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The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents (by Edward Topsell)



About the Item

In 1607 clergyman Edward Tospell’s (c.1572-1625) The Historie of Foure-footed Beasts was published, followed a year later by The Historie of Serpents. These two books were combined in 1658 to create this volume.

As well as cats, elephants and rhinoceros, Topsell also describes mythical creatures like manticores (a mythical creature with the body of a lion, the head of a man, and a serpent’s tail), a unicorn and a winged dragon. For the people reading Topsell’s book when it was first published, elephants and rhinoceros were perhaps just as fantastical as unicorns and dragons!

Can you spot your favourite animal in this illustrated history of beasts and serpents? You can see more images if you click on the red banner that says ‘See full record details’.

Do you think any of the illustrations of the animals look strange? This might be because Edward Topsell was not an expert on animals and he hadn’t actually travelled to see any of the exotic creatures in his books. Instead, Topsell collected his information from other writers’ works, such as the Historiae Animalium (Histories of the Animals) by Conrad Gesner (1516-1565), printed in 1551.

Watch this!

Watch this video in which Librarian, Emily Green, tells us more about this incredible book: 


CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust