Gilbert Burnet 1643-1715

From Book Owners Online

Gilbert BURNET 1643-1715

Gilbert Burnet's bookplate (British Museum Franks Collection *597)

Biographical Note

Born in Edinburgh, son of Robert Burnet, judge of the court of session. MA Marischal College, Aberdeen 1657. Travelled in England and on the continent in the early 1660s before becoming minister at Saltoun, near Edinburgh in 1665, until moving to the University of Glasgow as Professor of Divinity in 1669. Involvement in Scottish ecclesiastical affairs, publications, and the patronage of the Dukes of Lauderdale and York raised his profile and he moved to London in 1674. He became chaplain to the Rolls Chapel, and lecturer at St Clement Danes, in 1675. The publication of the first volume of his History of the Reformation (1679), coinciding with the Popish Plot, brought him wide acclaim and a DD from Oxford. He was out of favour in the 1680s with both Charles II and James II, and he lived on the continent 1685-88 until returning with William of Orange as his chaplain. He was made Bishop of Salisbury in 1689 and was actively, and often controversially, involved in ecclesiastical affairs at both diocesan and national level for the rest of his life, despite being often out of favour with monarchs. He was a voluminous publisher of historical, theological and political works throughout his life and his autobiography (History of his own time, published posthumously 1724-34) continued to demonstrate his skills in attracting attention and reputation through his writings.


Burnet directed in his will that his library should be sold by auction after his death, except for some small specific bequests to his children (mostly special copies of Bibles and prayer books). He also set up charitable endowments in Saltoun, including a school, and an annual allowance of 50 marks a year to augment “the library began for the minister’s house”. He left all his papers to his son Gilbert, including the manuscript autobiography, with instructions that it be printed verbatim, but not until six years after his death (the ms is now British Library Add ms 63057a-b).

The auction sale was held in London by Thomas Ballard, 19 March 1716. The catalogue included 2650 lots, plus 154 volumes of bound pamphlets and 11 volumes of “very ancient English tracts” (i.e. 16th century English pamphlets). It was divided between Latin theology (534), Latin miscellaneous (including history, philology, law, classics, philosophy, geography and lexicography (600), French and Italian books (544), Spanish and Italian (57), Belgian (24), English theology (481) and English miscellaneous (410). The high proportion of European language books reflects his time spent abroad. Examples: Shrewsbury School B.III.8, P.III.9; Quaritch 1199 (1994)/22.

Characteristic Markings

Burnet used an engraved bookplate (Franks 4460/*597).