La Serenissima: Trinity Hall’s Venetian books

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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




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.


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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.



Medieval bling

One of our precious manuscripts has been featured in two recent publications. The first is a book in the Penguin Monarchs series: “Richard II: a brittle glory” by Laura Ashe. The second is an online exhibition “Pipeline from Heaven: 800 years of Dominican books” hosted by Cambridge University Library.

Richard II Camb Illum close up

King Richard II enthroned wiht the symbols of kingship (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.17)

The manuscript in question is Roger Dymmok’s refutation of the twelve heresies of the Lollards (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.17). According to Professor Nigel Morgan in his recent talk to the Supporters of the Old Library it is “the most lavish copy in existence of this treatise” and is linked stylistically to other manuscripts most likely produced in London. The manuscript is illuminated in glowing colours and gold leaf, further embellished with incised patterns.

As a presentation copy to King Richard II, the manuscript is resplendent with the symbols of kingship. The first folio bears an image of King Richard II who is enthroned, robed in blue and ermine, wearing his crown and holding the royal sceptre. At the foot of the page are two white hart, Richard’s badge (which also features prominently on the Wilton diptych). In the border on the right of the folio are Richard’s arms of the lion of England crossed with the fleur de lys of France. To reinforce the message, these arms are also painted on the fore edge of the manuscript.

TRH_17_top edgeB

Arms of France and England on the fore edge of Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.17

It is obvious that only the best would do for Richard II! The young king’s formative experience was his dazzling coronation at the age of 10 in 1377. It took place with spectacular pageantry – the fountains flowing with wine and gold coins cast at the king’s feet – and set the tone for his reign. According to Ashe “Richard invested in majesty, in the display of wealth and intricate ceremony”. Indeed the king’s conspicuous expenditure and the financial (and political) problems it brought are elucidated in Laura Ashe’s work.

As king, Richard was guided by two main principles: his unshakable belief in the divinity of kingship and his demand for the complete obedience of every subject to his will. His choice of badge is telling: the white hart is depicted as seated on a bed of rosemary, collared with a gold crown and a long chain. Laura Ashe tells us that the hart is a symbol of Christ in suffering. Richard thus identifies his royal duties with both divinity and suffering, bearing majesty as “a noble burden, the deer’s white coat a sign of purity, the rosemary for remembrance of sorrow”.

White Hart

The white hart badge of King Richard II (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.17)

The text of the manuscript is by the Dominican, Roger Dymmok, and contests the views of John Wycliffe which had become popular in all echelons of society. Amongst other views, Wycliffe criticised the Church for its wealth and property, saying that it was contrary to Christ’s teaching of poverty. His heretical views were condemned by the Pope. Richard II had no sympathy with the Lollards (as the followers of Wycliffe were called) and in 1395 he demanded that his Lollard knights abjure the heresy on pain of death.


John the Baptist preaching (detail) in the online exhibition “Pipeline from heaven”

Among the images featured in the online exhibition “A pipeline from heaven” is one from MS.17 folio 8r showing John Baptist holding a lamb and preaching to four people. John the Baptist had special significance for Richard II and can also be seen in the Wilton diptych as one of the king’s patrons. The exhibition, curated by Professor Nigel Morgan and Father Richard Finn, is based on books and manuscripts held by Cambridge University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Cambridge colleges.


The forthcoming monograph on “Charles II” in the Penguin Monarchs series is by Clare Jackson, Senior Tutor, Trinity Hall.


Richard II: a brittle glory” by Laura Ash. (Penguin Monarchs series. London: Allen Lane, 2016. ISBN 978014197989)

“A pipeline from heaven: 800 years of Dominican books” online exhibition

Wilton Diptych can be seen at the National Gallery London

Cambridge University Library



Trinity Hall and the University Library

We are delighted to welcome Liam Sims of the Rare Books Department at Cambridge University Library as our guest blogger on “Trinity Hall and the University Library”.

Trinity Hall has had books in its possession since Bishop Bateman’s gift in 1350, and many links exist between the ancient libraries within the University – of which Trinity Hall’s is one – not least in terms of the movement of individual volumes between collections. A recent post on this blog about the college’s incunabula (books printed before 1501) made me wonder if any early books now in the University Library (which came into being about sixty years after Trinity Hall and celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2016) have connections to Trinity Hall. This post looks at three volumes once owned by members of the college, whose contents can tell interesting stories about their long histories and connections with our university town.

