criticism for his inclusion of mythical creatures, yet Gessner’s stated aim was to collect all written knowledge on all animals regardless of confirmed truth: the basis of inclusion in this compendium was the existence of testimonies in writing.

No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology,” says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.

“Ishmael” in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Engraving from William Scoresby, An account of the Arctic regions, with a history and description of the northern whale-fishery (Edinburgh, 1820) [Reserve Collection 17.2.17-18]

The fictional sailor Ishmael references the observations of Arctic marine life made by William Scoresby, an Arctic navigator and eventual Queens’ member, in his accounts of northern voyages. A prolific writer on polar geography, oceanography and natural history, Scoresby made great contributions to the science of the Polar Regions, and his chart of the east coast of Greenland as well his work establishing Arctic currents has facilitated further polar exploration. He travelled to Greenland in all but one summer between 1803 and 1823, where he participated in and recorded the practices of whale fishing, and following this he entered Queens’ College as a ‘ten year man’, meaning he achieved a degree after ten years without being resident in Cambridge.

Sexual dimorphism of birds illustrated in Charles Darwin, The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex (London, 1871) [B.18.17-18]

Charles Darwin was once a student at Christ’s College, and though his father intended his studies to be preparation for a life in the clergy, Darwin became interested in entomology and developed friendships with other naturalists.

Queens’ Old Library holds first editions of Darwin’s works [S.17.30-31], and an earlier volume on zoology by Darwin’s grandfather [L.27.10].

When Darwin introduced his theory of evolution in his 1859 Origin of Species, he initially avoided explicitly detailing his thoughts on human ancestry. Twelve years passed before The Descent of Man brazenly declared man’s subjection to the same process of natural selection as animals. The Descent also presents Darwin’s theory of sexual selection alongside natural selection, demonstrated by these illustrations of pairs of tufted coquettes and hummingbirds. This is the theory that those with more attractive traits to the opposite sex have greater reproductive success. Darwin applies this theory to humans as well as animals, creating continuity between zoology and anthropology.

RSS Discovery in Antarctica from Robert F. Scott, The voyage of the ‘Discovery’ (London, 1905) [Reserve Collection 17.2.19-20]

The voyage of RRS Discovery was an expedition to Antarctica led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott which first set sail in 1901. Returning in 1904, the Discovery expedition was tasked with an extensive programme of scientific research, including further exploration of Antarctica’s interior. The crew collected and examined a number of new zoological specimens: whales, seal embryos, jellyfish, and Antarctic crustaceans were among them. The Scott Polar Research Institute was founded in 1920 in Cambridge as a memorial to Scott, who died along with four companions returning from the South Pole in a subsequent expedition in 1912. Edward Adrian Wilson, an alumnus of Gonville and Caius College who read natural sciences, acted as zoologist and artist on the Discovery expedition. The largest collection of Wilson’s art, including 150 paintings made in Antarctica, is held at the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Adélie Penguins on the ice-foot at Cape Adare in the Antarctic. Photo taken in 1911 or 1912 by George Murray Levick, a member of Robert Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (image from Wikimedia Commons).

The English-Australian entomologist Robin Tillyard was educated in mathematics at Queens’ College after winning a scholarship. After graduating in 1903, Tillyard went to Australia, first as a maths and science teacher at Sydney Grammar School, before undertaking a research degree in biology. As a fellow and lecturer in zoology at the University of Sydney, Tillyard published on dragonflies, lacewings and scorpionflies, and he was invited by the New Zealand government to investigate the diminishing trout population in light of his knowledge of aquatic insects, and also to advocate for the use of insects to biologically control pests. His 1926 work on The insects of Australia and New Zealand added great momentum to the field of entomology and the advantages of biological control. He became an honorary fellow of Queens’ College in 1928.

375 years separate Gessner’s and Tillyard’s publications, during which zoological observation progressed from woodcut likenesses based on written descriptions to accurate colour depictions, and the practical applications of the study has evolved from purported medicinal uses to influencing an island’s ecosystem. The wide time span of books collected in the Old Library proves useful in documenting the history of scientific advancement.


British National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition 1901-04, National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904: Natural History. Vol. II: Zoology (Vertebrata : Mollusca : Crustacea) (London: British Museum, 1907)

Falk, Dan, ‘How Darwin’s “Descent of Man” Holds Up 150 Years After Publication’, Smithsonian Magazine, 2021 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-darwins-descent-man-holds-150-years-after-publication-180977091 [accessed 24 August 2021]

Kusukawa, S., ‘The Sources of Gessner’s Pictures for the Historia Animalium’, Annals of Science, 67.3 (2010), 303–28 https://doi.org/10.1080/00033790.2010.488899

Levick, George Murray, English: Adélie Penguins on the Ice-Foot at Cape Adare in the Antarctic. Published in Scott’s Last Expedition (1913). Dodd, Mead, and Company. New York. Volume II. Page 87. Also Published in Levick, G. Murray (1914). Antarctic Penguins: A Study of Their Social Habits. New York: McBride Nast and Company, 1911 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Levick-Ad%C3%A9lie-Penguins.jpg [accessed 24 August 2021]

Norris, K. R., and D. F. Waterhouse, ‘Tillyard, Robin John (1881–1937)’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 18 vols (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University) https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tillyard-robin-john-8817 [accessed 24 August 2021]

Pomata, Gianna, and Nancy G. Siraisi, Historia: Empiricism and Erudition in Early Modern Europe (MIT Press, 2005)

‘Scoresby, William, Junior (1789–1857), Arctic Scientist and Church of England Clergyman’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/24854

‘Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, History of the Institute’ https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/about/history [accessed 24 August 2021]

‘Scott, Robert Falcon [Known as Scott of the Antarctic] (1868–1912), Naval Officer and Antarctic Explorer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35994

William Woodis Harvey, Sketches of Hayti (1827) and Queens’ Legacies of Enslavement Project developments

Title page of Sketches of Hayti written by former Queens’ student, William Woodis Harvey.

We are extremely grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for their generous contribution towards our recent purchase of Sketches of Hayti [Y.1.8] by former Queens’ member William Woodis Harvey (1798-1864). Written up by Harvey whilst a student here (1824-7), this book provides an eyewitness account of the aftermath of what was perhaps the most important event in the history of enslavement, the revolution of 1791-1804 that occurred in Haiti (on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola).  There, for the first time in history, a violent uprising of enslaved people had brought about the establishment of a new nation state, thereby offering a stark warning to all those who continued to profit from slavery and heralding the possibility of an end to the slave trade. Published at a key moment within the wider context of nineteenth-century Britain’s debates on slavery, Harvey’s personal account was clearly intended as a means to promote his own abolitionist agenda.

