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’ [accessed 8 April 2021]

Clayton, David, ‘Danny La Rue’, Let’s Talk, 1 August 2018

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 [accessed 7 April 2021]

‘Folies-Bergère | Music Hall, Paris, France’, Encyclopedia Britannica [accessed 8 April 2021]

‘Heritage’, Hippodrome Circus [accessed 8 April 2021]

Jenner, Greg, ‘Josephine Baker’, You’re Dead To Me, 2020 [accessed 7 April 2021]

‘La Rue, Danny [Real Name Daniel Patrick Carroll] (1927–2009), Entertainer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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

‘The Hippodrome Circus | Circus | Great Yarmouth|Norfolk’ [accessed 8 April 2021]

‘Vaudeville: What Was Vaudeville, History, Impact, Stars | Broadway Scene’ [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 <; [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’ <; [accessed 14 May 2020].

‘Buchanan, Claudius (1766–1815), East India Company Chaplain’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <;.

‘Peter Moncrieffe’, Jamaica’s History – Always Something New to Find Out! <; [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.


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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).

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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),

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)


A Spotlight on Theatre: Uncovering the history of the stage in Queens’ Library special collections


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but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more

— William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V Scene 5.

Theatre is a complex medium to capture, being transitory by nature. Before the advent of film, in the late 19th century, it was not possible to record a play as a performance. Yet theatre encompasses a wide range of mediums beyond the live presentation: material (costumes, staging), textual (scripts) and decorative (illustrations, photographs). Through these physical remnants of theatrical history we are able to trace the practicalities of rehearsal and performance, as well as audience interaction on and off the stage.

In addition to early printed books, Queens’ College Old Library is custodian to noteworthy special collections, including two key deposits of theatre memorabilia. These comprise an archive of books, pamphlets, directorial and financial material bequeathed to the Library by Henry Burke, founder of the Norwich Playhouse; and an extensive collection of theatrical books and programmes donated by former Queens’ College member, Bruce Cleave. In conjunction with this blog post, the latest exhibition in the college’s student library focuses the spotlight on some of the items from these collections – and from the college’s own Archive – to consider what they tell us about the history of theatre, both at Queens’ and further afield.

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From an advertisement in a playbill for a production of Dick Whittington [Burke Theatre Collection]


Queens’ College has a long-established history of theatre and performance. In the 16th and 17th centuries it was renowned as one of the most theatrically-active colleges in Cambridge. Indeed, so much so that a college statute from 1559 dictated that the Professor of Greek must stage two comedies or tragedies between 20th December and Ash Wednesday, and that any Scholars who did not take part were to be punished by the President! During this period, plays were performed in Queens’ Old Hall on a makeshift stage which could be assembled and disassembled as needed.

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The manuscript instructions [Queens’ College MS 75] – Each part of the stage is given a small symbol to make the instructions easier to follow


A surviving document dating from 1639/40 outlines instructions for constructing the stage, and also for a ‘stage-house’ (erected nearby to store the stage when not in use). The document’s late date, only a few years before Puritan legislation banned theatre in 1642, may suggest that the Queens’ stage dated from the 17th century. However, Wright (1986) argues that it had been in use for many years previously, and that the instructions were only formally recorded at this point in reaction to dwindling theatrical productions under Puritan influences.


QC Book 76, fol. 11r. The list includes costumes made of expensive materials like ‘satten’, ‘sylk’ and damask

Other college records support a long theatrical history: most obviously the statute from 1559, which proves the perceived importance of theatre to life at Queens’. A list of elaborate ‘players’ garments’ signed by former Fellow ‘Rychard Thorpe’, who staged a tragedy at Queens’ in the winter of 1552-3, confirms not only that college members performed in these plays but also that substantial sums of money were allocated for them. Such expensive costumes would have been securely stored in the muniments room with other college valuables.

Play scripts preserved in the college collections add a textual record of the performances themselves, and in some cases even the audience. The Old Library holds a 1910 edition of a script entitled Laelia, performed at Queens’ College for the Earl of Essex in 1594/5. The edition acknowledges the play’s performance history on its title-page but is principally a print reproduction of the original script rather than a working document for a production.


The title page of Laelia, with the library stamp [A.37.53]

In contrast, this ‘acting edition’ of the comedy Ladies’ Battle [Burke Theatre Collection], published by Samuel French in the 19th century, was intended for practical use in rehearsals. In the 1840s, French and his business partner, Thomas Hailes Lacy, developed an affordable and functional printed format which allowed each actor to have their own copy of an entire script rather than just their individual lines (as had previously been common practice). These basic and compact paperback editions, which are still in production today, included practical staging and costume descriptions alongside the performers’ lines.

