Spotlight On: Marks of Ownership in 17th century copies of Peter Heylyn’s Microcosmos.

Peter Heylyn (1599-1662) was a clergyman, historian, and poet. An impressive scholar, he was also an outspoken controversialist against the Puritans. Heylyn was elected to a fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1618, where he lectured on historical geography. In 1621 Oxford University Press published those lectures under the title, Microcosmus, or A Little Description of the Great World. A Treatise Historicall, Geographicall, Politicall, Theologicall. As the title suggests, this encyclopaedic work provided accounts of the geography, history, customs and cultures of much of the known world. It proved a very popular resource, with 8 editions published by 1639. An expanded version of the Microcosmus was published under the title Cosmographie in 1652.

At the University of Liverpool we lack a copy of the first edition of this work, but we do have multiple copies of subsequent 17th century editions. The earliest of these (SPEC 2023.a.011), dating from 1627, has been newly acquired by the Library, thanks to the generous donation of Margaret Humfrey. Margaret’s donation was made in memory of her cousin, Priscilla Bawcutt (1931-2021), a leading scholar of Older Scots literature, and Honorary Professor of the University of Liverpool.

A full and lengthy life has left its mark on this book, with evidence of water damage, damage to the spine and loss of leather at the corners of the boards. We are grateful to the conservators who treated these issues shortly before it arrived with us, but it is also interesting to see evidence of much earlier repairs. The book appears to have had at least one previous owner who was a dab hand with a sewing needle:

The book has four raised bands, but is attached to the board through only two sewing supports, which may help to explain the need for additional, DIY sewing!

The copy at SPEC 2023.a.011 has been inscribed “Richard Collins his booke”. Intriguingly, it also has this hand drawn, coloured drawing of “George, Prince of Wales”, originally used as a frontispiece, and now pasted-in on the inside of the upper board.

Two further 17th century copies of the Microcosmus held in Special Collections and Archives were originally part of the library of the Department of Education at the University of Liverpool. Charles Sydney Jones (1872-1947) played an important role in the founding of this Department in the early 1920s, and stated at the time his intention that it should have a “panelled and fitted Library to contain about 9000 volumes and a reading room adjoining”, because a “well-equipped Library will enable Liverpool to become an important centre of Educational Research” (University of Liverpool archives: D728/4/1). 

Both of the copies from the Department of Education library have been annotated and signed by early owners, but the copy at SPEC Y62.3.8 has some particularly intriguing manuscript notes. Fittingly, it seems this book about the places and peoples of the world lived a well-travelled life under the early-18th century ownership of Nicholas Chalke. Two of Chalke’s longer signed and dated manuscript notes read: “Nicholas Chalke his booke writin the 10th of June at Plymoth waiting for a wind to goe[?] off[?] Barbados I was shipt ye 10th of Febrawary 1703”, and “Taken into Ffrance Decembr. ye 26th” releaft.[?] May ye 29th 1705. The Lord be praised for our redemption Nicholas Chalke”. A note on the Monmouth Rebellion, found written on the parchment spine lining visible after the upper board of the book, appears to be in the same hand: “June the eleventh: 1685 the Duke of Monmouth landed in Lime with about 150 men the eight day of July was taken & behe..d the 15th day of July on Tow Hill att London”. Those of the Monmouth rebels not hanged were shipped for service in the colonies, including to Barbados.

The endpapers at both ends of the copy at SPEC Y62.3.8 are replete with annotations in a second early hand, and the same book was later owned by one John Calley, who made the following appeal to the conscience of any would-be ne’er-do-wells:

“Steal not this book for fear of shame for hear you see the owner’s name”

The final two 17th century copies of the Microcosmos held at the University of Liverpool are also inscribed by early owners. You can learn more about them through their catalogue records – one is the other copy which came to us from the Department of Education library, and the other is a copy of the 1633 edition from the Knowsley Hall Library.

Resources and further reading:

Milton, Anthony, “Peter Heylyn (1599-1662)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (accessed online 01/11/2024:

Mayhew, Robert J., ““Geography is Twinned with Divinity”: the Laudian Geography of Peter Heylyn”, The Geographical Review, 90:1, 2000.

Wigfield, W. MacDonald, The Monmouth Rebels, Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1985.