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!

6 annotation

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.

8 annotation ode (1)

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: queensoldlibrary.org/Events.

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, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-27497

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, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-26743

D. Snobelen, ‘Whiston, William (1667-1752)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29217

S. Westfall, ‘Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-20059


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.

1 stukeley tp v2

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.

stukeley_william wiki commons

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: queensoldlibrary.org/Events.

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, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-26743

D. Snobelen, ‘Whiston, William (1667-1752), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29217

S. Westfall, ‘Newton, Sir Isaac (1642-1727), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-20059


Johannes Kepler in the Old Library at Queens’: a remarkable collection

The Old Library at Queens’ College is fortunate in possessing a large number of first editions of some very important scientific works of the early 17th century. Many of these are among those which may have been donated by the former fellow of Queens’, John Smith (1618-1652), who was a member of the important group of philosophers active in Cambridge who were known as the “Cambridge Platonists”.  The Donors’ Book at Queens’ which records brief titles of books donated to the Old Library by alumni from 1562 to the end of the 18th century lists 683 books which were donated by Smith, of which a large number relate to science.


Signature of John Smith, Cambridge Platonist [C.14.32]

Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer, is well represented with ten works recorded in the Donors’ Book under the brief titles: De motibus stellae, Mysterium Cosmographicarum, Harmonice Mundi, Dioptrice, Somnium Astronomicum, Eclogae Chronicae, De Nive Sexangula, Paralipomena ad Vitellionem, Nuncius Sydereus, and Epitome Astronomiae. From these brief titles we can assume that up to nine of the Kepler works in Queens’ Old Library originate from the Smith bequest.

Several are first editions:

  • C-014-032-004

    Illustrations of the structure of the eye [C.14.32]

    Ad Vitellionem paralipomena. Frankfurt am Main, 1604 [C.14.32].
    This was Kepler’s first important work on optics, of great significance in the history of ophthalmology, with descriptions of human vision and the functions of the eye. This is apparently the only work by Kepler at Queens’ which does contain the signature of John Smith.
  • Dissertatio cum nuncio sidereo. Prague, 1610 (“Nuncius sydereus” in Donors’ Book) [D.20.41(1)].
    Kepler’s letter to Galileo in which he warmly approves of Galileo’s new observations with the telescope, as described in Sidereus Nuncius.
  • Dioptrice. Augsburg, 1611 (“Dioptrice seu demonstratio” in Donors’ Book) [D.20.59].
    Kepler’s response to Galileo’s discovery of four satellites orbiting Jupiter, with the use of a powerful new telescope. Kepler began a theoretical and experimental investigation of telescopic optics and within a few months he had successfully worked out all the laws governing the passage of light through different lenses. He also described an improved telescope with two convex lenses which would produce greater magnification than Galileo’s uses of a combination of convex and concave lenses.
  • Eclogae chronicae. Frankfurt am Main, 1615 (“Eclogae chronicae” in Donors’ Book) [D.20.49].
    One of several books written by Kepler on the subject of Christian chronology.
  • Harmonices mundi libri V. Linz, 1619 (“Harmonice mundi” in Donors’ Book) [D.1.35].
    Kepler’s discourse on harmony and congruence in geometrical forms and physical phenomena, perhaps motivated by his tireless search for harmony in the universe. Regarded by many as Kepler’s hymn to the universe, and “A mathematical Song of Songs”, according to author and journalist Arthur Koestler.
  • Somnium seu Opus posthumum de astronomia lunari. Frankfurt am Main, 1634 (“Somnium astronomicum” in Donors’ Book) [D.20.35(1)].
    A novel which was written by Kepler and published posthumously by his son Ludwig in 1634, with an imaginary description of how the earth would look when viewed from the moon. The work is considered to be the first serious treatise of lunar astronomy, as well as being called the first work of science fiction by astrophysicist Carl Sagan and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

Also listed in the Donors’ Book as “De motibus stellae” is possibly another Kepler first edition in the Old Library: Astronomia nova aitologetos  seu physica coelestis, tradita commentariis de motibus stellae martis ex observationibus G. V. Tychonis Brahe. [Heidelberg], 1609 [D.2.9].

This is the first edition of Kepler’s most important work, which contains his first two laws of planetary motion, the first law showing that the orbits of planets are elliptical rather than circular, and the second law, of equal areas, shows that planets move faster when they are closer to the sun. The work had immense influence on other astronomers including Galileo and Newton.

Other works:

D-001-009-002 - Copy

The five Platonic solids to demonstrate the relationship of distances between the six known planets [D.1.9]

  • Prodromus dissertationum cosmographicarum , continens mysterium cosmographicum de admirabili proportione. Frankfurt am Main, 1621 (“Mysterium cosmographicum” in Donors’ Book) [D.1.9].
    Second edition of Kepler’s first work, first published in 1596. Written with the approval of the authorities of Tübingen University, although it was a militantly pro-Copernican treatise. Scholars such as Galileo and Tycho Brahe were lukewarm, but it thrust Kepler into the front rank of astronomers.
  • Epitome astronomiae Copernicanae. Frankfurt am Main, 1635 (“Epitome astronomiae” in Donors’ Book) [S.2.23]. Second edition.
    A review of Kepler’s cosmological ideas and his support for the theories of Copernicus.

In addition, the Old Library has two other first editions of works by Kepler:

  • Chilias logarithmorum. Marburg, 1624-5 [D.20.36(2)].
    Very important work which includes examples of the uses of logarithms and how they were constructed. The work enabled Kepler to compete the Rudolphine Tables (see below) and discover his third law of planetary motion.
  • Tabulae Rudophinae. Ulm, 1627 [D.2.11].
    Perhaps Kepler’s ground-breaking publication which he had worked on with his teacher Tycho Brahe. “These tables remained the foundation of all planetary calculations for over a century. Also of importance is the table of logistic logarithms, Kepler’s invention, and that of refraction.”–Ruth Sparrow, Milestones of Science, 116.

Engraved title page of Tabulae Rudolphinae [D.2.11]

Johannes Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt in Germany in 1571 and it was he, above all other astronomers, who revitalised interest in the revolutionary theories of Copernicus, but it was by pure chance that he pursued this path.  He had the intention of becoming a priest, but it was while he was at the University of Tübingen that he was introduced to Michael Maestlin, the professor of astronomy. Although Maestlin taught the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, he clearly believed in the heliocentric system of Copernicus and had bought a copy of De Revolutionibus in 1570 while a student, and is thought to have taught the theories of Copernicus to his more advanced students. Kepler was still intending to be a clergyman as he neared the end of his time at Tübingen. However his life changed when he was reluctantly appointed as the professor of mathematics, following the sudden death of the previous one.

