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The Royal Collection of Manuscripts

Introduction The Royal Library
under the Tudors
The Royal Library
in the Stuart Era
Further reading



The Beginnings of the Royal Library

Royal Manuscripts before Edward IV
Edward IV: Foundation of the Royal Library

Royal Manuscripts before Edward IV



Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI receiving a book from John Talbot
Royal 15 E. vi, f. 2v

The number of manuscripts inherited by Edward IV that can be associated firmly with his predecessors is very small. They include three volumes owned or appropriated by Richard II (Royal 20 B. vi, Royal 19 B. xiii and Royal 20 D. iv), one that belonged to Henry VI (Royal 1 E. ix), and several other manuscripts that may have been owned by Henry V (perhaps Royal 20 B. iv, his son Henry VI (perhaps Royal 13 B. iii and Royal 16 G. vi), or his wife Margaret of Anjou (see Royal 15 E. vi).

Only one volume from the French royal library of Charles V, which was purchased by John, Duke of Bedford, the regent of France during Henry VI’s minority, remained in a continuous possession of the English royal family (Royal 19 C. vi). Three other Charles V’s manuscripts in the Old Royal Library were later acquisitions (the Lancelot-Grail cycle, Royal 14 E. iii; the Histoire ancienne, Royal 20 D. i, and the Bible Historiale, Royal 17 E. vii).

Records show that earlier monarchs owned collections of books, but also document a long-persisting practice of distributing manuscripts among their subjects and religious institutions. As a result, more manuscripts associated with the English kings prior to Edward IV can be found outside than inside the Royal collection at the British Library.

The earliest evidence for storage and safe-keeping of usually sequesterd manuscripts comes from the accounts of John the Flete, Keeper of the Privy Wardrobe for the Tower of London (1324-41). The first mention of a working library for a king is the description of a novum stadium (new study) furnished for Henry IV at Eltham Palace in 1401-1402. Henry V’s last will reveals that the king owned a collection of manuscripts that after his death were distributed between his religious foundations, Oxford University and his unborn child (see Royal 1 E. ix). Henry VI continued his father’s practice and donated over 100 manuscripts to the King’s Hall, Cambridge, and All Souls’ College, Oxford (mostly books sequestered after the capture of Meaux in 1422). The libraria the King inherited from his father was almost entirely dispersed during his reign.
Royal 20 B. vi, f. 2
Philippe de Mézières, Epistre au roi Richart (Letter to King Richard II)
Royal 20 B. vi, f. 2

Royal 19 B. xiii, f. 3v
Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose
Royal 19 B. xiii, f. 3v

Royal 20 D. iv, f. 1
Lancelot du Lac
Royal 20 D. iv, f. 1

Royal 1E. ix, f. 64
The Big Bible
Royal 1E. ix, f. 64

Royal 13 B. iii, f. 2
William de Nangis, Gesta sancti Luduvici et regis Philippi
Royal 13 B. iii, f. 2

Royal 15 E. vi, f. 2v
the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book’
Royal 15 E. vi, f. 2v

Royal 2 B.ii, f. 8
'The Psalter of Humfrey of Gloucester'
Royal 2 B.ii, f. 8

Royal 19 C. iv, f. 2
Le Songe du Vergier, attributed to Evrart de Trémaugon
Royal 19 C. iv, f. 2

Edward IV: Foundation of the Royal Library



Edward IV receiving the book
Royal 15 E iv. f. 14

Nearly 50 large-scale historical and literary manuscripts that were commissioned, acquired, or associated with Edward IV (1461-70, 1471-83) survived in the Old Royal library, forming its nucleus. They were all lavishly illuminated by commercial craftsmen, working in one of the most important artistic centres in Europe at the time, the Flemish town of Bruges.

From the beginning of his reign Edward IV had close ties to the Duchy of Burgundy. In 1468 his sister, Margaret, married Charles the Bold, the heir of Philip the Good, and Edward became one of the knights of the Golden Fleece. During his political misadventure and exile in 1470, Edward stayed in Bruges as a host of Louis de Gruuthuse (d. 1492), one of the most renowned collectors of illuminated manuscripts.

The King’s most significant artistic commissions and building campaigns date from the second part of his reign and are doubtless indebt to his Burgundian experience. Edward’s most intense acquisitions of manuscripts in Bruges took place in the last years of his life. Of the twenty-one books that bear his arms, five are dated to 1479 and one to 1480. These dates coincide with documented payments to ‘Philip Maisertuell’ (perhaps the Bruges illuminator Philippe de Mazerolles) ‘for certaine boks by the said Philip to be provided to the kings use in the partees beyond the see’. Heraldic evidence in two of Edward’s manuscripts (Royal 17 F. ii and John Soane’s Museum, vol. 135) suggests a role played by Louis de Gruuthuse in the formation of the King’s collection.

Edward’s manuscripts were probably kept together at his palace at Eltham. The Wardrobe Accounts for 1480 mention payments relating to the transportation of books to this newly refurbished residence.
Royal 12 E. xv, f. 19
Pseudo-Aristotle, Secretum Secretorum and other texts
Royal 12 E. xv, f. 19

Royal 15 E. iv, f. 14
Jean de Wavrin, Recuil des croniques d’Engleterre
Royal 15 E. iv, f. 14

Royal 17 F. ii, f. 9
La grande hystoire Cesar
Royal 17 F. ii, f. 9

Royal 19 E. v, f. 367v
Benvenuto da Imola, Romuleon
Royal 19 E. v, f. 367v

Royal 16 G. iii, f. 8
La vie de notre seigneur Jhesucrist, La vengance de la mort Jhesu Christ
Royal 16 G. iii, f. 8

Royal 16 G. viii, f. 255
Commentaire de César, transl. by Jean Duchesne (or Du Quesne)
Royal 16 G. viii, f. 255


Introduction The Royal Library
under the Tudors
The Royal Library
in the Stuart Era
Further reading

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