Female Readers, Passion Devotion, and the History of MS Royal 17 A. Xxvii

By Kim, Dorothy | The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Female Readers, Passion Devotion, and the History of MS Royal 17 A. Xxvii


Kim, Dorothy, The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History


Part III. Reading MS Royal 17 A. xxvii in the King's Library at St. James's Palace

If MS Royal 17 A. xxvii, as a book itself, is an object that signals a materialist, female, and affective devotional practice, its material status also marks it as a thoroughly Catholic one, particularly after the Reformation. I would like now to turn to the third section of this diachronic history: the manuscript's possible affective use and its material signs as it enters the King's library (Old Royal Library) at St. James's Palace in 1678. In this section, I plan to reexamine Charles II's interest as a book collector, his religious status, and his wife's status as an English symbol of royal Catholicism--particularly against the backdrop of the 1678 Popish plot.

Anthony Wood's account in the Athenae Oxonienses testifies that Charles II "cull'd" the Theyer collection to pull the more than 300 volumes into the Royal manuscript collection. But if we are to imagine Charles II as a potential Restoration reader of MS Royal 17 A. xxvii, then how does this volume of virgin passiones, Passion lyric, and an Arma Christi text fit into what we know about Charles II as a reader and man of letters? Charles II's library has been called "that of a private gentleman--a gentleman virtuoso, a patron of the Royal Society--in other words, a gentleman who happened to be a king." (152) From T. A. Birrell's work on the bindings of Charles II's library, we get a small glimpse into how he fashioned his library as a cosmopolitan gentleman scholar.

In 1662, Charles bought the library of John Morris, "the master of the London Bridge waterworks," which was "an excellent, well-balanced, virtuoso's library of a gentleman scholar--he was a gentleman because he never published anything." This contained more than 1,400 volumes of mainly French, Italian, and Spanish books with a humanistic and historical bent and "a considerable interest in belles lettres"' (153) Charles II's own personal library at Whitehall contained more than a thousand volumes, with almost half of the books from the sixteenth century. He also purchased from Robert Scott, London bookseller, the library of Pierre de Montmaur, a professor of Greek at the College Royal in Paris, whose collections seems to have consisted of a number of French historical materials. (154) His second purchase from Robert Scott was the Theyer collection of manuscripts--"the last significant group of illuminated and other medieval manuscripts" to become part of the Old Royal Library. (155)

Kathleen Doyle's recent discussion of the Royal Library collection highlights how "the popular view of Charles II as a monarch who does not 'rank highly' either as a patron or a collection must be revised, at least in relation to the manuscript portion of the library." (156) She argues, in fact, that Charles II may have been attempting to reestablish, reassemble, and collect an appropriate royal library for a magnificent kingly court. Therefore, although we have information about Charles II as a bibliophile who may have disliked reading or had bad Latin, we also possess other, contradictory evidence that reveals his keen interest in books, especially manuscripts, in the St. James's Palace Library. (157)

After he acquired the Theyer collection in 1681--a collection built up by a known Royalist and converted Catholic--Charles II wrote to Henri Justel, Louis XIV's former secretary, to appoint him his chief manuscript inspector and curator. (158) He invited Justel to organize his library at St. James's in "such method and indexes as shall be most convenient to render them useful towards the advancement of learning." (159) He also gave Justel the power to evaluate the manuscripts belonging to the Bishop of London and others, in order to decide if they might enhance the King's Library at St. James's. Justel had a mandate to gain the assistance of all the keepers of libraries in order to organize, reassemble, and supplement the King's Library at St. …

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