Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Chronicles of England (Westminster: William Caxton, 1480)

Chronicles of England [English]. Add: Higden: The description of England

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This edition was printed by William Caxton at Westminster, dated 10 June 1480; it is Caxton's earliest dated book to use printed signatures. The text is originally based on the English Brut chronicles, one of the most popular historical texts in 15th-century England. The name derives from the mythical settler of Britain, Brutus, the descendant of Aeneas. The English Brut up to 1333 is a translation from the Anglo-Norman Brut, which was based on the works of Nennius, Douglas of Glastonbury, and Geoffrey of Monmouth. Anonymous scribes added continuations for 1333 to 1419; Caxton added his own continuation and updated the historical content for the period 1419 to 1461, the year of the coronation of Edward IV. It has been recently argued that Caxton used his own printed editions of the Chronicles when preparing his editorial work on Le Morte Darthur (1485).

The Keio copy was purchased in 1813 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, and is one of the 17 extant copies of the Chronicles of England that were printed in 1480; a total of 35 are recorded in the Census of Caxtons by De Ricci. This copy, which measures 260 x 171 mm (10 1/4 × 6 3/4 inches), was washed before being rebound. It is a small folio, with 180 leaves, and 40 lines per page. Most of the quires consist of eight leaves: π8 a8-u8 y6. The Keio copy lacks only two leaves, π1 and a1, both blank; otherwise, it is a perfect copy. Sig. x8 has been incorrectly bound between sigs y5 and y6. The type used is Caxton's Type 4. Both capital letters and paragraph marks have been rubricated in red by an illuminator.

The binding is from the early 19th century. It is of full-crimson, straight-grain morocco, backed with gilt, with blind-tooled ornaments and minute gilt-tooled dots. It has one panel containing the coronet and monogram of the Duke of Devonshire. His coat of arms, along with supports and the motto 'Cavendo Tutus' ('Safe by being cautious'), is stamped in gilt in the centre of the covers. The doublures have an additional wide dentelle border with gilt edges. The binder was Charles Hering, and it has his label from 1813 or later. The Keio copy is contained in a full-crimson, levant morocco solander case with an inner cloth folder.

From the viewpoint of book-collecting, the Keio copy has an illustrious history. The 6th Duke of Devonshire held the largest collection of Caxton's publications in his day. It eventually fell into the possession of Henry E. Huntington, the California railway magnate who established the Huntington Library, and then came into the possession of the famous book collector Arthur A. Houghton Jr.

  De Ricci, Seymour, A Census of Caxtons, Illustrated Monograph, 15 (London: Bibliographical Society, 1909), no. 29
  Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century Now in the British Library, BMC, part XI: England, ed. by Lotte Hellinga ('t Goy-Houten: Hes & De Graff, 2007)


(Translation from the revised Japanese version in Mostly British: Manuscripts and Early Printed Materials from Classical Rome to Renaissance England in the Collection of Keio University Library, ed. by Takami Matsuda (Tokyo: Keio University Press, 2001), p. 117)


Place of Publication
William Caxton


Date of Publication

Early 19th-century red straight-grained morocco gilt, Duke of Devonshire arms on both covers and his cypher of spine, doublures and lining of olive straight-grained morocco gilt, with dentelle border, gilt edges, bound by Charles Hering with his label.

Bibliographical Notes

180 leaves (of 182); wanting π1 and a1; x8 misplaced after y5.

Goff C477, HC 5000, GW 6670, IJL 108, IJL2 132, PP 14, T 22, MB 17
Acquisition Year
1979 (from Houghton Sale at Christie's in 1979)

1. The Duke of Devonshire with the Chatsworth bookplate, sold May 18, 1915. 2. Acquired by Henry E. Huntington and sold as a duplicate in 1924 (penciled note inside back-cover). 3. Acquired by Roderick Terry (with bookplate), and sold at the Anderson Galleries, May 2, 1934. 4. Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. (with booklabel), sold at his sale, Christie's, 13 June, 1979, lot 108. 5. Acquired by Bernard Quaritch for Keio University. (MB, p. 115).