John Somers 1651-1716

From Book Owners Online

John SOMERS, Baron Somers 1651-1716

One of Somers's bookplates (British Museum Franks Collection *88)

Biographical Note

Born in or near Worcester, son of attorney John Somers and Catherine Severne. Educated at King’s School, Worcester, privately at Sheriff Hales, Staffordshire, and at Walsall grammar school, Staffordshire. Matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford in 1667, and admitted to the Middle Temple in 1669; called to the bar in 1676, and became a bencher in 1689. MP for Worcester 1689-83. Knighted in 1689, and created Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham in 1697, Somers played an important part in the 1688 revolution settlement, and was one of the lords of the Whig junto. He held numerous appointments in the course of his meteoric career: principally solicitor-general 1689-92, attorney-general 1692-3, lord keeper 1693-7, lord chancellor1697-1700, and lord president of the council 1708-10. He was President of the Royal Society 1698-1703.


Somers amassed over ten thousand books and manuscripts, which he kept at his houses in London and Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire. A catalogue in Latin in two volumes (BL Add. 40751-2) divided material under the main headings of ‘Theologia’, ‘Jurisprudentia’, ‘Historia’, ‘Scientiae et Artes’ and ‘Literae Humaniores'. He left no will, and his library, or parts of it, came into the possession of his brother-in-law Joseph Jekyll. Material was auctioned in 1717 (Motteaux’s auction room), 1739 (Paul’s Coffee House), and 1801 (T. King); another sale, apparently spurious, was advertised in newspapers in 1721.

As well as for illuminated manuscripts and incunables, his library was noteworthy for its considerable number of political and historical pamphlets which became the most importance source for four series of multi-volume collections of Scarce and Valuable Tracts (1748-1752), often subsequently referred to as the ‘Somers Tracts’.

In Sir Godfrey Kneller's Kit-Cat club portrait of Somers in the last year of his life, his status as patron in whig literary circles is marked by his holding a copy of the Faerie Queen, volume 1 of an edition of Spenser printed by Jacob Tonson, dedicated to him by its editor John Hughes.

One of Somers's armorial stamps (British Armorial Bindings)

Characteristic Markings

The Franks Collection contains four engraved armorial bookplates used by him: *88 (dated 1702), 27600 (last plate with inscription altered and date erased); *81 (a smaller plate, dated 1702); 27601 (last plate with inscription altered and date erased).

Five different binding stamps for him are recorded in the Armorials Database.


  • British Armorials Database
  • Manuscript catalogue of his library: British Library, Add. MSS 40751, 40752.
  • Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
  • Gambier Howe, E. R. J. Franks bequest: catalogue of British and American book plates bequeathed to the ... British Museum. London, 1903-4.
  • Handley, S. ‘Somers, John, Baron Somers (1651–1716), lawyer and politician.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • John Whiston, A catalogue of valuable manuscripts in Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, and Spanish; Many of them relating to Heraldry, History, the Antiquities and Families of England, with several Missals curiously illuminated. All which were collected at the expence of the late Lord Somers, and since belonged to the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Jekyll... [London, 1739] (ESTC N14874).
  • Somers's portrait by Kneller, in the National Portrait Gallery.