‘The History of Saint Louis’ by John, Lord of Joinville, The Gregynog Press (1937)

{Ed. Note: This article is courtesy of Books and Vines contributor Neil.}.

The first incarnation of The Gregynog Press in rural Wales from 1922-1940 under the patronage of the wealthy Davies sisters (Margaret and Gwendoline) can be viewed as having four distinct phases reflecting the backgrounds, talents and skills of the controllers (all with the support of  skilled and long-serving printers, compositors and binders)  who were responsible for the design and production of the books during the time of their tenures.

The first controllers appointed at the inception of the press in 1922 were Horace Walter Bray and Robert Maynard.  They were relatively inexperienced, but developed their typographic and engraving skills quickly and produced 18 books during their time at Gregynog, many containing engravings cut by one or both of them.  All of their volumes exhibit the influence of classic design and typographical philosophies, reaching high standards that were not always met in the later years of the press.  Among their more notable Gregynog books are, The Life of Saint David (completed in 1927 – it contains hand-coloured engravings and was their fist book printed on dampened paper), Psalmau Dafydd (1929) and The Stealing of the Mare (1930).  They left Gregynog in 1930, setting up The Raven Press which designed and printed Gray’s Elegy in 1938 with engravings by Agnes Miller Parker for The Limited Editions Club, amongst others.

From 1931-1933 the Controllers were William McCance and Blair Hughes-Stanton.  This short period is regarded by many as the golden age of the pre-war years of The Gregynog Press.  Not only were McCance and Hughes-Stanton accomplished artists – they were joined at Gregynog by their wives Gertrude Hermes and Agnes Miller Parker, giving Gregynog the talents of arguably three of the greatest British wood-engravers of their era alongside one of the best artist/designers of the 30’s.  This group gave the books they produced an avant-garde sensibility and were driven by illustration.  Examples such as The Revelation of Saint John the Divine and The Lamentations of Jeremiah from Hughes-Stanton and The Fables of Esope from Miller Parker are still regarded as books at the pinnacle of Private Press achievements.

From 1934 to 1936 Lloyd Haberly was the controller.  He was a young American who had already written poetry and designed, printed and published his own books using the methods of a private press.  He was a busy man personally and only appeared at Gregynog periodically and, therefore, can be considered a ‘part-time’ controller.  He commissioned a new typeface (Gregynog type) which attracted much negative comment and was used in only one book, Eros and Psyche.  His most spectacular production during his time at the press was Cyrupaedia in 1936.

James Wardrop was neither a typographer or artist.  He was on the staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum and was an authority on manuscripts, a calligrapher and a part-time lecturer in book production.  He was appointed as controller at Gregynog in 1936 and stayed until he was called up for war service in 1940.  He was close to Maynard and Bray in his tastes and outlook.  Of the seven books produced during his time at Gregynog six exhibit a restrained, classical style.  The seventh, The History of Saint Louis byJean de Joinville, is undeniably one of Gregynog’s finest achievements.

Jean de Joinville was born in 1224 into a noble family from Champagne, France.  Many members of his family had been crusaders including his father, his grandfather who died at the siege of Acre in 1189 and his uncle who died in Syria in 1203.  Jean went to great lengths to recover his uncle’s shield and displayed it in the chapel showing how much he was influenced by this heritage.  Joinville joined the first crusade of Louis IX (the Seventh Crusade) where he became a confidant and advisor to the King during the crusade and the four years following it when Louis remained in the Holy Land.

De Joinville wrote his biography of Saint Louis (Louis IX) in the first decade of the 14th century, completing it in 1309 – half a century after the Seventh Crusade and more than a decade after Louis’s canonisation.  The chronicle covers much of the reign of Louis up to his death and canonisation, but the majority of the narrative tells us about the events that Joinville had first hand knowledge of – the Seventh Crusade.

Joinville’s writing has a very personal style and he frequently offers his opinion on events that are portrayed with emotion and supported by telling ‘asides’ and descriptive details. The failure of the crusade does not detract from Joinville’s view of Louis as someone who conducted himself with courage and honour and  he shows enormous respect for his King, heaping praise upon him and his achievements, but balances this with criticism when he disagrees with his actions. Although this book is about Louis, Joinville writes just as much about the many other people involved in the events he describes.  The picture he creates of the daily lives of the crusaders and the people of the East raises this above the more common eulogies written during this period.

