Georgianna Ziegler on Esther Inglis:
Some of my favorite things in the Folger collection are the little handmade books by Esther Inglis. Many of these she made by writing out biblical texts from the Psalms, Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes, using a different script on every page. Often she adorned the pages with colorful flowers or with black-and-white decoration which sometimes looks like stitching. It appears that she also made some of the bindings herself, such as the lovely one she made for Prince Henry, stitched with silver-gilt thread and seed pearls on red velvet. Inglis' other book of Psalms on display is bound in brown velvet with a silver-gilt embroidered frame on the front cover surrounding a coat-of-arms. She presented this volume to Prince Maurice of Nassau, head of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and a staunch Protestant.
Esther Inglis was born into a family of Huguenots who fled persecution in France around 1569 before settling in Edinburgh. Her father was master of the French School there, and her mother was a talented calligrapher. It was from her mother that Esther likely learned to write the varied and beautiful scripts that form the art of calligraphy.
Inglis saw herself as doing God’s work. She made many of these pocket-sized books for English and French courtiers of the time of James I who supported the Protestant cause, and she often refers to herself as God’s handmaid. In the self-portraits she includes in some of her books, she shows herself standing behind a table, pen in hand, with a book on which is written, "De l’Eternel le bien, de Moi le mal ou rien" —from Eternal God comes all good; from myself comes nothing of value— reiterating the Protestant notion that all good gifts come from God and that we are worthy only through God.
Close to sixty of Esther Inglis’s handmade books survive today. Most of them are in the National Library of Scotland, but the Folger Library is fortunate to own four of these miniature manuscripts.
Georiganna Ziegler has written on Lady Anne Clifford, Esther Inglis, and Elizabeth I, including the exhibition catalog, Elizabeth I: Then and Now. She is Louis B. Thalheimer Head of Reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and is the curator of the exhibition Shakespeare's Sisters.
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