Sixteenth-century English books in the National Library of Russia: The editions published by Wynkyn de Worde

Olga Frolova, The National Library of Russia

The text of this article is also available in Russian.

Images reproduced with the kind permission of the National Library of Russia.

This article deals with the works of one of the earliest English printers and publishers, Wynkyn de Worde (?–1534). William Caxton’s successor he published a considerable number of books on various subjects. This study brings to scholarly attention five copies of his editions preserved today in the foreign collections of the National Library of Russia (NLR); among them a 1508 missal, which is likely to be unique. I describe the copies and provide a brief analysis of their contents and history before their acquisition by the NLR. I point out that these five copies are the earliest English books preserved in the NLR. The article can be of interest to scholars of history, book history, philology and simply to bibliophiles.

Английские издания XVI века в Российской национальной библиотеке : книги, изданные Уинкином де Уордом

Ольга Фролова

Данная статья посвящена деятельности одного из самых ранних английских печатников и издателей – Уинкина де Уорда (?–1534). Преемник Уильяма Кэкстона, он выпустил в свет значительное количество книг различного содержания. В статье впервые введены в научный оборот пять его изданий, хранящихся в иностранном фонде Российской Национальной Библиотеки (РНБ). Среди них – миссал (1508 г.), который, по-видимому, является уникальным. Помимо описаний данных изданий, дан краткий анализ их содержания, а также прослежена история каждого экземпляра вплоть до поступления в РНБ. Отмечается, что эти пять изданий одновременно являются и самыми ранними английскими книгами, хранящимися в РНБ. Материал, изложенный в данной статье, может быть интересен широкому кругу читателей: историкам, историкам книги, филологам и библиофилам.

The earliest English editions (those printed on the territory of the British Isles) preserved in the National Library of Russia (hereafter NLR) were published by the famous Wynkyn de Worde (?–1534/5) [1], a pupil and a successor of William Caxton, the founder of book printing in England. (There are no 15th-century English books in NLR, so there are no books printed by William Caxton, either). As for the English editions of the first half of the 16th century, they are relatively few. It has been possible to find twelve such books up to now and further research is unlikely to increase their number.

Five of these twelve books were published by Wynkyn de Worde. In this article an attempt is made to describe these five copies and the history of their existence before coming to NLR.

The earliest of these editions (and consequently the earliest English edition in NLR) is “Missale secundum usum Sarum” published in London in 1508 at the expense of Wynkyn de Worde. [2] It is well known that de Worde not only printed books himself in his typography but also provided other printers with work and necessary money (Ames 1749: 80; Lee 1900: 444).

A missal is a liturgical book containing prayers, texts for reading and singing used during the Catholic mass. In the early 16th century different areas, parishes and religious orders had their own liturgies and missals differing from each other in some way according to their contents (see Киселёва 2005: 19). At the end of the 11th century, the text and the contents of the mass in England were composed and regulated under the direction of Osmund, Archbishop of Salisbury (Hook 1864: 777-778). Since then in England the mass mainly conformed with Salisbury use (ad usum secundum Sarum).

Our missal is a large volume in folio enclosed in a quite ordinary 19th century binding. The text is printed in black and red black-letter type, in two columns and is decorated with red and blue initials (the blue ones are written by hand). The Canon of the mass – the central part of every catholic missal, containing prayers and chants sung during Eucharist – is printed on vellum and includes music as well.

There are seven woodcuts, most probably of French work in the missal. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the initial “M” in the word "Missale" on the title page contains the name “Anthoyne Verard” (Figure 1). Antoine Vérard was a famous Parisian publisher of the late 15th–early 16th c. (his dates are not known exactly: late 15th c.–1512?). Vérard’s editions, including liturgical books (missals, livres d’heures, etc.), romances, chronicles, poems, translations of classical authors into French, are valued mainly because of their splendid illustrations (Macfarlane 1900, xii). Our missal, as we have already mentioned, is also decorated with woodcuts. The first of them is on the title page and represents St. George on a horse fighting a dragon; a king and a queen are looking at him from the walls of a castle. Above there is an English royal coat of arms. The second woodcut shows the mass of St. Gregory, that is, the catholic mass (Fol. A1 recto). The third small woodcut is inside the Canon of the mass and depicts Jesus Christ (Fol. O3 verso). Below this illustration there is a prayer for the prosperity of the king, which we will say some words about later. The next and fourth big woodcut is on the following page (Fol. O4 recto). Here we can see the scene of Crucifixion. In the lower left corner there are the figures of the kneeling king and queen. In front of them there is a table with an opened prayer-book on it. At the foot of the page in the centre we again see an English royal coat of arms. The fifth woodcut (Figure 2) opens the division of the missal dedicated to Easter. It shows the figure of Christ rising from the grave (Fol. P1 recto). The Crucifixion of St. Andrew is the theme of the sixth woodcut (Fol. X7 recto), and the seventh and last woodcut is placed at the beginning of the division containing the prayers to all saints (commune sanctorum). This illustration consists of four small parts depicting apostles and saints (Fol. i1 recto).

