Category Archives: 17th century

Admission of the Proctors

Every year, on the Wednesday of the 9th week of Hilary Term, the University admits its new Proctors and Assessor to office. These are senior officers of the University, responsible for scrutiny and discipline, whose role is to oversee student matters and uphold the University’s statutes and policies. The two Proctors (a Senior Proctor and a Junior Proctor) and the Assessor are selected from the fellows of three colleges (one for each) on a rota basis and each officer holds their position full-time for 12 months.

The role of the Proctor is ancient. First referred to in 1248, the two Proctors were the principal officers of the University, along with the Chancellor. They were responsible for discipline and order, both in terms of academic studies and conduct. At first the Proctors were chosen from among the fellows of colleges, one Proctor for each of the two ‘nations’ into which the University was divided at that time. The Senior Proctor was chosen by the ‘southerners’ and the Junior Proctor by the ‘northerners’. The procedure for their election was complex until 1574 when they began to be elected annually by Convocation (the body of MAs of the University at that time). This lasted until the early seventeenth century when, following a number of rigged elections and some chaotic and pretty violent meetings of Convocation, a new way of selecting the Proctors had to be devised.

Illuminated transcript of the Proctorial cycle, 31 December 1628 (OUA/Long Box 21/2)

The Proctorial cycle, instituted in 1628 at the initiative of King Charles I and the Chancellor of the University, William Laud, established the basis of the current system of selecting the Proctors from each college in turn. Drawn up by two mathematicians, the prearranged order (at that time spanning 23 years) was designed to avoid the conflict of recent years and ensure that the larger colleges didn’t dominate the process (although they did have more frequent turns).

The new cycle came into effect in 1629 and ten full cycles had been completed by the time a new cycle was introduced in 1859. Later amendments have since been made to the cycle to incorporate new colleges and halls; and from 1960 the women’s colleges were permitted to elect a Representative, now known as the Assessor. The Assessor was formally incorporated into the Proctorial cycle in 1978.

The incoming Proctors and Assessor are admitted to office each March at a ceremony held, in recent years, in the Sheldonian Theatre. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 ceremony took place without an audience, and the 2021 ceremony was held online. This year’s admission ceremony, on Wednesday 16 March, is the first to be held in person and in full for three years.

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

Senior and Junior Proctors’ copies of the Laudian Statutes, 1636 (OUA/WPgamma/25c/3-4)

As part of the ceremony, the incoming Proctors place their hands on two ancient volumes of University statutes while they swear their oaths of office. These are copies of the 1636  Laudian Statutes held in the University Archives. The Laudian Statutes, so named because their compilation took place under the Chancellorship of William Laud, represented a watershed moment in the history of the University: it was the first time that all the University’s statutes and regulations had been brought together and recorded in one place. They remained at the heart of University governance for several centuries.

The copies of the statutes used in the ceremony were specially made  in 1636 for the Senior and Junior Proctors.  They were to be their personal copies, handed down from Proctor to Proctor as the most important tool for their job. They have recently been handsomely recovered in leather wrappers, fit for their ceremonial role. The statutes are personally escorted to and from the ceremony each year by staff of the University Archives.

The statutes are of course no longer current, but along with a bunch of historic keys which is handed to the Proctors during the ceremony, they are symbols of the ancient but continuing power which the Proctors hold within the University.


A pirate’s life?

Oil painting of the HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, sailing in a gale, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A mysterious, unsigned, undated copy letter in the Clarendon family archive describes a sailor’s discovery of an inhabited island.

The mysteries are: who was the sailor, where was the island, and when was it “discovered”? But before all that: is this letter even real, or a fantasy?

A helpful, scrappy note that accompanies the letter, also unsigned and undated, makes a suggestion:

A letter written in Ld Cornbury’s hand but whether from a Mr. Ja[me]s Hyde son of the Chancellor who was a Sailor or who else does not appear

Lord Cornbury (d. 1753), who this note speculates is the copyist, was the son of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1st creation), and would have been the 5th Earl if he hadn’t died before his father, which made the Clarendon title temporarily extinct. I have to respectfully disagree with the note, however. I think the handwriting belongs to Thomas Villiers (1709-1786), who succeeded to the Clarendon title as the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation). If the identity of the copyist is not necessarily reliable then, what about the identity of the original author?

