The collections at this great house brilliantly reflect its history and the activities and tastes of the Thynne family over the last five centuries.

The vast and disparate collections of medieval manuscripts, muniments, printed and illustrated books at Longleat constitute one of the finest private libraries in Europe. They reflect the tastes and activities of the Thynne family from the mid-16th century to the present day, a long succession of baronets, viscounts and marquesses, but also of in-laws and friends.

Sir John Thynne (d. 1580), the builder of Longleat, was steward to Protector Somerset. He participated in the invasions of Scotland, when he took as war booty a manuscript of Hector Boece's Chronicles of Scotland. His inscription records that he 'found' it at the burning of Edinburgh on 7 May in the 36th year of Henry VIII's reign. Several printed books acquired by him also survive at Longleat, including the first in English, William Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (Bruges: 1473-74), another copy of which will be offered in the Christie's sale of Beriah Botfield's Library on 13 June.

Sir John's uncle, William Thynne (d. 1546), was the editor of Chaucer (London: 1532). Identifiable books from his collection and medieval English manuscripts from that of his son, Francis Thynne, probably came to Longleat after the latter's death in 1611. The most important subsequent contributors to the libraries at Longleat were the first Viscount Weymouth (d. 1714), who made very substantial purchases in Venice; Bishop Ken of Bath and Wells (d. 1711), who was allowed to live in the 'Old Library', where his books continue to be shelved today; the second Marquess of Bath (d. 1837), patron of a number of bookbinders whose bills survive in the archive; the fourth Marquess (d. 1896), who collected widely; the sixth Marquess, father of the present Marquess of Bath, whose collections of Churchill and English children's books are of considerable distinction. Through marriages and bequests, political archives of the greatest importance were added to the remarkably complete Thynne family and Longleat household archives; they comprise the Seymour, Talbot, Dudley, Devereux, Whitelocke, Coventry, and Matthew Prior Papers, as well as the Portland Papers including the Harley Collection of historical autograph letters.

These unique collections have close historical ties to the family and the house and all will remain there. For the purposes of establishing the maintenance fund for Longleat, Christie's have made a further selection for sale - an earlier one was auctioned on 30 March 1994 - from the library of Beriah Botfield (d. 1863), whose property was entailed upon various putative, distant Thynne relations. The books were collected at Norton Hall, Northamptonshire, and did not reach Longleat until the middle of the 20th century. Beriah Botfield was a book collector in the mould of the third Duke of Roxburghe, the second Earl Spencer, and especially his contemporary, the sixth Duke of Devonshire. His bibliophily will be the subject of a longer article in the June/July/August issue of this magazine.

Felix de Marez Oyens is a Director of Christie's International Ltd.

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Sale 6681, Lot 4
Virgil (70-19 B.C.)
Opera. Illuminated manuscript on vellum.
Written by Antonio Tophio and illuminated by Francesco di Antonio del Chierico.
Estimate: £400,000-600,000

Sale 6681, Lot 89
James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856)
A View of Esplanade Row, from the Chowringhee Road, circa 1819-20
One of 24 original watercolor drawings
Estimate: £200,000-300,000