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.

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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.


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Exploring the past of Queens’ early printed books from home

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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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), https://talkinghumanities.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2018/08/14/queen-victorias-journal-reveals-her-rosy-view-of-scotland/

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

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

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

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

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

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


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, https://www.queens.cam.ac.uk/life-at-queens/about-the-college/college-facts/the-bats-drama-society#overlay-context=

Walker, Robin, ‘Theatre’, Queens’ College Cambridge website, https://www.queens.cam.ac.uk/life-at-queens/about-the-college/college-facts/theatre

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.

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