The Vatican Love Letters of Henry VIII – Linda Holds Them!

Posted By on February 3, 2012

VaticanAnne Boleyn Fellowship member Dr Linda Saether shares her experience visiting the Vatican Archives and actually holding the real love letters written by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. The Da Vinci Code has nothing on this!

The Vatican Love Letters of Henry VIII

by Dr Linda Saether

In Henry VIII’s letters to Anne Boleyn I found these lines:

“Mine own Sweetheart………
Wherever I am, I am yours……….
Written by the hand of him who is, and always will be yours….”

The passion found in those lines and the seventeen letters he wrote in the early days of his arduous pursuit of her have evoked sighs through the centuries, regardless of age, gender or culture. Love needs no definition. Its magic needs no explanation. How all that passion between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn changed the course of British history and placed Anne Boleyn, as Queen of England, on a scaffold to be executed by a French swords man only a few years later, has been the source of a five hundred year old controversy.

How these very personal letters ended up in Rome, hidden, for centuries, in the Vatican archives will never be known. One can only assume that they were stolen by supporters of Katherine of Aragon, the Queen that Henry VIII sought to divorce despite their Catholic marriage vows. According to Henry, his union with Katherine was sinful and unlawful in the eyes of God, incestuous in fact, due to Katherine’s prior marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur. His grounds for divorce was that this sin had cursed their union resulting in their inability to produce a male heir for the sake of England. Although the Queen swore her brief marriage to Henry’s brother was never consummated and the Pope had granted dispensation for their union, Henry didn’t budge. It was widely known that making Lady Anne Boleyn his wife and Queen had become Henry’s obsession. An obsession that eventually led England away from the grips of Rome and towards a religious reformation with Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the English Church. Perhaps the Pope himself read these letters meant for Henry’s darling Anne and realized just how obsessed Henry had become. And then quietly had them buried in the archives.

Through my own research, I found that these letters were not available for public viewing at the Vatican, and rarely has more than one letter ever been sent to foreign exhibits. During a recent trip to Rome, I made it my mission to see these letters for myself and determine how they had fared over the centuries. This turned out to be a far more difficult and yet a far more interesting quest than I could have imagined.

The letters are kept in the archives of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, the Popes’s private library which was founded in 1475. Although originally intended solely for His Holiness, the Pope himself, and a few eminent scholars, since 1883 it has been open to “qualified readers,” by advance approval for those who meet the Vatican’s stringent list of criteria.

In addition to an extensive application, I submitted a letter of introduction and replied to in-depth questioning about why it would not suffice to examine copies of the originals. Many letters passed between the head of the Dipartimento Manoscrititti Vaticana and myself before I was finally granted a letter of admission to the Pope’s library only days before my scheduled arrival in Rome. Although my letters were in English, the responses were all in Italian. Fortunately, my knowledge of Spanish got me through the process and helped to rapidly increase my knowledge of Italian in preparation for my visit to Rome.

There was no exact date on the letter indicating an appointment. Just a letter of “Ammissione” and directions to the Cortile del Belvedere, which contained the Vatican’s secret archives. Equipped with a map and my precious letter of admission, I headed for the Vatican on my first morning in Rome along with my friend Jan, a fellow Tudor enthusiast, who intended to photo-journal our way through the Vatican. The sun was fiercely hot as we stepped into St. Peter’s Square through Bernini’s colonnade for the first time and took in the view of the Basilica which seemed both imposing and sur-real in spite of having seen it so many times on TV and on photographs.

There were no signs to direct us to the library, so we stopped in the book store to ask for directions to Biblioteca Vaticani. The clerk directed us in Italian to the opposite side of St Peter’s Square, and, as we left, quipped sarcastically: “As if, you will get in…”

My letter instructed us to pass through the Via di Porta Angelica, The Angel Gate, an ancient archway that would lead us to Porta di S. Anna. We would recognize Porta di S. Anna because it was controlled by the Swiss Guard that has protected the Vatican for over five hundred years. At the tall wrought iron gate we caught our first glimpse of the young, blond, blue clad guards. Jan and I both presented identification and the letter of admission to the Vatican Library. We were received with some skepticism and discussion between the guards. Why wasn’t there a date of entry on the letter, why was it a photocopy, why were they not informed? So many questions!

