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Book used by Henry VIII’s lawyers in break with Rome found in Cornwall library

Catherine of Aragon: Henry's lawyers used Ockham

An American scholar has discovered a book used by Henry VIII’s lawyers to justify the divorce that led to his break with Rome in a library in Cornwall.

The book, on the theories of the medieval philosopher and theologian William of Ockham, was discovered by Professor James Carley at Lanhydrock, a National Trust mansion in south-west England.

Although the book was damaged in a fire in 1881, the fly-leaf survived, with a number which, according to Prof Carley, corresponds to an inventory taken after Henry VIII’s death.

Paul Holden, the house and collections manager at Lanhydrock, told the Guardian: “It was an amazing moment. The old long gallery here is about the length of a football pitch, and the professor lapped it about six times when we found the book.”

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were married from 1509 and 1533. But the death of three sons, all stillborn or dead in infancy, led the king to seek another wife. In 1533 he married Anne Boleyn, leading to the break with Rome, a story that has recently been revisited in the BBC television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall.

Henry VIII’s book ended up in the hands of a Cornish collector, Hannibal Gamon, in the 17th century. He left it to his friend John Robartes, the first Earl of Radnor, but since then the book has sat on the shelves of Lanhydrock.

Earlier this year Mr Holden asked Prof Carley to look at two books which had the arms of Henry and Catherine on them. He concluded they had not belonged to the royals but decided to look at other books in the collection and within an hour found the Ockham volume.