Kepler’s great teacher Tycho Brahe died suddenly ostensibly from a bladder ailment in 1601, and there have been claims that he was murdered through mercury poisoning.  Kepler became one of the main suspects, with the motive of gaining access to his master’s extensive astronomical data, which Tycho Brahe had jealously guarded. There is no doubt that, after Brahe’s death, Kepler took possession of the data and was able to move the study of astronomy further forward than anyone before him, becoming, in the words of Carl Sagan “the first astrophysicist and the last scientific astrologer”.

Investigations in the 1990’s had suggested that Brahe died from mercury poisoning, thus leading to the speculation that he had been poisoned. However, after the remains had been exhumed in 2010 and samples of bones, hair and clothing had been analysed, no lethal levels of any poison were discovered, and although traces of mercury were found (perhaps as a result of Brahe’s alchemical experiments), there was not enough to suggest poisoning.

Tycho Brahe was a remarkable figure, one of the wealthiest men in Denmark, the leading astronomer of his day whose painstaking research led to exciting new discoveries after his death. He had seen the benefits of the Copernican system but he erroneously considered the sun to be orbiting the earth. Yet his very precise measurements showed that new stars (the Supernovae) were not tailless comets as previously thought, also that comets were not atmospheric phenomena but must pass through supposedly immutable celestial spheres.

His reputation became so high that the king of Denmark offered him the island of Hven for the construction of a modern observatory, as well as a printing press and a paper mill, where he was able to publish his works.


Uraniborg Castle, Brahe’s astronomical observatory [C.14.19(1)]

Brahe was a most colourful figure and is the subject of several bizarre stories. When he was only 20 he lost part of his nose in a duel with a Danish nobleman and fellow student, Manderup Parsbjerg over a fierce disagreement about a mathematical formula. He is often portrayed with a prosthetic nose, either of copper or gold.

He is also said to have a kept a pet elk or moose which lived on the first floor of his house but which is said to have died after falling down the stairs after drinking too much beer. He also kept a dwarf called Jepp as a manservant who he liked to keep under the table where he ate his meals while his master was dining.

By Paul Harcourt, Library Volunteer

Not a Day Without a Line: Past lives of Renaissance books in Queens’ Library

Not a Day Without a Line is the last of four exhibitions organised as part of the Renaissance Queens’ two-year project, which began in May 2016. Since then, more than three thousand people have visited our exhibitions in the Old Library. Featuring bawdy poems, scholarly annotations, liturgy redacted and re-added, mysterious ciphers, hand-coloured books and unique bindings, this final exhibition celebrates some of the most extraordinary discoveries made during the Renaissance Queens’ cataloguing and outreach project.

Title page of The Gospels of the fower Euangelistes translated i

A sixteenth-century cipher, consisting of Anglo-Saxon letters, medieval number forms and invented symbols. The Gospels of the fower Evangelistes translated in the olde Saxons tyme out of Latin into the vulgare toung of the Saxons (London, 1571) [D.19.2].

Our previous three exhibitions have begun with a focus on a particular person or collection. Not a Day Without a Line began life rather differently, starting instead with the desire to showcase some of the exciting and unique discoveries made over the course of the cataloguing project. With no shortage of these, the first step – the curation of objects – was an enjoyable and fairly straightforward task. But every good exhibition requires a unifying theme. How did we land upon the common thread that holds the exhibition together?

As a scholarly library, and one that was at the heart of the Renaissance humanist movement, with its emphasis on “active reading” (interrogating the text by comparison, annotation and translation), Queens’ Old Library contains many remarkable examples of marginalia. Ranging from the scholarly (annotations, mnemonic devises, manicules) to the distinctly recreational (crude poems written on the flyleaves of Bibles, personal notes and doodles), these lines and markings offer an insight into the daily practices of book use.

In addition, the Library collection is known for its many original calfskin bindings. As well as offering us indications of the books’ provenance and the relationships between past owners, as in the case of William Cecil’s books given to the President of  Queens’, or the library shared by two theologically opposed Cambridge preachers, the bindings illustrate the craft and skill of sixteenth-century bookbinders. Looking at the books that we hoped would feature in the exhibition, we found that they were united by these themes of daily use and personalisation.


Horn window, recording the donation of this book from Thomas Yale to Queens’ College. Below are the initials of Simon Heynes, whose widow Yale married. Cyprian, Saint, Opera sanctissimi martyris Caecilii Cypriani episcopi Cathaginensis [The works of the holy martyr Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage] (Basel, 1525) [M.9.19].

A quotation, hand-written in a sixteenth-century dictionary, captured this topic perfectly. “Nulla dies sine linea” (not a day without a line) is a maxim that was coined by Pliny to describe the work ethic of Apelles, a Greek painter. Down the centuries, it has been used by many notable authors; Desiderius Erasmus, the celebrated humanist scholar and the subject of one of our exhibitions, used it in its negative form, which translated as “today has been a day without a line”, and Émile Zola adopted it as his personal motto and wrote it on the wall above his fireplace. Written in its extended form, “Nulla dies abeat quin linea ducta supersit” (let no day go by without a line drawn to show for it), this quotation, presumably adopted as a motto by the book’s owner, perfectly illustrates the daily craft of book production and use in the early modern period.

G-007-029-001 - Copy jpeg.jpg

Inscription reading “Nulla dies abeat quin linea ducta supersit” (let no day go by without a line drawn to show for it) in Dasypodius, Peter, Dictionarium Latinogermanicum et vice versa Germanicolatinum [Dictionary Latin-German and vice versa German-Latin] (Strasbourg, 1541) [G.7.29].

What does the exhibition reveal about Queens’ Old Library during the Renaissance?

Firstly, it reaffirms the importance of active reading to the humanist scholars of the Renaissance period. Elizabethan poet Geoffrey Whitney stated that “the use, not the reading of books makes us wise”; in this spirit readers like Thomas Smith, Elizabethan statesman and Fellow of Queens’ and the subject of our penultimate exhibition, used their books thoroughly, and sometimes filled them with annotations, doodles and amendments. The scholarly annotations that feature in this exhibition demonstrate the same attitude towards the use and purpose of books.

H-019-005-006 - final

Annotations in several hands in Leonhard Fuchs, De historia stirpium commentarii insignes [Notable commentaries on the history of plants] (Lyon, 1549) [H.19.5].

Secondly, these additions and redactions, the insertion of replacement leaves, repairs to pages and even the retention of the original bindings all demonstrate that the purpose of the Library was primarily functional. Although books were expensive and precious, they were used repeatedly. These signs of use speak of the way in which books were viewed and used here during the Renaissance.

