Today Tudor Chronicles welcomes Sandra Vasoli, author of ‘Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower’ on her book tour. Sandra has written a wonderful article about the British Library and how Sandra came to view Anne’s Book of Hours.Sandra’s book is available in either paperback or Kindle and published by MadeGlobal Publishing.
Here is Sandra in her own words about the British Library and Viewing Original Documents.
The British Library, adjacent to St Pancras Station in Euston Road, London, is the national library of the United Kingdom. It is truly a place of amazement and delight for individuals of all ages. It’s the largest library in the world based upon the number of catalogued items. They total over 170 million, and are held in many languages and formats.
(illustration The British Library http://static.trustedreviews.com/94/b5ce19/eb6b/british-library-01.jpg)
Maybe most spectacular is the Library’s collection of historical manuscripts and artefacts. There are precious holdings which date as far back as 2,000 BC. The Library often puts selected pieces on display, creating opportunities for people to see things which are astonishing by virtue of their age and importance in the history of humankind.
(Illustration British Library glass stacks http://www.educationbash.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Yale-Rare-Book-Manuscript-Library-4.jpg)
With regard to early manuscripts, papers and documents, the Library shines. Very convenient to the interested person or serious researcher, there are digitized versions of documents available which have contributed to history all over the world, because the British Library partners with major educational settings globally. In addition, the research staffs from various departments within the Library are enormously helpful in supporting people in their studies .
The Library’s website is well worth poring over, especially for anyone interested in seeing early documents. One of my personal areas of interest and delight includes viewing early illuminated manuscripts. Once logged into the Library’s website, go to the page ‘Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts’ http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/welcome.htm. There, you can key in a time period, or the name of a historical figure, and you will have a chance to see any and all documents or items which pertained to that person or time.
For another fascinating computer-based search, visit the tab ‘Services’, and ‘Images Online’. This will provide an endless array of options to explore. As a point of example, if you are a fan of Anne Boleyn, type her name in the box designated for ‘Search Images Online’, and you will be rewarded with 22 wonderful items to discover and view, including paintings, letters and a gorgeous image of the tiny, gold –bound book of hours that Anne was said to hand to one of her ladies while she was on the scaffold awaiting her death.
(illustration Anne’s book https://bookaddictionuk.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/untitled-picture.png)
How did I become acquainted with the magnificent British Library? In 2011, I had begun research to write the first of my two-part series of a novel of Anne Boleyn. The book, Je Anne Boleyn: Struck With the Dart of Love, is a memoir about Anne’s relationship with Henry VIII. I became very interested in the book of hours which it is reputed Anne owned, and in which both she and Henry wrote flirtatious inscriptions to each other. I had learned that this book is owned and held by the British Library, and I decided to attempt to see it. I had no idea whether this effort would work, but I spoke with the staff in Research Services and received my instructions about what was required to receive a Reader’s Pass for the Manuscripts Reading Room. As a part of my planned visit to London, I went to the Library, with necessary documents and information in hand. A last minute requirement caused me a great deal of panic, as my heart was now set on seeing this book, and it appeared that I might not be admitted. But due to the help of a London based friend, I was able to complete all my verification paperwork, and lo and behold, I entered the Reading Room.
For me, at least, this was a marvelous, but daunting experience. There was a reverential hush throughout the lovely, brightly lit space. Many students of all ages were situated in study carrels, which have been designed for the purpose of safely and carefully viewing precious, ancient documents. I was assigned a seat, and placed my scant belongings (at that time, the only items permitted were a notebook, number 2 pencils, eyeglasses, and a magnifying glass. Now, I believe, laptops or pads are permitted). I submitted my request, using the Library catalogue number, through the internal computer system, and then checked with the staff at the desk, where I was told to wait, and that I would be summoned if and when my request was approved. I nervously waited at my station, and looked about , craning to glimpse what incredible items others were studying. I was dumbfounded, seeing the ancient Greek, Latin, medieval, and even Egyptian hieroglyph manuscripts opened with people scrutinizing them, busily making notes.
After a short wait, I was asked to approach the desk. The pleasant young woman handed me a small box. She lifted the lid, and there, lying in its cardboard covering, was a leatherbound volume. My heart pounded, and I looked at her questioningly. She said, “certainly, you may take it and look at it. You are the only one permitted to handle it, please do not allow anyone else to touch. Use the tips of your clean, dry fingers only, and touch as little as possible.” She handed me a ‘snake’ of smooth pebbles strung together which are placed across the pages to hold them open. I returned to my desk, barely breathing.
