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The Royal Collection of Manuscripts

Introduction The Beginnings of
the Royal Library
The Royal Library
in the Stuart Era
Further reading



The Royal Library under the Tudors

Henry VII: Formalization of the Royal Library
Henry VIII: The Old Royal Library at the Dissolution of Monasteries
Later Tudor Acquisitions: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I

Henry VII: Formalization of the Royal Library



Henry VII’s arms
Royal 19 B. xvi, f. 1v

The brief reign of Richard III (1483-1485) did not make any significant impact on the surviving collection of royal manuscripts. Only two books in the Old Royal library can be firmly associated with the Yorkist King: a copy of Vegatius’s De re militari in English (Royal 18 A. xii) and the Grandes chroniques de France which he owned as the Duke of Gloucester (Royal 20 C. vii).

In contrast, from the beginning of his reign Henry VII (1485-1509) was keen to continue building up an impressive royal library. In 1492, he appointed a dedicated librarian, Quentin Poulet, a scribe and illuminator from Lille. The King’s main library was established at the new palace of Richmond built on the site of Henry V’s manor house at Sheen, which perished in fire of 1497. He may have also furnished libraries at the Tower, in Windsor and Greenwich.

Henry appears to have moved the collection of Edward IV’s Burgundian manuscripts to Richmond, merging it with his new acquisitions. The first surviving Tudor inventory of books, a list of French books at Richmond which was compiled by a French visitor to England in 1535 reflects perhaps the contents of this library. The collection may have remained in the palace until the mid-17th century.

At least 19 illuminated manuscripts acquired by Henry VII survive in the Old Royal library. However, the king is mostly known for his purchases of printed books including around 20 volumes from the shop of the Parisian printer Antoine Vérard, some of which are printed on vellum and illuminated.
Royal 16 F. ii, f. 89
Charles, Duke of Orléans, Poems, and other texts
Royal 16 F. ii, f. 89

Royal 19 C. viii, f. 1
Imaginacion de vraye noblesse, attributed to Hugues de Lannoy, with a preface by Quentin Poulet
Royal 19 C. viii, f. 1

Royal 19 B. xvi, f. 2
Miroir des dames (Durand de Champage, Speculum dominarum)
Royal 19 B. xvi, f. 2

Royal 19 A. xxii, f. 1
Jean de Meun, Sept articles de la foy
Royal 19 A. xxii, f. 1

Royal 19 A. v, f. 1v
Aldobrandinus of Siena, Livre de physique (Régime du corps)
Royal 19 A. v, f. 1v

Royal 19 C. vi, f. 17
Xenophon, translated by Claude de Seyssel, Anabasis
Royal 19 C. vi, f. 17

Henry VIII: The Old Royal Library at the Dissolution of Monasteries



Henry VIII
Royal 2 A. xvi, f. 3

Around 20 % of the Old Royal library manuscript holding entered the collection under Henry VIII (1509-47), more than can be associated with any other monarch. The first surviving inventories of books and manuscripts of some of the royal libraries also date from his reign.

Henry’s manuscripts came mainly from three sources: inheritance, gifts and new commissions, and acquisitions from the libraries of dissolved monasteries. The King’s first librarian, Giles Duwes, was appointed to his office specifically at Richmond, but his successor, William Tyldesley, who took up the job in 1534, was ‘the keeper of the King’s library in the manor of Richmond or elsewhere’. At that time, the King’s libraries were also flourishing at other royal palaces and residences, such as Whitehall, Hampton Court and Greenwich.

Henry commissioned or was presented with lavishly illuminated manuscripts (such as Royal 2 A. xvi, Royal 11 E. xi and Royal 12 C. viii, but the vast majority of books assembled by him were of monastic origin and of more modest quality. The first influx of monastic books that took place in the early 1530s resulted, in part, from Henry’s search for legal and exegetical texts to support the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. At this time the antiquary John Leland was granted a commission to search libraries of religious institutions for relevant texts (1533 and 1536). The declaration of the royal supremacy over the English church led to a complete dissolution of monasteries and in consequence to the sequestration or acquisition of their books, either directly or indirectly.

