Samuel Harsnett 1561-1631

From Book Owners Online

Samuel HARSNETT 1561-1631

Biographical Note

Born at Colchester, son of William Haselnoth, tallow chandler and baker, and a strict protestant who was indicted for heresy during Mary’s reign. BA Pembroke College. Cambridge 1581, MA 1584, DD 1606. Master of Colchester School 1587-92, when he returned to Pembroke as junior proctor. Vicar of Chigwell, and chaplain to Richard Bancroft, Bishop of London, 1597; Bancroft became an important patron. Prebendary of St Paul’s 1598, Rector of St Margaret’s, New Fish Street Hill 1599, Archdeacon of Essex 1603. Master of Pembroke 1605-16, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge 1606. Bishop of Chichester 1609, of Norwich 1619; Archbishop of York 1628-31.


Harsnett’s library was bequeathed by him to Colchester as a town library for the clergy there, on condition that “a decent roome” be set up for the purpose; the gift was accepted and a library room established in 1631, with a librarian appointed in 1635. There are no contemporary inventories of the collection, and later 17th century catalogues have been lost, but it seems likely that the 839 vols which survive today (now in the University of Essex) represent the bulk of the original bequest. The collection is strongly theological in content but also includes some classics, history, geography and philology; 83% are 16th-century imprints, 83% are in Latin, 12% are in English, remaining languages being Greek, Hebrew and French. Over 60 books previously belonged to John Field, fellow of Pembroke (1593), and there are ca.30 books from the library of John Whitgift, with his armorial bindings, and ca.20 with "R B" bindings from the library of Bancroft. Francesca Galligan's detailed report on the library (2012), available on the University of Essex website (link below), gives a detailed account of the library's contents and of the physical evidence found in the books. Examples: at the University of Essex.

Characteristic Markings

The library is strong in blind stamped bindings from throughout the 16th century; the relatively few gilt-tooled bindings are typically those from the libraries of Whitgift or Bancroft. There is a significant proportion of Cambridge bindings, again from across the 16th century. Harsnett did not annotate his books and very rarely inscribed them – the few examples of his signature in the books probably date from the early part of his career. About half the books have a distinctive three-part 17th century Colchester town library shelfmark.