Joseph Black

title.none: Carley, The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives (Joseph Black)

identifier.other: baj9928.0606.005 06.06.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joseph Black, University of Massachusetts - Amherst,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Carley, James P. The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives. London: The British Library, 2004. Pp. 160. $39.95 (hb) 0-7123-4791-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.06.05

Carley, James P. The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives. London: The British Library, 2004. Pp. 160. $39.95 (hb) 0-7123-4791-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Joseph Black
University of Massachusetts - Amherst

James Carley's The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives is a companion volume to The Libraries of King Henry VIII , which he published in the Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues project (British Library in association with the British Academy, 2000). The product of years of research and some brilliant bibliographical sleuthing, The Libraries of King Henry VIII edited the extant inventories of manuscript and printed books in Henry's libraries, and offered remarkably complete accounts of where the books came from, how they got there, and where they went afterward. In addition, Carley brought to his edition some of the "sociological" questions that book historians have been exploring over the past few decades. What story lay behind the presence of a given book in the royal library? What purpose underlay its selection, and how might it have been used? With evidence provided by book lists, provenance histories, and extant volumes, Carley showed how Henry's libraries reflected both his personal interests and his shifting concerns as ruler, particularly the Great Matter of his divorce. Henry was a bookish monarch in an increasingly bookish age, and his libraries played a key role in his inextricably intertwined marital, religious, and political battles.

As the title of this new study implies, Carley here complements his picture of Henry as owner and reader of books with sketches of his wives for whose books there is extant evidence: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, and Catherine Howard. On the whole, however, The Books of King Henry VIII and His Wives relies on the research and materials that underlay the earlier volume. This is not a criticism. The British Library has given Carley an opportunity many scholars might welcome but few will ever be offered: the chance to take primarily descriptive archival work aimed at specialist scholars and recast it in a discursive, "user-friendly" (9) style for a more broadly conceived audience. In effect, this book is a spin- off, a biographically oriented and (somewhat) popularized version of the more austere editorial project from which it derives.

The result is an exemplary balancing of lightly borne scholarship, much of it original in its detail, with an enjoyably anecdotal narrative, all accompanied by 140 superbly reproduced illustrations, 85 of them in full color and many full page. These illustrations are not just decorative in the manner of coffee-table books: Carley repeatedly uses the images to make his arguments, calling the reader's attention to details of illustration, printing, marginalia, signatures, or binding that indicate provenance or use. In addition, the full captions include the current location and call number of every book illustrated. That is, despite some trappings of popular history--there are no notes, for example--Carley supplies sufficient documentation to enable those interested to follow his path into the library stacks. A concluding list of "further reading" provides an ample and up-to-date list of secondary sources (including journal articles and notices of forthcoming studies). Historically informed general readers will enjoy this book, and a David Starkey-esque television documentary could easily be made of the stories Carley tells and the objects he describes (Starkey in fact provides this book's preface). But the scholarly foundations remain, and there is a great deal here to interest those who work in the Henrician period or those interested in any period of book history.

The book is divided into three parts. The five chapters of Part One focus on Henry and examine the physical settings of his libraries, books he inherited, books he bought or was given, books he acquired through sequestrations (including those acquired from monastic libraries), and his reading habits. Part Two (less than half the length of Part One) devotes four chapters to Henry's bookish queens, and the brief Part Three sketches the collection's fate.

The discussion opens with the places and ways in which the books were kept. Carley encourages us to imagine the books not as individual museum pieces but as property, as an ever-expanding collection carried about in traveling coffers, stored on shelves or under tables in several different palaces, moved about as new rooms were built to store them, some drifting through use toward the favorite palaces, and others staying tucked away in the less visited among Henry's sixty or so establishments. Some books were primarily for display, such as the more finely illuminated manuscripts; others functioned primarily as valuable objects, such as the scores of richly decorated books listed among the royal jewels and described not by content but by binding material. But many others played their role in the daily life of Henry and his busy, sophisticated court. In his traveling coffers, for example, Henry kept books related to his personal interests (such as music), books on practical subjects (such as medicine), devotional and liturgical texts, and working collections: one coffer was devoted to documents connected with the restructuring of the church, and included a pair of traveling spectacles. With these preliminary tours through the rooms in Richmond, Greenwich, Westminster, and Hampton Court which Henry's main libraries were kept, Carley situates the books and acknowledges his main sources, the location-specific inventories associated with these palaces.

