Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Introduction to Topic

Thomas de Cobham, Duke Humfrey and Sir Thomas Bodley were each extremely important to the early beginnings of the concept of a library at Oxford University.  It is the libraries they attempted to create, successful or not, that this essay primarily focuses on.

Thomas de Cobham and the Original Oxford University Library

Thomas de Cobham, the Bishop of Worcester, ‘provided money for the erection of a congregation house for university with a room above it on the north side of St Mary’s church’. The building was not completed when Thomas Cobham died in 1327. Unfortunately ‘the books were pledged by Cobham’s executors to meet the expenses of his funeral and were redeemed by Adam de Brome who was now Provost of Oriel” (http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/content/history-library)
“The first library for Oxford University -  as distinct from the colleges – was housed in a room above the Old Congregation House, begun c. 1320.. The room, which still exists as vestry and meeting room for the church, is neither large nor architecturally impressive, and it was superseded in 1488 by the library known as Duke Humfrey’s, which constitutes the oldest part of the Bodleian complex.”( http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/history)

Duke Humfrey and his Library

Duke Humphrey of Gloucester was the youngest son of Henry IV. He was interested in patronizing learning, collecting manuscripts and adding to Universities through gifts. It’s been considered that Oxford University’s decision to build a new library over the Divinity School occurred because Duke Humfrey donated so many manuscripts to the original Oriel library in St. Mary’s that the room couldn’t hold them all. The new room was completed in 1480 and formed the central part of the overall reading-room.

In 1550, ‘commissioners’ were  sent by King Edward VI ‘in the spirit of the Reformation’ to denude the Duke Humfrey library. Augustine Birrell’s comment ‘for a long while the tailors and shoemakers and bookbinders of Oxford were well supplied with vellum, which they found useful in their respective callings. It was a hard fate for so splendid a collection…the books and manuscripts being thus dispersed or destroyed, a prudent if unromantic Convocation exposed for sale the wooden shelves, desks, and seat of the old library, and so made a complete end of the whole concern, thus making room for Thomas Bodley’ (In the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays) referred to the destruction of this library that occurred after a ‘visitation by Richard Cox, Dean of the newly-founded Christ Church’. King Edward VI had passed legislation designed to ‘purge the English church of all traces of Roman Catholicism, including ‘superstitious books and images’.

Anthony Wood, a historian, suggested that ‘some of those books so taken out by the Reformers were burnt, some sold away for Robin Hood’s pennyworths, either to Booksellers, or to Glovers to press their gloves, or Taylors to make measures, or to Bookbinders to cover books bound by them, and some also kept by the Reformers for their own use’.( http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/history, viewed 15 October 2012). Ultimately, the original Duke Humfrey’s library was destroyed by these actions and Oxford University did not have the money to recover the losses they suffered through these actions. 

Sir Thomas Bodley and the Bodleian

Thomas Bodley helped finance and create the Bodleian Library of Oxford University, building upon the remnants of the Duke Humfrey's library.

In his retirement, Bodley decided to ‘set up my staff at the library door in Oxon; being thoroughly persuaded, that in my solitude, and surcease from the Commonwealth affairs, I could not busy myself to better purpose, than by reducing that place (which then in every part lay ruined and waste) to the public use of students’.

On February 23, 1597/8, Thomas Bodley sat himself down in his London house and addressed to the Vice Chancellor of his University a certain famous letter:

