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Last term the Old Library hosted a visit by a group of retired members of the Royal Navy which included several alumni of Trinity Hall. Nearly all had served in the Navy and been posted to Russia, either in National Service or as Defence Attaches, diplomats or interpreters, and several had taught Russian in universities. It was a wonderful opportunity to take a different look at the material in our special collections and I was suprised at the riches I discovered!

Shipping at the port of Sebastopol. From Pallas's "Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian empire in the years 1793 and 1794"

Shipping at the port of Sebastopol. From Pallas’s “Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian empire in the years 1793 and 1794″

Historically Trinity Hall had a strong link with the Navy as a result of its teaching of the civil law. This equipped Trinity Hall lawyers for a career in either the Ecclesiastical Courts or the Admiralty Courts because both courts used civil law and not common law. This explains the existence in the Old Library of a number of books relating to naval matters.

We have a charming late 17th-century (ca. 1660-1690) manuscript “Sea terms and geographical tracts” (MS.32) which deals with definitions of seafaring terms and contains a digest of geographical information necessary for understanding naval affairs.

“Sea terms and geographical tracts” (MS.32)

“Sea terms and geographical tracts” (MS.32)

In addition, the Old Library has a two-volume manuscript, dating from ca.. 1693-1710, a “Miscellany on Admiralty and Maritime Law” (MS.43.1-2). Written in several hands, this manuscript contains notes on civil law relating to Admiralty law which would be of direct relevance to any Trinity Hall law student intending to make his career in the Admiralty Courts. It belonged to a law student of All Souls, Oxford, whose signature at the front is dated 1693. This student is none other than the notable lawyer and later Master of Trinity Hall, Sir Nathanael Lloyd!

Manuscript "Miscellany on Admiralty Law". This opening relates to "Pyracy"

“Miscellany on Admiralty and Maritime Law” (MS43). This opening relates to “Pyrates”

Continuing the seafaring theme, the Old Library also contains the “Life of Admiral Lord Nelson” (London, 1810) and two first editions of the voyages of Captain Cooke, “Voyage towards the South Pole” (London, 1777) and “Voyage to the Pacific Ocean” (London, 1784). All “must haves” for the gentleman’s country house library and for the fellows of Trinity Hall.

General Map of the Russian Empire. Frontispiece to Coxe's "Account of the Russian discoveries between Asia and America"

General Map of the Russian Empire. Frontispiece to Coxe’s “Account of the Russian discoveries between Asia and America”

But what of Russia? Well, the Old Library has a small collection of books on voyages and travels. These include an “Account of the Russian discoveries between Asia and America” by William Coxe (London, 1780) containing wonderfully detailed maps of voyages; “Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark” also by William Coxe (London, 1784) which has full-page engravings of Russian landmarks including St Basil’s and the Kremlin; and E. D. Clarke’s “Travels in various countries of Europe, Asia and Africa” (Cambridge, 1810-1823), the first part of which is on Russia Tartary and Turkey.

A Finn in her national costume. From Johann Gottleib Georgi's work published in St Petwersburg in 1776

A Finn in national costume. From Johann Gottleib Georgi’s work (St Petersburg, 1776)

Moreover, some recent additions to our special collections from the library of the late Lawrence Strangman include several books on Russia. Most of these have delightful hand coloured plates.  Johann Gottleib Georgi’s early work “Description de toutes les nations de l’empire de Russie” (St. Petersburg, 1776) contains brightly coloured plates which influenced many subsequent publications including the illustrations in the Russian volumes of “The world in miniature”, Ackerman’s pocket series edited by Frederick Shoberl (London, 1822-23).

Hand-coloured plate prineted by Ackerman for Shoberl's "World in Miniature"

Hand-coloured plate of a Kamtchaka couple. Printed by Ackerman for Shoberl’s “World in Miniature”

Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian empire in the years 1793 and 1794” by P. S. Pallas (London, 1812) contains sophisticated hand-coloured plates of the topography and peoples of the Crimea. Also in Strangman’s collection is a volume of essays “Fugitive pieces, on various subjects” (London, 1765) which includes a chapter by Lord Whitworth, ‘An account of Russia, in the year 1710’. Of particular interest to our visitors was the detailed description of the vessels in the shipyards on the Don!

