The Old Library at Trinity Hall: donors and former owners

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.


A rare sixteenth century calligraphic inscription

Provenance inscriptions in rare books can elicit very different reactions from librarians and cataloguers. On the one hand, we are grateful to have clues that can provide information about who owned the books, when and potentially where; on the other hand, it can get very frustrating at times to try to decipher century-old scripts that look obscure and illegible to our modern eyes. Every once in a while, a rare event does occur: a book with a calligraphic inscription comes along and surprises us. That is what I found while cataloguing the Historia del descubrimiento y conquista de la India por los Portugueses from the Old Library’s collections at Trinity Hall:


A quick search for Barnard Hampton’s name revealed the fact that he was a clerk to the Privy Council of three monarchs: King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, from 1551 until 1572. Hampton also served as the Spanish Secretary to Queen Mary and was one of the four witnesses who signed her will in 1555. He had a wife named Katherine and a daughter Anne; together they resided in a manor house in Twickenham, in south west London.

Unfortunately, not much else is known about Barnard Hampton; his date of birth is unrecorded and his name is rarely mentioned in any official documents of the time. Considering this lack of information, it would be tempting to assume Hampton’s name could have easily slipped into the hidden recesses of time. However, that didn’t quite happen, because Barnard Hampton did leave something behind: his books.  Some of the Italian and Spanish volumes that once made up his private library still survive today. They all carry the same beautiful, calligraphic inscription on one of the preliminary pages: Sum Barnardi Hamptoni eiusq[ue] amicor[um] (‘I belong to Barnard Hampton and his friends’). Who exactly were Hampton’s friends and how many of them there were, is difficult to determine precisely, but we can assume they included members of the court, official dignitaries and perhaps some scholars as well. The fact that most of his books were printed in Italian or Spanish, suggest that the borrowing friends must have been able to read in either one or both of those languages.



Title page of the Chronica del Peru (Antwerp, 1554)

Up to the year 2014, when Dr. Dennis Rhodes wrote the article Barnard Hampton and His Books, only six volumes from Hampton’s library were known to be extant. Dr. Rhodes traced these copies to the British Library (3), Cambridge University Library (1), John Rylands University Library (1) and Trinity Hall Old Library (one volume containing four tracts bound together). However, in the summer of 2016, during the cataloguing project of the Old Library at Trinity Hall, four more volumes with Barnard’s inscription were discovered on the shelves. Out of the total of nine items presently at the Old Library, five were printed in Venice between 1540 and 1548, on subjects such as the history of the Turkish Empire and of the Kingdom of Naples. The remaining four were published in Antwerp in 1554, and they chronicle the discovery of India and Peru. The somewhat unusual topics of these volumes suggest that Hampton had a taste not only for foreign languages (he is said to have been particularly talented in Spanish and its dialects), but also an interest in the history and geography of faraway lands.



Foundation of the city of Frontera in Peru (Chronica del Peru)

Precisely where and when Barnard Hampton acquired the books is difficult to ascertain, but it is possible he bought them while travelling to Europe, perhaps on diplomatic missions (he is known to have been officially sent abroad once, but the location and time were not recorded). The fact that most of the surviving volumes from his collections were printed either in Venice, Antwerp or Lyon, and bound in what appear to be continental design bindings corroborate this theory. Moreover, works on slightly ‘exotic’ subjects such as India and Peru would have been difficult to purchase in early sixteenth century England. That might be, in fact, one of the reasons Hampton chose to share them with his friends. Book lending among close acquaintances was a fairly common practice in early modern Europe, motivated by the high prices of some of the publications and the difficulty in acquiring certain copies.

It is not known what happened to Hampton’s books after his death in 1572, but the presence of a significant number of copies in Cambridge libraries suggests a possible purchase by a Cambridge student or scholar. The identity of this Cambridge buyer remains a mystery (he did not inscribe his name on any of the volumes at Trinity Hall, though he did write some notes in Latin in one of the Venice tracts). Considering the subjects of the volumes, it is slightly intriguing that their owner chose to donate them to Trinity Hall Library (a collection well-known for its strong legal bent). Nevertheless, the cataloguing project of the Old Library collections is still in progress, so perhaps future discoveries will shed some light on the unanswered questions surrounding Barnard Hampton’s books.


