Kentish Book Culture

Writers, Archives, Libraries and Sociability 1400-1660

by Claire Bartram (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection XIV, 296 Pages


This volume explores the writing practices and book collections of a range of individuals in early modern Kent including monks, a mariner and an apothecary as well as members of the gentry and clergy and urban administrators. In a county with ready access to metropolitan, courtly and continental influences, a vibrant provincial book culture flourished, in which literacy was prized and book ownership widespread. Reinforcing the important social role played by the literate and revealing something of their creative potential, the essays gathered here also uncover an appetite for debate, reflected in the books owned, lent, written and published by the Kentish in the period covered. Underpinning all of this is an enduring culture of sociability, centred around the book as an object to be shared.
Interdisciplinary in approach, this collection brings together specialists in the history of the book, literary scholars, social historians and librarians to explore the nature of authorship and the dynamics of the market for print and manuscript books outside London. It demonstrates the rich potential of regional archival study to extend our understanding of medieval and early modern literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Kentish Book Culture
  • Part I Textual Production, Archives and Libraries
  • 1 Reading, Writing and the Culture of Books at Canterbury Cathedral Priory in the Fifteenth Century
  • 2 Writing the Town in Mid-Fifteenth-Century Sandwich: The Contribution of John Serle, Common Clerk
  • 3 Chronicling Dover: Authorship, Archives and Audiences, c. 1580–1604
  • 4 The Sinful Life and Woeful Death of William Rogers: Textual Legacies and Puritan Culture in 1630s West Kent
  • 5 ‘Quaere who hath Coriats Travels?’ Henry Oxinden’s Book Loans, 1647–1658
  • Part II Literate Identities, Networks and Sociability
  • 6 Book Printing and Protestant Reform in Reformation Canterbury, 1532–1556
  • 7 ‘Wrytynge out of the playe booke’: Literacy and Identity in the Cinque Ports and Ancient Towns in the Sixteenth Century
  • 8 Literacy and Cultural Identity in the Dutch Immigrant Community of Sandwich, 1561–1650
  • 9 William Somner and his Books: Provenance Evidence for the Networks of a Seventeenth-Century Canterbury Antiquarian
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


Figure 1.1. CCCC, MS 417 John Stone’s Chronicle f. 4r. Reproduced courtesy of the Master and Fellows of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Figure 1.2. CCA Cawston Lit.Ms D1   2 f. 25v Death of William Glastonbury recorded at the foot of first column. Reproduced courtesy of The Chapter of Canterbury.

Figure 2.1. KHLC: EKA-Sa/AC 1 f. 61r Sandwich Town Year Book showing Serle’s pen-flourishes. Reproduced Courtesy of Kent County Council Libraries Registration & Archives.

Figure 3.1. CCL Elham 46 The Second Edition of Holinshed’s Chronicle (1588), p. 1422 [mispaginated as 1491], showing the beginning of Scot’s account. Reproduced courtesy of The Chapter of Canterbury.

Figure 3.2. BL Add MS 12514 f. 41v showing bridging text and the beginning of the ‘Dialogue between Opynion and Reasone.’ Reproduced by permission of the British Library.

Figure 5.1. KHLC U47/3/E2 f. 46v–47r Henry Oxinden’s Loans List. Reproduced courtesy of Kent County Council Libraries Registration & Archives, and Kent Archaeological Society.

Figure 7.1. Map of the Urban Settlements Forming the Cinque Ports Confederation Around Romney Marsh. Reproduced courtesy of Pre-Construct Archaeology.

Figure 7.2. KHLC:NR/JB6 ff. 215–16 The First of the Romney Players’ Recognisances of 1555. Reproduced courtesy of Kent County Council Libraries Registration & Archives and New Romney Town Council.

Figure 7.3. KHLC:NR/JB6 ff. 215–16 Transcription of the Romney Players’ Recognisance (second, lower part).

