Similar to other college libraries in Cambridge and Oxford, the Old Library at Trinity Hall was founded and grew throughout centuries thanks to the continuous generosity of the College’s Masters and Fellows, alumni and sometimes private benefactors.

The Library was founded in the 14th century by Bishop William Bateman who donated a number of books to be housed and chained in a “safe room” so that “all the scholars of the College may have common access to them” (De libris collegii, II, 432).  During the next two hundred years, the holdings grew steadily through donations and bequests, and by the end of the 16th century, the College built a new library to accommodate the expanding collections.  It is possible that the decision was prompted by the receipt of a large bequest of legal books from the former Master William Mowse who, in his will dated 1588, left approximately 225 legal works to Trinity Hall.


W. Mowse signature

William Mowse’s signature


William Mowse was a civil lawyer and a scholar educated at Trinity Hall (LLB, 1538; LLD, 1552) who became Master of the College in October 1522. Upon Queen Mary’s accession to the throne, Mowse was removed from his position, only to be reinstated in November 1555, for a second term that lasted for about four years. After resigning from the Trinity Hall mastership, Mowse was appointed vicar-general to the Archbishop of Canterbury and judge of the court of audience.  Despite leaving the College, he maintained a strong connection to Trinity Hall and left his substantial collection of legal works (mostly 16th-century titles from continental presses) to the College Library.

A second major donation came from outside Trinity Hall. Robert Hare was a politician and an antiquary from London who began collecting rare books and manuscripts after his retirement from public life as an MP in 1571. Although a former student of Gonville Hall and of the Inner Courts in London, Hare had family connections to Trinity Hall and shared a long-term friendship with the Master William Mowse. Hare gave the Library approximately 50 early printed books (among them, some rare incunabula) and 11 manuscripts, which are still esteemed today as some of the Library’s most treasured possessions.


Nuremberg Chronicle

Hand-coloured copy of the “Liber chronicarum” (also known as “The Nuremberg Chronicle”) donated to TH by Robert Hare


The 17th and 18th centuries saw an increase in the number of contributions to the Library, either directly in the form of books or indirectly, through the provision of funds for their purchase. One large donation was that of Dr. Thomas Eden, civil lawyer, academic, politician and Master of Trinity Hall between 1626 and 1645. Eden gave approximately 110 legal works to the Library, including a manuscript of his own work, Commentarius in titulum De Regulis Iuris, containing his lecture notes in Latin.

Eden, Thomas (B.6.12)

Inscriptions of Thomas Eden, Master of  Trinity Hall (1626-1645)


Throughout the years, the library holdings were augmented through occasional gifts of one, two or three volumes from various Masters, Fellows and students of the College. Some of these early benefactors included: Edmund Mundford (1546–1644), Fellow of Trinity Hall, James Hobart (1524-1615), Esq. of Hales-Hall, Norfolk, Sir John Hobart (1567-1613), a Trinity Hall graduate and member of the first Jacobean Parliament and Thomas Hughes (1640-1738), Fellow of the College between 1672 and 1678.

Also on the donors’ list were some well-known names such as: John Cowell (1552-1611), Master of Trinity Hall and Regius Professor of Civil Law and Thomas Pepys (1621-1665), physician, Fellow of Trinity Hall and cousin of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys. Thomas Pepys gave four books on medicine to the Library, one of which (a volume of medical prescriptions) carries his extensive manuscript notes and annotations, written on the margins of the pages or on the extra blank leaves inserted throughout the volume.


Thomas Pepys

Thomas Pepys’ working copy of “Formulae remediorum” with blank leaves inserted for his annotations

Pepys, T.

Thomas Pepy’s signature

Although the exact provenance of all the books in the Old Library is not always known, some former owners can be identified based on the autographs, inscriptions, stamps or bookplates they left in their tomes. A good example of a volume with a fascinating ownership history is the work of customary law entitled Commentaires du droict civil tant public que privé, observé au pays & duché de Normandie, printed in Paris in 1574 by Jacques du Puys. The autographs and annotations in the book suggest that it was successively owned by several generations of jurats on the island of Guernsey and used extensively as a reference tool for their legal work. The volume was eventually donated to Trinity Hall in 1937, by Victor Michael Graham de Vic Carey (1900-1964), a former student of the College (B.A. 1922) and an advocate of the Guernsey Royal Court.

