In 1647, the bookseller George Thomason was asked to lend a book to Charles I. Thomason wasn’t sure at first, but eventually decided to loan it to his king. Charles – not unlike a few of the people I lend my books to – didn’t look after it as well as he might have, and ended up dropping it in some mud.
Years later, in the early 1660s, Thomason took stock of his collection of almost 23,000 tracts from the civil war period and began binding them into nearly 2,000 volumes. The 100th volume – shelfmark E.95 under the British Library ordering – starts with a handwritten note by Thomason, recalling the incident:
Memorandum that Col Will Legg and Mr Arthur Treavor were imployed by his matie K. Charles to gett for his present use, a pamphlet which his matie had then occasion to make use of, and not meetinge with it they both came to me, havinge heard that I did imploy my selfe to take up all such things, from the beginning of the Parlement, and findinge it with me told me it was for the kinges owne use. I tould them all I had were at his matis command & service, and withal tould them if I should part with it, & loose it, presuming that when his matie had done with it, that little accompt would be made of it, and yet if I should loose it, by that losse a limbe of my collection, which I should be very loth to see, well knowinge it would be impossible to supplie it if it should happen to be lost, with which answer they returned to his matie at Hampton Court, (as I take it) and and tould him they had found that peece he much desired and withall how loath he that had it was to part with it he much fearing its losse; wheruppon they were both sent to me againe by his Mâtie to tell me that upon the worde of a kinge (to use their own expressions) he would safely returne it, thereuppon immediately by them I sent it to his matie who having done with it and having it with him when he was going towards the Isle of Wight (11-13 Nov. 1647) let it fall in the durt, and then callinge for the two persons before mentioned (who attended him) delivered it to them with a charge, as they should answer it another day, that they should both speedily and safely return it to him, from whom they had received it, and withall to desire the partie to goe on and continue what had begun, which booke together with his Matie signification to me by these worthy and faithfull gentln I received both speedily and safely. Which volume hath the marke of honor upon it, which noe other volume in my collection hath, and very diligently and carefully I continued the same, until the most hapie restoration & coronation of his most gratious Matie Kinge Charles the Second whom God long preserve.
The “marke of honor” was the mud stains which the pamphlet was left with.
There seems to be some doubt about which pamphlet Charles actually wanted to borrow. The tract which follows Thomason’s annotation is The Reasons of the Lords and Commons why they cannot agree to the Alteration and Addition in the Articles of Cessation offered by his Majesty. With His Majestie’s gratious Answer thereunto, printed onApril 4, 1643. The version on Early English Books Online doesn’t appear to have any mud stains, though – but apparently there is a different version in the British Library which does. I have come across another account which thinks it was the pamphlet at the end of the volume, A remonstrance of the right honourable Iames Earle of Castlehaven and Lord Audley, which was the one dropped. The entry on EEBO for this says that it has been “reviewed, corrected, and augmented” – perhaps implying that mud stains have been digitally removed – but doesn’t give any further information. [NB - it has subsequently been pointed out to me that this is a quote from the title page rather than a bibliographic description, and that The Reasons of the Lords and Commons was the pamphlet Thomason dropped. See this post at EEBO Interactions for more details].
However, my understanding is that Thomason only bound his volumes when he came to catalogue them in the 1660s. His note talks about lending a pamphlet, not a volume of them. So it must have been an individual tract which was dropped in the mud, not a collection of them. Logically, then, only one pamphlet in this volume should have mud stains.
My suspicion is that The Reasons of the Lords and Commons was Charles’s choice of reading. The reference to Hampton Court dates this incident to between August and November 1647, when Charles was under house arrest by the New Model at that palace. He had moved there after his failure to engage with the army’s Heads of Proposals. In September he turned down a further set of negotiations, closely based on the Newcastle Propositions of 1646. It seems plausible that Charles might have wanted to consult previous records of negotiations with Parliament, to remind himself of previous statements they had made.
(The image above is a composite made up of the two sides of paper on which Thomason wrote his annotation – the left hand side is from the verso of one page, the right hand side from the recto of another page).