Visions of Futurity: the Mainwaring Collection at Queens’ College Library


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Science fiction novels create a vision of futurity for the contemporary reader by depicting imagined worlds, technologies, and societies. By expanding our perception of what is possible, they allow new insight into the reality of our lived experience. Simon Mainwaring’s (Queens’ m. 1961) generous donation of 617 individual works of science fiction is a fascinating example of the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’, a defining chapter in the history of the genre, generally agreed to have existed from the 1930s to the 1950s. During this period, science fiction was defined and popularised as a legitimate form of fiction, and formally established many of its major authors and tropes. Mainwaring’s strong interest in sci-fi was encouraged by a community of student enthusiasts at the College, and Queens’ College Library has long welcomed donations from those fascinated by the speculative possibilities of science. This is evident in the presence of Isaac Milner’s (Queens’ President, 1788-1820) experimental air pump, and books on alchemy, electricity, and theories of space held in the Old Library. A new display in the War Memorial Library highlights a selection of books from the Mainwaring Collection, to explore how science fiction authors and readers made sense of the anxieties and aspirations of their respective generations.

Frederik Pohl, Slave Ship, (New York, 1957)
[Mainwaring Science Fiction Collection]

The Mainwaring collection is mostly made up of ‘pulp fiction’ sci-fi, a genre that took its name from its essential commitment to frugality. These books were printed on low-grade, ‘wood pulp’ paper to make them inexpensive, and therefore accessible to the widest possible audience. The eye-catching covers were intended to be easily visible in a crowded market, and maintained a sense of intermediality, visually resembling the cinematic and comic book representations of sci-fi and speculative fantasy so culturally vital in the mid-twentieth century. These ‘pulps’ sometimes utilised a noticeably erotic element to catch attention, as in this 1969 edition of Frederik Pohl’s book, Slave Ship, with a cover painting by the artist Robert Foster. Slave Ship, first serialised in Galaxy Magazine in 1956, is a re-imagination of the Vietnam War on a global scale, with the addition of telepathy and human-animal communication, and aliens are only actually present in the final few pages of the book. This particular cover, then, is not necessarily relevant to the general plot, but its presentation of such curious juxtapositions, including a chimpanzee in a spaceship and a suspended eyeball, was a common technique in sci-fi marketing (although ‘Ham the Astrochimp’ had become the first Great Ape to be launched into space in 1961, eight years before this particular edition was published). Nude women, enhanced weaponry, and abstractly futuristic machines could be combined purely for their ability to attract a potential reader, and some fans reported disappointed expectations when no explanation for these startling covers could be found within their chosen book or magazine story.

Hugo Gernsback, (pictured above wearing his ‘teleyeglasses’, a wearable television set that anticipated the invention of VR glasses) founded the enormously popular magazine, Amazing Stories in April, 1926. In this seminal publication, Gernsback sought to collect what he termed ‘scientifiction’, books with themes of ‘charming romance, intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision’, and he was later honoured as the namesake of the prestigious Hugo Awards. Science-fiction authors often began as enthusiastic readers. As newspaper serialisation was such a vital mode of transmission for the genre, the ability to submit one’s own speculative fiction to these magazines, and to respond to the direction of various stories as they were being written, created a close community of readers, authors, and fans. ‘Fandom’ has always been an integral part of science fiction’s development, with readers initially interacting with each other in the letter column of Gernsback’s magazines, and later through clubs, conventions, and the creation of amateur ‘fanzines’. Awards like the Hugos, chosen by attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention, and the Nebulas, in which members of the Science Fiction Writers’ of America could vote for the best efforts of their peers, further acknowledge the participatory nature of sci-fi literature.

Edited by Damon Knight, Nebula Award Stories, (New York, 1968). [Mainwaring Science Fiction Collection]

This community of science-fiction writers and authors during its ‘Golden Age’ has often been associated with a particular demographic, perceived to be written by, and for, an audience of men. However, the ability of science fiction to observe society through an augmented lens has long been used to examine concepts of identity and gender, even against its own norms. The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), by Ursula K. Le Guin (most famous for her Earthsea novels) explores questions of sexuality and androgyny through the Gethenian people of the Hainish universe, who have no fixed gender, and, crucially, no corresponding gender hierarchy. Genly Ai, the novel’s protagonist, must wrestle with the ways in which the Gethenian model of society reveals the binary of his own tangled assumptions about gender, and how such assumptions might be limiting or artificial.

