Monday, November 17, 2003

In spite of the increase in literacy, the numbers of books in country houses remained, by our standards, very small. Many country houses still had no books at all. Outside immediate government circles the doctrines of Sir Thomas Elyot and his friends only penetrated slowly. Many gentlemen, especially in the remoter parts of the country, still preferred to hunt and hawk; in Northumberland, in the 1560s, ninety-two put of the 146 leading gentry were unable to sign their name. In 1601 Bess of Hardwick, in spite of contacts with the Greys, Cecils, and other highly educated families, had only six books at Hardwick, kept in her bedchamber. Sir William Fairfax, who installed the magnificent great chamber at Gilling Castle, owned thirty-nine books. Only a dozen or so members of the upper classes (exclusive of clerics) are known to have owned more than a hundred books in the sixteenth century, and although this figure is based on fairly superficial research the real figure is unlikely to have exceeded a hundred. Only two great men – Lord Lumley and Lord Burghley – owned more than a thousand books.

Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House (165)

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