Deep Dive: Methode et Invention Nouvelle de Dresser les Chevaux (1657)

Detail of engraving depicting the Duke of Newcastle, William Cavendish, on horseback, accompanied by groom

Did you know that the National Sporting Library & Museum owns a rare, first-edition of Methode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux (Method and new way to train horses)? The volume, written by William Cavendish (1592-1676), the first duke of Newcastle, was published in 1657 in Antwerp, where the Royalist general lived in political exile during the Commonwealth period.

According to a bibliography by Richard von Hunersdorff, the folio-sized volume, published in French from an English manuscript, is illustrated with 42 double-page engravings by Abraham van Diepenbeeck, a Dutch painter of the Flemish school who was a student and assistant of Peter Paul Rubens. The engravings depict a variety of scenes: hunting scenes set at his estates at Welbeck and Bolsover Castle, his stud farm, and figurative scenes showing the duke worshiped by his horses with the gods of Olympus watching in amazement. To be fair, William Cavendish’s self-confidence was warranted: he trained in Naples and was the only English master of the High School of Riding. In addition, he taught the young Charles Stuart and his cousin, Prince Rupert and trained them to be accomplished horsemen. Cavendish returned to England, where King Charles II awarded the general a dukedom for his loyalty.

Detail of spine

We are not sure who received the NSLM’s presentation copy of Methode. The inscription on the title page, “Ex dono Illustrissimi Authoris, Evellendo Cultior” is attributed to John Evelyn. John Evelyn was an English writer, gardener, diarist, and bibliophile. His diary spanned his adult life, from 1640 to 1706, the year of his death. His work was overshadowed by a contemporary, Samuel Pepys. Evelyn was introduced to the Duke of Newcastle and his wife while also in exile, through Sir Richard Brown, an English Royalist who served as an English representative at the Court of France from 1641-1660. John Evelyn married Browne’s daughter in 1647 and it is noted that Brown greatly influenced Evelyn’s book collecting. The phrase, “Evellando Cultior” appear in other titles of Evelyn’s library. It is a Latin pun that translates to “more elegant as a result of pruning.” In addition, the title page of NSLM’s copy, contains the pressmark of John Evelyn: B.41 (see second photo below).

John Evelyn’s inscription atop the title page
John Evelyn’s pressmark

Both Browne and Evelyn lived in Paris while in exile, and according to Hunersdorff, both had their books bound in Paris using customized book binding hand tools, like the stamp that was created to combine their initials above and used to decorate the binding of Methode. You can see the “E” and “B” in the monogram below.

Bindings by Samuel Mearne. Left, Methode et Invention Nouvelle de dresser les chevaux. Antwerp: Chez Jacques van Meurs, 1657. National Sporting Library & Museum. Right,
The Book of Common Prayer. London: John Bill & Christopher Barker, [1662]. Bridwell Library, Southern Methodist University.

The NSLM’s volume of Methode was bound by Samuel Mearne (1624-1683), the bookbinder to King Charles II, whose work is regarded as a high point of pre-industrial bookbinding. Mearne’s bindings are known for their ornate gold-tooled and inlaid embellishments. He is attributed for the “cottage-roof” style, which refers to the design on the central panel where the top and bottom are decorated with motifs that resemble a roof. Most of the extant books by Mearne are service and prayer books used at the Chapel and Closet of Whitehall, where he replaced the bindings every three to five years. Mearne’s style was widely celebrated and Mearne and his bindery are recognized to this day for their contribution to the “golden age” of English bookbinding. As you can see from the photos above, Mearne’s style was very distinctive, but due to its popularity, would later be copied by other bookbinders.

The back cover of Methode

So how did the NSLM come to acquire this book? Sometime in the early 1990s, Ludwig von Hunersdorf’s book collection was available for purchase. Through the generosity of the Ohrstrom Foundation, the Library was able to purchase the entire collection from Richard Baron von Hunersdorff (yes, that is an extra “f”), a sixth-generation descendant of Ludwig Baron von Hunersdorf (1748-1812), a German riding master who in 1790 published his own treatise on equitation. Through the years, the books were passed down through the Hunersdorf family, and supplemented with additional acquisitions. The collection spans several centuries, with tiles from 1528 through the early 1900s. The 205 books arrived in Middleburg in the fall of 1993, in a 400-pound wooden crate from England. Ellen Wells, an NSL board member and head of the Special Collections Department at the Smithsonian, collated and made extensive notes of the collection.

More detail of Sir Richard Browne’s coat of arms on the spine of Methode.

I will conclude with Richard Baron von Hunersdorff’s description of the volume: “Folio… Additional double-page engraved title (dated 1658), 42 double-page engraved and etched plates after Abraham van Diepenbeke, 50 woodcut diagrams in the text, ornamental initials. Bound in contemporary mottled calf by Samuel Mearne, the sides tooled in gilt with a triple filet border with Sir Richard Browne’s crest in the inner corners, roll-tooled panel with semi-circular ornament; Browne’s monogram and a smaller version of his crest in the inner corners; goatskin onlay with Browne’s arms and motto in center of backcover; spine with 7 raised bands, lettered in one panel, the other panels tooled alternately with Browne’s monogram and crest in oval compartments with elaborate center pieces; edges gilt; neatly rehinged and corners restored.”

1 Comment

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  1. Without question, this is one of the brightest stars of the NSLM rare book room, if not the absolute centerpiece. The detail you chose from just one of the illustrations clearly demonstrates the incredible workmanship that created this important book. Just opening the pages must elicit gasps every time. Thank you for sharing every aspect of its history describing of one of the most important books every published on equestrianism. It is why NSLM (and its talented staff!) are without peer.


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