In addition to these illustrations, it is necessary to mention again the initial “M” in the word “Missale” on the title page, which is decorated with acanthus leaves, pictures of human faces and a bird holding a caterpillar in its beak (Figure 1). The name “Anthoyne Verard” is printed on the band winding around the middle ascender of the letter “M”. The letter “l” in the same word has a ducal crown above it.

Apart from this, all the pages which contain woodcuts are inserted into elegant engraved frames decorated with the pictures of flowers, French heraldic lilies, birds, and monkeys.

In the process of our work with this missal, it has not been possible to find the similar editions in the catalogues of the largest libraries (such as the British Library and the National Library of France) as well as in the electronic bases and catalogues such as ESTC – the English Short-Title Catalogue (the fundamental catalogue listing English books in the libraries of the UK and the USA) and the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. However, two well-known experts in old English books – E. Gordon Duff and H. S. Bennett – in their lists of Wynkyn de Worde’s editions mention the existence of the fragments of a “Missale ad usum Sarum” (published in 1508) in Corpus Christi College library in Cambridge (Duff 1895: 7; Bennett 1952: 258). Unfortunately, we have not had a chance to compare our copy with these fragments. By the way, it is interesting that according to Bennett these fragments belong to the missal printed on April 20 1508, whereas our missal was printed on April 27 1508 (as indicated in the colophon) – see Figure 3.

Figure 3. Colophon from the missal.

Thus, it is possible to suggest that our copy is a unique one which appeared as a result of a joint venture between two outstanding figures in English and French book printing of that period, Wynkyn de Worde and Antoine Vérard. The first left his name in the colophon, the second one put his name on the title page. As for the woodcuts, their French origin is unlikely to be doubted. A well-known expert in European wood engraving, A. Hind, writes that “[m]ost of the cuts in the English Missals of the late XV and early XVI centuries are based on French originals, if indeed French blocks are not used” (Hind 1963: 721). Our missal is sure to confirm this statement. The fact is that while looking through different catalogues and bibliographies of liturgical books, we found evident coincidence between its decorations and the decorations of the missal printed by Martin Morin (worked approximately between 1490 and 1517) in Rouen in 1499. [3] Having compared the detailed descriptions of this missal (Alès 1878: 323-325; Bohatta 1910: 45-46) with our copy (we have not had the opportunity to compare them de visu), we found obvious similarity in their title-page decoration. In Morin’s missal, the initial “M” (in the word “Missale”) also contains the name of the printer on the band winding around the middle ascender of this letter. The most interesting thing is that in Morin’s missal the letter “l” in the same word is also crowned with a ducal crown in honour of the cardinal George I of Amboise, the archbishop of Rouen at the time this missal was printed. Hind informs us as well that an earlier missal by Morin (date of printing 1497?) has similar decoration of the word “Missale” on the title page (Hind 1963: 626). He also points out that this earlier missal has a woodcut on the title page on which St. George, a dragon, a king and a queen are depicted (Hind 1963: 626). (This woodcut was used later for the decoration of the book entitled “Art of good lyvynge and good deying” (Hind 1963: 626, note 2) published by Vérard in Paris in 1503). Our copy, as we know, has an analogous woodcut on its title page. Moreover, commenting on the illustrations in the first Morin missal (1492), Hind describes its ornamented frames and writes that each of them has “branch, bird, beast and flower motives, in the style of the Paris atelier of Jean Dupré” (Hind 1963: 625). [4] The frames in our copy, as we have mentioned, contain the same decorative motives.

