The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Interleaving history: an illustrated Book of Common Prayer

A guest post by Whitney Anne Trettien

In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones, Partridge and his friends go to see a play. As they watch a man light the upper candles of the playhouse, the predictably inane Partridge cries out, “Look, look, madam, the very picture of the man in the end of the common-prayer book before the gunpowder treason service!”

The picture Partridge refers to is most likely this—

Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes

—a widely circulated and often reproduced image of Guy Fawkes sneaking toward the House of Lords, matches and lantern in hand. (Click on any of the images in this post to enlarge them in Luna.) It’s easy to read Partridge’s bumbling analogy as a comedic misinterpretation of the seriousness of the Gunpowder Plot—after all, he seems to see no difference between a flame intended to ignite barrels of gunpowder and one used to light candles in a playhouse (!). There’s a second level to his comedy, though, lost to most modern readers: namely, that by the eighteenth century this iconic depiction of Fawkes simply was as common as lit chandeliers. Found interleaved in many (if not most) extant post-1662 copies of the Book of Common Prayer, this image, along with another showing Charles I’s execution and a third celebrating Charles II’s return, iconically punctuated the state services added to the end of the restored Prayer Book. 

While the Folger holds many fine examples of extra-illustrated Prayer Books, I’ve been researching a copy that makes particularly interesting use of the practice of interleaving liturgical texts with images. Like many others compiled in the seventeenth century, this Prayer Book is bound within a collected volume that includes several religious texts, including a Bible, a copy of Sternhold and Hopkins’ Psalms, an Apocrypha, John Speed’s genealogical tables, and John Downame’s concordance. Unlike other composite volumes, however, this book—really, an aggregate of multiple printed books bound together—is heavily interleaved with loose prints, diagrams, maps, illustrations extracted from other texts, contemporaneous portraits of religious and political figures, even an elaborate (and as-yet unidentified) manuscript monogram. In fact, most of the leaves of the Bible in this copy have been removed and replaced with images culled from different sources, including William Slatyer’s illustrations of Genesis (a set of 40 plates published in the 1660s) and an unidentified German book, possibly some form of illustrated Bible that includes scriptural passages in both German and Latin. In short, the owner(s) of this volume went far beyond the standard practice of interleaving one’s Prayer Book with a few ready-made prints of Guy Fawkes!

In the process of weaving together these materials, the books owner(s) tended to recode textual information as visual iconography, and they did so in a way that narrated scripture and liturgy through seventeenth-century political history. A perfect example of this can be seen in a string of pages at the end of the Book of Common Prayer. Pasted on a blank leaf, interleaved after the prayer “After Victory or Deliverance from an Enemy,” is an illustration of the Battle of Downs, at which the Dutch navy defeated the Spanish in the English Channel:

Battle of Downs
Battle of Downs

Pasted on the verso is a thanksgiving prayer describing England’s second deliverance from the Spanish Armada.

a prayer of thanksgiving
a prayer of thanksgiving

(I haven’t yet attempted to source this, though text and image seem to be from the same book; if you know what it is, please leave a message in the comments!) Appropriately enough, this entire sequence comes at the end of the section on prayers to be used at sea. The inclusion here is unusual; perhaps the family that composed the book was involved in the Battle at Downs or was particularly invested in naval politics, a hypothesis supported by the inclusion of interleaved maps elsewhere in the book.

The Prayer Book continues with a thanksgiving for deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, illustrated with the typical engraving mentioned above, followed by the prayer to be said on the day of Charles I’s martyrdom. Rather than using the standard martyr illustration, however, the owners have interleaved an image of Charles I seated in front of a globe, a pen poised in his hand over Scotland.

Charles I
Charles I

This engraving, by Marshall, is very similar to the same artist’s frontispiece to Reliquae Sacrae Carolinae, the collection of Charles I’s writings published immediately after his death. Next is interleaved a copy of Marshall’s famous frontispiece to the Eikon Basilike—

Charles I, as in Eikon Basilika
Charles I, from Eikon Basilike

—followed finally by the more standard engraving of Charles I’s execution, captioned with scripture.

execution of Charles I
execution of Charles I

The entire sequence ends with the prayer commemorating the Restoration, accompanied by a regal portrait of a crowned King Charles II. Far from simply inserting the usual imagery, the book’s owner(s) creatively use a variety of illustrations to narrate the collection of state services at the end of the Prayer Book as the story of Charles I’s martyrdom. Thus the Battle of the Downs—at the time, considered a political embarrassment for Charles—becomes a victorious “deliverance” equivalent with Elizabeth’s 1588 defeat of the Armada, while his execution becomes merely the full stop on a royal life that was always already martyred to the English church. Since some of the printed editions included in this composite book seem to predate Charles I’s execution, the positioning of images within the text, as well as the book’s remixing of pre- and post-execution materials, serves to renarrate and thereby restore Stuart religious politics.