Apart from the purchase of Harvey’s book, the Queens’ Legacies of Enslavement project has of late been active in a range of areas that include a recent video made by the college’s history Fellows and planning for a conference next September  entitled ‘Education, Enlightenment, Empire: Anglo-German Universities and the Transatlantic Slave World, c. 1700-1850’. In addition, the library team has been examining the college’s archives as well as assessing the careers and backgrounds of hundreds of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Queens’ members to find evidence of engagement with Britain’s slave economy. Whilst the extent to which the college’s finances might have benefited from transatlantic slavery is as yet unclear, there are innumerable associations with the trade to be identified in the lives of the college’s members. Although this is perhaps only to be expected, given the British Empire’s deep engagement with slavery at that time, the stories to be told are nevertheless proving insightful and interesting. Whilst it may be tempting to segregate discussion of this subject into those who were for slavery, and those who professed opposition to it, the available evidence at Queens’ presents a picture that is more nuanced and complex. For an institution whose central mission had always been ‘the augmentation of the faith’ and the instruction of the clergy, it is not surprising to find that a principal point of contact with the slave economy was via missionary work and associated biblical scholarship. Indeed, the Old Library is replete with evidence of how through evangelism, missionary work and related publishing projects Queens’ members played an active part in the wider imperialist project in ways that both supported and/or opposed the slave economy.

Engraved frontispiece of Harvey’s Sketches of Hayti depicting Cap-François, now Cap-Haïtien.

William Woodis Harvey and his Sketches of Hayti represents a case in point. Born in Penzance, Harvey’s early calling as a Wesleyan preacher led him to undertake missionary work in Haiti where he resided from 1818 until 1824. There, he was able to witness the aftermath of the revolution that had occurred, whereby a successful insurrection of self-liberated slaves terminated French rule, thus depriving France of one of its richest colonial possessions. The initial uprising had taken place in 1791, in the wake of the French Revolution. Following the combined efforts of both former slaves and colonists to repel British attempts to capture Haiti in 1793-8, independence was proclaimed in 1801 under the rule of the charismatic and formerly enslaved, Toussaint Louverture. He was famously abducted by the French in 1802 following the arrival of a huge fleet despatched by Napoleon to re-take the state and re-impose slavery. Whilst Louverture was taken to France and left to die in a castle, Napoleon’s army was repelled through the resourceful leadership of the formerly enslaved, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who as president signed a new ‘declaration of independence’ addressed to the people of ‘Hayti’ in 1804.

Portrait of Henri Christophe (Wikimedia Commons).

Harvey claimed that his account drew on his own ‘personal observation’, ‘frequent conversation with the natives and white residents’ and intimacy with ‘those who had dwelt in’ the palace of Henri Christophe (another of Haiti’s early rulers) in order to relate the remarkable events that had followed the declaration of independence. These sources, he believed, had furnished him with ‘more satisfactory answers to such inquiries as naturally suggest themselves concerning a free and independent body of negroes, than could be collected from the occasional notices of their state which appeared in periodicals and gazettes, or from any history that has been written respecting them’ (p. viii-ix). Over 400 pages Harvey set out what he saw as the successes of the Haitians in establishing a state founded on institutions of law, education and industry. A key objective for Harvey was to counter arguments prevalent amongst his compatriots at the time that saw the enslaved people from African as ‘destined by providence to live in subjection to us, and to administer to our pleasure’ (p. 216). On the contrary, Harvey saw in Haiti:

a people newly escaped from slavery, yet still suffering and exhibiting in their character, its pernicious and demoralizing effects; gradually returning from scenes of confusion and bloodshed, to habits of industry, peace and order; steadily aiming, amidst frequent reverses, to establish a regular and independent government; and under circumstances of difficulty, with confined resources, labouring to improve their agriculture, to repair an exhausted population, to form commercial connexions, and to introduce a knowledge of the arts and sciences; thus laudably endeavouring to lay the foundation of an empire, which may perhaps be compared hereafter with nations the most celebrated for their civilization and refinement (p. vii-viii).

His account focusses mainly on the northern part of the state which, following the death of Dessalines in 1807, was ruled by Henri Christophe (also, formerly enslaved). Harvey presents Christophe as a highly effective military strategist, who had played a vital role in both defeating the French and in maintaining the state’s defences via a range of measures, including construction of a colossal fortress at Citadelle Laferrière.  Harvey goes on to describe in positive terms the state’s judicial system, its army, establishment of schools, agriculture and commerce, as well as the condition and character of Christophe’s subjects before concluding with an account of the subsequent ‘Decline of Christophe’s popularity’. Having elevated himself to the status of King (1811), an act ‘partly influenced…by a sincere regard to the interests of his people’, Christoph adopted the accoutrements of office, building for himself the magnificent Sans-Souci Palace, the ruins of which can still be seen today. However, after over a decade in power during which Christophe increasingly succumbed to paranoia and tyrannical behaviour his reign ended in violence in October 1820.  Yet for Harvey this was merely a setback in the nation’s road to peace, prosperity and ‘civilization’, as reflected in this glowing summary concerning Haiti’s subsequent unification (1820) under the rule of Jean-Pierre Boyer, the biracial son of a formerly enslaved woman from Congo.

The institutions they have formed with a view to public instruction, are admirably adapted to their state; and being liberally supported, and in full operation, by gradually opening to them the treasures of knowledge, are thus conferring on them incalculable benefits. Free from civil broils, and no longer in dread of foreign foes, they are availing themselves of the opportunities which a period of tranquillity affords them, for establishing such regulations as shall render them hereafter a powerful, wealthy, and intelligent people (p. 415).

Haiti on the West side of the island of Hispaniola (map from Queens’ archives QC 979).

In many ways Harvey presents some of the contradictions encountered when considering legacies of enslavement at Queens’, an institution which saw itself at that time as a bulwark of abolitionism. Harvey’s discussion of African enslaved people is frequently couched in ways that rightly attract censure today on account of their Eurocentrism, paternalistic attitudes and racial undertones. Moreover, in his efforts to bolster the achievements of Christophe, Harvey was outspoken in his criticism of what he saw as the brutal excesses of Christophe’s predecessor, Dessalines. This has occasioned recent disapproval, not least because as author of Haiti’s original ‘declaration of independence’, Dessalines is widely recognised today as a great Haitian hero. Yet, if Harvey does not live up to standards of anti-racism, we can nevertheless see in his promotion of racial equality and the Haitian state, an attempt to shape those debates that ultimately led to the Emancipation Act of 1833 and Britain’s prohibition of slavery. We do not yet know whether Harvey encountered any Black students during his time at Queens’. Peter Moncrieffe (‘of the West Indies’), the earliest known Black Queens’ student matriculated the year after Harvey graduated. We do know, however, that Harvey was at Queens’ at the same time as several others now remembered for having either benefited from the slave trade or for professing opposition to it. Whilst discussion of these figures must await further blogs and the library’s upcoming exhibition it is interesting to consider the conversations Harvey’s first hand knowledge and experiences of the Haitians must have occasioned during his time at Queens’.