Our copy contains some other secrets. There is no doubt that it was printed for an English customer: a church or a cathedral. Inside the Canon of the mass we find the prayer for the prosperity of the English king Henry VII who was reigning at that time (Fol. O3 verso: “Sequuntur orations in missis dicende pro bono felici ac prospero statu cristianissimi atque excellentissimi Regis nostris Henrici septimi”). However, in our copy Henry VII’s name was erased (although, not completely) and somebody wrote the name “Jacobi Quinti” in its place. Since it is obvious that the Scottish king James V (born in 1513) is meant, it is possible to suggest that our missal went to Scotland or to a Scottish owner after 1513. Here its traces are lost and appear again in France only in the 17th C. The fact is that in the upper part of the title page there is a manuscript note “Bibliotheca Colbertina”, which means that our missal once belonged to the famous library of Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683), an outstanding French statesman and a minister of Louis XIV. Being a passionate book lover, Colbert collected a magnificent library, which was considered to be one of the biggest in 17th-century Europe. It was inherited by his sons and finally sold by auction in Paris in 1728–1732. Among the books sold was our missal, which is mentioned in the auction catalogue of Colbert’s library. [5] There is no information how this copy came into Colbert’s hands and what its further fate before coming to the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg (now NLR) was.

The second book for discussion is “Expositio hymnorum … secundum usum Sarum”, printed by de Worde in London in June 1515. [6] This copy is bound together with another edition by de Worde – “Expositio sequentiarum … secundum usum Sarum”, printed also in London in June 1515. [7] These two editions are liturgical books, containing separate parts of the mass: hymns and sequences. De Worde printed such books several times. He appears to have taken as an example the analogous editions executed by French printers at that time (Renouard 1908: 430-437). These works are not so rare as the missal. Similar ones are preserved in the British Library (only hymns), St. John’s College Library in Oxford (both hymns and sequences), Marsh's Library in Dublin (both hymns and sequences), the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington (only sequences), and in the Huntington Library in California (only sequences). [8]

The quality of printing of these books is much lower than that of the missal. Both copies are printed in black-letter without any decorations, the only exception being the woodcut on the title page of the “Expositio sequentiarum …” (Figure 4). It is interesting that it does not correspond to the subject of the book, as it depicts a teacher with a bunch of birch rods in his arm and pupils sitting in front of him (we will encounter this woodcut once more later). The practice of using illustrations from the plates which are in a printer’s possession for the decoration of books the subject of which does not correspond to the theme of illustration (and often different books were decorated with the same illustrations) was widespread at that time (Clair 1966: 53).

The title page of the “Expositio hymnorum …” is occupied by de Worde’s printer’s mark, which consists of three horizontal divisions (Figure 5). In the upper division, the sun and the stars are depicted, in the middle one we can see Caxton’s device (the letters W and C; this device was often used by de Worde), in the lower division on the left there is a dog, on the right, the Sagittarius, and under them, the inscription “Wynkyn de Worde”. The same printer’s mark is found at the end of “Expositio sequentiarum…”. Our copy has a 16th-century binding of brown leather with metal clasps. The binding is very shabby, but we are able to see the remains of blind tooling depicting dragons, a castle and a human figure with a nimbus around its head. As for the origin of our copy, it came to the Imperial Public Library as a part of brothers Załuski’s book collection at the end of the 18th C. Andrzej Stanisław and Józef Andrzej Załuski, Polish politicians and churchmen, assembled a huge library in Warsaw, one of the biggest in Europe in the 18th C. After the division of Poland, this collection was transferred to St. Petersburg on the order of Catherine II. Here it became a part of the foreign stock of the Imperial Public Library (see Моричева 2001). The Załuskis often left their notes and marks on the title pages or fly-leaves of their books. Our copies also have such marks. For example, two asterisks appear on the title page of “Expositio hymnorum …” (the method Załuski used to mark the rarity of their books) – see Figure 5.

These three de Worde’s editions are liturgical books, which constituted a large part of his production. Two other books which we are going to describe deal with quite different subjects – grammar and education, areas in which de Worde is known to have published books in considerable numbers.

