Henry VIII’s reading

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
Lambeth Palace Library: [ZZ]1493.1, f. 140v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles

By kind permission of Lambeth Palace Library

All Our Chronicles

This copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is fascinating primarily because of its owner – Henry VIII. The book was brought to England probably at the request of Henry’s chief adviser Thomas Cromwell in 1530 and was then included in Henry VIII’s Royal Library, as is evident from the shelf mark on the title page. Having been kept in the Royal Library until the late 16th century, the book ended up in hands of Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bancroft (1544-1610), who must have borrowed the Chronicle from the Royal Library and never returned it back. Finally, the book was bequeathed to Lambeth Palace Library as part of Bancroft’s collection. 

“Take note about bigamists’ – wrote someone, most probably addressing to Henry VIII”

It is tempting to read the 16th-century marginalia on this page in light of Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce.  The note reads:  ‘[not]a de biggamis’ or ‘take note about bigamists’ and refers to Pope Gelasius’s decision about the consecration of priests with two wives. Marginalia on the other pages in the same hand include the words ‘Anglia’ inserted near information on English history, and an inscription ‘nota de sede romana’ (‘take note about the Roman chair’) near a paragraph on Boniface III, the first Roman bishop to proclaim supremacy over Constantinople. Even though the handwriting is not Henry’s, it is possible that these notes were made for him to indicate the places he could read on his ‘great matter’:  divorce and then England’s break with Rome.


The copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle that we have gathered here have been read by people across Western and Eastern Europe – fittingly so for a History of the World.  Different readers across Europe looked for different information in their copies of the Chronicle, but despite the geographical spread the mode of reading was often very similar.