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Library Of Westminster Abbey

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The library was founded by Lord Keeper Williams (whose portrait is there) during the time he was Dean of Westminster, about 1620. The books were originally kept in one of the chapels in the Abbey, but were afterwards removed to their present quarters.

In 1644 the books are stated to have suffered from a conflagration, but whether this catastrophe took place before they were removed hither or no, cannot be ascertained. The printed books number about eleven thousand volumes, and include many valuable works. Among them are the " Complutensian Polyglott," 1515, in six vols. folio ; Walton's " Polyglott," dated in T 657 ; several valuable Hebrew Bibles, ranging in date from 1596 ; various Greek and Latin Bibles, and several English ones, including Cranmer's of 1540, and the first and second editions of Parker's, or the Bishop's Bible, in 1568 and 1572. Rituals and Prayer-books, the works of the ancient Fathers, the Schoolmen, and the Reformers, are in great plenty. English theologians and English historians also abound, including the " Legenda Nova Anglim,". London, 1516, and Parker, " De Antiquitate Ecclesić Britannicć," London, 1562.

In classical literature there are ample materials both for the industrious student and the curious bibliographer. Again, here is the first edition of the works of Plato, printed at Venice, in 1513 ; this is on vellum. A valuable book is here preserved—it is one of those printed at Oxford during the fifteenth century--" Johannes Latteburius in threnos Jeremie, Capitulis CXV., folio, Oxonii, Anno dni 1482, ultimâ die mensis Julii." From a memorandum on the first leaf of this book it appears that in 1563 it belonged to Thomas Sackomb, who purchased it of John Avyngton, a monk, also Scholar and Bachelor of the Cathedral Church of Winchester, and afterwards Professor of Theology. Several of the books here bear the signature of William Camden, in small and neat characters ; they were doubt-less gifts from him.

On one of the leaves of a copy of an early printed English book, " The Dialogue of Dives and Pauper,' printed by Richard Pynson in 1493, in excellent condition, is this inscription, partially defaced : " Iste liber constat . . . Banbury . . . Osneye." Under this are three shields, the centre one containing these arms, Argent, two bends, azure; the two others are alike, each one containing a device like a merchant's mark.

The signature of John Fox the martyrologist occurs on the title-page of a hook entitled " Gasparis Megandri Figurini in Epistolam Pauli ad Ephesios Commentarius," Basil, 1534. Two others are on a copy of Melancthon's " Loci Communes rerum Theologicarum," 1548.

A book here preserved, entitled " Descriptio Britannić Scotić, Hybernić et Orchadum, ex libro Pauli Jovii Episcopi Nucer," was once the property of Robert Glover, Portcullis Pursuivant at Arms, but afterwards passed into the possession of another proprietor, as appears by an inscription on the fly-leaf ; and the second possessor has added this somewhat sarcastic remark, " Sic transit rerum proprietas."

In a copy of Ben Jonson's works, 1640, these verses are on a fly-leaf:

" Tho' cruel Death has this great Conquest made
And learned Johnson in his urn is lay'd
Nere shall his fame be in ye tyrants pow'r
For yt shall live when Death shall be no more."

In another part of the same book :

"Lord give me wisdom to direct my ways
I beg not Riches nor yet Length of Days.

Farewell." In a " Daily Office for the Sick," etc., 1699, is this note :

` If this be lost and you do find, I pray you to here so good an mind as to restore unto the seine that here below hath set her name. H. G.'

In " Lombardica Hystoria," 1490, is this amusing note :

"Thomas Tyllie ys my name
And with my hand I cannot mend this same
He that dothe reade and not understande
Ys lyke to a blinde man led by ye hande
Who, yf the guide be not suer and sounde
Ys lyke often tymes to ly one the grounde
Therefore good reader let theise be thy stage
And be not unmyndfull of them every daye.
For feare of fallinge as ofte doth the blinde,
And so by falsé guiders the truth shall not finde,
We greatly doth greve the blind for the tyme,
And thus craving pardone I make up my ryme.


