Glasgow Incunabula Project update (23/1/14)

Happy New Year from the Glasgow Incunabula Project (albeit rather belated)! We are now entering the fifth year of our project and – all being well – we should complete the cataloguing of our collection of incunabula by the end of 2014. So far then, we have 810 books fully described and indexed on the project website and records for 860 books accessible via the main library search.

Variant reading and deleted inscription in Bernardus Silvestris: Epistola de gubernatione rei familiaris (Sp Coll Hunterian By.3.26 (item 1))

Silvestris: Epistola de gubernatione rei familiaris (only UK copy)

There are plenty more interesting books still to come, and as well as finishing the bulk of the research and descriptions this year, 2014 will be the year of our exhibition preparations. Due to open in February 2015 in the University’s Hunterian Art Gallery, this exhibition should mark the beginning of the next phase of our project when we widely publicise and encourage further use of the results of our labours.

For our first batch of 2014, we have the usual fascinating mix of books, ranging from a compilation of astronomical texts (printed by our old favourite Aldus Manutius) that we have in no less than three copies, to a text that is unique to Glasgow (the Bernardus Silvestris, hitherto uncatalogued).

However, as a fan of Tudor history and – in particular – Hilary Mantell’s recent novels revolving around the world of Thomas Cromwell and his precarious place in the court of Henry VIII, the book which caught my eye most is the anonymous anthology known as the Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum. A massive work designed to act as a reference work to aid preaching, our copy belonged to the noblewoman Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Norfolk (1497-1588).

Penwork initial in Anonymous: Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum (Sp Coll Hunterian Cm.1.2)

Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum (Sp Coll Hunterian Cm.1.2)

Like many of her contemporaries, Elizabeth led a somewhat tumultuous life. She entered court in 1509 as a lady in waiting to the then Queen, Katherine of Aragon, remaining loyal to her throughout her life. Although a devoted wife to Thomas Howard (1473-1554), he took  Elizabeth (‘Bess’) Holland as a mistress; in favour at court, Bess became one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting. Elizabeth, meanwhile, quarrelled with Anne Boleyn, was exiled from court in 1531 and refused to attend Anne’s coronation. Her marriage collapsed. She was virtually imprisoned by her husband and subjected to shocking treatment, as described in her ODNB entry:

Despite Norfolk’s offers of material awards and the return of her jewels and clothes, she refused to agree to a divorce. Instead, in a series of letters to Thomas Cromwell between 1535 and 1539, she aired her grievances and sought a fair financial arrangement. Three times she wrote how women of the household had bound her, pummelled her, and sat on her breast until she spat blood. She also made the claim, uncorroborated and strenuously denied by Norfolk, that while she was in labour with their daughter Mary in 1519, he had dragged her by her hair out of bed and around the house, wounding her in the head with his dagger. Her publicly aired complaints and accusations isolated her from her eldest son and her daughter, while her brother Henry Stafford condemned her for her ‘wild language’ and her ‘sensual and wilful mind’ …

Elizabeth was never reconciled with her husband, and in fact gave evidence against him when he was tried for treason in 1546. Her fortunes eventually changed for the better when Mary Tudor ascended to the throne in 1553: Elizabeth was restored to court, even carrying Mary’s train at her coronation.

Donation inscription in Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum (Sp Coll Hunterian Cm.1.2)

Donation inscription showing the book was a gift from Elizabeth Howard

It is intriguing to ponder where this vast volume – designed to provide guidance on how to live a worthy and Christian existence – fits into the vicissitudes of Elizabeth’s life. We only know that it belonged to her thanks to an inscription that states it was a gift from her ( “dono ex devotiſſime domine d[omi]ne Elizabeth Northfolk dvciſſe”). The recipient of the gifted book was presumably N. Wood, whose name appears in the same hand as the donation inscription, although elsewhere in the volume. We have no clues, however, as to when Elizabeth owned the book, or indeed who N. Wood was.

Ownership inscription in Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum (Sp Coll Hunterian Cm.1.2)

Name “N. Wood” in the same hand as the donation inscription

Binding of Pharetra doctorum et philosophorum (Sp Coll Hunterian Cm.1.2)

16th century binding

The book seemingly passed through various other hands throughout the 16th century. The name Warey/Wary appears on the rear vellum pastedown along with the price of 18 shillings (“Warey ſoluit xviij s”), and by 1576 it evidently belonged to William Fleetwood (ca. 1525-1594) – another important figure who was a politician and lawyer during Elizabeth’s reign, holding the prestigious legal position of Recorder of London (1571-1591).

Surviving today in its rather battered 16th binding (or, rather, half the binding since the front board has been lost), the book shows signs of having been well used, and bears occasional marginal annotations (are they Elizabeth’s, Wood’s or Fleetwood’s?). We often wish that books could talk, and I am sure this volume would have some interesting stories to tell if only it could …

The latest ten books described on the project website are:



Categories: Special Collections

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