XXVI Sermons

Item author: John Donne
Item date: 1661
Grant Value: £1,000
Item cost: $3,500
Item date acquired: 2015
Item institution: National Trust, Chirk Castle
Town/City: Wrexham

The volume was described thus in the sale catalogue: 'Donne, John. XXVI Sermons. London. 1661. Contemporary calf, rebacked. Folio (11 1/8 x 7 in.; 283 x 178 mm). Woodcut printer's device on title-page, woodcut headpiece, initials, and initial-frame; a tiny bit of marginal browning. Plain endpapers, speckled edges; very, rubbed, rebacked and restored. Provenance: Thomas Middleton (near contemporary signature on title-page); R. E. Myddelton, Chirk Castle (armorial bookplate, press-mark C.3.Divinity). Acquisition: Francis Edwards, 1969.’

It is likely that the signature is that of Sir Thomas Myddleton III (1624-63), who was created first Baronet in 1660. He was the grandson of Thomas Myddleton I, who purchased Chirk, became Lord Mayor of London in 1613, and was one of the founders of the East India Company. He predeceased his father by three years, but Thomas Myddleton III had four sons, including the 2nd and 3rd Baronets, Thomas IV and Richard Myddleton.  The Myddleton family continue to partially occupy Chirk Castle today, in tandem with National Trust management of the site.

Of major significance is the collection of books, acquired initially by Robert (1678–1733), and later by John Myddelton (1685–1747), which forms one of the most important and intact country house libraries in Wales. A small group of 17th century books was augmented by those purchased by the two brothers. Robert Myddleton sought advice on the design of a new library from 'Mr Gibbs', probably the architect James Gibbs (1682-1754), to house his collection in 1718. By 1820 the Library was located in one of the drum towers and it is likely that this had been its location for the previous hundred years. For its size the Chirk collection contains a remarkable number of early books; roughly a quarter of the library was printed before 1701.

Circumstantial evidence suggests very strongly that the majority of the early books have been at Chirk for a considerable time. Though some of the Renaissance books contain the signatures and annotations of various 16th - early 17th century owners, there are remarkably few contemporary ownership marks in the later 17th -18th century books: their bindings alone suggest that these books were bought new or newly new, and have remained together ever since. The majority of the books appear to have been acquired therefore between approximately 1660 and 1740. The Myddeltons were in no sense connoisseurs of fine books; rather, they were a well-educated family of wealthy gentry with some intellectual pretensions and ability, apparently rather well-read in the literature which was then current, and frequently buying older and rarer books when they required them. The entire contents of the Library were put up for auction in 2004 by Christie's. Due to its importance, not only to Chirk but in the context of surviving libraries in Wales, the National Trust purchased the majority of the collection.

The Chirk manuscripts form probably the largest and earliest collection of mediaeval estate documents in Wales and are deposited at the National Library of Wales. They are readily accessible. A small number of documents is held at Chirk and on public display, for example the Chirk Pedigree. The Castle, including the Library, is open to the public between February and December, totalling approximately 300 days per year.