Posts tagged: Thomas Rotherham

Richard, Rotherham and the King’s Half-Brother

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By , 26 June 2013 6:26 pm

The discovery of the remains of Richard III in a car park in Leicester prompted me to return to an annotation in a volume discovered and described briefly by my colleague Laura Nuvoloni in 2011. The book is a copy of Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Super secunda parte Digesti novi, printed in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira in 1473, Inc.1.B.3.1b[1341]. An early inscription demonstrates that it was once in the possession of Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England, and an annotation in it seems to refer to the events of June 1483, when Richard III seized power following the unexpected death of Edward IV. Continue reading 'Richard, Rotherham and the King’s Half-Brother'»

A stray quire in Rotherham’s copy of Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum – something, or nothing? – A post by Ed Potten

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By , 13 December 2011 12:55 pm

Inspired by David McKitterick’s recent Masterclass exploring some of the ways in which the make-up of books can be changed once they leave the printer, an erroneous quire within a recently catalogued copy of Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum ([Basel: Michael Wenssler, not after 17 Mar. 1476] – ISTC id00411000) raises some interesting questions about the book’s production history and its later use, but frustratingly answers none.

Inc.1.C.1.2[2286] has a significant Cambridge provenance. The book appears in a manuscript list of early donations to the Library (MSS Oo.7.52), listed as item 72 ‘Ex dono Reverendi Patris in Xto Thomæ Rotherami Episcopi Lincolniensis et Cancellarii Angliæ’. The list was compiled in about 1658 by Jonathan Pindar, Under Library-keeper, and in the words of J.T.C. Oates “Its accuracy has long been suspect”.[1]

Thomas Rotherham (1423-1500), Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England, was also Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1469 and at intervals (perhaps continuously) from 1473 to 1492. In 1475 he was listed amongst the University’s principal benefactors for his contribution towards the completion of the east front of the schools, which included the Bibliotheca minor, for which he had provided the furnishings and a donation of books. This original gift was supplemented with other books during his lifetime, and possibly also following his death in 1500. Oates tentatively identified some thirty-five books he felt could be attributed with some certainty to Rotherham.

Interestingly, not only is the Durand not included in this list, but it is actually used as an example of a book cited by Pindar, but believed by Oates to be demonstrably not a Rotherham book, based on the fact that it does not appear in the library catalogue of 1556-7.[2] Happily, the cataloguing of the book proves Rotherham’s ownership beyond doubt – an annotation on sig. [b]10r can be matched to Rotherham’s hand from evidence in other incunabula.[3]

Rebound in plain quarter-blind-ruled calf over pasteboards in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the Rationale is neither decorated nor rubricated, save one quire.  Quire [e] has red paragraph marks and capital strokes supplied, with a note from the rubricator in the right-hand margin.

The presence of a single rubricated quire in the midst of 22 unrubricated is puzzling, but not inexplicable. If multiple copies of the book were stored together prior to binding, some rubricated, others not, quire [e] could conceivably have been substituted with an undecorated instance and mistakenly bound in the CUL copy.

Palaeographical evidence, however, adds a further layer of potential interest. The marginal note features a distinctive rounded letter ‘e’, very characteristic of an English hand, indicative that this particular quire could have been rubricated in England.[4] If this were the case, then in order for quire [e] to become muddled with an undecorated instance multiple copies, some rubricated others not, must have been stored together in England in the fifteenth century. Is this then evidence that the book was imported into England in bulk in sheets in the fifteenth century, then rubricated and sold here? There is ample evidence of this trade taking place,[5] but to extrapolate such from the letterform of a single rounded letter ‘e’ would require a monumental leap of faith!

An alternative hypothesis has quire [e] originating from an entirely different copy of Durand’s Rationale. We most commonly think of imperfections to incunabula being the result of use, neglect or mistreatment, but David McKitterick has convincingly shown that fifteenth-century books could occasionally come from the print shop incomplete. If insufficient sheets were printed or supplied to the binder it was often economically more viable to copy out the missing text by hand rather than set the sheets afresh.[6] McKitterick provides several examples of this practice at CUL, and more have surfaced as part of the incunabula cataloguing project. CUL’s copy of Bartholomaeus’s De proprietatibus rerum ([Basel: Berthold Ruppel, about 1479-80] – ISTC ib00132500), for example, is wanting quire [p], substituted with a contemporary manuscript version on paper bearing a watermark of scales, apparently contemporaneous, and certainly present when the book was first bound.

As well as the insertion of manuscript transcriptions, later book owners could complete an imperfect book by cannibalising other copies. The practice of constructing composite copies is well recognised and was a common practice by the late-eighteenth century. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collectors sought the crispest, cleanest, tallest, most perfect copies and booksellers, aware that such copies would realise the highest return, were keen to oblige, often advertising that they could complete imperfect books from their standing stock.[7] The CUL Durand, however, is far from a collector’s trophy piece and was in private hands by 1500 – if this is an example of ‘making-good’ an imperfect book it would certainly be one of the earliest recorded. Could the erroneous quire have been added when the book was rebound at the end of the seventeenth century? Again, this seems unlikely. There is no evidence elsewhere that the Library sought to perfect other imperfect books in this way in this period, and quire ‘e’ has the same wide margins as the other quires within the Durand – although a wholly unscientific basis on which to draw a conclusion, the quire certainly ‘feels’ as if it has been part of the book since Rotherham’s ownership.