Previous ownership can sometimes be established through an examination of the book bindings. For example, a 16th century volume from the Old Library containing Justinian’s Constitutions, printed in Greek in 1542 is bound in dark calf with the initials “E C” stamped in the centre of the covers. According to the book historian David Pearson (Pearson, p. 119), the initials “E C” can be associated with the English barrister and judge Edward Coke (1552-1634) who is widely considered the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.


Binding with the initials “E C” (i.e. Edward Coke)

Another book from the Old Library collections with a famous previous owner is Apian’s History of Rome printed in Paris in 1551, and bound in calf with the arms of Cardinal Jules Mazarin gold-stamped on the covers. Well-known as the statesman and politician who served as the Chief Minister to the Kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV of France, Mazarin was also a noted collector of art, jewels and books. His personal library of more than 40,000 volumes was in the mid 17th-century the largest collection in Europe and, although it was looted and almost entirely destroyed during an outbreak of La Fronde, it survived and eventually served as the foundation of the Mazarin Library extant in Paris today.

The cataloguing project of the Old Library’s collections has made the names of all the donors, benefactors and former owners of books at Trinity Hall available on-line, alongside other important bibliographic information describing the volumes currently housed in the Library. The names of the benefactors are here to remind us of the importance of philanthropic support and generous donations to the Library and the College at large.



Hinton, Lavinia. Trinity Hall. The story of the Library. University Press, Cambridge, 2000.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed Nov. 20, 2017.

Pearson, David. Provenance research in book history. London, British Library, 1994.

Commiss. Docts. (Cambridge). De libris Collegii, II. 432.


As part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the admission of women to College, the Archive put on an exhibition examining the history of women and their relationship with Trinity Hall since it’s foundation until now. Since few people were able to see the exhibition in all its glory, I’ve been disseminating sections of it for a wider audience. The recent article for Front Court from the Archive focused on female tradespeople and merchants; here we will be looking at what went on below the staircases in the world of female servants and staff.


Trinity Hall Staff, c.1930s. THPH/3/1930

The Laundress or Launderer was one of the original servant positions, dating back to the medieval foundations of the colleges. Traditionally, all servants of the medieval colleges were male, except for the laundress. Male launderers were hard to come by, so the position was often filled by a woman. However, certain safeguards were put in place to minimise contact between the laundress and the fellows, who were required to remain celibate. Most colleges required the laundress to live in town and be handed the linen at the college gates.  Some colleges, such as King’s College, went even further and stipulated in their statutes that only elderly or unattractive women could be hired as the laundress. The laundress was generally amongst the highest paid of college servants, but this was most likely to cover their living expenses in town, because female servants were not allowed to live in College like the male servants. The Trinity Hall foundation statutes made no provision for a laundress, but there was certainly a laundress working for the College by the 17th century.

The other positions traditionally held by women in colleges were bedmakers and cleaners. It is unclear precisely when the College began hiring female cleaners and bedmakers, but the account books that have survived demonstrate the College was regularly employing women to clean the Hall and other rooms around College, polish the silver, and perform various other duties around College by at least the 18th century. From the trial papers of Philip Nichols, it also appears there were female bedmakers by the mid 18th century. Philip Nichols was a fellow at Trinity Hall from 1723-30 who was caught stealing books from several libraries around Cambridge, including St John’s and the University Library. His bedmaker, Elizabeth Richardson, testified that she witnessed him leaving his room with a large bag and return with it full under his gown.

Nicholls bedmaker crop

Elizabeth Richardson’s testimony against Philip Nicholls, 1731. THGB/4/1/8/3

By at least the mid 19th century, staircases were being worked on by husband and wife teams of gyps and bedmakers. The wives cleaned the rooms and the gyps were the students’ and fellows’ personal servants. Gyps brought the students’ morning teas to their rooms and did everything for them except clean their shoes. There was a bootman for that. In 1950, bedmakers and cleaners in College made a shilling and ninepence per hour, and the minimum wage for women was set to £1 less per week compared to their male counterparts, who made £4.15 (or £4 per week if lunch was provided). One pound less per week does not sound like much money, but £1 in 1950 is the equivalent of about £23 today.


