British Library logoTreasures in Full: Renaissance Festival Books
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1. The British Library collection of festival books

The British Library has the world’s single largest collection of festival books, with more than 2,000 volumes spanning over 300 years of festival entertainments in Renaissance and Early Modern Europe.

It is particularly rich in French and Italian material, but also includes festival books from the Holy Roman Empire, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Poland and Lithuania, and the Russian and Ottoman Empires.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Library’s collection not only gives us access to most of the significant festival events of the period but in many cases provides more than one account of a particular festival. For example, there are several copies of each of the five festival books describing the marriage of Francesco I de’ Medici to Joanna of Austria in 1565; six contemporary accounts of the lavish festivities held to celebrate the meeting between Francis I, Charles V and Henry VIII (and their wives) at the Field of Cloth of Gold, 1520; and nine books describing Henri III’s 1574 progress through Italy.

Yet it is not only the extent and variety of the British Library’s collection that makes it such a valuable resource. The Library also has a number of individual copies that are interesting either because of their rarity or their provenance. Among these are an exquisite presentation copy, most likely belonging to Catherine de’ Medici, of Charles IX’s 1571 entry into Paris; a fine copy of the book known as the Rubens Triumph, describing the entry of the Infant Cardinal Ferdinand into Antwerp in 1641 and illustrated with Rubens plates; the first and second printings of Wynkyn de Worde’s 1520 edition of the festivities held at the Field of Cloth of Gold; and, the earliest festival book in the collection, a 1475 description of the eight-hour banquet for the marriage of Costanzo Sforza and Camilla of Aragon.

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