Expurgation, 16th century

A Catholic liturgical text, expurgated on the orders of Henry VIII after the institution of the Church of England. Missale secundum ordinem Carthusiensium [Missal of the Carthusian Order] (Lyon, 1517) [G.2.1].

Not a Day Without a Line: Past lives of Renaissance books in Queens’ Library was curated by Tim Eggington, Lucille Munoz and Hannah Smith. An online version of the exhibition will become available soon on our website.

We are grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, whose sponsorship made it possible to appoint a Project Associate to catalogue and promote our sixteenth-century collections.

The Spanish Match

Tucked inside the front cover of a 16th-century folio volume in the Old Library we discovered a folded sheet of paper on which has been written in a 17th-century hand a Latin poem of 85 lines (click here for a closer look).

Both sides

Folded sheet of paper found in Etienne Bellengard, Sententiarum volumen absolutissimum (Geneva, 1587) [I.5.21]

The first two lines of the poem read:

Crop first 2 lines

Quam primum patrias effugit Carolus oras
Impletus lacrimis angulus omnis erat

“As soon as Charles had fled his native shores, every corner was filled with tears”.


King Charles I

The Charles referred to is the future King Charles I while he was still Prince of Wales, and the poem is inspired by his clandestine visit to Spain in 1623 and one of the most bizarre episodes in British history, known as the Spanish Match. Negotiations to bring about a marriage between Charles and the Infanta of Spain had been dragging on for a decade with scarcely any progress; Charles felt that he had waited long enough and so plotted with the Duke of Buckingham to force the issue, one way or the other.

An important figure in all this was the Spanish ambassador to London from 1613, the Lord of Gondomar, who slowly developed close friendships with both Charles and his father James I, and encouraged them to pursue the match. Gondomar, who was adept at self promotion, could see that a successful result would be the pinnacle of his career, while for James to secure an alliance with Spain without the need for bloodshed would be seen as an outstanding success. Little did James and Charles know that in spite of extravagant claims made by Gondomar, his influence at the Spanish court was limited, as Charles soon found upon his arrival in Madrid. In fact Gondomar was never part of the inner circle and had been sent away to London as a means to get him out of the way.


The Infanta of Spain, Maria Anna

Charles and Buckingham began their daring adventure on 18 February 1623, under the false names of Thomas and John Smith and wearing false wigs and beards. They chose not to travel by sea, opting instead to undergo a tedious voyage over land; both were violently sick during the channel crossing and then had to endure fourteen days of travel through France and Spain. Their journey was ill-prepared; it was Lent and there was little meat to be had, forcing the Prince’s party to try to trap the odd goat which they encountered on the way, but they finally arrived at the somewhat surprised British Embassy in Madrid on 7 March 1623.

The relations between England and Spain had become complicated on account of developments elsewhere in Europe. The Spanish were keen to reconquer the Dutch Republic which they had been forced to give up in 1609 as a result of the Twelve Years Truce, but one hostile Protestant state stood in their way: the Electorate of the Palatinate. King James had married off his daughter Elizabeth to Frederick V of Palatinate, so that when Frederick became Elector of the Palatinate in 1610 and King of Bohemia in 1619, the House of Stuart found itself at the centre of one of the most heated disputes of the age. On the one hand James wanted to stay on good terms with the Spanish, but he also needed to support his daughter.

The expedition proved to be a diplomatic disaster; Charles thought that he would easily win the Infanta over and bring her back to England in triumph, while the Spanish believed that by coming to Spain himself, Charles was showing his willingness to convert to Catholicism. Any thoughts that long-standing divisions would be healed by joining together a Catholic and a Protestant royal house were dashed. Despite the mission’s ignominious failure to meet any of its objectives there was an immense sense of joyous relief on Charles’ return to London which was celebrated with a display of fireworks, street parties, and ringing of bells.

The poem appears to have been the work of a student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Forth Winthrop (1609-1630). The fifth line of the poem: “Telemacho salvo nunquam visendum Ulysses” also appears in a letter written by Forth Winthrop to his brother John, in c. 1627-8. The line does not appear in any other work of Latin literature (as far as we know).


John Winthrop

Forth Winthrop’s father was John Winthrop (1588-1649) who in 1630 led a large group of immigrants to the New World, becoming the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later its first governor; John Winthrop, Jr., the recipient of Forth Winthrop’s letter, became the first governor of Connecticut. Sadly, Forth Winthrop died soon after his father left for the New World.



Further reading about the Spanish Match: Redworth, Glyn, The Prince and the Infanta (New Haven: Yale University Press, c.2003).

By Paul Harcourt, Library Volunteer

Behind the scenes of our latest exhibition, Books and Power in Tudor England: The Renaissance Library of Sir Thomas Smith


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By Hannah Smith, Library Graduate Trainee

The Old Library’s new exhibition opens to the public on 19th September. But how is an exhibition of rare books curated and prepared?

Four hundred and forty years ago, Sir Thomas Smith bequeathed his extensive library to his alma mater, Queens’ College. His instructions were brusque: collect them within twelve days of his death, or Peterhouse would have them instead. Gruff, learned, acerbically funny – the same personality is evident in this story as in the annotations and doodles in his books.

Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577) was a Tudor ambassador, Secretary of State and political writer, but above all he was a humanist scholar. His books, around sixty-five of which are still in the Old Library, range in subject from classical archaeology to contemporary zoology. With a collection this diverse, where is a librarian to begin in curating an exhibition? What follows is an account of the creation of Books and Power in Tudor England, from first concept to final caption.

Before May

Thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Queens’ is undertaking a two-year project to catalogue the early printed books of the Old Library and make the collections more accessible to the public. Events, schools outreach and exhibitions form part of this endeavour.

HLF Project Associate Lucille and College Librarian Tim are already well acquainted with Smith’s collection. Detailed bibliographic records of each book have been completed, with notes on their annotations, bindings and provenance. These prove to be invaluable to the new graduate trainee, Hannah, who arrives just as work on the exhibition begins and has some catching up to do.


The project team begin reading in earnest. Smith had two biographers, one writing at the end of the seventeenth century and the other in the 1960s. We work our way through both and note the biographers’ wildly different attitudes to Smith and his achievements. Strype, the first biographer, is elegiac in his praise. Dewar, the more recent writer, celebrates his achievements, but presents his life as a series of tragedies. The more we learn about Smith, the clearer it becomes that both stances are legitimate; Smith was remarkably intelligent, influential and well-connected, but in many ways he was also vulnerable, susceptible to the influence of others. He’s a fascinating subject.


