Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

The Politics of Dedicating Printed Books and Manuscripts to King Henry VII

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

The Politics of Dedicating Printed Books and Manuscripts to King Henry VII

Article excerpt

In the last two decades, much work has been done on the analysis of the books and manuscripts of King Henry VII and his contributions to the Royal Library. Scholars have examined the types of books he collected and why (1) My own work seeks to fill a gap in all of this very interesting and useful historiography. This essay examines a very specific portion of Henry VI[GAMMA]s library: the printed books and manuscripts that were dedicated to him. These are texts not necessarily that Henry chose but that were often chosen for him. Texts dedicated to Henry VII generally came from two types of gifters, those who knew his interests and authors who may not have known his interests yet suggested texts that they thought Henry should read and support. More specifically, I am interested only in books and manuscripts that have textual dedications, not just armorials or miniatures directed to the king. Examining texts dedicated to Henry VII offers another point of view of the intersection of print and manuscript at the turn of the sixteenth century.

Recently, Julia Boffey suggests that early sixteenth century readers saw no distinct difference between manuscripts and printed books, as evidence exists that readers stored them together, bound them together, and read them together (2) Printed books and manuscripts could be purchased from the same vendors, and print most likely offered only the increased availability of books (3) For royalty, print presented a new medium for exerting political power, by which monarchs and their governments claimed authority and distributed information (4) In 1490, King Henry VII became the first monarch to have the statutes of Parliament translated into English and printed so that all citizens could be informed of laws. (5) One year earlier, he had used print to prepare his people for an upcoming military campaign in France. Henry had the earl of Oxford give William Caxton a French manuscript version of Christine de Pisan's Faits d'armes et de chevalerie for Caxton to translate into English and print. (6) The prologue of Caxton's translation explains that the text was meant to instruct men how to behave in battle. (7)

Besides being a proponent of the printing press, it is well known that Henry VII was a collector of books and a contributor to the Royal Library. Janet Backhouse shows that Henry was very interested in acquiring printed books, unlike his predecessor, Edward IV, who was interested in collecting deluxe manuscripts. Yet she categorizes Henry more as a librarian rather than as a collector, because Henry focused on purchasing printed books and using them for reference instead of displaying them as desirable objects. (8) The only books that Henry showed any interest in collecting were those printed by the Parisian printer Antoine Verard, probably because of Henry's interest in French culture, as he had spent time in exile in France. (9) As for Henry VII's manuscripts, those were primarily given to him as gifts by men who expected something in return, except for a few devotional manuscripts that were cherished family possessions and meant to be kept within the family. (10) James Carley, in his works on the libraries of King Henry VIII, also demonstrates how Henry VI[GAMMA]s collection of printed books and manuscripts was absorbed into that of his son. (11) I seek to add to this body of scholarship by examining specifically the printed books and manuscripts that were dedicated to Henry VII.

Henry VII probably developed his appreciation for books under the influence of his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. (12) Lady Margaret's name is directly associated with ten printed books. In seven books she is mentioned in the colophon as having commanded the printing or paid for a print run, or as a patron of the printer. Three other books have dedications to her. She even had her own royal printer, Wynkyn de Worde, whom she appointed in 1509. While Lady Margaret was involved with printing for the sake of passing on vernacular literature and religious tracts, Henry used the press to legitimize his authority by having official documents and parliamentary statutes printed. …

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