I couldn’t give them a satisfactory answer to any of their questions, but all the same, I again pulled out my photo ID and reminded the young guard of the signature on the letter, copy or not, and urged him to let us pass. We were standing outside in the sweltering heat, and I was growing impatient with the delay, but grew even more so when the guard said, “You may pass to the next check point, but, Madam, cover your shoulders.” I was already modestly dressed anticipating entry to the Vatican, but I pulled a pashima from my purse and draped myself in it, as I tried to forget the heat and focus on getting to the Pope’s library. As he let us pass, I asked him why the Swiss Guard was in Italy to guard the Vatican? He replied without hesitation. “Because we are the best.”

At the next check point up the hill from Porta di S. Anna, a guard scrutinized my letter and ushered us into an air conditioned building were two men sat at a counter behind a glass barrier. Not quite certain why we were there, we pulled out our IDs and slipped the letter through a slot to one of the clerks.

The clerk turned to his colleague and the two discussed the letter, occasionally glancing up at us, before one finally turned to me and said, “You must sit here, while the other lady passes through to the library. Your ID is not acceptable.” I was painfully aware of our proximity to the letters and at that point being detained was not an option.

Porta di S. Anna

“Sir”, I said. “It is my name that is on that letter. If anyone is passing through, it is me. My identification is acceptable to The United States of America and the Swiss Guard, surely it is acceptable for entry to the Vatican Library considering the letter that I have presented.”

He looked at me with a mixture of resignation and astonishment, as I breathlessly waited to see what he would do next. The two men shared rapid words in Italian, our documents were returned to us, and along with them, two passes to the pharmacy. “You may leave.” is all he said. Jan looked at the passes and started to say “Pharmacy? We’re not going to….,” as I took her by the arm and headed for the door. We never did see the pharmacy or even find out where it was, but headed further into the depths of the Vatican to the Cortile del Belvedere. I knew we were only a stone’s throw from the Vatican Secret Archives.

The guard there greeted us kindly. After we described our journey from Porta di S. Anna, he immediately ushered us to the stately door at the far end of Cortile del Belvedere which was the entry to the library. We entered into a marble foyer where we were then guided by a porter into a hallway in front of La Officina de Segretaria where we were told to wait until someone would receive us.

In utter silence, we sat on black, strait-backed leather chairs in front of a marble wall plaque listing events relating to the library from the mid 1400’s to 2010. We were both aware that there was barely a sound in the building. We waited there in silence for 20 minutes before we again enquired about the “someone” who would receive us.

After a few more minutes the heavy doors of the Officina de Segretaria opened and a pleasant man greeted us in English and asked us to enter. After scrutinizing our documents and questioning me about my background, my reasons for wanting to see the originals and verifying my address, he asked me to fill out another form and sit for a photo. Shortly thereafter he handed me a Vatican Library photo ID with my photo and name on it, and with two hands he stood before me with a thick file of papers which he put into my hands and said, “These are the rules. Read them. Come back tomorrow, alone, and you may see the letters.” My heart sank, but I wasn’t going to argue. We thanked him and left. That evening I read the rules carefully. Among them, no photo equipment, no pens, no sharp objects, no cell phones, no food, and so on.

The following day I returned to the Vatican, alone, shoulders covered, with newly purchased not too sharp pencils from the Vatican store, a notepad, and my Vatican ID. When I entered the Porto di S. Anna I caught the eye of a Swiss guard surrounded by a group of students. I lifted my card and to my amazement, he ushered the students away to allow me to proceed and said “Pasa, Madame,” as he actually smiled to me. When I approached the second guard, I presented my card, to which he responded by saluting me and stepping aside so I could continue towards Cortile del Belvedere without revisiting the two clerks who had issued the “pharmacy passes” the previous day.

Upon entering the Vatican library this time my card was scanned by the porter in the foyer and the man from the day before reappeared. He greeted me cheerfully and promptly escorted me to a locker room where he told me to place my card against a small scanner on the left wall of the locker room. The number 42 appeared as I heard a click behind me of locker #42 opening. I placed my purse and phone in the locker, but kept my pencils, my notepad, my glasses and my ID and took a moment to say good bye to my helpful friend and thank him before he directed me on to the document reading room.

