Book that helped Henry VIII to annul his marriage discovered at Cornish country house

    15th-century book once held in the Westminster Library of Henry VIII. Image by Steven Haywood

    A book that helped King Henry VIII to build his case against the Pope, and annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, has been discovered at the National Trust’s Lanhydrock in Cornwall and is now on display to the public.

    Lanhydrock, Cornwall. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman
    Lanhydrock, Cornwall. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

    Dated 1495, the book is a summary of works by philosopher and theologian William of Ockham who was a major figure in medieval intellectual and political thought.

    To help Henry VIII to gather evidence to support an annulment to his marriage, his agents scoured the country for texts such as Ockham’s which questioned the authority of the Pope and argued for the independence of the monarch.

    The book at Lanhydrock contains marginal notes and marks which were made by Henry VIII’s secretarial staff to draw his attention to relevant passages.

    The book has been at Lanhydrock for many years, but its direct connection to the Royal library was not known until Professor James Carley, an expert on the libraries of Henry VIII, was invited to examine some of the volumes in Lanhydrock’s collection.

    Professor Carley identified an inventory number inside the book which corresponds to the inventory prepared in 1542 for Henry VIII’s chief library at Westminster Palace.

    At some point in the 17th century the book was acquired by a Cornish chaplain, Hannibal Gamon, who bequeathed it along with many other scholarly books to the Robartes family at Lanhydrock.

    Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager at Lanhydrock comments: “To have such an interesting book in the collection is fascinating in itself but to find out that it was once owned by Henry VIII, and played a part in a pivotal moment in British history, is very exciting. We’re really looking forward to seeing the reactions of visitors when they discover more about the story behind this remarkable volume.”

    Lanhydrock’s library, with over 2,500 books, is one of the most remarkable in the care of the National Trust and is among only a handful of pre-Civil War private libraries surviving in England.

    The book is now the centrepiece of the new ‘Monarchy and the Book’ exhibition at the house which will run until the end of November. Vsitors will be able to see rare and unusual works with Royal themes from Lanhydrock’s library, including early histories of the kings of England, bindings and books relating to Henry VIII, political essays by James I, and contemporary Civil War pamphlets describing the trials and execution of Charles I and the Restoration of Charles II.


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