Guide To Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library


The Bridgewater library was purchased privately by Henry Huntington in 1917 from Sotheby’s through the negotiation of G. D. Smith. Prior to the projected sale by auction, Sotheby’s circulated a few copies of a pamphlet that broadly outlined the contents of the library. Other descriptions of the manuscripts are to be found in the Historical Manuscripts Commission, Eleventh Report, Appendix, Part VII (1888) 126-67; D. MacMillan, Catalogue of the Larpent Plays in the Huntington Library (San Marino 1939); the Guide to Literary Manuscripts (alphabetically by author, of writers who died after 1600); and the Guide to British Historical Manuscripts pp. 21-77. Selected items are printed by J. Payne Collier, The Egerton Papers. A Collection of Public and Private Documents, chiefly illustrative of the Times of Elizabeth and James I. Camden Society 12 (London 1840) and by A. G. Petti, Recusant Documents from the Ellesmere Manuscripts. Catholic Record Society 60 (London 1968). The present catalogue includes 27 medieval and renaissance codices and one box of fragments from the Bridgewater library.

One of these 27 volumes, EL 34 B 23, had already entered the possession of the family during the lifetime of the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Egerton (1540-1617), Baron Ellesmere and Viscount Brackley; it bears an inscription in his hand, “Liber Tho. Egerton ex dono Thomae hyggons.” His son, John Egerton (1579-1649), created 1st Earl of Bridgewater two months after his father’s death, inscribed pressmarks in nine codices; thirteen others contain marks only in the second and third Earls’ hand. In one of these, EL 9 H 11, the future second Earl, John Egerton (1622-86), inscribed his name as “J. [Viscount] Brackley,” certainly at some date before his father’s death in 1649 when he would have assumed the higher title. The other twelve manuscripts with pressmarks in his hand can only be said to have entered the library during his lifetime, without possibility of closer dating. The hand of the third Earl, John Egerton (1646-1701) never occurs in these codices alone, without a prior mark by his father or grandfather. The four remaining codices and the box of fragments do not bear any early ownership notes or pressmarks, so it is impossible to suggest a terminus ante quem for their incorporation into the Bridgewater library.

The library remained at the Egerton house of Ashridge in Hertfordshire until 1802 when it was removed to London. A year later Francis Egerton (1736-1803), 6th Earl and 3rd Duke of Bridgewater died unmarried. His distant cousin, John William Egerton (1753-1823), inherited the earldom of Bridgewater and the Ashridge lands; the library and other properties including Bridgewater House in London were bequeathed by the 3rd Duke to his nephew, George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquis of Stafford (aftw. 1st Duke of Sutherland). The manuscripts were thus designated by the name of Stafford from 1803 to 1833 (since EL 26 A 17 was first described in print during that time, it has retained the appellation of “Stafford Gower” in present literature). Leveson-Gower’s younger son, Francis Egerton, created Earl of Ellesmere in 1846, inherited the library, and it remained in the family until its sale to Henry Huntington by John Francis Granville Scrope Egerton (1872-1944), 4th Earl of Ellesmere.

As one would expect, various systems of pressmarks have been used during the history of the Bridgewater library, without all possible forms occurring on all books. Although the chronology of these marks is not verifiable in Egerton records, cancellations and corrections of the marks themselves suggest at least five successive campaigns. The oldest pressmarks seem to be those consisting of a letter, a colon, and a number, for example N:1 on the present EL 9 H 17. This type of mark is usually in the hand of the first Earl of Bridgewater. On occasion the letter-number pressmark appears to have been inscribed by the second Earl of Bridgewater, as is the case of the present EL 34 A 8 and 34 B 7. Here the format is slightly different with the characters written on different planes and with a diagonal slash before and after the number: respectively as T/4/ and X/3/. However, at a later date, the second Earl modified all letter-number pressmarks to a more complex letter-number-number. The modification either added a diagonal slash and a second number, for example to the first Earl’s N:1, the second’s addition produced N:1./6., or the first Earl’s number was cancelled and substituted by an entirely new pressmark, such as N:5 changed to W:4./5. (on the present EL 9 H 11). The third Earl continued this system on two of the Bridgewater manuscripts described in the present catalogue: he cancelled a previous letter-number pressmark in order to apply the letter-number-number pressmarks S:8./1. and S:8./4. on EL 34 B 6 and 34 B 7, respectively.

What appears to be a third system of pressmarks, or perhaps an occasional elaboration of the second system, is the most complex: it uses a formula such as L:CC:B:2./15. (on EL 7 H 8). This style of pressmark occurs only on the four Ashridge manuscripts (in the same hand as their provenance notes, “ex dono Richardi Combe Armigeri”), and on two statute books, EL 9 H 10 and 34 A 8. The hand of this pressmark is also that of the second Earl.

The fourth pressmark consists of a number, a letter and a number; it was assigned probably during the nineteenth century when the collection received considerable attention in arrangement, disposal of duplicates and rebinding from its successive librarians, the Rev. Henry John Todd, J. Payne Collier (whose efforts were not entirely benevolent), and Strachan Holme. This pressmark occurs in the manuscripts on small square printed labels affixed to the front pastedown. The system is still in use, for example, on the Ellesmere Chaucer as 26 C 9.

A fifth set of numbers was applied in modern times to most single items in the Bridgewater library, to individual documents as well as to bound volumes; the purpose of the numbers may have been an accounting for the sale of the library. These numbers are in pencil on a front flyleaf, and are sometimes cancelled and corrected, such as “513” changed to “1122” (on EL 34 B 23). This system also remains in use, more frequently on single items than on codices. Nevertheless some codices were listed by De Ricci under their pencilled inventory numbers, and have been referred to in print by these numbers. In such cases, we have retained the number in parentheses after the three part letter-number-letter pressmark.

Guide to British Historical Manuscripts
[M. L. Robertson], Guide to British Historical Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino 1982)
C. W. Dutschke with the assistance of R. H. Rouse et al., Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino, 1989). Copyright 1989.
Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California.
Electronic version encoded by Sharon K, Goetz, 2003.
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