By Tim Eggington, Fellow Librarian

Variety Theatre and Vaudeville illustrated by the Burke Collection

The Burke Collection held at Queens’ comprises four thousand printed books and pamphlets on the subject of theatre in Britain, covering four hundred years of theatrical history since 1600. Bequeathed to the library in 2005 by Henry Burke, founder of the Norwich Playhouse, the collection contains an archive of documents and playscripts for Playhouse productions, as well as a collection of programmes for performances in the East of England and even further afield in the 20th century.

The new display in the Queens’ War Memorial Library highlights the theatrical performances outside the mainstream of plays, musicals, and operas: showing the essential variety of variety shows, vaudeville, burlesque, cabaret, and circus. Later variety shows are descendants of the entertainment style sometimes known as ‘music hall’ in Britain, or ‘vaudeville’ in the United States. As predecessors of variety entertainment seen, for example, at the annual Royal Variety Performance in London, travelling vaudeville productions similarly showcased several unrelated light entertainment acts, from singers to dancers, magicians to acrobats, comedians to drag performers. Popular as early as the 1880s up until the 1930s, many future celebrated performers had their origins in the vaudeville scene before achieving individual success.

Postcard featuring photograph of Josephine Baker at Folies Bergère, Paris 1925-6.

One famous example is Josephine Baker, born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. There is speculation that Baker may be the daughter of the vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson, and as a child, Baker would often arrange variety performances with her siblings for her family. Alongside working long hours as a domestic worker from the age of eight, Baker developed her interest in dance. As an adolescent, she joined a travelling vaudeville troupe, eventually making her way to New York City where she performed in a chorus line. Her act involved pretending to perform badly for comedic effect before outshining her fellow performers with more complicated, well-executed routine. She was claimed to be the highest-paid act in vaudeville at the time. From New York, she relocated to Paris in 1925 where she found fame in ‘La Revue Nègre’, a stage show which introduced African American performers to Parisian audiences. The Burke Collection contains a selection of photographs and postcards of Baker during her time at La Revue Nègre, including the iconic image of Baker in her famous costume consisting of only a beaded necklace and short skirt of artificial bananas, showing her signature simultaneously risqué and comedic performing style. In the Second World War, Baker participated in the French resistance, earning the Légion d’Honneur, and later she returned to the United States to join civil rights demonstrations in the 50s and 60s.

Programme for ‘Et vive la folie!’ at Folies Bergères, Paris, 1968.

Folies Bergères was the cabaret music hall venue in Paris at which Baker performed in La Revue Nègre. Built in 1868, Folies Bergère still offers variety entertainment theatre, attracting many international visitors to this day. Home to pantomime, musical comedy and vaudeville sketches, the Folies gained a reputation for nudity in its performances, with women appearing in revealing and campy costumes in grandiose spectacles. All titles of the Folies’ shows since the 1880s have had exactly 13 letters, and ‘Et vive la folie’ on this programme is no exception. ‘Et vive la folie’ celebrated the centenary of Folies Bergères first opening its doors to Parisian audiences. The programme is packed with singing and dancing acts, burlesque plays and musicians, showing the enduring popularity of the variety genre.

Programme for ‘The Danny La Rue Show’ at the ABC theatre, Great Yarmouth, 1976.

Subversive acts, such as drag performances, were also found on variety show playbills, with Danny La Rue’s drag show in Great Yarmouth showing the broad range in variety acts that toured the East of England in the 20th century. La Rue (1927-2009) was an entertainer and drag queen originally from Ireland. A lack of girls at his local school in Devon, where he moved to as a child, led to him receiving female roles in school plays, even playing Shakespeare’s Juliet. Having joined the Royal Navy at 17, his female impersonation routine at an on-board concert revealed his talent for entertaining an audience in drag. Known for a glamourous appearance in sequin gowns and ostrich feathers, his drag performances in pantomimes and variety shows brought him huge success in the 1950s and 60s. His 1972 feature film ‘Our Miss Fred’ was shot in locations around Norfolk, with parts of Norwich used to portray old French towns. The Danny La Rue Show sold out venues in 1976. Its set list of individual musical and comedic sketches, as opposed to a continuous performance, shows the genre’s vaudevillian heritage. It was on the vaudeville circuit in America that one of the first well-known drag queens emerged, Julian Eltinge, who at one point was one of the highest paid American actors. Eltinge performed in drag before Edward VII at the Royal Variety Performance in 1906.

Programme for ‘Billy Russell’s Circus Spectacular’ at the Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth, 1977.

Closely related to the variety genre is circus, where miscellanies of popular entertainment offer dazzling shows in ‘Big Tops’. Where many circuses often shared the itinerant nature of travelling vaudeville shows, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome has provided a permanent home for circus spectaculars in Britain since 1903. Designed specifically as a circus building, it is the only surviving venue of its kind in Britain today still fulfilling its original role. In the earlier years of the last century, the Hippodrome hosted renowned travelling variety acts such as escapist Harry Houdini and comic actor Charlie Chaplin. Burke’s collection contains a number of programmes for Billy Russell’s Circus Spectacular, an annual extravaganza in Norfolk. This 1977 line-up features acrobatic performers from across Europe and North Africa, magicians, clowns and a menagerie of animals.

Although vaudeville and variety theatre saw its peak popularity in the 20th century, many aspects of this entertainment genre have survived the television revolution. Major variety shows are now broadcast from theatres, and newer productions have been originally produced in TV studios. Once lesser-spotted acts, such as drag, have exploded into mainstream media, whereas live theatre performances remain the mainstay of chorus lines and burlesque.

By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee


‘Celebrating More than 150 Years of Circus by the Sea’ https://www.great-yarmouth.co.uk/things-to-do/circus-heritage.aspx [accessed 8 April 2021]

Clayton, David, ‘Danny La Rue’, Let’s Talk, 1 August 2018 https://www.pressreader.com/uk/lets-talk/20180801/282733407626460

EDT, Daniel Avery On 5/6/19 at 6:10 AM, ‘A Century before RuPaul, a Drag Queen Was One of the Top-Paid Entertainers in America’, Newsweek, 2019 https://www.newsweek.com/herstory-drag-julian-eltinge-rupauls-drag-race-1415489 [accessed 7 April 2021]

‘Folies-Bergère | Music Hall, Paris, France’, Encyclopedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Folies-Bergere [accessed 8 April 2021]

‘Heritage’, Hippodrome Circus https://hippodromecircus.co.uk/heritage [accessed 8 April 2021]

Jenner, Greg, ‘Josephine Baker’, You’re Dead To Me, 2020 https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p086dx47 [accessed 7 April 2021]

‘La Rue, Danny [Real Name Daniel Patrick Carroll] (1927–2009), Entertainer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/101923

Matthew Pratt Guterl, Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2014)

‘The Hippodrome Circus | Circus | Great Yarmouth|Norfolk’ https://www.great-yarmouth.co.uk/thedms.aspx?dms=3&venue=0255629 [accessed 8 April 2021]

‘Vaudeville: What Was Vaudeville, History, Impact, Stars | Broadway Scene’ https://broadwayscene.com/vaudeville-americas-vibrant-art-form-with-a-short-lifetime/ [accessed 7 April 2021]

New acquisition: Renaissance edition of Aesop’s fables returns to Queens’

In December 2020, the Friends of the National Libraries provided generous financial assistance to enable the acquisition by the Old Library of a beautifully annotated copy of Aesop’s fables which, quite probably, was used and read at the college nearly five hundred years ago.

