One of the world's most valuable and coveted books, the First Folio was uncovered when librarian Remy Cordonnier dusted off a copy of Shakespeare’s works dating to the 18th century for an exhibition on English literature in the town of Saint-Omer near Calais. Saint-Omer is an ancient port town that bustled with economic and cultural activity in the Middle Ages. Its library has 800 important manuscripts 230 incunabula as well as a Gutenberg Bible.
The book, published seven years after Shakespeare’s death, was authenticated on Saturday by ‘First Folio’ expert Eric Rasmussen from the University of Nevada. Rasmussen, who has written a book about his twenty-year hunt to catalogue all 232 existing copies of the book, said the 233rd copy was the first new version unearthed in a decade. The book is, apparently, missing title pages as well as the whole text of the play ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’.
According to the library it would appear that the Folio came from the college of Jesuits in Saint-Omer, founded in the late 16th century during Queen Elizabeth’s reign when it was illegal for Catholics to go to college. The book was heavily annotated, with words corrected to more modern versions and with the part of a hostess in Henry IV turned into a male part, with words such as “wench” crossed out and replaced with “fellow”.
Sotheby's to Auction Oliver Cromwell's Coffin Plate
With the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, it was decreed that the bodies of those who had signed Charles I’s death warrant and subsequently become leading figures in the Protectorate but who had, rather inconveniently, already died of natural causes, should suffer the indignity of posthumous execution. Cromwell, the former Lord Protector, was subsequently disinterred from the Henry VII chapel at Westminster Abbey on 26 January 1661. Having been laid out at the Red Lion Inn in Holborn overnight, his corpse was conducted to Tyburn and hanged, drawn, and quartered, and his head placed on a spike above Westminster Hall.
According to contemporary accounts, this plate was “found in a leaden canister, lying on the breast of the corpse" by the man in charge of exhuming Cromwell’s body — James Norfolke, Serjeant of the House of Commons.
Just two years before, Cromwell had been buried with the pomp and ceremony of a king. The lying in state and funeral that had followed his death on 3 September 1658 took their form from royal funerals, principally that of James I, with an effigy (bearing orb, sceptre, and crown) lying in state at Somerset House from 20 September – one of the escutcheons used in the ceremonials was sold in these rooms on 10 July 2013 – until the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on 23 November.
The grandeur and ceremony that characterised Cromwell’s funerary rites extended to his coffin (and the plaque inside it) as Privy Council orders of the time make clear: “his Highness Corps being embalmed, with all due rites appertayneing thereunto, and being wrapped in Lead, There ought to be an Inscripcion in a plate of Gold [i.e. gilded metal, not necessarily gold] to be fixed upon his Brest before he be putt into the Coffin. That the Coffin be filled with odours, and spices within, and Covered without with purple Velvett, and handles, Nayles, and all other Iron Worke about it, be richly hatched with Gold.” (Order Book of the Privy Council, 14 September 1658, quoted Fitzgibbons, pp.37-38)
This brass plate was not the only relic to survive from the event: Cromwell's head remained on its spike above Westminster Hall for more than twenty years until it eventually blew down in a gale and was taken by a sentinel on guard below. It was passed through numerous private hands until it was interred in a secret location in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1960.
Estimated at £8,000-12,000, it is has been in the collection of the Harcourt family since the 19th century. Please click here to browse the entire sale catalogue.
The emergence of a typescript of the play Salome hand-corrected by Wilde, a 142-page personal notebook in which he drafted poems and doodled line drawings, and an unpublished four-page manuscript from his famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol have gained the Free Library a good deal of attention.
The items will go on display in January at the Rosenbach Museum and Library, along with selections from the Rosenbach’s other Wilde items and items from several private and public collections. The exhibition "Everything is Going On Brilliantly: Oscar Wilde in Philadelphia" will explore Philadelphia’s connections to the Irish writer. The exhibition which opens on 25 January 2015 is curated by Mark Samuels Lasner and Margaret D. Stetz.
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