Rhodes, E. Dennis. ‘Barnard Hampton and His Books’. The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, vol. 15, no. 3 (2014), 343-346.

The ‘Travelling Book’: a provenance story

Provenance research in book history is a relatively new, but growing area of study for librarians, historians, book collectors and regular readers alike. Being able to trace the itinerary of a book that travelled through centuries and countries (not to mention various owners’ hands) can be a challenging, but rewarding activity. In most cases, what is required is attention to detail and a willingness to look for clues or traces of material evidence. The clues can be found in the books themselves: on their covers (the style of the binding can indicate a particular period or country) or within (in the form of ownership inscriptions, bookplates, stamps, annotations, etc.). By following these pieces of material evidence, the librarian or book historian is able to piece together the story of a book’s history of ownership and use. Some histories are more puzzling than others, either because the former owners are difficult to trace, or simply because there aren’t enough clues left behind. A good example of a book with an interesting ownership history can be found in the special collections of the Trinity Hall Old Library in Cambridge, England.

photo 2(3)Vitruvius iterum et Frontinus (classmark E*.7.16) is the title of the 1513 combined edition of Vitruvius’ treatise De architectura  and Frontinus’ De aqueductibus. The volume was printed in Florence by Filippo Giunta, a renowned publisher of classical texts and humanist works in Latin and in Italian. It is a beautiful edition, printed in an elegant italic typeface, and adorned with numerous woodcut illustrations throughout. But a closer examination of the volume reveals an interesting detail: although printed in Italy, the book is bound in what appears to be a German blind-stamped pigskin binding (Fig. 1).

photo 1(1)

Fig. 1


The front and back boards are decorated with three concentric panels, the exterior one depicting a hunting scene: a stag being chased by a hunter with a long spear and by a hound (Fig. 2). Further research into the design of this roll confirmed its German origins; Ernst Kyriss, a leading authority on continental bindings identified this hunting roll as the “Jagd-Rolle I” and assigned it to a bindery in Tübingen, active between 1486 and 1539.

photo 4(1)Fig. 2

What this means is that the book travelled to Germany unbound, and there it was presumably sent to the binding shop in Tübingen by its new owner. Unfortunately, the identity of this first owner remains elusive, because the clues that could have provided information about him have been removed: two manuscript inscriptions, written in what appears to be early handwriting, are visibly erased from the inside of the front cover.

There are, however other pieces of material evidence that allow us to trace the book’s later itinerary. A bookplate affixed to the front pastedown and bearing the name of the German doctor Georg Franz Burkhard Kloss (1787-1854), suggests that the volume was bought by him sometime in the early 19th century.

photo 1(8)

Georg Kloss was a physician practising in Frankfurt, who developed an avid interest in book collecting, purchasing entire collections of manuscripts and early printed books. His interests however, seemed to have changed with time, because in May 1835 Kloss put his entire library for sale at Sotheby’s in London, and spent the rest of his life writing a history of freemasonry.


photo 2(5)

The front pastedown: the main source of evidence for this vol.

From London, the book probably travelled to Cambridgeshire, together with its new owner Samuel Horatio Banks (1798-1882), the Vicar of Dullingham, Cambs and Cowlinge. We know Banks bought the book because he left a manuscript inscription on the front pastedown reading: “S.H. Banks, Feb. 1839”. A Cambridge graduate with two law degrees from Trinity Hall (LL.B in 1821 and LL.D in 1841), Reverend Samuel Banks must have been a man of diverse intellectual interests, as suggested by his purchase of Vitruvius’ book on Roman architecture. Banks died unmarried in 1882 and, given his association with Trinity Hall, and the presence of a 19th century college bookplate on the front pastedown, it is fair to assume he either donated or bequeathed the volume to his old Alma Mater in Cambridge.

Today, the 1513 edition of Vitruvius’ De architectura is resting quietly on the shelves of the Old Library at Trinity Hall, waiting to be picked up by readers, so that it can reveal to them the story of its wandering past.