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Books & Manuscripts

Historic Books From the Library at Ombersely Court

By Sotheby's
Several rare and historic books are among the highlights of Sotheby's English Literature, History, Science, Children’s Books and Illustrations Online sale , including Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio.

T he Sandys family have been at Ombersley since the early seventeenth century, when Sir Samuel Sandys (1560-1623) acquired the lease on the old manor of the Abbot of Evesham from the Crown in 1608. In 1610 King James I included the manor of Ombersley in the large grant of lands made to his son Henry, Prince of Wales. In 1614, however, following the young Prince’s premature death, Sir Samuel acquired the outright grant on the manor and the Sandys family have remained in possession of Ombersley ever since.

"We came to Lord Sandy’s at Ombersley, where we were treated with great civility. The house is large. The hall is a very noble room."
Dr Samuel Johnson, 13 September 1774

Sir Samuel, the son of Edwin Sandys, Archbishop of York, (1519-1688), served as Member of Parliament and Sherriff of Worcestershire, establishing a family tradition of political service to the country that would be upheld right through to the early twenty-first century.

Exterior of Ombersley Court
Ombersley Court

The house that stands today was built by the great Midlands master-builder and architect Francis Smith of Warwick, between 1723 and 1727, for another Samuel Sandys (1695-1770), the fourth by that name to live at Ombersley, who was created 1st Baron Sandys in 1743.

The library holds within it some of the greatest titles and authors of the last centuries. The highlight of the selection offered for sale is undoubtedly Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio. The fourth folio is the largest of the first four editions, with seven extra plays added (although these are now generally not considered to be by Shakespeare). The library also holds volumes of Tate’s legendary adaptations of Shakespeare for the Restoration stage, including Sicilian Usurper (based on Richard II) and The History of King Lear. As Jaggard notes for Richard II, ‘the character of Richard is changed, and additions are made to the text in order to render the play more acceptable to the English throne’. Nevertheless, performances at Drury Lane Theatre were stopped by the Lord Chamberlain (Lot 91).

Other highlights include a seventeenth century cookery book by G. Hartman with recipes for cider and cherry-wine, a wide range of important Political Tracts on topics such as Slavery, the American Revolutionary War, the Colonies, Education in Britain and Ireland, Trade, the Jewish Naturalisation Act etc. (Lots 83-86), and a complete 1632 edition of Foxe’s Martyrs.

The library at Ombersley Court
The library at Ombersley Court

The library reflects multiple generations of collectors, their taste, occupations and interests as well as their associations and the literary circles of which many of the family occupied. The 2nd Baron Sandys, Edwin (1726-1797) studied at Oxford and became a noted classical scholar. He was close friends with Henry Thrale and his wife, celebrated patroness Hester Thrale - both prominent members of literary society during the eighteenth century. It was Edwin who entertained Dr Johnson so civilly at Ombersley in 1774.

The collection also boasts a remarkable set of Gothic Novels. The majority of the volumes bound with the crested monogram of Mary Hill, Marchioness of Downshire, Baroness Sandys (1774-1836) on their spines, as well as her ownership signature. It is she who is responsible for the house as it stands today; for ‘The Little Marchioness’, as she came to be known, came with a grand fortune. Lady Downshire had the main building faced in stone and added a grand portico with coupled Ionic columns to the entrance front.

Signature of Mary Hill, Marchioness of Downshire, Baroness Sandys (1774-1836).
Signature of Mary Hill, Marchioness of Downshire, Baroness Sandys (1774-1836).

Largely untouched since the early nineteenth century and retaining much of its original early eighteenth-century interiors, Ombersley Court has remained relatively little known and its important library and collection unseen for the last two centuries thanks to the intense privacy and deep passion of its owners.

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