Edited by the Byzantine Greek scholar Maximus Planudes and printed in the original Greek (with Latin translation by Aldus Manutius), this edition of Aesop’s fables helped to make available a text essential to humanist education. Published in 1524 by the humanist printer Johann Froben, this was in fact his fourth printing of Aesop’s fables, others having already been issued by printers in London, Milan, Paris, Prague, Strasbourg, Valencia, Rome, as well as the Netherlands. Indeed, the works of Aesop had been among the first Greek texts to be printed following the invention of printing by movable type.

Medallion portrait of Erasmus [C.2.9]

Erasmus, whose work was replete with Aesop allusions and quotes, thought the fables central to education as material ideal to inform instruction in composition, moral training and classical languages.

It is particularly interesting, therefore, to discover the very real possibility that this copy is closely connected to Renaissance Queens’, where Erasmus lived and taught Greek in 1511-14.

‘I. caluerdus’ i.e. John Calverd (Calvard, Calver), Queens’ student and fellow in the 16th century.

An inscription on the title page reveals that in early sixteenth century the volume belonged to one ‘I. Calverdus’. It seems likely that this is the signature of John Calverd (Calvard, Calver), who during that period was a student at Queens’ (BA 1526/27; MA 1530) and later a fellow (1529-30). In accordance with common practices of the period, Calverd adorned specific pages in his copy with annotations, examples of which can be seen in the first fables on p. 102-11 where against the Greek he indicates word roots and verb conjugations, and against the Latin, alternative translations.

In this way the copy offers invaluable evidence of how Greek might have been taught and studied at Queens’ both during the time of Erasmus and after it. Indeed, Calverd’s association with the college coincided with that of a whole generation of humanists inspired by Erasmus, in particular, Thomas Smith who as Greek lecturer famously sought to defend Erasmus’ proposed return to ‘authentic’ Greek pronunciation.

Signature of one Antonius Nowellus

Various signs of ownership and use provide ample demonstration that the histories to be told in relation to this copy extend beyond John Calverd. One such sign on the title-page indicates that ‘Antonius Nowellus’, possibly Anthony Nevill who attended Merchant Taylors’ School in c. 1610, also once owned this volume.

His quotation concerning Thersites – a soldier of the Greek army during the Trojan War – from Thomas Cooper’s Bibliotheca Eliotae interestingly attests to the intemporal status often enjoyed by early modern classical textbooks such as this, as they passed between multiple owners over the course of centuries.

Quote added in manuscript (above) and original text of Thomas Cooper’s Bibliotheca Eliotae (below) [image from EEBO]

Other former owners include one Samuel W. Bates (eighteenth-century) and the noted bibliophile, Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843).

Bookplate of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, on front pastedown

Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, sixth son and ninth child of King George III, was a passionate book collector. With the help of his Surgeon and Librarian, Thomas Joseph Pettigrew, he built a fine library at Kensington Palace, containing around 50,000 books and manuscripts. His collection was sold at auction in six parts between July 1844 and August 1845. Most of the books from his library bear one of his armorial bookplates. The one in Aesop’s fables consists of his crest within the garter, surmounted by the ducal coronet, with two manuscript shelfmarks at the bottom.

This copy joins two other items at Queens’ previously owned by the Duke:
– Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, In hoc opere contenta Ludus L. Annaei Senecae, De morte Claudii Caesaris (Basel: Johann Froben, 1515) [U.4.3]
– Terence, Comoediae sex elegantissimae (Basel, Nikolas Brylinger, 1550) [X.8.15].

Foremost among the many reasons to celebrate the return to Queens’ of this volume is its status as testimony to the humanist spirit that flourished at the college during the Tudor era. As such it represents a formidable addition to the unique collection of humanist texts already held in the Old Library.

By Lucille Munoz, Rare Books Curator

Witch hunters and sceptics: a tale of early modern witchcraft in Queens’ Old Library


The witch remains among the most popular sources of inspiration for Halloween costumes year on year. With wide-brimmed hats, black cats, broomsticks and crooked noses, the pop-culture witch is instantly recognisable. Going back a few centuries, however, and a witch was more obscurely defined. Suspicions and accusations crept through communities, as paranoid hunts sought to root out the witches superficially indistinguishable from their neighbours.

Still, belief in the threat of witches was not universally accepted, and there are a number published works in the Old Library at Queens’ from the early modern period debating whether they even existed. The witch discourse raised many important theological points: What exactly are the extents of the devil’s power? Why would God allow the possibility of witchcraft? Can humans really become willing agents of demonic power?

An illustration from Jacques Gaffarel’s Curiositates Inauditae (Hamburg, 1706) [R.7.56] depicting Moloch, an idol worshipped by the ancient Ammonites, in which it is believed children were burned in sacrifice. Similar imagery of idolatry, horned demons and child sacrifice was attributed to witches in the late medieval period.

The foundations of this debate are laid in the late medieval period with the publication of Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) in 1486. Pope Innocent VIII had charged its authors, German clergymen Heinrich Kraemer and Johann Sprenger, to eradicate witchcraft in Germany. At this point, there had generally been no consensus on what exactly witchcraft was, with competing conceptions based on traditional belief prominent in different regions of Europe. Kraemer and Sprenger saw Satan as a more remote, God-like entity, and the witch was an agent of his power on Earth, made so by signing a diabolic pact. She would fly to nocturnal meetings with the devil, offer him the souls of babies, copulate with demons, poison the community and transform herself into an animal, among other evil acts. Due to the relatively recent invention of printing, Kraemer and Sprenger’s ideas spread, and within 50 years of leaving the press, the witch conceptualised by Malleus was widely adopted as the learned definition. Most importantly, in its final part, Malleus called for extermination of those who made satanic pacts, and sanctioned torture as a method for extracting confessions.

Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum [F.14.21]

An engraved frontispiece portrait of Johann Weyer holding a human skull in De praestigiis daemonum [F.14.21].