I will never forget the feeling I had when when I opened the book. The binding had been replaced during the reign of George I in the early 1700’s (his inscription was on the binding), so that was not original. But the pages! They were of the smoothest, highest quality vellum, which is lamb or kidskin. And the illuminations – well, they were nearly indescribable. My magnifying glass was critical, because the book was small, smaller than the size of one’s hand, and the illustrations were painted with stupendous detail. The colours were so vibrant that the blues almost hurt the eyes, and the gold leaf, of which there was a great deal, shone and gleamed. This clearly was a book which had been enormously costly, and had been taken great care of in its day. Slowly and carefully I turned the pages, marveling over every one, until I came to the page illustrated with the image of Mary, with the archangel and the dove of the Holy Spirit seeking to gain her attention, to tell her that she would have a Son. The illustration was beautiful – but below… there was Anne’s handwriting! It was before my own eyes, and I realized that she had touched the very page I had just touched, and had written a message to Henry, her love – meant only for him. It was an unimaginable moment for me. And from then on, my concept about research was never the same. I looked at the words she had written:
By daily proof you shall me find
To be to you both loving and kind
(illustration Anne’s Page in Book of Hours http://41.media.tumblr.com/f359953b92731fb7293072eb5fa8e0c5/tumblr_nojudaWm8Y1rnltc5o1_1280.jpg)
Paging onward, it was difficult, because I wanted to study each leaf, yet I was anxious to find Henry’s inscription. That lay further on in the book – almost at the end. Finally, I turned a page and there it was. The ink had faded to a soft grey, and the nib he had used was sharper – Anne’s letters were broad – but on the page with the bleeding and flayed Christ, he had written in French :
“If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you,
I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R. forever.”
(illustration Henry’s page in Book of Hours http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/annebs_large.jpg)
I studied his writing, and the entire book, as long as I was able. Finally, I had to relinquish it, and return it to the Manuscripts desk. I had taken copious notes, which today I treasure. I have been told that it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain permission to view many of those priceless and singular documents.
Once I had an opportunity to reflect on what I had seen, I was struck by something which I feel the book told me. The story of this Book of Hours, as repeated by historians, is that the book belonged to Anne before 1529. Once their romance had commenced, and in Mass one morning, she wrote Henry her message in the book and passed it to him. He found her note, and seeing as he was already doing business and signing documents (as apparently he did during morning Mass) he penned the response, and sent the book back to her. After having held this lovely item and having viewed it closely, I found that I disagreed with this legend. My first strong realization was that this particular book, lavishly illustrated, with gorgeous,expensive, and numerous pages, was too costly to belong to anyone but royalty. Therefore, the story that it was Anne’s prior to 1529 I find erroneous. (If compared to the Books of Hours she did in fact own, and are kept at Hever, it is quite apparent that they are much less extravagant than this one). I believe the book was owned by Henry. The second deviation I find is that Books of Hours were not typically used at Mass. Instead, congregants used Missals, which followed the rites of the Mass. The Henry and Anne volume is clearly a Book of Hours, which was intended to be carried throughout the day, to refer to when praying at differing times and locations. This causes me to doubt the legend of the exchange at Mass. The pages of the book were not well worn, therefore I don’t believe it was often used, but instead was a beautiful belonging of Henry’s. I think he decided to give her the Book, and wrote his message in it when he was wooing her. I feel that Anne received it, and took her time in selecting a page on which to respond, as well as the message she would inscribe before she returned it to Henry. These inscriptions were not done hastily, it is easy to see when studying them.
What happened to this beautiful object? How did it come to remain with us today? I don’t know, but my guess is that Henry gifted it to Anne after he had read her wonderful, promising inscription. Perhaps she then gave it to someone close to her, or perhaps it was left in her belongings after her death and saved for her daughter Elizabeth who ensured its safety.
I learned that day, not only about the Book itself, but just how much the study of original documents can inform our assessment of history. It makes all the difference!
Sandra Vasoli, author of Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower, earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and biology from Villanova University before embarking on a thirty-five-year career in human resources for a large international company.
Having written essays, stories, and articles all her life, Vasoli was prompted by her overwhelming fascination with the Tudor dynasty to try her hand at writing both historical fiction and non-fiction. While researching what would eventually become her Je Anne Boleyn series, Vasoli was granted unprecedented access to the Papal Library. There she was able to read the original love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn—an event that contributed greatly to her research and writing.
Vasoli currently lives in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two greyhounds.
A huge thank you to Sandra for her words.
Sandra’s book tour will continue all week with visits to the following sites
Anne Boleyn’s Letter from the Tower is available now and can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Boleyns-Letter-Tower-Assessment/dp/8494372157/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1442061382&sr=8-1&keywords=sandra+vasoli
Our review of the book will be up later in the week but in the meantime MadeGlobal Publishing have offered one copy of the book as a competition, for further details please head over to http://www.facebook.com/TudorChronicles to enter, one winner will be selected at random after the competition closes at midnight on September 18th and will be contacted after this date.