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Pembroke College : Matthew Wren's Benefactors' Book

Pembroke College

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This folio manuscript is Pembroke College’s Benefactors’ Book, a great work of seventeenth-century bibliography. Its largest section is an illustrated register of donors to Pembroke’s library, supplying the books that donors gave alongside their biographies and arms. It was begun in 1617 by Matthew Wren, uncle of the architect Christopher, who was Pembroke’s President at the time.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Wren first listed all the previous gifts of books for which he could find evidence. Then he began entering gifts made to the library during his own tenure, of which the largest by far came from Lancelot Andrewes, Master of the College. (Have a look at his beautifully painted arms on <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(205);return false;'>f. 92r</a>.) After Wren left Pembroke in 1624, other members of Pembroke continued making entries as new donations came in. This practice continued until the early eighteenth century.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Nearly every seventeenth-century college in Oxford and Cambridge used a book like Wren’s to commemorate its library’s benefactors, following the lead of the Bodleian Library and All Souls College. Many of these books were beautifully illustrated; in fact some of them are now the most lavish post-medieval manuscripts in their respective colleges’ collections. Matthew Wren’s book was part of the broader fad for these books, and in that sense it was not unique.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Nevertheless, it is set apart from all other college benefactors’ books by its scholarly quality. Wren’s long introduction to the book told the library’s history from its medieval beginnings down to his own day. To tell that story Wren cited letters, statutes and receipts from the College’s archives, few of which still survive. At the end of the Benefactors’ Book, meanwhile, Wren drew up Pembroke’s first systematic catalogue of manuscripts, which he had already ranged into an alphabetical series. Taken all together, Wren’s scholarship in this book gives us valuable insight into the workings of Pembroke’s early-modern library.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>M. R. James included a small extract from the book in his 1905 catalogue of Pembroke College’s manuscripts. About a century later, the Cambridge volume of the <i>Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues</i> printed part of Wren’s record on medieval gifts, cataloguing its extract as UC47. Here the book has been digitised and transcribed for the first time.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Jonathan Simon Nathan</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Note to readers: folios 201v-296r, 316v-325r and 327v - all blank leaves/pages - were not photographed during the manuscript's digitisation and consequently are not displayed on the Digital Library.</p>

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