James Hyde (d. 1681) was the son of Edward Hyde, the original 1st Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Chancellor to Charles II. James Hyde died aged only 31 and I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that he was a sailor but let’s assume that this is family knowledge and take the note-writer at his word. Early modern sailors started their careers extremely young, which means that if this really is a letter James Hyde wrote, it dates, roughly, to the 20 years between 1661 and 1681.

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

Continue reading

Advancing and expanding access to our archives

Helping to navigate the Bodleian Libraries’ vast archives.

I am thrilled to be working on a major initiative by the Bodleian Libraries to prepare for the introduction of an online circulation system for the Bodleian’s vast collection of archive and manuscript materials. I grew up in a family avid about history and I went on to study history at university—so it’s an incredible privilege to be able to contribute to this work which will benefit readers, researchers and members of the public from all around the world.

My role at the Weston Library includes barcoding all the material stored there, uploading this information into our online systems, and contributing to the conservation and re-housing of collections. The work underway behind the scenes is a very significant project that will contribute to widening access to the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections. It’s energising to think that I am contributing to making all this material more accessible for as wide an audience of readers and scholars as possible. I am conscious that archival material is meaningful, powerful, and sometimes contested, and I am motivated by the idea I am contributing to a project which will allow a greater number of people to provide rigorous, progressive and exciting views of the past and its influence on the present.

One of the main privileges of my job is that I have the opportunity to work with all the collections in the Library. As I scamper around the Library’s many compartments to barcode the collections held there, I encounter material from all the Weston’s collections—medieval manuscripts, music archives, modern manuscripts, rare books, and maps from around the world. In the above photo, you can see me (please forgive the scruffy lockdown hair) preparing to put labels on each of the shelves in the Weston Library. I did this as the staff at the Weston came back to Library after the most recent lockdown, and the aim was to help my colleagues and I navigate the Library’s compartments to find materials—it can get quite labyrinthine! The coronavirus pandemic affected the Bodleian Libraries’ workings significantly, but through it all the Library always strived to “keep Oxford reading”. The project to which I am contributing was inevitably delayed by the pandemic because it involves a lot of work which can only be done onsite, but now a number of colleagues in the department are contributing to the project to catch up lost time and get it done!

Hopefully this has provided you with a glimpse of the daily inner-workings of the Bodleian and how we are working to make things accessible!

Academic dress in the Oxford University Archives

Of the many Oxford University traditions that have survived to the present day, one of the most visually distinctive and recognisable is the ‘academic costume’: the gowns, caps and subfusc worn today by students and officials during examinations and ceremonies. Yet despite the long presence of academic dress in the University’s history, the University Archives hold surprisingly little material relating to it. This is perhaps because until the mid 20th century, its exact nature appears to have been fairly fluid, constantly evolving, and on occasion subject to change that was not authorised by the University. It was not until 1957 that academic dress was fixed in its current form, with the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford by R.E. Clifford and D.E. Venables. This illustrated guide includes precise descriptions of each element of the academic dress, and although this book has been republished and revised, very few alterations have been made to the rules it lays out.

The oldest item relating to this topic in the University Archives is this small book, which dates from 1716 and contains numbered engravings of different forms of academic dress. An example of every official and student is shown, from the Vice Chancellor and the Bedels to the Bachelor of Arts, the Master of Arts and many others.

Title page, with the Phillipps shelfmark. Reference: OUA NW 1/10*

Bachelor of Arts

Vice Chancellor

Doctor of Theology, wearing a ‘toga coccinea’ (red cape)

These images are in fact cuts from David Loggan’s 1675 engraving Habitus Academici, part of his Oxonia Illustrata series of engravings illustrating Oxford University and its environment. The original engraving is a black and white single sheet, but here they are coloured, bound in a small volume with a new title page: ‘Habitus Academici in Universitate Oxoniensi Anno 1716’, and they are likely to be the earliest coloured representations of Oxford University academic dress. The shelfmark written at the bottom of the title page, ‘Phillipps MS 24809’, shows that it appears to have made its way into the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, one of the most important book collectors of the 19th century. It was ultimately donated to the University Archives by the Keeper of the Archives 1927-45, Strickland Gibson.

