Chaire of Gold
The most wonderful and strange finding of a chaire of gold neare the Ile of Jarsie
A pamphlet bearing the above title has passed into the possession of the Societe. To an enquiry regarding the work, the British Museum reply as follows:
Department of Printed Books, British Museum, London
- 15 May 1936
- Dear Sir
- I have before me your letter of 12th inst relating to "The most wonderful and straunge finding of a Chaire of Gold." The only copy of this work known to bibliographers is one described by William Herbert in his edition of Ames's Typographical Antiquities (1786, Vol II, page 1280) as being in his own possession. He assigns the printing to Thomas Creed, and gives the date as 1595. After transcribing the title, he continues: "This title over a cut seemingly of the transaction but torn off my copy, 14 pages, including not only the title page, but a blank leaf before it."
- This unique copy seems to have subsequently disappeared, but the reference to the torn titlepage suggests that it is now in your hands. The author is of course unknown: news pamphlets of that period were usually anonymous.
- Herbert's statement as to printer and date is quite correct, he obtained his information from the Stationer's Register, where the book is entered to Thomas Creed on 22 March 1595.
The most wonderful and straunge finding of a Chaire of Gold, neare the Ile of Jarsie, with the true discourse of the death of eight severall men, with other most rare accidents thereby proceeding
- The third of February now last past, about ten of the clocke in the morning, there fell on the Ile of Jarsie, two ships, supposed to be at the least eight hundred tuns a peece, or upward, by estimation of those which from the shore did behold them. What they were none could imagine to say justly, neither shewed they any Cullours according about the middle, waring bigger upward towardes the middle and both endes, the back full of holes in the inner side, and the outmost side ful of bosses, the seate very low and round in the bottome, and wrought with imbossed workes very curious, with divers sorts of branches, admirable to the fisher men, who when they had as men amazed, a long time gazed thereon, and had by good proofe found it to be gold, and very pure metall, they devised what course to take for sharing the same, which was such a bootie as never came to their hands, nor the ancients of their kin, before.
- And they two partners which were owners of the boat and nets, Dansie and Doughton, began to take this course, betweene them two to share this Chaire, which they determined should be cut into small pieces, and so exchanged at times convenient, into rea die money. And quoth the Norman Dansie, seeing these our men are acquainted with the same, to keep our counsell they shall have a hundreth pound a peece, and they shall holde themselves well recompenced, although they be our servants hired. Doughton hearing his fellow so rashe to give away two hundreth pound in that manner, said, nay, it is a great deale of mony, lesse will and shall serve them. The fellows hearing their determination, seeing they could be well content to have all and give them nothing, one of them being a lustie, tall fellow, said; that as God had sent it, they would be as good sharers in the same as they, and that such greedy churles should not abridge them of it, alleaging that he was the Erst man that founde the net fast, and that it was his fellow and he that with their strength halled it up, without whom, they never had enjoyed it.
- And thereupon swore a great oath, that if his fellow would be ruled by him, they wold have it to themselves, and their maisters should have none. On whose words, the other being as wilfull as his fellow stubbome, without saying anything, taking a staffe with a hooke which they had in the boat, gave Dansie such a blow therewith, that he felled him, and so together by the eares they went, and ceased not til they heaved the two old men over boord. Which done, thinking themselves in safetie and to be fully possessed of the Bootie, they imbraced one the other, joying in their good fortunes. Then began they to consult what was best to be done, for their safetie, one while they determine to go backe for jarsie, yet wisely they weyed the daunger they were in for their maisters, if the murther should be knowne. And againe, they could not get money for a thing of such worth, in so poore a place.
