William Byrd

This year at Lincoln Cathedral we are celebrating the life and works of English composer, William Byrd (1543-1623) with a five day festival of lectures and recitals: https://lincolncathedral.com/forthcoming-events/byrd-400

Byrd was known for both sacred and non-religious music. Between 1563 and 1572 he was organist and master of the choristers at Lincoln Cathedral.  A blue plaque on one of the houses in Minster Yard marks where Byrd’s house would have stood. He became the organist at Lincoln at the very young age of 20.  In addition to a generous salary of £13 6s 8d he received a yearly payment of 9s for livery (clothing).  He left Lincoln in 1572 to take up a post in the Chapel Royal, the private chapel of Queen Elizabeth 1. In 1575 along with the composer Thomas Tallis, he was awarded a patent for printing music.

The library has five printed Byrd part books which include “Psalmes, Sonets & Songs of Sadnes and Piete” (1588), “Cantiones Sacrae” (1589-91) and “Gradualia” (1610).

These originally belonged to Michael Honywood, 1st Dean of Lincoln at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  It was his generosity that paid for the building of the Wren library to house his collection of approximately 3,800 books.  The Byrd part books are the only books in the library to have Honywood’s own personalised bindings.



Byrd’s rather flamboyant signature can be seen in the Chapter records

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Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723)

This year marks 300 years since the death of Sir Christopher Wren, architect, mathematician, scientist and astronomer. He is perhaps best remembered as an architect and for designing 53 London churches, including St Pauls, following their destruction during the Great Fire of London in 1666.  He was a founder member of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1673.

Lincoln Cathedral’s connection with Wren is that in 1674 Dean Michael Honywood, first Dean at the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, commissioned Wren to design a library for him in which he could house his collection of almost 3,800 books.  This was to be the first major new building project to be undertaken in the Cathedral for over 200 years.  Honywood was probably introduced to Wren by an old Cambridge friend, William Sancroft, who had lodged with him for a time in Utrecht while both were in exile during the English Civil War. In 1664 Sancroft was appointed Dean of St Paul’s in London and as such was later to work with Wren after the Great Fire.  Wren was also working for Sancroft at Emmanuel College Cambridge where the latter was Master.

No evidence exists to show that Wren actually visited Lincoln, but in the Cathedral archives is a document signed by him in which the rates of payment for the different craftsmen who were to decorate the library according to his specifications are itemised.  As the finishing touches to the library, these would have been the final jobs to be completed, suggesting that Wren was involved throughout the process even if he never physically came to the city.  The signature is at the foot of the document, although it is very faint.

A local builder, William Evison, was employed to undertake the actual building of the library which was completed in 1676, just 2 years after it was started. The resulting library was later described by art historian Sir Roy Strong during a visit to the Cathedral as “the most beautiful room in England”.  It is one of only 3 surviving Wren libraries, the others being at St Paul’s Cathedral and Trinity College Cambridge. The following artist’s impression shows what the cloister would originally have looked like when the Wren library was built, with the tower to the medieval deanery still in place. (artist: David Vale)

The Library has a copy of “Parentalia: or, memoirs of the family of Wrens . . chiefly Sir Christopher Wren . .” compiled by his son Christopher. It was printed in London in 1750 by his grandson Stephen Wren and contains this magnificent portrait of Wren himself.

The Wren library is currently closed for major repair work: https://lincolncathedral.com/education-learning/wren-library-repairs/ so we are unable to properly commemorate the anniversary of Wren’s death but hope to be able to celebrate the anniversary of the library itself once we re-open.  We are looking forward to being able to welcome visitors once more into our beautiful Wren Library.

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Wilkins, John. “The First book. The Discovery of a new world Or, A Discourse tending to prove, that ‘tis probable there may be another habitable World in the Moone”    Printed in London in 1640.

This book is one of the library’s many science books and was written by John Wilkins, Bishop of Chester from 1668 until his death in 1672. It is his attempt to describe the moon: its physical appearance, whether there might be life there and whether, in the future, man might be able to travel there.

Wilkins was one of the founding members of the Royal Society which was set up in 1660 to promote science.  It is one of the oldest such societies still in existence.  Over the centuries, famous members have included Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton, Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking.

Reading this book you can almost imagine Bishop Wilkins sitting comfortably in his study looking out of his window, up at the moon.  He stresses at the beginning of the book that the ideas that he puts forward are merely his opinions, but hopes that future generations will discuss them and perhaps prove them to be correct.  It is possible perhaps that Wilkins may have had a telescope but he certainly did not have access to the technology that is available to scientists today and he is hopeful that future generations, with their greater skill and knowledge will build on the knowledge of his time, in order to explore the moon further.

