“Supplementum chronicarum”, or the story of a book in sixteenth-century Cambridge

Of the volumes currently housed in The Perne Library at Peterhouse, more than a quarter were bequeathed to the College by its then Master Andrew Perne, at his death in 1589. The majority of these books were printed in the sixteenth century, and it is safe to assume that Andrew Perne (c. 1519 -1589) bought them directly from or through booksellers in Cambridge and London. However, a small number of volumes in the collection have earlier ownership inscriptions, suggesting that Perne probably acquired them second hand, either from friends or from fellow colleagues in Cambridge.

An example of such a book with an interesting provenance history is the 1506 edition of Giacomo Filippo Foresti’s  Supplementum chronicarum (shelfmark M.3.5). Entitled Novissime historiarum omnium repercussiones, the volume is a ‘universal chronicle’ fashioned on the style of the famous Nurenberg Chronicle (to which it served as a supplement). It was printed in Venice by Giorgio Rusconi and beautifully illustrated with woodcuts depicting biblical scenes and cities around Europe.

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 1)

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 1)

But what is most interesting about the Perne copy is the presence of four ownership inscriptions and one book label, which taken together suggest that the book was owned by at least six different people in less than a hundred years. That’s quite a large number of owners for a volume circulating in the sixteenth century! The unusual occurrence can perhaps be explained by the subject of the publication and the circumstances of its owners. As a ‘universal chronicle’, the Supplementum chronicarum was part of a genre that was very popular in medieval and early modern Europe. By mixing biblical and historical events (both mythological and real), the chronicles attempted to describe humanity’s history from its early creation up to the writer’s own times. Such works were popular both with clergymen and laymen and must have been in great demand in university towns, where history was just beginning to be taught as a science.

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 2)

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 2)

The Perne copy of the Supplementum chronicarum first arrived in Cambridge by way of a donation; according to an inscription on the last page: “Thomas Trowell ex dono generalis [con]fessoris de Syon”, the Confessor-General of the Syon Abbey gave the volume to Thomas Trowell (1489–1587), a Fellow of Peterhouse from 1512 to 1521.  The inscription is not dated, but we know that the Confessor-General of the Monastery at Syon between 1513 and 1521 was John Trowell, so it can be assumed he was the donor of the book to Thomas Trowell (perhaps a relative, as suggested by the shared surname). The Peterhouse Fellow presumably kept it for a few years, but later decided to sell it, perhaps at the time when he left the College; an inscription on the title page, which reads “Henricus Godbold emit hunc libri Anno D[omi]ni 1522”, indicates that Henry Godbold (1517-40), then Bursar and later Senior Fellow of Peterhouse, acquired the volume in 1522.

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 3)

Supplementum chronicarum, M.3.5 (Image 3)

Goldbold kept the book until his death in 1540, when he may have bequeathed it to Roger Soresby, a newly admitted Fellow of Peterhouse who was mentioned as a legatee in his will (see T.A. Walker (ed.), The Biographical Register of Peterhouse Men (v. 1, p. 115)). Soresby did not write his name in the volume, nor did he record any purchase or other transaction relating to it, but we know that he must have owned it because of another manuscript note on the title page that reads: “Emit Ailandus anno 1546. Solus executori Soresbi” (Ailand bought it in the year 1546. On its own from the executor of Soresby). This suggests that in the year 1546, when Soresby died, Henry Ailand (B.A.  from St. John’s College 1541-42, M.A. 1545) acquired the volume from Soresby’s estate. Ailand was young at the time of the purchase and he must have made good use of the work, as suggested by the numerous annotations he left in the margins.  Unfortunately, he succumbed to the sweating sickness five years later, at only 31. We do not know precisely what happened to the book next, but the presence of Andrew Perne’s label suggests that the Master of Peterhouse acquired it sometime after Ailand’s death and added it to his growing collection of books and manuscripts. Today, the Novissime historiarum omnium repercussiones rests on the shelves of the Perne Library, together with other folio and quarto volumes bequeathed to the College by its former Master, the book collector Andrew Perne.


Adriana Celmare


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