Postscript

Bringing the Russian connection into the 20th century, Trinity Hall is famous for two notorious alumni who spied for the Soviet Union: Alan Nunn May (TH 1930) and Donald Maclean (TH 1931). Although these men were contemporaries at Trinity Hall they were not close friends. Both were high achieving undergraduates (Nunn May gained a First in mathematics and physics, and Maclean a First in modern languages) and both were members of Cambridge University Communist Party. However, the similarity ends there.

The outgoing Maclean was a member of the Trinity based communist study group with Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross and Philby (the Cambridge Five). He joined the Foreign Office in 1935 from where he passed secrets to the Soviet Union. Maclean defected to the Soviet Union in 1951 and died far away from the country of his birth in Moscow in 1963.

Nunn May, an altogether quieter man, stayed on at Trinity Hall for a PhD in physics and then went to King’s College London in 1936. In 1943-44 he passed on vital atomic bomb secrets to the Soviet Union, saying at his trial at the High Court in 1946 “I thought this was a contribution I could make to the safety of mankind”. Nunn May was sentenced to 10 years, but was released early (in 1952). After several years teaching at a university in Ghana, he spent the rest of his days living quietly in Cambridge, although there is no record of his ever returning to darken the doors of Trinity Hall!

The Old Library doesn’t seem to conform to any particular classification scheme–at least, none that I can fathom–but over the past few months it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the books are in some kind of order. I’ve found myself in a bit of a ‘history of England’ rut, with pretty much every book for miles (slight exaggeration) another assessment of the same topic. So when the next title on my list promised the “sufferings of the clergy”, I thought things might finally be looking up. I anticipated, at best, a discussion of seventeenth century torture devices in vicarages; at worst, an exposition of the shoddy living conditions the clergy had to endure, things like poor TV reception and no hot water after 8am.

Obviously, it was none of those things. In fact, it turned out to be over seven hundred pages of brilliantly executed passive aggression. The book’s full title is An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and sufferings of the clergy. It was compiled by clergyman and biographer John Walker (1674-1747) of Exeter, and printed in London in 1714. It was written as a response to an earlier work, printed in 1702, by Edmund Calamy (1671-1732), called Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s narrative. This was, itself, a rearrangement of another work, the original (presumably) Mr Baxter’s narrative, which had suffered at the hands of an ill-experienced indexer. (We’ve all been there.) What made Calamy famous at the time, though, wasn’t just his ability to recognise bad indexing when he saw it. It was the ninth chapter of his book, which was a list of nonconformist ministers silenced or thrown out after the Restoration in 1660. Wykes (2004) describes the book as “a popular statement and defence of nonconformity against the high-church attack on dissent and toleration”.

Image

Edmund Calamy, 1671-1732

The publication of this list created a bit of a storm. In the second edition of his book, printed in 1713, Calamy himself acknowledged it: “for some Years there was scarce a Pamphlet came out on the Church side, in which I had not the Honour of being referr’d to in the invective part of it” (1713, in Wykes, 2004). But I’d be shocked if any of these books Calamy mentioned included an attack quite as lengthy, profound and vitriolic as Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy. Given that it appeared the year after Calamy wrote this acknowledgment of infamy, I’m tempted to believe that Walker took it as a challenge. Walker’s idea was to produce a similar sort of volume, but this time listing the conforming clergy who were deprived and sequestered by the puritans in the period before the Restoration. He admits as much in his Preface: “[the work] was wholly occasioned by the ninth chapter of Dr Calamy’s Abridgment of Mr Baxter’s life” (1714, p. i).Image

It sounds vaguely admiring at this point, but Walker soon sticks the knife in. “I take it for granted”, he writes, “Dr Calamy himself knew as many reasons for his Work, as anybody else, and that he was not wanting to produce the Best of them” (1714, p. i). He continually compares his motivations to those of Dr Calamy: if he can write a list, then why can’t I? If you don’t object to Dr Calamy’s list, then you can’t object to mine. After a while it starts to read like an early eighteenth century rendition of “Anything you can do, I can do better” from Annie, Get Your Gun.