←ix | x→

Figure 9.1. CCL Lit.MS E40, f. 114r Entry in the Benefactors’ Book Recording Gifts to the Cathedral Library by William Somner. Reproduced courtesy of The Chapter of Canterbury.

Figure 9.2. CCL W2/X-3-35 Somner’s note in his copy of Willeram In Canticum Canticorum Paraphrasis (1598) recording gift of books from Meric Casaubon. Reproduced courtesy of The Chapter of Canterbury.

Figure 9.3. CCL W/K-6-14 Somner’s inscription in Hadrianus Saravia, Diuersi Tractatus Theologici (1611), recording gifts from John Ludd. Reproduced courtesy of The Chapter of Canterbury.


As this collection of essays is centrally concerned with the ways in which sociability supports and promotes textual production, it is appropriate that my first debt of thanks is to the contributors for their patience, generosity and good humour, and for sharing and understanding this passionate interest in cultural life in the provinces. It is a privilege to be able to showcase their research together in one volume.

Canterbury has been and remains an exciting intellectual hub. This project evolved from doctoral work at the then Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies at the University of Kent under the inspirational supervision of Andrew Butcher. I still feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study in such a rich interdisciplinary environment. The agenda for the volume was also stimulated by the questions posed at viva by Professors Alexandra Walsham and Kenneth Fincham who valuably encouraged me to more broadly contexualise my work on the Elizabethan gentry.

In the School of Humanities at Canterbury Christ Church University, the provision of study-leave and the inculcation of a conducive research environment in recent years has been much appreciated and special thanks are due to our Head of School Dr David Grummitt. I am also especially grateful for the support and encouragement of friends and colleagues who have helped this project on its way: Michael Bintley, Karen Brayshaw, Gillian Draper, Mary Dixon, Carolyn Oulton, Catherine Richardson and Sheila Sweetinburgh.

Grateful thanks are also due to Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library and to the Maidstone History and Library Centre, the British Library, and Corpus Christ College, Cambridge for supplying the images for this volume. I am particularly grateful to Cressida Williams, Fawn Todd and Toby Huitson at Canterbury, Sarah Stanley, Mark Bateson and Rob Illingworth at Maidstone, and to Professor Jackie Eales of the Centre for Kent History and Heritage at CCCU for her advice and for the faculty ←xi | xii→funds to secure the images and permissions. I am also grateful to be able to use such a vibrant cover image courtesy of the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam.

I thank the team at Peter Lang for their advice and guidance; they have been a pleasure to work with. Thanks are also due to the anonymous readers of the manuscript whose astute feedback, encouragement and copy-editing advice has been much appreciated.

This project would not have come to fruition without the love and support of my husband William.

Claire Bartram

Introduction: Kentish Book Culture

After fruitlessly searching for his copy of Thomas Coryat’s Coryats Crudities Hastily Gobled up in Five Moneths Travells, Henry Oxinden noted, ‘Who hath Coriats Travels?’ Modern-day book-lovers can readily extrapolate that perhaps exasperated comment to, ‘Who on earth did I lend it to? Why haven’t they given it back yet?’ And, ‘Why did I lend it, when its loss was a likely outcome?’1 Despite the advent of the e-book, we, as modern readers, still appreciate the social functions of book-lending, the mutuality expressed in the loan transaction and the conviviality that comes from discussion of a shared reading experience. This kind of sociability is a key aspect of this collection of essays which explores the place of the book in provincial society across the period 1400–1660.

