Book that helped Henry VIII annul his marriage and challenge the Pope discovered in Cornwall

By Richard Moss | 25 February 2015

A book that helped Henry VIII take on the Pope and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon has been discovered in a library in Cornwall

a photo of an open book with writing in it
The book showing inventory number 282 and Gamon's signature at the bottom© Stephen Haywood. National Trust
When Henry VIII wanted to seek an annulment to his marriage to Catherine of Aragon he sent his agents out across the country to find the religious and philosophical texts that would help him build a case and set in train the events that would eventually lead to a break with Rome.

One of the books they found on their travels was a 1495 summary of works by philosopher and theologian William of Ockham who was a major figure in medieval intellectual and political thought. William argued against the spiritual and temporal supremacy of the pope, insisting on the independence of the authority of the monarch.

Brought to Henry’s libraries – probably between 1528 and 1533, the book, together with other writings, manuscripts and printed material was examined by secretarial staff for any significant information.

Now, centuries later the book – complete with annotations of Henry’s staff inserted at pertinent places – has been found in the library of the Cornish National Trust Property Lanhydrock.

Having been in the collection at Lanhydrock for many years, 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 the 2,500-strong collection.

a photo of a pair of hands holding a leather bound book
Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager holds the book that helped King Henry VIII to build his case against the Pope© Stephen Haywood, National Trust
Professor Carley identified annotations an inventory number inside the book which corresponds to the inventory prepared in 1542 for Henry VIII’s chief library at Westminster Palace.

Describing his discovery as “thrilling” Professor James Carley said, “the book is important not only for its provenance but for the notes entered in it by Henry VIII’s advisors and no doubt intended for him to see. 

“They draw attention to precisely the sort of issues that were so relevant to the King’s policies in the years leading up to the break with Rome.”

Secretarial staff to the King would insert wavy lines, signs and short marginal notes at pertinent places, and although nothing was found in Henry’s handwriting it does contain a number of the characteristic wavy lines accompanied by the # symbol commonly used by the annotators.

Two examples of pieces of text highlighted in the Lanhydrock book are translated as ‘When a synod is greater than the pope’.  The second reads ‘When it is permitted to withdraw from obedience to the pope.’ An examination of the top right hand corner of the fly-leaf also revealed the inventory number 282, which corresponds to its place in an inventory of the Upper Library at Westminster Palace taken in 1542: ‘Epitome Occham.’

It is thought many books left the Royal Library in the second half of the fifteenth century and passed into private hands and at some point in the seventeenth century the book was acquired by Hannibal Gamon, whose signature is on the title page.

Gamon lectured in theology at Oxford before becoming Rector of St Mawgan in North Cornwall and was probably a chaplain to 1st Earl Robartes whose family owned Lanhydrock in Cornwall. Gamon collected many early scholarly books, which he bequeathed to the Robartes family.

The book will now form the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Lanhydrock exploring unusual works with Royal themes from the Library.

a photo of an exterior Tudor House with formal garden
Lanhydrock, Cornwall. © National Trust Images, Rupert Truman
a photo of a man holding a leather bound book
Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager at Lanhydrock with the book© Stephen Haywood National Trust
a photo of an open page of a book with annotation magnified
Annotations made by Henry VIII's secretarial staff in the margins of the book© Stephen Haywood, National Trust
A corner of a page with the mark No 383 in old handwriting
The clue - an inventory mark of Henry VIII - that led to the discovery© Stephen Haywood, National Trust

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