Smith certainly was intimidatingly well-read; Strype’s emphatic praise seems much more reasonable now that we are reading around the subjects that Smith knew back to front: history, law, sciences and mathematics, astronomy, astrology (all of these represented in his library in classical and contemporary texts), the pronunciation of ancient Greek, the colonisation of Ireland… The list continues. The sheer scale of the task before us becomes apparent.



One by one, each of Smith’s surviving books is examined thoroughly. We sort them into subjects and make a note of the shelfmark of the book, its condition and subject and, most importantly, what marginalia it contains. Most of Smith’s books bear his signature on the title page, sometimes ‘Smith’, sometimes ‘Smyth’, often a latinised ‘Smithus’.

Smith book spreadsheet

A spreadsheet of Smith’s books, with notes on the subject, condition and marginalia of each one.

It becomes obvious that certain books, or even certain chapters of books, were read and annotated repeatedly. In the context of the story of his life, we begin to see how he turned to these books for personal direction. In a book on mining and mineralogy he has made notes only next to passages that relate to the transmutation of one metal element into another using acid. It makes sense in light of the fact that Smith was defrauded in an alchemical scheme (the conman claimed to be able to turn iron into copper using nitric acid). In another book, this time a classical work of medicine, Smith made notes around a passage on the paralysis of the tongue, underlining the most emotive words. Developing what was almost certainly cancer of the throat and unable to speak in 1576, he wrote to William Cecil, ‘what pleasure can a man have of my years when he cannot speak as he would’.


Hannah goes on a training course on the use of special collections materials in exhibitions. Serif fonts, it turns out, are the most helpful for the visually impaired, but sans serif work best for dyslexic readers.

We consider structuring the exhibition around the chronology of Smith’s life, from his lowly birth in Saffron Walden to his legacy in the present day, but it is becoming clear that his books, and his method of reading them, are a window into the broader intellectual and political culture of his time. Books were a source of power for Smith and other ‘intellectuals in office’, more so than they had ever been before. We arrive at our title.


With only a month until Open Cambridge and the unveiling of the new exhibition, there is no time to lose. It’s time to decide which books will feature. Books are added, removed and swapped around many times before we settle on the final configuration. Like our library, the exhibition has an emphasis on Renaissance Humanism. The final titles for the cases are:

Thomas Smith and reading as a ‘trigger for action’

Thomas Smith and the advancement of Humanism in Cambridge

Exploring the Renaissance mind

Reading the natural world

Reading the natural world: ‘natural magic’

Thomas Smith: Library as university

Now comes the most time-consuming task: turning our research into clear, concise copy for the booklet, posters and captions. Tim, Lucille and Hannah each take two cases and get to work. Painful as it is after immersing ourselves in obscure topics such as the ancient Heruli tribe, the distillation of aqua vitae or the architecture of Smith’s mansion, often we have to kill our darlings if we want to produce succinct copy that visitors are willing to read. We draft, edit and re-draft.


Trying out new configurations; books are moved, withdrawn and re-added before we settle on our final book list.

A local graphic design company will be producing our exhibition materials. Lucille sends them high-quality photographs of some of Smith’s annotations and doodles to be included in the booklet.


Several of Smith’s annotations are photographed, to be included in the booklet and display boards.


One week remains until Open Cambridge; tickets are selling out. After six months on display the Erasmus exhibition is taken down, and the work of installing Books and Power begins.

Each book requires its own purpose-built book cradle. Made from stiff cardboard, they support the bindings of the books and lend a uniform look to the cases. It’s imperative that the cradle fits the book exactly, and that the book doesn’t extend past its natural opening (usually no more than 120 degrees).


Hannah makes a book cradle for a small book with a particularly narrow opening.

Over the weekend of Open Cambridge almost two hundred visitors pass through the doors of the Old Library. As usual, many comment on the smell of the old books, the reverence they feel, the impulse to whisper. Smith’s books are so full of humour and verve that they cut through that, though. Few things are more enjoyable than examining a historical object and in it discovering a relatable, human personality. We will certainly miss his.


Open Cambridge: Hannah introduces a tour group to the Old Library and the exhibition.

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Books and Power in Tudor England: The Renaissance Library of Sir Thomas Smith will be open in the Old Library from 9th October to 3rd November, on weekday afternoons between 1:30 and 4:30. Admission is free.


As part of the Festival of Ideas College Librarian Tim Eggington and Perne Librarian Scott Mandelbrote will give a talk entitled ‘Reading books in sixteenth-century Cambridge’ to accompany the exhibition. Book via the Festival of Ideas website.

The Old Kitchens, Queens’ College, Saturday 28th October, 2:30-4:30pm

Books as evidence, part two: William Cecil’s books and the spread of ideas from Cambridge to Parliament


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By Hannah Smith, Graduate Library Trainee

In the previous post, we discovered that Queens’ Old Library holds books from the dispersed library of William Cecil Lord Burghley, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I and Secretary of State. An annotation within one of these books, the bindings of which are stamped with the Cecil family arms, confirms that at one time they belonged to Humphrey Tindall, President of Queens’ from 1579 to 1614, who subsequently donated them to the College. These books, and in particular their remarkable and rare bindings, provide evidence of the relationship between these two men.

However, that Cecil, a man with power and responsibility second only to the Queen, should secure this position for Tindall despite outcry among the Fellows begs the questions: why did Cecil arrange Tindall’s appointment, and what ideas was he attempting to propagate by the donation of these books?

William Cecil had intervened in matters of Queens’ College appointments before. That the Queen’s chief advisor would do so did so speaks of the influence that the University’s teaching had on the political and intellectual life of the nation. In an era of class immobility, men who had the opportunity of receiving an education at Oxford or Cambridge often did so with the guarantee of a political career on the other side; very soon, ideas taught and stances taken in the universities would filter through the upper strata of government.


Portrait of William Cecil. Thomas Birch, The Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (1743)

However, in 1576, the year of Tindall’s appointment, Cecil was responding to both national and personal crises: at the beginning of the year he had backed an unsuccessful marriage suit between the Queen and François, Duke of Alençon and Anjou.

It was imperative that the Queen produced an heir to the throne; the Elizabethan religious settlement, created to provide a middle way under which Catholic and Protestant traditions could coalesce, was precarious, and was unlikely to survive the political instability of a contested throne. The match between Elizabeth and Anjou had for a short time developed into a relationship sufficiently romantic for the pair to exchange betrothal rings (although these were removed the next day, at the urging of the Privy Council). Eventually, though, the problem of Anjou’s Catholic faith was deemed insurmountable.

By the time that this match had been abandoned Cecil, himself a passionate reformer, had left himself vulnerable to suggestions that he was a papist sympathiser, or, at the very least, a lukewarm and changeable believer; either charge was damning. It was now more pressing than ever that he promoted the religious settlement and its moderate reform.

