George Coningesby’s books

Among the early printed books in Balliol Library, one distinctive 18th-century hand appears again and again

Similar notes, in English and Latin, can be found in hundreds of books, on paste-downs, endpapers, on title pages, in the margins, in slips of paper.

The notes belong to one of the most important benefactors to the Library, the clergyman and antiquary George Coningesby (1692-3?-1766).

Coningesby proceeded Doctor of Divinity at Balliol in 1739. He was vicar of Bodenham, Herefordshire and then rector of Pencombe, in the same county.

The Oxford antiquary Thomas Hearne knew Coningesby, and described him as ‘a learned man, & studious, [who] bears the character of being honest’.

Coningesby made himself notorious in Oxford. In a 1727 sermon, he praised Charles I as ‘a Prince that was not alien by birth, & that preferred to dignities in the Church men of true worth and learning’ – in implied contrast to the current king, George I. By the time he was called before University officials to explain the offending sermon, Coningesby had contrived to ‘misplace’ his notes, according to Hearne. He was banned from preaching for two years and had to leave St Mary’s Hall.

The earliest book in the collection is a 1495 edition of Aristotle, but Coningesby collected books published throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Coningesby collected books with great energy, especially in the areas of classics, English history, church history, and religious polemics.

Coningesby acquired books owned and inscribed by other important scholars and antiquaries.

Thomas Hearne’s ownership inscription in a book later acquired by Coningesby.

These include Thomas Hearne; Arthur Charlett, master of Univ; Anglo-Saxonist George Hickes; the bibliophile Thomas Rawlinson; and Cambridge antiquary Thomas Baker.

Coningesby wrote on paste-downs, endpapers and in the margins, as well as on loose scraps of paper. He emended the text, transcribed errata lists and recorded bibliographical information. His notes also offer cross-references, citations and quotations from other scholarly works.

This little-known collection offers students of 18th-century history and literature opportunities for original research on reading and collecting practices.

Research by Paris O’Donnell

Sources

T. Hearne. Remarks and collections of Thomas Hearne. Vol. XI. Oxford: Clarendon, 1921

W.R. Ward. Georgian Oxford: university politics in the eighteenth century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958

How Bede’s Works came to Balliol: a sidelight on the Reformation

Tracing the trajectory of an early edition of Bede’s Works from Hailes Abbey, dissolved under Henry VIII, to Balliol Library

Manuscript additions on the title page of this book provide a little snapshot of English Reformation history. It is an edition of Bede’s Latin Works ([Paris]: Josse Badius, 1521). Abbot Stephen Whalley (or Sagar) of Hailes Abbey had acquired this volume of Bede’s works in 1538 and written his name at the head of the title page, as this detail shows:

‘Ex exempc[i]o[n]e dompini Stephani Whalley abb[at]is de heyles pro domo cap[itu]lari 1538.’
[Purchased by master Stephen Whalley, abbot of Heyles, for the chapterhouse 1538.]

The abbot's ownership inscription replaced by Grisset's donation note
The abbot’s ownership inscription replaced by Griffith’s donation note  (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

By the year of acquisition, 1538, the dissolution of English monasteries by Henry VIII was under way.

Hailes Abbey was home to a popular relic, a phial of blood thought to have been collected from the dying Christ. This attracted huge numbers of pilgrims, to the consternation of the reforming Bishop of Worcester, Hugh Latimer. The relic was investigated and declared a fake in 1538. By the following year, Stephen, the last abbot of Hailes, had surrendered the abbey to Henry’s men.

Stephen’s title-page inscription was then supplanted by the donation note of John Griffith, probably an alumnus of Balliol, who donated the book to the College.

The note reads: ‘Liber collegii ballioli ex dono d[o]m[ini] Joh[ann]is Gryffyt’. Griffith’s inscription (‘Ioh[ann]es Gryffytt’) is repeated at the foot of the title page.

John Grissett’s ownership inscription
John Grissett’s ownership inscription (Photo: Paris O’Donnell)

Griffith’s donation is noted in Balliol’s benefactions book (below), and seems to have taken place between 1540 and 1543.

Detail from benefactions book  (Photo: Paris O'Donnell)

Balliol College Library shelfmark 30 f 115

A golden hind

Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577)

Our copy of Martin Bucer’s Scripta Anglicana (1577) came via the large bequest of Sir Thomas Wendy in 1677. The gold-tooled centrepiece on the boards of this book shows a ‘hind statant’. It is believed this is the armorial device of the Hatton family, politicians and bibliophiles of the 16th and 17th century. Books from their collections can be found in a number of college libraries in Oxford.

Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) helped finance Sir Francis Drake’s voyages of circumnavigation from 1577-1580. In 1580 Drake changed the name of his vessel mid-voyage from The Pelican to The Golden Hinde to honour Hatton.

Identification by Paul W. Nash