Steward’s Order Book detailing the responsibilities of bedmakers, 1843-50. THAR/5/4/3

The first kitchen manageress was Mrs Leggett from 1920 to 1934. When Mrs Leggett was the manageress she enjoyed a high status in the kitchen, having her own waiter, crockery, and wine in the cellars. One of the main duties of the kitchen manageress was to entertain fellows’ wives and entertain parents when they came up. The manageress was also responsible for the menus, bookings, and purchasing of goods for the kitchens. During wartime, she was also responsible for rationing. According to Don Tarrant, College Butler from 1925 to 1973, Mrs Leggett was a fearsome woman, who even told fellows what to do. Mrs Leggett was succeeded as manageress by Miss Wain (1934-45) and Miss Mackenzie (1945-53). According to the Report on the Sub-Committee of Stewards and Bursars on the wages of College servants, the Kitchen Manager/ Manageress was one of the best paid servant positions in College.

Sara Rhodes holds the distinction of not only being Trinity Hall’s first female Butler but also being the first in Cambridge. She first started working for the College in 1986 as a part-time waitress, helping out with evening meals. She left for a time, but came back in 1997, when she was appointed as College Butler, and she has been here ever since. Kim Brown became the first female porter in 2003 and is also still working for the College. Today there are women working in nearly every department of the College, and they make up just over half of the workforce at Trinity Hall.


Cobban, Alan. English University Life in the Middle Ages (London: UCL Press, 1999).

Duckenfield, Bridget. College Cloisters- Married Bachelors (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).

Trinity Hall Staff Recollections: 1925-2002 (Cambridge: University Printing Services, 2002).


One of the great treasures of the Old Library is an early fifteenth century manuscript, Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantauriensis, by Thomas of Elmham, a medieval monk and historian. Elmham’s history of St Augustine’s Abbey and its lands contains elaborate chronological tables and facsimiles of many lost Anglo-Saxon charters. Amongst these pages recording the deeds of clerics are two magnificent full page illustrations which reveal the presence of two high status women!

The women who were so important to the history of St Augustine’s Abbey were Domme Eafe and her daughter Mildrith. Domme Eafe had impeccable royal lineage – she was descended from King Æthelberht of Kent and was married to King Merewalh of Magonsaete (a sub-kingdom of Mercia). This remarkable queen founded the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet and all three of her daughters, Mildburh, Mildgytha and Mildrith, were saints.


Saint Mildrith (image from Wikipedia)


The most notable of the three was Saint Mildrith (c. 660-733). She features in the Kentish Royal Legend or “Mildrith legend” and Goscelin wrote a hagiography of her, the “Vita Mildrethae”, in the 11th century. As a royal woman Saint Mildrith received an education at the prestigious Merovingian royal abbey of Chelles, near Paris, which had a reputation for great learning. On her return to England she entered the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet. By 694 Saint Mildrith had risen to become the Abbess at Minster-in-Thanet and when she died in about 734 she was buried in the Abbey church of St Mary.

MS1 Isle of Thanet blog

Isle of Thanet (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)


This illustration (above) from MS.1 is a map of the Isle of Thanet. It features important landmarks, churches and abbeys, including that of Minster-in-Thanet. It also shows the course (marked as a green line) said to have been taken by a white hind belonging to Queen Domme Eafe, when it designated the land granted for the foundation of the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet.


“Cursus cerue”: the path taken by Domme Eafe’s white hind (detail from Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

The other full page illustration in this manuscript shows the East end of the abbey church of St Augustine’s in Canterbury. It depicts the high altar surmounted by precious reliquaries and six holy books. The shrine of St Augustine is situated in pride of place behind the high altar at the East end.


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

But Saint Mildrith has a shrine there too! How did she come to be there? According to Julian Luxford, the nunnery of Minster-in-Thanet had fallen into disuse and in 1030 King Cnut granted his permission for the relics of Saint Mildrith to be moved from the abbey church of St Mary to the church of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury “where she was venerated alongside the early archbishops”. Her importance is revealed by the magnificence of her shrine and its site just next to the chapel with the relics of St Augustine.