I headed down a corridor extending from the entry hall, flanked by two large curved staircases descending from a second floor landing. Midway through the hallway there was a glass barrier with the same electronic scanner device attached to the side of it as the one mounted in the locker room. I swiped my card and the glass barrier rose up and slipped back in one sudden movement to open the way for me. As I passed through it snapped shut right behind me.

Ahead of me was the elevator that required another electronic ID swipe before it would open. Once I stepped out of the elevator I took a wrong turn and walked into what looked like an ornate library of yesteryear. Old printed books lined the shelves of every wall, people read at tables, or were seated in leather chairs, but all was hushed and no-one looked up as I entered.
I found a librarian who quietly directed me to the Document Reading Room, and I proceeded through several rooms in complete awe of my surroundings until I found the Reading Room. There, I was graciously greeted by a very distinguished gentleman whom turned out to be Dr, Vian, my Vatican contact person. He spoke to me in Italian. I answered in English. We understood one another quite perfectly.

Vatican Document Reading Room

The Manuscript Reading Room was a large bright rectangular room with natural light streaming in through three large windows on the left wall. The ceiling was vaulted with an ornate medallion painted at its highest point. White and cream colored marble flooring matched the cream colored walls, white ceiling and the statutes in niches along the right wall. A deep red tile lining the periphery of the floor mirrored the color of the medallion above. Dr Vian worked from a dark wooden desk near the entry. Along the far end there was a five panel dark wooden counter with two large wooden cabinets behind it and an open doorway to the far right. Above the cabinets was another statue, a cross, a large inscription and a thoroughly modern electronic clock that displayed the passing time in bright blue letters. The room held approximately 20 reading tables divided into two rows, each equipped with wooden book stands and a pair of wood dowels.

Dr Vian introduced me to three male librarians behind the long counter in the front of the room. They were all dressed in the same blue shirts and ties, but neither had name tags. One of them asked me to pick a seat and register by signing my name and seat number in a paper journal on the counter. He then opened a computer screen facing me and asked me to fill in a questionnaire, provide document numbers and my reason for wanting to see them. Dr Vian stepped in with the document numbers, and I found myself again explaining why I wanted to see the originals. The eleventh hour found me compliant. I wasn’t going to make a ripple of a wave now so I wrote as I was instructed to do. When I finished the librarian looked at the screen and noted a colored indicator that had popped up on the screen. “That is a special document!” he said, and looked oddly surprised. “ I know”, I told him. The others gathered around and looked at me and the screen and back at me. “It will be thirty minutes.” one of the three said. Again, no argument from me, but I did ask what I could do in the meantime, anticipating perhaps a coffee shop, a little browsing through the library or a garden to walk through. The reply was “You sit.” He pointed to my seat and I sat. I sat for a long time. Thirty minutes came and went as I memorized the statues, the medallion, the light fixtures, the security cameras, the floor tiles and the profile of the young Catholic priest studying ancient looking sheets of music at the desk beside me. I cringed as I watched him touch the pages and wondered if this would draw the attention of the librarians, the security cameras or Dr. Vian.

After 55 minutes, according to the digital clock in front of me, one of the three librarians came through the door opening along the right side of the room with a cart full of old looking books. The top book was a thin book with a thick, light blue paper cover. He picked it up as he gestured to me to come to the counter. I stepped forward, expecting an explanation for the delay, but instead he handed me the blue book.

I must have looked surprised, because he said. “It is what you came for.” I looked at the book, wrapped much like my elementary school books had been in my native Norway. I held it reverently with both hands, tenderly as I would a newborn, but still in utter shock as it started to sink in that someone had placed the letters Henry VIII had written to Anne Boleyn nearly five hundred years ago, into my hands. There was no white gloved person on the other side of the counter to unveil documents enveloped in protective fabric allowing me to gaze only from a safe distance. The letters were in my hands!