Are there any useful conclusions to be drawn from the Durand? Not really! The quire could be explained in any number of ways, all equally probable or improbable and none provable. The discussion, however, does make one useful point – in early-printed books it is often the examination of minutiae which opens up the most fruitful paths for research. The smallest, most easily-ignored feature of any book can inform about book use, trade, movement, distribution or production.


[1] Oates, J.T.C. A Catalogue of the Fifteenth-Century Printed Books in the University Library Cambridge (Cambridge: 1954) vol. 1, p. 2.

[2] Oates, J.T.C. A Catalogue of the Fifteenth-Century Printed Books in the University Library Cambridge (Cambridge: 1954) vol. 1, p.3, footnote 4.

[3] See Inc.1.B.3.17[1419], sig. t10r.

[4] I am grateful to Laura Nuvoloni, Satoko Tokunaga and John Goldfinch for their views on both the rubrication and its explanation.

[5] See Ford, M.L. ‘Importation of printed books into England and Scotland’ in Hellinga, L. and Trapp, J.B. (eds.) The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain volume III 1400-1557 (Cambridge: 1999), pp. 179-201.

[6] McKitterick, D. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge: 2003), pp.107-108.

[7] McKitterick, D. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge: 2003), pp.144-145; Jensen, K. Revol.ution and the Antiquarian Book (Cambridge: 2011), pp. 164-165.

Donations and rarities

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By , 19 May 2011 10:42 am

One of the very first books to be donated to the University of Cambridge bears a very personal note.  The book is a copy of Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Super secunda parte Digesti novi, printed in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira in 1473, Inc.1.B.3.1b[1341]. As testified by the inscription “… My lord chawnceler” in the lower right corner of leaf [a1] recto, it was previously in the possession of Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. The book has some marginal annotations that may be attributed to Rotherham himself. Particularly intriguing is a note beside a passage relating to unlawful killing on leaf [x5] recto: the note records the name “Ricardus grey” and it seems to refer to the execution of Richard Grey, the half-brother of King Edward V, carried out on the orders of King Richard III at Pontefract Castle on 25 June 1483. The note must therefore be nearly contemporary to the event, as the bishop donated the book to the University around 1484.

With the same donation came a companion volume of Bartolus’s commentary, i.e. Vindelino’s princeps of the commentary Super Secunda parte Digesti veteris, now Inc.1.B.3.1b[1340]. This imperfect copy of the book is the only one to be found in Britain among the eleven exemplars of the edition listed in ISTC (ISTC ib00225900).

Many other incunable books that are rare or unique, i.e. the only recorded surviving copy of a specific edition, can be found among the library holdings.  This is the case for Columella’s De re rustica, Liber X, De cultu hortorum, attributed to the Printer of the Silius Italicus in Rome around 1471, Inc.5.B.2.5[1147]. Bought of the London dealer Uriah Maggs in 1894, the book bears extensive marginal and interlinear manuscript notes written by an Italian owner in humanistic cursive hand on the first two leaves, [a1] recto – [a2] recto in the late 15th century.

Some of these rare books are beautifully illustrated by woodcuts.

A recent addition to the online catalogue is an incomplete copy of a rare edition of the Mirabilia Romae vel potius Historia et descriptio urbis Romae published in Rome by Stephan Plannck on 7 September 1500, now Inc.7.B.2.26[1270]. The incipit on leaf [A3] recto is illustrated with one woodcut initial and a half-page vignette with the imperial, papal and Roman arms, tiara and crowns: the papal arms are those of Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503). The book bears nine other full-page woodcuts with decorated borders including the fourth device of Johannes Besicken “I.H.I.S.” (see Sander 4550). The full-page woodcuts represent: Rea Silvia and the Capitoline wolf with Romolus and Remus on leaf [A2] verso; the Veronica on leaf B8 verso; St John on leaf C2 verso; St Peter on leaf C5 verso; St Paul on leaf C7 verso; Virgin and Child on leaf D1 recto; St Laurence on leaf D2 verso; St Sebastian on leaf D3 verso; and the Crucifixion on leaf D5 verso. Only one other copy of the edition is known to survive in the Ambrosiana Library of Milano. The book was given to the library by Charles Fairfax Murray, artist and art connoisseur, in September 1918. An early 16th-century inscription on leaf [A3] recto reads “Fr[ater] Archa[n]gelus de Creme [?] o[rdinis] S[ancti] franciscj”. We have been unable to identify Frate Arcangelo da Crema and therefore any further information on the identity of this Franciscan friar would be gratefully received.

Equally unidentified are the two 16th-century English owners of a copy of Johannes Marchesinus, Mammotrectus super Bibliam, published in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson on 23 September 1479, now Inc.5.B.3.2[1363].  John Peers and John Webbe inscribed their names in 16th-century cursive script on the parchment upper endleaf, one under the other. The book is still bound in brown calf over wooden boards, with blind-tooling, traces of leather straps and metal catches at fore edges, and original parchment endpapers. This is one of the many medieval and renaissance bindings that can be found in the library incunable collection. It is datable to the late 15th century and was possibly produced in Cambridge. It came to the library as part of the Richard Holdsworth Bequest, which was adjudged to Cambridge University in 1664, and bears both the old university shelfmark “E-5-50″ and armorial bookplate on leaf a1 recto.