Three lions and the cross of Lorraine

Chrzanowski 1495bBorn in England late in the 12th century, Bartholomaeus Anglicus studied in Parisian schools, became a Franciscan and a famous professor in Paris, and joined a newly organized branch of the Franciscans in Saxony in 1231, where he was a lecturer at Magdeburg. His greatest work is De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Property of Things), which was the most complete and most influential encyclopaedia of the Middle Ages. Bartholomaeus drew on more than 100 earlier writers from Aristotle to Arab scientists whose works were just becoming available to European scholars in the mid-13th century. In 1389 De Proprietatibus Rerum was first translated into English by John Trevisa, who also translated the Polychronicon. It is an important resource for reconstructing how knowledgeable Europeans in the Middle Ages conceptualized their world.

Wynkyn de Worde, an assistant who carried on Caxton’s work after his death, printed the first English edition of De Proprietatibus Rerum about 1495. As can be gleaned from the present copy of the leaf book and the original leaf included (from Book 9: The Calendar and Heavenly Movements), the published volume of 19 “books” was spectacular. The leaf book, titled Three Lions and the Cross of Lorraine after paper’s watermark, includes a collection of scholarly essays together with reproductions of the opening pages of the books, each with a nearly full-page woodcut.

An important distinguishing feature of De Proprietatibus Rerum is that it is the first book printed on paper made in England. Paper for English books had been manufactured in France (or Italy) and imported from the Low Countries. John Tate built a papermill near Hereford sometime before 1495, and the paper he produced was of high quality. With De Proprietatibus Rerum requiring some 480 leaves, de Worde’s order for paper was a large one, and Tate’s paper was used in a number of the printer’s subsequent books. Tate died a wealthy man in 1507, but the paper mill closed soon after—apparently a victim of foreign competition. The next paper mill in England was not established until 1588.

Chrzanowski 1495b *

STC 1536

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675