'Altho' you know me not as I suppose, yet for the farthering of an offer of evident utilitie to your whole University I will not be too scrupulous in craving your assistance. I have been alwaies of a mind that if God of his goodness should make me able to do anything for the benefit of posteritie, I would shew some token of affiction that I have ever more borne to the studies of good learning. I know my portion is too slender to perform for the present any answerable act to my willing disposition, but yet to notify some part of my desire in that behalf I have resolved thus to deal. Where there hath been heretofore a public library in Oxford which you know is apparent by the room itself remaining and by your statute records, I will take the charge and cost upon me to reduce it again to its former use and to make it fit and handsome with seats and shelves and desks and all that may be needful to stir up other mens benevolence to help to furnish it with books. And this I purpose to begin as soon as timber can be gotten to the intent that you may be of some speedy profit of my project. And where before as I conceive it was to be reputed but a store of books of divers benefactors because it never had any lasting allowance for augmentation of the number or supply of books decayed, whereby it came to pass that when those that were in being were either wasted or embezzled, the whole foundation came to ruin. To meet with that inconvenience, I will so provide hereafter (if God do not hinder my present design) as you shall be still assured of a standing annual rent to be disbursed every year in buying of books, or officers stipends and other pertinent occasions, with which provision and some order for the preservation of the place and the furniture of it from accustomed abuses, it may perhaps in time to come prove a notable treasure for the multitude of volumes, an excellent benefit for the use and ease of students, and a singular ornament of the University.'
In 1598, Oxford accepted Bodley’s money and the ‘old library was refurnished to house a new collection of some 2.500 books, some of them given by Bodley himself, some by other donors’.
Bodley wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on February 23rd, 1598, 'I will take the charge and cost upon me, to reduce it [the library] again to his former use: and to make it fitte, and handsome with seates, and shelfes, and Deskes, and all that may be needfull, to stirre up other mens benevolence'. The offer had clearly been carefully prepared; he was already planning endowment; and within less than a month announced that he had obtained timber for the furnishings, and that he and his close friend and advisor, Henry Savile, the polymath Warden of Merton, were about to come forward with a new design, on the model of the shelving introduced, for the first time in England, by Savile in the Merton library just ten years earlier.( Clennell, Thomas Bodley, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1598).
In 1610 Bodley entered into an agreement with the Stationers’ Company of London under which a copy of every book published in England and registered at Stationers’ Hall would be deposited in the new library. Although at first the agreement was honoured more in the breach than in the observance, it nevertheless pointed to the future of the library as a comprehensive and ever-expanding collection, different in both size and purpose from the libraries of the colleges. More immediately it imposed an extra strain on space within the building, which was already housing many more books than originally foreseen; new gifts of books made the lack of space ever more acute.
At the beginning of 1612, the Stationers’ Company of London reaffirmed an agreement with Thomas Bodley of 1610, binding all printers to deliver to the Warden of the Company, for onward transmission to Oxford, one copy of every new book they printed, in quires (folded, but unbound sheets). To add further weight to its enforcement, eighteen members of the Court of High Commission added their signatures to the document, promising their support. Although the Bodleian throughout the seventeenth century only received a small proportion of the books registered at Stationers’ Hall, Bodley’s agreement ensured that his library’s claim to every book published was confirmed in the first Copyright Act of 1710 and all subsequent acts.

On January 20 1613 Sir Thomas Bodley died. The day after Bodley’s funeral, “work started on the building of a spacious quadrangle of buildings (the Schools Quadrangle) to the east of the library. Bodley was the prime mover in this ambitious project, but most of the money was raised by loans and public subscription. The buildings were designed to house lecture and examination rooms (‘schools’ in Oxford parlance) to replace what Bodley called ‘those ruinous little rooms’ on the site in which generations of undergraduates had been taught. In his will Bodley left money to add a third floor designed to serve as ‘a very large supplement for stowage of books’, which also became a public museum and picture gallery, the first in England.” (http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/history-bodleian-library)


The Bodleian is a legal deposit library. This means that the library is entitled to claim free of charge a copy of everything published in the United Kingdom, provided they make a claim within a year of the date of publication. In total, there are six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The other five are The British Library, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Library of Trinity College in Dublin and the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/operations/legaldeposit).  The requirement to deposit an item does not depend on its having been allocated an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or Serial Number (ISSN) but on whether or not it can be considered to have been published (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/operations/legaldeposit)The principle of legal deposit has been well established for nearly four centuries (http://www.legaldeposit.org.uk/background.html#legal).

The Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries (ALDL), originated 2 March 2009, replaced the former Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries based in London. This agency ‘requests and receives copies of publications for distribution to five major libraries. It is maintained by five legal deposit libraries and ensures that they receive legal deposit copies of British and Irish publications.

The agency must request copies on behalf of the five libraries within 12 months of the date of publication. On receiving such a request from the agency, a publisher must supply a copy for each of the requesting libraries under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (UK) and the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 (Ireland) (http://www.legaldeposit.org.uk/background.html#agency).

Copyright Acts and Dates
  • 1610: Sir Thomas Bodley, having re-established, re-built and endowed the University’s library at his own expense obtained the agreement of the Stationers Company to permit the Bodleian Library to claim a copy of everything printed under royal licence. In effect, this made the Bodleian Library the first Legal Deposit library in the British Isles.
  • 1662: Press Licencing Act of 1662
  • 1709/1710: Copyright Act of 1709/1710 under Queen Anne
  • 1911: Copyright Act extended the legal deposit privilege to the National Library of Wales located in Aberystwyth.
  • 2003: Legal Deposit Libraries Act of 2003 

Borrowing policies of the BodleianTen things you need to know about the Bodleian Library 

