Charles I's travelling library
Charles I's travelling library

Better than a gift card - Bodleian receives Charles I's travelling library

Elaine Bible

What has the Bodleian received for Christmas? A spectacular travel-sized library that once belonged to Prince Charles, later King Charles I.

It has been bequeathed by John McLaren Emmerson, DPhil (Oxon), to mark the part played by the University and City in the English Civil War, and in grateful recollection of many enjoyable and informative visits to the Bodleian.

This latest addition to the Bodleian Libraries collection is like a 17th century version of a Kindle. Two red leather cases, designed in the 1970s by Sangorski and Sutcliffe to look like two large books, open up to reveal 59 small volumes covering just about everything that a wealthy educated gentleman would want to read on his travels.

Charles I's travelling library arrived at the Bodleian last week and was acquired through a bequest. The collection of tiny books have gold-tooled bindings and some are believed to have been signed by the Prince himself. Titles include classical texts by the poet Ovid and the philosopher Cicero as well as bibles and religious books such as De Imitatione Christi by Thomas A Kempis.

Travelling libraries are believed to have become popular among wealthy bibliophiles in the 1600s after MP William Hakewill commissioned four such libraries to be made for his friends and patrons. A little is already known about the Prince's portable library but staff in the Bodleian's Rare Books Department hope to discover more about its provenance through their research over the coming months.