Linking Blickling's book collection with The Word Defiant!

A book eaten by death watch beetle

Within The Word Defiant! installation, we're using examples from around the world to help visitors explore the significance of books and our relationship with them now and in history. These stories have been developed with the history of the Blickling book collection in mind to reflect themes pertinent to the books housed in the library and how they ended up in the collection.

We asked Librarian John Gandy to give an example of each theme from our own book collection. These can be found in glass cabinets in the Reflection Room.

The Word Banned: 

Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Antwerp, 1570
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum (‘List of prohibited books’) was first published in 1559. It was issued by the Catholic Church and contained a list of prohibited books which Catholics were forbidden to read or possess. The copy on display dates from 1570. The last Index was issued in 1948 and it was officially discontinued in 1966.

On the open pages we can see a list of some of the banned authors in the Index, including for example ‘Martinus Lutherus’ and ‘Michael Servetus’. Interestingly, someone has put a small pencil cross against some of the authors’ names. Was this perhaps the owner of the book noting down which authors he definitely should read precisely because they had been banned?

The Word Redacted:

Latin Bible printed by Anton Koberger. Nuremberg, 1477
This is the first leaf in a Latin Bible. You can see two words have been censored on the page, the words ‘papa’ and ‘pape’, both meaning ‘Pope’. Both have been crossed out in black ink, and the second one has been slightly scratched out as well. Presumably the book belonged to a Protestant in whatever country it was owned (possibly England) and the offending words were crossed out during the Reformation.

The Word Burned:

‘On the Errors of the Trinity’ by Michael Servetus. Lyon? 1533
Michael Servetus (1511?-1553) was a Spanish physician, theologian and humanist. A radical Protestant during the Reformation, in this book he denies the existence of the Trinity, a belief which made him a heretic to everyone from the most conservative Catholic to the most radical Anabaptist. Servetus’ works were ordered to be burnt throughout Europe. He was arrested in Geneva in 1553, condemned as a heretic, and burnt at the stake on a pyre of his own books.

Blickling’s copy has had its title page removed at some point in the past, probably to foil any attempts to easily identify the book by the Inquisition or other searchers of banned books. 

The Word Drowned:

Homer’s Iliad, translated by Alexander Pope. London, 1715-1720
This is Alexander Pope’s translation of The Iliad of Homer, published in six volumes. The book has been extensively damaged by water at some point in the past, causing the water and mould staining (the purple patches) which you can see at the foot of the pages.

The Word Superseded:

Atlas. Ulm, 1482
Although printed in Germany in the 15th century, the author of this atlas was Ptolemy, a second century mathematician, scientist and astronomer. The map is a version of the world known to the Romans and as such was already out of date when it was printed in the late medieval period. Despite its age however, it is particularly interesting to note that the world is represented as round or spherical, a fact perfectly well-known to the Romans and late medieval scholars.

The Word Neglected:

Palazzi Di Genova by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Antwerp, 1622
This architectural work on the palaces of Genoa is by the famous artist Rubens and was the only book he ever published himself. You can see the damp damage at the foot of the page, as well as destruction caused by deathwatch beetle.

The destruction caused to Reubens' book on architectural work by damp and death watch beetle
A book destructed by death watch beetle and water damage
The destruction caused to Reubens' book on architectural work by damp and death watch beetle

The Word Defiant:

Theatri Orbis Terrarum Parergon by Abraham Ortelius. Antwerp, 1624. 
This 17th century atlas sustained significant water damage in the great flood the library at Blickling suffered in 2002, when a fire hose burst in the attic. Since then it has undergone a huge amount of conservation work. It still bears the marks of the water damage (which is impossible to remove entirely) but remarkably none of the wonderful hand-coloured maps and other illustrations were damaged beyond repair.

You'll find all these books displayed in glass cabinets as you leave the house. We hope this gives you an opportunity to connect what you've seen in the house and relate it back to Blickling's book collection and the importance of conserving it.

We'll be launching our Library Appeal soon so that, with your support, we can start on the urgent conservation work, to save this fragile collection. 

Man sits on the top of a ladder reading a book

Cataloging Blickling's book collection

Meet the man cataloging the biggest library collection in the National Trust. John Gandy has the mammoth task of working his way through the books in the Long Gallery at Blickling.