I first came to this fascinating book through my research on the Little Gidding Harmonies, a set of cut-and-paste biblical concordances produced in the 1630s and 1640s at the religious community of Little Gidding. While I don’t have space to get into the connections between these books, it’s worth noting that both the Harmonies and the Folger’s volume share an interest in absorbing other printed materials—books, pamphlets, engravings—into their physical framework. The owner(s) of the Folger volume were careful to make their collection appear to be a unified single volume, going so far as to extend the margins of the Psalter and the German illustrations with pasted strips of paper in order to match the page width of the rest of the book. Prints that aren’t large enough to be interleaved are carefully cut out and pasted onto fresh paper, and each page is visually framed with red ink lines. Like the Little Gidding Harmonies, this book is invested in disguising its multiple origins, even as it trades on the excess signifying power of, for instance, the Marshall engravings it recycles.

If (returning to Tom Jones) Partridge’s offhand remark satirizes how common images of the Gunpowder Plot had become, then the volume at the Folger indicates how uncommonly such images could be used. Through a highly material process of cut-and-paste composition, the owners of this book transformed a set of mass-reproduced religious texts into a wholly new document that uniquely reflects—or perhaps carefully projects—their political and religious affiliations.


WHITNEY ANNE TRETTIEN (@whitneytrettien) is a PhD candidate in English at Duke University, where she is writing her dissertation on the Little Gidding Harmonies. She works on a variety of projects related to book history, digital humanities, and early modern material culture; for more, visit her website.


  • I really enjoyed this post. I was wondering two things. Firstly, with these pictures, do we know who was putting the images in the BCP and how ubiquitous this practice was? Secondly, I noticed that your examples were all post 1605. I work on Shakespeare and Marlowe who, I think, would have use the 1599 edition of the BCP. Do you know if images were ever added to the 1559 edition of the BCP? The edition I have been using is devoid of images, and I always assumed that this was due to iconoclasm, but now I am wondering if individual users subverted the iconoclastic nature of the BCP–and Protestantism by extension–through modifying their own prayer texts.

    • Hi Jamie, thanks for reading. Great questions. Regarding how ubiquitous the practice of extra-illustrating Bibles was, it seems to have been somewhat common later in the century. A quick perusal of Darlow and Moule — a little outdated, but handily digitized! — shows that many post-Restoration Bibles include interleaved engravings; English copies of Bolswert seem especially popular. You can find some of these Bibles on EEBO (e.g. Wing B3631). From 1662 on, it seems some editions of the BCP were sold with the three engravings I mention (Guy Fawkes, Charles I’s execution, Charles II’s return) to illustrate the state services. Someone must have written about this at some point, but so far I haven’t found much in the literature. (By the way, I mention Bibles and the BCP in the same breath because they were often bound together, along with psalters and so on, throughout the period.)

      As for how common the same practice was earlier, I don’t recall having come across any extra-illustrating between the third (1559) and fourth (1604) BCP, though you’ll find interleaved paper for taking notes. An interesting 1627 Bible at the BL (1411.E.6-8) is interleaved at every page with blank paper annotated in multiple hands. Still, it’s easy to overestimate the iconoclastic impulse. Most 16th-century BCPs have historiated initials; and Bill Sherman discusses a ca1560 manuscript BCP pasted with woodcuts in his book Used Books. So, yes, the impulse to modify scriptural/liturgical texts was strong throughout the period. Even where you don’t find interleaved engravings, you’ll see custom-embroidered book covers, even the occasional fore-edge painting.

  • I’m so glad someone is studying this copy! It was shown in the Folger exhibition “Extending the Book: the Art of Extra-Illustration” in 2010, but I really didn’t have time to look into it very far. I kept hoping I could find a source for the Armada image, using the text on the verso, butnot enough books were full-text searchable in 2010 to reveal it, and I haven’t had time to re-check since then.

    The text on the verso of the Armada print is definitely from the same book: they’re the front and back of the same page. These extra illustrations aren’t directly pasted onto the pages. Rather, they’ve been inlaid: someone cut a “window” slightly smaller than the added page into the new sheet of paper, then pasted them together. It’s fairly easy to see the show-through on some of the prints with blank versos. The sequence in LUNA was shot so that we could show a series of double-page spreads on a touch-screen in the exhibition. See for the result. Note that the double-page spreads are actually two single shots stitched together digitally. The book is too fragile to smoosh open for the camera. That’s why LUNA appears to have duplicate images: the original shots are there, and the stitched-together versions.

    In case you haven’t already found it, the print of Charles I with a globe is a frontispiece taken from Peter Heylyn’s Short View of the Life and Reign of King Charles, published in 1658. I just noticed that the Folger copy of that book, call number C2070, is lacking the frontispiece, so I’m going to ask the person who catalogs pre-1831 English books if it’s possible to add a link to the LUNA image to its Hamnet record.

    • Thanks, Erin! This is really helpful information.

      I haven’t been able to identify the Armada image through searching online databases — which is yet another reason we need sophisticated image-matching technology linked to our digital archives. Soon…

  • This is very interesting and significant. I wonder if you have come across evidence of Hollar’s Satirical passion of Christ being interleaved in Book of Commonprayer in the 1660s? There are some c18th references but nothing substantial. Copies of the prints are in the BM, Toronto, and they are sometimes claimed to be drawn from early example of Holbein? Any suggestions gratefully received!

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