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Esther Inglis, "Livret traittant de la grandeur de Dieu et de la cognoissance qu’on peut avoir de luy par ses oeuvres", 1592

Identifier: La.III.440

Scope and Contents

This manuscript is a decorative copy of Pierre Du Val’s De la grandeur de Dieu et de la cognoissance qu’on peut avoir de luy par ses oeuvres, first published at Paris in 1553. Written by Esther Inglis in 1592, when she was around 22 years old, it forms part of a group of manuscripts produced between 1586 and 1592 which show her early experiments calligraphy and print imitation. The other manuscripts in this group are now British Library, MS Sloane 987 (Psalms, 1586), [Untraced] (Discours de la foy, 1590), and Huntington Library, HM 26068 (Discours de la foy, 1591). The 1590 and 1591 manuscripts were intended as books for presentation, but this 1592 manuscript has no dedication, and may instead have served as an exemplar of Esther Inglis’ work. This early group of manuscripts is also significant for Inglis’ use of the surname Langlois and (unique to the 1592 De la grandeur), the description of herself as "fille Françoise, de Dieppe" (folio 2r). To date, this is the only known reference to Inglis’ place of birth, and the particular home in France from which the Langlois family emigrated, close to the year 1570.

Du Val’s De la grandeur de Dieu is a sequence of 100, French, four-line stanzas, each composed of two rhyming couplets. As its title suggests, it is a devotional text, which presents all natural and created things as ways to see the works of the God. From 1545 until 1564, Du Val was a Bishop at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Séez, in France. The 1555 edition of De la grandeur, published at Paris, includes a double margin at the top of each page with a running heading, "DE LA GRANDEVR" "DE DIEV", which is close to Inglis’ own. This running header is just one of several elements of Inglis’ manuscript which imitates the appearance of a printed book - a theme which is found throughout her work. Inglis may also have encountered Du Val’s De la grandeur as part of the later printed compilation entitled Les Cantiques du Seigneur de Maisonfleur (Paris, 1586). This devotional compilation includes further texts that appear in several of Inglis’ later manuscripts, including Guy du Faur’s Les Quatrains du Sieur de Pybrac, of which she made at least 15 copies.


Folio 1r. Blank

Folio. 2r: Title page

"A book dealing with the greatness of God, and with the knowledge which we can have of him through his works. Written by Esther Langlois, a French girl, from Dieppe. 1592."

Folios 3r - 81r. Calligraphic copy of Pierre Du Val, De la grandeur de Dieu. Each new verse is indicated with Roman numerals.
Incipit: MVSE du ciel, o divine Uranie, | Dy moy la douce, & plaisante harmonie.
Explicit: En observant par vraye amour ta Loy, | Garnis d’espoir, et fermes en ta Foy.

Folio 82r. The main text is followed by a four-line Latin verse, composed by Inglis’ father, Nicolas Langlois (d. 1611). This attribution is recorded as N. Angl. dictae puellae pater: "N. Anglois, father of the said girl".
Title: TETRASTICHA hoc in LIBELLO varie descripta Lectori, ("The stanzas variously drawn in this little book, to the reader")
Text: Multiplici rogitas cur iam vestimur amictu
Nuper cum nobis vnica vestis erat?
Aut quis tot formas potuit componere vestis?
Texuit has calamo Galle puella suo.

("You are asking why we are now dressed in many kinds of clothing, | who formerly had only one garment? | Or who could devise so many forms of clothing? | A French girl wove them with her pen")
Note: This verse ventriloquises Inglis’ manuscript; it first appears in an earlier manuscript of Psalms which Inglis produces in 1586 (now British Library, MS Sloane 987), and in her 1591 manuscript entitled Discours de la Foy (now Huntington Library, HM 26068). It is an interesting and unusual example of clothing being used as a metaphor for script or textual appearance; the polygraphism of Inglis’ manuscripts is set against the "unica vestis" of, presumably, the printed text from which she works.