It is very possible that I forgot to breathe as I carried the book back to my seat. Recalling the rules, I kept the book visible and I placed it on the wooden stand in front of me. Fully aware of the three librarians in front of me, Dr. Vian at the back of the room, and surveillance cameras pointed at me, I struggled to conceal my exuberance and tried keep my face in the same studious frame as the priest across from me. And probably failed completely. Of all the wonders I have seen through my travels, rarely has anything been so touching or so oddly exciting. I thanked God for my good fortune and dared to exhale as I opened the book. My hand touched Henry’s first letter as it was suddenly there before me. I thought of Anne Boleyn.

So much has been said of her. She was brilliant, savvy, well educated for a woman of her time, a champion for the reformation, a powerhouse in her own right, a woman who’s elegance and charm was legendary, as much as her volatile temper and sharp tongue. However, when these letters were written Anne was a young woman in love with a man described as the most handsome man in Christendom, an Adonis, the most influential man in England and a force in international politics. To be this man’s darling would have been a heady and exhilarating
prospect for any woman of her rank, but there is much evidence that Anne truly loved Henry, the man, as much as she adored her King. At the time of the letters he was not yet the tyrant he would later become. One can only imagine the utter excitement the letters must have brought her when they were delivered to her at Hever castle. I envision her there, young, alive and joyful, not the frightened and tormented Queen she was to become in her later days.

I was sad to see that each letter was glued into the book, efficiently numbered and stamped with the Vatican seal, in either red or black. From the reproductions I’d seen, I knew it would be difficult to read the script since Henry’s handwriting was so tortuous, and I wondered if Anne Bolyen had fared any better at deciphering their content. Thankfully, I knew what they contained and recognized the entries. One of the letters appeared to be written in a flurry, its strokes deeper, darker, and the page frought with ink stains. Was he angered? Was he drunk? I don’t know, but this one letter stood out from the ones that appeared more thoughtful and composed. Henry didn’t like to write, but yet most of the letters were quite beautiful in their composition. Since they were glued to the page I couldn’t see if there were entries on the opposite side, nor was there anything to indicate that they had been sealed. The color of each had faded to varying degrees with darkened edges, but over all, they were all in pristine condition, excluding the Vatican markings.

Following the final letter there were more pages that were handwritten translations of the letters in Italian or copies in a more readable English script, apparently written during different time periods. Each was glued, numbered and stamped in the same manner. Nothing indicated by whom or when the letters had been stolen and brought to the Vatican.

I don’t know how long I lingered over these documents. But eventually I reluctantly closed the book after spending a long time with each letter and cherishing the moment. I gestured to one of the librarians that I would be leaving and he met me at the counter where I deposited the treasured book into his hands. He winked at me, tucked it under his arm like the morning newspaper and slipped through the passage at the far end of the room and disappeared back into the archives.

I watched in astonishment and with some sadness as the letters were so irreverently taken away to be tucked back into a Vatican vault, hidden away yet again. Although humbled by the privilege of having had the letters with me for a short time, my thoughts drifted to the question of who the letters rightfully belong to, having been written by a British King and so obviously stolen.

I decided to let that thought pass and exited back out through the many electronic check points of the Vatican. I wandered through the Porta di S. Anna with its young, blond Swiss Guards and finally reached the Angel Gates where I joined a group of tourists headed for St Peter’s Basilicus. Surely, even that could not possibly be more wondrous than having held Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn in my very own hands.

Via di Porta Angelica

64 thoughts on “The Vatican Love Letters of Henry VIII – Linda Holds Them!”

  1. Richard says:

    Wow, the original letters of Henry, I would fall over with emotion.
    What I do and wonder where I am angry about is that these letters in the Vatican and not in a museum in England where they belong.
    The Vatican is the absolute wrong place for me to have something personal of Henry and Anne.
    How is it possible that all the big important things that have nothing to do with the Catholic faith are always in the Vatican?

    1. Richard says:

      I ment infact they should give them back to England….

      1. Lina says:

        I can see you point about returning the letters to England, but arguing that, there are so many things Britan ought to return. The British Museum would be quite emptied. I think it’s wonderful that the letters still exist (which I know you also do) considering that the original letters are lost.

