BEDE, The Venerable.


Ecclesiasticae Historiae gentis Anglorum

Antwerp, Ioannes Gravius, 1550


Folio, pp. (vi) 253 (xiii). Roman letter. Printer’s device to t-p and verso of last, attractive historiated and decorated initials. T-p a bit dusty, slight age yellowing, light waterstain to a few initial ll. and to lower blank margin of last ll., some deckle edges. A very good, wide-margined copy in contemporary English calf, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, ornamental roll with heads in roundels to firsthand third border, spine with blind ruled raised bands (rebacked). Bookplate of Sir John Ingilby (1758 – 1815), 1st Baronet of Ripley Castle (Yorkshire) to t-p and his ms. autograph “J: Ingilby Ripley Ebor” to t-p, brief ms. sentence in Latin and early modern English translations to verso of last and autograph “Francys Tunstall” to rear pastedown. In modern slipcase with gilt Prince of Wales’ feathers.

A very good copy Bede’s masterpiece ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, the first account of Anglo-Saxon history. The present edition (first c. 1473) is the sixth, containing the first critical revision of the text based on manuscripts and supplying the conclusion of chapter 24 in book V, hitherto unprinted. The volume is in an elegant contemporary English binding, and the design of the plates resembles the style of London binders. The decorative roll has been identified by Oldham (Oldham pl. L, n. 850), who notes that it appears on bindings dated to 1535-56.

Bede’s most famous and celebrated work, ‘Ecclesiasticae Historiae gentis Anglorum’ encompasses the history of England from Cesar’s invasion in 55 BC to AD 731, when the author completed the text. Bede’s main purpose in writing this book was to describe the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon tribes to Christianity, as well as the growth and establishment of the Christian Church in England: “Because the Historia Ecclesiastica gave a coherent narrative structure to the origins of Christian England, it also played a foundational role in the construction of English national identity” (Rowley). It is divided into five books: the first sketches the early history of Britain, the Roman occupation and Augustine’s important mission to England in 597, which brought the Christian faith to the Anglo- Saxons; the second and third mainly deal with the evangelisation of Northumbria; the fourth begins with the consecration of Theodore of Tarsus as Archbishop of Canterbury and moves on to the evangelisation of South Saxons by Wilfrid; the fifth continues up to Bede’s day, and includes a critical section discussing the correct dating of Easter. A remarkable historian, Bede always indicates his sources: for the earliest periods of his ‘Historia’, he drew on ancient writers; interestingly, in order to obtain information regarding the conversion of ecclesiastical centres throughout England, he contacted monasteries directly. In the preface addressed Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria, Bede acknowledges his correspondents: among them, abbot Albinus and Nothhelm of Canterbury, bishop Daniel of Winchester, and many others.

A Benedictine monk at the monastery of St. Peter (Wearmouth, near Sunderland, Durham), Bede the Venerable (c. 672-735) was an Anglo-Saxon theologian, historian, and chronologist. Declared Doctor of the Church in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII, he was also a skilled translator who made the writings of the early Church Fathers much more accessible to the Anglo-Saxons.

This copy belonged to “Francys Tunstall”, possibly the English nobleman Francis Tunstall (1531- 1587), Esq. of Thurland Castle (Lancashire) or his homonym son (c. 1559-1637).

USTC 400809; Adams B452; BM STC Netherlands, p. 19; Graesse I, p. 321. Not in Brunet. S.M. Rowley, The Old English Version of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (2011). On Francis Tunstall, see: J.W. Clay, Dugdale\'s Visitation of Yorkshire II, (1899), p. 295-96.
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