St Mildrith's shrine

Saint Mildrith’s shrine in the abbey church of St Augustine’s Canterbury (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

This tale of two medieval royal women who feature in the illustrations of MS.1 is part of our series of posts looking at “Women in the special collections of Trinity Hall” in celebration of the THWomen40 anninversary.


St Augustine’s Abbey is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. English Heritage has just published a new guidebook by Julian Luxford which includes a full colour reproduction of the illustraion in our manuscript of the East end of the Abbey church.


Description by Montague Rhodes James of Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantauriensis (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

St Augustine’s Abbey” by Julian Luxford (English Heritage Guidebooks, 2017) ISBN 9781910907160

St Augustine’s Abbey (English Heritage) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/

It has recently been announced that Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929), who led the campaign for women’s suffrage, will be the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square.  This remarkable woman, also active in the struggle to improve women’s education, is well known as one of the principal founders of Newnham College Cambridge. So why does she feature in our series of blogs celebrating the TH Women40 anniversary? Well, she also had a connection to Trinity Hall!


Milly (image from Wikipedia)

In 1867 “Milly”, as she was known to her family, married Trinity Hall man and Member of Parliament, Henry Fawcett – or “Harry” to his friends. Here we take a look at their story through one of Trinity Hall’s manuscripts: a proof copy of the “Life of Henry Fawcett” by Leslie Stephen, which is written and marked up for publication in the author’s hand.


Extract from Leslie Stephen’s manuscript of “Life of Henry Fawcett”

Millicent Garrett as born in Aldeburgh in 1847 and came from a family of independent and high-achieving women. Her elder sister was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British female doctor. As a young woman, Milly became interested in women’s rights after attending a lecture on the subject by John Stuart Mill. At the age of just nineteen she became the Secretary of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. Just one year later she married Henry Fawcett, a leading disciple of Mill! It was to be a happy marriage of like-minded radicals.

Henry Fawcett

Harry as a young man

Leslie Stephen and Henry Fawcett met as mathematics undergraduates when Fawcett migrated from Peterhouse to Trinity Hall in 1855. They became great friends – first as undergraduates and then as Fellows of Trinity Hall. Henry Fawcett was already a Fellow when tragedy struck in 1858. On a visit home he lost his sight in a partridge shooting accident. With great courage and determination he decided that this misfortune should have no effect on his life. He continued his fellowship at Trinity Hall with the help of a young guide and amanuensis, Edward Brown, and went on to achieve great things, with a distinguished career as Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge, as a radical Member of Parliament and subsequently as Post Master General.


Here we have Stephen’s account of Harry’s marriage to Milly in 1867

Although Stephen’s biography of Harry makes only passing reference to Milly (out of Victorian delicacy about private life) when he does mention her it is always with admiration. He tells us that “in political and social questions their alliance implied the agreement of independent minds, not the relation of teacher and disciple” and that  Harry’s “marriage was a main source of the happiness and success of his later career”.

On marriage Harry gave up his Trinity Hall Fellowship, as he was forced to do under the old rules, and was re-elected under the new rules. Milly had a central place in her husband’s life and in the Cambridge circle of academics and their wives. She ran the couple’s houses in Cambridge and London, but she was no stay-at-home housewife! She took over the role of amanuensis and was Harry’s guide, escorting him to the Houses of Parliament. She “was his adviser in most serious matters; and … when she was temporarily absent he would put off a decision of great moment in his career until he had been able to obtain her opinion”.


Stephen’s entry mentioning the Fawcett’s co-authorship of “Essays and lectures on social and political subjects”

She was also prolific author. Her first book “Political economy for beginners” (1870) was a great success, appearing in 10 editions. According to Stephen “she was fully qualified to take an interest in all his intellectual pursuits and shared his main political principles. They published together a volume of lectures and essays”. This volume was “Essays and Lectures on social and political subjects” (1872) which contained six chapters by Harry and eight chapters by Milly. Her biographer, David Rubinstein, states that she “was more talented than her husband”.