Another script from the Queens’ collection demonstrates an early crossover with modern printed theatre programmes. This promotional booklet for the pantomime Dick Whittington [Burke Theatre Collection], performed at Birmingham’s Theatre Royal in the late 19th century, comprises of the play script interspersed with advertisements for local retailers. The production starred several key music hall figures of the day whose presence is advertised on the first page: Marie Loftus, George Robey, and Syria Lamonte (one of the first women to make a commercial recording outside of America). As with modern programmes, this publication sought to both promote the production and to establish a material link between performance and audience.

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A selection of postcards from Richard Bonynge’s book, A collector’s guide to theatrical postcards (1988) [Cleave Theatre Collection]


Encouraged by the invention of photography in 1839, the Victorian and Edwardian era experienced a shift towards a more visual culture, and popular demand for associated theatre ephemera accelerated. This development is reflected in the college’s theatre collections. For the first time, plays could be captured in still, live pictures and recorded in a more theatrical sense. The on-stage trend of ‘tableaux vivants’ (static poses held by the actors at key moments) translated off-stage into postcard images depicting costumed actors in character as mementos of productions.

The publication of The Play Pictorial magazine [Cleave Theatre Collection], from 1902, demonstrates a deliberate and comprehensive approach to capturing theatre in photographs, in conjunction with the oral and aural elements. Each magazine was devoted to a specific West End play; recording plot, score and costumes alongside photographs of the live performance.

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The theatre collections housed at Queens’ College represent far more than mere examples of theatrical performance and associated ephemera. Within them lie clues to the history and practicalities of staging productions: statutes and funding, stage-direction and rehearsal, performers and performances, words and music, audiences and audience interaction. Evidently, whilst a performance itself may be transitory, it need be far from “heard no more”.

By Isobel Goodman, Library Graduate Trainee

The exhibition, ‘A spotlight on theatre: uncovering the history of the stage in Queens’ Library special collections’, is available to view in the War Memorial Library display case (on the ground floor) from April 2019-October 2019.


For a detailed overview of the theatrical history of the college, see the dedicated page on the college website, compiled by Dr Robin Walker.

Primary sources

Bonynge, Richard, A collector’s guide to theatrical postcards (London, 1988) [Cleave Theatre Collection]

Dick Whittington, playbill (Birmingham, 18–) [Burke Theatre Collection]

Moore Smith, G.C., Laelia: a comedy acted at Queens’ College, Cambridge probably on March 1st, 1595 (Cambridge, 1910) [A.37.53]

Robertson, William Thomas, The ladies’ battle: a comedy in three acts (London, 18–) [Burke Theatre Collection]

The Play Pictorial, Volume 40 (London, 1922) [Cleave Theatre Collection]

Bursar’s book [QC Book 76]

‘The Colledge stage Feb 18 1639′ [Queens’ College MS 75]

Secondary sources

Boas, Frederick S., University drama in the Tudor age (Oxford, 1914)

Cooper, Charles Henry and Cooper, Thompson, Athenae Cantabrigienses, Vol 1. (Cambridge, 1858), p. 552

Diamond, M., ‘Theatre posters and how they bring the past to life’, in Nineteenth century theatre and film, Summer, 2012, Vol. 39(1), pp. 60-77

Moore Smith, G. C., College plays performed in the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, 1923)

Schoch, Richard W., ‘Pictorial Shakespeare’, in The Cambridge companion to Shakespeare on stage (Cambridge, 2002)

Walker, Robin (ed.) ‘The Bats drama society’, Queens’ College Cambridge website,

Walker, Robin, ‘Theatre’, Queens’ College Cambridge website,

Wright, I. R., ‘An early stage at Queens’’, in Cambridge: Magazine of the Cambridge Society, 1986, Vol. 18, pp. 74-83

Wright, I.R., ‘What was the Queens’ Stage-house?’, in Queens’ College Record, 1991, pp. 13-14


Words and voices: a snapshot of pamphlet-based debate culture in Enlightenment Cambridge – Part 2

The Trinity debate, as recorded in the range of pamphlets collected by David Hughes at Queens’ College between 1722 and 1777, demonstrates the broader culture of debate in eighteenth-century Cambridge. Whilst pro-Trinity in his own beliefs and writings, William Stukeley was both a contemporary of Samuel Clarke (1) (subordinationist author of The Scripture doctrine of the Trinity (1712)) and friends with two other key nontrinitarians of the time, Isaac Newton (2) and William Whiston (3).


