Rare Book of the Month: May 2017

Baccio Baldini's Discorso dell'essenza del fato, e delle forze sue sopra le cose del mondo, e particolarmente sopra l'operazioni de gl'huomini, 1578

The May 2017 rare book of the month is Discorso dell'essenza del fato, e delle forze sue sopra le cose del mondo, e particolarmente sopra l'operazioni de gl'huomini, by Baccio Baldini, printed in Florence in 1578.

This slim folio book on fate and fatalism is interesting due to its provenance. On the blank leaf facing the title page we find an annotation: “Alla Prudentiss:a Virtuosiss:a et Feliciss:a Elisabetha Scr.ma Regina d'Inghilt.a Petruccio Ubaldino, in segno di vero desiderio della lunga felicita di sua Mta. 1586”. In other words, presented to Queen Elizabeth I in 1586 by Petruccio Ubaldino (Ubaldini).

Although Petruccio Ubaldini (flourished 1545-1599) was a citizen of Florence who was in Henry VIII’s army by 1545, on the Scottish borders. By 1550 he had translated into Italian Boece’s Scotorum historiæ. By 1562 Ubaldini was based in London performing various duties: teaching Italian, transcribing official letters and copying and illuminating texts. He had various financial difficulties, but by 1575 had managed to obtain “an annual state pension from the queen”. Throughout this time period, he presented the queen with various manuscripts, written and illuminated himself. By 1579 his finances and career had improved, and in 1581 he started receiving monies from the London printers John Wolfe and Richard Field for his collaborative work with them, including the printing of several of Machiavelli’s works. It should be noted that Wolfe also printed two of Robert Ashley’s translations, L’Uranie ou muse celeste and A comparison of the English and Spanish nation, both 1589. The Library holds four works written by Ubaldini and one translated by him.  

Another interesting piece of provenance is the ‘William Bowyer’ written on the title page (above). This is not, of course, the William Bowyer admitted to Middle Temple in 1553, as he died in 1569/70. It could refer to his eldest son, to whom Bowyer donated all of his “bokes escriptes writinges and monuments … as be of my own hande writing” (Dictionary of National Biography). While we do not have a death date for that William Bowyer, we know that he “died young”. Bowyer the elder’s younger son, Robert Bowyer, was keeper of the records in the Tower of London, and inherited his father’s historical and heraldic manuscripts. Presumably his brother pre-deceased him, and thus it is possible the books passed to Robert, or were sold off; Robert died in 1621.

But how did the book come to reside in Middle Temple Library if it was at one point in the possession of Queen Elizabeth I? We unfortunately simply do not know but, as with most of the rare book collection, it most likely was part of the 1641 Robert Ashley bequest. Although it could have been donated at one point by the Bowyer family to the Inn, we do not have any evidence of this. The book is listed in the first printed catalogue of 1700.

The full text version of the book can be viewed here.

Renae Satterley


May 2017