She was active in the movement for women’s suffrage and her husband “was always ready to support her efforts in a cause in which she naturally took the leading part”. After the death of her husband on 6 November 1884 she temporarily withdrew from public life. She later became president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (1897-1919) and was a tireless campaigner on a number of issues. In July 1901 she was appointed to lead the British Government’s commission to South Africa to investigate conditions in the concentration camps that had been created there in the wake of the Second Boer War.

Millicent Garret Fawcett is considered instrumental in gaining the vote for six million British women over 30 years old in 1918. Theresa May, said in a statement that Dame Millicent “continues to inspire the battle against the injustices of today”. All 11 statues in Parliament Square are currently of men. It is wonderful that this remarkable woman with such a strong connection to Trinity Hall will be the first woman to join them!


“Life of Henry Fawcett” by Leslie Stephen (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1886)

“A different world for women: the life of Millicent Garrett Fawcett” by David Rubinstein (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991)

“Essays and lectures on social and political subjects” by Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett (London: Macmillan, 1872)

“Political economy for beginners” by Millicent Garrett Fawcett (London: Macmillan, 1870)

BBC News article “Millicent Fawcett to be first woman statue in Parliament Square” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39471407

Wikipedia on Millicent Garrett Fawcett https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millicent_Fawcett

The project to catalogue the 16th-century books in the Old Library is now complete! To celebrate the occasion I interviewed our two Rare Books Cataloguers, Adriana Celmare and Allen Purvis.

Our cataloguers have become familiar with some wonderful books. But they are much too polite to let on that they have also had to put up with some challenging conditions:  chilly temperatures in the winter, low light levels on overcast days, attempting to decipher scrawled inscriptions and climbing up ladders to reach the highest bookshelves!

If you would like to find out what it is like to work with the special collections in Trinity Hall read on… The informal questions were designed give a personal impression from the people who count – the workers on the front line!

Here is the first interview with Adriana.

Q. What was your first impression of Trinity Hall?

A. I thought it looked very elegant and pretty! I particularly enjoyed the court leading to Latham Lawn with the beautiful terrace overlooking the river Cam and the two library buildings at each end.

Q. Out of all the books you catalogued which was your favourite book and why (it could be more than one book)?

A. It’s hard for me to pick out favourites when I’m cataloguing sixteenth century books because I think they are all so interesting in their own unique way! That being said, I do like nice bindings and I found quite a few of them here at Trinity Hall, ranging from panel-stamped bindings to gold-tooled armorial ones.


Binding  depicting St. George and the Dragon (D*.7.45)


Armorial binding of Cardinal Mazarin (D*.8.3)















I also appreciate books with a rich provenance history and a perfect example of this was a collection of seven legal items bound together in a volume stamped with the arms of William Cecil, Lord Burghley and chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. One of the tracts was also inscribed by Thomas Cranmer, famous reformer and Archbishop of Canterbury, and another item had inscriptions by William Leson, Doctor of Law, and William Mowse, Master of Trinity Hall (1552-1553 and 1555-1559). Mowse probably acquired the volume sometime in the sixteenth century and he later donated it to the College alongside two hundred other legal works from his private collection.



Armorial stamp of William Cecil Classmark O*.2.8(1-8)


Inscriptions of William Lesson and William Mowse Classmark O*.2.8(5)


Q. Has anything you have discovered during the project caught your imagination?

A. There were a lot of things that piqued my curiosity during this project, but I was particularly attracted to the story of the Old Library itself, its foundation and growth throughout centuries due to the generosity of the College’s members, former Masters, Fellows and alumni. With every inscription deciphered, binding identified or bookplate assigned, I felt like putting together pieces of a puzzle, in order to create a comprehensive picture of what the Old Library stands for at Trinity Hall.

Q. Is there anything during the project that has really challenged you or annoyed you?

A. Nothing really annoyed me, but as with any new cataloguing project, there were lots of things to be learned about various local practices, history of the owning institution, former owners and donors, etc. But these were all good challenges to have and I’ve enjoyed every minute of trying to overcome them.

