The 1688 Gesta Grayorum

I’m trying to work out how and why a manuscript account of the 1594-1595 Gray’s Inn celebrations was printed in 1688 as Gesta Grayorum–so far with little success. The publisher was one William Canning, from a Warwickshire Catholic gentry family. From 1686 to 1689 Canning published a number of books, including most of Aphra Behn’s late output. Later, in the early 1690s, he was arrested several times for circulating seditious Jacobite works, such as King James’s Declarations; in 1692 he was pilloried for his efforts. There are then a couple of later tracts bearing his name, though I haven’t yet worked out what they’re about. The Gesta Grayorum is dedicated to one Matthew Smith, then “comptroller”, that is, head of student revels at the Inner Temple. Smith too later had Jacobite credentials. But what would be the Jacobite agenda behind Gesta Grayorum?  Presumably more pertinent is Canning’s shop’s location in (variously) Vine-Court or Temple Cloisters, in the Temple itself.  His dedicatory epistle seems to imply that Smith is part of a joint venture between Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn (as the entertainment was) but I’ve found no trace of such a thing.   One further complication: John Nichols claims that Canning printed this for Henry Keepe, an antiquarian who had himself studied at Inner Temple.  But Keepe died in 1688: before or after this manuscript reached Canning’s hands?  And Keepe too had a confused confessional identity, and an apparently sordid end.  It’s all very suggestive … but it’s not suggesting anything concrete enough.  Yet.


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