Arthur Annesley 1614-1686

From Book Owners Online

Arthur ANNESLEY, 1st Earl of Anglesey 1614-1686

Biographical Note

Born in Dublin, son of Francis Annesley, 1st Baron Mountnorris. Matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford ca.1630, but did not graduate; admitted at Lincoln’s Inn 1633, called to the Bar 1640. During the later 1630s he travelled in Europe. His father suffered the effects of Strafford’s government of Ireland and he supported the parliamentary side during the Civil War, acting as a parliamentary commissioner in Ireland. He lived mostly in Ireland during the Interregnum, without being politically active, but became MP for Dublin in 1659. He was involved in negotiations leading to the Restoration and was made Earl of Anglesey (in the English peerage) in 1661 (he also inherited his father’s Irish titles, in 1660). Vice-treasurer and Receiver-general of Ireland, 1660; Lord Privy Seal, 1673. He was an active participant in state activity and the business of the House of Lords throughout the 1660s and 70s; his nonconformist theological sympathies led him to support protestant dissenters where possible. His support for the proposed exclusion bills (to prevent the Catholic Duke of York from inheriting the throne), coupled with a dispute with the Duke of Ormond, led to his being found guilty of scandalous libel in 1682, and banished from court; he spent the rest of his life in retirement in his houses in London and Oxfordshire (Bletchingdon).


Annesley has been described as “perhaps the first peer who devoted time and money to the formation of a great library” (in the first edition of the ODNB). While we would now revise this statement, there is no doubt that he did amass one of the largest private libraries of his generation, which has been estimated at 30,000 volumes. The preface to the 1686 sale catalogue (see below) refers to his collecting activity over thirty years, aided by extensive correspondence with European scholars, who would send presentation copies of their works. It also notes his purchase of a number of libraries en bloc (including for example his acquisition of many of the books of Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society), leading to a degree of duplication of titles and editions. He was a patron of Andrew Marvell, who is known to have used Annesley’s library in the 1670s.

In his will, Annesley bequeathed his household goods to his widow, with the exception of silver plate, books and writings; he did not then specify what should happen to the books. The library was sold by auction in London by Thomas Philipps shortly after Annesley’s death, beginning 26 October 1686; it made £1736 17s 10d. The sale catalogue lists 6527 lots, plus 118 bound volumes of tracts, 189 bundles of tracts, and a small quantity of prints and drawings. These are divided into Latin theology (901), Latin geography and history (713), Latin philology, literature and classics (686), Latin medicine, philosophy and mathematics (538), Latin and French canon law (216), English common and statute law (325), French books (594), Italian (328), Spanish (63), Belgian and German (31), English theology (1126), English miscellaneous (including geography, philology, voyages, poetry, physic, philosophy and mathematics: 973), and manuscripts (33). 5 of Annesley’s manuscripts were listed in Edward Bernard’s Catalogi librorum manuscriptorum (1698). The sale was interrupted, while in progress, by Sir Roger L’Estrange in his capacity as overseer of the press, to withdraw a quantity of controversial material, including works by John Milton and a copy of the Eikon basilike with a note attributing its authorship to John Gauden, rather than Charles I. Examples: BL MS Harley 1235, 4074; Cambridge UL Z.12.14; Marsh’s Library, Dublin B.1.6.9, F.1.7.55, Christie’s 22.6.1977/3, 16.3.1978/1258 and 1409 (both Evelyn sales).

Characteristic Markings

Inscription by Arthur Annesley

Annesley’s books are typically inscribed “Anglesey” at the head of the titlepage, commonly with some further information about the source of the book (where purchased, what price paid, who donated by). He seems not to have been a regular annotator of his books.


  • Alston, R. C. Inventory of sale catalogues 1676-1800. St Philip, 2010
  • Beadle, R. Medieval English manuscripts at auction, 1676-c.1700, The Book Collector 53 (2004), 46-63.
  • Birrell, T. Books and buyers in 17th-century English auction sales, in R. Myers et al (eds), Under the hammer, 2001, 51-64.
  • Malcolm, N. The Library of Henry Oldenburg, Electronic British Library Journal 2005 article 7.
  • Mandelbrote, G. The organization of book auctions, ibid., 15-50.
  • McKitterick, D. Cambridge University Library: a history, vol. 2, Cambridge, 1986, 118.
  • Perceval-Maxwell, M. "Annesley, Arthur, first earl of Anglesey (1614–1686), politician." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.