The Coldham Hall music manuscript: identity in opposition

This is a curious item: an eighteenth-century biographical dictionary of early modern English Catholic authors, written in the blank spaces of a seventeenth-century music book. Its provenance is even more intriguing. This book is one item from Cambridge University Library’s collection of papers associated with the Rookwoods of Coldham Hall, Suffolk. The Rookwoods were a prominent Catholic family, and two members of the family (both called Ambrose Rookwood) were convicted of plotting against the crown in the seventeenth century. This biographical catalogue may have been begun by Thomas Rookwood [c.1658–1726] and continued by his daughter Elizabeth [1684–1759]; the multiple hands in the manuscript certainly reveal that this was the work of more than one person. This was thus both a precious family item, possibly created over generations, and a marker of memory and identity. In its recording of Catholic lives and works it traced a confessional intellectual history. The distinctly English nature of this gives some hints of the role that such a record of denominational history may have played in the Rookwoods’ own sense of self. For a family who had suffered greatly for their faith over the years, it is a record and celebration of three centuries of English Catholic history, and of a tradition to which this family saw themselves as the heirs. CL

Coldham Hall Music MSS, 17C, 59.

CUL: Hengrave 77/1

Further Reading

Francis Young (ed), Rookwood Family Papers, 1606–1761 (Suffolk Records Society 59, Woodbridge, 2016). Young identifies the ‘biobibliography’ as the possible work of Thomas and Elizabeth Rookwood.

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