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.

Bateman's seal

This year’s Supporters of the Old Library event “Past Impressions: seals as an insight into medieval life”, a talk by Dr Elizabeth New will take place on Saturday 24 September. The talk will look at some of Trinity Hall’s seals (including the seal of Bishop Bateman pictured here) and give an insight into the “Imprint” project. The speaker is a medieval historian, an expert on British seals and Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the Department of History & Welsh History at Aberystwyth University. She is also co-investigator on the “Imprint” project, which is a forensic and historical investigation of fingerprints on medieval seals. There will be a display of seals in the Chetwode Room before the talk.

Supporters of the Old Library are also invited to the preview of “Women in the Special Collections of Trinity Hall”, an exhibition in the Old Library to celebrate 40 years of admitting women to Trinity Hall.

Date: Saturday 24 September 2016
Time: 1:30-2:30pm Old Library Exhibition and seals in the Chetwode Room | 2:30-3:30pm Talk ‘Past Impressions: seals as an insight into medieval life’
Location: Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Cost: Free of charge | booking required

This is an open event for both Trinity Hall and non Trinity Hall members.

Booking: Online booking is available or alternatively, please contact the Alumni and Development Office on 01223 332550. Please book by Monday 18 September. Places are limited so book early.

If you have any enquiries, please contact the Alumni Office on alumnioffice@trinhall.cam.ac.uk or 01223 332550

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.

DSCF0768 crop

The Old Library has 12 incunabula and 122 sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books printed in Venice. These have now all been catalogued online by Allen Purvis, one of our rare books project cataloguers. The project has revealed a lot of interesting data and has provided a good overview of Venetian publishing activity at that time.

Why Venice?

Venice was an important centre for early printing. The first printers in “La Serenissima” were German and the earliest to be registered was Johann von Speyer in 1469. However, printers of other nationalities were soon established in the city, including many Italian printers. Publishing in Venice expanded rapidly (by 1500 there were over 200 printing presses) and continued to flourish there during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.


Venetian Publishers

According to Brian Richardson in his book “Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy” the Italian city “which offered the best conditions of all was Venice”. Intellectual life flourished there, its government was relatively stable, it had good trading connections and it had wealthy merchants and investors to sponsor publication costs.

“Venice thus soon came to dominate the Italian printing industry, indeed for a while the European printing industry.” It produced nearly three quarters of the editions printed in Italy between 1526 and 1550. The typical print run for Venetian incunabula was 300-400 copies, but during the 16th century print runs increased to between 1,000 and 3,000.

Venetian booksellers’ shops were on the Mercerie and on the Frezzeria. Books were displayed inside the shops and in open shop fronts on the street. Volumes were usually sold unbound, though some bookshops offered binding services. The presses however, were situated away from the bookshops and the crowded streets.


View of Venice from Hartmann Schedel’s “Liber Chronicarum”, Nuremberg (1493)

Trinity Hall’s Incunabula from Venice

Our 12 Venetian incunabula were all printed between 1493 and 1500. The earliest of these is “Cinus super codice cum annotationibus” by Cino da Pistoia on the subject of Roman law   – very fitting for a College that specialised in law! It was published by Andreas Torresanus de Asula in September 1493. Only two of the incunabula are on the classics (Terence   and Suetonius) and all the others deal with civil or canon law.

Early law books

As we might expect works on law also make up a large proportion of the books printed between 1501 and 1650 (a total of 73 books or 59%). The main law subjects are Roman, civil or canon law and consilia. Other legal subjects include appellate procedure, feudal law, maxims, oaths, suretyship and guaranty, and wills. There are also a handful of books on administrative law, criminal law, commercial law, maritime law and military law. Five of the books cover the law of Naples (civil, criminal or feudal), one book covers the civil law of Genoa and there is a volume of law reports from Piedmont.


The Catholic Church

Apart from our significant holdings on canon law, we have four books that deal specifically with benefices and simony in the Catholic Church. Added to this are only six books that deal with Catholic theology.  Two of these were given to Trinity Hall by the antiquarian and recusant, Robert Hare:  “Martyrologium S. Romanae ecclesiae” (1578) and “Aurea in quinquaginta Dauidicos Psalmos doctorum Graecorum catena” (1569) on the Psalms.  For a law library, and one that successfully weathered the political changes of the English Reformation, it is not surprising that we have so little Venetian publishing on theology.

A varied collection

The collection also features Venetian publishing on agriculture, astronomy, classics, medicine, military art and science, philosophy, political science and some travel books. A handful of books deal with the more unusual topics of medieval etiquette, marriage, old age and even duelling!

Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester

Binding stamp of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Italy is also represented, with a book of the correspondence of Claudio Tolomei “Delle lettre di M. Claudio Tolomei, libri VII” (1572), an Italian dictionary of words used in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio “Della fabrico del mondo” (1560) which belonged to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a book on the social life and customs of Venice itself “Relatione della republica Venetiana” by Giovanni  Botero (1605).


This is just a brief overview of the fascinating collection of Venetian books in the Old Library. A look at the provenance of these books would make another fascinating story which we hope to tell one day!


A Pdf list of the publishers of Venetian books in the Old Library Trinity Hall can be accessed using this link Venetian publishers

Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy” by Brian Richardson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 (ISBN 9780521576932)

The Venetian printing press” by Horatio Brown. London, 1891

Web resource: History of Venetian printing

To read more about our incunabula go to “Gems of early printing



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.