Christopher Codrington 1668-1710
Christopher CODRINGTON 1668-1710
Born in St John, Barbados, son Christopher Codrington, later governor of the Leeward Islands. The family had considerable wealth, based on the sugar plantations. Matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford 1685; fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, 1690; BA 1691, MA 1694. Admitted at the Middle Temple, 1687. During the 1690s he alternated between Oxford, and life as a soldier in the West Indies and Flanders. He succeeded his father as governor of the Leeward Islands in 1699, and moved to the West Indies where he spent the rest of his life, much embroiled in administrative and political disputes. He wrote verses, some of which were published, and had a circle of literary acquaintances during his time in Oxford.
Codrington began acquiring books early in his career, and devised the intention of accumulating a significant collection. He engaged an agent, Alexander Cunningham, to build up a library on his behalf, held in Oxford, while he was away in the West Indies: “though it will not be so large as I first intended”, Codrington wrote in 1702, “I hope to make it as curious as any private one in Europe, particularly in some sort of books which I believe are not known in Oxford”. Cunningham collected extensively from continental Europe as well as England. Codrington bequeathed the collection (which he did not see after 1700) to All Souls, together with £6000 to be spent on building a new library, and £4000 for further book purchases.
The collection bequeathed to the College comprised ca.12,000 volumes; Codrington’s contemporaries did not think its quality lived up to the donor’s aspirations. Hearne judged it “the greatest part riff-raff” and John Caswell, who looked after the books in Oxford, was reluctant to receive further additions from Cunningham towards the later part of Codrington’s life. The collection includes many late 17th-century French and Italian publications, particularly in history, biography, geography and literature.
A handsome galleried library was duly constructed between 1715 and 1751, to designs by Nicholas Hawksmoor, 195 feet long by 30 feet wide. A catalogue was begun by Thomas Clymer soon after the books were received.
As most of the collection was built up by proxy, the books carry no markings by Codrington. A new bookplate was designed for the College shortly after the bequest, and is usually found in Codrington’s books (but also in later acquisitions). Many of the continental books are in French or Italian bindings with gilt-tooled spines.
- Craster, E. History of All Souls College Library, 1971, 66-81.
- Mandelbrote, Scott. "Codrington, Christopher (1668–1710), colonial governor and benefactor." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.