Selection of the Month
Charles I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland was executed for treason on January 30, 1649. Civil Wars had rocked his Kingdom since 1642, deeply rooted in complex political and religious differences. Charles I, ever believing in his rightness, wrote his defense during his years in exile and imprisonment (1642-1649). These writings were published simultaneously with his death as, The povrtraictvre of His Sacred Maiestie in his solitvdes and svfferings, or Eikon Basilike. The book turned out to be very controversial and very damaging to the new government, with the King portrayed as a martyr. Such a ruckus ensued that the government solicited John Milton to write a response to discredit the King and his authorship, and label the book as Royalist propaganda.
The true authorship of the book is still being debated today, but what is perhaps most exciting about this book is the lens it provides to the study of the past. Using Eikon Basilike as a lens, one learns about censorship: publishing anything with a Royalist flavor in London at this time required great care and secrecy. Also, we can see that high demand for printed materials led to poor printing quality, with misprints and errors slipping into the text with subsequent editions. The power of illustration is also apparent: the frontispiece denotes the King in a very pious mode recalling Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, lending to his image as a religious as well as political martyr.
How did a copy of this book, published in London in 1649, make it to the Rare Book Collection here in Western Libraries? It was donated in 1938 by Mrs. Frances Larrabee, a prominent community member. Prior to her ownership (and we do not know how she came to have it), our copy shows evidence of at least three previous owners, and even includes an inscription conveying the book from one woman to another. Who were they? At present, we do not know. There is also evidence of close reading by owners over time, including 28 passages marked with “pointing hands,” called manicules, a type of marginalia used in books as early as the twelfth century. Who made the marks, when, and why? Again, at this time, we do not know.
This book then, as all books, is more than its text; it can take us down a road of discovery as we seek to understand its production, distribution and consumption, and in doing so take us back to the very world in which it was created, and to each generation in which it lived. The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is filled with such books, each with its own story waiting to be told. Come check them out!
Special Collections Manager