Tract Collection: Manuscript Material

Scope and Content

The Tract Collection contains various manuscript items, including letters written by nonjurors such as George Hickes and Thomas Wagstaffe, manuscript tracts, booklists, sermons and poems, many of which were copied from the originals and added to the collection of printed material by Thomas Bowdler II.

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Bowdler II (1661-1738) was a non-juror, and thus in the eyes of the British government an outlaw. He held a post at the navy office, but resigned it in 1689, along with others such as Samuel Pepys, when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to the newly crowned monarchs William and Mary. Bowdler II was the main collector of the largely non-juring tracts that make up the Founders' Library Tract Collection. His collection was based on the library he inherited from his uncle, Thomas Bowdler I (1683-1700). Bowdler II went on to acquire further material to add to his uncle's collection, and also incorporated the libraries of famous non-jurors George Hickes, John Gauden and Francis Turner, the deposed Bishop of Ely. Bowdler's library is especially significant as he personally annotated many tracts with names of authors and dates of publication - information that was rarely made public due to the non-jurors' desire to avoid persecution. Bowdler II remained a non-juror throughout his life, and is buried at Nelson's Burial Ground.

On Bowdler II's death, the Tract Collection passed to his son, Thomas Bowdler III (1706-1785). A resident of Ashley near Bath, Bowdler III is recognised as one of the principle non-juring laymen of his time. He too made additions to the collection, although few compared to the collecting done by his father. Bowdler III married Elizabeth Stuart, granddaughter of the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton. Together they had two sons, and it was to his second son, Thomas Bowdler IV, that the tracts passed on his death.

Thomas IV is most famous for his notorious Family Shakespeare (1818). He studied medicine at St. Andrew's University, and later at Edinburgh, but left the profession aged 31, when an inheritance from his father left him a very wealthy man. He spent the latter part of his life at Rhyddings near Swansea (then part of the diocese of St. David's), and it was probably whilst living here that he responded to Bishop Burgess' appeal for donations of books to his new college. As a result, the Tract Collection of approximately 9000 pamphlets in 552 volumes was transferred to St. David's College. Similar material from both the Burgess bequest and the Phillips donations has since been added to the collection, which contains works by authors such as Dryden, Defoe, Swift, Milton, and Pope.

Access Information

The papers may be consulted through application to Peter Hopkins, Curator, Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, Trinity Saint David, Ceredigion, SA48 7ED. Tel 01570 424716, email:


Detailed cataloguing of the Tract Collection as a whole is currently in progress, and it is therefore likely that further manuscript items will be identified in future.

Description compiled by Rhian Phillips, Archives Hub project archivist, with reference to James David Smith, 'The Bowdler Collection as a Resource for the Study of the Nonjurors', Trivium, vols. 29 and 30 (1997) and

Other Finding Aids

A basic finding aid is available at the Founders' Library, University of Wales, Lampeter. Fuller descriptions of these tracts can also be seen on the Voyager library catalogue at the University of Wales Lampeter.

See also the manuscript catalogue of the Bowdler Tract Collection compiled by Thomas Bowdler II and Thomas Bowdler III (also held at the Founders' Library, University of Wales, Lampeter), and A Catalogue of the Tract Collection Of St David's University College, Lampeter, compiled by B Ll. James (London: Mansell, 1975) (a copy of which is held in the main library at the University of Wales, Lampeter).

Related Material

A separate Bowdler collection of nonjuror manuscripts and pamphlets is to be found at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.


See James David Smith, 'The Bowdler Collection as a Resource for the Study of the Nonjurors', Trivium, vols. 29-30 (1997).