Close this search box.

Fire! Fire!

By Emma Laws, Cathedral Librarian

Fire damage must have been a relatively common occurrence years ago. If you wanted to read after sundown, you probably needed a candle… and accidents do happen. At some point in its history, this book was badly burned. But was it an accident? Or was it deliberate?

This is a copy of a history of France by Jean de Serres (1540-1598), a French historian, poet, royal advisor and Calvinist. He was born in France but to avoid persecution as a Protestant, Serres escaped to Switzerland and began writing and publishing on the state of religion in France. In 1596 Henri IV employed Serres to broker a relationship between the French Catholics and Protestants. Unfortunately, the role was a difficult one and Serres became disliked by both sides. It is generally believed that his death in 1598 was murder – the result of a fatal poisoning.

Serres’ history of France was published after his death between 1599 and 1600 and was apparently very successful. But perhaps not everyone appreciated the book – after all, if its author was indeed murdered it does beg the question: was this book deliberately burned by one of Serres’ many opponents? It would certainly make an interesting story.

However, perhaps the truth is rather more humdrum: the reader nodded off while reading the book and it either caught alight from a candle or simply slipped off the reader’s lap into the fireplace.