Provenances 2: Ubbo Emmius



Groningen university’s impending fourth-centenary celebrations call for a post on books formerly in the possession of its first Rector Magnificus, Ubbo Emmius (1547-1625). As a scholar with a particular interest in history, Emmius must have owned a considerable collection of books. Among them was this copy of Emanuel van Meteren, Belgische ofte Nederlantsche Historie (Delft: Jacob Cornelisz Vennecool, 1599):


On the title page, the note “Ubbo Emmius me possidet” proves that it once stood on a shelf in the Emmius residence. Since 1980, it is in Groningen University Library (shelfmark uklu 1C 2475). Numerous marginal notes show that Emmius used it as a working copy when preparing his magnum opus Rerum Frisicarum historia.


Emmius’ handwriting is well known from other books annotated by him, such as the Chronicle of Wittewierum (see a previous post), his correspondence and contributions to alba amicorum. A fine specimen of an inscription is in the album of Herman Pricker, of Emden in Ostfriesland (UBG MS 214 M).


It is dated in Strassburg in 1576: Emmius must have met Pricker on his journey to Geneva, where he studied for a few years with Calvin’s pupil Theodorus Beza.

A collection of the speeches delivered during the official inauguration of the university at Groningen, in August 1614, has Emmius’ name on the title page (shelfmark uklu ‘jo g 5 1):



Another part in this composite volume, the text of an address by Henricus Alting to Friedrich V, the Elector Palatine, was sent by the author to Emmius, who noted the date of its arrival:



Until now, no printed auction catalogue of Emmius’ library has come to light. After his death in 1625, the books may have gone to members of his family and to learned friends, and from there they found homes in many different places.

One example from just across the provincial border is in the list of postincunables in Tresoar, Leeuwarden, compiled by Martin Engels. No. 95 describes a copy of Widukind of Corvey’s Rerum ab Henrico et Ottone I. impp. gestarum libri III (Basel: Johannes Hervagius, 1532; shelfmark 1092 G fol), which is marked ‘Sum Ubbonis Emmii 1601’. Later the book was owned by Georgius Nicolai, who matriculated in Franeker on October 23, 1611, to read theology (Album Studiosorum Academiae Franekerensis, p. 50, no. 1320) in preparation for his career as a Lutheran minister, first in Alkmaar (1639-1640), where he also taught at the town school,  then in Hoorn (1640-1661).


(the picture is copied from: It is also published in Rodney M. Thomson, From Manuscript to Print, Hobart 2008, p. 78, as is the picture of the book’s binding, see below)

Very recently I learned of a book from Emmius’ library that had crossed many more borders. One of the speakers at the highly enjoyable colloquium on “Writing the Classics”, organised earlier this month in Leiden by Erik Kwakkel and his team of the Vidi project “Turning a New Leaf: Manuscript Innovation the Twelfth-Century Renaissance“,  was Rodney Thomson of the University of Tasmania. Surprisingly, it turned out that we had a common acquaintance in Ubbo Emmius: Dr Thomson told me that the UTas library owns volumes four and five, bound in one,  of St Ambrose’s Opera edited by Erasmus, of the set of five volumes published in Basel by Hieronymus Froben and his brother-in-law Nicolaus Episcopius in 1555. On the title page of the fourth volume Ubbo’s ownership is proclaimed:



In the construction of the contemporary blind-tooled binding (picture from the UTAS ePrints repository: some manuscript fragments appear to have been used. It would be interesting to compare the binding with similar Dutch/German ones in our own collection to find out if there is a connection and if these fragments might even be remnants of manuscripts once present in libraries in Groningen town and province.

Ubbo Emmius would surely have been glad to see that the worldwide scholarly network is functioning so well and that his own fame has even reached the other end of the world!