Henry VIII’s Comb

Curio B6
Curio B6

This month’s curio is a comb which is said to have belonged to Henry VIII. It has been owned and described as such by the Library since the 1720s. It seems likely that it is indeed a Tudor comb since it is similar to a number in the V&A Museum. Typically these were made of boxwood with bone or ivory inlays and were often manufactured in France. It is generally believed that Henry had reddish brown hair. One contemporaneous description of him is by the Venetian Ambassador to the Tudor court writing home in 1515:

“His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman …” [Brewer, J. S., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, 2.1, no 395. p.116]. The King is depicted on a 5.5 metre long, vellum roll owned by the Library (O.3.59) which records the procession to Parliament on 4th February 1512.

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Section from O.3.59

Trinity Library also has eight manuscripts which were once a part of the King’s Library at Westminster. B.15.19 is the manuscript Epistola ad Cardinales also known as Henricus Octavus.

B.15.19, f.1
B.15.19, f.1

This was the first official statement of the King’s position in relation to the validity of his marriage to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon (who had previously been married to his brother, Arthur) and dates from 1529. In love with Anne Boleyn, Henry had begun to question the marriage’s validity two year’s earlier in 1527 when the first inconclusive examination of the issue took place. A second trial took place before Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio between May and July 1529.

B.15.19, front cover
B.15.19, front cover

Tradition states that this manuscript lay on the table before the Cardinals. It was expensively bound with gold tooled decoration by the binder known as ‘King Henry’s Binder’.

It is probable that the King himself composed part of the manuscript and that it contains the text of the speech that Henry delivered to the court on 21st June. Henry argued that, as a young man and with Papal dispensation, he had entered into his marriage in good faith. Over time, given the failure of the marriage to produce sons to succeed him, Henry had become concerned that it contravened Divine Law. Another Trinity manuscript dating from around this time and relating to these issues is B.14.10. The arguments were long and complex and brought Henry into direct confrontation with the Papacy. The debate continued for a further four years. Henry and Anne were secretly married in January 1533 and Henry’s first marriage was annulled in May of the same year, thereby ratifying his marriage with Anne. The break with Rome with followed.

After the Act of Supremacy (1534) which recognised Henry as supreme head of the Church of England and the dissolution of the monasteries that followed, hundreds of books and manuscripts were removed from monastic libraries taken into Henry’s possession. Volumes now at Trinity are Alcuin, De dialectica and works by Jerome (both formerly at Rochester Cathedral Priory) and Alexander Nequam, De naturis rerum formerly at Barnwell Priory.

A 15th century Greek Psalter from the Royal Library was originally written, possibly in Cambridge by Emmanuel of Constantinople, for George Neville, archbishop of York. It is still in its original binding and is one of the 19 identified volumes bound by the ‘Scales Binder’ who worked, probably in London, in the mid to late 15th century. This binder’s work has the following characteristics: the front and back covers are always different; he scored or cut patterns as well as using figured tools; and the scored inscriptions or rebuses may indicate the original owner of the binding. These features can be seen on the Trinity binding which has the name ‘Bhale’ cut into the back cover. This binder is the only one so far identified in England to have used this cut leather technique.

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O.3.14, front cover
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O.3.14, back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further Reading:

For other examples of combs from the V&A click here.

Carley, J.P., The Libraries of King Henry VIII (London, 2000)

Murphy, V., ‘The Literature and Propaganda of Henry VIII’s First Divorce’, in MacCulloch, D, The Reign of Henry VIII (Basingstoke, 1995), pp. 159-181

Hobson, G. D, English Binding before 1500 (Cambridge, 1929)

 

 

 

On the fifth day of Christmas …

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These five gold rings come from the Dolphin Inn Hoard discovered by workmen excavating beneath a Cambridge coal yard on the site of the former Dolphin Inn in 1817. They were found, along with coins and other pieces of jewellery, contained within a leather bag and buried in the former Inn’s cellars. At the time of their discovery, the finds were reported in local newspapers and the descriptions provided enable identification of the hoard of coins as belonging to the Long Cross coinage of the 31st year of the reign of Henry III (1246-7). This coinage was in regular use up until 1279 thereby enabling a dating of the contents of the hoard to the mid to late 13th century. Many of the items were removed by the workmen and other pieces subsequently went astray, but the rings were given to the Library by Alderman Elliot Smith in the late 19th century. By this time, their story had been embellished with the detail that they were discovered on the hands of a skeleton!

