A shared memory

The personal affections involved in gift-giving are often invisible to the historian. This book, though, bears the marks of such an exchange and points to a shared connection based on faith and loss. This copy of the Scala perfectionis [‘Ladder of perfection’], a 1494 printed edition of a fourteenth-century devotional text, once belonged to Katherine Palmer [d. 1576]. A note on the title page reveals that she gave the text to Anthony Bolney in 1546. Palmer was a nun in the Bridgettine Syon Abbey, and in 1539 she had taken some members of the community, now dissolved by Henry VIII, to seek refuge in the Low Countries. She returned to England in 1546 to take another group; it may have been on this occasion that she gave this gift. Bolney was a Cluniac monk, another member of a now dissolved house. He may have supported the displaced members of Syon, and it has been suggested that Palmer’s present to him was a mark of gratitude. It also means that this book from the first generation of print now commemorates the friendship between these two opponents of Protestant Reformation. CL

Walter Hilton, Scala perfectionis (London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1494), title page.

CUL: Inc.3.J.1.2 [3534]

Further Reading

Alexandra da Costa, ‘A Gift of Gratitude: Walter Hilton Scala perfectionis (Westminster) Wynkyn de Worde, 1494’, in Emprynted in Thys Manere: Early Printed Treasures from Cambridge University Library (Cambridge, 2014), pp. 140-141.

Mary C. Erler, Women, Reading and Piety in Late Medieval England (Cambridge, 2002), esp. pp. 42-4, 121.

Extended captions