On the fly-leaf of Heylyn's " Help to English History" (London, 1670), is this short but expressive admonition :

" Exodus 20th c.
`Thou shalt not steal.' "

In a book entitled "Homeliarius Doctorum," 1494, are two interesting documents, nearly perfect, only just so much having been cut off from the edge as to destroy perhaps the last two words in each line. They are on parchment, and were pasted inside the covers, but are now disengaged from their fellows by the joint action of time and damp.

The first consists of the will of Robert Atte Wod, Alderman of Oxford, dated the 28th day of May, 1461, just thirty-three years prior to the date of the book itself. By it he bequeaths his soul to Almighty God and all the saints, and his body to be buried in the church of the Blessed Mary of Oseney, near the grave of his father; and after making gifts to various churches, he provides for a chaplain to offer up the Mass for his soul, and the soul of Cicely Herberfeld, for whom he was bound (i.e., he was under obligation), in the church of St. Martin at Oxford, for four years. He also gave to Joan his wife, for her life, a tenement in the parish of St. Thomas, called Bokebynders Place ; and after her death, then according to the form and effect of certain indentures between the abbot of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Osseneya, and himself. This will was proved in the Ecclesiastical Court at Oxford.

The other document is undated, but is probably of the same period as the will. It is a petition, in English, and is remarkable for the title it assigns to the magnates of the City of London, namely, that of " sovereigns." It runs thus :

"To the Ryght honourable and gracyous lorde end worshypfull souveraignes the Mayre and Aldremen of yis noble Citie of London.

"Besechith full humblely your poore and perpetuell oratrice Johan Pentrith, widowe, late th . . . John Pentrith, youre trewe Servaunt and Officere, that it may please you and goode graces in . . . deracion of the longe daies of theire continuaunce in youre service withinne this Citee of L. . . of the gret and importable penurye that youre sayde poore oratrice seth tyme of hir sed h . . . decesse hath long tyme continued and abyden unto the gret peine and hevynesse of your . .. suppliant, the which she cannot well long tyme endure without youre goode and gracicus . . . relief. To yeve and graunt unto youre saide poore oratrice some annuell refresshament . . . gracyous almesse and goodnesse in relevynge and refresshing of hir said poverte and heu . .. . for the tendre love that ye have hadde unto hir said housbond, atte reverence of almyght . . . and in wey of charite, and youre saide poore wydowe and perpetuell oratrice shall pra . . . . for you hir lyf durynge," etc.

In another book, " Homiliarum Opus," F. Adami Sasbout, Delphii Lovanii, 1556, are two parchment deeds, which have been made use of for binding purposes. They are not so perfect as the previous specimens, but they yield some little information as to property and persons in the City of London.

By the first one John Brother, son and heir of Adam de Brother, grants to Adam de Brauncestre and another, goldsmiths, of London, and their heirs or assigns, two marks annual rent, which the same Adam and Thomas purchased of Adam Brother his (grantor's) father, issuing out of the principal messuage, and the tenement adjoining, in the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen, in Old Fish Street, near the said church. This deed is of the reign of Henry III. or Edward I. The other deed is very fragmentary. By it John de . . . rd, citizen and vintner of London, gives to Edward de Westsmethefield, London, and Roger de Creton, certain lands, the locality of which does not appear. It is dated at " Iseldon " (Islington) 8 Edward III.

Another series of books which have not only a local, but also a great historical interest, are the books used at the coronations of the sovereigns of this realm.

The first two are histories of the solemnity ; one entitled :

" The entertainment of His Most Excellent Majestie Charles II., on his passage through the City of London to his Coronation, containing an exact accompt of the whole solemnity : The Triumphall arches, and Cavalcade delineated in Sculpture; the Speeches and Impresses illustrated from antiquity. To these is added a brief narrative of His Majestie's Solemn Coronation ; with his magnificent proceeding, and Royal Feast in Westminster Hail. By John Ogilby. London. Printed by Tho. Roycroft, and are to be had at the Author's house in King's Head Court within Shoe Lane. MDCLXII."