Drawing together essays on literate culture in Kent in one focused volume for the first time, this collection celebrates the rich diversity of literate practice that Kent appears to have fostered in the period under discussion. It also endeavours to extend our understanding of literate culture in a region which has been recognised for the ‘bookishness’ of its social elite as print published writers and for higher than expected book ownership in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.2 Despite Thomas ←1 | 2→Wotton’s assertion of the relevance of William Lambarde’s A Perambulation of Kent (1576) for the gentleman set on self-improvement or public service, the gentry were not the only social group who were interested in reading and writing or the only social sector whose literate status informed their sense of identity.3

In seeking to recover a broader sense of the place of books in provincial life and to bring social diversity to that discussion, the collection draws on the expertise of social historians, literary specialists and librarians under an umbrella theme of ‘book culture.’ In order to investigate the social place of the book as an object to be bought, borrowed, pawned, gifted, collected and displayed, the essays focus on those literate individuals who employed their writing skills to the benefit of their communities and who, in the process, sometimes left traces of their own reading or book-owning habits. A literate individual was more likely to serve in public office, to draft texts for others, to teach or be involved in the supply and binding or the valuing of books. In this way, the collection encourages consideration of the broad range of experiences of the literate including wider cultural engagement and consumerism. It provides insight into the book culture and writing practices of different social groups including monks at Canterbury Cathedral Priory, urban scribes in the Cinque Port towns, and the reading and writing habits of members of the gentry and clergy, of a mariner and of members of the Dutch stranger community at Sandwich. It glimpses the book collections of farmers and merchants and an apothecary and considers the establishment of a printing press in Reformation Canterbury.

Following Margaret Ezell’s imperative to considering books – either print or manuscript – as ‘anchor-points for social interaction’, the collection argues that such an approach facilitates greater understanding of what ←2 | 3→an author is and does. In her work on social authorship – the circulation of texts in manuscript – Ezell emphasises the place of the text as part of a process of social exchange and as a mechanism for cohering ‘social bonds between like-minded readers’; highlighting how this changes the dynamics of the discussion.4 To adopt this approach invites the question ‘who was writing and who was reading as opposed to who was printing and who was purchasing’. It enables us to see ‘the text as part of an ongoing process of exchange rather than a commercial enterprise.’5 This approach emphasises the social functions of different kinds of texts and the interfaces between manuscript and print as media for the circulation of ideas. It reveals an extraordinary number of writers, in this instance living outside London, who responded to local issues, debates and the demand for certain kinds of text by writing for their friends, their communities and for local patrons. A few of these writers successfully navigated the patronage system and achieved high office and acclaim for their print-published works but many were what Ezell describes as ‘perished’ writers whose contribution is either lost to us in our prioritising of print over manuscript or long forgotten.6

Engagement with the broad agenda of book culture necessitates an alertness to the diverse literate activities an individual might undertake. This in turn enables consideration of a creative spectrum of skills that offers a more authentic configuration of the experiences of early modern writers. The collection is keen to invite cross-disciplinary thinking about textual production and to establish a creative spectrum of writings that incorporates the pragmatic and the literary. A key strength of the collection in this respect lies in its focus on civic writings. Studies of urban archives have demonstrated there is variety and narrative strategy in the mundane documents drawn up in that environment.7 In his published work on the ←3 | 4→Kent town of Hythe and in an extensive body of research papers on the county, Andrew Butcher has argued for closer imaginative consideration of urban records. In particular, Butcher has stressed the role of the scribe in the production of these ‘skilled products’ arguing that such ‘pragmatic’ literature may have greater continuities with literary material that its ‘practical’ categorisation allows.8 Engaging with the interpretive and editorial processes these writers undertook encourages us to see these individuals as more than mere copyists. This creativity is also evident in the strategies of those giving evidence in court. Adam Fox provides examples of the ways in which individuals – in disputes over landownership or the rights of tenants – manipulated customary precedent through the selection, omission or adulteration of documents.9 The editorial skills of scribes or the story-telling skills of those giving legal depositions should invite us to consider the contexts in which literary activity is undertaken and to consider the broader significance of Butcher’s ‘speech-text community’.10

