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Unlocking the Senior Library: Michaelmas Term 2017

Last term’s Unlocking event looked at the first 300 years of the Senior Library, from the heady days of the 15th century, when Lincoln’s library must have been one of the finest in Oxford, to the major bequests of the 18th century.  It was particularly exciting to be able to show some of the College’s manuscripts, normally kept in the Bodleian.

Two early entries in the College’s register list the books that were in the library in 1474 and 1476, in total 135 manuscripts of which nearly 50 still survive. We had two of these manuscripts on display: a 15th century copy of two works by Boccaccio (De casibus virorum illustrium and De claris mulierbus) and a 14th century copy of Guillaume Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum. The first of these was given to the College by Robert Fleming, the nephew of the College’s founder; the second (one of two books given by John Southam, Archdeacon of Oxford, in 1436) interestingly contains an inscription specifying that this book should form part of the chained library.

From the 16th century donations we selected three printed books: an early (incunable) edition of Flavio Biondo’s Roma instaurata (Verona, 1482), given to the College by Edmund Audley, Bishop of Salisbury, in 1518 (below, left); a 1498 English liturgical book, the Directorium sacerdotum, which belonged to Richard Field, an early 16th century College bursar (below, right); and, finally, a heavily-annotated mathematics book belonging to Francis Babington, a 16th century Rector who was suspected of being a Catholic and, having resigned, fled abroad in 1565.

The 17th and 18th centuries were represented by donations from Thomas Marshall (1621-1685) and William Vesey (1677-1755). From Marshall’s library we chose a range of books that included a 1516 polyglot psalter containing the earliest biography of Christopher Columbus, the first Bible in modern Icelandic, and a volume of Civil War pamphlets. The books from William Vesey’s bequest included pocket editions of works by Thomas More and George Buchanan, a volume of 18th century play texts and an early edition of John Ogilby’s Britannia depicta, the first road map of England.

Title-page from polygot Psalter (Genoa, 1516)

Title-page from polygot Psalter (Genoa, 1516)

As always, it was a great pleasure to be able to open the Senior Library up to members of College and encouraging to see how much interest there is in our collection of rare books.

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