The other entitled :

"The History of the Coronation of the most High, most mighty, and most excellent Monarch, James II., by the Grace of God King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc., and of his Royal Consort, Queen Mary : solemnized in the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, in the City of Westminster, on Thursday, the 23 of April, being the Festival of St. George, in the year of our Lord 1685. With an exact account of the several preparations in order thereunto, their Majesties' most splendid processions, and their Royal and Magnificent Feast in Westminster Hall. The whole work illustrated with Sculptures. By his Majestie's especial command. By Francis Sandford, Esqre., Lancaster Herald of Arms. In the Savoy : Printed by Thomas Newcomb, one of His Majesties Printers, 1687."

We then come to George the Third's reign. Here is a book handsomely bound in red morocco, and gilt, and the inner sides of the covers ornamented with gold and flowers. It is entitled :

"The Form and order of the service that is to be performed, and of the ceremonies that are to be observed in the Coronation of their Majesties King George III. and Queen Charlotte in the Abbey Church of St. Peter, Westminster, on Tuesday the 22nd of September, 1761. London : Printed by Mark Baskett, Printer to the King's most Excellent Majesty, and by the assigns of Robert Baskett, 1761."

And then in their order are the books of George the Fourth, William the Fourth, and our present sovereign, the Lady Victoria ; but in this series the gradual falling off of external ornament cannot but be noticed, the last book being merely stitched in black paper covers, without any attempt at dignity.

It is stated that in the library founded by Dr. Williams, in Red-cross Street, Cripplegate, were many manuscripts, which were burnt, and among them the pompous and curious book of the ceremonies of the coronation of the kings of England.


The greater part of the manuscripts perished in the fire before spoken of, but there are a few left, and among them are some valuable specimens.

In the Harleian MS., No. 694, is contained a number of catalogues of various libraries, and among them a list of the manuscripts here, compiled apparently in the year 1672. It is entitled, "Catalogus Codd. MSS. in Bibliotheca Westmonast. An 1672." This contains above three hundred volumes, all of which are briefly specified. There is a good sprinkling of classical authors, the ancient Fathers of the Church, and several books which, if now in existence, would have been well worthy our attention. Among these are :

" An English new Testament with a Calender of the Epistles and Ghospells.

" An old Missall with the Roman Calender before it.

" Two other Missalls.

" A treatise how to live godlyly, Beginneth, a Treatize yt sufficeth to each man and woman to live after if they wolen bee saved.

" A book of prayers to certaine Saints with the pictures. "The Summary of the whole Bible collected by Wickliffe."

Next come several books on legal subjects, gavelkind, pleadings, statutes, and forms of writs ; then a curious book entitled :

The method of preparing food, or concerning the ancient culinary art, in which are elucidated the names of the dishes had at the dinners of Coronations and Installations."

The magnificently illuminated missal or service-book, prepared in the year 1373, under the care of Nicholas Litlington, at that time abbot of this church, is in most excellent preservation, with scarcely a blemish throughout, except those owing to design.

The first volume commences with the consecration of salt for the holy water. It contains offices for the Sundays of the whole year, from Advent to the twenty-fifth after Trinity; likewise several of the principal festivals.

The second volume contains the Mass and the service for Passion-week, at great length ; the office for the coronation of the king and queen, and that for the queen only when not crowned with the king; the office for the royal funerals; several offices for inferior or national saints, as Edward the Confessor, Edmund, Dunstan, Laurence, Catherine, etc.

By a proclamation in Henry VIII.'s time, renewed under Edward VI., all services, litanies, and books of prayer were ordered to be purified from all the remains of popery; and in consequence of this, the very name of the Pope has been erased from many Missals, and in this of Litlington's the name of St. Thomas ŕ Becket is erased from the calendar, as also the office for his festival.

