Saturday, March 9, 2013

An intriguing 17th century theft

This is the kind of little snippet that really intrigues me as a writer, and as a historian. I came across this interesting 17th century advertisement in the Early English Books. Five valuable books had gone missing--"Lost or Stolen"--and a relatively large reward had been offered for their return.

Early English books tract supplement interim guide ; / E4:2[148]  Date 16--?
Clearly, the books were valuable. Four were bound in rough calves leather and had clasps.  One was in smooth's calves leather and lettered on the back.

But it's the glimpse into the content that intrigues me. Three volumes of Monasticon Anglicanum, also known as The history of the ancient abbies, and other monasteries, hospitals, cathedral and collegiate churches in England and Wales. With divers French, Irish, and Scotch monasteries formerly relating to England (1693) (You can actually read all three volumes here if you like!).  Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire. And Camden's Britannia.

All of them could be viewed as sort of refined travel guides, pointing out the interesting facts and histories of important buildings, ruins, castles, private homes, churches and former monasteries (each was also likely informed by key political and religious tensions of the time, but that's another story.)

This fascinates me: who might have taken these books? (I'm sort of discounting the idea they may actually have been lost...what's the fun of that?)  A petty thief who may have wanted to make a few shillings? Maybe. An armchair traveller, sitting in his oak-panelled chair with spindled arms, sipping some Rhenish wine, dreaming of places he'd never been?  Perhaps.

Or perhaps, and here's the fun part to conjecture, the books were lifted from the bookstall by a master thief. To get the lay of the land throughout Warwickshire. To understand the best ways to travel. To study escape routes. To look for hidden entrances and egresses. 

There's no record as to whether the books found their way back to booksellers Bateman and Brown, but I like to imagine they didn't. Maybe some seventeenth century rogue (or moll) pulled off the heist of the century...and it's up to me to write that tale...

It's less than seven weeks till the launch of my first mystery, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate (Minotaur Books/St.Martin's Press) on April 23, 2013!


  1. I like the way your mind works. I probably would have passed over that ad and not have given it a second thought. But now I am intrigued!

    Wouldn't it be great if you looked in the following week's news and read reports of a series of major crimes! Master thief, it is!

  2. Thanks Monroe. I just wish these early English books were a little more systematic, but they were collected randomly and it shows.