Francis Bernard 1628-1698

From Book Owners Online

Francis BERNARD 1628-1698

Biographical Note

Born in Croyden, Surrey, son of Samuel Bernard, Vicar there. Bound apprenctice to John Lorrimer, apothecary of London, in 1645; admitted a freeman of the Society of Apothecaries 1653, liveryman 1662. Apothecary to St Bartholomew’s Hospital 1661, where he was noted for his service during the great plague of 1665. Awarded a Lambeth MD 1678; shortly afterwards appointed assistant physician at St Bartholomew’s, promoted to physician in 1683. Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians 1680, full fellow 1687. Physician in ordinary to James II, 1685. Bernard was involved in several controversies associated with the College of Physicians during the 1680s and 90s, generally supporting new ideas and a willingness to experiment (in opposition to the conservative tradition of the discipline); he resisted the College’s attempts to restrict the activities of apothecaries.


Bernard assembled a library of over 10,000 books, sold by auction in London (at his house), beginning 4 October 1698. His will does not mention his library, which passed to his widow as part of his overall estate; it refers critically to his son and one of his daughters, echoing the comment in the preface to the sale catalogue that he regretted not having heirs who might make use of his books. The preface also highlights the size and scope of the collection, and the rarity of some of the items. It refers to a manuscript catalogue of the library, and the fact that some items listed there had been lost through Bernard’s generosity in lending books to people and not having them returned. The collection was evidently assembled throughout Bernard’s life; he received an unknown number of books on the death of his father in 1657, whose will stipulated the division of his library between Francis and two of his brothers (Samuel and John).

The sale catalogue lists 9997 lots, plus 39 bundles of pamphlets, divided into Latin theology (1069), Law (Latin and English; 277), Mathematics (including astronomy and astrology, Latin and English; 938), Medical (mostly Latin, but including some English; 4484), Miscellaneous Latin (4950), Italian, Spanish and French (1163), English divinity, history and miscellaneous (2066). The medical section was understandably singled out for its size, but the library was wide ranging in its subject coverage. It included a number of manuscripts (Bernard’s name is found as a buyer of manuscripts in several marked-up sale catalogues of the 1680s and 90s), and has been noted for its holdings of Caxtons, and other incunabula. Examples: BL Ames 7/693; Cambridge UL U.8.9; Marsh’s Library, Dublin K.1.4.35, N.1.8.12; Wellcome Library EPB A7424/A.

Characteristic Markings

Bernard commonly inscribed his titlepages “Sum Francisci Bernard”, sometimes adding the date of acquisition. The preface to the sale catalogue mentions the plainness that was typical of his bindings: “being a person who collected his books for use … he seem’d no more solicitous about their dress than his own; … a gilt back or a large margin was very seldom any inducement for him to buy”. It also regrets the absence of annotations in his books, saying that this was mentioned to him shortly before his death, and that he agreed: “if he had but taken the trouble … of setting down in the vacant leaf of many of his books the reasons which he had to buy them … it had become … a singular piece of service to the future possessors”.


  • A catalogue of the library of … Francis Bernard, 1698 (ESTC R34405).
  • 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.
  • Burnby, Juanita. "Bernard, Francis (bap. 1628, d. 1698), apothecary and physician." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Freeman, A. Some notes on Francis Bernard, The Book Collector 61 (2012), 65-69.
  • Thornton, J. Medical books, libraries and collectors. 2nd edn. London, 1966.