There is a very curious piece of history respecting a manuscript still preserved in the library, entitled "Flores Historiarum, or the Chronicle of Matthew of Westminster." In some rhymes written by a monk of Westminster on the life of Henry V. (contained in Cotton MSS., Brit. Mus., Cleopatra B., and lately edited by Mr. Charles Augustus Cole in the series of Chronicles now being published under the direction of the Master of the Rolls), the author, after describing the bounteous gifts made by the King to the church at Westminster, mentions in particular two precious books and a sceptre which he restored to the same church :

" Psalterium carum, sic Flores Historiarum
Restituit gratis ad Westmynstre vir pietatis."

There can be but little doubt that the "Flores Historiarum" spoken of by the chronicler is the identical volume still in the library, while there is every reason to believe that the " precious Psalter " is none other than Litlington's Missal.

We have here the ancient Chronicle of England, commonly called the " Brute ;" which is a compilation from the history of Geoffrey of Monmouth. There is an abundant supply of copies of this Chronicle throughout the manuscript repositories of this country, especially at the British Museum.

Here, also, is a curious manuscript on subjects of natural history, with coloured representations of various animals, preceded by drawings of human monstrosities, and a view of Adam naming the animals.

A book which, though not in the library, is yet connected with the Abbey, demands a few passing words. In the Public Record Office, in this metropolis, is preserved a book containing the various indentures between King Henry VII: and the abbot and convent of Westminster concerning the prayers to be said for himself and family during his life, and the performances of services for their souls after their decease. These indentures are dated July 16,, 1504, and they enumerate with great precision all the services which were to be held, and the various collects and psalms to be used from and after the execution of the deed. Special prayers were to be said daily in the regular services of the Abbey for the prosperity of the King and his family; there was to be a "herse" set round with a hundred tapers, which the King provided till the chapel was erected in which his tomb was to be placed, and an " Anniversary " was to be per-formed upon February 11. At certain of the Masses said by the chantry-monk appointed for that purpose, he was to turn his face "at the firste lavatory" to the people, and bid them pray. for the King thus :

"Sirs,—I exhorte and desire you specially and devoutly of your charitie to praye for the good and prosperous estate of the Kyng oure Souverayne Lorde Kyng Henry the vij, founder of thre masses perpetually to be sayd in this monastery, and for the prosperitie of this his reame, and for the soule of the moost excellent Princesse Elizabeth late Quene of Englande, his wif, and for the soules of their children and issue, and for the soule of the right noble Prince Edmund late Erie of Richemont, fader to oure said souverayne lorde the Kyng, and for the soules of all his other progenitours and ancestres, and all cristen soules."

This book is illuminated, and is superbly bound ln velvet, and the seals of the contracting parties are inclosed in small silver skippets. W. H. HART.

The examples of fifteenth and sixteenth century impressed leather bindings in this library are numerous, and many of them are of very rare occurrence in other collections.

The first I would describe is the cover of a book printed at Basle in the year 1502. On one side of this volume is the representation of St. John the Baptist preaching. He is clad "in raiment of camel's hair," and is standing on a mount, behind three branches of trees tied together, resembling in shape the letter. H. The people surrounding him have their hands clasped in prayer.

On the reverse side of the volume is impressed the figure of St. James, holding in the left hand a staff and wallet, and supporting with his right a youth who is suspended from a gibbet.

The legend is thus narrated by Pope Calixtus II. :

"A certain German, who with his wife and son went on a pilgrim age to St. James of Compostella, having travelled as far as Torlosa, lodged at an inn there; and the host had a fair daughter, who, looking on the son of the pilgrim (a handsome and graceful youth), became deeply enamoured ; he being virtuous, and, moreover, on his way to a holy shrine, refused to listen to her allurements. Then she thought how she might be avenged for this slight put upon her charms, and hid in his wallet her father's drinking cup. The next morning, no sooner were they departed than the host, discovering his loss, pursued them, accused them before the judge, and the cup being found in the young man's wallet, he was condemned to be hung, and all they possessed was confiscated to the host.