Johann Weyer’s De praestigiis daemonum, & incantationibus ac veneficiis (‘On the Illusions of the Demons and on Spells and Poisons’ first published Basel, 1563 – Queens’ copy is the 1577 edition) was the first major assault on the medieval portrayal of witchcraft established by Malleus. By the end of the 16th century, the Church had taken an ever more punitive stance towards witches, and public persecution, trials and executions had significantly escalated, with the majority of victims being older women. The ageism and sexism of witch-hunts prompted a writer for the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1963 to call Malleus ‘one of the worst documents of bigotry of our Western civilisation’. Weyer did not go as far to say this in the 16th century, but he did argue that the perception of witchcraft was merely a product of female senility and demonic trickery. In Weyer’s view, any confession to a pact made with the devil was a delusion caused by unbalanced humours, old-age infirmity, and female hysteria. These delusions may have come from the devil, but the perceived weakness of old women made them vulnerable to his lies, so Weyer wrote. In effect, De praestigiis daemonum pleaded insanity on behalf of women standing trial for witchcraft. Weyer was by no means a sceptic of demonology generally: he acknowledged the reality of demons and devils and their ability to cause harm, but he insisted they could act independently and needed no human agents to do their work.

Jean Bodin’s De magorum daemonomania [H.19.22]

The title page of De magorum daemonomania (Frankfurt, 1603) [H.19.22].

On the defence of Malleus Maleficarum is De la démonomanie des sorciers by Jean Bodin, published in Paris in 1580 (the Old Library holds its Latin translation printed in Frankfurt, 1603). This work contributed little to the development in the knowledge of witchcraft, instead refuting Weyer’s scepticism and reinforcing the understanding of witches solidified in the previous century. Bodin draws heavily on Weyer’s anecdotes in De praestigiis daemonum. He does not deny Weyer’s narration of supernatural occurrences, but comes to vastly different conclusions of their explanations. Where Weyer takes Sybil Duiscops, a woman burned for witchcraft, as an example for a woman wrongly accused and a community tricked by demons, Bodin asserts that she was definitely a guilty witch. For Bodin, it was not for people to say what demonic power could and could not do, since demons, and therefore their human agents, were not bound by earthly laws of nature. To question and seek reason for supernatural phenomena was an affront to God’s omniscience.

Reginald Scot’s The discoverie of witchcraft [C.1.36]

Illustration from Reginald Scot, The discoverie of witchcraft (1584) [C.1.36] demonstrating a ritual for necromancy.

Four years after Bodin’s work, the witch debate sprang up in English publishing with Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of witchcraft – the 1584 first edition is here at Queens’. In his answer to Bodin’s Démonomanie, Scot went even further than Weyer in his scepticism. Every single witch tried and executed in England was innocent, according to Scot, who denied the existence of any Biblical basis for a belief in witchcraft. While Malleus Maleficarum approved of confessions extracted by torture, Scot completely dismissed this as evidence. Where The discoverie of witchcraft exceeds the sceptical claims of De praestigiis daemonum is its implication that evil spirits were somewhat metaphorical: they were perhaps an internal impulse towards evil deeds that could be overcome. The copy in the Old Library contains woodcut illustrations exposing the illusions used by magicians, further showing scepticism in magic:

King James I’s Daemonologie [G.15.14(5)]

There is a popular myth that James I ordered all copies of The discoverie of witchcraft to be burned upon his accession to the throne. James was known to have books destroyed if he disapproved, and his Daemonologie named Scot and Weyer as the main culprits of witchcraft denial, yet there is little evidence for the mass burning of Scot’s work. The copy at Queens’, at least, survived unscathed.

An engraved illustration of the three witches in Macbeth, in William Shakespeare, The dramatic works of Shakespeare revised by George Steevens (London, 1802) [S.13.1-6], vol. 3.

The witchcraft obsession of King James (then James VI of Scotland) first comes to the fore in 1590, the same year the North Berwick witch trials began. These trials saw over 70 people stand trial for their involvement in a treasonous plot to kill the Scottish king by raising a storm to drown him on his return voyage from Denmark. Allegedly, the elderly and respected Agnes Sampson asked the devil to help the Berwick coven in their plot, and so he came to preach to them on All Hallows’ Eve outside a church and denounced the king. James’ fear of witchcraft grew throughout the decade, culminating with Daemonologie in 1597: a study of demons, sorcery and necromancy, and a push back against Scot’s scepticism by reaffirming the concept of the diabolic pact between witches and Satan. It is interesting to note that while Scot denies a Biblical basis for witchcraft, the King James Bible chooses ‘thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ in a translation of Exodus when others alternatively translate the noun as ‘poisoner’.

Daemonologie is a likely source of inspiration for the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and with this we can see how the image of the witch depicted by Malleus Maleficarum, and reinforced by Bodin’s Démonomanie, entered English literature and was to survive in almost identical depictions to this day.

A discovery of the fraudulent practises of Iohn Darrel Bacheler of Artes [G.15.14(3)]

Printed waste from a 17th-century Bible inside the front cover of the volume containing Daemonologie and A discoverie of the fraudulent practises of Iohn Darrel.

Belief and scepticism in witchcraft was not only a matter confined to the pages of the Old Library’s volumes: the conflict between these two sides played out at a trial of one of Queens’ College’s own former members. Bound to Daemonologie in the Old Library is an exposé on the dubious actions of a former Queens’ member, John Darrell, a witch hunter and exorcist. After his studies at Queens’ 1575-9, Darrell returned to his hometown of Mansfield where he built a reputation for spiritually healing the possessed, and prosecuting those who were responsible for the bewitchment. Known for his spectacular exorcisms around the English midlands in the 1590s, he attracted curious crowds. In 1597, however, he found himself implicated in controversy, when an apprentice musician in Nottingham, William Somers, claimed to be possessed. Darrell exorcised Somers, but Somers soon became repossessed. This happened again and again, and Darrell eventually had thirteen people arrested as witches for causing the possession. However, when Somers confessed to faking it all, Darrell was investigated for his role in the scandal. Although initially acquitted, John Darrell was imprisoned for fraud in 1599. The Somers scandal is one of a number of cases discussed in A discovery of the fraudulent practises of Iohn Darrel Bacheler of Artes, by Samuel Harsnett, 1599.

As each pamphlet and tract reacts to and refutes the one before, a picture of the polarising nature of discussions about witchcraft comes into view. While it can be generally agreed that scepticism of witchcraft was eventually victorious, we can also see how works such as Malleus Maleficarum, Démonomanie, and Daemonologie have forged a consistent understanding of witchcraft that has been firmly embedded in literature, theatre and modern folklore for centuries.

