A deuoute treatyse in Englysshe/called the Pilgrymage of perfeccyon
In 1415, the year of his victory at Agincourt, King Henry V founded the Bridgettine Abbey of St. Savior, Blessed Virgin Mary, and St. Bridget in Isleworth—known as Syon Abbey (now Syon Park in London). By the early 16th century, the abbey was one of the richest religious houses in the country, and it was distinguished with one of England’s greatest libraries with some 1,400 books. The brethren produced spiritual treatises in the abbey’s scriptorium, composed mainly for the benefit of the nuns. The introduction of printing provided the opportunity to expand readership. The first known published work from Syon was A Profitable treatise to dispose men to be virtuously occupied by Thomas Betson and printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1500. Many other works would follow.
William Bonde, a monk at Syon, wrote The Pilgrymage of Perfeccyon in 1526. The first edition was printed by Richard Pynson, with a woodcut of St. Bridget (namesake of the order) on the title page as the book’s only illustration. De Worde’s second edition in 1531 featured additional woodcuts, including three elaborate illustrations so large that they had to be folded. As Bonde describes on the title page, the treatise is “very profitable for all crysten people to rede: and in especyall/to all relygyous persones moche necessary.”
Bonde’s book appeared at the twilight of Catholic printed book production in pre-Reformation England. Catherine of Aragon had shown special favor to the abbey before her divorce from Henry VIII, and in 1533, when Anne Boleyn visited the nuns, they at first refused to admit the new queen. Richard Reynolds, the father of the monks at Syon, was hanged, drawn, and quartered on May 4, 1535, for refusing to take the oath of supremacy and for reportedly saying that Catherine was still the true queen. On November 25, 1539, the abbey was suppressed, officially closed, and the library dispersed.
In its original calfskin-over-oak-boards binding, the present copy includes two and a half of the three foldout woodcuts (“The starre of grace,” “The tree of graces,” and part of “The tree of vice”) that make Pilgrymage an important early English illustrated book. In English Woodcuts 1480–1535, Edward Hodnett states that the blocks are “the nearest English approach to the block book, for the abundant letterpress on each is cut, not printed.” The final leaf (with concluding text of a short work appended to Pilgrymage, a second colophon, and a printer’s mark) is missing.
Chrzanowski 1531b *