Secrets From The Vault

A Book Fit for Two Queens

This is a guest post by Kate McCaffrey, MA, University of Kent, Department of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

During my recent research for my master’s degree in medieval and early modern studies at the University of Kent, I was lucky enough to work with a hugely understudied printed Book of Hours once owned, and written in, by Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife, Anne Boleyn.

A Christmas Gift for Pierpont Morgan

What do you get for the dad who has everything? Something more personal than a sweater or tie, for sure. Books tend to be a good choice, but if he has already built a stunning three-tiered library and study to house his growing collection of books and manuscripts, the latest bestseller just won't do. One year, J.P. Morgan, Jr. (known as Jack) found a perfect little gift for his father. In 1906 and 1907, Pierpont Morgan had acquired some manuscripts of the American writer Bret Harte. Largely forgotten today, Harte was one of America's most popular (and well-paid) writers of the late 19th century. Jack built on this interest of his father's by giving him, for Christmas in 1909, the manuscript of Harte's short story How Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar.

A Company of Adventurers at Plymouth Plantation

Some of the earliest surviving descriptions of Plymouth Plantation are in the letters of Emanuel Altham.

Captain of the Little James, Altham made two voyages to New England between 1623 and 1625, and his letters provide lengthy accounts of the "Company of Adventurers" and their rugged outpost. In this 1623 letter, Altham describes the plantation at Pautext: "It is well situated upon a high hill close unto the seaside ... In this plantation is about twenty houses, four or five of which are very fair and pleasant."

A Fine Binding for the Prince of Poets

Two portraits in profile of a man and woman looking at eachother with oval decorative borders and latin text.

As if genius is not enough, a lyric poet has got to be in love. Pierre de Ronsard was still serving his literary apprenticeship in 1545 when he met Cassandre Salviati at a ball in the Château de Blois. Around fourteen-years-old at that time, she was the daughter of a Florentine banker who helped to finance the reign of Francis I. She married a local nobleman a year later, but that was not an obstacle to the conventions of courtly love. She was Ronsard’s muse, a source of inspiration like Beatrice was for Dante and Laura for Petrarch.

A Frances Burney Mystery

Working my way through the Morgan’s enormous collection of letters, one by one—as I’ve been doing for the past ten months on a cataloging grant from the Leon Levy Foundation—has meant regularly encountering extraordinary items whose significance often hasn’t been fully understood.