- Leaving nothing unremembred which might any way harm them, nor forgetting how suspicious it would be, that such as they should flow with such abundance, whereupon, one while they will for England, yet considering the perill in the passage, their Boat being so small, and the weather subject to stormes, they being no more but two alone, they durst not hazard themselves, but for Normandy they would, for that the cut was short. And thereon resolved, they hoysted saile, bending their course thither, and had the winde so much to frend, that by break of day they wer neer the land, but the sea growing, they were in great peril, neither wold their boat worke, but lay tossing on the waves in pittiful maner, the men ecspecting nothing but death. At this present an other event hapned, a Pinnesse which had sixteene men in her, passing by, and seeing the boat in daunger, whether of curtesie to save the men, or for covetousnesse to have what they had, came nearer them, and halled them, but the two men loath to speake with them, which the others perceiving, boorded them with foure men, which by the other two were all slain.
- In which conflict, one of the fisher men was slain and laie their dead, which the other seeing, ran to the Chaire standing in the boats head covered with a saile, and thrust it over boord, leaping after it himself, and leaving the boat with the others, which carried it away, he by good fortune recovered the shore by his painfull swimming, yet so faint with the bleeding of his wounds, as they had much to do to continue life in him for that time, but through the water in his belly, the soking of his wounds, and tossing in the waves, greevous sickness assailed him, yet was releeved by the pitiful people of the country, which did their best to save his life, which was all in vaine, which when he perceived he confessed the murder of his two maisters, hartily repenting his wicked life, and earnestly craving forgivenesse of God, and so three dayes after ended his life. Before which time, he told the people about him, that he cast the Chaire over boord, hoping if hee did live to find it againe, as easily they might, if they sought it. Let this, and many others, admonish all Christians, how covetous desire of wealth, cause them seeke their neighbors harme, doing the partes of Christianitie in releeving the needie, that God may reward them for it.
Follow-up article by Akihiro Yamada published in the 1980s
The purpose of this note is to look back at the unique copy of a book in its historical perspective and to suggest that the lost woodcut on the torn title-page has been successfully identified two centuries after its disappearance.
The unique copy is now given its identification number, 14516.5, in the revised edition of STC, Vol II. It was first mentioned on 22 March 1595, in the Register of the London Stationers' Company, in which Thomas Creede, a London printer "dwelling in Thames streete at the signe of the Kathren wheele, neare the olde Swanne" according to the imprint of a book he printed in 1594
- "Entred for his Copie vnder the wardens handes a most strange and myraculous wonder of a golden Chayer that was found in the sea neere the Isle of Jarsey, and of the filthie murder of 8 persons that proceaded thereof'.
It was next heard of in 1786 when William Herbert in his augmented edition of Ames's Typographical Antiquities described it as being in his possession. The date he gave is 1595 and the printer Thomas Creede. Herbert transcribes the correct full title of the book adding that "This title over a cut seemingly of the transaction, but torn off from my copy. 14 pages, including not only the title-page, but a blank leaf before it, as was frequent about this time ... Quarto".
It appears that the copy subsequently disappeared and escaped specific mention until 1936, when it passed into the possession of the Societe Jersiaise. In answer to the letter of 12 May from the secretary of the Societe relating to the copy, H Sellers, who was then Assistant Keeper of the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum, wrote that William Herbert's "reference to the torn title-page suggests that it is now in your hands". The entirety of the text of Sellers' reply to the Secretary of the Societe and a reprint of the main part of the book (ie the text of the story of the golden chair, comprising about the last four pages) were published in 1936 in the Societe Jersiaise Bulletin Annuel.
The story of the golden chair is a Christian moral about human covetousness. It was adapted in modern English by Philip Ahier in 1955 and was included in his collection of local folk tales, together with his own remarks on the source of the Elizabethan version which was printed by Thomas Creede, a London printer. "One can only surmise," writes Ahier, "that the narrative as given by the survivor in either Norman French, or in colloquial French, eventually got to the ears of some Englishman living in Normandy in the days of Queen Elizabeth I.
This is all that the present writer can say about the unique copy of the book in its historical perspective. What follows is how the lost woodcut on the torn title-page has come to be identified.