This slightly obsessive attack on poor old Dr Calamy for whom, I’ll admit, I’m starting to feel sorry, runs to over fifty pages, after which Walker gets down to the actual business of the suffering. The book itself is divided into two parts: first, a history of ecclesiastical affairs prior to the Restoration, designed essentially to justify the treatment of nonconformists after the Act of Uniformity in 1662 based on their behaviour when they were in charge (du Toit, 2004); and second, the list itself. I’m  impressed by Walker’s organisation and indexing skills, and I’m starting to suspect that he was secretly a librarian. The famous ‘suffering’ varies in type and severity, from George Williamson of Bristol, who got kicked out of his vicarage (1714, p. 4), to George Crakenthorp of Essex, who was accused of being a “common tippler, and often drunk” (1714, p. 219). There’s Samuel Taylor of Suffolk, who was left so penniless that he had to beg relief from the “corporation for ministers’ widows” (1714, p. 383) and William Knight of Huntingdonshire, whose ruination set off a chain of events which led to his grandson getting his maid pregnant. Worst of all, the maid was a “hog-herd’s daughter” (1714, p. 288). There’s a Mr Eaton of Cheshire, whose wife was carried to a dunghill (1714, p. 236), presumably against her will. Walker reports that several members of the clergy died before the Restoration, but a lot do have happier endings. Take Thomas Paske of Clare Hall, Cambridge, for example. He was restored and his great worth was proven beyond all doubt when, on one day, he was visited by “three bishops, four privy counsellors, two judges and three doctors” (1714, p. 141). Someone definitely needed to explain the concept of ‘office hours’ to Thomas Paske.

ImageImage

Walker’s Sufferings portrays these poor ministers as maligned, unjustly accused of all sorts of scandal, replaced by unsavoury gentleman, harrassed and persecuted simply for their loyalty. There’s a genuine sense of their collective martyrdom shining through and, without a copy of Calamy’s Abridgment in front of me it’s difficult to tell if Walker copied that too. I imagine he did. But they say the best form of flattery is imitation, so maybe Calamy wouldn’t have minded too much after all.

References

Calamy, E. (1702). An abridgment of Mr Baxter’s history of his life and times. London: Printed by S. Bridge for Thomas Parkhurst [and two others].

Du Toit, A. (2004). ‘Walker, John (bap. 1674, d. 1747)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.

Walker, J. (1714). An attempt towards recovering an account of the numbers and suffering of the clergy of the Church of England. London: Printed by W.S. for J. Nicholson [and five others].

Wykes, D.L. (2004). ‘Calamy, Edmund (1671-1732)‘. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP. Accessed 23 Aug 2013.

The Old Library had three very successful events in June to bring the treasures of the past to a wider audience.

Preservation and Interpretation of Seals
Cambridge college libraries and archives contain a wealth of sealed documents. While the documents themselves are generally well recorded and valued for their content, the seals attached to the documents are often less well studied.

Trinity Hall hosted two workshops and a public talk on the subject of seals and sealed documents. The workshops on Friday 7 June were an opportunity for librarians, conservators and museum professionals to hear from two experts in the field, Dr Elizabeth New and Dr John McEwan, Research Associates on the Arts and Humanities Research Council seals projects at Aberystwyth University.

Seals Public Talk

Seals Public Talk

Participants learnt about the technology of creating matrices and seals, the historical and artistic significance of seals, and the approaches for preserving these vulnerable wax objects. Examples of medieval sealed documents from the Old library and from the Archive of Christ’s College were on display. There was also a chance to handle resin facsimiles of historical seals (including one in the form of a fridge magnet!). In addition, there was a lunchtime visit to the Parker Library to view selected seals from the Corpus Christi Archive including a wonderfully sharp impression of the Cambridge town seal.

Studying a resin replica seal

Studying a resin replica seal

Seals are a potent connection with the past. They are highly tactile and many bear the thumb or finger prints of their creators. They deserve to be preserved and studied for the light they shed on the medieval world.

General Admission
Every year the Old Library is open on the afternoon of General Admission for Trinity Hall graduands and their guests. It is a day of celebration when another cohort of students collects their degrees and goes out into the world. The treasures of Trinity Hall are on show, including the college silver and the rare books of the Old Library.

Enthralled by the manuscripts

Enthralled by the manuscripts

Over 200 people visited the Old Library during the afternoon and for many students it was their first time in this hidden gem of Trinity Hall. The visitors were fascinated and amazed by the treasures on show.

Under the Covers
At the end of June the Old Library hosted an event for the Supporters of the Old Library and the 1350 Society. Guests were given a tour of the Old Library and then visited the “Under the Covers” exhibition in the Chetwode Room.