It was decided to print this text at Gregynog in 1937.  It is a sumptuous production.  The book is folio sized, set in 16pt Poliphilus with marginal rubrics in Blado and printed on a special making of Arnold & Foster hand-made paper.  Seventeen coats of arms (some repeated giving 25 in all) were engraved by Reynolds Stone, hand-coloured and placed at the bottom of the page adding a dash of colour.  Initials and page openings were designed by Alfred Fairbank and engraved on wood by R. John Beedham and printed in red and light-blue – the opening on the first text page (7) is wonderful and stands alongside the likes of the opening text page in the Doves Press Bible as one of the best in any 20th century British private press book.

When Hutner and Kelly were making their choices for inclusion in A Century for the Century it would have been reasonable to assume that if they include one from Gregynog it would have been one of the Hughes-Stanton or Miller Parker volumes.  They chose  The History of Saint Louis writing; “In the last four years of the press, James Wardrop was in charge.  His printing of Joinville’s History…was to be among the finest in the press’s history…The dramatic first text page, printed in three sizes of Poliphilus type, is considered one of the finest openings of twentieth-century British printing.”

About the Edition

  • The Gregynog Press 1937
  • Price on publication was 6 guineas
  • Translated from the French text edited by Natalis de Wailly by Joan Evans
  • Hand-set in 16 point Poliphilus type
  • Arnold & foster hand-made paper
  • Openings and initial letters, printed in red and pale-blue, designed by A. Fairbank and cut on wood by R. Beedham
  • Hand-coloured armorial shields, proved by A. van der Put and engraved on wood by Reynolds Stone
  • Maps drawn by Bernard Wolpe and lettered by A. Fairbank
  • Bound in brown oasis blocked with the arms of St. Louis at the Gregynog Press Bindery
  • 340mm X 235mm, 174pp
  • 183 copies (there were also 17 ‘specials); This is number 124

Pictures of the Edition

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The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Cover and Spine
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Cover and Spine
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Cover
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Cover
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Title Page
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Title Page
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #1 - Prologue
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #1 – Prologue
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #2
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #2
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text #2
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #3
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #3
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text #3
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text #3
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #4
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #4
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #5
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #5
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decoration #5
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Macro of Sample Text and Decoration #5
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #6
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #6
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text and Decoration #7
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Text #7
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Map
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Map
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Genealogy
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Sample Genealogy
Geniology
The History of Saint Louis, The Gregynog Press, Colophon

3 thoughts on “‘The History of Saint Louis’ by John, Lord of Joinville, The Gregynog Press (1937)

  1. Amongst the greatest of the Gregynog books, e.g., The Fables of Esope, The Lamentations of Jeremiah, The Revelation of Saint John the Divine, etc., this book is the one I am least familiar with and, frankly, had never seen a copy until now. Its inclusion in the ‘Century For A Century’ is certainly understandable and appropriate and it is one of a handful of near-perfect private press books in the twentieth century. The book design is flawless —- wide margins, elegant clear typeface, and judicious use of color in both the wood-engraved initial letters of varying size (ingenious) and coats of arms. The beautiful use of color is reminiscent of several of the best of the books from the Ashendene Press.

    Best of all, however, is a beautiful leather binding from the Gregynog Bindery. This bindery was one of the best and certainly the equal of the Doves Press bindery. The Gregynog special editions with the custom designed bindings are amongst the most beautiful books published in the 20th century. This book, along with Cyrupaedia and Shaw Gives Himself Away are the few that have these magnificent leather bindings with elaborate designs that are not special editions.

    What I was unaware of until Neil’s excellent article and review of the Gregynog Press and this book is that the History of Saint John is more than another blood-and-gore recounting of the religious misadventures of the Medieval Period aka the Crusades. Jean de Joinville’s inclusion of descriptions of the people and places of the Middle East and the ordinary crusader who was not a knight or nobleman elevates this book from a simple (mis)adventure story into a book with historical interest, providing a first-hand glimpse into the Crusades and this era.

    Wonderful article and beautiful photos, Neil. Thanks for introducing it to me —- I had long wondered why it was so highly regarded and this article certainly answers that question.

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