Unlocking Our Collections: Civil War Tracts

A collection of just under 2,000 Civil War tracts has been hidden away in the Society’s Library since they were donated by Anthony Lowther, FSA, as part of a bequest in 1972. The tracts consist of political speeches, sermons, accounts of battles, items concerning the trial of Charles I, and a small number of astrological tracts.

As part of a long-term project to update the online catalogue, and add to it items that have remained in our collections and have not been catalogued; Library staff have spent the past three-and-a-half years working on these tracts. They are now available and searchable in the online catalogue!

Some of the tracts are quite rare, but many can be found in other libraries across the UK and USA. Tracts were often reprinted, reissued, or produced in new editions. One of the most difficult aspects of cataloguing a collection of this kind is establishing which version one is working with. Luckily, Lowther made notes on the endpapers and folder covers of the tracts we hold, and he cross-referenced them with the catalogue of the Thomason tracts (held by the British Library). Therefore is it is usually possible to establish this.

Most of the tracts are small publications of no more than four pages, and printed on poor quality paper. Not many of them are illustrated, but some do have impressive woodcuts. The most beautiful are those depicting Charles I, and those in the tracts written by William Lilly, an astrologer of the period. It seems that Lily got himself into hot water over the publication of a certain prophecy relating to the Great Fire of London, which he made 15 years prior to that event! He was even questioned by a committee investigating the causes of the fire, as he was seriously considered to have been involved, but his defence rested on the fact that he had given no time frame for events he prophesied, and the case
was dismissed.

To find catalogue details of Lowther’s bequest to the Library, including the Civil War tracts, visit the online catalogue of the Society and type ‘Lowther collection’ into the quick search field.