Amongst Anne Boleyn’s collection of books was a beautiful illuminated manuscript of Les Epistres et Evangiles des cinquante et deux sepmaines de l’an (The Epistles and Gospels for the Fifty-two Weeks of the Year) by French theologian and Reformer Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples. Anne’s copy of Les Epistres consists of the dates of the liturgical calendar written in English followed by the Epistle or Gospel in French and Lefèvre’s exhortation. Illuminations include those of Anne’s arms, medallions of the four evangelists, and a miniature of the crucifixion, but what is more interesting to those researching the Boleyns is the dedication.
It was once thought that the manuscript, which has suffered some water damage, was produced for Anne by Henry Parker, Lord Morley, father of Jane Parker (George Boleyn’s wife), but in 1998, with the help of ultraviolet light, James Carley discovered an inscription above the dedication:
“To the right honourable lady, the Lady Marchioness of Pembroke, her most loving and friendly brother sendeth greetings.”
It is clear from those words that the manuscript was produced for Anne by George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, her brother, and not Lord Morley. The visible part of the dedication reads:
Our friendly dealings, with so divers and sundry benefits, besides the perpetual bond of blood, have so often bound me, Madam, inwardly to love you, that in every of them I must perforce become your debtor for want of power, but nothing of my good will. And were it not that by experience your gentleness is daily proved, your meek fashion often times put into use, I might well despair in myself, studying to acquit your deserts towards me, or embolden myself with so poor a thing to present to you. But, knowing these perfectly to reign in you with more, I have been so bold to send unto you, not jewels or gold, whereof you have plenty, not pearl or rich stones, whereof you have enough, but a rude translation of a well-willer, a goodly matter meanly handled, most humbly desiring you with favour to weigh the weakness of my dull wit, and patiently to pardon where any fault is, always considering that by your commandment I have adventured to do this, without the which it had not been in me to have performed it. But that hath had power to make me pass my wit, which like as in this I have been ready to fulfil, so in all other things at all times I shall be ready to obey, praying him on whom this book treats, to grant you many years to his pleasure and shortly to increase in heart’s ease with honour.
It is a useful dedication for historians and researchers because it makes it clear that George produced the manuscript at his sister’s command and it shows their joint interest in evangelical literature. However, it is also important because it gives us a glimpse of the relationship between the siblings.
The dedication refers to Anne as the Marchioness of Pembroke, which was a title she did not receive until 1 September 1532, and it may well be that George translated the manuscript as a gift for her upon her being granted the honour, or as a New Year gift in January 1533. It covertly refers to a possible forthcoming marriage, “shortly to increase in heart’s ease with honour”, and Anne married Henry VIII on 25 January 1533. In the dedication, George sets out beautifully expressed compliments to his obviously much-loved sister. This highly intelligent young man incorporates in the dedication the type of self-deprecation that only the very clever would risk, knowing that it would be received by a recipient who could fully appreciates the false modesty. Be that as it may, George clearly demonstrates an anxiety as to whether his translation will please his sister. He does, however, include the proviso that if there are faults, she is to remember that it was she who asked him for the translation in the first place. The dedication refers to Anne’s, “meek fashion”, for which she was not particularly renowned, and claims that George is not giving her jewels and so on, since she has enough of them. It is possible to read this as a dedication by a younger brother to his sister which is not only caring and affectionate, but also written with a little jovial cheekiness.
Anne’s copy of Les Epistres et Evangiles des cinquante et deux sepmaines de l’an can be found in the British Library (Harley MS 6561). It is a beautiful gift from a loving, but cheeky, younger brother.
(Some of this article is taken from George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway)
Notes and Sources
* Harley MS 6561, folio 2r., Preface by George Boleyn
* “Her moost lovyng and fryndely brother sendeth gretyng – Anne Boleyn’s Manuscripts and Their Sources” by James P. Carley in Illuminating the Book edited by Michelle P. Brown and Scot McKendrick, The British Library and University of Toronto Press, 1998.
I can honestly say that I would not be doing what I’m doing today without Eric Ives. I call his book on Anne Boleyn my “Anne Boleyn Bible” and recommend it all the time to people because it covers every aspect of Anne’s life. I was fortunate to meet Eric twice and I must confess to grilling the poor man over dinner. He was so patient and answered all of my questions. When he spoke to our group he opened his talk by telling us to stop him when we’d had enough because he could talk about Anne Boleyn “until the cows came home”. None of us stopped him, we could have listened to him all night. He was an expert in his field, but he also ‘loved’ Anne Boleyn and it’s this passion for his subject which shines through in his work and which has grabbed people all over the world and pulled them into Anne’s story. He is sorely missed.
NEW RELEASE: George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Clare Cherry: (Source: George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat) Clare lives in Hampshire with her partner David. She works as a solicitor in Dorset, but has a passion for Tudor history and began researching the life of George Boleyn in 2006. She started corresponding with Claire Ridgway in late 2009, after meeting through The Anne Boleyn Files website, and the two Tudor enthusiasts became firm friends. Clare divides her time between the legal profession and researching Tudor history. Clare has written guest articles on George Boleyn for The Anne Boleyn Files, Nerdalicious.com.au, and author Susan Bordo’s The Creation of Anne Boleyn website.
Claire Ridgway: (Source: George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier & Diplomat) Claire is the author of the best-selling books ON THIS DAY IN TUDOR HISTORY, THE FALL OF ANNE BOLEYN: A COUNTDOWN, THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION, and THE ANNE BOLEYN COLLECTION II, as well as INTERVIEWS WITH INDIE AUTHORS: TOP TIPS FROM SUCCESSFUL SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS. Claire was also involved in the English translation and editing of Edmond Bapst’s 19th century French biography of George Boleyn and Henry Howard, now available as TWO GENTLEMAN POETS AT THE COURT OF HENRY VIII.
Claire worked in education and freelance writing before creating The Anne Boleyn Files history website and becoming a full-time history researcher, blogger and author. The Anne Boleyn Files is known for its historical accuracy and Claire’s mission to get to the truth behind Anne Boleyn’s story. Her writing is easy-to-read and conversational, and readers often comment on how reading Claire’s books is like having a coffee with her and chatting about history.
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