ERASMUS. Christiani matrimonii institutio.

Basle, J. Froben, 1526


8vo. ff. [212], a-z8 A-B8 C4 D8. Roman letter, little Italic or Greek. Woodcut printer’s device to title and last verso, a2 text within charming woodcut border with grotesques, decorated initials and ornaments. A little light age yellowing, intermittent faint water stain to blank gutter, and odd upper or outer margin, more pronounced in a couple of gatherings, few scattered light mould spots towards fore-edge of first gathering (treated), small splash at blank foot of last verso. A good, clean copy in C17 French mottled calf, expertly rebacked, original spine onlaid, double blind ruled, spine gilt and gilt-lettered, a.e.r., three corners repaired (retaining original leather). C19 Parisian bookseller’s label to front pastedown, earlier round stamp ‘Jacobins R. S. Honore’ and C19 autograph ‘P. Peron’ (a trifle faded) to title, C17 ms. ‘Ex libris Ff[ratru]m Praedicatorum Parisiensium ad S. Honoratum’ at head of a2, occasional contemporary ms. marginalia, some just trimmed or a little faded, but overall legible.

A good, clean copy of the first octavo edition, published the same year as the first (in folio), of Erasmus’s important work on marriage and divorce, written at the request of his patron Catherine of Aragon, married to Henry VIII of England. Erasmus (1466-1536), the greatest humanist of the northern Renaissance, taught at Oxford and Cambridge, between 1499 and 1515; he praised Henry VIII’s court for fostering learning and scholarship. Dedicated to the Queen, ‘Institutio’ was written a year before the king petitioned Clement VII to request marriage annulment. In fact, during debates on divorce in the following years, works like these were commissioned as part of the parties’ evidence-support gathering for their respective cases. This is probably one of the earliest. The prefatory letter (15 July 1526) states that ‘Institutio’ had been commissioned by William Mountjoy, the Queen’s chamberlain, over 2 years earlier. Henry VIII’s first interest in his new mistress Anne Boleyn has been dated to Autumn 1524/Winter 1525 (Starkey, pp.271-8). He had had several other mistresses whilst married to Catherine, including Elizabeth Blount and Anne Stafford, in the 1510s, and Mary Boleyn, just before her sister Anne. In October 1525, Erasmus wrote to Thomas Lupset that he was working on ‘Institutio’, adding that Vives had already written a similar treatise and wondering why the Queen was requesting another (Vives, p.ix).

VD16 E 2182; USTC 621133; BM STC Ger., p.279. Not in Graesse. A.G. Weiler, G. and J. Barker, ‘Erasmus […] on Marriage and Divorce’, Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschiedenis 84 (2004), pp.149-97; J.L. Vives, De Institutione Feminae Christianae, ed. C. Fantazzi et al. (1998), vol.7; D. Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2001).
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