Not only are these illustrations some of the earliest of academic dress in the University Archives, but they are some of the only visual representations we hold. Most other records on this topic concern attempts to regulate academic dress, and how these rules were broken.

Although the exact nature of academic dress pre-20th century is hard to pin down, attempts were nevertheless made to regulate it as early as the 17th century. In the Laudian Code of 1636, which was the first coherent set of Oxford University regulations, Statute Tit. XIV De vestitu et habitu scholastico laid down rules for how academic dress should look and be worn, and required models of the various outfits be made. The original 1636 ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the the Laudian Code is held in the University Archives, as seen below with the seals of the University, Archbishop Laud and Charles I.

The ‘Codex Authenticus’ of the Laudian Code. Reference: OUA WPγ/25c/1

At this point in time, academic dress was not worn for just ceremonies and examinations, but in University members’ everyday lives, including when they were out and about in the city. As a result, rules on academic dress were also rules about the everyday physical appearance of university members. §1 of Stat. Tit. XIV in particular describes how no member’s hair should be ‘[in] curls or excessively long’, and lays out the monetary penalties and corporal punishment that could be expected for disobeying this rule.

Stat. Tit. XIV, §1 in the Codex Authenticus

As the centuries passed, University members were required to wear their gowns less and less, and so the surveillance of their everyday appearance began to relax. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of instances of students bending or breaking the rules, and during the 20th century the University Archives begin to show more evidence of how exactly rules were disobeyed. This Proctor’s memorandum from 1945, shown below, gently reminds students of the correct situations in which academic dress should be worn, in particular noting that ‘it is an offence to smoke in academic dress’.

Proctors memorandum. Reference: OUA PR 1/8/1/1

Similarly, this notice from around the 1920s-30s, sent from the Vice-Chancellor and the Proctors to the college authorities, emphasises the importance of candidates for degrees being suitably dressed. According to this note, those taking degrees recently had been doing so ‘in torn gowns, in brown shoes, in light grey suits, in flannel trousers, and even in a form of jumper or ‘pull-over’.

Vice Chancellor and Proctors notice. Reference: OUA PR 1/5/6/1

The University Archives’ most recent holding relating to academic dress dates from 1956, just before the publication of Academic Dress of the University of Oxford in 1957. The ‘Register of Colours’ created by Shepherd and Woodward, an outfitter to the University based in Oxford, contains samples of the correctly dyed fabric to be used on each item of dress, with descriptions of the precise material and hood shape to be used.

The Register of Colours. Reference: OUA WPγ/28/15

The register is still occasionally updated by Shepherd and Woodward today, as it is relied upon by the Vice Chancellor’s Regulation 1 of 2002, which states that robes, gowns and hoods should conform to the standards ‘prescribed in the Register of Colours and Materials of Gowns and Hoods for Degrees of the University of Oxford… deposited in the University Archives.’

The topic of academic dress is one which illustrates well the relationship between the University Archives and the University itself. Our material relating to academic dress is limited to that which was considered practical to record at the time. This is why regulations for academic dress and punishments for not obeying these are represented more so in the Archives than any precise picture of exactly what was worn and how it changed over the years. Thus the Archives preserve the history of the University, but only as far as the University recorded this history at the time.

To find out more about Oxford University Archives and our holdings, please contact us.

Further Reading

Brockliss, L. W. B., ‘Students and Teachers’, The University of Oxford: A History, OUP 2016

Clifford, R. E.  & Venables, D. E., Academic Dress of the University of Oxford, Oxford 1957

Franklyn, C., Academical Dress from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Hassocks, Sussex 1970

Memoirs of a French Protestant leader – MS. French c. 15

One of the many exciting things about working on the Summary Catalogue for me has been to dive into our holdings written in foreign languages. Being French, it is always quite thrilling for me to come across a piece of French history in the Catalogue. I have to admit my knowledge of it to be limited to basics, as I chose to study British history at university. Nonetheless, there are dates and names that have stuck with me from my school days, and when I saw the description for the item numbered 47174 in the Summary Catalogue, I knew I had to check out this particular box.