Isaac Newton, frontispiece to the 3rd edition of Principia [R.2.38]


Stukeley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1718, at which time Newton was president, and his personal correspondence suggests that he may even have been the originator of the famous apple anecdote. Whiston was notoriously outspoken in his nontrinitarian stance, publishing Athanasius convicted of forgery (1712) [R.8.61(4)] (on display in Queens’ current exhibition) and other vehement nontrinitarian pamphlets, which ultimately led to expulsion from his Lucasian professorship at Cambridge in 1710. Yet 26 years later Whiston attended and presented experiments at Stukeley’s Brazen Nose Society (an association he founded in Stamford to replicate the more vibrant social scene of London).


William Whiston ©Wikicommons

The nature of eighteenth-century pamphlet culture and debate meant that these men operated in the same circles, amongst mutual friends and acquaintances, hence a lively exchange of ideas encouraged by this proximity can be envisaged. David Boyd Haycock has argued that Stukeley directed his antiquarian works specifically towards Newton, Whiston and Clarke as nontrinitarians. Despite coming to differing conclusions, they shared common ground for debate: Stukeley’s arguments were founded on primary source pagan writings and stone circle archaeology, just as Whiston and Clarke referenced original scripture. Via pamphlets such as those collected by David Hughes, they were able to publish, distribute and debate their ideas with a wider reading public – both within the university and beyond.

Evidence of the reading public is sometimes visible on the pamphlets themselves. The Stukeley example is well annotated by hand; although, unfortunately, many of the pages were cut during binding, removing large sections of the writing. The comments move between English, French and Latin – sometimes within the same note!

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The annotator has underlined ‘Evohe!’ and added ‘This is the shout of Bacchus’ followers’ in French in the margin [P.10(13)]


They appear to remark especially on Stukeley’s Latin quotations, for example giving a translation of the Horatian ode being discussed by the author.

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Stukeley’s ode in Latin, with cropped annotation in Latin in the margin, and an English translation at the bottom of the page [P.10(13)]


The final page is uncut, and heavily annotated, giving a better insight into the reader’s thoughts on Stukeley’s text.



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Here the reader quotes from Francis Hare’s Scripture vindicated from the misinterpretations of the Lord Bishop of Bangor (1720) [P.83(6)]. In the quote, Hare condemns the Pantheisticon, a controversial text by John Toland (4) in which he used pagan texts to imitate a Christian liturgy.



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The reader clearly links Stukeley and Toland, but the reasoning is unclear. He could be suggesting that Stukeley, like Hare, was criticising Toland’s blasphemous use of pagan texts by demonstrating their proper use. On the other hand, he might be implying that Stukeley and Toland were equally deserving of Hare’s criticism, since both men used pagan texts to make direct parallels with Christianity.

This annotation is particularly interesting since it demonstrates the philosophical context within which these pamphlets were read in Cambridge. Readers, like our annotator, had clearly read many such publications, and seemingly studied and remembered each one within the context of ideas put forward in others. Stukeley himself may have intended his argument to be read within a certain context and by specific people. However, the huge corpus of pamphlets printed in the course of the eighteenth-century, as well as the ready availability of environments to discuss them (within the university and more publicly in coffee houses) meant that readers could debate, dissect, quote and criticise them within their own frame of knowledge. We are extremely fortunate, therefore, that David Hughes had the foresight to collect and collate so many of these publications at the time, for future reference – thus preserving a unique record of debate in Enlightenment Cambridge.

By Isobel Goodman, Library Graduate Trainee

Queens’ Old Library exhibition will be open to the public 4th-22nd March, 1.30-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. More information:

Key figures

(1) Samuel Clarke

Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) was an Anglican clergyman and philosopher, educated at Caius College, Cambridge. As a personal friend of William Whiston and fellow supporter of Newton’s nontrinitarian views, he translated and revised works for both men, before embarking on a public correspondence in defence of Newton with prominent German philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, in 1715-16. Clarke became known for his efforts to demonstrate the existence of God and, controversially, for his subordinationist views as outlined in The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712).