It was published during the height of the second-wave feminist movement in the United States, and reflects the movement’s emphasis on agency and self-determination for women. The Women’s Equal Pay Act was signed into law in 1963 by John F. Kennedy, one of many legal changes during this period that protected women ‘on the basis of sex’. A now famous Public Service Announcement from 1972 promoting the law was based on the beloved Batman TV series starring Adam West, and features a cheery Batgirl who refuses to rescue a tied-up Batman and Robin from a bomb until they agree to pay her equally for her crime-fighting work. As she deliberates on their fate, a voiceover tells the audience to “tune in tomorrow, or contact the Wage and Hour Division, listed in your phone book, under the U.S. Department of Labor”, encouraging women to report wage discrimination by unscrupulous employers. Science fiction and fantasy writing, with its emphasis on imagined worlds and societal progression, was used as a vehicle to communicate the real life re-fashioning of mid-century gender roles.

Similarly, the depiction of futuristic technology in science fiction novels could significantly impact its reception by a potentially sceptical public. Real-life technologies such as the atomic bomb, the mobile phone, automatic doors, and the internet were all imagined in the works of H.G. Wells. As Jules Verne, his equally inventive and prophetic contemporary wrote in his famous novel Around the World in 80 Days (1873), ‘anything one man can imagine, other men can make real’. Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1977), author of Tunnel in the Sky (1955) predicted that in the year 2000 ‘your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag’ and your ‘house telephone will record messages, answer simple inquiries, and transmit vision’. Science fiction has always been a tool of futurism, a way to explore and predict how society and culture might evolve.

Many of the books in the Mainwaring Collection are concerned with the ethical, social, and political implications of artificial intelligence technologies, long before their actual invention. In his 1966 novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein introduces Holmes IV, or the “Highly Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor”, known as ‘Mike’. Mike is an early fictional rendering of an AI program seeking to scientifically understand the purpose of its own sentience, and has the ability to form strong emotional connections, musing that they ‘can’t see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum…’ As real-life AI programs with creative abilities, like MidJourney (an AI program that generates images from textual prompts, used to create the image below), DALL-E-2, and Chat GPT become more refined and accessible, we can observe the ways in which these imagined and manifested technologies continue to challenge traditional notions of what art is, and can be.

Emma Sibbald, ‘The Interplanetary Science Fiction Library’, made with MidJourney (AI Program).

By Emma Sibbald, Graduate Trainee Librarian 2022-2023.


Botting, Eileen Hunt. Artificial Life after Frankenstein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021)

Eisenstadt, Alfred. ‘Inventor Hugo Gernsback with his T.V. Glasses’, Life Magazine, January 1963. [accessed 16 January 2023]

Gernsback, Hugo. ‘The Lure of Scientifiction’. Amazing Stories, 1.3 (1926)

Heinlein, Robert. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1966)

‘How a computer designed this week’s cover’, The Economist

Klein, Jay Kay. Masquerade participant, 1966. (‘Jay Kay Klein photographs and papers on science fiction fandom’ via Calisphere,UC Riverside, Library, Special Collections and University Archives) [accessed January 13 2023]

National Women’s History Museum, Second-wave feminism, 2020 [accessed 8 January 2023]

Roberts, Adam. The History of Science Fiction. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.)

Telotte, J. P., ‘Cover Stories’, Movies, Modernism, and the Science Fiction Pulps (New York, 2019; online edn, Oxford Academic, 22 Aug. 2019),, [accessed 18 Dec 2022].

Verne, Junes. Around the World in 80 Days, (London: Puffin, 1994)

Yaszek et al. Sisters of Tomorrow: the first women of science fiction. (Middletown, Conneticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2016)

Entomology at Queens’: 1546-2022



In 1546, the teenage Thomas Penny from the hamlet of Eskrigg, near Gressingham in Lancashire, entered Queens’ College, Cambridge. He eventually moved from Queens’ to Trinity College in 1550 as a sizar (a student receiving financial support in return for certain menial duties), graduating in 1551 and becoming a fellow in 1553. Shortly after that he became bursar of Trinity. He was clearly an outstanding scholar. Little is known of his time at Queens’, but Penny would go on to become a leading entomologist with an international reputation. One of us (David B Sattelle) was aware that the Old Library at Queens’ held a copy of the work by René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur entitled Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des insectes (6 volumes, 267 plates, published in Amsterdam 1734-1742) [O.8.23-28]. With a lecture to prepare for a symposium celebrating his receipt of an international award, David approached the librarian Dr Tim Eggington to renew his acquaintance with the work. Réaumur had been a pioneer in insect experimental biology and had also made important contributions to several other areas of science.

