CHICC digitising the newly discovered letters of King Henry VIII

Katie Taylor and the letter signed by Henry VIII. Image courtesy of The National Trust

You may have read recently in the news, about a fascinating discovery in the collections of the  National Trust’s Dunham Massy. We are delighted to have the opportunity to be working with the National Trust again, and tomorrow (13th March 2012) we will be taking our equipment over to Dunham Massey, to digitise the wonderful letters.

Dunham Massey House Steward, Katie Taylor discovered them a few weeks ago in a folio of letters in one of Dunham’s Picture Stores.

“ I was going through the letters in the folio, and these two signatures jumped out at me” says Katie. “I was almost sure they were signed by King Henry VIII, and Queen Jane Seymour, but called in an expert in these matters, our very own John Hodgson from the John Rylands’ Library.

John confirmed that they were indeed the genuine article. King Henry’s letter is signed as being in the 34th year of his reign  – 1543 . Each of the letters is written on very thick and robust paper, and both  have been kept flat and stored carefully away  – which shows they were held in high esteem by the family at Dunham.

The letters are addressed to George Booth Esq, the grandfather of Sir George Booth who built the first house here at Dunham in 1600. The letter signed by Henry VIII is a ‘muster’, a call to arms to landlords to raise troops from their tenants to fight.  These were the days before a professional standing army had been introduced – so defence fell to ordinary men.  It was a hangover from the days of feudalism when landlords ‘owned’ their tenants (known as Serfdom).  Henry was trying to raise troops for his war against Scotland (which was allied to his old enemy France).

The letter ‘From the Queene’ (Jane Seymour) announces the birth of a son- the future King Edward VI.  It is not signed by her but written on her behalf. These are generic announcements I think, but still very exciting to have Henry VIII’s actual signature.

These documents are older than any of our buildings at Dunham and almost the oldest things in our collection”.

The letters form part of a new exhibition at Dunham Massey marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year. Using items from collections and archive material at Dunham, the exhibition, ‘Faithful & Obedient’, takes a look at the often tempestuous relationships that the two great families of Dunham Massey – the Booths and the Greys – have had with reigning monarchs down the centuries.

Based on the evidence before them, visitors to the exhibition will be asked if they think the families really were the ‘faithful and obedient’ servants they professed to be – or whether they had their own agenda in the pursuit of power.

The ‘Faithful & Obedient’ exhibition is open at Dunham Massey Hall on Sat – Weds, 11am – 5pm. Dunham’s Winter Garden, restaurant and shop are open daily. For details, visit Dunham Massey’s website.

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