Pet binding

Blind stamped wooden binding on Peterborough.Sp.61

The volume with the earliest connection to Trinity Hall is a medieval blind stamped wooden binding containing five separate works, all printed in the 1490s, and all evidently in Cambridge at a very early date. Two are from the press of Richard Pynson, an important printer based in London (possibly an early assistant of England’s first printer, William Caxton), and others made their way from Cologne and Paris. The first work in the volume forms the third part (the Facetus) of an eight-part work known as the Auctores octo morales (Eight Moral Authors), a standard collection of Latin textbooks used for teaching in the medieval period, which included Aesop and the Distichs of Cato.


Title page of the “Facetus” (Paris, ca. 1491-3)

This undated edition was printed in Paris by André Bocard, in about 1491-3, and is today exceedingly rare; the third part is recorded in just one other library – the Bodleian. One of the first owners of this copy of the Facetus was William Dakke, who is named in an inscription on the verso of the first leaf: ‘Iste liber p[er]tinet f[ratris] wyll[el]mo dak cu[m] magno gaudio et honore Amen’.

Facetus inscription

Inscription recording Dakke’s ownership on o1v

Dakke is fairly well documented in Emden’s Biographical register of the University of Cambridge to 1500, which records that he had graduated (at an unknown college) as a bachelor of Canon Law by 1454/5 and that he was vicar of Meldreth church before 1475, as well as rector of Sudborne and Orford in Suffolk from 1475 onwards. His connection with Trinity Hall comes, unsurprisingly, with his expertise in the law, for he served the college as ‘Proctor at law’ in 1474, a post he held for the prior of Ely in 1469/70; surviving records tell us that he was ‘rowed from Cambridge to Ely on priory business’. Dakke died late in 1495 (his will is dated 2 September), leaving the sum of 6s 8d to the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge (the Round Church) and was buried in Orford church. During his lifetime the book passed by purchase to one Geoffrey Jullys, who bought it from Dakke and gave it to one Thomas Ellys, all of which we know thanks to another helpful inscription (on the recto of the second leaf): ‘emptus a fratre Will[el]mo Dalke [sic] per m[agist]r[um] galfridym Iullys et datus per e[un]d[em] m[agist]r[o] fr[atri] thome ellys filio suo spirituali’. Since most of the other works in the volume are dated to 1496 or later (i.e. after Dakke’s death), we know that they can only have been bound together later on, perhaps by Ellys, whose name appears in other items in the volume. In 1713 the volume was given by one John Turner to White Kennett, then Dean of Peterborough (and from 1718, Bishop of Peterborough), whose books formed the core of the Cathedral Library. After more than 250 years in Peterborough the volume returned to Cambridge in 1970, on permanent loan with the rest of the Cathedral Library (about 7000 books). One of the most significant collections of early English books in the UL, the Peterborough library is rich in early bindings and marks of ownership.

William Dakke’s connection to Trinity Hall was a fairly tenuous one, but another volume now in the UL links us with the most important individual in the college: the Master. It is an edition of sermons by the Franciscan theologian Pelbartus Ladislaus de Temesvár (1430-1503), born in Hungary, and was printed in the town of Haguenau in 1498 (then German, but now part of France). The earliest owner of the UL’s copy was one Henry Harvey (d. 1585), Master of Trinity Hall, who – in humanist style echoing the great collector Jean Grolier – inscribed the second leaf ‘Sum He[n]rici Haruey et amicor[um]’ (i.e. it belonged to ‘Henry Harvey and his friends’).