The kind of sociological approach pursued in this collection has long been an aspect of the field of Book History. The priorities of the Annales School which sought to ‘recover the literate experiences of ordinary people’ can be seen in the work of D. F. McKenzie, Roger Chartier, Margaret Ezell and Pierre Bourdieu amongst others. These scholars emphasised the need to engage with ‘the precise, local, specific context’ of textual production and ‘the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission and consumption.’11 This agenda has been ←4 | 5→enhanced by a new interdisciplinary, particularly in early modern literary studies, that has emerged in the last decade. There has been a wider interest in the range of texts an individual might own and read.12 There has also been a significant interest in archival material and a greater open-ness to the study of a wider range of text types.13 Concepts such as life-writing as discussed by Adam Smyth enable meaningful discussion of a spectrum of writings; and to see creativity in the mundane.14 Equally, the work on letters by James Daybell and others has strongly integrated this important ←5 | 6→form of writing into the main stream.15 Work on women’s writings has been an important intervention in the field of book history. These studies have been influential in opening up a broader range of texts and textual practices to scholars and in no small way have paved the way for the study of regional practices showcased here.16

A renewed interest in sociability is also an important facilitator of this approach. Scholarship on canonical writers is shifting towards the study of the ‘actual community of friends and patrons’ who supported an author like Edmund Spenser or John Donne. Michelle O’Callaghan highlights the need to engage with the ‘practices of textual sociability’ and with how ‘writing was “made” within communities and amongst friends and rivals.’17 O’Callaghan argues that, ‘If the formation of literary traditions and canons depends on the figure of the Author, then this figure did not emerge in isolation but ←6 | 7→was understood in terms of the literary affinities and consanguinities as much as singularity and rarity.’18 This desire to understand the canonical author is also echoed in Steinberg’s re-evaluation of Dante in which he emphasises how scholarship has dislocated this author from his position as ‘a historically specific reader and author interacting with a historically specific community of readers and authors,’ precipitating ‘the loss of the original textual event, the socialized meaning locked in a specific historical and geographical moment.’19 This work finds continuities with the ‘social history of writing’ agenda proposed by Arthur Marotti and recently revisited by Jason Scott-Warren.20 Seeking to unpick the ‘circumstances in which early modern texts lived and moved’ encourages a refocusing away from editorial preoccupations with the text to the communities in which works circulated.21 It invites literary scholars to engage with provincial households, neighbourhoods and kinship as well as the established male coteries of the Inns of Court, the royal court and the universities and embraces Margaret Ezell’s call to examine ‘the lived material conditions of reading and writing’.22

Kentish Book Culture

The regional focus of this collection of essays enables recovery of some of the key social circumstances that underpinned and facilitated literate engagement. Taken together these conditions provide insight into the ←7 | 8→vibrancy of regional book culture in the south-east of England and encourages us to perceive continuities across the medieval/early modern period divide. This sustained regional focus enables a more complex picture of book culture to be reconstructed and there is great advantage to be had, for example, in revisiting Canterbury, Sandwich or indeed Dover as the Head port of the Cinque ports at different moments across the period covered in this collection. There is a compelling body of scholarship that encourages engagement with the specificities of regionality whilst also confidently dismissing the concomitant fears of parochialism that can accompany such an approach.23 Significant impetus to this agenda has been provided, in the early modern period at least, by the prioritising of process that the study of material culture encourages. Consideration of the practicalities of delivering a letter or the dispersal of consumer goods and fashions can inculcate a stronger sense of connectedness and a more complex physical interrelatedness of places.24 The study of patronage ←8 | 9→networks and literary miscellanies also play a significant role in this discussion.25 Civic culture also has an important role in this discussion. Many of the chapters in this collection argue for ‘regionally specific’ textual engagement but – by necessity – these communities are outward-looking and very capable of locating themselves in relation to matters of national import and the state itself.26


XIV, 296
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (February)
Provincial writers and readers Interdisciplinary study Book culture Book history Nature of authorship
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XIV, 296 pp., 12 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Claire Bartram (Volume editor)

Claire Bartram is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University.


Title: Kentish Book Culture
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312 pages