It was not unusual for Cecil, as well as his co-Secretary of State and close friend, Queens’ alumnus Thomas Smith, to require Cambridge preachers to support the monarch’s agenda in their sermons; indeed, after deviating from their instructions the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, was confined to the Tower of London for five years.

The vacancy at Queens’ College afforded Cecil an opportunity. By appointing the right candidate, he could ensure that the College continued to teach the next generation of politicians and bishops to uphold the Elizabethan religious settlement.

Tindall was well known as a defender of religious orthodoxy, and found no theological objection to the Queen’s religious agenda. Licensed as a preacher of the University of Cambridge in 1576, as well as a parish priest and the chaplain of Robert Dudley, his influence in matters of theology was far-reaching. He was young, too, and presumably could hold the role of President for several decades, advocating for the religious settlement even after the death of the Queen.


Girolamo Zanchi, De Tribus Elohim (On the Trinity, Eternal Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Book XIII), 1572. Note the dedication to Edmund Grindal.

Among Cecil’s books given to Tindall was this, written by Girolamo Zanchi, an Italian priest and supporter of the Protestant Reformation. Zanchi’s books, some of which are still in print, were sufficiently controversial that he spent the latter half of his life in exile, moving from city to city in Western Europe. This book on the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed to Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London and later of Canterbury. Grindal, like Tindall, benefited from the patronage of William Cecil, who urged him to use his position to promote the “middle way” between the vying Puritans and Catholics. His efforts in this area were by and large successful, and he was well respected; perhaps the gift of this particular book was a reminder to Tindall of the success he might enjoy if he followed Grindal’s example.


Johannes Gunther, Postillae Sive Conciones Reverendi Patris D. Ioannis Feri (Sermons of Johann Ferus),

Unsurprisingly, most of Cecil’s books at Queens’ are works of theology, written by Protestant theologians. A notable exception, though, is a collection of sermons by Johann Ferus,  the endpaper of which bears Tindall’s signature. Ferus, also known as Johann Wild, was a German Catholic preacher of the Franciscan Order, born at the turn of the fifteenth century. Wild was famed for the eloquence and zeal of his sermons, which won him the respect of Protestants as well as Catholics in a nation divided by the Reformation. His Evangelical preaching style and his promotion of a German middle way resulted in the inclusion of many of his published works in the Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books). Tindall must have appreciated the significance of the gift: a guide to persuasive preaching, and an example of another figure who, like Grindal, had earned respect within both denominations by promoting a middle way.


Until the eighteenth century it was usual for books to be shelved with the fore-edge outwards. The Old Library was no exception. Here someone, possibly Cecil or Tindall, has added the title in ink.

Unlike the majority of his predecessors Humphrey Tindall was never promoted to the bishopric, and remained at Queens’ until his death in 1614. Oral tradition has it that he was offered the throne of Bohemia but refused it, saying that “he had rather be Queen Elizabeth’s subject than a foreign prince”. These words, inscribed on his memorial in Ely Cathedral, are all the more remarkable because his presidency was beset by complaints and rebellions. However, by retaining the presidency of Queens’ College for the remainder of Elizabeth I’s reign and well into that of James I, he ensured that the College, and the University, remained committed to the Elizabeth religious settlement and to the Anglican Church that arose from it.

These remarkable books and their bindings shed light not only on Tindall’s path to the presidency of the College, but also on the University’s political and religious importance during the English Reformation. Stances that were taken in the University would soon spread to the leaders and lawmakers of the nation at large; William Cecil ensured that these ideas, like his books, travelled from Cambridge to Parliament and back again.


Books as evidence, part one: works from William Cecil’s lost library rediscovered in the Old Library at Queens’ College


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William Cecil, chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, was for the span of his career a man of formidable influence. Appointed Secretary of State on the first day of the new Queen’s reign, he operated at the heart of English politics. So great was their familiarity, and her reliance on his wisdom and knowledge, that the Queen gave him the affectionate nickname of ‘Spirit’.


Portrait of William Cecil from ‘An Abridgement of the Third Volume of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England’ by Gilbert Burnet, published 1728 (held in the Old Library)

Throughout his life, Cecil remained an enthusiastic collector of books; having received a humanist education at Cambridge, he built his library around classical works of mathematics, theology and history, and supplemented these with medieval and contemporary texts.

This impressive personal library was dispersed after his death, but a recent discovery in the Old Library has shed new light not only on his collection, but also on his connection with Queens’ College.

During the early eighteenth century, it became fashionable to re-bind collections of books in order to give them a uniform appearance. At Queens’ College, though, the implementation of land enclosure had proved sufficiently costly, and no such work was undertaken. The books in the Old Library were therefore left as they were, many of them in their original bindings.

16th and 17th-century bindings in calf and vellum (Old Library).

Valuable historical sources, these early bindings offer evidence not only of the provenance of the book, but its purpose, the degree of use it experienced and the reverence in which it was held. Even more than this, they can record relationships in the chain of ownership and map the spread of ideas.

One such relationship is that between William Cecil and Humphrey Tindall, President of Queens’ College from 1579 to 1614.

Postillae Sive Conciones Reverendi Patris D. Ioannis Feri

Postillae Sive Conciones Reverendi Patris D. Ionnis Feri [The Sermons of Reverend Father Johann Ferus], 1564

During research conducted for the library’s “Renaissance Queens'” cataloguing project, several Old Library books have been identified as being from the collection of William Cecil. Bound in polished calf, the book above has been stamped with a coat of arms; it is this armorial binding that identifies the book as having been owned by William Cecil.

Detail of Cecil armorial binding

Detail of the armorial binding; note the motto of the Order of the Garter, and the Cecil family arms.

Cecil’s coat of arms incorporates the heraldic bearings of several family lines; the arms of the Cecil family (top left and bottom right) consist of six shields, each bearing a rampant lion. The helmet above the coat of arms indicates the rank of Esquire, a term which in the sixteenth century denoted a member of the landed gentry, above the rank of gentleman. Beneath the arms it is possible to see a belt bearing the motto “Honi soit que mal y pense”, which, translated from middle French, means “shame in him who thinks evil of it”. This is the symbol and motto of the Order of the Garter. Cecil served as the Chancellor of the Order of the Garter between 1551 and 1553, and later received the honour of the Garter himself from Elizabeth I in 1572. Taking this into account, as well as the date of publication, it seems likely that this book was bound between 1572 and his death in 1598.

The bindings of these books have provided evidence to their provenance. However, for evidence of a connection between Cecil and Tindall we must look within the leaves.

