Rediscovered recently during a cataloging project, this 16th century gem of a volume is Polydore Vergil’s Anglicae historiae (History of England) printed in Basel, Switzerland in 1534 by Johann Bebel. Vergil, an Italian historian, was commissioned directly by King Henry VIII to chronicle England’s past from the ancient past through the early Tudor dynasty and ending with the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign in 1509. Portraits of Polydore Vergil (ca. 1477-1555) and his patron, Henry VIII (1491-1547), are shown below.
The book itself is a typical folio volume of the early sixteenth century, printed on cotton rag paper with wide margins and woodcut ornamentation. The printer’s device (a styilized palm tree) appears at the middle of the title page and on the verso of the final leaf. Over 600 pages, this hefty volume has a contemporary leather over wooden board binding, with decorative blind stamping and ruling on both front and back covers and surviving evidence of metal and leather clasps that once held the book closed. Bookbinders in this period often used manuscript waste, sometimes several centuries old, in their binding structures to strengthen the spine and as endpapers. This volume has manuscript waste pages with decorative initial letters used as front and back paste-down endpapers. The verso of the back paste-down endpaper (which has come unglued from the back board over time) is shown here.
A book often has more than one story to tell and this one is no exception. In addition to the origins of the text itself and the fascinating details of the book as artifact, the provenance of the book also tells its own tale. This book was once owned by Thomas Osborne, the first Duke of Leeds, (1632-1712) and could be found in the library at the Osborne family estate, Kiveton Hall, in South Yorkshire. The volume has both the manuscript shelf-mark of the Kiveton library (seen in first image) and the armorial bookplate of Thomas Osborne dated 1701 pasted on the verso of the title page. Thomas Osborne, who at the time was known as Lord Danby, was one of seven leaders of the Glorious Revolution who issued the famous invitation in 1688 to William of Orange to claim the English throne from the deposed Stuart king. Seen below are the bookplate, a contemporary portrait of Thomas Osborne, and an engraving of Kiveton Hall (which was demolished in the early 19th century).
Today, this regal volume printed almost five hundred years ago, with links to illustrious (and infamous) English kings and dukes, is housed in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University. It’s just one of many early print treasures in our rare book collections. Come explore our collections…you never know what you’ll find!
Special Collections Librarian