French c. 15 is a copy of Mémoires du Duc de Rohan. The Mémoires were written by Henri II de Rohan, who I think is a fascinating character, and a name you would probably come across while studying 17th century French history.

This is a story that takes us back to early modern France, in the aftermath of King Henri IV’s death, and in the midst of religious unrest. King Henri IV is likely to be one of the most well-known French kings today. His name is tied to the Wars of Religion and to a document called “Edict of Nantes” – let me come back to this later.

What were the Wars of Religion?

Towards the beginning of the 16th century, new religious ideas started to spread across Europe, challenging the dominant Catholic faith. They reached France as well and estimates show that by 1570, around 10% of the French population had converted to Protestantism. Amongst nobles and intellectuals, this proportion was even higher and could have reached as much as 50%.[1] Protestants in France were called the “Huguenots”, but the origins of the name remain unclear. At the time, there was no religious liberty: in the 16th century, Huguenots were heretics and they were persecuted, both by the Crown and by the Church.

In the second half of the century, the tensions between the two religious groups turned into open conflict, culminating in eight different periods of civil war in less than forty years (1562-1598): the Wars of Religion. They include the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (23/24 August 1572) in which thousands of Protestants, including many Huguenot leaders, were killed.[2]

The time of the Wars of Religion was a deeply troubled period marked by a lack political stability. While both England and Spain each had two monarchs reigning over those forty years, France was governed by five different kings, some of whom were still children when they accessed the throne. While the four first monarchs were from the Valois family, the last one, Henri IV, was not.

Henri IV and the Edict of Nantes

Henri of Navarre became King of France in 1589 upon the death of Henri III, who did not have any children. However, he was only crowned five years later in 1594 for a good reason: Henri IV was a Huguenot. While he chose to remain a Protestant for the first few years of his reign, his coronation only took place after he converted to Catholicism (1593), pressured by the political tensions. Henri IV nevertheless never had the full trust of either Protestants or Catholics and was murdered in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a Catholic zealot.

Henri’s biggest legacy is passing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Signed in Nantes, the document was originally known as the “Peace-making Edict.”[3] The Edict was inspired by several preceding edicts that unsuccessfully tried to quell the religious conflicts. It gave Protestants some rights (which came with obligations), and provided them with safe havens and was a sign of religious toleration – still a rare thing across Europe at the time.

The other Henri, Henri II de Rohan

Henri de Rohan was a member of one of the most powerful families of Britany, in Western France. He used to go hunting with King Henri IV, who was his first cousin once removed. Raised as a Protestant, Henri II de Rohan became the Huguenot leader in the Huguenot rebellions that took place after Henri IV’s death, from 1621 to 1629.
These rebellions, which are sometimes nicknamed the “Rohan Wars” from the name of the Huguenot leader, arose as the new Catholic King, Louis XIII (Henri IV’s son) decided to re-establish Catholicism in Bearn, a province in the South-West of France (located in Navarre, this was the former homeland of Henri IV). His decision to march on the province was perceived as hostility by the Protestants.

Memoirs of the Duke of Rohan on things that have taken place in France from the death of Henry the Great until the peace made with the Reformists in the month of March 1626

The Mémoires written by the Duc de Rohan are a testimony of the Huguenot rebellions. Written in 17th century French, they give insight on political matters of the time (in this instance, politics and religion are one and the same) and shed light on reasons that drove Protestants to rebel against the Crown. They give details about the relationships that the different protagonists had with each other. While the Bodleian libraries hold a manuscript copy, you can also read Henri de Rohan’s memoirs online here.

After the Mémoires

The aftermath of the Huguenot rebellions was not favourable to Protestants: in 1629, as the Huguenots lost the last conflict of the rebellions, a peace treaty was signed in Alès. The treaty banned Protestants from taking part in political assemblies and abolished safe havens. Henri de Rohan, who was the leader of the Huguenots, had to go into exile: Venice, Padua, and Switzerland. By 1634, Louis XIII had pardoned him, and Rohan was tasked with leading French troops first against Spain, and then against Germany in 1638. Henri de Rohan died from a battle wound in April 1638.