" Then the afflicted parents pursued their way lamenting, and made their prayers and complaint before the altar of the blessed St. Jago ; and thirty-six days afterward, as they returned by the spot where their son hung on the gibbet, they stood beneath it weeping and lamenting.

"Then the son spoke, '0 my mother ! 0 my father ! do not lament for me, for I have never been in better cheer ; the blessed Apostle James is at my side sustaining me, and filling me with celestial comfort and joy.' The parents, being astonished, hastened to the judge, who at that moment was seated at table, and the mother called out, ' Our son lives !' The judge mocked at them. ' What sayest thou, good woman? Thou art beside thyself. If thy son lives, so do those fowls in my dish.' And, lo ! scarcely had he uttered the words when the fowls [being a cock and a hen] rose up full feathered in the dish, and the cock began to crow, to the great admiration of the judge and his attendants.

"Then the judge rose up from table hastily, and called together the priests, and the lawyers, and they went in procession to the gibbet, took down the young man, and restored him to his parents, and the miraculous cock and hen were placed under the protection of the Church, where they and their posterity long flourished in testimony of this stupendous miracle."—Mrs. Jameson's "Sacred and Legendary Art," ed. 1850, p. 140.

In the chapel of St. James, four miles from Spoleto, are frescoes representing the miracles of this saint. In one compartment St. James is represented sustaining a youth who is suspended from a gibbet.* The example before you is the only instance I have seen of this saint being so represented on early bindings.

The next binding is a very beautiful example of early art, and appears to be of the same date as the volume, which was printed by Wynkin de Worde in 1511. On one side is represented, under a canopy, the figure of St. Barbara, surrounded by a fioriated border, in which are introduced lions, birds, etc., and on a scroll the legend SANCTA BARBARA ORA [PRO NOBIS]. She is holding in her right hand a palm branch (the emblem of martyrdom), and in her left the Bible. By her side is a tower, and the ground is powdered with fleurs-de-lis.

The legend, as given by Mrs. Jameson,± is as follows :

Dioscorus, who dwelt in Heliopolis, had an only daughter named Barbara, whom he exceedingly loved. Fearful lest from her singular beauty she should be demanded in marriage and taken from him, he shut her up in a tower, and kept her secluded from the eyes of men. The virtuous Barbara in her solitude gave herself up to study and meditation ; and the result of her reflection was that idols of wood and stone worshipped by her parents could not have created the stars of heaven on which she so often gazed. So she contemned these false gods, but did not as yet know the true faith.

" Now in the loneliness of her tower the fame reached her of the famous doctor and teacher Origen, who dwelt in Alexandria. She longed to know of his teaching, and wrote to him secretly. On Origen reading the letter he rejoiced, and sent to her one of his disciples disguised as a physician, who perfected her conversion, and she received baptism from him.

" Her father, who was violently opposed to the Christians, was at this time absent; but previous to his departure he had sent skilful architects to construct a bath chamber of wonderful splendour. One day St. Barbara descended to view the progress of the workmen, and seeing that they had constructed two windows, commanded them to insert a third. When her father returned he was much displeased, and said to his daughter, ' Why hast thou done this ?' and she answered, `Know, my father, that through three windows doth the soul receive light—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and the three are one.'

" Then her father, being enraged, drew his sword to kill her, but she fled to the summit of the tower, and he pursued her ; but by angels she was wrapped from his view and carried to a distance. A shepherd betraying her place of concealment, her father dragged her thence by the hair, and beat her, and confined her in a dungeon, denouncing her to the Proconsul Marcian. Her father, seeing no hope of her renouncing Christianity, carried her to a certain mountain near the city, drew his sword, and cut off her head ; but as he descended the mountain there came a most fearful tempest, and fire fell upon this cruel father and consumed him."