The middle three chapters of Part One trace the evolution of the royal libraries, and how their changes mirrored the development of the king's needs and interests. Henry's books were inherited, bought, commissioned, copied, presented as gifts, sequestrated as a result of treason trials, and, of course, collected from monastic libraries at their dissolution; ultimately, they would form the cornerstone collection of the British Library. One underlying question of these chapters concerns the role these books played in a court that oversaw the foundations of the state church and witnessed "the emergence of England from the Middle Ages and the first flowering of the new intellectual habit of mind known as humanism". (13)

Sensibly enough, we begin with the books Henry himself started with. Not all books owned by his royal predecessors made their way to Henry's libraries, but he did own books associated with Richard II, Mary Bohun (wife of Henry IV), Henry V, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI, and Richard III. Major collections came to him from Edward IV (almost 50 manuscripts) and his bookish father, Henry VII, who had appointed a Fleming as the first royal librarian. Henry VII collected printed books as well as manuscripts, and Carley notes the debate concerning these acquisitions: did Henry buy printed books (mainly Parisian productions) because he was parsimonious, because he lacked taste, or because he was excited by the new technology of the press? As Carley points out, account records indicate that while Henry's printed books were not expensive, "they were not at the bottom end of the market either". (48) Henry VIII would continue his father's practice and buy printed books for working and other purposes; they would eventually constitute about a third of his library.

The chapter on gifts, commissions, and purchases offers a series of miniature case studies that illustrate the social uses of books. Artists, writers, scholars, and other seekers of patronage presented Henry with books in hopes that he would in some way reciprocate. Carley deftly tells the stories of these exchanges, and reads these gifts for evidence of the strategies that lay behind the choices the givers made of text, decoration, or other forms of customizing. Original compositions in praise of the royal family were always a good bet; so were virtuoso translations, theology and devotional writing, and books of maps and exploration. Most of these books were new, but on occasion older manuscripts, such as the Cotton Genesis or the tenth-century "Golden Gospels", could make suitably impressive offerings. Henry also received many printed books. Some were off- the-rack imprints "chosen because of appropriateness of topic or occasion" (65), but many others were personalized with printed or manuscript additions or fine bindings. Henry also bought many printed books himself, including multiple copies of publications needed for administrative or other working purposes, such as proclamations and declarations, classics designed for the royal schoolroom, theology for the team of clerics revising the Great Bible, or books designed to disseminate Henry's most recent stance on questions of orthodoxy.

Henry's libraries also benefited from shifts in the political landscape: as Carley points out, "there were an unusually large number of treason trials" in this reign, and the king had his choice of sequestrated property. The largest contribution came from Cardinal Wolsey, who had helped himself to many manuscripts from monastic libraries, including a copy in Old English of Aelfric's homilies. Wolsey in addition had himself been the recipient of many presented books, some quite spectacular, and Carley tells their stories. Interesting, if smaller, collections came from fallen courtiers, such as Sir Nicholas Carew. The fate of other major libraries is less certain, though books owned by Thomas Cromwell (possibly) and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (probably) entered the royal library; Carley argues persuasively that a group of 100 books in Henry's Westminster library came there via Fisher, since they were housed originally in Rochester cathedral priory.

