Jacobean travelling library, 1617

This impressive wooden case containing a collection of miniature books is one of the most curious items in our collections. It is a travelling library made in England in the early seventeenth century.

It was probably commissioned by William Hakewill (1574-1655), a lawyer and MP, for a friend of his as a New Year's Gift, at the turn of the year 1617/1618. The Latin form of his name “Gulielmus Hakewil” survives painted inside the lower compartment of the box, along with the date “Jan 1617”. Painted on the lowest shelf is a coat of arms almost identical to that of Hakewill, except that the colours are reversed. As no other family has these arms, it is most likely that the colours were muddled by the painter. 

The recipient of this gift seems to have been a member of the Irish Madden family, whose arms are clearly painted beneath the catalogue of the library inside the front board, possibly one Robert Madden.

Hakewill was also connected to the original owners of three similar travelling libraries. It is likely that within a period of four or five years he ordered libraries to be made for Sir Julius Caesar (1558-1636), Sir Thomas Egerton (1540?-1617) and for one of the sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon (1509-79). These are now held at the British Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.

The books within the library are all small in format and bound in limp vellum covers with coloured fabric ties. They are gold-tooled on the spine with a flower and a wreath tool, and all the covers are outlined by two fillets and in the front have a gilt angel bearing a scroll that reads GLORIA DEO.

The books are on theology and philosophy, classical history and classical poetry, containing works by Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, Saint Augustine, and others. The latest imprint year for books within the library is 1616, most of them printed in Leiden.

The catalogue inside the front cover is arranged in three columns of text within an architectural structure of arches and columns painted on a sheet of vellum.