Euclid and the knight with two wives

a story of a wayward Gardyner signature and mottoreader!

The library collections hold almost thirty separate editions of Euclid’s ‘Elements’, the earliest of which appeared in 1516 and the latest in 1833. As part of the ‘Seeing Euclid’ project, we chose to show an Arabic language edition of Euclid, published in Rome in 1594 with the commentary of the thirteenth-century Persian polymath, Nasīr al-dīn al-Ṭūsī (1201–74). This book came to the library as part of Narcissus Marsh’s own collection, but an inscription on the title page reads ‘Chr. Gardyneri’, with a Greek motto below it.

We have identified this as the signature of Sir Christopher Gardy[i]ner (1596–1662), the brother-in-law of the royalist John Heydon (1588–1653).  Writing on Heydon’s alchemy in a paper in Ambix, Vera Keller cited a letter from Gardyner to Heydon: we were able to see the letter digitised in the British State Papers Online, showing Gardyner’s signature, which is very recognisable.

Gardyner’s dubious marital status, flight to the American colonies, discovery (by his scandalised Puritan neighbours), imprisonment, and repatriation to England inspired various lurid stories in the 1630s and since, and was the basis of  Henry Longfellow’s poem ‘The Rhyme of Sir Christopher’. Whether he had two wives, or no legal marriage at all, seems open to debate!

His library was dispersed, but four books from it are here in Marsh’s and we’ve come at least fourteen other books scattered across the world.

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