Lincoln was founded in 1427 and by the beginning of the 16th century had the finest collection of printed books and manuscripts in Oxford after the University Library. The quality of the Lincoln library was largely the result of three important early donations: by Richard Fleming, the founder of the College, by his nephew Robert Fleming, and by Edmund Audley, Bishop of Salisbury.
The earliest donation to the library was by its founder, Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431), who in addition to giving the College twenty-six manuscripts in Latin and Greek gave a silver-gilt chalice, a paten, an altar-frontal, a silver cup and, possibly, its two silver seals. The next important donation came from Robert Fleming (d. 1483), Dean of Lincoln and an early English humanist who gave the College a number of books in 1465 and bequeathed more at his death. Among these volumes, many of which came from the bookshop of the celebrated Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, are important classical and humanistic works including Cicero’s letters and Bruni’s Latin translation of Aristotle, as well as a 12th century manuscript of Bede’s History. Finally, Edmund Audley (d.1524) was a generous benefactor who, in addition to giving the College £40 to buy land gave the Library a number of books of manuscripts, at least nine of which still survive.
All of these early donations are recorded in the College Archive: in early library catalogues, in the College inventories and in what are called “election registers” (lists of books borrowed by members of the College who were entitled to keep them for one year). The archival evidence, as well as the evidence found in the books themselves, is an important source for the study of the early history of Lincoln as well as the intellectual history of England in the 15th and early 16th centuries.