Within Cecil’s copy of The Sermons of Reverend Father Johann Ferus, the front endpaper bears an inscription which translates as:

“Given by Humphrey Tindall. Humphrey Tindall was a former Prefect of this College and left this legacy on his death on 12th October, anno Domini 1614.”

This hastily written annotation, written within a book bearing Cecil’s bindings, is sure confirmation that William Cecil’s books came to Queens’ College via Humphrey Tindall. It also lends powerful support to a narrative that has survived in contemporary letters and secondary sources.


When William Chaderton left the Presidency of Queens’ College in 1579, a Fellow, David Yale, wrote to Cecil. He stated that it was well known that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and at one time candidate for marriage to the Queen, had ensured Chaderton’s appointment, as Chaderton had been his chaplain. Dudley was sure to do the same again, this time offering his patronage to Humphrey Tindall. Tindall had not only been Dudley’s chaplain, but had also very recently performed for him a discreet marriage ceremony, later providing a sworn statement that ensured that the pregnancy that became evident soon after the wedding was accepted as legitimate.

Yale felt that Tindall was too young and inexperienced for the role and, perhaps with a touch of self-interest, petitioned for a free election. However, Cecil instead joined with Dudley in securing the position for Tindall. Tindall was never promoted to the bishopric, as might have been expected with such influential patrons, but instead remained in post at Queens’ until his death in 1614.

Spared from erasure, these bindings have provided evidence of a relationship about which relatively little is known. However, the question remains: why did Cecil require Tindall’s appointment to Queens’, and what ideas, contained in these books, was he attempting to propagate?

By Hannah Smith, Graduate Library Trainee

Front (horn) window


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16th century calf binding of Ptolemy’s Geographiae universalis, vetus et nova [D.1.7]

From their invention in late antiquity until the twentieth century animal skin was essential to the production of bound books. It is widely known that Medieval manuscripts were copied on vellum (i.e. calfskin) pages or leaves and that both manuscript volumes and early printed books had bindings made of leather, principally from calf, sheep, goat and pig. Skin was, however, not the only animal product to have been used in books. How else might animals have been used to make books?

One lesser known component in the production of early printed books was cow horn, used to make ‘horn windows’. Less costly than glass, cow horn had been widely used in the middle ages to make actual windows.  To do this, cow horns were soaked in water to soften them, heated and then cut and rolled into strips. A famous extant example is the horn window at Barley Hall, York.

In bookbinding, a horn window (also called fenestra) denotes a rectangular piece of transparent horn that is fixed to the front board of a book as protection for a paper or vellum label (see above).

There are in Queens’ Old Library three volumes that retain horn windows, all of them formerly owned by the same person. In each case the horn is held in place by a brass frame that encloses a parchment slip on which is inscribed details of how the book came to be in Queens’ Library:

M-009-019-002 cropped

Horn window on the copy of St. Cyprian’s Works [M.9.19] with inscription: Thomas Yale Brita[n]nus Legum Doctor for Cancellarius Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis quondam Socius: huius Collegij hunc libru[m] dedit huic Bibliothecae. A[nn]o D[omini] 1562 Januarij 6⁰

The label shown above informs us that this book was given to Queens’ Library on 6 January 1562 by Thomas Yale. He was a distinguished civil lawyer who became Chancellor and Vicar-General to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. Thomas Yale was also a fellow of Queens’ College between the years 1544-57 and served as College Bursar in 1556.

Before working for the Anglican Matthew Parker, Yale defended the Catholic Church within the University during the reign of Queen Mary I. Indeed he subscribed to the 1555 Roman Catholic articles affirming the doctrines of Rome and condemning the errors of the reformers. The following year, he assisted in the search for heretical books during a visitation of the delegates of Cardinal Pole, then Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and (last Roman Catholic) Archbishop of Canterbury.

Crop Thomas Yale

Entry of Thomas Yale’s gift (p. 1) in the Donors’ Book of Queens’ Library [Queens MS 47]

The first entry in the Library’s seventeenth-century Donors’ Book retrospectively records the personal gift by Thomas Yale of four books (see above). These included:

– Cyprian, Saint, Bishop of Carthage, Opera (Basel, 1525) [M.9.19]
– Tertullian, Opera Q. Septimii Florentis Tertullini inter Latinos ecclesiae scriptores primi (Basel, 1528) [M.9.20]
– Ptolemy, Geographia universalis, vetus et nova (Basel, 1542) [D.1.7].

The copy of Eusebius mentioned in the Donors’ book (above) cannot now be found in the Old Library. (It could simply be missing or the Library could have rebound the volume together with another volume as a result of which the original donor label could have been lost.)

Label pastedown on front pastedown [M.12.7]

All three of these known Yale books bear a horn window that displays a similar donor inscription on the front cover. However, a further two-volume set (Origen, Operum tomi duo priores (Paris, 1522) [M.12.7-8]) not recorded in the Donors’ Book also bears a Yale donor label but on the front pastedown (i.e. inside front cover) of each volume rather than on the front cover under a horn window. It seems likely that these volumes were rebound in the seventeenth century, at which time the original labels were transferred inside the volumes and the horn windows were discarded.

Binding created especially for Simon Heynes, with Yale’s horn window inserted below Heynes’ motto [M.9.20]

Of the Yale books, two (Cyprian and Tertullian) are known to have shared a distinguished earlier owner prior to Yale. Their sixteenth-century blind-stamped bindings are ornately gilt-stamped with the initials ‘S.H.’ of Simon Heynes (or Haynes) (d. 1552) and the motto ‘Salus mea d[omi]n[u]s’ (The Lord, my salvation). Educated at Queens’, Heynes’ high-flying career included periods as Queens’ President (1529-37) and as Canon of Windsor, Prebendary of Westminster, and Dean of Exeter. He is remembered now specifically for his role as an early Reformer who assisted in the compilation of the first English liturgy.

After the 1534 Act of Supremacy when Henry VIII was recognised as ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’, Heynes became an official anti-papal preacher in Cambridge, devoted to the Church of England cause. In March 1530, Heynes had helped to secure his university’s endorsement of Henry VIII’s case for a divorce.

Thomas Yale acquired these books through his wife, Joan (or Joanna) Walron (or Waleron), the widow of Simon Heynes, whom Yale married in 1561. It is interesting to note that Heynes (and then Yale) owned books by two Church fathers considered controversial by the Catholic Church (neither Tertullian nor Origin are recognized as saints due to their sometimes unorthodox theological positions).

Curiously, one of the volumes displays a somewhat blatant error committed by the binder when he was decorating the binding.  Having omitted a letter ‘u’ from the motto (‘Salus mea d[omi]n[u]s’/The Lord, my salvation) he sought to rectify the problem by inserting the letter above.