“Time will come when the indeavors of after ages, shall bring such things to light as now lie hid in obscuritie”


Wilkins puts forward and discusses a number of propositions relating to the moon including the following, some of which have been proved to be correct, while others have subsequently been disproved:

“that the Moon is a solid, compacted body” and “that the Moon hath not light of her owne”

“that those spots and brighter parts which by our sight may be distinguished in the Moone, doe shew the difference betwixt the Sea and Land in that other World”

“that there are high Mountaines, deepe vallies and spacious plaines in the body of the Moone”

“that there is an Atmo-sphera, or an orbe of grosse vaporous aire, immediately encompassing the body of the Moone”

“that tis probable there may bee inhabitants in this other World, but of what kinde they are, is uncertaine”

“that tis possible for some of our posterity to finde out a conveyance to this other world, and if there be inhabitants there, to have commerce with them”

What makes this book so much fun, are not just the ideas that Wilkins puts forward, but his turn of phrase and the way in which he expresses his opinions.  The following are excerpts from the book in which he discusses the possibility of man ever being able to travel to the moon and the problems that he would come up against, all of which lead him to believe that some kind of “ship” would be necessary:

“But suppose withal that hee could fly as fast, and long, as the swiftest bird: yet it cannot possibly bee conceived, how he should ever be able to passe through so vast a distance, as there is betwixt the Moone and our Earth”

“Nor can wee well conceive how a man should be able to carry so much luggage with him as might serve for his Viaticum in so tedious a journey”

“yet he must have some time to rest and sleep in.  And I believe hee shall scarse find any lodgings by the way”

“tis not perhaps impossible that a man may be able to flye, by the application of wings to his own body…….yet I do seriously and upon good grounds, affirme it possible to make a flying Chariot.  In which a man may fit, and give such a motion unto it, as shall convey him through the aire”

Wilkins has also thought about the difficulties that man would experience in breathing the air on the way to the moon:  “the extreme thinness of it may make it unfit for expiration”

He concludes that in order to convey his “chariot” to the moon man could harness the power of wild swans from the East Indies which he has seen migrating, he believes, to the moon.

“so that notwithstanding all these seeming impossibilities, tis likely enough that there may be a meanes invented of journeying to the Moone; And how happy shall they be , that are first successful in this attempt”!!

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Royalty Exhibition to mark the Queen’s Jubilee

2022 marked the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.  70 years ago, on the 6th February 1952, on the death of her father King George VI, Elizabeth became Queen.

Although we were unable to celebrate the jubilee with a physical exhibition in the Cathedral Library because of ongoing essential maintenance work to the Wren Library, below is a selection of some of the books, manuscripts and memorabilia that would have formed part of our Royalty Exhibition.

William the Conqueror moves the Cathedral to Lincoln, 1072.  Lincoln Cathedral Archives, A/1/1/1

This exceptionally rare royal writ, which is part of the Cathedral’s historic archive, was issued by King William I and is the foundation document of Lincoln Cathedral.  In this writ William announces to Thorald, Sheriff of Lincolnshire, and the Sheriffs of all the other nine counties in the Diocese, that he has transferred the bishop’s seat from Dorchester in Oxfordshire to the city of Lincoln.  It is as a result of this document that Remigius, the first Norman bishop, came to Lincoln to oversee the building of the Cathedral.

Manuscript letter of Sir Thomas Boleyn,1514. Lincoln Cathedral Library, gift of Jane Eaglen and Brian Lyson, 2009

Written in French, and sent from Greenwich, this letter is dated 14 August 1514. It was donated to the Cathedral Library in 2009 by Jane Eaglen and Brian Lyson. The letter is from Sir Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne, and was sent to Margaret of Savoy, the Regent and Governor of Flanders. Thomas requests that his daughter Anne, referred to as “la petite Boulain”, should be permitted to return from the Court in Flanders in order to travel to the French Court with Princess Mary, sister of King Henry VIII.  History tells us that this request was granted thus allowing Anne to spend several years in Paris where she acquired the attributes that so attracted the King when she returned to the English Court in the 1520s.

Peter Lombard, Commentary on the Psalms. 13th century.    Lincoln Cathedral Library MS 30

Peter Lombard (1100-1160) was born in Italy and was a celebrated theologian and bishop.  He made his name as a teacher at the Cathedral School in Paris.  His Commentary on the Psalms was written before 1148 and was widely studied.  This later 13th century copy contains beautifully illuminated capitals.  The colours and gold leaf are as vibrant and bright as they would have been almost 600 years ago.

