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Sleeping Beauty and Mother Bunch: female figures in 18th century chapbooks
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Sleeping Beauty and Mother Bunch: female figures in 18th century chapbooks

This online exhibition was curated by Irina Ticleanu, who undertook an internship in the Foyle Special Collections Library from January to April 2023, as part of her MA Modern History course at King’s. The focus of Irina’s research was the fine collection of 18th century chapbooks, or Penny histories, held in the collection.

Irina also completed a blog post explaining the internship and delivered a talk to members of the local community at Shoe Lane Library about her work.A woodcut scene showing a man and woman on a bedChapbook scene of a woman and a man on a bed

To the Reader…

If you desire to read of the Cares and Troubles of Kings, the Battles of martial Champions, courtly Tournaments, and Combats of Princes, the Travels of Knight Adventurers, the Sorrows of distressed Ladies, strange Births, and savage Educations, of Friends long lost, and their joyful Meeting again, of Charms and Enchantments, of the Rewards of Traitors and Treasons, of long Captivities and Imprisonments – here they are. And so, gentle Reader, wishing thee much Pleasure in the Perusal, I take my Leave.

From the time of the ancients to the dawn of modern technology, humanity has been drawn by the allure of fables, myths, and legends. Stories that have survived through the epochs of time, such as the legends of King Arthur and his gallant knights and the timeless tale of Cinderella, have captured our imaginations and taken us on inspirational journeys of wonder.

Just like the fantastical romances we find at our local bookstore today, chapbooks offered 18th century readers an escape and transported them to these different worlds. Spaces of time are bridges between the modern reader and those of the past through the endurance of fables, as chapbooks offer a link between our world and that of the 18th century.

London as the epicentre of print culture Woodcut of Queen Elizabeth I, on a title page showing details of the chapbookTitle page of The history of Queen Elizabeth, and her great favourite, the Earl of Essex, with a woodcut of the Queen.

London is and was a metropolis of cultural and artistic expression, a city rich in history and a place that served as the epicentre of social influence and intrigue.

Three hundred years ago, on the cobblestones of Fleet Street, Shoe Lane and Bow churchyard, street vendors were selling the latest books, pamphlets, newspapers, ballads and penny histories.

The rising output of the printing press towards the end of the 18th century encouraged the production and distribution of popular culture throughout Britain. From the hubbub of London to quiet provincial villages, England enjoyed chivalric romances, bawdy jokes, and accounts of executions and prophecies, all compacted together within the genre of the chapbook.

The image reproduced to the right is of the title page of The history of Queen Elizabeth, and her great favourite, the Earl of Essex.

The work tells the intriguing tale of the relationship between the Queen and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and the woodcut portrait of the Queen would have have been visible to potential purchasers on the outside cover of the chapbook, acting as a visible selling point for the work.

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