M-009-019-002 edited.jpg

Binder’s mistake [M.9.19]

Although no other books with horn windows survive in Queens’ Old Library today we know of at least one source that suggest the earlier existence of further examples. An entry in the College’s Bursars’ accounts (QC Book 4) mentions the purchase of material to build and nail the metal frame of horn windows for books bequeathed by Laurence Hollenden in 1585. 

[March] Item paide for the carriage of M[rs] Hollandes bookes geven to the Librarie and for carriage of 2 lres. xviiid
Item for twae chaynes for the same bookes. xiid
Item two hookes for them. iiid
Item horne and saddell nailes for the same bookes. iiid

By Lucille Munoz, HLF Project Associate (Rare Books Cataloguer)

Proverbial Battles: Desiderius Erasmus, Polydore Vergil and the Race for Supremacy in Renaissance Europe…


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In our previous blog post, we briefly considered one of Erasmus’s key works: the Adagia. Through the intimacy of his own inner thoughts, we gained a rare insight into how difficult the “Prince of the Humanists” may have found the relatively new mode of learning known as humanism. Yet it was also noted how recent innovations such as the printing press with movable type supported the process; used with catalytic effect in Europe to circulate new ideas and information recovered from manuscripts in a purer critical form, all within what became an increasing self-conscious intellectual community. Largely due to itinerant scholars such as Erasmus, the humanist project that had begun in Renaissance Italy was gradually travelling north and finally making its first impressions on English soil under the patronage of a royal court recently stabilized under the first Tudor monarchs.  As a new programme for education it seemed fitting and suitably noble, providing a shining beacon of light that could lead a relatively backward kingdom out from the stagnation, fear and despair generated from decades of dynastic dispute.

Queens in Loggan

Engraving of Queens’ College from Cantabrigia illustrata (1690) by David Loggan. Dating from the College’s foundation in 1448, ‘Old Court’ has remained relatively unchanged through the centuries [C.11.16].

It’s often delightful to stroll through the Cambridge colleges, and Queens’ is certainly no exception. If we pause now to consider the original medieval buildings, purpose-built during the Wars of the Roses to serve a self-contained scholastic community, we can safely conclude that Erasmus also once set eyes on the very same enclosures.  Following his invitation from former President of Queens’ College – John Fisher, this devoutly religious man would possibly have sought occasional contemplation in what is now the Old Library or communal prayer in what was then the chapel (now the student library).  Yet Erasmus’s mind had long occupied an idealized space above the material world: elaborately structured around the highest of Christian morals; supported by classical pillars of virtue reinforced with a vast reading of ancient literature.  We can thus only begin to imagine how the supposedly undervalued humanist then felt when the work of another man implied the sin of literary theft.  He had already suffered the hardships of his Herculean labours and a potential rival now disputed his claim to originality with respect to his very first publication.

Fore-edge 1540 Adagia

Author and title have been written on the fore-edge of this 1540 edition of the Adagia. Early printed books were shelved with the spines facing inward and it would not become regular practice to print such information on the spines until the 18th century [L.10.7]

The issue of originality or ‘primacy’ between Erasmus’s Adagia and Polydore Vergil’s Proverbiorum Libellus never really amounted to more than a minor controversy relative to the more serious disputes of the day.  Although the issue dragged on for decades, there is considerable evidence that the situation mellowed with time.  Nevertheless, it was significant enough at the outset for Polydore Vergil to rename his work Adagiorum Liber in later editions thus drawing attention to its similarity to Erasmus’s collection. It’s also an episode that provides some further interesting insights. Firstly, in my mind at least, this is an early and largely forgotten forerunner for the more famous contests of ideas that would follow between other Great Men – as the term goes (women would not be admitted to the universities on equal terms for a long time to come – at least not until the 19th century in England: there would be no proverbial battle of the sexes in the academic arena for quite a while). I refer of course to the ‘scientific priority disputes’ that would later consume a venerable list of other Cambridge luminaries including Isaac Newton (with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the invention of calculus) and Charles Darwin (with Alfred Russel Wallace over the theory of natural selection).  Disputes of this nature seem to characterize the darker or unhealthy aspects of competition as it degenerates into envy or rivalry in the strive for academic excellence.  After all, in the race for reputation there is often no prize for second place.  Yet, as in the many cases of so-called priority that would follow the scientific revolution, it appears that – by chance – similar circumstances had aligned in different locations such that both scholars decided independently to work on the same project at roughly the same time.  The two Renaissance humanists had both chosen to compile a list of proverbs, but even though Erasmus would claim first publication or primacy for the rest of his life, Vergil had indeed beaten him by two years (i.e. 1498).

1617 Adagia

Polydori Virgilii (Polydore Vergil) is acknowledged on this title-page to the 1617 edition of Erasmus’s Adagiorum Chiliades as having written a work of similar fashion [C.4.3].

As in the case of Erasmus, Vergil’s Proverbiorum Libellus was his first published book.  It originally contained 306 distinct entries but, following the Lutheran Reformation in Germany, his edition of 1521 would include an additional 431 adagia sacra i.e. sacred proverbs or sayings drawn exclusively from the Bible. Indeed, it is in the preface of this edition that Vergil finally decided to publish his objections to Erasmus’s priority claims and that in fact it was he who deserved the honours.  However, it would soon become increasingly clear that the Dutchman’s version was not only more comprehensive but also achieving far greater popularity. Furthermore, the Italian’s characteristic desire to actively avoid religious controversy meant his work was rather tame compared to Eramsus’s biting essays that skilfully exposed what he judged to be the abuses and superstitions of the medieval Church.  By the latter half of the 16th century, Vergil’s collection would for the most part fall out of use; although another of his publications – the Anglica Historia – would later establish his reputation near that of the venerable Bede¹ as one of the most significant and influential historians on England.

1540 P Vergil Inscription

Although the 1540 edition of Erasmus’s Adagia does not acknowledge Polydore Vergil in print, he [Polidoro Virgilii] and his ‘Proverbiorum’ are referenced in ink on the front pastedown of this Queens’ copy. At least part of this inscription can probably be attributed to Richard Bryan, fellow of Queens’ from 1632-44, and from 1660-1680. Proctor. Vice-President. Vicar of St Botolph’s, Cambridge [L.10.7]

Interestingly, it is in the Adagia itself that we find strong evidence as to how Erasmus might have interpreted the circumstances surrounding Vergil’s first visit to England. His Italian ‘rival’ was then in the service of Pope Alexander VI and had been sent north in 1502 as a sub-collector of the much resented “Peter’s Pence”: a payment that had already existed for centuries but had taken many forms ranging from a pious contribution to an effective tax (or occasional extortion…).  Needless to say, it was later abolished by King Henry VIII along with all other financial contributions to Rome in the “Dispensations Act” passed by the Reformation Parliament of 1534.