In March 1515, he published the work by Albert the Great “Modi significandi …” [9], a copy of which is also preserved in the foreign stock of NLR. Albert the Great (1193–1280), one of the most influential medieval philosophers, and a teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, was the author of a great number of works ranging from philosophy to natural sciences. His compositions were very popular in the 15th and 16th centuries, as is shown by the fact that English printers of that epoch published his works more than once. For example, William de Machlinia, an English printer of Flemish origin, printed several works by Albert at the end of the 15th C. [10] De Worde turned to the above-mentioned work “Modi significandi …” in approximately 1510 when he released its first edition. [11] The second one appeared in 1515. This small work deals with various grammatical categories such as case, person, gender, tense, conjugation, as well as with parts of speech, including the verb, pronoun, adverb, participle conjunction, and preposition. The text is printed in black-letter without any decorations, except a first initial (Fol. A2 recto), which is a letter “Q”, inside which appears the so-called “Tudor rose” under the crown. [12] The title page is decorated with the same woodcut as in “Expositio sequentiarum …” (Figure 6). Here it is more appropriately placed, as it depicts a school scene and corresponds to the educational theme of the book. It is interesting that both “Expositio sequentiarum …” and “Modi significandi …” were printed during the same year. De Worde seems to have had this illustration in his disposal then and made good use of it. Our copy of “Modi significandi …” has a very modest cardboard binding and comes from the Załuski Library. It is necessary to point out that it is a very rare edition. The only other copy is preserved in Bodleian Library, Oxford. [13]

The last edition I would like to mention here is the so-called “Vulgaria” [14] – a famous text-book by the well-known 16th-century English grammarian Robert Whittinton. This is a text-book of the Latin language, which teaches students to translate generally used English phrases or sentences (vulgars) into Latin. [15] Such a method of learning Latin which allows “to supply schoolboys with the vocabulary of everyday life …” (White 1971: xviii), was first introduced by Whittinton’s teacher John Stanbridge. Whittinton’s “Vulgaria” is a small book, printed in black-letter. It is sure to be a very interesting source for those who study the everyday life of that time, as it contains a lot of precious and revealing information. For example, on Fol. C1 verso we meet the following phrase, “A quarter of malt was at. viii. shyllynges in the market to daye”. This is immediately translated into Latin, “Corus ordei tosti in hodierno mercato octenis solidis / siue aureis estimabatur”. Further we read that “A bushel of whete was holde at. xii. Pens”, and the translation into Latin as “Modius tritici duodenis denarijis pendebatur”. There are phrases which do not differ from those that are included in modern text-books . For instance, on Fol. B1 verso we read, “I was borne in the chefe Cyte of England whiche is called London”, and the translation into Latin, “In prima Anglie ciuitate / quod Londinum appellatur: sum natus”. On Fol. B5 verso we read, “Thou and I ben lyke of one age” – “Tu et ego sumus coetanei vel coeui”.

There are no illustrations in the book, except the frame on the title page, which is decorated with pictures of flowers, mythological animals, monkeys and dogs (Figure 7). Its lower part shows William Caxton’s device. The last page of the book is occupied by one of de Worde’s printer’s marks: an angel holding a shield with the monogram "W C" and a daisy. The shield is supported on both sides by the figures of two boys, and above there is the sun, the moon and the stars. All this is in a frame decorated with pictures of rabbits and birds.

The copy preserved in NLR comes from the Załuski Library. This edition is also very rare. Another copy is known to be in the Huntington Library, California. [16]

Thus, we have described five copies of books published by Wynkyn de Worde in the first half of the 16th century. It is evident that they do not give a full impression of this famous publisher’s production. However, they show the character of his liturgical and educational editions. Moreover, one of these copies is extremely rare and may be unique. In spite of the fact that we are unlikely to find other publications by de Worde in the NLR stocks in the future, we would like to hope that this material may be interesting not only for book historians, but also for historians, philologists, and historians of book collecting both in Russia and in other countries.


[1] For more detailed information about him, see Lee (1900: 443-445); Ames (1749: 79-110).

[2] Missale secundum usum insignis ecclesie Sarum. London, impensa magistri Wynandi de worde mercatoris, 1508. In 2º. (This edition is not in the ESTC.)

[3] Missale secundum usum Insignis ecclesie Rothomagensis. Rothomagi, impensa … Johannis Ricardi … industria … Martini Morin, 1499. In 2º.

[4] Jean Dupré, a printer, worked in Paris from 1481 to 1504. He is known by his illustrated editions, the first illustrated book printed in Paris being among them.

[5] Bibliotheca Colbertina seu catalogus librorum bibliothecae … Ill. V. D. J. B. Colbert. P., 1728. P. 20.

