A Book Fit for Two Kings

Note:  After this blog was posted additional research suggests that this book may not, in fact, have belonged to Henry VIII or Edward VI.  Henry VIII’s arms on the binding are made with the kind of stamp commonly used by many people during his reign and do not necessarily indicate royal ownership, and the name Edwardus appears to have been followed originally by a surname, which has been crossed out.  Even if this book were not touched by royalty, it remains a fascinating example of the way books of this period were marked up by young students learning their Latin and Greek.  Thanks to David Pearson for his helpful comment that led to more detailed research into this book’s history and some fact checking of the notes that had been kept with it in Penn Library’s records. 

It is not at all uncommon to find the marks of children in very old books (or, for that matter, as any parent can attest, very new ones). Books from the Renaissance period that were used for young students learning to read their Latin classics (which were part of grammar school age training for a highly educated young person of the age) are often filled with the kinds of scribbles of penmanship practice, random doodles, and ownership inscriptions shown in the picture above.

However, the inscription “Edwardus me possidet” (Edward owns me) written twice on the inside front cover of a Latin translation of Homer’s Illiad is an especially notable mark of schoolboy ownership. In this case the Edward in question was Edward VI of England (1537-53), who, since he was crowned at the age of nine, may well have been a boy king at the time he was making this inscription and the accompanying doodles on this book.

The book also very likely belonged to Edward’s father, King Henry VIII (1491-1547), who is notorious in history for having had 6 wives, two of whom he divorced and two of whom he beheaded. (The last two died of natural causes.) A large part of the reason for his many marriages stemmed from his desire to have a male heir. After his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), only gave birth to one girl, Mary (1516-58), Henry broke with the Catholic Church and turned England into a Protestant country in order to get a divorce and try again with Anne Boleyn (1499-1536). She gave birth to one daughter, Elizabeth (1533-1603), before Henry got fed up with Anne too, beheaded her, and married Jane Seymour. Jane finally gave birth to a long awaited healthy son, Edward, in October of 1537, only to die less than two weeks later. Her son survived long enough to inherit the throne from his father, though Edward’s reign only lasted 6 years (1547-1553) before he died, leaving the throne first to Henry’s daughter by his first marriage, Mary I, and then to his daughter by his second marriage, Elizabeth I, who reigned for 45 years and became one of the most famous monarchs in English history.

The copy of the Illiad containing Edward VI’s inscription is in its original leather binding, which is stamped with his father, Henry VIII’s, supporters, a lion and greyhound, combined with the arms of the City of London on the front cover:

And a Tudor Rose on the back cover:

The lack of the pomegranate emblem associated with Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife might indicate that this was a post divorce binding. However, the initials HI appearing below the Tudor rose on the back board (see detail image below) are the mark of a particular binder, Henry Iacobi (or Jacobi), who died in 1514, well before Henry’s 1533 divorce from Catherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn, and also before the 1528 printing of the book with Edward’s signature in it, making the date of the binding a bit of a mystery. It is possible that the binder’s mark continued to be used by others after Iacobi’s death, or that this was a re-used binding from an earlier period that happened for some reason to lack Catherine’s mark.

The book has a second owner indicated by two provenance inscriptions on a back flyleaf. Written among more childish doodles and numerous unexplained red wax seals on this page are two similar inscriptions: “Sum liber Drugonis” and “Sum liber Dragonis Sanderns” (I am the book of Dragonis Sanderns).   The possessive name “Dragonis Sanderns” indicates the English name Drew Sanders, the most likely person of that name being a gentleman named Drew Sanders who died in 1579 and may have been the next owner after Edward.   How a book belonging to Kings was passed to Sanders or which of the drawings and doodles around his name are his and which the boy king Edward’s remain a mystery.

In any case, this is a copy of Homer’s epic poem that had at some point been passed from royal father to royal son and then on to other owners. The young Edward, long awaited heir to the throne, would have turned the pages to refine his Latin skills and learn the fabled deeds of the prince Achilles as he, a prince himself, prepared to someday rule England. The many marks on the page also attest to the time the young prince may have spent making idle penmarks like any young child, penmarks mingled with the marks of subsequent owners and generations who also learned from, and scribbled across, the pages of this book.

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4 Responses to A Book Fit for Two Kings

  1. Manny says:

    I can just imagine my Matthew scribbling all over those valuable books…LOL. I guess children were children in all eras. Nice to see you post again. 🙂


    • Yes, I can imagine your little prince enjoying marking up an edition of the Illiad. Obviously I’m assuming a taste for the classics in his father’s footsteps. Glad you enjoyed the post. It’s good to be back to the blog again. 🙂


  2. David Pearson says:

    Are you sure about this? Bindings with panel stamps incorporating the Tudor arms are quite common in the second quarter of the 16th century, and they don’t signify royal ownership. There seem to be two “Edwardus … me possidet” inscriptions with ?different surnames erased, which you don’t mention. Sorry to be sceptical but …


    • Thanks for the input. I will readily confess that I am largely going off the identification information that had already been established for some time in our files and catalog record for this book which seemed plausable to me. Though I was beginning to think over the details a little more myself after posting and am interested in the issues you raise. There’s a file accompanying the book with more information on the provenance, though I am currently in London and will have to wait until I return to the states next week to refresh my memory of the details written up there.


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