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Stonyhurst College’s Shakespeare First Folio

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 May 2016

There are only 233 Shakespeare first folios known to have survived

There are only 233 Shakespeare first folios known to have survived

Stonyhurst

It was big news when a Shakespeare First Folio was found on a Scottish island, but we have our very own here in the Ribble Valley. Julie Frankland went to see it

Jan discussing the First Folio with studentsJan discussing the First Folio with students

It’s said that the best place to hide a book is in a library and Jan Graffius, Stonyhurst College’s archivist of 15 years, isn’t going to disagree.

Unless you have been living in a cultural fog, you will no doubt be aware that this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and nationwide there are all sorts of events organised to celebrate the great bard’s literary legacy. In the Ribble Valley, Stonyhurst College, the country’s leading independent Jesuit boarding and day school, is doing its bit by loaning out what is arguably the most precious of the 55,000 books in its library – a Shakespeare First Folio – to Blackburn Museum, where it is on public display.

Yet, by rights, the college should also have a ‘spare’ First Folio - a second copy, which was lost only to miraculously re-surface in September 2014 in a small library near Calais, where it had been hidden for more than two centuries.

With Stonyhurst College’s own libraries currently under renovation and Jan in the throes of cataloguing not only the school’s vast collection of books and manuscripts but also its remarkable museum of artefacts, gifted mainly by its alumni, she is philosophical about the lost tome. ‘It is estimated that around 750 First Folios were printed and of these, 233 are currently known to survive,’ she said. ‘The copy we have loaned to Blackburn Museum was a bequest by a former pupil, Everard, 10th Baron Arundell of Wardour, in 1837. The copy that has come to light in the public library in Saint-Omer is believed to have belonged to another former pupil, Edward Scarisbrick.

The magificient college at Hurst GreenThe magificient college at Hurst Green

Stonyhurst was founded in Saint-Omer by a Jesuit Father called Father Robert Persons in the late 16th century when Catholicism was outlawed in this country. Edward, who was from a prominent Roman Catholic family, studied at Saint-Omer in the 1630s and the first page of the First Folio found in the town’s library is inscribed with the word Nevill, a name Scarisbrick is known to have used.

So how did a book, today worth millions of pounds, become lost? Jan explained: ‘The Saint-Omer college was expelled from France in 1762 because of political differences between the Jesuits and the French Government. Its collection of books was handed to the town’s public library. A couple of years ago, a librarian there was selecting books for an upcoming exhibition on historic links between the local region and England when he found it, sitting on a shelf alongside other books by English authors.

‘It was missing the frontispiece and the Martin Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare that are the hallmarks of the other known copies, which is probably why its significance had previously gone unrecognised. So Dr Cordonnier had the book immediately authenticated by an internationally known Shakespeare scholar who happened to be in London at the time and jumped on Eurostar to view the find. When we learned of it, we were just as excited and thrilled.’

Viewing Stonyhurst’s collections

It is possible to view Stonyhurst’s libraries and its collections of treasured artefacts. These include the skull of Cardinal John Morton, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who engineered Henry VII’s ascension to the throne, and a thorn said to be from the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross. Contact Jan on 01254 826345 or emailj.graffius@stonyhurst.ac.uk

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