Robert Ashley’s Euclids | guest post by Renae Satterly

Guest post by Renae Satterley, Librarian, Middle Temple Library

Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, alongside Inner Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn. The Inns were traditionally responsible for educating barristers and calling them to the Bar. Since the mid-19th century they have been responsible for calling lawyers to the Bar and ensuring continuing professional standards as well as providing scholarships and support to the Bar.

Middle and Inner Temple trace their origins to the Knights Templar. It is not known when the Inns became two separate entities, but it was at some point before 1500. Members generally lived and worked at their Inn, some throughout their whole lives. As such the Inns were cosmopolitan places, especially during the early modern period. Many illustrious men were called to the Bar as honorary members. Some notable members of Middle Temple include Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Martin Frobisher and Henry Atkins, physician to the King in 1604.

‘Ordinary’ members were also significant men of their time. Robert Ashley (1565-1641) is one such member. His bequest of over 3,700 books re-established the library at Middle Temple. Ashley was a lawyer, although by his own admission, not a successful one; he describes the ‘ebbs and tides’ of his law practice. Thus Ashley spent most of his life collecting and reading books- he was a true bibliophile. He also translated six works during his lifetime, from French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. The breadth of his collection is characteristic of the learned men of the Inns of Court, that is to say, far-reaching and covering a wide range of topics. The collection is also interesting for being one of the few of its size to have remained relatively intact in central London, where it originated.

One of the areas of particular interest to Ashley was science- including mathematics, geometry, algebra, music and astronomy. There are two works by Euclid in the collection: Elementorum libri XV (printed in Cologne in 1607) and Elementorum libri XIII (printed in Wittenberg in 1609). There is one other Euclid work in the collection without marginalia in Ashley’s hand, Elementorum libri XV, a two volume work printed in Frankfurt in 1607. However, given the paucity of book acquisitions made by the Inn after Ashley’s death, this set most likely belonged to his bequest as well.

The two books that do have Ashley’s marginal notes in them are shown in the images here; both feature fairly extensive manuscript notes about Euclid on the pages preceding the title page:

Unfortunately Ashley did not leave behind any personal papers or manuscripts, apart from two versions of an original work entitled ‘Of Honour’. One version of this manuscript is at Trinity College Cambridge (R.14.20 664) and the other at the Huntington Library (MS EL 1117). He also wrote an autobiography, Vita (MS Sloane 2131) now held at the British Library.

It is difficult to know how well Ashley would have understood the principles presented in these scientific works, but as a trained lawyer, he had been taught to read and cross-reference works closely. Reading and practising law meant being able to reference a wide range of legal precedents and statutes, from Magna Carta onwards. Many of his scientific books are heavily annotated and cross-referenced to other works.

Researchers interested in the mathematics books in our collection may find this list a useful starting point.

Renae Satterley
Librarian, Middle Temple Library