This fascinating exhibition by the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium looked in detail at the physical structure of medieval books – literally under the covers! On display were the traditional materials used for binding manuscripts and early printed books: vellum leaves, sewing materials, oak boards, Nigerian goatskin, tawed alum skins and hand marbled papers. Visitors could look at some of the recently conserved items from the Old Library to see the finished result of the reinstated medieval-style bindings.

Manuscript rebound in the medieval style using a vibrant red Nigerian goatskin

Manuscript rebound in the medieval style using a vibrant red Nigerian goatskin

There were some surprises too! Conservation on the binding of a printed book, Speculum Spiritualium by Richard Rolle de Hampole (London, 1510), revealed that the boards were made up of manuscript leaves which had been pasted together. The conservators carefully separated the leaves and replaced the boards. Some of the leaves are from an early medical manuscript! These leaves have yet to be studied and we would welcome any scholars who would like to look at them.

Conserved manuscript leaves removed from the covers of "Speculum Spiritualium"

Conserved manuscript leaves removed from the covers of “Speculum Spiritualium”

Experienced conservators, Edward Cheese and Bridget Warrington of the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium, were on hand to explain the book-binding techniques and to guide people who had a go at sewing together the leaves of a book. The event gave people first-hand experience of this important medieval craft and helped to bring the past vividly alive!

Coming Up…

The Old Library will be open for two events in September 2013.

The Old Library

The Old Library

On Friday 13 September the Old Library will be open to the general public for bookable tours during Open Cambridge. Booking starts on Monday 19th August via the Open Cambridge website.

The Old Library will also be open to Cambridge alumni for bookable tours during the Alumni Festival on Sunday 29 September. Booking starts on Monday 15th July via the Alumni Festival website.

Please book early for either event to ensure a place on an Old Library tour!

References

Seals and Sealing Practices by Elizabeth A. New,  (London: British Record Association, 2010).

Seals in Context: Medieval Wales and the Welsh Marches edited by: John McEwan and Elizabeth A. New, with Susan M. Johns and Phillipp R. Schofield (Aberystwyth: Canolfan Astudiaeth Addysg, 2012).

For more about the Cambridge Colleges Conservation Consortium see: Collaboration in special collections by Suzanne Paul.

Richard Hampole: in addition to the Wikipedia article there is a biography of Richard Hampole in the Catholic Encyclopedia

Speculum spiritualium. There are several copies of this book in Cambridge University Library ( in addition to the copy in the Old Library, Trinity Hall)

Open Cambridge: http://www.cam.ac.uk/open-cambridge

Alumni Festival:

http://my.alumni.cam.ac.uk/s/1321/interior.aspx?sid=1321&gid=1&pgid=924

The archives, libraries and museums of Cambridge are full of the most amazing treasures. But one kind of artefact is all too easily overlooked – the myriad of seals that are attached to historical documents. Seals come in all shapes and sizes and are artworks in miniature.

Disambiguation: not this kind of seal! (Photograph (c) The Daily Telegraph)

Disambiguation: not this kind of seal! (Photo (c) The Daily Telegraph)

The use of seals dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, however, the examples of seals present in most Cambridge collections are medieval European (and principally English) seals dating from the 11th century onwards. Medieval seals were attached to documents as proof of their authenticity and were used by royal government, cities, monastic houses, commercial enterprises and individuals much as a signature is today.

Trinity Hall matrix

Trinity Hall matrix

Seals were created by using a metal matrix which was impressed on a green or red wax made of beeswax and resin. From the 16th century onwards the use of shellac became common practice. There is a huge range of artistic sophistication, style and size in medieval and early modern seals: from generic designs bought ready made, through bespoke designs, to the intricate magnificence of the Great Seal.

Elizabeth I Confirmation Charter (1559) with the Great Seal

Elizabeth I Confirmation Charter (1559) with the Great Seal

Seals also provide us with important historical information, in addition to the written content of the documents to which they are attached. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The growth in government in England can be traced by its use of seals. The Great Seal …, first used in in the 11th century, was augmented by smaller seals, and finally the Privy Seal, the keeper of which was a minister of state. As the power of the seal grew the king sometimes found it necessary to adopt a private sometimes secret, seal for his correspondence”.

