Originally posted on University of Glasgow Library:
Richard Stonley (1519 or 20-1600) boasts an interesting literary claim to fame: his acquisition of a newly printed copy of Venus and Adonis on 12th June 1593 makes him the earliest known purchaser of any Shakespeare work. We are fortunate to know this – and a lot more about Stonley’s library and purchasing habits besides – due to the survival of some fascinating Stonley documents, several of which are preserved in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Additionally, a remarkable inventory of all the books and belongings from Stonley’s London home, compiled in 1597, survives at the National Archives at Kew. This unusual document was created after he became embroiled in a scandal and was locked up in the Fleet prison.
Stonley was one of four Tellers of the Exchequer of Receipt, a senior figure in Elizabeth I’s Treasury charged with receiving payments for the Queen’s coffers. By the late 1590s he was powerful and wealthy having been in position at the Exchequer for over four decades during which he accumulated land in six different counties and houses in Kent, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Oxford and London. But in early 1597 his world was thrown into turmoil – he was accused of siphoning off some £12,000 (the equivalent of several million pounds today) of the Queen’s money for his own use! The priced-up inventory of all Stonley’s London possessions seems to have been made while he was imprisoned, desperately trying to make-good the debt by selling off all he owned.