This magnificent illuminated initial D shows King David seated on the left, holding a sceptre in his right hand and a model of a temple in his left, while God sits on the right crowning him.  The image clearly shows that, at that time, it was believed that the power of kings came directly from God.

Charles I, The Eikon Basiliki, (Εἰκὼν Βασιλική) The Pourtrature of his sacred majestie in his solitudes and sufferings. London, 1649.


This image shows the frontispiece from the book which is said to be Charles I’s spiritual biography. It was written during his imprisonment before his execution in January 1649.  The image portrays the King as a Christ-like martyr looking towards heaven, where he hopes to exchange a crown of thorns for a heavenly crown.

Presentation copies of this book with the letters ‘CR’ for ‘Charles Rex’ were given to favoured supporters of the King. They were pocket-sized so that they could be hidden quickly to avoid them being seen by supporters of Oliver Cromwell. Royalists supported the King’s view that his power to rule came directly from God and his execution caused a deep sense of unease among the population.  According to this book Charles was not afraid to die:  “I am not so old, as to be weary of life, nor (I hope) so bad, as to be either afraid to die, or ashamed to live”.

Ogilby, John. The entertainment of Charles II.  London, 1662

At the Restoration of the Monarchy in May 1660, Charles II rode through London towards Westminster Abbey. This image shows part of a magnificent folding plate showing his “passage through the city of London to his coronation”. The book also includes “a brief narrative of his…coronation: with his magnificent proceeding, and royal feast in Westminster-hall”.

The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys who witnessed the procession wrote in his famous diary “I stood and saw the King come in with all the persons that were yesterday in the cavalcade, and a most pleasant sight it was to see them in their several robes.  And the King came in with his crowne on and his sceptre in his hand – under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinqueports – and little bells at every end”. 

The young Princess Elizabeth and some of her family

Memorabilia relating to royalty has always been popular and in the early 20th century picture postcards provided a relatively inexpensive way for people to obtain pictures of the Royal Family.  This selection of postcards is part of a larger collection given to the Cathedral Library by Miss Valerie Cowell of Grimsby.


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Birds in the Cathedral Library

Throughout the restrictions placed on us during 2020/2021, many of us took the opportunity to reconnect with nature either by spending more time in our gardens or going for walks in the surrounding countryside.  It is believed that watching birds and listening to birdsong can help us to relax and de-stress, so here follows a selection of some of the birds that can be found in our books and manuscripts.


Many of the Cathedral’s oldest manuscripts have decorated capital letters often containing images of foliage, animals and birds.

A very early example can be found in a 12th century copy of “Commentaries on the Gospel of St John”.  In the first image we see St John seated and writing, with a dove representing the Holy Spirit dictating to him.


Lincoln Cathedral MS 97 f.1

In art, St John is often pictured with an eagle and his eagle appears on the following page in the same manuscript in the centre of a capital I beginning the words In principio. (In the beginning).  This is an illuminated capital: it has been decorated with gold leaf.

Lincoln Cathedral MS 97 f.2v

The following example of a duck biting an eel can be found at the foot of a capital letter P in a 13th century copy of a Latin Bible.  The illustrations did not always bear any relevance to the text that they accompanied.

Lincoln Cathedral MS 131 f.5v

Another 13th century Latin Bible includes a cockerel at the foot of a capital I.  Although the drawing is a little crude, it is still recognisable, with its magnificent tail feathers.

Lincoln Cathedral MS 246 f.6

Early Printed Books

The Cathedral library includes several early printed books about the natural world, including the 3 volume Historiae Animalium (History of Animals) compiled by Conrad Gesner a Swiss physician, and printed between 1551 and 1558.  It is believed to be the earliest modern zoological work of its type.  Written in Latin, it is the first attempt to accurately describe the birds and animals and their habitats, although it does include several mythical creatures including the unicorn!

The volume on birds is illustrated throughout with hand-coloured woodcuts.  The peacock is particularly spectacular.


John Latham’s A General synopsis of birds was printed in 1781 and is full of hand coloured plates and brief descriptions of each bird.  Latham was a physician and ornithologist.  According to his preface, the 7 volume set is meant to “give as far as may be, a concise account of all the birds hitherto known; nothing having been done in this way, in the English language, of late years”.


The colours of the feathers of the Magnificent Bird of Paradise are described in great detail.  The author apparently saw an example in the collection of Sir Joseph Banks; this being in the days when it was acceptable to keep collections of stuffed birds.  The books describe many new species which Latham had discovered in various museums and private collections.  Nowadays we prefer to see these beautiful creatures in the wild in their natural habitats.

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