Excitement about royal Tudor England is everywhere in anticipation of the televised adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies beginning this week on the BBC .
Here in the Wren Library we have a number of manuscripts which belonged to King Henry VIII. His libraries, housed in several locations including Hampton Court and Westminster, grew from a number of sources: books inherited from earlier monarchs, in particular the Burgundian manuscripts collected by Edward IV; gifts, often presented to him at New Year, by those seeking patronage; books belonging to his wives which were added to his collection and books confiscated from those charged with treason.
From around 1527 onwards many books added to the libraries related directly to Henry’s concerns about the validity of his first marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The Epistola Cardinalibus Missa, for example, was bound by Henry’s binder and presented in his name at the legatine trial (which examined the case of the annulment of the marriage) in 1529. This is Trinity Manuscript B.15.19.
Henry’s “Great Matter” eventually led to the Act of Supremacy (which recognised Henry as the Supreme head of the Church of England) in 1534. Thomas Cromwell was appointed vicegerent charged with ensuring acceptance of the supremacy and in this role he also acquired a great number of books for the royal library following the dissolution of the Monasteries. From the Wren collection these include O.2.24, O.4.7 and O.4.1. Other texts at Trinity from the Royal Libraries are B.14.10, O.7.40, O.3.14 and O.4.44.
For further discussion of the Libraries see Carley, James P., The Libraries of King Henry VIII, The British Library (London, 2000).