Harvey’s inscription at the head of A2r (Inc.5.A.39.1[3940])

Again, Harvey’s career within the University is well documented: he took his bachelor of laws degree from Trinity Hall in 1538, his doctor of laws degree in 1542 and – after serving variously as Archdeacon of Middlesex (1551-4), Vicar-general of London and Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral (1554) – he became Master of the college in 1559, succeeding William Mowse, who was mentioned in the previous blog post. His career continued to flourish: he became Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1560 (in the same year, he gave three books to the King Edward VI School at Bury St Edmund’s) and held prebendaries of Salisbury Cathedral (1558-72), Lichfield Cathedral (1559-61) and Ely Cathedral (1567-85). He was important in the legal world, most notably in 1567, when he established the London premises of Doctors’ Commons (a society of civil lawyers). His was a time of great upheaval in the University, as a result of the turbulent years of the reformation, which saw – within a generation – England’s separation from the Roman church under Henry VIII, a period of extreme Protestantism under his son Edward VI, a return to Catholicism with Mary I and finally the restoration of Protestantism with Elizabeth I. To succeed in this troublesome period one had to be very careful, and Harvey’s immediate predecessor as Vice-Chancellor (Andrew Perne) was an extreme example of this: he changed his allegiance so frequently that Cambridge wits, it was said, translated ‘perno’ as ‘I turn, I rat, I change often’. Harvey was himself involved in seeking out banned books in the University during Mary’s reign, as ‘Commissioner for detection of heretical books’ in 1556, but he was presumably well-regarded enough to be offered the Mastership in the year of Elizabeth’s accession. It is unknown where the volume went after Harvey’s death in 1585, but in 1913 it was bought by Stephen (later Sir Stephen) Gaselee – then Pepys Librarian at Magdalene – on Gustave David’s market stall in Cambridge. Gaselee included it as no. 100 in his List of the early printed books in the possession of Stephen Gaselee (Cambridge, 1920) and eventually gave it to the UL in November 1934, just two weeks after the official opening (by King George V) of the present building. He eventually gave a total of 311 incunabula and remains the Library’s second most prolific donor of fifteenth-century printed books, after King George I (whose gift of Bishop Moore’s library in 1715 included 470 incunabula).

Utterson a1r

First leaf of Dares Phrygius

The third and final book I would like to discuss is the earliest of the three, both in terms of its date of printing and the text it contains. It is a slim volume of about twenty leaves, containing a history of Troy by the mysterious ‘Dares Phrygius‘, whom Homer tells us was a Trojan priest. Although the text is traditionally linked to the pre-Homeric period – and therefore to the very origins of European literature – the version of the text printed here is one which was ascribed to the 1st century BC writer Cornelius Nepos (though it is more likely to have been compiled five centuries later) and which circulated widely in the medieval period. The UL’s copy was printed in Cologne by an unknown printer known simply as the ‘Printer of Dares’ at an unknown date not after 1472. By 1659 it was in the Benedictine Abbey of Georgenberg at Kärnten (Austria) and at some point, probably in the first half of the nineteenth century, it was acquired by Edward Vernon Utterson (d. 1856), who had it bound with his arms in gilt on the boards.


Utterson’s gilt arms on the upper cover of Inc.5.A.4.4[410]

Utterson was educated at Eton, matriculated at Trinity Hall in 1797, took his bachelor of laws degree in 1801 and was called to the Bar in 1802, becoming a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1807 and was one of six Clerks in Chancery from 1815 until 1842. He had a great love for books – centred around English literature, and Italian, Spanish and French chivalry-romances – and was one of the eighteen founder members of the Roxburghe Club in 1812, the world’s premier bibliophile society. He did not just collect early books, but edited and printed facsimiles himself: at his home (Beldornie Tower) on the Isle of Wight – he set up a printing press, called the Beldornie Press, which operated for a few years early in the 1840s.


Beldornie Tower, from the colophon of Utterson’s edition of ‘Good newes and bad newes’ (Lib.8.84.23)

Many of his productions were printed in extremely limited editions and are consequently exceedingly rare today. The UL holds just one of these, which was printed in sixteen copies: a facsimile of Samuel Rowlands’ Good newes and bad newes, originally printed in 1622. Utterson had a considerable library, from which the ‘principal portion’ was auctioned at Sotheby’s in April 1852 (perhaps a result of the death of his wife in 1851). Among the 1950 lots were a fourteenth-century manuscript of Rolle’s Pricke of conscience, a fifteenth-century manuscript of Lydgate, Caxton’s Recuyell of the histories of Troye (the first book printed in English), the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609; now in the Folger Shakespeare Library and one of just five copies to survive) and the 1623 ‘first folio’ of his plays. After Utterson’s death, aged 80 in the summer of 1856, the remaining books were sold at Sotheby’s on 20 March 1857, where this edition of Dares Phrygius was lot 480 (sold to the bookseller Bohn for £2 14s). At an unknown point after that sale it was bought by Henry Bradshaw, University Librarian at Cambridge from 1867 until his death in 1886 – and a great collector for the Library of early printing – who presented it to the UL in 1885.