By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee at Queens’ College


Almond, Philip C., ‘King James I and the Burning of Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft: The Invention of a Tradition’, Notes and Queries, 56.2 (2009), 209–13

Bergin, Joseph, Hans Broedel, Penny Roberts, and William G. Naphy, The ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ and the Construction of Witchcraft: Theology and Popular Belief (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)

Clark, Stuart, Believers and Sceptics, Thinking with Demons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

‘Darrell [Darrel], John (b. c. 1562, d. in or after 1607), Exorcist’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

‘Malleus Maleficarum – Work by Kraemer and Sprenger’, Encyclopedia Britannica

Martin, Christian, ‘Bodin’s Reception of Johann Weyer in De La Démonomanie Des Sorciers’, in Llyod, Howell, The Reception of Bodin (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 117–35

Mora, George, ‘On the 400th Anniversary of Johann Weyer’s “de Praestigiis Daemonum”—Its Significance for Today’s Psychiatry’, American Journal of Psychiatry, 120.5 (1963), 417–28

‘Scott [Scot], Reginald (d. 1599), Writer on Witchcraft’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Willis, Deborah, Malevolent Nurture : Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (Cornell University Press, 1995)

‘“Daemonologie”: James I and Witchcraft’, Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive Blog, 2015 <https://worcestercathedrallibrary.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/daemonologie-james-i-and-witchcraft/&gt; [accessed 20 October 2020]

Old Library updates

If the pandemic has taught one skill, it is certainly to get creative and to find new ways of carrying on with our regular tasks. This is particularly true for the work undertaken in the Old Library. How can we catalogue remotely? How do we continue to curate our collections?

The cataloguing of the collection of the Old Library’s early printed books actually flourished during the lockdown and over summer when staff continued to work remotely. More than 1,000 holdings have been added onto iDiscover, the Cambridge Libraries online catalogue. The cataloguing was quicker than usual, using the old card catalogue.

Example of a printed record from the Library’s card catalogue.

Without the books in hand, staff were only able to create very brief records but which still contributed to flap up what is held at Queens’. Now that staff are back in the Old Library, their next task will be to check the holdings and complete the records with all the copy-specific information (marks of ownerships, annotations, binding description) that can only be added with the books in hand. These very specific features are particularly important to record as they are what make our copies unique.

One of the first discoveries we made back in the office in September is a 1515 edition of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis, a satire on the Roman emperor Claudius. This edition was published in Basel by Johann Froben, Erasmus’ associate, and also includes Erasmus’ Praise of folly. The publication is decorated with fine woodcut borders and initials designed by Urs Graf, whose work was regularly printed by Froben. Queens’ copy formerly belonged to Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), a keen bibliophile whose library was sold at auction in 1844. The marbled endpapers are particularly striking due to their vivid colours and their lighter outer frame [U.4.3].

Due to the current pandemic, this year’s Open Cambridge went digital, so did we. As we could not welcome visitors in person in the Old Library as we normally do, we created a video to share the magic of Queens’ Old Library with not only people in Cambridge but with everyone around the world:

Queens’ section on the Cambridge University Digital Library (CUDL) welcome a new addition over summer: Queens’ College Donors’ Book. Previously hosted on issu, the transfer onto CUDL will allow the display of the transcription of the text which is currently being finalised. Queens’ section now comprises 13 digital volumes, including manuscripts and early printed books, all IIIF-compliant, which provides more advanced, interactive functionality for researchers.

Queens’ Donors’ Book now on the Cambridge University Digital Library.

Our Provenance and Binding database continues to grow. We now have around 1,000 images of marks of ownership (bookplates, inscriptions), evidence of use (annotations, drawings, paintings) found in our volumes and decorated bindings. All the images are freely available for researchers who can also comment and help decipher illegible notes or unidentified bookplates.

Thumbnail from the database.


In addition to researchers, our collections are also essential for other libraries and museums to complement their own: two of our early printed books will be on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s next exhibition in early 2021, The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces.

Legacies of Enslavement at Queens’


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By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee at Queens’ College

On Sunday 7 June 2020, the bronze statue of a governing member of the Royal African Society was toppled and rolled into Bristol Harbour by Black Lives Matter protesters. Two days later, the University of Liverpool announced its plans to remove the name ‘Gladstone’ from one of its halls of residence, due to its association with slave ownership. The BLM movement has triggered a resurgence of concern and interest in Britain about our colonial heritage, and the legacy left by enslavement. At this time, the research at Queens’ into the college’s own links to slavery is especially needed.

LBS pic 01

An illustration of a slave ship from a pamphlet by Thomas Clarkson entitled ‘The history of the rise, progress, and accomplishment of the abolition of the African slave-trade by the British parliament’ (London, 1808), in a volume of pamphlets owned by Isaac Milner relating to the anti-slavery campaign.

This research project runs parallel to the university-wide investigation announced last year. Responding to the growing public interest in the association of British universities with slavery, two Research Fellows have been appointed to conduct research projects into the University of Cambridge’s involvement with both the commercial aspect of enslavement, as well as its contribution to the academic discourse supporting racism and colonialism. Following this, Queens’ alongside other colleges is developing similar, independent research into both the institution’s and its members’ connections to slavery.

Preliminary research has been carried out by the Queens’ staff in recent months, and, despite the lockdown, we have managed to uncover details of slave ownership by former Queens’ members using internet databases, such as Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigiensis, and UCL’s Legacies of British Slave-ownership database. So far, we have uncovered 44 claims, made by either Queens’ members or their immediate families, to a share of the government’s £20 million for the emancipation of their slaves under the Slave Compensation Act 1837.

John Frederick Foster (1795-1858)

John Frederick Foster appears to be one of the largest beneficiaries of this compensation. A member of Queens’ college, he matriculated in Michaelmas 1813, received his BA in 1817, was called to the bar in 1821 and pursued his career in the legal field. He was also the son and nephew of slave-owning planters in Jamaica. His father made a compensation claim for his emancipated slaves on the Bogue Estate in St. Elizabeth parish, where 363 people were forced to work as slaves, but he died before the compensation was paid, and so John Frederick Foster received the largest share of the £7,467 paid out by the British government. He had also inherited a tenancy at his uncle’s Elim estate with 385 slaves, later receiving a share of £7,252. A third compensation case in Jamaica saw him pocket another share of £3,127 for the emancipation of 167 people.

Peter Moncrieffe

A Queens’ student matriculated in 1829. His father, Benjamin Scott Moncrieffe, was among the most wealthy of the Jamaican Northside gentry. As a free mixed-race man, Benjamin Scott was granted equal rights to white subjects in a public act of 1794, and as well as being a slave-owner himself, he received additional compensation as an attorney for executing wills and as a judgement creditor. Peter Moncrieffe, after graduating from Queens’, was called to the bar, and eventually joined the judiciary in Jamaica.

Claudius Buchanan

Claudius Buchanan received his BA from Queens’ in 1796. Upon the recommendation of then Queens’ president Isaac Milner, he was appointed to an evangelical chaplaincy in Bengal. Eventually becoming chaplain to the East India Company, he published works on the benefits of British rule to the Indian people and offered prizes for essays on the best means of ‘civilising’ Indians in the British Empire.

