Chronicles of England

Acquired at Sotheby’s, New York
Acquisition 1992
Date 1493
Size 27 x 20 cm.
Signature 172 A 5

In July 1493, when the Chronicles of England was published, nobody could have dreamed that fivehundred years later the Koninklijke Bibliotheek would be thrilled to add this book to its collection, not to mention the fact that it would be purchased at an auction in New York. At the time, the foundation of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek was still threehundred years away, and whether the people of Antwerp were aware that some Portugese Italian had discovered America a year before is as yet another questionmark. Nevertheless, this chain of events is highly fitting for this publication. The book was printed by Gerard Leeu, a printer who set up his company in Gouda in 1477. Leeu had a keen eye for the market and his list reflected his savvy. While so many of his peers were issuing works mostly in Latin, from 1480 onward Leeu also focused on the vernacular languages of Dutch, French, English and German. In 1484, he moved his company to Antwerp, which at the time was the leading commercial centre. Setting his sights not only on the domestic but also on the international market, it was easier to sell his works here. He printed the Chronicles of England as a book for the English market, which was obviously within reach of Antwerp.

The book details the history of England up until the end of the 15th century. Over hundred rulers are covered in chronological order. Mythical accounts as well, such as the legend of King Arthur, were included. The book was highly popular among English readers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Sadly, Leeu did not live to see the publication of the book. He died in December 1492 during an argument with his type cutter who attacked him, leaving a 'steecxken' or stab wound in his head. His type setters completed the task and wistfully commemorated 'maistir Gerard de leew' or Master Gerard de Leeu in the colophon (see illustration). Still, the intention of the book proved successful. The tome made its way to the English-speaking regions, including even the New World. However, there were no surviving copies in the Netherlands. With this purchase the Koninklijke Bibliotheek ensured that this original edition can once again be studied here, too. (MvD)