Letter from Elizabeth I to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall sealed with a wafer seal

Letter from Elizabeth I to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall – sealed with a wafer seal

There is much to discover through the study of seals, however, they can be difficult to interpret! Do you have seals on documents in your care, have you come across seals during your historical research and wondered how to interpret them or do you simply have an interest in medieval history? Anyone with an interest in local history and in the wide variety of seals attached to medieval documents will be fascinated by a forthcoming public talk “Making an Impression: seals as a resource for historical research” at Trinity Hall Cambridge on Saturday 8 June at 11am.

The speaker, Dr Elizabeth New of Aberystwyth University, is a medieval historian and an expert on British seals. She is Senior Researcher on the Arts and Humanities Research Council Exploring Medieval Seals project and author of Seals and sealing practices (London, British Records Association, 2010).

The talk is free but booking is essential.

To book a place at the talk please email library@trinhall.cam.ac.uk

Making an Impression Poster

References:

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th Ed.) Chicago, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974.

Seals and sealing practices / by Elizabeth New. London, British Records Association, 2010.

Exploring Medieval seals blog

Trinity Hall public talk: Making an impression: seals as a resource for historical research

One of the great treasures of the Old Library is a manuscript of Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy” translated into medieval French (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.12). This manuscript is illustrated throughout in a naive and lively style with images relating Boethius’ story.

These charming images provide a fascinating insight into the medieval mind and a unique view of the medieval world. Interspersed throughout the story are numerous full page illustrations of scenes from the Holy Scriptures and of the Chrisitan saints, including a number of images which tell the story of Christ’s Passion.

Christ's entry into Jerusalem (MS.12 14v)

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem (MS.12, f. 14v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Although these holy images seem to have nothing to do with the “Consolation of Philosophy” there is in fact a strong connection. The medieval French scholar Professor Sylvia Huot has pointed out that earthly suffering is the theme of most of the holy images in the manuscript. Depictions of the suffering of Christ and the ordeals of the saints were included in order to reinforce the central theme of Boethius’s work.

Boethius was a senior government official who in 524AD, having offended the king, Theodoric the Great, was stripped of his wealth and offices, thrown into prison and condemned to death. Whilst awaiting execution he was visited in a dream by Lady Philosophy who dictated to him a treatise on the futility of pursuing worldly wealth and power.

The resurection

The resurection (MS. 12, f. 34v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

The central thesis of the Consolation of Philosophy is the assertion that lasting happiness is only to be found in a mind that is centred and philosophically recollected. The inclusion of images from the Scriptures in the Trinity Hall manuscript is in keeping with the medieval Christian interpretation of Boethius. These images of Christ and the saints are used to reinforce Boethius’s message of how to endure (and triumph over) the suffering of this world.

Christ at the right hand of God. Christ is depicted on the cross and npointing to the wound in his side (MS.12 f. 98v)

Christ at the right hand of God. Christ is depicted on the cross and is pointing to the wound in his side (MS.12 f. 98v). Image (c) Trinity Hall Cambridge

Boethius’s treatise was tremendously popular in medieval times and is still in print today. It was translated into many languages including into English by King Alfred the Great, Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I amongst others.

References

The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. (Penguin Books, 1999)

“The Chastelaine de Vergi at the crossroads of courtly, moral and devotional literature” by Sylvia Huot. Published in Philologies old and new, edited by J. Tasker Grimbert and C. J. Chase (Princeton, 2001)

Wikipedia for Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy.

Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (no, not Trinity Hall but our younger rival next door!). His enthronement will take place in Canterbury Cathedral next week, on 21 March and will be televised by the BBC.

One item due to play a key role in the ceremony is the St Augustine’s Gospels (Corpus Christi College MS286). This magnificent manuscript is a vulgate text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and was probably brought to England by St Augustine in 597. The practice of using St Augustine’s Gospels for the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury was revived in 1945. The Parker Librarian, Christopher de Hamel, will remain in charge of this precious manuscript throughout the ceremony.

St Augustine's Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

St Augustine’s Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

But why is a Corpus manuscript featuring in our Old Library blog and what its connection to Trinity Hall?

The answer lies in one of our own most precious manuscripts Thomas Elmham Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini (Trinity Hall, Cambridge, MS1) created in about 1410-1413. On one leaf of Thomas of Elmham’s history is a remarkable early plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey. It is finely drawn in red, blue and black and features the chapels of the East end, various reliquaries, the high altar and the altar screen.

