Uncommon Readers: St Margaret of Scotland to Queen Elizabeth I

5 March 2009

MS_Fr_E1-2To mark World Book Day 2009 on Thursday 5 March, the Bodleian Library is holding a one-day display showcasing reading by female monarchs. On show will be books belonging to four medieval and Tudor queens: St Margaret of Scotland, Queen Eleanor of Castile (first wife of Edward I), Queen Katherine Parr and Queen Elizabeth I.

There will also be the unique chance to view a selection of Alan Bennett’s working papers for his best-selling novella The Uncommon Reader, which imagines how Queen Elizabeth II might discover the pleasures of reading.

Inspired by Bennett's novella title, the display is a journey in time looking at real rather than imaginary ‘uncommon readers’.  The books belonging to the earlier royals relate more to their official and religious lives. However, all of them have an intriguing aspect.

Queen Margaret's influence on Scottish culture is symbolized by her favourite and even miraculous gospel-book. A poem added at the start claims that this book was dropped into a river but rescued almost unharmed.

The future Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile owned a Book of Revelation, a masterpiece of English gothic art.  Known as ‘The Douce Apocalypse’ after its donor, Francis Douce, the book is stunningly well-illustrated.  Such was the importance given to the illuminations that in places its scribe sacrificed the text in favour of the pictures.  

The young Princess Elizabeth translated, wrote out and embroidered improving texts, presenting them as New Year gifts to her stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, and half-brother, Edward VI. Later, as Queen, she received books which flattered her own magnificence and learning: a French poet depicts her in a superbly hemispherical skirt, and in 1566 her Regius Professor of Hebrew imagines her conversation -- in Latin elegiac couplets -- as she tours the colleges of Oxford and the very building in which these items will be displayed.

Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director, Bodleian Library said: ‘In recent years, World Book Day has become an annual tradition at the Bodleian Library. We are happy to be part of the national celebrations which support books and reading, especially this year in celebrating Alan Bennett's gifts to the Library and to readers kingdom-wide.'

World Book Day aims to support books and reading. Libraries, schools and bookshops will be holding a variety of book-related events. More details about World Book Day can be found at www.worldbookday.com

Special Offer on the day

Three of the Bodleian Library’s publications based on three of the displayed books, St Margaret’s Gospel-Book, The Douce Apocalypse and Queen Elizabeth's Book of Oxford, can be purchased with 10% discount at the Bodleian Shop. 

Past Displays

Each year the Library celebrates World Book Day by exhibiting one or more of its great treasures in the Divinity School, Old Bodleian Library. Past displays have comprised:

  • The Gutenberg Bible (2004),
  • Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the autograph manuscripts (2005),
  • Shakespeare's First Folio (2006),
  • The original Wind in the Willows: the centenary of a children's masterpiece (2007),
  • The Creation as told in the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an (2008).


Opening hours

10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m
(latest admission 4.30)


Divinity School
Old Schools Quadrangle
Catte Street

Admission free.

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