These examples are just three of many more, but they show us that the connection between Cambridge and colonialism was bidirectional: students from the West Indies come to Cambridge, whose wealth generated from slave labour has been contributed to the college through tuition fees; equally, there were graduates from Queens’ who then set out into parts of the British Empire and played their own part in upholding the colonial hierarchies. As an institution whose purpose was, and arguably still is, to shape and educate future citizens, the college has a degree of responsibility for the destination of its graduates.


LBS pic 02

A letter in Queens’ Old Library from abolitionist William Wilberforce, a close friend of college president Isaac Milner.

One way in which we can assess the academic impact of the college on slavery and colonialism is to look within the library. Did Queens’ library provide access to and promote racist ideology and discourse? Searching what has already been catalogued in the Old Library reveals that there are 21 books from the bequest of former president Isaac Milner on the subject of slavery and the slave trade. Almost all of these are anti-slavery, and Milner was known to be an abolitionist, and was a close friend of the prominent abolition campaigner William Wilberforce. The library also hold 14 volumes by William Blackstone, the leading English jurist of the mid-eighteenth century, whose Commentaries on the laws of England rejected all major reasons for the existence and hereditary nature of slavery.  However, providing access to abolitionist literature does not absolve to college of playing a role in upholding colonial ideologies. Milner also left works to the library which encouraged plantation in the Caribbean and expansion of the empire, and there are also works from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which encouraged the ‘instruction of their negroes in the Christian faith’ to plantation-owners. When this is considered with Milner’s evangelical Christian beliefs and his recommendation of Claudius Buchanan to an evangelical chaplaincy, we can see that, at least to some extent, the college left a legacy of promoting colonialism through missionary work.

This is only the very beginning of this project, yet what we have thus far found shows an overview of Queens’ college’s relationship to slavery. Money linked to the slave trade comes into the college at matriculation, and certain graduates espousing colonial ideologies came out at the other end.  The LBS project estimates that somewhere between 10-20% of Britain’s wealthy can be identified as having had significant links to slavery, and with this project we can acknowledge the part played by British universities in shaping the citizens who forged these links.



‘Context | Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’ <https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/project/context/&gt; [accessed 14 May 2020].

‘Buchanan, Claudius (1766–1815), East India Company Chaplain’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/3831&gt;.

‘Peter Moncrieffe’, Jamaica’s History – Always Something New to Find Out! <http://jamaica-history.weebly.com/peter-moncrieffe.html&gt; [accessed 10 June 2020].

Kenneth Morgan, Slavery and the British Empire from Africa to America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Exploring the past of Queens’ early printed books from home

Although the Old Library is now closed, there are still many ways in which Queens’ fantastic collection of early printed books can be curated from home. Lately we have been focusing on one particular important document that is crucial in understanding how some of the books entered the Library: Queens’ Donors’ Book (fully digitised here).


Title page of Queens’ Donors’ Book [MS 47]


Begun in 1631 with a final entry made in 1820, the Donors’ Book [MS 47] was primarily used to record seventeenth-century bequests, but it also contains a record of gifts dating back to 1562. Although some books bear evidence of the bequest, whether it be an inscription nailed on the binding or a bookplate pasted inside the volume, others remain unmarked. We then have to turn to documents such as the Donors’ Book to discover how the books were acquired and by whom they were given.

The book reveals not only the College’s desire to acknowledge the generosity of its donors, but also its aspiration to record the history and ongoing development of its prestigious library. Transcribing and editing Queens’ Donors’ Book will not only help us better understand how the books entered the Library but will also enable us to enhance catalogue records and provide a detailed statement on the acquisition of the books. It will also highlight the identity of the Library’s benefactors throughout the centuries and give us an insight into their personal interests through the books they chose to present to the Library.


Margaret Cavendish, Philosophical and physical opinions (London, 1655) [B.1.13]


For instance, the Donors’ Book revealed that many books by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle – one of the most important and prolific women writers in the 17th century who published on natural philosophy and also wrote plays, poetry and science-fiction – were actually presented to the Library by the author herself, including Philosophical and physical opinions [B.1.13].


Entry in the Donors’ Book recording the gift to the Library, by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, of various of her own publications.

Words of wander: travel writing in the collections of Queens’ College Library


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The popularity of travel writing is immediately evident from the ever-increasing travelogues available on any library bookshelf or via the internet. In recognition of this literary success, a new exhibition in Queens’ College student library examines examples of historic travel texts from Queens’ Library’s collections, and their respective significance to the enduring travel genre.

Travel writing covers a vast array of forms and intended audiences, ranging from the traditional seaside postcard to comprehensive published volumes recording overseas expeditions, such as Charles Darwin’s 1839 Voyage of the Beagle. The genre can be personal or public, handwritten or published, autobiographical or educational, practical or entertaining, informal or political. Its purpose can range from merely recording memoirs for private use to providing information and/or guidance to a public readership. Even when essentially autobiographical in nature, a travel narrative intended for public distribution provides an edited version of the author in print. Edward Said’s work on Orientalism, for example, has analysed deliberate inaccuracy and political connotations in some travel writing.


Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, depicted in the 1679 French edition of his Six voyages [P.5.35]


Examples of both personal and public travel accounts survive from classical antiquity: Roman magistrate Pliny described his voyage to Bithynia in letters to the Emperor Trajan in 111AD, and Greek geographer Pausanias composed his Description of Greece later the same century. Commonly, travel narratives draw from personal experience and a desire to share this with a readership who have not visited the destination. Seventeenth century French travel writer, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, in his Six voyages, part I (1676), recalled being “unable to tear his eyes away” from maps drawn by his cartographer father, and his delight to pen observations of his subsequent travels for Louis XIV. The 17th century saw an explosion in demand for travel writing across Europe: poet and critic Jean Chapelain, in 1663, declared it to be the “top choice at court and in the town”. Tavernier’s text alone was reprinted multiple times and translated from French into English, German, Italian and Dutch.

Queens’ Old Library holds examples of early printed travel writing dating back more than 300 years. These texts together illustrate the many guises of this complex genre through history: personal, public, political and practical.


S-017-005 (5)

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883) [S.17.5]

From the age of four, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910, pen-name Mark Twain) spent several years living, travelling and then working on the Mississippi River. His experiences there were to influence much of his writing – including his acclaimed novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). During the 1860’s to 1870’s, Twain established himself as a travel writer, with travelogues for the Sacramento Union and Alta California newspapers, as well as travel-related books The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Roughing it (1872).