Plan of the East end of St Augustine's Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

“At the top of the screen are six books identified by a small inscription as the books sent from Pope Gregory (the Great) to Augustine”. The entry in the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition catalogue continues, “It is intrinsically probable that they included the St Augustine’s Gospels.” Thus our manuscript contains the earliest depiction of the Gospels used for the enthronement of the new Archbishop! As one of the holiest works in Britain it is more than likely that St Augustine’s Gospels were kept as an object of veneration with other sacred texts above the high altar of the Abbey.

The six books above the high altar of St Augustine's Abbey

The six holy books above the high altar of St Augustine’s Abbey

The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries and remains a ruin today. The monastic library was dispersed and its manuscripts came onto the open market. Our manuscript was collected by the antiquarian and Catholic sympathizer, Robert Hare (d. 1611), who was a great donor not only to Trinity Hall but also to the University Library. Thomas Elmham’s Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini came to us as a result of Hare’s friendship with Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall 1559-1585) and has been a treasured by the College ever since.

Robert Hare's signature

Robert Hare’s signature

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be seen at the Parker Library on Maundy Thursday, 28 March, from 2-4pm (for further information see Easter at King’s on the Parker Library blog). Thomas of Elmham’s History of St Augustine’s Abbey can be seen in September during bookable tours of Trinity Hall’s Old Library organised by Open Cambridge 2013 and the Alumni Weekend.

References

Historia Monasterii S. Augustini cantuariensis / edited by Charles Hardwick (London, 1858)

The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval West / edited by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (London, 2005)

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be viewed at the Parker Library on the web

Parker Library blog

Open Cambridge

Cambridge Alumni Weekend 2013

Website of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Wikipedia for Justin Welby, Thomas of Elmham, St Augustine’s Abbey, and Henry Harvey

St Augustine’s Abbey is an English Heritage property and can be visited

Love is in the air. The shops are full of cards pulsating with red hearts covered in glitter and on my desk is a pretty red morocco almanac which tells of a marriage.

The red morocco almanac

The red morocco almanac

The almanac belonged to Mary Boydell (1747-1820), a renowned beauty and niece of John ‘Alderman’ Boydell (1720-1804), a publisher and print seller who was then at the height of his fame and influence. Mary had been brought up by Boydell and, on the death of his wife Elizabeth Lloyd in 1781, she took over the management of his household. Her almanac reveals that she moved in the highest circles of society and that she was also a business woman involved in her uncle’s publishing enterprise. Thus we read of “Lord Shelborne’s invitation to Breakfast with him and to see his Library and Collection of prints” and “Any Books bound in France to be done by De Rome. Rue St Jacques a Paris. (Mr Edwards recommendation)”.

“Honored Uncle & Parent”

The son of a land steward and the grandson of a parson, John Boydell spent his early teenage years in Flintshire where his father worked for Sir John Glynne. There he saw a large print of Hawarden Castle which influenced his decision to become an engraver. He moved to London as an apprentice to the engraver W. H. Toms  and bought out his final year in order to set up on his own in 1746. Through a combination of hard work and strong business sense Boydell’s fortunes improved rapidly. He established links with publishers in France and Germany and imported sophisticated engravings from the continent. Then, seeing a business opportunity, he sponsored the creation of high quality British engravings. Print mania had taken hold of the aristocratic and middle classes. It was the fashion to paper the walls of a room with engravings and Alderman Boydell was the foremost publisher and supplier of excellent quality prints. As a result he became a wealthy and influential man.

Alderman Boydell (in red) talking to Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is depicted in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Alderman Boydell (in red) with Josiah Boydell. Mary Boydell is  in profile (above the man in the black coat with his back to the viewer). (c) Guildhall Art Gallery

Shakespeare Gallery

At the end of 1786 John Boydell embarked on his most ambitious enterprise: the project to publish an illustrated edition of Shakespeare’s plays, an edition of large engravings from Shakespeare and the creation of the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall. His partners in this enterprise were his nephew Josiah Boydell (Mary’s brother) and George Nicol (1740-1828), the King’s printer. Josiah was to manage the workshop of engravers in Hampstead and Nicol was to oversee the presswork.

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

A print workshop by Rowlandson, 1785

Mary’s almanac is for the year 1787 at the height of activity at the start of the Shakespeare project. The almanac is interleaved with blank pages which Mary has used to make notes which give a fascinating insight into her life at the time, ranging from information about books and prints to the state of her finances and of course the entry about her marriage.