(2) Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was a celebrated mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian and natural philosopher, whose ground-breaking contributions to classical mechanics, optics and infinitesimal calculus made him a key figure of the scientific revolution. The immediate impact of his theories concerning universal gravitation and the laws of motion, as outlined in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), is confirmed by his enduring fame. Yet, in contrast, Newton’s nontrinitarian views were seemingly expressed more privately during his lifetime. Extensive research published posthumously reveals that he firmly believed Christ to be a ‘divine mediator’, subordinate to the Father. Newton was a Fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, as well as Member of Parliament for Cambridge University in 1689-90 and 1701-2. He served as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint from 1696 to 1727, was President of the Royal Society 1703-27, and was knighted in 1705.

(3) William Whiston

William Whiston (1667-1752) was a theologian, historian and mathematician, as well as a prominent supporter of Isaac Newton’s theories. Remembered particularly for his efforts to instigate the Longitude Act and for his important translations, Whiston was also a leading exponent of Arianism, as outlined in his book A New Theory of the Earth (1696). His conclusion that Trinity teaching was a pagan invention ultimately led to his dismissal as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1710.

(4) John Toland

John Toland (1670-1722) was an Irish freethinker and philosopher who studied at the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leiden and Oxford. He is best known for his work Christianity not mysterious (1696) in which he argued that all features of ‘true’ Christianity could be explained through reason and natural principles, as people could not assent to believe in something if they did not understand it. Like Stukeley, he had an interest in druids, especially the ancient Irish, and they are the focus of his Pantheisticon and Tetradymus (both 1720).


Daniel, Stephen H., ‘Toland, John (1670-1722)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

Boyd Haycock, William Stukeley: Science, Religion and Archaeology in eighteenth-century England (Woodbridge, UK, 2002), p. 213

Boyd Haycock, ‘Stukeley, William (1687-1765)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

D. Snobelen, ‘Whiston, William (1667-1752)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

S. Westfall, ‘Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,


Words and voices: a snapshot of pamphlet-based debate culture in Enlightenment Cambridge – Part 1

Queens’ Old Library’s current exhibition, The Age of Reason, Religion and Ridicule in the Library of the Revd David Hughes (c.1704-77), explores the vast compilation of pamphlets bequeathed to the college by former Queens’ Fellow and Vice President, David Hughes. Collected and collated in eighteenth-century Cambridge by Hughes himself, and subsequently bound into volumes, these pamphlets offer a fascinating insight into the city’s debate culture during the Enlightenment and the role of its many key players. One heavily annotated pamphlet from the collection, Palaeographia sacra: or, Discourses on monuments of antiquity that relate to sacred history (London, 1737) [P.10(13)], written by William Stukeley (1687-1765), highlights both the conflicting ideas printed in these publications and the active discussion they generated. Part One of this blog will explore the contents and philosophical context of Stukeley’s pamphlet, whilst Part Two will examine the physical document and what it tells us about debate culture in Cambridge at the time.

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Title page of Hughes’ copy of Palaeographia sacra [P.10(13)] All but the last page were cropped during binding, obscuring much of the annotation


William Stukeley, who studied at Bene’t College, Cambridge from 1703 (now Corpus Christi College), was a clergyman, antiquarian, physician and natural philosopher. Although perhaps best known now for his contribution to scholarly investigation of Stonehenge and Avebury, Stukeley addresses religious issues in this pamphlet.

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William Stukeley (1687-1765) ©WikiCommons

An emphasis on ‘reason’ typified by Enlightenment thinking, coupled with a desire to dissociate religion from the preceding century of religious conflict in Europe (most notably the Thirty Years War), spawned debate on the origins of true faith. Like many natural philosophers of the time (including Isaac Newton (1) and William Whiston (2), both of whom were his friends) Stukeley advocated the use of classical and heathen texts to prove his own beliefs. It was argued that these early manuscripts contained the original truth from the establishment of the Judaeo-Christian religion, and so could be used as sources of the correct Christian doctrine. However, individual interpretation of the texts’ contents typically led to wildly differing perspectives. Whiston notably used them to argue against the Trinity – a position which saw him expelled from his Lucasian professorship at Cambridge University, in 1710. In complete contrast, Stukeley utilises them in this pamphlet for his pro-Trinity stance.

The Trinity issue generated considerable Enlightenment debate since the concept of a God who was, at once, both a single entity and three distinct persons who were individually that same entity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) defied ‘reason’. Furthermore, the idea that this knowledge was conveyed to mankind through a form of Revelation confounded scientific explanation. In the early 4th century, Arius, a priest, had argued that since the son of God was ‘born’, logically there was an earlier time when this aspect of the Trinity did not exist, and hence could not be an equal member.

