[Westminster]: William Caxton, 1489. First English language edition. Bound by Bedford in full brown morocco intricately blindstamped with the motif of Tudor roses, gilt titles to the spine, raised bands. All edges brightly gilt. Bookplate of Victor Albert George Child Villiers, Earl of Jersey, Osterley Park (1845-1915) to the front pastedown. Manuscript note in 18th century hand affixed to front endpaper with a brief biography of de Pisan and an account of Caxton's printing commission from the king. Chancery folio in eights (pages 184 x 258 mm); 31 lines Caxton's type 6. Containing 139 of 144 leaves and collating: [*2], A-R8, S6 (for a complete copy), our copy lacking S2-6 (text on S2-5 now supplied in manuscript facsimile on 4 leaves, S6 blank). First two leaves repaired and remargined (affecting a few letters); A1-A7 with upper corner renewed and P1 with repair to outer margin, no text affected. Occasional faint marginalia in a 17th century hand. Several small worm pinholes throughout not affecting legibility. One of only two copies to appear in the modern auction record; this copy number 39, entry 28 of the Caxton Census (De Ricci): belonging to Bryan Fairfax then Francis Child before going to the Earl of Jersey, later sold to Ellis in 1885. In all, an incredible surviving work by England's inaugural printer; the present being Caxton's first full-length book in English by the first Western feminist writer.
Christine de Pisan, resident poet and historiographer at the French court of King Charles VI, was the first feminist author in the West. After introducing the printing press to Britain in 1471, William Caxton became the nation’s inaugural and most influential printer. Together, with the 1489 publication of The Feat of Arms and of Chivalry, these two figures made book history.
Raised at the French court, where her father served as the King’s astrologer and secretary, de Pisan benefited from access to exceptional libraries usually unavailable to women. In 1390, she was widowed; and rather than remarry she opted to maintain her independence and support herself through writing. “Her own writing, in its various forms, discusses many feminist topics including the sources of women’s oppression, the lack of education for women, social behavior, misogyny, women’s rights and accomplishments, and visions of a more equal world” (Elizabeth A. Sackler Center). In addition to feminist works like The Tale of the Rose and The Book of the City of Ladies, however, she also produced histories and historiographies that were highly appealing to the elite classes. Among these towered Feat of Arms and Chivalry, in its own time “the only book which had ever been written upon the Art of War by a Lady” (Byles).
De Pisan was already famed in France, and William Caxton made it possible for her name and words to reach the English as well. Having established himself as Britain’s preeminent printer, he selected de Pisan’s 8 page pamphlet The Moral Proverbs for release in 1478 – only seven years into his career. In doing this, he became the first publisher in England to print a female author; and de Pisan became the first woman writer published in English. ESTC reports only 3 known copies of Moral Proverbs, and with none in the auction record it is virtually unobtainable. By 1489, only one year after the Paris release of de Pisan’s military history, Caxton upped the ante and added even greater distinction to both of their legacies. In publishing the 288 page Feat of Arms at the specific request of King Henry VII, Caxton printed his first full-length book in English authored by a woman. This book, in addition to being the only military history of the time composed by a woman, was also the first Continental military history printed in Britain. Christine de Pisan was attributed as the author both on the first page as well in the colophon (called the "Explicit"). As in France, it drew attention and praise; and de Pisan’s rhetorical and narrative capacities in this book continue drawing attention from scholars. “Christine de Pisan’s book cannot fail to excite the interest not only of everyone who studies the art of war, but of a much larger circle of readers who will be attracted by the manners and customs of the Middle Ages as treated by this most human lady” (Byles).
Works printed by Caxton are a cornerstone of any early English printed book collection. Yet the scarcity of Caxton material across the board makes it unlikely that most collectors will gain an opportunity to own more than a few leaves of his printing. The present work is an exception: a near-complete and beautifully wide margined example of a book produced by England's first printer, with the added benefit of being a first both in military and feminist history.
ISTC ESTC S106571. (Item #3255)