Q. What do you like best about the Old Library?

A. I love the Old Library’s period charm, its unique original features and outstanding legal collections.


The Old Library at Trinity Hall

Q. Anything else?

A. Cataloguing sixteenth century books in the midst of the actual environment where they were housed for centuries is indeed a rare opportunity for anyone and it has certainly been a remarkable one for me as well.


Dominique says: It has been wonderful having two such talented cataloguers working on the 16th-century collections and we are lucky that they are now cataloguing the 17th-century books in the Old Library.

For Allen’s view of working in the Old Library, please keep an eye out for his interview in a later blog!

This post continues our celebration of the THwomen40 anniversary and looks at the importance of two women in the life of Thomas Preston, a former Master of Trinity Hall.

The ante-chapel of Trinity Hall contains two monumental brasses, situated just a few feet apart, of Walter Hewke (Master 1512-1517/18) and Thomas Preston (Master 1585-1598). Preston’s brass is particularly interesting for the Latin inscription which contains the names of two women, Alicia and Elizabeth. Who were they and what role did they play in his life?


Alicia’s inscription on Preston’s brass (from Warren’s Book)


Thomas Preston has the distinction of being the first married Master of Trinity Hall! He was educated at Eton and King’s College Cambridge (1556-81) and it seems likely that he resigned his fellowship at King’s in order to marry Alicia. By this time Heads of Houses, unlike fellows, were allowed to marry but it is not clear whether Preston lived with his wife in College. According to Crawley, “The fact that Preston was buried in the ante-chapel does not prove that he resided in College, but his widow at least ensured that she would not be forgotten, for the inscription on his monument begins with her name ALICIA, alone on the first line.” In her inscription Alicia leaves us in no doubt about her importance in Preston’s life!


Might Alicia have looked like this ?

We know little about Alicia and do not have an image of her. However, we can speculate that as a woman of some standing she might have looked something like the wealthy woman depicted in this brass in a church in Bruges (above).

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth, the other woman mentioned in the inscription, was in fact the Queen of England! Preston first came to the Queen’s attention as young fellow of King’s at the time of her stay in Cambridge in August 1564. This was a gala occasion for both town and gown, with speeches, disputations, religious services, banquets and plays.  Preston impressed Elizabeth I with his “gracefull gesture” and “propernesse of person” in his role in the play of “Dido” which was put on for her entertainment at King’s College. He also excelled in a disputation before the Queen on the subject “monarchy is the best form for a state” (and he had the delicate task of speaking against the motion!) and in his oration at her departure from Cambridge. Elizabeth I was so taken with him that she called him “her scholar” and gave him a pension of £20 a year, a substantial sum in those days.


Elizabeth I, detail from the charter re-confirming Trinity Hall’s foundation (1559)

And she did not forget him! Many years later in 1585, when the Mastership of Trinity Hall fell vacant, Lord Burghley wrote to the fellows of Trinity Hall staying the election of a new Master. A few days later the fellows were instructed by royal mandate to elect Thomas Preston. The brass, which records that Elizabeth I called him “her scholar”, pays tribute to the importance of the Queen’s patronage in Preston’s fortunes.


As Master, Preston set to work to sort out a number of problems including the College’s parlous finances which were burdened with debts “desperate to be remedied”. He was Vice-Chancellor, 1589-90, and was admitted an advocate in the Court of Arches in 1591. Perhaps he is best known today as the author of the play “Cambises King of Persia” which was lampooned by Shakespeare through the words of Falstaff in Henry IV, part I. His name lived on in Trinity Hall’s drama group, the Preston Society.

Over time the memory of Preston’s achievements may fade, but the inscription on his brass ensures that the importance of Alicia and Elizabeth in his life is recorded for posterity!


This post is an extended version of an article published in Front Court, Issue 21, Spring 2015.

For more about the visit of Queen Elizabeth I to Cambridge see the related post Vivat Regina!

Thomas Preston, The lamentable tragedie, mixed full of pleasant mirth containing the life of Cambyses king of Percia, Tudor Facsimile texts (London, 1910)

Charles Crawley, Trinity Hall. The History of a Cambridge College (Cambridge, 1976)

The ‘Women in the special collections of Trinity Hall’ is an occasional series to celebrate the ‘TH Women 40’ anniversary. In this first post of the series we look at two very different depictions of Eve, the first woman, published two hundred years apart.