The Edict of Nantes of Nantes was completely revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV. Freedom to worship was introduced again in France in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,[4] a consequence of the French Revolution.

You can view the catalogue of this manuscript in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.


[1] Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004, vol. 2, p. 736

[2] The exact number of casualties is unknown. Estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000.

[3] The original French term is “Édit de pacification.”

[4] The original French name is “Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.”

Read more:

Clarke, Jack A. Huguenot Warrior : the Life and Times of Henri De Rohan, 1579-1638, 1966

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. Encyclopedia of Protestantism, New York: Routledge, 2004

Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, 2005.

Memoirs of Henri de Rohan online

A book of magical charms: MS. e Mus. 243

Whilst working on the project of retro-converting the Old Summary Catalogue (OSC), I get a unique chance to look at everything acquired by the Bodleian Libraries since 1602. This includes the academic, interesting, and a bit weird. And weird is what I’m bringing you today, hopefully offering a welcome bit of escapism.

You never know what you’re going to come across each day and the item I’ve chosen to write about this time is recorded as number 3548, with the description beginning “A book of magical charms”. How could this not pique my interest? The full OSC entry is as follows:

The Newberry Library in Chicago contains a similar book of magical charms from the 17th century, for which they sought public help to transcribe in 2017 in the hope of making the various magical texts they held “more accessible to both casual users and experts”.  Christopher Fletcher, the coordinator of the US based project, explained that ” both protestant and Catholic churches tried very hard to make sure that nobody would make a manuscript like this…they didn’t like magic. They were very suspicious of it. They tried to do everything they could to stamp it out. Yet we have this manuscript, which is  a nice piece of evidence that despite all of that effort to make sure people weren’t doing magic, people still continued doing it.” [1] Although from a different continent, this is a great piece of evidence to show how magic, spirituality, and supposed ‘witchcraft’ continued to remain in the lives of many for much longer than the church and state would have liked to believe.

There are another three items attributed by Falconer Madan (author of the OSC and a Bodleian librarian) to the Oxford citizen Joseph Godwin, who presented this book of magical charms on the 6th August 1655. These show an interesting mixture of magic, science, and religion, that was undoubtedly prevalent – though discouraged- at the time:

– Number 3543, MS. e Mus. 173: “Copies of incantations, charms, prayers, magical formulae, astrological devices, and the like”
– Number 3546, MS. e Mus. 238: “Magical treatises” (including magic and astrology)
– Number 3550, MS. e Mus, 245: “A roll of incantations and prayers”

As with many archival items, we don’t know a huge amount of information about it. We don’t know much about Joseph Godwin, the donor, other than that he was a citizen of Oxford, and we can’t know whether this book of magical charms was written by Godwin or someone else.  What we can assume with relative confidence is that the author of this book would have been well-educated. Literacy levels are notoriously difficult to estimate; some may have been able to read and not write, and although most information comes from those able to sign their names, they may have been able to do little else. However, in England in the 17th century, it is tentatively estimated that literacy levels were around 30% for males, potentially higher for a university city such as Oxford. [2] The fact that this, as well as the other material, is written in a mixture of Latin and English, suggests an elite education. A standardised form of written English became prevalent in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with this replacing Latin and French in 1417 in government documents and business. [3] By the 17th century, Latin would have largely been the preserve of the clergy and academic community. A disproportionate amount of those persecuted for witchcraft were from poor and uneducated backgrounds, whereas this book provides additional evidence that those from all walks of life may have taken an interest.

Onto the object here at the Bodleian Library. One of the reasons I chose this item to write about was how much the first charm I came across made me laugh:

“A booke of Experiments taken
out of dyvers [diverse] auqthors. 1622

Anger to aswage.

Wryte this name in an Apple ya[v]a
& cast it at thine enemie, & thou shalt
aswage his anger, Or geve it to a
woman & she shall love thee.”

