Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553-1617) was a man who evidently took great pride in his library. In his will he forbade his descendants to sell or otherwise dispose of any part of a collection that “for fully forty years he had assembled with great dedication and expense”. Part of that expense is accounted for by the sumptuous bindings that house many of his surviving books. They typically bear his arms – argent, a chevron between three gadflies sable – in various armorial combinations depending on his marital status. The last version of his armorial device combined his arms with those of his second wife, Gasparde de la Chastre, whom he married in 1602. It is this version that decorates the cover of the Wellcome Library’s copy of Luis Cabrera de Cordoba’s ‘Filipe Segundo, Rey de España’ (1619), which has recently been digitised.
At first sight it seems strange that this device should have been used for a book that was only published two years after Jacques’s death. But apparently such was the devotion of his son François to his father’s memory and testamentary instructions that he continued to employ this version for new acquisitions to the library after the founder’s death. The device even bears Jacques’s name and his and Gasparde’s monogrammed initials.
Such filial devotion was unable to guarantee the de Thou family’s long term possession of the library however. It survived Jacques’s execution for treason following the Cinq-Mars conspiracy against Richelieu in 1642, but was sold in 1680 to pay debts, and finally broken up and dispersed in 1788.
Author: Dr Richard Aspin is Head of Research and Scholarship at the Wellcome Library.