Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Raoul Lefèvre, Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, trans. by William Caxton (Bruges: William Caxton, [1473?])

Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye

IIIF Drag-n-dropIIIF Manifest

The first printed book in English was in fact printed in Bruges, not in England. William Caxton (c. 1422-92), the first English printer, who in his youth was apprenticed as a mercer in London, lived in Burgundy for thirty years, serving the Anglo-Burgundian wool trade as well as acting as a diplomat.

In 1468, Margaret, sister of England's King Edward IV, married the Duke of Burgundy. According to the epilogue to the present book, she commissioned Caxton to produce an English translation: 'And for as moche as in the wrytyng of the same my penne is worn, myn hande wery and not stedfast, myn eyen dimmed with overmoche lokyng on the white paper'. Caxton therefore decided to learn to print in volume. Soon after his death, Wynkyn de Worde, his disciple, recollected in his envoy to the English first edition of Bartholomaeus Anglicus's De Proprietatibus Rerum that Caxton learned the art of printing with movable type in Cologne. Caxton left Bruges in 1472, and it seems he learned his new trade in Cologne, where he financed the printing of De Proprietatibus Rerum at Johann Veldener's shop. In the following year he returned to Bruges, where he set up his own press to print his own English translation of the Historyes of Troye.

Despite its title, the present book actually comprises three parts: the first on Greek myths, the second on Hercules, and the third on the siege and fall of Troy. As was characteristic of Renaissance compilations, medieval romance is grafted onto the myths of antiquity. The supposed origin of the Duchy of Burgundy depended on the legends of Hercules and Troy, and Margaret's marriage was even celebrated as 'the coming of the New Troy'. Caxton's Historyes of Troye was therefore a highly appropriate publication. Caxton, who published his translation with the English residents of Bruges in mind, published a French version soon afterwards.

The editio princeps of the Historyes of Troye is extant in no more than 20 copies, of which only the Pierpont Morgan Library copy is perfect. Wanting fifteen leaves, the Keio copy had been in Sion College Library since 1646, where it was sheltered from the later bibliomaniac cult that resulted in so many works suffering the chemical washing of pages or unnecessary pressing and rebinding during the late 18th and 19th centuries. It is virtually a unique copy of the book in that it retains the original pressing form of the binding, and thus helps to shed light on Caxton's printing process during his 'Bruges period'.


(Translation from the 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. 111)


Lefèvre, Raoul
Place of Publication
[William Caxton]


Date of Publication

Antique half morocco and wooden boards, gilt title on the spine.

Bibliographical Notes

336 of 352 leaves, wanting a10, b1-3, b9-10, and KK10; blank space for initials, sometimes filled in by hand; some early marginalia notes.

HC 7048, BMC IX 129, IJL2 247, T22, MB16
Acquisition Year

1. MS exlibris of Matthew Forster, 1646 (fol. 14). 2. Gift to Sion College by Matthew Forster, son of Captain Matthew Forster, merchant of London, 1646. 3. Sion College Library, Sotheby's 13 June 1977, lot 36. 4. H. P. Kraus Catalogue 200, 141. (Cf. Mostly British, p. 107).