Now I’m no expert, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say throwing an apple at your enemy is probably not going to do wonders for repairing your friendship, even in the 17th century! Geoffrey Scare, John Callow, et al, for The Guardian in 2001, wrote about how differently we do live now, however. They began their article on witchcraft and magic in 16th and 17th century Europe with a simple truth: “‘At the dawning of the third millennium, a belief in the reality and efficacy of witchcraft and magic is no longer an integral component of mainstream Western culture. When misfortune strikes at us, our family or a close neighbour, we do not automatically seek to locate the source of all our ills and ailments in the operation of occult forces, nor scour the local community for the elderly woman who maliciously harnessed them and so bewitched us.” [4] Just like this, we do not tend to turn to magical charms in order to reverse our fortune, or solve our problems with enemies, love, or danger, as the book suggests was practiced then.

This book of magical charms is to me, a mixture of folklore, religion and spiritual belief, and I couldn’t talk about it without delving a little bit into witchcraft, which I and many others find a fascinating topic. What I found shocking when doing my research was how recent the last conviction under the 1735 Witchcraft Act was in the United Kingdom. The act repealed previous laws against witchcraft but imposed fines and imprisonment still against those claiming to be able to use magical powers. To me, witchcraft persecution is the stuff of Early Modern History classes, but it was actually 1944 when Jane Rebecca Yorke of Forest Gate in East London was the last to be convicted. [5] Whereas we may think of witchcraft now to be mostly mythical, or something a small amount of the population dabble in, the law has played a large part in punishing those who have been associated in it throughout at least the last 500 years.

The first official (and by that I mean recorded) law against witchcraft in England was in 1542. Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, making the practice of magic a crime punishable by death. Although repealed in 1547, it was  restored in 1562. An additional law was passed in 1604 by James I, a firm believer in the persecution of witches, which transferred the trials from the church to ordinary courts and thus made witchcraft trials far more commonplace. The peak of witchcraft trials took place between 1580 and 1700, usually involving lower class and older women, and the last known trials occurred in Leicester in 1717. It is estimated that 500 people in England were executed for witchcraft related offences, most of these being women. As referenced above, the 1735 Witchcraft Act, passed in 1736, repealed the laws making witchcraft punishable by death but allowed fines and imprisonment. This was repealed in 1951 for the Fraudulent Mediums Act which is turn was repealed in 2008. [6] The timeline of witchcraft makes the book of charms even more interesting, and the act of Joseph Godwin’s donation one of potential bravery (/stupidity). With witchcraft such a prevalent part of society in 1622, this object in Godwin’s home or as a donation may have led to suspicion, prosecution, and even death.

The story behind the book, we may never know, but it is a great object in itself. Here are some other interesting passages/charms I came across which provide us a unique look into belief at this time:

If you’re interested in this object, you can view it in the Bodleian Archives and Modern Manuscripts interface. Once the library reopens, it will be available to request and view in the Weston Library Reading Rooms.

[1] Katz, B., “Chicago Library seeks help transcribing magical manuscripts,”, (3 July 2017), URL:
[2] Van Horn Melton, J., The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
[3] “Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500-1700,” The Guardian (20 June 2001), URL:
[4] Scarre, G., J. Callow, et al, “Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth Century Europe,” The Guardian (8 June 2001), URL: /jun/08/artsandhumanities.highereducation
[5] “Jane Rebecca Yorke,” Wikipedia, URL: _Yorke
[6] “Witchcraft,” UK Parliament, URL:

The ‘Mirror of Wisdom’ in the Weston stacks: MS. Lat. misc. e. 74

What is Rosicrucianism?

Rosicrucianism was born at the beginning of the 17th century from a legend about a man called Christian Rosenkreuz. According to the legend, Rosenkreuz was a German doctor who lived in the 15th century. He is credited with creating the Order of the Rose Cross, which gave its name to the tradition.

The spiritual movement draws on several other traditions and brings together Hermeticism, Christian mysticism, alchemy and the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah is a system of beliefs that derives from ancient Hebraic traditions. Though inherited from the Jewish religion, Christianism also has a Cabbala (with a different spelling). Whether Jewish or Christian, the tradition, if followed correctly, is to bring an evolution of the being, transforming the initiate into a better self, bringing them closer to their God. Quite similarly, Rosicrucianism aims at a “universal reformation of mankind”.