This argument had undermined Trinitarian belief, and Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (c. 296-373 AD), had stepped in to defend Christian doctrine. Some of Stukeley’s contemporaries – notably Samuel Clarke (3) and William Whiston – argued that there was no scriptural reference to Trinitarian doctrine pre-Athanasius, and so his defence represented the invention of the concept. By extension, this meant that the Trinity did not originate in the real sources of the Christian religion and so was false.


Samuel Clarke, from Thomas Birch’s The heads of illustrious persons of Great Britain [R.1.6(1)]


Stukeley’s principal argument in favour of the Trinity, on the other hand, was that ‘heathen’ druids, who predated Christianity, had reached the same conclusions as Christian scripture without any form of Revelation. For example, in his pamphlet Stukeley draws comparisons between two odes, arguing that the ‘heathen’ Bacchus is the same as Jehovah in the Jewish faith. Using another parallel with Bacchus, he further asserts that the ‘heathens’ knew that the Messiah was the son of God:


The antients had a notion of the Messiah, the God-man, immortal hero, Bacchus, the most perfect of human race, the god of wine… but they knew likewise that he was to be born of a virgin.

Moreover, he claims that

we find the heathen had some knowledge [that Jesus was the son of God] by making their Bacchus the son of Jupiter (meaning the supreme) and Semele; which, as we observ’d before, is one of the divine names.

The use of a heathen text in this way was interesting because it suggested that belief in Jesus as the son and equal of God predated not just Christian scripture but also Athanasius, thus dismissing the Nontrinitarian arguments.

Stukeley used his antiquarian studies to support these religious claims in other publications. Between 1718 and 1724 he conducted surveys, and later published studies, of Stonehenge and Avebury (Stonehenge: a Temple Restor’d to the British Druids (1740) and Abury: a Temple of the British Druids (1743)). These studies were impressive in terms of the discoveries made: Stukeley was first to discover the astronomical alignment of the stones at Stonehenge, for example, and his studies at Avebury recorded for posterity stone circles in the process of being destroyed for building materials. Beyond this, though, he argued that druids had built Stonehenge, and that they, in turn, believed in the Trinity – once more without Revelation, and pre-dating both Athanasius and scripture. Although amended in recent years through archaeological investigation, Stukeley’s antiquarian theories (and, hence, associated theological arguments) were highly significant both in his lifetime and beyond. Part Two of this blog will explore what Stukeley’s pamphlet in Queens’ Old Library reveals about how these beliefs were debated by his contemporaries in Cambridge.

By Isobel Goodman, Library Graduate Trainee

Queens’ Old Library exhibition will be open to the public 4th-22nd March, 1.30-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. More information:

Key figures

(1) Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was a celebrated mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian and natural philosopher, whose ground-breaking contributions to classical mechanics, optics and infinitesimal calculus made him a key figure of the scientific revolution. The immediate impact of his theories concerning universal gravitation and the laws of motion, as outlined in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), is confirmed by his enduring fame. Yet, in contrast, Newton’s nontrinitarian views were seemingly expressed more privately during his lifetime. Extensive research published posthumously reveals that he firmly believed Christ to be a ‘divine mediator’, subordinate to the Father. Newton was a Fellow of Trinity College and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, as well as Member of Parliament for Cambridge University in 1689-90 and 1701-2. He served as Warden and Master of the Royal Mint from 1696 to 1727, was President of the Royal Society 1703-27, and was knighted in 1705.

(2) William Whiston

William Whiston (1667-1752) was a theologian, historian and mathematician, as well as a prominent supporter of Isaac Newton’s theories. Remembered particularly for his efforts to instigate the Longitude Act and for his important translations, Whiston was also a leading exponent of Arianism, as outlined in his book A New Theory of the Earth (1696). His conclusion that Trinity teaching was a pagan invention ultimately led to his dismissal as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1710.

(3) Samuel Clarke

Samuel Clarke (1675-1729) was an Anglican clergyman and philosopher, educated at Caius College, Cambridge. As a personal friend of William Whiston and fellow supporter of Newton’s nontrinitarian views, he translated and revised works for both men, before embarking on a public correspondence in defence of Newton with prominent German philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, in 1715-16. Clarke became known for his efforts to demonstrate the existence of God and, controversially, for his subordinationist views as outlined in The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712).


Boyd Haycock, William Stukeley: Science, Religion and Archaeology in eighteenth-century England (Woodbridge, UK, 2002), p. 213

Boyd Haycock, ‘Stukeley, William (1687-1765), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

D. Snobelen, ‘Whiston, William (1667-1752), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

S. Westfall, ‘Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,