With just three volumes we have traversed nearly five centuries of collectors and collecting in Cambridge and seen the ways in which members of Trinity Hall have made their mark in the world of books and – noticeably – the law. These books are all to be found in the University Library’s Rare Books Department, where they may be consulted by anyone with a Library Card.

Liam Sims,

Rare Books Department

Cambridge University Library



Gems of early printing: the incunabula of Trinity Hall

The Old Library has a collection of about 7,000 printed books, the most treasured of which have to be our 31 incunabula! These books, also known as incunables, were published at the dawn of European printing, during the period before the start of the sixteenth century.

We are delighted to announce that our project to create online catalogue records for the incunabula of Trinity Hall was completed by our specialist rare-books cataloguer, Allen Purvis, earlier this year. Online records for the books can be found using Cambridge University Library’s LibrarySearch and most of our holdings can also be found in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

Our incunabula cataloguing project has had the added benefit of shedding a fascinating light on our early collection!

William Mowse

Inscription of William Mowse

The inscriptions in the incunabula reveal that our early library was built up primarily by generous donation. William Mowse (Master 1552-52 and 1555-1559?) gave us fourteen incunabula, while Robert Hare of Gonville and Caius, who was a great benefactor of the University of Cambridge and friend of Henry Harvey (Master 1559-1585), gave us five incunabula. Unfortunately, we have no record of how the remaining twelve incunabula came into our collection.

Robert Hare

Inscription of Robert Hare

The subject of the majority of the incunabula is hardly a surprise for a College renowned for the study of law! Twenty one of the books deal with law, of which eleven concern canon law, nine cover Roman law and one is on feudal law. The other subjects covered include religion, the Catholic Church, history, classical drama and medicine.

Mowse, an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer, was responsible for the majority of the law books. However, his gift also included a book by Suetonius on the History of the Roman emperors (Venice, 1496). One of Mowse’s volumes has the distinction of being the fattest book on the library shelves! It is made up of eight books on canon law (five of which are incunabula) bound into one huge volume, with a spine measuring 15.8cm wide. It never fails to catch the eye of our visitors!


The “fattest” book in the library! A collection of Consilia, works on canon law.

However, the true gems of early printing are the five incunabula from Robert Hare. Hare was an antiquarian with Catholic sympathies and the books he donated concern world history, religion and classical drama.

Woodcut image of Nuremberg

Woodcut image of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Through his generosity we have a magnificent hand-coloured copy of Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a copy of Werner Rolevinck’s “Fasciculus temporum” (Louvain, 1475), both of which deal with the history of the world.

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina (1472)

His incunabula on the subject of religion are Schoeffer’s “Biblia Latina” (Mainz, 1472), which is the earliest printed book in the Old Library, and Bernardino de Busti’s “Rosarium sermonum” (Hagenau, 1500). Hare also donated a copy of Terence’s dramas translated into French (Paris, 1500).

Twelve of our incunabula were printed in Venice, revealing the importance of the Venetian Republic as a centre of early printing. These are followed by four books from Pavia, three books from Milan and two books each from Strassburg and Lyons. We also have one incunable from the following cities: Basel, Cologne, Hagenau, Louvain, Mainz, Nuremberg, Paris and Siena.


Illuminated first page of Fasciculus Temporum (1475)

While most of our incunabula look quite plain, a few are hand-coloured or hand-decorated. It is especially pleasing that three of our books from Robert Hare have been selected for inclusion in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Cambridge Illuminations research project on illuminated and hand-decorated incunabula.

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuermberg Chronicle

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuremberg Chronicle

A project like this always brings surprises and during the course of cataloguing we have discovered three legal incunabula that are not listed for Trinity Hall in ISTC!


