Il Libro del Cortegiano in Tudor England

Rylands Castiglione R220959 title page
Baldassare Castiglione, Il Libro del Cortegiano. (Venice, 1541). R220959

The John Rylands Library holds an outstanding collection of editions of Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier) by Baldassare Castiglione, the prototype of the “courtesy book” and the classic picture of the ideal renaissance courtier, prince, and enlightened ruler. The collection includes all the early editions published by the Aldine press and the 1588 trilingual edition (Italian, French and English) printed in London by John Wolfe. We were recently able to acquire a fascinating copy of the third Aldine edition published in 1541.

This copy is from the library of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614), with his signature in lower and outer margins of title, accompanied by a variety of mottoes and quotations in Greek, Latin, and Italian, and with over two hundred marginal annotations throughout the text in his hand.  In his 1995 study The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano, pages 79-80, Peter Burke discusses this copy in detail as a prime example of the influence of the book on the aristocracy in Renaissance England, describing the marginalia as “the fullest and most systematic annotations on Castiglione known to me.” Most of the notes are in Italian, but some are in Latin (quotations from Cicero, etc.).

Rylands Castiglione R220959 opening

Henry Howard was the second son of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (d.1547).  As a crypto-Catholic and supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, he was suspect in Elizabeth’s eyes, but he rose to a position of great power under James I.  The DNB notes that “he took an active part in political business, and exhibited in all his actions a stupendous want of principle”.  He was commissioner for the trials of Sir Walter Raleigh (1603) and Guy Fawkes (1605).  He was the friend of Bacon (indeed Bacon chose him as ‘the learnedest councillor’ in the kingdom to present his ‘Advancement of Learning’ to James I), but he was the bitter foe of Ben Jonson.  “Despite his lack of principle”, the DNB concludes, “he displayed a many-sided culture and was reputed the most learned nobleman of his time”.

After his death, Henry Howard’s library was purchased by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and the books were part of the sixth Duke of Norfolk’s gift (at the diarist John Evelyn’s instigation) to the Royal Society in 1667.  The bulk of these books were subsequently sold by the Royal Society in 1873 to Bernard Quaritch. More recently the book was owned by the Oxford physician and bibliophile Bent Juel-Jensen (1922-2007). It was purchased by the Library at the sale of Aldine imprints & early printed books from the library of Kenneth Rapoport, held at Swann Auction Galleries of New York on Tuesday October 23, 2012. The acquisition was generously supported by the Friends of the National Libraries.

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