    2. Melanie says:

      You are quite right, of course; the letters should be at the British Library or Hampton Court. Still, how wonderful to have had this experience. I was pretty excited just to visit the 2009 Henry VIII exhibit and see Anne’s prayer book with her little rhyme to Henry:

      The next great thing would be to discover (at least) one of her letters to him. I assume Henry burned them all, but who knows?

      1. Rachel McNeil says:

        Hello Melanie,

        I agree with you, wouldn’t it be exciting if they managed to find Anne’s love letters to Henry. I have always thought this. We see Henry’s side of the relationship through his letters, but we know very little of Anne’s.


    3. c.Palmer says:

      Please, how many items are in British museums that were stolen from other cultures?

      1. Cheryl says:

        So that makes it ok for the Vatican to keep them – does it?

        We are not a catholic country and these letters form a very important part of our heritage.

        They should be handed back to England forwith

        1. David says:

          Things in the British Museum to return when asked:
          Many friezes from the Parthenon in Athens, mummies, friezes, and the Rosetta Stone from Egypt to name a few. Every country has artifacts that originated from another country. To believe a country does not have anything that came from another country is naive. England is not alone.

  2. Melissa says:

    Love the Article!! It must have been amazing for Linda to hold those letters. Being a huge Anne Boleyn fan I can imagine all the emotions going through her. It’s sad and demeaning that the Vatican has them locked away. Also the fact that the pages are glued & the Vatican wrote all over them is terrible. I wonder how they got them. One of those mysteries we’ll never know.

  3. Sherri says:

    What a beautiful journey to see,read, touch and hold Henry VIII’s love letters to Anne Boleyn. Just to be able to feel the energy of these letters. I would think that just by holding these letters that all Henry’s feelings came through.

    The passion, the love, the wanting that Henry wrote to Anne. He could be a very romantic man and king.

    After this journey of Dr. Linda’s that has been so wonderfully documented and shared with us, the question still haunts me as to “why?” A man so much in love wrote to his beloved and sweetheart when he never really liked to write – that says something right there. Henry took the time and care to put his feelings into words for Anne to read and see. The vulnerability in those letters that Henry showed also showed that he was so in love with Anne. So, again I ask “why?” Why did he execute Anne and why did he turn from that man into the tyrant and dictator ? We will never know but history will always have Henry’s love, feelings and passion for Anne Boleyn to live forever in those letters.


  4. Sue says:

    Loved reading your adventure into the vatican library. How wonderful to actually hold those letters written 500 years ago. Interesting about the one letter that stood out too!

  5. Shelly says:

    I loved this! I would do anything to be able to hold those letters and see a glimpse of the man that Anne loved and to feel, if even for a second, the emotion and exuberance that she felt when she first received the letters. Maybe one day.

  6. Morgan says:

    WOW! That was a fascinating read, I was absolutely glued to it! Just goes to show that perseverance DOES pay off. What a pity these letters have been locked away for so long.

  7. Paudie says:

    WOW Linda,
    I read each line with baited breath, what an adventure!
    I do understand your reasons for seeing the real letters and as Sue says, how that one letter stood out. Henry VIII is truly an enigma, but through Anne Boleyn, we can see some more of him and more than just the tyrant King of history. Thank you for your gallant efforts and your wonderful article.

  8. Anerje says:

    OMG – Like everyone else who has commented here, I would love to have looked at those actual letters! And I totally agree with Richard – those letters belong in Britain. Someone must have stolen them for them to end up in the Vatican of all places. They should be returned.

  9. Anne's Fan says:

    Oh Linda,

    What an absolutely wonderful thing to have done! I felt breathless just reading your article. What a fun and very unique experience. I’m glad they were not just thrown away. Better in Italy than not at all. But, I do think they belong to England.

  10. Amanda-Leigh says:

    Wow. That sounds absolutely amazing! Thank you for sharing your experience (especially since the chances of many of us ever being able to experience that are…. well slim to say the least!)

    When I was in Rome last year, I went on one of those short tours of the Colosseum and the Forum, and the guide made a joke the entire couple of hours where every item or artifact he mentioned, he’d ask the group where it was and the answer was always the Vatican, of course!

    Can you imagine what Henry or Anne would say or do if they knew that those letters would end up in the Vatican?