Early printed books to the year 1500 in the Library of Trinity Hall Cambridge (Cambridge, 1909)

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue

Wikipedia for biographies of Mowse, Hare and Harvey


The Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts of Trinity Hall: Part 2

In this post we take a look at the Trinity Hall manuscripts which were described in the second part of Professor Nigel Morgan’s talk to the Supporters of the Old Library on 18 April. These two manuscripts are linked, not through place of production or former ownership, but through their subject: Lollardy. In 1395 a group of Lollards petitioned Parliament by posting the “Twelve conclusions of the Lollards” on the door of Westminster Hall.

MS17, Trinity Hall Cambridge

MS 17, Trinity Hall Cambridge. King Richard II can be seen in the historiated inital “O”

MS 17 Roger Dymmok Against the twelve heresies of the Lollards

This manuscript dates from 1394/95 and is by the Dominican friar, Roger Dymmok. It was a presentation copy to King Richard II and is the most lavish copy in existence of this treatise. The Lollards were unorthodox and had heretical views regarding the priesthood and sacraments. They were proto-Protestants and were persecuted primarily for these views, rather than for translating the Bible into English (although their translation was regarded as very suspect because of their theological errors). Many among the higher echelons of English society supported the views of the Lollards, including John of Gaunt, but the king was expected to be the upholder of orthodoxy.

Detail of MS 17 showing the illuminated foliate border

Detail of MS 17 showing the illuminated foliate border

The manuscript has very distinctive foliate decoration in the borders of the pages which links it to other manuscripts, probably all made in London. It is an irony that the illuminator of this manuscript is very close in style to the illuminator of the luxury Wycliffite Bible belonging to Thomas of Woodstock, the uncle of King Richard II.

MS 3 Trinity Hall Cambridge. Thomas netter kneeling at the feet of the Virgin and child

MS 3 Trinity Hall Cambridge. Illumination of Thomas Netter in adoration of the Virgin and child

MS 3 Thomas Netter Doctrinale ecclesie contra blasfemias Wiclef

The Carmelite friar, Thomas Netter, wrote the Doctrinale in the 1420s and presented it to Pope Martin V. The friars were the main opponents of Lollardy and Netter’s Doctrinale contained a major section against the heresies of Wycliffe. The Trinity Hall manuscript was produced in Flanders and records that it was finished in Ghent in the year 1500. It has one illumination of the Virgin holding the infant Jesus, with Netter kneeling at Mary’s feet.

Detail of MS3 showing the Marian

Detail of MS 3 showing the Marian “M” initial

The lovely border is flower strewn, with the Marian “M” at the foot of the page. This is an important manuscript because there are not many copies of this treatise in existence.

Techniques of Manuscript Illumination

During the talk we learnt the difference between illuminated (using luminous colours with gold or silver) and decorated initials (less intense colours with gold or silver absent);

Inhabited initial, detail from MS 4

Inhabited decorated initial, detail from MS 4

between historiated (containing human figures) and inhabited initials (containing human figures and/or animals in foliate coils;

Zoomorphic initial, detail from MS 2

Zoomorphic illuminated initial, detail from MS 2

and between anthropomorphic (the human figure forms part of the stem of the initial), zoomorphic (animals form part of the stem of the initial), and arabesque initials (fine, linear foliate designs in curvilinear patterns).

Arabesque initial, detail from MS 4

Arabesque decorated initial, detail from MS 4

We also heard about the preparation of pigment by suspension in glair (beaten egg white) and gum Arabic; about the division of labour between the scribe, the person doing the under-drawing, the illuminator and gilder; and about the importance of digitisation as an additional aid to the scholar. Professor Morgan added the caveat that, wherever possible, digitised images should be used in conjunction with (rather than instead of) the examination of the physical copy of the book.

The talk was an intellectual and visual treat and was delivered to a very appreciative audience of over 50 people. It was followed by a visit to the Old Library to see an exhibition of our medieval manuscripts, some of which are rarely displayed.