“Friendship in Marble and Injury in Dust”

Despite, or perhaps because of, her beauty Mary’s romantic life had not been smooth. She had an unhappy love affair with Ozias Humphry, a miniature painter, who left England for India in 1785 to paint portraits of rajas and Englishmen abroad.

Her next suitor was the Cambridge alumnus and scientist Dr John Elliot, but she went on to reject him in favour of George Nicol, her uncle’s business partner. John Elliot took Mary’s rejection very badly – so badly that on 9 July 1787 he tried to shoot her from close range while she was out walking with Nicol in Soho. This notorious incident was reported in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ and in the ‘British Mercury’ which recounts “Providentially, though they were so close as to set fire to the lady’s cloack, yet by the balls glancing on her stays, she received only a slight contusion under the shoulder”. Unfortunately Dr John Elliot did not escape so lightly. He was taken to Newgate prison to await charges for the attempt on Mary’s life. In prison his refusal of food and water led to his death on 22 July. It must have been a traumatic time for all concerned.

Newgate prison (in 1833)

Newgate prison (in 1833)

“My dear Husband”

Reader she married him! Entered in a regular and confident hand the entry for 8th September 1787 reads, “Married at St Martin’s Ironmonger Lane between 8 and 9 o’clock in the Morning – and set out from thence to Dover and Paris with my dear Husband and honored Uncle & Parent Mr Alderman Boydell.” Mr and Mrs George Nicol trvelled to Paris with the Alderman – perhaps not the most romantic of honeymoons! But, ever the business woman, Mary combined business with pleasure. Just a year before, in 1786, she had travelled to Paris with Alderman Boydell on publishing business and now that her new husband was Boydell’s partner it was natural for them all to travel to Paris together.

Entry for her marriage

Entry for her marriage

This was not young, tempestuous love but perhaps it was all the more attractive to Mary after the high drama of John Elliot. Mary was 40 and she was an independent woman. George Nicol was 47 and it was his second marriage.  The month before she married Mary made a careful record of her finances in her almanac. She was well off, with income from investments and from her estate in Kinnerton in Flintshire. Her subsequent annotation shows that she could afford to be generous to her new husband, “Since the above written have made Mr George Nicol a present of the above 300 pound …”

Mary makes no further entries in the almanac after her wedding day. However, it was likely to have been a happy marriage. They had much in common, united by a love of books and by business ties, and it seems that Nicol’s temperament was good. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him as “courteous and tactful in business” and according to the Gentleman’s Magazine he was “not a bookseller but a gentleman dealing in books” (GM, 98/2, 279).

Postscript

Mary Nicol continued to play an active part in her uncle’s life. When the Alderman rose to be Lord Mayor of London in 1790-91 she was his Lady Mayoress. Unfortunately the French Revolution affected the English economy and cut off an important export market for Boydell’s prints and the vast scale of the Shakespeare project brought his finances to breaking point. By 1804 the Boydells were forced to conduct a lottery to dispose of the Shakespeare Gallery and its contents. Sadly the Alderman died before the lottery could be drawn, however it raised £78,000 for the business (now in the hands of Josiah). As a final act of devotion Mary Nicol paid for a bust of the Alderman and a memorial tablet in St Olave Jewry where he was buried.

This small almanac is a remarkable survival. A bookplate in the front of the volume reveals that it once belonged to the library of the author Hugh Walpole. It came to Trinity Hall as part of the library of alumnus and bibliophile Lawrence Strangman (1908-1980).

John Boydell's resting place

John Boydell’s resting place

References:

PDF transcript of manuscript notes in Mary Boydell’s almanac

Rider’s British Merlin for the year of our Lord God 1787. London: printed by the Company of Stationers, 1787.

John Boydell, 1719-1804 : a study of art patronage and publishing in Georgian London / Sven H.A. Bruntjen.

The Boydell Shakespeare Gallery / edited by Walter Pape and Frederick Burwick, in collaboration with the German Shakespeare Society.

Boydell’s Shakespeare gallery / Winifred H. Friedman.

Wikipedia for biographies of John Boydell, Josiah Boydell, George Nicol and others

Your Pictures for images of John Boydell and the Ceremony of administering the Mayoral oath to Nathaniel Newnham

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