The Lost Tudor Domesday Book

Once maligned as a record ‘of the dullest kind’, a 1535 audit of Church wealth – the Valor ecclesiasticus – offers a unique view of England’s religious, social and cultural life just months after the break with Rome.

The monastic seal of Chertsey Abbey during the reign of Henry VIII, April 1525. The National Archives.

New discoveries in the archives of Henry VIII’s reign are now rare. For years historians have searched behind and beyond the summaries in the calendars of state papers to reveal what their Victorian editors missed or prudishly preferred not to record. In the past decade there was a surge of media interest when the Vatican Library digitised some of their 17 letters from Henry to Anne Boleyn, but their survival had already been known and written about for almost 80 years. It does seem likely that if there is any significant document still unnoticed it will be found abroad, where books and papers were dispersed together with Reformation and Counter-Reformation exiles. By contrast, the most recent royal letter to come to light in a British collection could hardly be more mundane: entering a Channel Islands saleroom in October 2023 was an order, endorsed Henricus Rex, for fabrics to fashion a gown, doublet, shirt, hose and a three-shilling bonnet sent to the Keeper of the Wardrobe.

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