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WHITE, Richard.

THE RAREST OF ENGLISH HISTORIES

Historiarum Britanniae Insulae.

[Douai], apud Carolum Boscardum, 1598-1607.

£15,000

FIRST EDITIONS of Books 6-11. Small 8vo. 11 books in 3 vols, I: pp. (xvi) 3-469 (iii); II: pp. (viii) 123 (iii), (viii) 96, (iv) 108, (viii) 174 (ii); III: pp. (viii) 142 (ii), (viii) 110 (ii). Roman letter, little Italic, occasional Greek. Woodcut printer’s device to couple of t-ps, author’s engraved portrait to verso of vol. 1 t-p, author’s large engraved arms to α7 verso, woodcut initials and ornaments. First t-p a little dusty, verso of last leaf of vol. 1 slightly browned at margins, preliminaries α8 of vol. 1 (cancels of second ed.) and a4 of Part IX slightly short at foot, couple of outer edges shaved, tiny worm trail to last two text ll. of vol. 3. Fine, clean copies in polished calf c.1700, single gilt ruled, outer edges gilt, raised bands, spine gilt-lettered, gilt Golden Fleece device of Longepierre or Martin Folkes in compartments, a.e.r., silk bookmarks, minor loss at head of spine and upper joint of vol. 1. Bookplate of James Elwin Millard to front pastedowns staining some eps, ms. ‘Stamford July 27th 1695’ (Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl?) to first t-p, ms. casemark to ffep of vols 2-3, occasional C17 annotations.

Finely bound, complete set of this account of ancient British history. ‘One of the rarest books in the whole class of English history when containing the whole Eleven Books’ (Heber catalogue, p.294). ‘The work is very seldom found complete, most of the copies wanting the latter parts, especially parts X and XI, which are extremely scarce’ (Lowndes). Books X and XI are ‘very difficult to find; a complete set is paid very dearly in England’ (Brunet). Indeed.

Richard White of Basingstoke (1539-1611) studied at Oxford, Louvain and Padua, where he became doctor ‘in utroque’. After converting to Catholicism, he fled to Douai, where he was university professor, and later rector and ‘comes palatinus’. ‘Historiarum Britanniae’, his greatest work, traces the origins of Britain from its mythical foundation by the Trojan Brutus to the last ancient Briton/Welsh king, Cadwallader, and the early Anglo-Saxon rulers. Following mainly the traditional account of Geoffrey of Monmouth, based in turn on ancient Welsh bardic songs, it reports, with White’s commentary, the deeds of ancient Briton kings, including Lear and Arthur. An original point is his identification of Arthur with Riothimius, the ‘king of the Britons’ who reached Gaul in 468AD, according to Jordanes’s ‘Historia Getica’. White engaged with the historiographic debate, of great political importance in Tudor England, on the so-called ‘British History’, started by Polydore Vergil’s criticism of Geoffrey’s narrative in the 1530s. This opposed the legendary medieval national history, the basis of Tudor mythography and much cherished by Protestant Patriots, against the developing antiquarian method, keener on philology and historical evidence. More generally, the work is White’s attempt ‘to reclaim “the British History” for the Catholic tradition, while at the same time being an expression of its exiled author’s sense of himself as a patriotic Englishman’ (MacColl, ‘Richard White’, 245).

Books 1-5 were issued in one vol. and a single t-p in Arras (Atrebatum) in 1597. In this copy, as in at least another seven, the original t-p (A1) of vol. 1 was cancelled with a new t-p dated Douai, 1602, and preliminaries.

The charming golden fleece device gilt to the spines achieved bibliographical fame being used by the great French collector and playwright, Hilaire Bernard de Requeleyne, Baron de Longepierre (1679-1721). In the same year an English collector also employed the same device—Martin Folkes (1690-1754), a mathematician, antiquary and astronomer, and a prominent Freemason. He was a fellow of the Royal Society during the presidency of Isaac Newton, and beaten to that office by Sir Hans Sloane. This copy is unhelpfully not present in either library catalogue.

No complete sets recorded in the US.

Lowndes XI, 2902; Brunet V, 1331; Adams W91; Allison & Rogers I, 1369. Not in Duthilloeul, Bib. Douaisienne. A. MacColl, ‘Richard White and the Legendary History of Britain’, Humanistica Lovaniensia 51 (2002), 245-57.

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