[6] Expositio hymnorum totius anni secundum usum Sarum diligentissime recognitorum multis elucidationibus aucta. Impressa Londoni per Wynandum de Worde in parrochia sancta Brigite in vico anglice nuncupato (the fletestrete) ad signum solis commorantem. (In the colophon: Anno domini Milessimo quingentesimo decimoquinto. Quarta decimal die mensis Junii.) In 4º.

[7] Expositio sequentiarum totius anni secundum usum Sarum diligentissime recognitarum miltiselucidationibus aucta. Impressa Londini per Wynandum de Worde in parochial sancta Brigide in vico anglice nuncupato (the fletestrete) ad signum solis commorantem. (In the colophon: Anno domini Milessimo Quigentesimo decimoquinto. Die vero octavo mensis Junii.) In 4º.

[8] See ESTC: 006180319; Bennett (1952: 258).

[9] Modi significandi Alberti sine quibus grammatice notitia haberi nullo pacto potest. (In the colophon: Impressus Londoniis per Wynandum de Worde. Anno domini. M. CCCCC. XV. die XVI. Martii.) In 8º.

[10] Catalogue of the books in the library of the British museum printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of books in English printed abroad, to the year 1640. Vol. 1. L., 1884. P. 26.

[11] Ibidem P. 27.

[12] The “Tudor rose” is the rose depicted in a special way. It looks double, as if one rose is placed inside another one. This rose appeared among the heraldic badges of English kings during Henry VII’s reign. Being the first king of the Tudor dynasty, he himself came from the Lancaster family, and married Edward IV York’s daughter, thus uniting the Lancaster and York dynasties, whose symbols were correspondingly red and white roses.

[13] ESTC: 006182177; Bennett (1952: 242).

[14] Vulgaria Roberti Whitintoni Lichfeldiensis / et de instituone grammaticulorum opusculum : libello suo de concinnitate grammatices accomodatum : et in quattuor partes digestum. (In the colophon : Londini in edibus Winandi de Worde XXIII. Supra sesquimillesimum nostre salutis anno.)

[15] For a detailed analysis of this book, see the editor's introduction in White (1971: xi-lxi).

[16] ESTC: 006192593; Bennett (1952: 275).


ESTC = The English Short-Title Catalogue. 30 Jan 2011.

KVK = Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog. 30 Jan 2011.

ODNB = Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 30 Jan. 2011.


Alès, A. 1878. Description dés livres de liturgie imprimés aux XV-e et XVI-e siècles faisant partie de la bibliothèque de S. A. R. M. Charles-louis De Bourbon (comte de Villafranca). Paris: Typographie A. Hennuyer.

Ames, J. 1749. Typographical antiquities: being an historical account of printing in England. London: W. Faden.

Bennett, H. S. 1952. English books and readers 1475 to 1557. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bohatta, H. 1910. Katalog der liturgischen Drucke des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts. Teil 2. Wien: Adolf Holzhausen.

Clair, C. 1966. A history of printing in Britain. New York: Oxford University Press.

Duff, E. G. 1895. Hand lists of English printers 1501-1556. Part 1. London: The Bibliographical Society.

Hind, A. M. 1963. An introduction to a history of woodcut. Vol. 2. New York: Dove Publications.

Hook, W. F. 1864. Church dictionary. London: John Murray.

Киселёва, Л. И. 2005. Латинские рукописи XIII века (Описание рукописей Российской национальной библиотеки). СПб. [Kiselyova L. I. 2005. Latin manuscripts of the 13th century (A description of the manuscripts preserved in the NLR).] St. Petersburg: Дмитрий Буланин [Dmitrij Bulanin].

Lee, Sidney, ed. 1900. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 62. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Macfarlane, J. 1900. Antoine Verard. Illustrated monographs issued by the Bibliographical Society. No. VII. London.

Моричева, М. Д. 2001. Библиотека Залуских и Российская национальная библиотека. СПб. [Moricheva M. D. 2001. Załuski Library and Russian National Library.] St. Petersburg: Издательство Российской национальной библиотеки [The publishing house of the National Library of Russia].

Renouard, P. 1908. Bibliographie des impressions et des oeuvres de Josse Badius Ascensius imprimeur et humaniste 1462-1535. T. 2. Paris: Ém. Paul et fils et Guillemin libraries de la Bibliothèque nationale.

White, Beatrice, ed. 1971. The Vulgaria of John Stanbridge and the Vulgaria of Robert Whittinton. (= Early English Text Society. Original series. No. 187.)