It is unusual for coin hoards also to contain jewellery, but in the medieval period such rings were common, low value items and not indicators of great wealth. The rings are gold and set with what are probably polished and uncut semi garnets, although at the time of their discovery they were described as containing a sapphire, two amethysts, a ruby and another unidentified gem.

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Whewell’s Court and the corner of All Saint’s Passage and Sidney Street

The coal yard was situated at the corner of All Saint’s Passage (formerly known as All Hallows in the Jewry and later as Dolphin Lane) and Sidney Street. This is now the site of Trinity’s Whewell’s Court. For a map dated 1798 showing the coal yard click here.

Who buried the hoard? In 1279 this messuage was recorded as belonging to one Richard Crocheman, a member of a prominent family of Cambridge merchants, but he is not known to have occupied the site. A number of jewellers and goldsmiths were also known to be working in this area in the medieval period, but it has also been suggested that the burial of the hoard may be linked to the persecution and expulsion of the local Jewish population (living and working around the Bridge Street area) in the second half of the 13th century.

This post is the first of our new series focusing on Library curios.

 

Further Reading: Cessford, C., Newman, R., Allen, M. and Hinton, D., ‘The Dolphin Inn Hoard: Re-examining the Early Nineteenth-Century Discovery of a Mid-Thirteenth-Century Hoard from Cambridge’, Archaeological Journal, 168:1 (2011), pp. 272-84

 

Wren Curios

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Currently we welcome around 100 people a day to the Wren Library. Tourists come to marvel at the architecture of the building, the stained glass, portraits and marble busts, and to view the special displays of manuscripts and printed books.

Visitors to the Wren Library during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, would have had a very different experience. In this period, it was not unusual for libraries to acquire items in addition to books including scientific instruments, natural history specimens and antiquities. These collections were intended to complement book-learning and had their origins in the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ which had been popularised during the 16th and 17th centuries.

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The English Globe by Joseph Moxton, 1679.
Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.1466)

The accumulation of objects meant that the Library became, in many ways, also the city’s museum. Visitors may have seen, at various times, items as miscellaneous as a quiver of arrows allegedly used by Richard III at Bosworth, a rhinoceros’ horn, several globes and a speaking trumpet! Two more organised collections which came to the Library were those of coins from Beaupré Bell (1704–1741) and artefacts from the first voyage of Captain Cook between 1768 and 1771 given by Lord Sandwich. Scientific instruments including telescopes, dials and a barometer were transferred to an observatory established over Trinity’s Great Gate in the early 18th century.

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pavillionBecause the Library had been built to house books, items were fitted in wherever there was space. Old guide books refers to Roman inscriptions and sculpture (the Cotton Collection) in the vestibule at the bottom of the stairs; items from Cook’s Pacific voyage on the first landing; and, in the Library itself, collections of medals and coins, and Anglo-Saxon antiquities.  These were all displayed in addition to books and manuscripts.

An unusual feature of the above photograph of the Wren in the 19th century is the drapery which covered the Cipriani window on the south wall of the library. While the Victorians were happy to fill the Wren with antiquities, curiosities and other frivolities they disliked what they saw as the gaudiness of the 18th-century window in an otherwise austere building. Also, allegory was not to the Victorian taste and the window was covered for many years by large curtains which obscured, to their eyes, the slightly distasteful iconography of a partially-clad lady as the muse of the College.  This was one curiosity too many!

In the 20th century, the decision was taken to loan many of the objects to other museums which had by now been established in Cambridge. The coins, for example, went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, scientific instruments to the Whipple Museum and the Pacific artefacts to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. A few curios, however, remain here at Trinity and we will be highlighting some of them on the blog over the course of the next year. Look out for the first one on 29th December!

Further Reading:

McKitterick, D (ed.), The Making of the Wren Library (Cambridge, 1995), chapter 3.