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Seminar on the History of the Book, 2011: James Carley on Lambeth Palace Library

by on February 5, 2011

from Martha Repp

The second in the 2011 series of the Oxford Seminar on the History of the Book, convened at All Souls College by Professor Ian Maclean, was given on 28 January 2011 by Professor James Carley of York University, Toronto, on the topic of “The catalogue of Richard Bancroft’s library and the foundation of Lambeth Palace Library”.

The session was informed by the research Professor Carley has been undertaking into the early catalogues of Lambeth Palace Library, attempting to match them not only to each other but also to the books in the collection themselves.

The origins of Lambeth Palace Library can perhaps be traced back to 1610, when Archbishop Richard Bancroft died, leaving the entirety of his personal collection of books to his successor, and to subsequent Archbishops of Canterbury in perpetuity. Bancroft was extremely concerned to maintain the integrity of the collection, and the original idea was that each new Archbishop of Canterbury should enter into a bond to pass the collection on to his successor intact. If he failed to do so, the whole collection was to go in the first instance to Chelsea College, an institution dedicated to Anglican controversial theology which was in the process of being planned at the time but was never actually established, or if not to the public library of Cambridge University. This initial idea of a bond was, however, quickly felt to be unworkable, and so it was decided to create a complete catalogue of the collection, and to hold each Archbishop responsible for handing on the collection to his successor, and for replacing any books that were found to be missing. This first catalogue was essentially a shelf-list of the books kept in Bancroft’s study. The books were arranged according to subject but not shelf-marked; instead, vellum tabs with the subject headings inscribed were attached to the fore-edges of the books. This catalogue does not include place and date of publication, except for very frequently printed works such as the Bible, and is therefore perhaps of limited bibliographical use. Bancroft’s collection includes probably the largest existing collection of recusant literature, as well as a number of books from the royal library at Westminster, a number of them from Henry VIII’s personal collection, a few with his annotations.

Bancroft was not, of course, the first Archbishop of Canterbury to take an interest in books. For example, Bancroft’s predecessor, John Whitgift, also had a substantial collection of books and manuscripts, of which a catalogue also survives. On his death in 1604, Whitgift left his collection of manuscripts to Trinity College, Cambridge, but made no specific provision for his collection of printed books, many of which found their way into Bancroft’s collection (as well as a few of the manuscripts which were never transferred to Cambridge). These include a number of books from the library of the martyrologist John Fox.

The next surviving catalogue dates from 1647, when, on the abolition of the Archiepiscopacy, the University of Cambridge petitioned Parliament that an honourable home should be found for the book collection. The hint was taken, and the collection granted to Cambridge. Before the books were moved to Cambridge, however, the University sent two scholars to Lambeth to make a complete catalogue of the collection, which, by this time, had also been augmented by the books of Bancroft’s successor, George Abbott. This 1647 catalogue does include place and date of publication, and is therefore of greater use to bibliographers in determining what editions Bancroft actually owned. The books were then moved to Cambridge, where they were given shelfmarks for the first time.

Finally, after the Restoration, the books were returned to Lambeth after protracted negotiations, and catalogued again.

All of these catalogues survive–and others too–but matching them against each other and linking the entries to actual surviving books is a time-consuming process. The remainder of the session explored some of the reasons for this complexity. The first of these is that the original catalogues of Bancroft and Whitgift’s libraries do not appear to tell the whole story; there are books in the collection which can be demonstrated to have come from Bancroft or Whitgift, but are not mentioned in the original catalogue. It is probable that both men kept significant collections of books in other palaces or residences, which were not mentioned in the original catalogues. There are also books mentioned in Bancroft’s catalogue that are not in the present Lambeth Palace Library. One reason for this is that Archbishop William Sancroft (d. 1693) is known to have disposed of a large number of duplicates, many of which were transferred to the library of the chapter of Canterbury Cathedral. Sancroft also had a number of the medieval manuscripts disbound and rebound to give the collection a more uniform appearance, and these manuscripts may well be significantly more transformed from their original medieval state than at first appears. Equally, the same book sometimes appears in different categories in Bancroft’s catalogue, and it is not always clear whether these are cross-references or an indication of the existence of more than one copy.

The final discussion considered issues such as the precise nature and purpose of both Bancroft and Whitgift’s collections, and also broader questions such as the levels of society at which the practice of armorial bindings existed at this time.

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