25 August 1636: the Opening of the Laudian Library
The Laudian Library, St John’s College, Oxford
To mark the opening of the new Inner Library, now the Laudian Library, Archbishop Laud held a lavish celebration, attended by King Charles I and Queen Henrietta.
“my Mathematike Library is in such forwardness”
As part of Archbishop William Laud’s development of the Canterbury Quad, the library at St John’s College was extended in the 1630s with the addition of a new Inner Library. This space originally housed an assortment of mathematical books and instruments, as well as items of scientific interest. These curiosities included a set of two globes (now in the Old Library), two skeletons, and allegedly “a monster lamb with two heads” – you can find out more about the library artefacts here.
The two skeletons, illustrated by John Speed
Laud had great pride in the Inner Library, and its opening was marked by a royal visit.
“a mighty feast, equal to any that I have heard of”
On the arrival of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria, the University Bell rang, calling all students to ride on horseback in order to greet them. The attendees ascended the library stairs accompanied by poetry and a choral performance, before enjoying a huge feast in the Inner Library. The University itself was depicted in the extravagant banquet, with “masters set in paste” and “scholars in jellies”. This was followed by a night of entertainment, including the performance of a play.
The Royal Guests: statues of Henrietta Maria and Charles I in the Canterbury Quad; the bust of Archbishop Laud in the library
A comedy by George Wilde
“like a master of a hospital, amongst a tedious variety of suitors where if I should pick and choose I were not able to patch up a complete man”
Lepidus, “a merry humorous old lord”, wants his daughter, the “lovesick maid” Facetia, to remain unmarried. The play is driven by the conflict between a stubborn father and daughter as Lepidus presents Facetia with an array of unsatisfactory suitors.
Unfortunately the play wasn’t received particularly well, with one guest complaining that “the dialogue is too long”. You can draw your own conclusions by accessing the play as an electronic resource through SOLO.
For further depictions of this event, you can ask to have a look at the books behind the Issue Desk on the College’s history.
Colvin, H. (1988). The Canterbury Quadrangle: St. John’s College, Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Costin, W. (1958) The history of St. John’s College, Oxford, 1598-1860. Oxford: Clarendon Press for the Oxford Historical Society.
St. John’s College. (1986) The Canterbury Quadrangle 1636-1986: an Anthology. Oxford: Bocardo Press.