Book Bindings, Provenances and Politics

The technology of printing was a truly revolutionary invention. Beginning in Europe around 1450, it allowed books to be reproduced on a scale never before seen. Yet the popular perception that printed books are identical while manuscripts are unique is one that must be challenged. Worcester Cathedral Library’s edition of De Scriptoriubus Ecclesiastics (On the Church Scriptures)by Johannes Trithemius provides an excellent example of how early printed books can be just as special as their hand-written predecessors.

Printing and binding were often two completely distinct professions in early book production, and each print run of an edition can have any number of disctinct bindings. The edition of De Scriptoriubus Ecclesiastics at Worcester was printed in Paris in 1512 by Jean Petit, yet our edition is presented in a finely tooled binding quite distinct from other books produced by Petit (see for instance this example of a Petit binding at Cambridge Theoretically, with a lot of research, it should be possible to trace where and by whom our binding was done. For now though, we can just enjoy it for its display of craftsmanship and as a particularly good example of early 16th century leatherwork.

Worcester Cathedral

A detail from the binding. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

Our book becomes even more interesting once we look inside it. The title page is littered with inscriptions in English, Latin and Ancient Greek. Particularly noteworthy is the inscription ‘God save the Queen’s grace’, repeated twice, in two seemingly distinct hands. This message is again repeated later on in the book, at folio 25r.

The Queen referred to is almost certainly Elizabeth I. Although a popular monarch who was well regarded by the majority of her subjects, I have not yet found such blatant outpourings of pro-Elizabethan admiration in any other Worcester books. Perhaps the nature of our book and the politics of the day could explain why the message is repeated three times. Johannes Trithemius was a Benedictine Abbot, and his book is about the early history of the Church. Post-reformation, Elizabethan England was a hotbed of Protestantism, beset with an atmosphere of suspicion for all things Roman Catholic. Perhaps having such a book could be seen as subversive against the regime of the day, and so its owner felt the need to daub it with messages in favour of England’s protestant monarch.

Worcester Cathedral

The title page, with numerous inscriptions, including ‘God save the Queen’s Grace’ (twice). Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

Turning to the end-leaf of our book, we are finally given a clue as to who might have owned our book, with the inscription Hic est Liber Henrici Pakyngton. The Pakingtons were a well-known aristocratic family with links to Worcester. Henry Pakington was the second son of Sir Thomas Pakington and his wife Dorothy (nee Kitson). While Henry is a relatively obscure figure today, his elder brother John is rather more famous. Born in 1549, he served as Sheriff of Worcestershire as well as being a regular at the royal court. Indeed, he was counted amongst Elizabeth’s favourites, and she gave him the nickname of ‘lusty’ on account of his physique and dashing nature. Perhaps Henry, being so close to the political establishment through his brother, was keen to distance himself from any sense that he might have subversive Catholic tendencies?


Henry Parkington’s name. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

Perhaps the owner of the book was even closer to the establishment than our first investigations might suggest. Returning to the frontispiece, we notice what seem to be the initials ‘IKP’ directly to the right of the device of the printer, Jean Petit. It was extremely rare for people to have middle names in Tudor England, but rather more common on the continent. Perhaps they could be the initials of Jean Petit himself – although we know of no other example of a printer ‘signing’ his work so. Another, more likely suggestion, is that the ‘K’ does not stand for a name at all, but is in fact a ‘Kt’, a common abbreviation for ‘Knight’. As the letter ‘I’ frequently stood in for ‘J’ during this period, could not the initials in fact be ‘JP Kt’, standing for Sir John Pakington?


IP Kt? Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

We cannot know for certain until we find other examples of the Pakington family’s books from other libraries. Yet turning to the second folio, we can see a scroll-like emblem where somebody has written the letters ‘ION’. Could this again be Sir John, trying (but failing) to write his name and stake his ownership to the book?


Did John Pakington start writing his name here? Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral Library (UK)

Although this small 16th Century book has raised more questions than answers, it offers an insight into just how fascinating, unique and intriguing early printed material can be. I can only put forward my own theories and conjectures – so if anyone has any suggestions (even contrary ones) about the likely meaning of the book’s inscriptions and decorations then please do get in touch!

Tom Hopkins

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