Together with freemasonry, Rosicrucianism is now one of the most well-known traditions of occultism. Since it appeared in the 17th century, it has had a lasting influence on many hermetic groups and shaped the occult revival of the 19th century. Although it has been quite forgotten today, at the time the movement was a large-scale phenomenon that touched most classes of society. Many significant people of the era dabbled in occult movements, making a lasting imprint on European culture. For example, Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats, two well-known writers of the time, were both initiates of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that heavily included Rosicrucianism in its teachings.

Before our manuscript was published, three other texts set the basis for what came to be know as Rosicrucianism; these were published in 1614 (Fama Fraternitatis RC), 1615 (Confessio Fraternitatis) and 1617 (Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosicross anno 1459). All three works are now considered manifestos to the spiritual tradition.

“The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross”

Not long after that, in 1618, Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum (The Mirror of the Wisdom of the Rosy Cross) was published by one “Theophilus Schweighardt” (a pseudonym, thought to be the German alchemist Daniel Mögling).

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 2-3

The manuscript is written in Latin, but it is famous enough to have been transcribed and translated. Today, the text is thus available in several languages, including English, on the internet.

Like many writings dealing with subjects like hermeticism or alchemy, it is a complex text, and those who have sought to decipher it have not always come to the same conclusions.

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, which is a copy of Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, has other interesting features though: three colourful paintings, tucked at the end of the manuscript, such as this one:

MS. Lat. misc. e. 74, pp. 44-45

Imagery in esotericism is always packed with symbols and acts as codes that can be deciphered by adepts. Lines, shapes, words and colours were always thought out with a lot of care and an image such as this one is meant to be more than just a pretty picture. This manuscript shows the pictures in glorious colourful details; however, when Speculum sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum was published, the paintings became simple black and white engravings. These still became very popular, to the point that today, this is the image that illustrate the Wikipedia page defining Rosicrucianism!

Screenshot of the ‘Rosicrucianism’ Wikipedia page taken in April 2020

Though the engravings might be famous, and other coloured versions of the pictures (maybe lithographs) exist, I have not been able to find any coloured version online as rich as the one in MS. Lat. misc. e. 74.

The content of the manuscript might be available through the internet, but it doesn’t quite compare to the experience of holding the manuscript and admiring its three paintings, coloured and highlighted in gold leaf.

This item is now available through the Bodleian Archives & Manuscript interface.


‘Rosicrucianism’ on Wikipedia
Speculum Sophicum Rhodo-Stauroticum, translated by Donald Maclean

Have I Got A Hymn For You

‘A Hympne of Thanksgiving, composed by John Roe’ (MS. Eng. c. 7963, fol. 71) has recently been catalogued as part of the current project to incorporate the Bodleian’s music-related manuscripts into the online catalogue. The item contains the text of a previously unknown seventeenth-century hymn. It is in the hand of the herald and antiquary, Sir William Dugdale (1608-1686), many of whose other papers are held by the Library. Dugdale held the title of Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary from 1644 to 1660. As part of the role, heralds would travel across England to deliver messages on behalf of the monarchy.

An early form of social media!

The hymn celebrates the Battle of Preston (1648), which ended with a victory of the Parliamentarians under the command of Oliver Cromwell over the Royalists and Scots led by the Duke of Hamilton during the English Civil War. John Roe is credited by Dugdale as the ‘composer’; however, his identity cannot be confirmed.

As an Assistant Archivist, I had the opportunity to take part in a Digital Editions Course at the Taylor Institutions Library. This course entailed for the digitisation of a chosen text, and creation of an XML file consisting of a transcription.

In order digitise the text, I had taken the photos using a digital camera and employed the software programme GIMP to ensure high-resolution and quality images. I then used Oxygen Editor to write the XML coding. The image and XML files were uploaded onto ORA data for future use and to provide access for researchers and students without the need to have the physical copy, which after about four hundred years is, unsurprisingly, showing some wear and tear. You can find these at the ORA deposit site here.

