Sunday, August 24, 2008

Witchcraft, libraries and the Calendar of Treasury Papers

The Calendar of Treasury Papers, edited by Joseph Redington, published this week by TannerRitchie Publishing, has been requested by customers for some time. The volumes contain a wealth of records relating to this most central of governmental offices between 1556 and 1728. Patronage, crown finance, and every avenue of interest of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury is recorded here. Moreover, the documents are particularly clearly and colourfully written.

In 1842, the Master of the Rolls described them thus: "They are of the highest historical interest and curiosity, throwing light on a variety of civil and political events; the progress of the Revenue, the Crown lands, the Colonies, the public transaction of office, and many of the private affairs of persons of every class".

The very first document in the volumes acts as a good example. On 11 January 1557, John Dee, described as a simple 'gentleman', supplicated Queen Mary, complaining of the 'lamentable displeasures' brought about by the attacks on the monasteries of Henry VIII's reign, but above all on their libraries:
wherein lie the treasures of antiquity and the everlasting seeds of continual excellency; but notwithstanding many precious jewels and ancient monuments had perished (as at Canterbury the work "Cicero de Republica"), yet the remainder, which were scattered, might be saved."

Dee continued to petition the queen to do what she could to recover the lost ancient libraries of England's monasteries, and, further, to allow him to create a new library in the queen's name which would contain new copies of many ancient volumes.

Dee was in fact a mathmetician, astrologer and antiquary (source, Oxford DNB article by R Julian Roberts, 2004), and was being, perhaps, a little disingenuous by this tacit attack on Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII had given Dee a pension of 100 crowns over the previous years, and also given him two rectories, while Dee had become tutor to the powerful Dudley family. In the reign of Mary, Dee's powerful Dudley patrons had fallen dramatically from power, and in 1555 Dee was arrested by the Privy Council and accused of witchcraft and 'enchantments to destroy Queen Mary'. Although released in 1556, Dee's interest in the controversial subjects of astronomy and mathematics were perhaps the reason he remained a peripheral figure in the reign of Mary Tudor.

Yet, in 1557 it seems Dee was trying to resurrect his reputation - and he would do so successfully over the following decades, receiving some favour from Elizabeth I and Cecil and buying a large residence for his expanding collection of books.
In time he would build one of the largest English libraries, and travel widely across Europe, taking 800 volumes with him on a trip to Poland. It was lucky he took so many, as his house was raided and those he left behind were stolen by rivals and former associates. He would remain financially poor for the rest of his life, dying in poverty in 1609.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Growing pains

The last month has been a hectic time for the staff at TannerRitchie Publishing, and that's by the standards of a year that has already been our most hectic by far. The swiftly expanding demands on our servers from the complexity and size of Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online (MEMSO) required that we take a long term look ahead at the hardware we were using, and make the necessary investment to ensure we are prepared for the future.

As a result, since our last post in July, we've undergone a complete change in the server hardware that runs our websites and MEMSO. We've also moved the location of the hardware from Vancouver to downtown Toronto. In the process we migrated our increasing complex web application (in fact applications), including databases and hundreds of thousands of files, onto a new architecture without creating too many problems for our users.

By and large we are happy that we managed a reasonably smooth transition. However some users certainly noticed some glitches, and a short period when MEMSO was not accessible via the internet at all. The best laid plans of mice, men and web administrators go oft awry,* and unexpected glitches arose even after extensive testing of the new hardware. For those that have been inconvenienced, we apologize, and hope you appreciate that these growing pains are evidence of TannerRitchie Publishing's commitment to the continuous future development, improvement and growth of MEMSO and our other websites.

We welcome questions about the changes. Please contact us and let us know your thoughts.

*Or, to be more historically accurate, "The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley."