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The book that helped Henry VIII annul his marriage

a photo of the frontispiece of an old book

The William Oakham book (circa 1495) once held in the Westminster Library of Henry VIII discovered at Lanhydrock in Cornwall. Annotated marks in an unknown hand are thought to be the King’s or one of his Clerks. The book was part of a gallery in Lanhydrock’s collections since the 17th Century.

A key text in the turbulent history of Henry VIII has been found in Cornwall

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.

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 close up of an annotation in an old book margin

The book showing inventory number 282. Copyright Stephen Haywood / National Trust

Professor Carley identified annotations and 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.

a photo of an old book with annotation highlighted via a magnifying glass

Page showing marks made in the margin, © Steven Haywood / National Trust

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.

a photo of a man holding a book open in a library

Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager at Lanhydrock with the book. © Steven Haywood, National Trust


Lanhydrock - National Trust

Bodmin, Cornwall

One of the most fascinating and complete late 19th-century houses in England, Lanhydrock is full of period atmosphere. Although the gatehouse and north wing (with magnificent 32yd-long gallery with plaster ceiling) survive from the 17th century, the rest of the house was rebuilt following a disastrous fire in 1881. The…













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