Love Letters of Henry VIII

Among the most celebrated possessions of the Vatican Library is a sheaf of 17 love letters written by King Henry VIII of England to his future second wife Anne Boleyn. The package, Vat.lat.3731.pt.A, was digitized and issued online late on March 15.

The BAV library has made no announcement. I am breaking the news here on the world's only portal  that monitors their largely unnoticed digital program.

There can be no doubt the documents are genuine and date from 1527-28. Here is Henry's sign-off: "Written with the hand of him [which desireth as much to be yours as you do to have him],  H. AB  R."
How they got to Rome is anyone's guess (perhaps stolen by a Boleyn confidant, probably taken via France, since French notes are attached). For centuries, Vatican librarians have been showing them to impress high-ranking English visitors to Rome. Now at last, the rest of us can be titillated too.

The reference to "pretty dukkys" in the screenshot above from folio 15 employs dug, the conventional 16th-century English word for a woman's breast. The whole sentence has Henry "wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss."

Devious Henry ends another letter: "No more to you at this present, mine own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in mine arms, or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you" (From Letter 16 as transcribed on The Anne Boleyn Files, which also has a debate about demanding their return to England.)

The story of Henry's seduction ended, as we know, badly. Henry divorced, wed Anne, but dumped her and had her beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536.

My unofficial list (the only list, since the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana issues none) of all  32 digitizations on March 15 follows. I will add more details as I have time: 
  1. Barb.lat.4432, Leonardo Bufalini's 1551 map of Rome, the first ever printed. None of the first printing survives and only three copies of the second printing (two at Vatican, one at British Library). This one is bound with an 1880 monograph describing it. Here is the Colosseum and Meta Sudans as they then were:
  2. Borg.arm.65, with this wonderful Armenian angel:
  3. Cappon.307, monumental inscriptions, many Greek
  4. Reg.lat.26, illuminated bible in Old French, 13th or 14th century. Here is Jonah being swallowed by the whale on fol. 178r (the silver has turned black):
  5. Urb.lat.90, Bernard of Clairvaux, Renaissance manuscript
  6. Urb.lat.219, Seneca, Letters, 15th C
  7. Urb.lat.245, Pliny the Younger, Natural History, manuscript dated 1440
  8. Urb.lat.265, Vitello, Optica, 14th century, with many diagrams like this at fol. 19r
  9. Urb.lat.316, Cicero, Letters, 1453
  10. Urb.lat.322, Cicero, Letters, 15th century
  11. Urb.lat.335, Quintilian, Speeches, 15th century
  12. Urb.lat.385, Rufinus Latin of Eusebius, History of the Church
  13. Urb.lat.405, Piccolomini's history of Frederick III, 15th century
  14. Urb.lat.488, Origen of Alexandria in Rufinus translation
  15. Urb.lat.490, Urban of Urbanus, commentary
  16. Urb.lat.499, Nicolò di Vito Gozzi
  17. Urb.lat.504, On Zeno of Verona, plus section by Basil the Great
  18. Urb.lat.511, Bartholomew of San Concordio, moral treatise with alphabetical list of conscience issues
  19. Urb.lat.534, Antony de Sancto Leone
  20. Urb.lat.543, Canticles, glossed
  21. Vat.ebr.530.pt.1, collection of unbound fragments and quires from various manuscripts and books, including what seems to be a 17th-century textbook with a schoolroom picture that depicts two Jewish schoolboys greeting one another with high fives:
  22. Vat.gr.357, Gospels, Pinakes
  23. Vat.gr.2365,
  24. Vat.lat.441, Augustine of Hippo, City of God
  25. Vat.lat.449, Augustine, On Genesis
  26. Vat.lat.481, Augustine, On Gospel of John
  27. Vat.lat.487, Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum
  28. Vat.lat.550, Leo the Great, Sermons
  29. Vat.lat.560, Boethius, De Trinitate, etc
  30. Vat.lat.563, Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy
  31. Vat.lat.3467, the Count Paschasio Diaz Garion Psalter, a Latin prayer-book from Spanish Naples with illuminations by Matteo Felice, including a fine Virga Jesse as frontispiece: Here are some Judaean kings perched in the tree:
    In a full page composite Passion Week illumination, we see Judas hiding his face when the photo is taken at the Last Supper:
  32. Vat.lat.3731.pt.A, Henry VIII's autograph letters to Anne Boleyn with French translations. See also Rome Reborn from an exhibition in Washington. One letter was briefly lent in 2009 to the British Museum.
If you have corrections or additions, please use the comments box below. Follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin) for news of more additions to Digita Vaticana. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 42.]

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