José Pérez Diez, School of English, and Rachel Eckersley, Special Collections write:

The Brotherton Library has acquired a singularly important copy of one of the most iconic collections of drama of the English Renaissance. The first folio of Comedies and Tragedies by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher was published in the spring of 1647, in the middle of the English Civil War, and five years after the closing of all public theatres by the Parliamentary authorities. At a politically charged moment, this book offered the public what they could not get in person: the best plays by John Fletcher, the principal dramatist of the King’s Men – the Royalist playing company.

The man behind the publication was Humphrey Moseley (b. in or before 1603, d. 1661), the foremost literary publisher of the period and a staunch Royalist to boot. In 1647, and in order to speed up its publication, he and his partner, Humphrey Robinson, outsourced the printing of the folio to at least eight printers, including William Wilson, Edward Griffin, Thomas Warren, Susan Islip, and Ruth Raworth.[i] Susan Islip was the widow of the printer, Adam Islip, and she worked possibly in Smithfield from 1641 until 1661. Ruth Raworth was also a London printer, active between 1643 and 1655, and the widow of John Raworth, who had printed for Moseley. Interestingly, Moseley’s wife, Anne, carried on his business for three years after his death.

Binding of ‘Comedies and tragedies’ by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The publication of the 1647 folio was a significant political statement in support of the Royalist cause. It presented 34 plays associated with the King’s Men—a King that was under arrest by order of Parliament. The company’s actors collaborated with Moseley in assembling the scripts for publication, and even signed the dedication of the book to Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, one of the dedicatees of Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio. A staggering 40 poems preface the book, most of them authored by an extensive gallery of Royalist army officers, poets, and intellectuals such as Sir John Birkenhead, Sir Aston Cokayne, Sir George Lisle, Sir John Denham, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Stanley, and William Cartwright. This folio was a daring and dangerous political declaration on Moseley’s part.

This copy of the book was bound for Charles, Prince of Wales, then exiled in France, who would automatically become King Charles II upon his father’s execution in 1649. It was bound in contemporary dark brown morocco with a gold tooled supralibros depicting the Prince of Wales’s coat of arms: three ostrich feathers emerging from a coronet with the German motto “Ich dien” (‘I serve’) on the covers. As far as we know from the Royal Library records, he kept it all his life.
Dobson, William, 1611-1646; Charles II (1630-1685), as Prince of Wales. Image credit Kinloch Castle, Rum (Scottish Natural Heritage)

Its home between the date of the dispersal of books from Charles II’s Library until 1935 is as yet unknown. On 28 January 1935, it was sold by Sotheby’s London as lot 235 for £20 to Bernard Quaritch Ltd, the London antiquarian bookseller. Twenty-five years later, Robert S. Pirie (1934–2015), the American lawyer, investment baker, and esteemed book collector, bought the folio from Quaritch. It was sold once again in 2015 as lot 65 in the famed Sotheby’s New York sale of the Pirie Collection of books and manuscripts. In 2020 Leeds University Library purchased it for their remarkable collection of early English drama.

Robert S. Pirie’s bookplate from ‘Comedies and tragedies’ by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Image credit Leeds University Library.

[i] Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, English literature, 1475-1700 (Oak Knoll, 1997), 53; British Book Trade Index; ODNB Humphrey Moseley by Robert Wilcher