John Dee’s Books at Middle Temple Library

To accompany our current exhibition, ‘Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee’, we have invited guest posts from other libraries which hold books formerly owned by John Dee. Today, Renae Satterley writes about the Middle Temple Library, London.

Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, which have exclusive right to call men and women to the Bar to practise as barristers. While there was a library at the Inn during Tudor times, it was not staffed and the books eventually all went missing. In 1641 a much respected member of the Inn, Robert Ashley (1565–1641) bequeathed his own substantial collection of books to the Inn in order to re-establish a library. Ashley was a bibliophile, translator, reader, annotator as well as being a lawyer, and created a library of over 3,700 volumes by the time of his death. His collection is particularly rich in works on medicine, science, history, theology and foreign countries and customs. Some highlights of his collection include the 1566 edition of Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Samuel de Champlain’s 1613 Voyages, and the largest holdings of John Donne’s personal library (79 titles). His collection also contains a copy of John Dee’s Monas hieroglyphica, printed in Frankfurt in 1591 and bound in a scrap of parchment manuscript waste.

Monas hieroglyphica. John Dee, published Frankfurt, 1591

Unfortunately, Ashley did not leave any personal papers behind- or at least none that have been traced. This could have been due to a lack of conscientiousness on the will executor’s part, or they could have been discarded by a negligent librarian. It means that we have no evidence of how, where or why he purchased his books. It is possible, however, given the number of duplicate copies in his collection, that he deliberately purchased works because of their provenance. For example, despite being an enthusiastic annotator, the books that belonged to John Donne are mostly pristine, with very little in the way of markings made by Ashley.

Another potential example of this theory is Ashley’s copy of De typographiae inventione, et de praelorum legitima inspectione, libellus brevis et utilis, by Matthaeus Richter printed in Copenhagen by Johannes Zimmerman in 1566. Ashley has two copies of this work. The first is bound with three other titles, but the second is a copy that once belonged to John Dee, as indicated by his inscription on the title page ‘Joannes Dee 1567’. This copy is bound in a leaf of parchment with the word ‘Judex’ written on the front cover in ink. ‘Judex’ means judge or juror in Latin and was often used as Richter’s surname. Is it possible that Ashley acquired this copy purely for its provenance?

De pictura prae stantissima. Leon Battista Alberti, published Basel, 1540

The library holds three other works that once belonged to Dee:

  • De pictura prae stantissima, et nunquam satis laudata arte libri tres absolutissimi, by Leon Battista Alberti, printed in Basle in 1540. Its title page inscription reads: Joannes Dee 1555 30 Oct
  • De perenni philosophia libri X, by Agostino Steuco, printed in Basle in 1542. Its title page inscription reads: Joannes Deeus Anglus 1549 20 Sept
  • Pignae Poetica Horatiana, by Giovan Battista Pigna, printed in Venice in 1561. Its title page inscription reads: Johannes Dee
Pignae poetica Horatiana. Giovan Battista Pigna, published Venice, 1561

The last title is a new discovery. While all of the library’s books are catalogued in the online catalogue, most were not catalogued to a very high standard and thus information regarding provenance and binding was not always recorded. We are slowly re-cataloguing the entire collection of early printed books, which currently numbers over 9,000 entries, to a higher standard of cataloguing and recording provenance information. Thus it is very possible that further books owned by Dee will turn up in the future.

Renae Satterley, deputy librarian, Middle Temple Library