According to the extant inventories, the number of books seized by Henry directly from monastic libraries was more modest than many might assume. During the early phases of the dissolution, lists appear to have been drawn up of monastic holdings of possible interest to the king; one such document survives, in which 40 titles are selected from a list of books in Lincolnshire houses. Thomas Cromwell appears to have employed advance scouts to select texts of use in the anti-papal, pro-English arguments Henry's advisors were busy formulating. But by the late 1530s, with Henry's Great Matter resolved and the break with Rome accomplished, there was less immediate need to salvage books for the royal library from monastic establishments. Despite the antiquarian efforts of John Leland (to whom Carley, the leading Leland scholar, devotes a short discussion), many medieval manuscripts made their way into the world, prey to all the varied fates to which paper and vellum are subject.

A concluding chapter looks at Henry's books for what can be learned of his reading habits. Henry was a "compulsive annotator" (100), and many of his marked up books survive, including works by Erasmus and Luther and many works relating to theology and the Great Matter of his divorce. Like many CEOs before and after, Henry also used redactors-- though, according to Thomas Cranmer, the king sought balance in these reports by giving polemical texts to one reader "from whom he afterwards learns the contents" and then again "to someone else of an opposite way of thinking. After hearing all their criticisms he declares his own judgement." (103) On the whole, Carley demonstrates, Henry kept a careful eye on the policies set out in official publications, and often contributed to the formulations of doctrine over which he had final say.

In Part Two, Carley looks at the books owned by Henry's wives. Insufficient evidence remains about the books of Jane Seymour or Anne of Cleves; Catherine Howard's expensively bound books appear to have been valued primarily as objects for magnificent display. While the books owned by Catherine of Aragon, Catherine Parr, and Anne Boleyn largely confirm their general reputations, there are nuances and some surprises. One of Carley's main interests here is to reveal the ways in which an examination of books can flesh out our sense of the personalities of their owners.

Catherine of Aragon had received a superb humanist education, and the books she owned, commissioned, or patronized reveal her intellectual sophistication and her literary, theological, musical, and educational interests. She commissioned the Christiani matrimonii institutio from Erasmus and the De institutione foeminae Christianae from Juan Luis Vives; she took solace after her divorce in Petrarch. With Anne Boleyn, Carley notes that Henry's second queen "has been characterized either as a committed evangelical or a fashion-conscious self-server". (108) Her books certainly reveal her pious, educated interest in French evangelical culture: Carley associates her with a cluster of rare printed French texts from the 1520s and 1530s. He also offers a sustained argument that two splendid manuscript translations of these texts were done by her brother, George Boleyn. Anne, Carley concludes, did display elements of the fashionable frivolity of which some historians have accused her, a side perhaps reflected in "her beautifully crafted, jewel-like books". (131) But he also notes that this love of beauty is not incompatible with "her self-presentation as a pious follower of the teachings of French reformers" (131), a piety reflected in the contents of the many books she and her brother owned. The books of Catherine Parr, "the only English queen whose writings have appeared in print in her own lifetime" (138), confirm her interest in modern languages (Italian and French) and her reputation for learned piety. Carley concludes by noting that Parr encouraged the education of the women in her household, and that books presented or transmitted indicate that Elizabeth and Mary both saw their step-mother as a spiritual and intellectual mentor.

What happened to Henry's books after he died? Many Catholic liturgical and other texts were destroyed as a result of Edward VI's 1550 Act Against Superstitious Books and Images. Under Elizabeth, some efforts were made to repossess royal books that had strayed, but the queen also gave away selected books to her friends. In the seventeenth century, Richard Bancroft, archbishop of Canterbury, appropriated almost 500 volumes for his own purposes, and left them with the remainder of his substantial collection as the foundation of the archiepiscopal library at Lambeth. Other books were presented over time to collectors such as Sir Robert Cotton, or to university libraries, or were removed by the librarian, Patrick Young, at his retirement (many of Young's books made their way eventually to Trinity College Cambridge). In later centuries the manuscript collection managed to remain relatively intact, but the printed books suffered from a series of "duplicate sales" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. James Carley has tracked many of these books to collections around the world, and has uncovered the stories they have to tell. But he concludes this study by noting the enduring fascination with Henry's reign and the centrality of books to many of the cultural, political, religious, and educational developments it oversaw; Henry's library, he concludes, "still has much to reveal". (153)