S-017-005 (2)

The volume is illustrated throughout, lending a visual aspect to the written descriptions

His success culminated in the Old Times on the Mississippi series, recounting experiences as a steamboat pilot in his youth. Originally penned for the journal Atlantic Monthly in 1875, these articles were subsequently expanded into Twain’s book Life on the Mississippi in 1883. As well as utilising his own experiences for the book, Twain drew on other accounts of the region, including Mrs Trollope’s Scenes on the Mississippi (1836) and Charles Dickens’ American Notes for General Circulation (1842). He featured direct quotes and paraphrased passages from the publications; even going so far as to send his editor a copy of Mrs Trollope’s text annotated with passages he wanted to include. There is debate about whether Twain, in haste to meet his deadline, relied on other travel narratives to ‘pad out’ his newspaper segments into a full book, or whether their inclusion was deliberate recognition of the broader travel corpus. Either way, the combination of Twain’s own anecdotes, quotes from other journals, and selected illustrations build a vivid image of travel on the Mississippi River in the 19th century.



A map illustrating Tavernier’s description of the journey from Erivan (present-day Yerevan in Armenia) to Tauris (present-day Tabriz in Iran)

Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier (1677) [I.1.19]

As with many forms of literature, travel writing can assume political importance. Following the discovery of a trading route around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, European countries, keen to acquire highly marketable Indian goods, competed for trade deals with the Mughal Empire. By the 17th century this competition was at its height. In France, those few travellers to have already explored India saw an opportunity to advise Louis XIV’s newly founded Compagnie Française pour le Commerce des Indes Orientales (est.1664). Gem merchant, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), had travelled to India on six occasions between 1631 and 1668, becoming experienced in both mining and trading Indian diamonds. Most notably, he sold the French Blue (Hope Diamond) to Louis XIV himself in 1668. To demonstrate his expertise, Tavernier produced narratives of his travels: Les Six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier (Parts I and II, 1676) and Recüeil de plusiers relations et traitaz singuliers et curieux de J. B. Tavernier (1679). Copies of both the 1676 French edition of Six voyages and the subsequent 1677 English translation are held in Queens’ Old Library.


The powerful VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or Dutch East India Company) was France’s main competitor for trade in the East

While combining the typical autobiographical and practical style of travel publications (such as a personal observation of the Emperor’s jewelled peacock throne), Tavernier also emphasised professional trade advice (for example, how to navigate roads, how and where to mine, and procedures for trading diamonds). Mindful of his intended royal audience, the narrative was unfailingly pro-French, anti-Dutch (France’s principal adversary at the time) and careful to downplay Mughal importance, power or wealth. As this plate of gems Tavernier supplied to French nobility illustrates (from the 1677 English edition of Six Voyages), he was sure to promote his own unique skills. Tavernier was rewarded for his efforts: he was ennobled by Louis XIV in 1668 and, with his new wealth, purchased the Seigneury of Aubonne.


Plate depicting the diamonds Tavernier sold to Louis XIV – the heading emphasises Tavernier’s rewards for his travels


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Plate depicting the old Balmoral Castle. Purchased by Prince Albert in 1852, they had it rebuilt and it became Queen Victoria’s main residence in Scotland

Queen Victoria, Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands (New York, 1868) [S.17.6]

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Queen Victoria kept a daily journal from the age of 13 until her death in 1901, filling 121 volumes over her lifetime. Her first diary in 1832 began with the words, “This book, Mamma gave me, that I might write the journal of my journey to Wales in it”. While diaries are generally reserved for the writer alone, Victoria’s diaries were never private: her mother read the entries each day until she became queen, and two volumes from her visits to the Highlands were published during her lifetime (Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, 1868 and More Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, 1884). This published form presents an interesting crossover of travel writing and private journal. Victoria’s diaries were edited for publication but were not originally written with publication or a global audience in mind. Thus, their focus is not the description of a foreign place for a third-party audience, but rather the personal record of a queen on holiday. Likewise, their interest to the reader lies not so much in the description of an unknown place, as in the experiences of the author herself. Queens’ Old Library’s copy, the first American edition of the initial volume (1868), includes additional illustrative plates to engage the reader.



A photo of Queens’ College from A.L. Maycock’s Things seen in Cambridge (1936) [Local Collection]

Cambridge travel guides

Not all travel literature is autobiographical in nature. Travel guides, like this copy of Things seen in Cambridge by A.L. Maycock (1936), assume an impersonal, authoritative and purely practical role, with the aim of helping their audience to travel rather than recounting travel anecdotes. As such they are generally more structured and comprehensive. Maycock offers his readers a thorough guide to the highlights of Cambridge (including Queens’ College), as well as cultural and historical context for the city and the university.


This paperback copy of Frank Rutter’s Varsity Types ([1903?]) is compact and cheap, perfect for travelling [Local Collection]


This is not to say that travel guides cannot be entertaining, though. Former Queens’ student, Frank Rutter, takes a satirical approach in his Varsity Types guide ([1903?]), offering an alternative ‘insider’s’ cultural context through the characters a visitor to Cambridge might encounter (such as ‘the snob’ and ‘the bedder’). Despite their differences, both guidebooks are in compact format to be practical for travelling; and, likewise, both provide an interesting snapshot in time of the city they describe.





The Words of Wander exhibition is now on display in Queens’ College War Memorial Library.

Isobel Goodman, Graduate Library Trainee, Queens’ College, Cambridge


Primary sources

Maycock, A.L., Things seen in Cambridge (London, 1936) [Local Collection]

Queen Victoria, Leaves from the journal of our life in the Highlands (New York, 1868) [S.17.6]

Rutter, Frank, Varsity types (London, [1903?]) [Local Collection]

Tavernier, J. B., The Six Voyages of John Baptista Tavernier, Baron of Aubonne; Through Turky, into Persia and the East-Indies, for the Space of Forty Years (London, 1677)

Twain, M., Life on the Mississippi (Boston, 1883) [S.17.5]

Secondary sources

Attar, Karen, ‘Queen Victoria’s journal reveals her rosy view of Scotland’, Talking Humanities website, (2018), https://talkinghumanities.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2018/08/14/queen-victorias-journal-reveals-her-rosy-view-of-scotland/

Ganzel, Dewey, ‘Twain, travel books, and Life on the Mississippi’, American Literature, 1962, Vol. 34(1), pp. 40-55

Goodman, I., ‘Reading between the rhetoric: the aims and impact of French travellers to Mughal India, and their travel accounts, during the early decades of Louis XIV’s reign’ (B.A. thesis, University of Oxford, 2018)

Kruse, Horst Hermann, Mark Twain and “Life on the Mississippi” (Amherst, 1981)

Peterson, Linda H., Traditions of Victorian women’s autobiography: the poetics and politics of life writing (Charlottesville, 1999)

Said, E., Orientalism, 4th edn (London, 2003)

Ticknor, Caroline, ‘Mark Twain’s Life of the Mississippi’, in Glimpses of authors (Boston, 1922)