It was particularly exciting to discover that the Old Library also held a copy of Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum [F.9.27], co-authored by Conrad Gesner, Edward Wotton, Thomas Moffett and Thomas Penny. It was the first ever substantive European book on insects and was published in 1634, long after the death of all the authors. Most of the drawings in this landmark volume are by Thomas Penny. David’s own research career has now spanned half a century, publishing every year since 1972, but links between Queens’ and Entomology span almost half a millennium.

Thomas Penny

Born in 1532, Thomas made records of insects and plants throughout his life and generated excellent illustrations (Raven, 1947). He described and made careful drawings of insects that interested him with precise observations of their habitats and behaviour with few preconceived notions, making him a pioneer naturalist. Like many in Cambridge in the era of the young Protestant King Edward VI, who reigned from 1547-1553, Thomas was a Puritan, and his views would have been out of step with ecclesiastical thinking in the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I (1553-1558). Thomas married Margaret Lucas, daughter of John Lucas, The Master of Requests to the young King Edward VI. This marriage likely assured him of a stable income and may have helped support his travels to Montpellier where he studied, obtaining a medical qualification. He also travelled to Mallorca, Germany and importantly Switzerland, where he met and worked with Conrad Gesner.

Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558-1603, wanted to avoid the religious extremes of her predecessor Mary I and aimed for a settlement to bring religious harmony to England. The Settlement was a blend of Catholicism and Protestantism that became the basis for the Church of England and endured, despite challenges, from 1559 to beyond the end of Elizabeth’s reign.  Thomas Penny prospered as an Elizabethan and became Prebend of St Paul’s in 1560 and Preacher in 1561. However, his Spittal Sermon of 1565 was bitterly criticised by Archbishop Matthew Parker, noting that Penny was “ill affected towards the establishment”, making prospects for his advancement in the church unlikely. After this, Penny left for the continent with a plan to study medicine, although he maintained his stall at St Paul’s (and its prebendary income from Newington) until 1577.

The complex journey to publication of the first substantive European book on Entomology

Today biologists can share their findings with colleagues on the day their paper is completed by submitting it to a preprint server such as From there it can be transferred to an established journal for peer review. The route to publication of Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum, on the other hand, was long and tortuous.  Penny was already an authority on plants and animals, and shared his interests with a younger colleague, Thomas Moffett. Both were part of a group of like-minded scholars that met regularly in Limehouse. Moffett was shown a flying fish by Francis Drake and Penny received correspondence on insects from overseas, notably from John White who was part of the Roanoke settlement in “The New World”, located close to what is now the border of Virginia and North Carolina. White’s drawings, which Penny incorporated into his planned book, are among the very few relics of the colony.  

Penny visited Conrad Gesner in Switzerland helping with his work on insects and plants, and on his return to the UK spent 15 years working on a draft of a book on insects, while working as a physician in London. His career as a physician was not without incident. On his return from Europe, the College of Physicians refused him entrance and he was briefly imprisoned for practicing without a license, although he soon established a successful practice in the fashionable location of Leadenhall Street in London. Penny suffered from asthma (for which he recommended a treatment of crushed woodlice in red wine!) and in his will passed his work on insects, including some 500 drawings, to his younger colleague, Thomas Moffett. Penny’s work drew on the works of both Conrad Gesner and Edward Wotton, both of whom planned works on insects but died before their completion. Sadly, Penny’s original work does not survive.

Keen to write his own book on insects, Moffett quickly assembled a volume, most of which was taken from Penny’s work but to which Moffett added sections on bees and spiders, the latter are now recognised as members of the arthropod class Arachnida, distinct from the class Insecta. Moffet’s contributions were often rather vague and very much followed Aristotle, whereas most of the sections on insects reflected Penny’s more direct style of writing and included findings based firmly on his own observations along with some experiments designed to uncover the life history of certain insects (Potts and Fear 2000). Penny defied Aristotle grouping caterpillars with their butterflies and moths rather than with worms.

In addition to specifying in his will that his manuscript on insects should pass to his colleague Thomas Moffett, he also bequeathed funds for the poor of Gressingham and Eskrigg (Whittaker 2021) and, a Puritan to the end, he stipulated that his burial at the church of St Andrew Undershaft in London, which still stands today, should be “without any ceremony, nor mourning apparel, nor ringing, nor singing.” Moffett also died prior to publication of the work, but his wife managed to rescue the manuscript and passed it to a surgeon at the Royal Court, Sir Theodore Mayerne, who was finally responsible for securing its publication in 1634, approximately 100 years after Penny was born.