On the reverse side is a representation of the mass of St. Gregory, who is seen officiating at the altar, surrounded by his attendant clergy ; immediately over the altar is the Saviour, supported by two angels, His feet resting on a chalice.

The legend is as follows :

" On a certain occasion when St. Gregory was officiating at the mass, one was near him who doubted the real presence; thereupon, at the prayer of the saint, a vision is suddenly revealed of the crucified Saviour Himself, who descends upon the altar, surrounded by the implements of the Passion,"

Another representation of St. Barbara is impressed on the cover of Gregory's " Decretals," printed by Regnault in 1519. The figure of the saint is similarly treated to the example last described.

On the cover of a small book entitled " Apparatus Latine Locutiones " is impressed the representation of the wise men's offering. The Virgin is seated with the Saviour on her knee ; behind her is Joseph ; in front, the wise men with crowns on their heads are offering cups of various shapes. The binder's device, or merchant's mark (with the initials B.I.), is in the foreground.

Many of the bindings are impressed with the royal arms, badges, etc., and I have placed on the table several of the more remarkable specimens.

The impressed cover of a volume entitled "Annotationes in Proverbia Salomonis," printed by Froben, is deserving of notice. On one side is represented the Tudor rose, surrounded by the legend,--

"Hec rosa virtutis de celo missa sereno
Eternű florens Regia sceptra feret."

On either side are two angels ; above the legends are two escutcheons, the dexter charged with the arms of St. George, and the sinister with those of the City of London ; on another shield at the base are the initials and merchant's mark of the binder; and on the reverse side of the cover are the arms of France and England, quarterly sur-mounted by a royal crown, and supported by two angels. The initials of William Bill, D.D., Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Dean of Westminster, who died in 1561, and was buried in Westminster Abbey (where there is a brass to his memory), are stamped on the covers of this volume.

On the cover of a work printed by Jehan Petit early in the sixteenth century, entitled " Sermones de Adventu," are represented on one side the arms of Henry VIII. (France and England quarterly), impaling i and 4, quarterly, Castile and Leon ; 2 and 3, Aragon and Sicily; and on a point in base a pomegranate erect, slipped, proper, for Granada. The arms are supported by two angels, and surmounted by an imperial crown. On the reverse side are the royal arms (France and England only) supported by the dragon and grey-hound ; above the shield, which is surmounted by the imperial crown, is a rose, on either side of which are two angels with scrolls. Immediately under the arms is the portcullis, allusive to the descent of the House of Tudor from the Beaufort family.

The Tudor rose, fleur-de-lis, castle, pomegranate, and other royal badges, frequently occur on impressed bindings temp. sixteenth century. In the example on the table the binder's device and initials, as well as the badges above mentioned, are represented.

On the cover of a small volume printed in the year 1542, is impressed the portraiture of Charles V., Emperor of Germany. He is represented in armour, holding in his right hand the orb, and in his left the sceptre, surrounded by the legend,


Above is a shield charged with the principal arms (a double-headed eagle displayed), and beneath are the two columns of Hercules, with the motto PLUS OULTRE.

The binder's name in full is seldom found impressed in bindings. There is, however, a very interesting example in this library, stamped on the cover of a small volume printed by Regnault in the year 1555.

The following legend, viz., JOHANNES DE WOVDIX ANTWERPIE ME FECIT, surrounds a square-shaped compartment, within which is re-presented a lion rampant, ensigned with an imperial crown, probably intended for the arms of Flanders.

The arms of Edward IV. are impressed on the covers of a manuscript Book of Prayers. The arms, supported by two lions, are surrounded by fleurs-de-lis and hearts, and round the extreme verge is the representation of a hand, the first finger extended. It is not in the form for the act of blessing. It may have had reference to the hand on one of the sceptres of France, seeing it is associated with the fleur-de-lis. [See Note 42.]

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