Although it will probably seem unfamiliar to most of us now, the adage “as figs [styes] are native to the eyes” proves instructive here. It first appeared in the 1517 edition, printed by Johann Froben in Basle as events over the border in Wittenberg were about to plunge Europe into chaos. Indeed, in this context the associated commentary seems remarkably prophetic:

 …the metaphor is taken from that defect which clings to the eyes and cannot be removed without     harming the eye itself. It may be applied not unsuitably to those people who cannot be removed     without great disaster, although they are an intolerable burden to others².



He demonstrates the antiquity of the adage by quoting from Aristophanes’s Frogs, a political comedy first performed in Athens during the age of Socrates and Plato: “Like a sty sticking to the eye, so was he”. As is often the case, Erasmus moves seamlessly into a contemporary discussion by reflecting on actions perpetrated by certain elements within the aristocracy and the highest ‘offices’ of the Church. In the following passage, he specifically laments their use of several orders of friars that subsisted mostly on alms:

If the princes intend to perpetrate some shameless deed, it is through these people that they carry it out. If the Roman pontiffs [popes] have designs which are not quite according to the early Apostolic holiness, these are the intermediaries they prefer to use.  For instance if there is some war, some public disturbance, some levying of taxes, some particularly flagrant delay of justice, they are there, acting as chief parts in the play…I must point out that I am not censuring the good, nor the Order itself.  For those who are incorrupt among them deplore just what I deplore³.

These observations could have easily been applied to men in Polydore Vergil’s occupation as a sub-collector. But perhaps, more appropriately, some may have specifically directed such criticism to his supervisor, Cardinal Castellesi (who was once curiously described by a Venetian ambassador as a ‘hard and sinister man…much favoured by the pontiff’; see footnotes**).

Folly Moriae Encomium 1522

In Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium [In Praise of Folly], Folly ironically narrates her own ‘encomium’ by praising herself. It’s prefaced with a dedication to Sir Thomas More (also note the clever pun in the title) and was suitably written during a brief visit to his friend’s estate. This Queens’copy of 1522 is heavily annotated with ‘marginalia’ [B.8.43].

It’s also worth noting here that by 1511 Erasmus had already travelled to Paris to supervise the printing of his daring satire entitled In Praise of Folly. Indeed, it was upon his return from this very trip that he finally set out for the University of Cambridge and to reside at Queens’ College, following the invitation of John Fisher. The book includes a famous critique against what he judged to be the corruption of the medieval Church and the serious abuses committed by its political allies. Its influence on the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation therefore should not be underestimated.

Moriae B.8.43









G.8.40 Folly Moriae.JPG

Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly: Moriae encomium a  booke made in latin by that great clerke Erasmus Roterodame. Englisshed by sir Thomas Chaloner knight. This Queens’ copy of 1549 is particularly interesting since it has various 16th century notes and scribbling, one dated to 24th April 1584. In addition, the fly-leaves are formed with ‘waste’ from a 14th century theological manuscript [G.8.40].

Often considered Erasmus’s literary masterpiece, In Praise of Folly is seasoned and spiced with language gleaned from classical sources and it’s plain to see that the first editions of the Adagia ie. the Adagiorum Collectanea of 1500 and Adagiorum Chiliades of 1508 had provided the perfect groundwork. Indeed, in the following extract, Erasmus vicariously praises himself by ironically referencing his own Adagia as Folly pompously restrains herself from the temptation to ‘proverbialize’ :

…ill-gotten goods will never prosper; and more to the same purpose.  But I forbear from any farther Proverbializing, lest I should be thought to have rifled my Eramsus’s Adagies [see caption below*].


Praise of Folley 1709.JPG

Originally written in Latin, this Queens’ copy is the 1709 edition of In Praise of Folly “done into English” and “illustrated…by Hans Holbein”. *The quote above on ill-gotten gains is found on p.137 of this book. Also of note: Fig.38 – Fortune favours fools – to wise men she is always stingy and sparing of her gifts; Fig.39 – Erasmus quotes Horaces’s Epistles on the following page: Me pinguem et nitidum… Epicuri de grege porcum or ‘My sleek-skin’d corps as smooth as if I lye… Mong th’ fatted swine of Epicurus Sty’ [ER.2.05].

To end our discussion here, it is perhaps also worth speculating on the psychological role that earlier disputes – such as that with Polydore Vergil – may have played in later events. Once Erasmus heard of the project at the Complutense University of Madrid to print the first polyglot of the entire Bible, he succeeded in delaying its full publication until 1522. The Dutchman had already gone to some considerable effort to obtain by 1516 an exclusive four year publishing privilege for his own edition of the New Testament and this had been achieved through the consent of both Maximilian I (Holy Roman Emperor) and Pope Leo X. Life seems so full of irony…since Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici: the very same man who would later excommunicate Martin Luther) had also received a humanist education…and is known to have found Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly amusing.

By David Radcliffe

¹ Saint Bede (672 or 623-735) was a skilled translator and interpreter of the early Church Fathers. He is known to have had the relative luxury then of a monastery library that included many significant works in Greek and Latin. His most famous work, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum or ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, is still a precious source for historians, all the more exceptional due to the scarcity of reliable information during the 8th century AD. Bede’s work would later prove useful to the humanist Polydore Vergil when he wrote a more critical analysis, taking the story of the English up to the 16th century. At various times, both men have been honoured with the title of ‘Father of English History’.

² Translated commentary from the 1517 edition: found in Mann Phillips, Margaret (1964), page 358.

³ Found in Mann Phillips, Margaret (1964), page 360.

**P. Paschini, ‘Adriano Castellesi cardinale di S. Grisogono’, Tre illustri prelati del Rinascimento (1957), 43–130 in ‘Vergil, Polydore  [Polidoro Virgili] (c.1470–1555), historian’: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/28224?docPos=1  [Accessed July 2016].


Hay, Denys, Polydore Vergil: Renaissance historian and man of letters (1952).

Jardine, Lisa, Erasmus, man of letters : the construction of charisma in print (2015).

Leedham-Green, Elizabeth, A Concise history of the University of Cambridge (2001).

Mann Phillips, Margaret, The ‘Adages’ of Erasmus; a study with translations (1964).

McConica, James Kelsey, English humanists and Reformation politics under Henry VIII and Edward VI (1965).

Pearson, David, Books as history : the importance of books beyond their texts (2008).

Twigg, John, A History of Queens’ College, Cambridge 1448-1986 (1987).