Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A Tudor Discovery!

History lovers around the world have been geeking out for the past week over a new discovery - a book of hours not only owned by Thomas Cromwell, but memorialized in Hans Holbein's portrait of him.

This comes on the heels of the discovery of letters penned by Mary Queen of Scots last year, and the discovery - by some of the same historians - that Henry's first two queens, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, each had a copy of the same prayer book, printed and bound in France in the late 1520s.

The three books are similar but still very individual, showing just how much hand finishing went into a book in the 16th century. Cromwell's is the only one to retain its original jeweled binding and clasps.

Cromwell's book was located a library at Cambridge University, donated in the 1660s by a relative of Ralph Sadler. Sadler was a member of Cromwell's household since his childhood, and survived his master's fall to serve the king. (What must that have been like?)

I spent a lot of time researching Thomas Cromwell for my novel, a wider world, even though he only made brief appearances. He was, however, the architect of the dissolution of the monasteries, and that event change the course of my main character's life, as Robin Lewis had been raised in a monastery and then returned as one of Cromwell's men. His self-appointed task was to rescue books, so I think he would be happy to know that this book of hours is still in existence.

A man like Cromwell, constantly treading dangerous ground with Henry and the factions aligned against him, must have had a plan for an event such as his arrest. I can only imagine when the news raced back to his house, knowing there was nothing they could do to sway the king's actions, how his household gathered his books and papers and got them safely away where they could not be used to incriminate their employer. How many of them were destroyed on Cromwell's death? How many of them ended up in the libraries of great houses, or great universities, yet to be discovered? 

This is why I love history. It's still happening.

Links to posts by Owen Emmerson Cromwell book) and Kate McCaffrey (queens' books) because they were the ones who made the discoveries, and can speak much more clearly about it than I can. Also a link to the entire digitized book, via the library.

Annunciation page from all 3 books.
L - Catherine of Aragon, M - Anne Boleyn, R - Thomas Cromwell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing these tidbits.