New College of the Humanities

The Lisles in their Letters

In a previous issue History Today considered the Lisle Letters as a great publishing enterprise. This article by V.H.H. Green concentrates on what the letters tell the reader about the Lisles themselves, their lives and times.

Initially the historian may have some misgivings about the six fat volumes of the Lisle letters, so sumptuously produced by the University of Chicago Press.* As Dr David Starkey observed in the March 1981 issue of History Today the work might be regarded as one of the 1ast great enterprises in historical publishing, its findings in some respects superseded even before the last page emerged wet from the press. The letters, the majority of which have been available to researchers through the medium of the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII , have been long, nearly half-a-century, in the editing. Although Professor Scarisbrick's life of Henry VIII appears in the bibliography, the last books and articles mentioned in the footnotes date from 1966 and the majority from decades earlier. The commentary is full and detailed, but at times so discursive and even meandering as to be tedious; yet there are also episodes in the letters themselves where an explanatory footnote would have been welcome. There are some factual errors. Moreover so much work has been done on early Tudor history in recent years, so much new research accomplished, that inevitably the interpretation, even of the major theme of so-called Henrician absolutism, appears to be dated. Yet, having made such reservations, no one can dismiss the Lisle letters either as a white elephant or as a damp squib.

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