Folio 82v. Blank

Folio 83r. Another couplet composed by Nicolas Langlois appears on the final written folio of this manuscript. This is a further ventriloquism of the book.
Text: Filia me scripsit mandante vtroq[ue] Parente,
Desidiae calamo taedia discutiens.
("A daughter wrote me at the instruction of both parents | Dispelling the tedium of idleness with the pen")
Note: This couplet, in a slightly variant form, also appears in Inglis 1586 and 1591 calligraphic manuscripts (British Library, MS Sloane 987; Huntington Library, HM 26068). In these manuscripts, the wording is slightly different; the second line reads Exilii calamo taedia discutiens ("dispelling the tedium of exile with the pen"). This is one of few references which Inglis’ manuscripts make to the Langlois family’s experience of displacement and exile. Beneath this, Inglis writes NIL PENNA SED USUS ("The pen is nothing, but for its use"). This motto, originating in emblem-books, is frequently used by early-modern writing-masters, and is found in calligraphic writing books across the later sixteenth century. In emblem-books, it is accompanied by the figure of an ostrich, first appearing in Claude Paradin’s Devises heroiques (1557). Most significantly for Inglis’ later manuscripts, it is also included in a printed calligraphic device in Jacobus Houthusius’ Exemplaria, sive, Formulae scripturae ornatoris XXXVI (1591). Inglis copies this device and its motto in the illuminated manuscripts which she produces between 1606 and 1614.

Folio 84r. Blank


Part of the intrigue of Esther Inglis’ calligraphy is her ability to work in many different scripts; some of her manuscripts include up to forty different styles of writing within the same book. This early manuscript contains around 20 different styles, including different size modulations. Inglis is likely to have copied her scripts from Jean de Beauchesne’s A Booke containing diverse sortes of hands (first published 1570) or Pierre Hamon’s Alphabets de plusieurs sortes de lettres (1567).

Folio 2r: Roman capitals, droicte (upright roman), roman forward-slanted capitals
Folios 3r-7r: Roman capitals, italic capitals, droicte, ronde venecienne (particularly rounded form)
Folio 8r: ronde venecienne (but with back of h not reaching the line)
Folios 9r-12r: ronde venecienne
Folios 13r-16r: ronde venecienne (thinner version)
Folios 17r-21r: lettre plaisante
Folios 22r-26r: lettre pattée
Folio 27r: ronde venecienne
Folio 28r: lettre chanceleresque penchée
Folios 29r-32r: ronde venecienne (but with back of h not reaching the line, and rounded r)
Folio 33r: ronde venecienne
Folios 34r-39r: droicte
Folios 40r-41r: lettre frizée
Folios 42r-43r: lettre coupée
Folio 44r: Roman small capitals
Folio 45r: Italic small capitals
Folios 46r-50r: lettre ancienne
Folio 51r: lettre carrée
Folios 52r-53r: lettre destat
Folios 54r-55r: lettre mignardée
Folios 56r-59r: lettre carrée
Folios 60r-63r: ronde venecienne
Folios 64r-67r: lettre plaisante
Folios 68r-71r: droicte
Folios 72r-77r: lettre carrée
Folios 78r-80r: ronde venecienne (with final stroke of h which curves to sit on the line)
Folio 81r: ronde venecienne (but with back of h not reaching the line)
Folio 82r: droicte, Roman small capitals
Folio 83r: Italic small capitals, droicte, lettre pattée


The title-page (folio 2r) is enclosed within a repeated border of curling vines and trefoil leaves, drawn as outlines, with some internal cross-hatched shading. The same border appears on the title-page of Inglis’ 1591 Discours de la Foy (Huntington Library, HM 26068).

Between folios 9r and 12r, Inglis adds calligraphic flourishes and knotwork designs to the empty space below her inscribed verses, which bear close resemblance to those in a writing-book such as Jean de Beauchesne’s Le tresor d’escriture (1580).

Flourishing, calligraphic ornamentation is occasionally also added to the opening majuscules of new verses, as at folio 5r.


