It was necessary to deface the book to save it

by Nick

It is a truism that every generation refights the English Civil Wars. However, politicians and intellectuals are not the only combatants who take part in these battles. Private individuals must also have taken positions on the conflict, and argued about it in conversation and correspondence. Much of this is inevitably lost to us, but there are some types of source in which everyday roundheads and royalists can still make themselves heard, and one is the marginalia in books. Below are a couple of examples of attempts to rehabilitate Cromwell by defacing the cover of Flagellum, a critical biography published three years after the Restoration by James Heath.

On the first, a copy of the first 1663 edition has had the words “The late usurper” obliterated:

On the second, a 1671 edition, a reader has made more extensive alterations to the title page:

Hand-written notes are of course not the only way to alter a book. A more ambiguous alteration to the title page can be found in The Court & kitchin of Elizabeth, commonly called Joan Cromwel (1664). This was a genuine recipe book, but one with a satirical edge. In 1846 an owner of the book, the Welsh historian William Davies Leathart, made this note about a missing print from the front of the book:

The eighteenth-century antiquarian Richard Gough notes this book in his A Short Genealogical View of the Family of Cromwell (1785):

This is the print in question, which I found in the British Museum’s collection:

The monkey here is probably an unkind allusion to the proverb that “the higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see its arse”. The print could of course have been removed to be sold, but the unflattering print, combined with the fact that the page was torn out rather than removed more carefully, makes me wonder whether an owner disapproved of the insult to Cromwell’s wife.

Surviving copies of The Court and kitchin are rare, but if this is the case it would not be the only reader who owned a copy and subverted it for their own purposes. In a recent article in Renaissance Quarterly, Laura Lunger Knoppers has drawn attention to another surviving copy in the Houghton Library, Harvard.This was owned by Esther Hooke Lilly, married first to Sir Hele Hooke then to Richard Lilly, a doctor from Kensington, and contains her marginalia. Amongst handwritten Latin recipes for medicines, there are a series of drawings, including an inked picture of Elizabeth on the verso of the printed image of her. Underneath are a series of pencil sketches of men and women in fashionable early eighteenth-century dress. Elsewhere in the book are pictures of flamingoes and of men wearing turbans.

Sadly the article doesn’t reproduce any of these marginalia, but it does suggest that this title, like any book, could fulfil multiple purposes: in this case, as cookbook and sketch book. In the case of Leathart’s copy, one wonders whether perhaps the recipes meant it was still a useful addition to the owner’s kitchen, but one which needed to be amended in order for it to be put to use acceptably.