The copy as it is preserved in the Lord Coutanche Library of the Societe consists of 50 pages, including many blank leaves which were added at the time of modern binding by "Mackenzie" (date unknown). Collation of the original part of the book, however, is as follows:
- 4°: A-B4 (-Al;-B4). 6 leaves numbered (A3v-B3v = 6-14). Title (torn), A2 (verso blank). Text with ornament block, head-title and initial T, A3. 'FINIS', B3v.
A1 and B4 appear to have been replaced by binder's end-papers. The use of the ornament block and the initial T on sig. A3 confirms William Herbert's assignment of the printing to Creede and a crack in the ornament and a damage to the initial, when checked against the present writer's chronological collection of Creede's ornaments and initials, also confirm Herbert's assignment of the date to 1595. It was printed apparently after 22 March, the date of its entry on the Stationers' Register.
Although determination of the month of printing is not possible, it appears from the progress of a crack in the ornament that the printing of the book was preceded by that of Edmund Spenser's Colin Clouts Come Home Againe and was probably followed by that of Adriano Banchieri's The Noblenesse of the Asse which was entered on 12 October. The progress of the crack appears to have been not only stopped but restored: it disappeared completely until 1611.
Thomas Creede was one of those printers who had a woodcut or an ornament especially cut in such a way that it could be attractive and at the same time tell or suggest the subject of the book, in order to help promote the sale. There are several such examples from his shop, a few of them being the very impressive title-page, black all over the page excepting the title, of Thomas Middleton's The Black Book, 1604, a woodcut of a bumble bee on the title-page of T Cutwode's Caltha Poetarum: or the Bumble Bee, 1599 and two humorous woodcuts representing a husband intimidated by his wife which are contained in Judith Philips' The Brideling, Sadling and Ryding, of a Rich Churle in Hampshire, 1595. Some of these woodcuts were subsequently used again by Creede as he thought the occasion for their use justified.
What has been torn away from the title page of the unique copy in the possession of the Societe is one of such woodcuts. And it was used again in 1613 to decorate the titlepage of Lamentable Newes, Shewing the Wonderfull Deliuerance of Maister Edmond Pet Sayler, and Maister of a Ship, dwelling in Seething Lane in London, neere Barking Church, the news told in it having nothing to do with the story of the golden chair.
The woodcut in its original size measured 84 mm x 124 mm. The measure has been taken from the woodcut contained in the Bodleian Library copy. Identification of the Bodley woodcut with the lost one is simple enough and must be convincing enough to require no other effort than to compare what little remains of the delicate lines of the borders, especially at the upper left corner, with the borders of the Bodleian woodcut. A supporting piece of evidence for this identification is the distinct emergence, by positioning temporarily the discovered woodcut in its original place, of a well-balanced centred imposition, unrecognizable on the torn title-page, of the eight-line title above the lost woodcut.
The woodcut must have been newly-cut and used in 1595 as an illustration to the story of the golden chair. One of the passages in the unique copy runs as follows:
- " ... desirous to try their fortunes, they [ie two fishermen and their two servants] fastened two small Anckers, and layd them out to such passe, as in the hailing horne they should bring with them whatsoever they lighted on, which Ankers in the comming up, fastned upon a massie Chaire of deane beaten golde ... ".
Exactly what this passage describes is represented in the woodcut.
What the lost imprint was like is a matter of speculation. If Creede printed the book for himself, the form of the imprint was most probably "LONDON/Printed by Thomas Creede/1595", and was centred just below the woodcut as it was the form and style he usually adopted for his own books, with a single exception, during the period 1595-1599. It is more likely, however, that the book was printed for someone else. The year 1595 was virtually the second year of Creede's business and his relations with his fellow stationers had inevitably to be limited: he could do business with only a small number of them. Judging from the relative variety and number of books he printed for them, a strong candidate is William Barley, a London stationer, and a possible imprint was something like this: "Printed at London by TC and are to be solde by William Barley, at his shop in Newgate Market, neare Christ-Church. 1595", as in STC 19855, or "Imprinted at London by Thomas Creede, and are to be sold by William Barley, at his shop in Gratious streete. 1595." as in STC 21088. But this is a mere speculation; nothing certain can be said.