PITTS, John Relationum Historicarum de Rebus Anglicis

Paris, Rolin Thierry and Sebastian Cramoisy, via Iacobaea, 1619


FIRST EDITION 4to. pp. 990. Roman and italic letter, woodcut initials, t.p. printed in red and black with woodcut printer’s device of two pelicans within decorative wreath. T.p. with ms ex libris of Thomas Shirley, slightly later ms ex libris of Henry Johnson on upper corner of A2. Light age yellowing, upper corner of t.p. cut away without loss, fly leaf looselight dampstain to lower corner of second half, marginal foxing and paper softening to final gathering. A good copy in contemporary speckled calf, covers double ruled in blind, lower cover repaired at edge, title gilt on spine ruled in five compartments with raised bands, small repair at head, all edges speckled red.

One of the earliest bio-bibliographies of English authors, divided into four parts, and an excellent practical reference book even today. Pitts begins with an ecclesiastical history of England, but the bulk of the work is a catalogue of Britons compiled after the example of Geoffrey of Monmoth, John Bale, and Thomas James, beginning with Brutus of Troy in 2879 B.C. who was supposedly the first to settle England, and ending with himself after 1612. Included with each is a brief biography and bibliography of written works, with specific imprints cited where possible. Particularly long entries are given to Thomas Linacre, John Skelton, and John Leland, the longest to Thomas More. The third part is an appendix of works by English authors, some writing under pseudonyms or about whom not much is known. The work concludes with a helpful alphabetical index, with a section listing Pitts’s manuscript sources. It is a uniquely valuable source of reference, especially but not only, for catholic authors often otherwise ignored from the commencement of the reformation until Pitts’s death in 1616, indeed his is the last entry. Most of these authors are unnoticed by the later English bibliographies such as Bayle and Lowndes and biographies such as DNB, even though the latter includes the most obscure and eccentric dissenters of low church persuasion. Apart from being an irreplaceable primary source for a vitally important period of English history, Pitts also provides much valuable bibliographical information not otherwise available, such as dates and places of printing and comprehensive lists of contents. Besterman estimates that some 10,000 works are thus described.

Sir Thomas Shirley (c.1590 – 1654) was one of a group of Midlands antiquaries including Burton, Dugdale, Archer and Habington. In 1638, with Dugdale, Edward Dering and Christopher Hatton, he formed a group called ‘the Students of Antiquity’ dedicated to archival research. Staunchly Catholic, he suffered high financial penalties and imprisonment for his recusancy, as well as exile in France. Several books are recorded from what appears to have been his, rather good, working library.

BM. STC Fr. C17. P1111. Lowndes V 1974 “This work was edited by Dr W Bishop who has prefixed to it a learned and valuable preface”. Brunet IV “il est encore recherché en Angleterre”. Allison and Rogers 907. Gillow V p. 318-9. Besterman I. 905.
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