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The ‘subversive’ book of rare Royalist plays that belonged to Charles II

pen book with portrait frontispiece

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

Rare book of Royalist plays published during the English Civil War acquired by Leeds University

This politically charged anthology of plays originally belonged to King Charles II and is a rare copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio.

Recently acquired by Special Collections at the University of Leeds, the rare first edition was published at the height of the English Civil Wars before the execution of King Charles I.

John Fletcher was an English dramatist, and William Shakespeare’s successor as playwright for the King’s Men, the royal acting company.

The 34 plays in this first edition folio consisted of previously unpublished work from Fletcher, and a small number of plays by Francis Beaumont, a long-time collaborator of Fletcher, as well as collaborations with other dramatists such as Philip Massinger, Nathan Field, and John Ford.

engraved frontispiece with male figure bust with laurel wreath

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

book cover with fleur de lis

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

tragedies opening page of a book

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

With England ravaged by war the folio was released at a time when the nation’s theatres had been closed, and its publisher was the staunch Royalist Humphrey Moseley, who was making a political statement by publishing works affiliated with the King’s Men.

This copy was made for and gifted to Charles II while he was heir to the throne and Prince of Wales.

Printed just a few months after he had left the country for his exile in France, the folio bears the Prince of Wales armorial stamp with the feathers emerging from a coronet with the motto “Ich dien” on the cover.

From this stamp we can ascertain that it entered his personal library sometime between its publication in 1647 and the coronation of King Charles II as King of Scotland in 1649, following the execution of his father King Charles I.

“King Charles II’s 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio is the most valuable copy of this iconic collection of plays in existence,” says Dr José Pérez Díez, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Leeds. “It is a major research resource that will enable us to share and enjoy the riveting English drama of the seventeenth century with the wider community and scholars around the world.”

photo of an open book on a plinth

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

photo of a closed leather bound book

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

open book with portrait frontispiece

King Charles II’s copy of the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher ‘Comedies and Tragedies’ folio. Special Collections, University of Leeds

The Beaumont and Fletcher folio joins a world class English Literature collection held by Special Collections at the University of Leeds.

Complementary highlights from the 17th century include the first anthology of English drama ever published in folio format, Ben Jonson’s ‘Works’ (1616), and the famous First Folio from William Shakespeare (1623).

The Beaumont and Fletcher folio of 1647 may not be as well-known as these predecessors but it is widely regarded as the third great collection of English plays of the period. These three folios form part of the prominent Brotherton Collection, which was bequeathed by Lord Brotherton.

This newest addition is available for researchers to study, and will be displayed to the public in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery in a future exhibition.

Dr José Pérez Díez will be giving a free online talk about the recently acquired Beaumont and Fletcher folio on 11 February 2021. See https://library.leeds.ac.uk/galleries

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Free to all visitors, the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds holds exceptional collections on a vast variety of subjects. We welcome you to research the area of your interest in the Fay and Geoffrey Elliott Reading Room, whether for formal academic study or personal interest. There are nearly…

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