In 1536 the refurbished palace of Whitehall (which incorporated parts of the Westminster palace destroyed by fire) was declared the King’s principal seat by an Act of Parliament. A general inventory of the palace made in 1542 contains an inventory of its Upper Library, which comprised both books and manuscripts (nos 1-908). The inventory (edited by Carley 2000) was divided into two parts organized alphabetically (573 and 335 items respectively). The numbers in the inventory correspond to numbers inscribed in manuscripts (see Royal 2 C. x below). A group of around 272 books survive with numbers between 917 and 1450 (see Royal 13 D. iv). These manuscripts probably entered the Upper Library after Henry’s death, when the new librarian Bartholomew Traheron was granted a patent (1549) empowering him to assemble books from other royal palaces in one central library at Westminster.
Royal 2 A. xvi, f. 3
Psalter of Henry VIII
Royal 2 A. xvi, f. 3

Royal 20 E. ix, ff. 35v-36
Jean Rotz, Boke of Idrography (The 'Rotz Atlas')
Royal 20 E. ix, ff. 35v-36

Royal 11 E. xi, f. 2
Motets
Royal 11 E. xi, f. 2

Royal 2 C. x, f. 1
Claudius of Turin Commentary on Matthew
Royal 2 C. x, f. 1

Royal 8 G. iii
Petrus Aureoli, Compendium litterale totius Scripture
Royal 8 G. iii

Royal 1 C. vii, f. 1
The Rochester Bible
Royal 1 C. vii, f. 1

Royal 13 D. iv, f. 2
John of Salisbury, Policraticus
Royal 13 D. iv, f. 2

Royal 20 C. vi, f. 1
The 'Welles Apocalypse'
Royal 20 C. vi, f. 1

Later Tudor Acquisitions: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I



Edward VI receiving a book from the author William Forrest
Royal 17 D. iii, f. 7v

Only a handful of medieval and early modern manuscripts entered the Old Royal library during the successive reigns of Henry VIII’s children. The royal library itself, however, was subject to important changes, especially at the beginning of this period. Edward VI’s (1547-1553) accession was followed by a systematic centralization of the royal collection of manuscripts at the Westminster Upper Library under the supervision of the librarian, Bartholomew Traheron (see above).

Traheron, a committed Protestant, was also involved in implementing the ‘Acte for the abolishinge and puttinge awaye of diverse Bookes and Images’ of 1550, which was promulgated as a part of the establishment of the use of the Book of Common Prayer. Even the royal library was affected by the new law. In 1551 the Privy Council ordered ‘the purging of his Highnes Librarie at Westminster of all superstitiouse bookes, as masse bookes, legendes, and suche like’. Although generally liturgical and devotional books were kept in private chambers or chapels instead of in a library room, their virtual absence from the Royal collection may have also resulted from this legislation. The majority of surviving service and prayer books are later acquisitions, such as the two illuminated Psalters (Royal 2 B.ii and Royal 2 B. vii) presented to the catholic Queen Mary (1553-1558).

The only surviving inventory of the Royal collection from this period, of ‘the newe librarye placed by T. Kny. (probably Thomas Knyvett, Keeper of Whitehall Palace (d. 1622)), dates from the reign of Elizabeth I and refers uniquely to printed books stored in the so-called New Library at Westminster.
Royal 16 E. xxxii, f. 1v
Isocrates, Ad Nicoclem and Nicocles, in the French translation of Louis le Roy
Royal 16 E. xxxii, f. 1v

Royal 2 B. vii, f. 67v
The Queen Mary Psalter
Royal 2 B. vii, f. 67v

Royal 2 B. iii, f. 37v
Psalter
Royal 2 B. iii, f. 37v

Royal 1 A. xii, f. 32v
New Testament, in the later Wycliffite version
Royal 1 A. xii, f. 32v


Introduction The Beginnings of
the Royal Library
The Royal Library
in the Stuart Era
Further reading

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