Following the convention of diplomatic transcription, I kept the spellings the same as they appear in the text; some of the writing though is illegible. For example, in stanza 6 (shown in the image above) I was unable to transcribe the last word in line 2: ‘‘Ye kings give ease, ye people […] / I even I will sing / And sweetly raise my voice in praise / To England’s God and king.’

Can you read the missing word? Heaze, wave, haze, or something else?

This catalogue is now online.

A new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts

The summer of 2019 saw the beginning of an exciting and much anticipated new project in Archives and Modern Manuscripts: the conversion of the Bodleian’s Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts into machine-readable format, ready for greater online accessibility through the newly launched Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts website.

What is the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts?

The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record (1915)

The Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts is key to accessing our collections. The ten volumes were compiled to list all of the Western manuscripts held by the Library, as a summary of the collection (they are aptly named), and a finding aid for researchers and readers. The first seven volumes, edited by Richard W. Hunt, Falconer Madan and P. D. Record, provide an overview of manuscripts acquired before 1915. The last three volumes, edited by Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, were published in 1991 and describe acquisitions made between 1916 and 1975.

Together, the volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts describes approximately 56,000 shelfmarks (physical places within our archival storage), and thus a substantial part of our vast and eclectic collection. The material ranges from manuscripts acquired singly such as an Album of genealogical tables of ruling families of Europe and the Middle East from classical times to the 20th century, to large archives such as the archive of John Locke (full catalogue coming soon).

If you want to learn more about the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and the acquisition of material at the Bodleian Libraries, alongside our interesting history, we highly recommend William Dunn Macray’s Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A.D. 1598-A.D. 1867, which you can read online here. William Dunn Macray worked here at the Bodleian during the nineteenth century.

How can you discover what’s in the Summary Catalogue now?

The volumes of the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts are accessible in paper format in the Weston library and have also been digitised to be accessible remotely. Digitised scans, in PDF form, are available via SOLO: the first seven volumes are accessible here, and the last three volumes there.  The first few Summary Catalogue descriptions that we’ve converted since the project began in September have been published in Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts. You can find details of what’s been published so far on our New Additions page.

Meet the team:

We are two archivists working exclusively on the project: Alice Whichelow and Pauline Soum-Paris. Our colleague Kelly Burchmore also devotes some of her time to the project.

Alice Whichelow – Hi! I qualified as an archivist in September 2019, gaining my qualification in Archives and Records Management from University College London. As a history enthusiast, getting to explore some of the lesser known treasures of the Bodleian Libraries’ collection is great, and getting to share them is even better!

Pauline Soum-Paris – After completing my Master of Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool, I became a qualified archivist in September 2019. With interests in languages, history and religions, I can only see the collection held by the Bodleian Libraries as a goldmine and I am looking forward to sharing a few of the gems I come across every day!

Kelly Burchmore – As a project archivist who qualified in Digital Curation in March 2019, I work mostly on modern collections. Therefore, through the conversion process I enjoy learning about the physical characteristics of more traditional archive material; it’s interesting to read about the binding of the manuscripts, and see the meticulous methods by which they were catalogued. It’s great to work with Alice and Pauline to share the value of this project, and indeed, the collections and items themselves.

What you can expect from us:

The conversion of these Summary Catalogue descriptions into machine-readable form for online discovery is now well-underway, and new descriptions will be added regularly to Bodleian Archives & Manuscripts over the course of 2020 and 2021. We will be using this blog to keep you updated on what we find, sharing blog posts about items and collections from the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts which have sparked our interests. Likewise, if you have used the Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and have suggestions regarding items that fascinated you, do let us know in the comments. So, keep an eye out and enjoy!

Oxford College Archives

A new website for Oxford College Archives has been launched at

Painting of Oxford students entitled 'Conversation Piece, Worcester College' by Edward HallidayThe site includes a general introduction to the archives held by the Oxford colleges, individual pages on most of the colleges (with further links to catalogues etc.) and links to associated archives in the City and University.  There is also an FAQ page, a glossary of all those odd Oxford terms, and a bibliography.  The site will be enhanced and updated regularly.