  1. The majority of the collections in the Central Bodleian are reference-only and cannot be borrowed. The only exception is the Personal Development collection, housed in theGladstone Link.  
  2. The Bodleian Library is the second biggest in Great Britain, after the British Library itself. The Bodleian collection includes more than 9 million volumes.
  3. The Bodleian Library is one of five legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom. We are entitled to claim a copy of every book and periodical part published in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. We are also obliged to keep them in perpetuity.
  4. The Bodleian Library is part of the Bodleian Libraries, a group of more than thirty research, faculty and departmental libraries that make up the largest part of Oxford University's library provision.
  5. The Bodleian's printed collections, as well as many electronic resources, are listed on Oxford University's catalogue SOLO, which is available for all to consult on the internet.
  6. Our large collections of online resources can be accessed remotely by current Oxford University members, and from within the libraries by non-Oxford library members. 
  7. The Bodleian's holdings include internationally significant collections of manuscripts, maps, sheet music, and printed ephemera.
  8. A large proportion of our collections are kept in a remote storage in a state of the art facility in Swindon. Library members can order material from storage using SOLO.
  9. Readers can now move material across the Library complex through the Gladstone Link. (Material dating pre-1851 should remain in the Old Bodleian Library, and material dating pre-1701 should remain in Duke Humfrey's Library).
  10. If, having read this, you are unsure where to start or have any questions, please go to the Main Enquiry Desk in the Lower Reading Room, Old Bodleian Library, telephone 01865 (2)77162 or email reader.services@bodleian.ox.ac.uk for further assistance.(http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/services/using)

Bodley’s Librarians

The head of the Bodleian Library is known as "Bodley's Librarian.
The first librarian, Thomas James, was selected by Bodley in 1599, and the university confirmed James in his post in 1602.[30][31] Bodley wanted his librarian to be "some one that is noted and knowen for a diligent Student, and in all his conuersation to be trustie, actiue, and discreete, a graduat also and a Linguist, not encombred with mariage, nor with a benefice of Cure",[32] although James was able to persuade Bodley to let him get married and to become Rector of St Aldate's Church, Oxford.[31]

1600 Thomas James
1620 John Rouse
1652 Thomas Barlow
1660 Thomas Lockey
1665 Thomas Hyde
1701 John Hudson
1719 Joseph Bowles
1729 Robert Fysher
1747 Humphrey Owen
1768 John Price
1813 Bulkeley Bandinel
1860 Henry Octavius Coxe
1882 Edward Williams Byron Nicholson
1912 Falconer Madan
1919 Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley
1931 Sir (Herbert Henry) Edmund Craster
1945 H.R. Creswick
1948 (John) Nowell Linton Myres
1966 Robert Shackleton
1979 (Erik) Richard (Sidney) Fifoot
1982 John W. Jolliffe
1986 David G. Vaisey
1997 Reg P. Carr
2007 Sarah E. Thomas

The current Librarian, Sarah E. Thomas, is the 24th to hold the office.


In conclusion Thomas de Cobham, Duke Humfrey and Sir Thomas Bodley were important to the history of libraries, independent of Oxford Colleges, in England. They each have an interesting story to tell which can be explored through further research.

Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries, Available from <http://www.legaldeposit.org.uk/background.html#agency>, viewed 23 October 2012

Bodleian Libraries. Available from <http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/librarian/librarians>, viewed 30 October 2012

Bodleian Libraries (2012). Available from <http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/librarian/librarians>, viewed 19 October 2012

Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera, “Legal Deposit: UK and Irish Legal Deposit Libraries”, Available from <http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/operations/legaldeposit>, viewed 23 October 2012

Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera, “Using the Library: Ten things you need to know about the Bodleian Library”, Available from <http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/services/using>, viewed 23 October 2012

‘In the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays’ (2004) <URL:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/12244/12244-h/12244-h.htm> viewed 20 September 2012

Madan, Falconer (1919). The Bodleian Library at Oxford, Duckworth & Co. p. 18

Roberts, R. Julian (2004). “James Thomas (1572/3-1629)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, viewed 23 October 2012

Salter, H.E: Lobel, Mary D., eds. (1954) “The Bodleian Library”, A History of the County of Oxford 

Volume III- The University of Oxford. Victoria County History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, pp.44-47, viewed 23 October 2012.

‘University Libraries in the 12-15th Centuries: Growth & Development’(2005) URL: online.sfsu.edu/~fielden/oxcam/oxford3.doc viewed: 23 September 2012

What is the Bodleian Library?, Available from <http://encycl.opentopia.com/term/Bodleian_Library>, viewed 22 October 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment