Auctions | January 21, 2014

First English Book on Women’s Rights to Sell at Bonhams

The first book in English to compile laws on the rights of women is to be sold at Bonhams on 5 March as part of the sale of rare and historic European law books from the collection of the Los Angeles County Law Library.

The book, entitled The Lawes Resolutions of Women’s Rights: or the Lawes, Provision for Women, was compiled by Thomas Edgar and sold by John Grove in 1632. Estimated at £2,000-3,000 it is the earliest work in English on the laws and rights applicable to women including issues such as divorce, polygamy, promises of marriage and rape.

The collection also contains many other books about marriage and the respective rights and obligations of women and men. These are not only by English authors but also by those from France and Germany. Among the titles are: 

  • A defence of polygamy by a Lutheran minister, Johann Lyser, published in Freiburg in the mid 17th century for which he was imprisoned. The book was burned by the public executioner
  • ‘The cases of Polygamy, Concubinage, Adultery & Divorce and Learnedly Discussed by the Most Eminent Hands.’
  • Trials for Adultery: or the History of Divorces Being Select Trials for Adultery. Cruelty. Fornication.  Impotence from the year 1760 to the Present Time (1779-1780).
  • ‘The Case of Impotency debated in the late famous tryal at Paris’ 
  • ‘Some considerations upon clandestine marriages’ 

Head of Bonhams Book Department in the UK, Matthew Haley, said, "Marriage in one form or another has, of course, been a central institution of human societies for thousands of years so it is not surprising to find so many books dedicated to laws about it. Some of the preoccupations, however, do seem strange to modern eyes. The idea of a 17th century Lutheran pastor issuing a defence of polygamy is odd today but this was a live issue for Christian commentators during and after the Reformation. Both Luther and Milton, for example, were defenders of the practice.”

Los Angeles County Law Library, which is the largest public law library in the United States after the Law Library of Congress, assembled much of its collection of historic European law books in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The sale, the first major auction of antiquarian law books in the 21st Century, will enable it to concentrate resources on its core purposes of providing public access to practical legal knowledge for the people of Southern California and beyond and to free up space to conserve rare books and documents on American law.