Thomas Henshaw 1618-1700

From Book Owners Online

Thomas HENSHAW 1618-1700

Biographical Note

Born in London, son of Benjamin Henshaw, alchemist. Matriculated at University College, Oxford 1634, but did not graduate; after two years there he went to study mathematics with William Oughtred, before being admitted to the Middle Temple in 1638 (barrister, 1654). He briefly joined the royalist army before being captured in London; he then went abroad for several years, travelling through various European countries with his friend John Evelyn. He returned to England in the late 1640s and spent the Interregnum mostly at his house in Kensington, pursuing alchemical researches. He was an early member of the Royal Society (vice-president from 1677) and presented a paper on saltpetre there in 1662; he subsequently published papers in the Philosophical Transactions. He became French secretary to Charles II, and undertook diplomatic missions in Denmark.


The extent of Henshaw's library is not known; most, or all, his books were inherited by his son in law Thomas Halsey of Great Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, along with other parts of his estate. The books became part of a family library held at their seat at Gaddesden Place; in 2021 a large part of this library was sold at Forum Auctions. Some of these books were eighteenth-century ones with markings of the Halseys, but many of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ones are likely to have been Henshaw's.

Characteristic Markings

Only a small handful of the books in the Forum sale carried Henshaw's inscription, sometimes with a note of their price or origin. A noticeable proportion of blind-stamped late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Oxford bindings among the books suggested that these, at least, dated from his time of study there. The books were generally in fairly plain leather bindings, with later spine gilding or repair, and carried the nineteenth-century bookplate "Gaddesden Library" (not in Franks).