Nuremberg Chronicle

The Nuremberg Chronicle, or ‘Chronica Mundi’, is a history of the world. Written by Hartman Schedel and printed by Anton Koberger in 1493 (a year after Christopher Columbus sailed to the ‘new world’) the Nuremberg Chronicle reflects the medieval world view.


Creation of Eve. Nuremberg Chronicle (detail).

It includes a large number of woodcuts by Michel Wolgemnut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff of city scenes, historical figures and events. At this time, sources for European history were the Bible and the Classics which is why figures from the Old Testament mingle with those from Greek and Roman history. Some of the illustrations include women and give a fascinating insight into the medieval view of women – including Eve. An opening near the start of the book shows God creating Eve out of Adam’s rib. Eve is born, fully-formed, as a comely young woman who gazes directly at her Creator.


Temptation of Adam and Eve in Paradise. Nuremberg Chronicle (detail)

On the facing page we see the temptation of Eve and the expulsion from Paradise.  Adam and Eve are of an equal height standing either side of the tree of knowledge. Each holds a red apple in their hands, while the serpent has another apple in its mouth. The couple cover their bodies in shame, although only Eve casts down her eyes. She is shown as curvaceous, vigorous and grounded. Moreover, in our hand-coloured copy she is alluring, with long blonde hair, red lips and pink flesh tones.


Medieval face of Eve. Nuremberg Chronicle (detail)

The Nuremberg Chronicle abounds with other arresting images of women, who are often portrayed as lively and confident: from women of Roman antiquity to the women of the Old and New Testaments.

Paradise Lost

‘The poetical works of Mr. John Milton’, published in 1695, was the first collected edition of Milton’s poems. It includes the epic poem ‘Paradise lost’ which tells the tale of the Fall and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Milton was a republican and a civil servant during the Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth. He composed his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ in 1667, after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. England had endured a period of religious and political upheaval. The trauma of the Civil War and the collapse of the Commonwealth brought tremendous soul searching: families had been torn apart and individuals were buffeted by changing fortunes. Gone were the medieval certainties.


Frontispiece to Book 9 of Paradise Lost (1695)

A new insecurity is revealed in these illustrations to ‘Paradise Lost’. In the frontispiece to Book IX we see Adam and Eve in a sunny paradise but surrounded by dark forces. Their small figures are dwarfed by the coiled serpent and a prancing Satan in the gloomy foreground. Eve’s face is blank in her innocence and, as if in a dream, she seems powerless to withstand the inexorable sequence of events.  Both the engraving and Milton’s introduction leave us in no doubt about the prime mover: ‘Satan having compast the Earth, with meditated guile returns as a mist by night into Paradise, enters into the Serpent sleeping’.


Milton’s Eve in Paradise

The engraving captures the moment when Satan wakes the serpent from his sleep. We see the serpent spiralling up above Satan’s head (almost like a thought bubble) and mesmerising Eve, who takes a bite of the apple. She then hands an apple to Adam, who takes it and bites into it. The fatal deed is done! Thunder clouds mass overhead and lightning strikes, symbolising the voice and wrath of God at their disobedience. The final vignette depicts their misery at having disobeyed God by tasting the forbidden fruit. They realise that they are naked and cover themselves with leaves. Here Eve, Adam and even the serpent are all depicted as pawns in Satan’s titanic battle with God.


Detail of frontispiece to Book 12 of Paradise Lost (1695)

The frontispiece to Book XII reinforces this feeling of powerlessness. Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden of Eden by the Archangel Michael, who holds a flaming sword. The couple seems traumatised and full of guilt. Adam hides his face but we see the doleful face of Eve, with huge saucer eyes looking up towards heaven, or perhaps towards an uncertain future outside paradise.


Milton’s Eve on her expulsion from Paradise

Milton tells us that she is ‘compos’d to quietness of mind and submission’. This is a very different Eve from the medieval Eve of the Nuremberg Chronicle, who looked confident and knew her place in the world. The seventeenth-century Eve is conflicted, haunted and worried about the future – a modern Eve for troubled times.