Exhibition of Medieval Manuscripts in the Chetwode Room

Exhibition of Medieval Manuscripts in the Chetwode Room




Wycliffite Bible

Pope Martin V

Thomas Netter

The Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts of Trinity Hall: Part 1

Professor Nigel Morgan

Professor Nigel Morgan

On Saturday 18 April the Supporters of the Old Library enjoyed a fascinating talk on “The illuminated medieval manuscripts of Trinity Hall”. We were exceptionally fortunate to have such an eminent speaker in Professor Nigel Morgan, Emeritus Honorary Professor of the History of Art at the University of Cambridge and formerly Head of Research of the Parker-on-the-Web Project on the medieval manuscripts of Corpus Christi College.

Professor Morgan selected five of our most significant illuminated medieval manuscripts, gave an introductory description and then looked at each one in greater detail with regard to production, artistic methods and provenance. Here we will take a look at the first three manuscripts.

Josephus Historia MS.4

Josephus Historia, Trinity Hall MS 4

MS 4 Flavius Josephus’s Historia Antiquitatis Iudaice

Josephus was born in Jerusalem and was a first-century historian. His History of the Jews is based on the Hebrew Bible, beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve. The inscription at the front of this wonderful 12th-century manuscript tells us that it belonged to Brother William of Monkland in Herefordshire, which was a cell of the Benedictine Abbey of Conches in France. Professor Morgan compared our manuscript to other manuscripts from Herefordshire and revealed stylistic similarities in the decoration (including the decorative use of small circles) which is typical of Herefordshire production in the second quarter of the 12th century.

MS 2

Historiated initial, illuminated by the “Simon Master”. Trinity Hall, MS 2

MS 2 Ralph of Flavigny’s Commentary on Leviticus

The instructions of Leviticus contained, amongst other things, moral teachings on marriage and divorce. The fact that Henry VIII had no less than three copies is hardly surprising considering his need to find moral justification for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn! This manuscript dates from the second half of the 12th century and was made for Simon, Abbot of St Albans (1167-1183). The illumination of this manuscript is very distinctive and can be linked stylistically to other work by the artist known as the “Simon Master”, identifiable through the style of the figures and facial types in his historiated initials and his use of green outline for the initial frames. The “Simon Master” was probably a professional, lay illuminator who travelled as a team with a scribe as far as France and perhaps even Denmark to produce manuscripts on commission. There are four manuscripts by the “Simon Master” in Cambridge libraries, including ours.

The east end of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. Trinity Hall, MS 1

The east end of St Augustine’s Abbey. Trinity Hall, MS 1

MS1 Thomas of Elmham’s Speculum Augustinianum

This manuscript, which is a history of the Abbey of St Augustine’s in Canterbury written by Thomas of Elmham, dates to about 1410. There are two full-page images. The map of the Isle of Thanet shows the lands belonging to the Abbey and depicts the legend of the pet deer of Queen Domne Eafe which traced out the boundary of the lands of the Abbey’s manors. The map has the East at the top (instead of the North) and has recognisable place names, including Margate and Broadstairs.

Detail showing the white hart of Queen Domne Eafe. Trinity Hall MS 1

Detail showing the white hart of Queen Domne Eafe. Trinity Hall MS 1

The plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey is a remarkable record of an important place of pilgrimage. It shows the High Altar with two doorways leading to the chapels behind which contain the gold and silver shrines of saints associated with the Abbey, including St Augustine of Canterbury himself. On a ledge above the high altar we can see the relics of saints and six books in the centre. The Latin inscription above tells us that these were “Books sent by Gregory to St Augustine”.

Books above the high altar. Trinity Hall MS 1

Books above the high altar. Trinity Hall MS 1

It is almost certain that one of these books was the Abbey’s great treasure, the Gospels of St Augustine (now in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi Cambridge). This manuscript therefore has the earliest known depiction of St Augustine’s Gospels!

The Gospels of St Augustine, Parker on the Web

The Gospels of St Augustine. Parker on the Web

In Part 2 we will look at our other manuscript treasures which featured in the talk.


Supporters of the Old Library Trinity Hall on Facebook and on the Trinity Hall website

Wikipedia for Josephus, the Book of Leviticus, the Benedictines, St Augustine of Canterbury, Thomas Elmham, and Domne Eafe.

Parker on the Web