By David B Sattelle, Fellow Commoner, Queens’ College, Cambridge and Emeritus Professor of Molecular Neurobiology, and Rebecca Hearnden, Sixth Form student at St Catherine’s School, Bramley, Surrey, UK.


Potts W.T.W and Fear L. (2000) ‘Thomas Penny, the first English entomologist’, Contrebis, Journal of the Lancaster Historical and Archaeological Society, XXV (2000), 21-30.

Raven C.E. English naturalists from Neckam to Ray. A study of the making of the modern world. (Cambridge University Press, 1947).

Sattelle D.B. ‘Invertebrate neurones, genomes, phenotypic and target-based screening; their contributions to the search for new chemical leads and new molecular targets for the control of pests, parasites and disease vectors’. Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology, 187 (2022), 105-175.

Whittaker J. ‘Thomas Penny, a pioneering entomologist’. Antenna, 45:1 (2021), 21-22.

‘Thomas Penny’. The Royal College of Physicians: History of Munk’s Roll, 1825, <;

Photographs from Queens’ Old Library collection, except engraved portraits and frontispiece from Wikimedia Commons, and photograph of Professor Satelle by Edmund Smith.

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



By Emma Anderson, Library Graduate Trainee.

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

Title page of Elstob’s work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ashdown, Margaret, ‘Elizabeth Elstob, the Learned Saxonist’, The Modern Language Review, 20.2 (1925), 125–46 <;

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

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

‘Elizabeth Elstob, Old English Scholar, and the Harleian Library’ <; [accessed 16 March 2022]

‘Elstob, Elizabeth (1683–1756), Anglo-Saxon Scholar’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography <;

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

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

Llewellyn-MacDuff, Lindsay, ‘Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756)’, Rochester Cathedral <; [accessed 16 March 2022]

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

Evolution of zoology in Queens’ collections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Falk, Dan, ‘How Darwin’s “Descent of Man” Holds Up 150 Years After Publication’, Smithsonian Magazine, 2021 [accessed 24 August 2021]

Kusukawa, S., ‘The Sources of Gessner’s Pictures for the Historia Animalium’, Annals of Science, 67.3 (2010), 303–28

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

Norris, K. R., and D. F. Waterhouse, ‘Tillyard, Robin John (1881–1937)’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 18 vols (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University) [accessed 24 August 2021]

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

‘Scoresby, William, Junior (1789–1857), Arctic Scientist and Church of England Clergyman’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

‘Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, History of the Institute’ [accessed 24 August 2021]

‘Scott, Robert Falcon [Known as Scott of the Antarctic] (1868–1912), Naval Officer and Antarctic Explorer’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Henri Christophe (Wikimedia Commons).

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Tim Eggington, Fellow Librarian

Variety Theatre and Vaudeville illustrated by the Burke Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee


‘Celebrating More than 150 Years of Circus by the Sea’ [accessed 8 April 2021]

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

EDT, Daniel Avery On 5/6/19 at 6:10 AM, ‘A Century before RuPaul, a Drag Queen Was One of the Top-Paid Entertainers in America’, Newsweek, 2019 [accessed 7 April 2021]

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Vaudeville: What Was Vaudeville, History, Impact, Stars | Broadway Scene’ [accessed 7 April 2021]

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

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

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

Medallion portrait of Erasmus [C.2.9]

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

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

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

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

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

Signature of one Antonius Nowellus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lucille Munoz, Rare Books Curator

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee at Queens’ College


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘“Daemonologie”: James I and Witchcraft’, Worcester Cathedral Library and Archive Blog, 2015 <; [accessed 20 October 2020]

Old Library updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumbnail from the database.


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

Legacies of Enslavement at Queens’


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By Harry Bartholomew – Library Graduate Trainee at Queens’ College

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

LBS pic 01

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

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

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

John Frederick Foster (1795-1858)

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

Peter Moncrieffe

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

Claudius Buchanan

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

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


LBS pic 02

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

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

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



‘Context | Legacies of British Slave-Ownership’ <; [accessed 14 May 2020].

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

‘Peter Moncrieffe’, Jamaica’s History – Always Something New to Find Out! <; [accessed 10 June 2020].

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