  • Creation: 1592


Language of Materials

French, Latin

Conditions Governing Access

Contact the repository for details

Biographical / Historical

Esther Inglis (c.1570-1624) was a Franco-Scottish Huguenot calligrapher, writer, and artist, associated with the court of King James VI/I. She was the daughter of French parents, Nicolas Langlois and Marie Presot, who emigrated as refugees from Dieppe to Britain, shortly after 1570, to escape religious persecution. "Inglis" is an Anglicism of her family name, "Langlois" or "Anglois", which Esther adopted in her work from 1606. Marie Presot was herself a calligrapher, who taught Esther how to write, while Nicolas Langlois was a schoolmaster. The family eventually settled in Edinburgh, where Esther was to spend most of her life and career. Esther Inglis was a prolific and exceptionally skilled scribe; a corpus of over 62 manuscripts survives worldwide, and she produced many of her books as gifts which were often presented to prospective patrons. Inglis’ manuscripts are often miniature, and might contain up to forty different scripts within the same book, from letters just one millimetre high, to elaborate alphabets which she copies from the manuals of sixteenth-century writing-masters. Inglis’ earliest surviving work dates to 1586; MS Laing III.440 was produced in 1592, when she was around 22 years old. It shows Inglis’ developing calligraphic and artistic skills, guided by her parents’ instruction, and the rapidly-expanding range of scripts in which she is able to work.


1 bound MS volume : 86 folios.

Custodial History

The manuscript contains two later signs of readers’ interventions. Folio 1r, otherwise blank, is inscribed with "Quand vous" in a small Roman hand, apparently using the visible chain-line as a guide. A further inscription has been added to fol. 11r in the bottom margin.

The manuscript was owned by David Laing in 1865, and was bequeathed to Edinburgh University Library in 1878.

Previous title

Title previously used in the finding aid:: "Verses on the Greatness of God Esther L'anglois (Inglis), French-woman of Dieppe, 1592, on fine vellum."


- Anneke Bakker, ‘Esther Inglis & Maurice of Nassau’, Quaerendo, 48 (2018), 39–76, p. 65.
- Jamie Reid Baxter, ‘Esther Inglis’ Discours de la Foy and her ‘portraict de la RELIGION CHRESTIENNE’, gifted to Elizabeth Tudor on 1 January 1591’, Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 17 (2022), 63-94, p. 81.
- David Laing, ‘Notes Relating to Mrs Esther (Langlois or) Inglis, the Celebrated Calligraphist, with an Enumeration of Manuscript Volumes Written by Her between the Years 1586 and 1624’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 6.2 (1868), 284–314, p. 291.
- A. H. Scott-Elliot and Elspeth Yeo, ‘Calligraphic Manuscripts of Esther Inglis (1571-1624): A Catalogue’, The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 84.1 (1990), 10–86, p. 30.
- Esther Inglis’s Les Proverbes de Salomon: A Facsimile, ed. by Nicolas Barker (London: The Roxburghe Club, 2012), p. 87.

Physical Facet

Material: Paper. The manuscript is written on very thin paper, which results in bleed through of ink from recto to verso. In some cases, the weight of the ink in larger letters, combined with the fineness of the paper, has led these letters to become holes in the folios, which in places have been later reinforced with a second kind of paper.

Layout: Written on rectos only. With the exception of the bordered title-page, each folio is ruled with a double margin, its lines 1mm apart.Two margins appear at the top of every ruled folio, to incorporate a running header throughout the main text, which reads “DE LA GRAND. DE. D.”. One or two verses of the text are included per folio.

Binding: Original parchment binding, with gold stamped and tooled detail. Scott-Elliot and Yeo describe this detailing as "tooled in gold and blind with a centre ornament between two panels containing decorative motifs; all within a border with a large motif in each corner" (page 30). The manuscript would once have had ribbon ties, which are now missing; this can be seen from slits in the front and back boards.

Foliation: Folio numbers have been added to this manuscript by a later hand; the manuscript is now foliated as i + 1-84 +i.


Binding: 90 x 125 mm

Folio: 88 x 122 mm

Written space: 52 x 94 mm

Processing Information

Catalogued by Anna-Nadine Pike in December 2023.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379