Back by popular demand, we are delighted to feature our first Library of the Month for 2014 – St. George’s Chapel Chapter Library at Windsor Castle. Thanks to Dr. Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian, for the contribution below.
The College of St George, comprising St George’s Chapel and surrounding buildings, occupies the lower ward of Windsor Castle. Founded in 1348 by King Edward III as a collegiate religious institution, its purpose was to act as the spiritual counterpart to the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most prestigious order of chivalry in Britain. The library has been an integral part of the life of the College from its foundation, serving the Dean and Canons who make up the Windsor Chapter. The first books were kept chained to desks in the Chapel. On the orders of Edward IV, who donated a number of books to the College, a separate library was built in the 1480s above the Dean’s Cloister to house the growing number of volumes. Despite the loss of seventy of its manuscript books in 1612, donated to Sir Thomas Bodley for his new library in Oxford, the library’s holdings continued to expand. In 1692 the books were removed to the Vicars’ Hall, where they remained for over three hundred years, and since 1999 they have been housed with the College archives in environmentally controlled strong-rooms in the Vicars’ Hall Undercroft.
The library now contains approximately 6,000 rare books, many still in their original bindings. They cover a wide range of subjects: religion, history, classics, geography, topography, navigation, bibliography, mathematics and medicine. There are 9 incunables, over 800 volumes printed in the sixteenth century and 4,500 printed in the seventeenth century forming a splendid sequence from the main English and European printing presses of the time. Among the early printed books are a very fine edition of Caxton’s The mirrour of the world (1481), and The crafte to lyve well and to dye well printed by Wynkyn de Worde (1505). The rich collection of seventeenth century topographical and navigational works and atlases includes all four volumes of Sir Robert Dudley’s Dell’arcano del mare (1606), John Speed’s The theatre of the empire of Great-Britain (1676), Mercator’s Atlas siue Cosmographicae (1606), Jan Blaeu’s Atlas maior (1662) and Moses Pitt’s The English atlas (1680-1683). Manuscripts include a twelfth century volume containing commentaries of Gregory and Bede, a fifteenth century book of hours and an important collection of music books of anthems and services sung in the Chapel since the seventeenth century.
The library collections are open to the public for research without charge and the Archives and Chapter Library welcomes group visits, donations from which contribute to the library conservation fund. The introduction of a successful Adopt-a-Book scheme in 1998, together with charitable grants and donations, has enabled the professional restoration of over six hundred rare books since1998. The library’s catalogue is now included in COPAC.