  11. Anyanka says:

    [quote]a British King ….[/quote]

    English king..Britain didn’t exist as a political entity until the 18th century.

  12. Dawn 1st says:

    Your perseverence in this is to be congratulated, and to actually get to hold these wonderful letters that we have heard so much about, was a well deserved reward, very well done.
    I have often wondered, like many I suppose why on earth these historical treasures are buried deep in the vaults of the Vactican, its not as though they are a well kept secret, or pose a threat to anyone or thing, they are nearly 500 years old and carry no policital importance anymore ,but they are an important part of history, and should be on display whether it be in Rome or (peferably) England, for all to enjoy.
    Maybe its because, as you said, that you could read and feel the love and adoration that Anne and Henry had for each other in these letters, and not the licentiousness that people who were threatened and against their relationship considered it to be. For this part of history still to be considered in this way is beyond me, its time to move on and bring these letters out of their imprisonment and given their proper place for all to see…
    Has any historical society, or English heritage etc ever tried to get back these letters in one way or another?

  13. Jo Vagos says:

    I think I would be overcome with emotion– just imagining that I was touching something that Henry and Anne both touched, pondered over, maybe even cried about— simply AMAZING!!

  14. Sarah says:

    So beautiful. Thank you for sharing your amazing story with us! I had tears in my eyes as in some small way I shared your joy 🙂

  15. Francesca says:

    Later this year there is a public exhibition of documents from the Vatican archives at the Capitoline Museams in Rome. Do you know if these letters will be included in this exhibition?

    1. Linda Saether says:

      I’m sorry Francesca, I don’t have any information about the exhibition in the Capitoline Museum. It would be nice if they would be included!

  16. Shoshana says:

    Prehaps the most interesting article yet because Linda made one experience it emotionally as well as intellectually.

    I have believed for many years the Vatican should open it’s doors to historians and conservationists so that the thousands of documents, artifacts, stautues, and art objects could be studied, shared and most importantly evaluated for restoration and conservation. That the letters are glued is proof enough for me there must be many things not properly stored. Short of returning things to their rightful countries the Vatican has a moral duty to make sure there “acquisitions” are taken care of in the proper and best manner. In cases where it is obvious the object was stolen – no matter how long ago – those things should be returned to their rightful owners – the people of the original countries. And fairly, I also believe this to be true of any museum or private collector who has historial articfacts and documents. These things should be in their rightful home country and seen by the people.

    Now that I’m off that soap box – Linda, thank you for a wonderful article; I wish I could have been there to see them!

  17. Marilyn R says:

    What an adventure – and good for you for standing your ground!

  18. Emma says:

    During the celebrations in 2009 for Henry’s 500th aniversary the letters were lent to the British Library. I was there and wanted to go in but I had to catch a train. I am totally kicking myself now because I didn’t realise what a unique opportunity this was. Thank you for this great article. Anyone who thinks it was lust with Henry should read these amazing letters.

    1. Dawn 1st says:

      Oh Emma,I had no idea know the letters had been here for the 500th anniversary, and my sister and I went and spent 3 days visiting places such as Hever and Hampton Court etc, now I am kicking myself too…oh well maybe they can come over again one day, and stay….

  19. Tyff says:

    Oh my… Linda, this was not just a matter of going through all of the proper channels to see these letters. This was really somewhat of an anomaly and I believe, in my gut, that you and you alone were meant to see these letters. There are many who believe that the Vatican is the most heavily and thoroughly guarded institution in the world. I have had countless conversations with a good friend of mine about the special (and very provocative) documents that are concealed within this building. I truly believe that there are many people who could have gone through all of the same channels that you did and would “still” have been denied entry. ~Thank you so much for sharing this experience with all of us. I feel that I have just read about a “once-in-a-millenium” experience and a “Very Well Done” is in order for your perseverance and bravery.

  20. Ceri C says:

    What a great story. I’m so glad your firmness and perseverance paid off.
    Which was the letter which looked different from the rest, though?

  21. Linda Saether says:

    Thank you so much for your kind comments! It is quite wonderful to have so many knowledgeable people to share this experience with! Thanks again to Claire for creating this site and sharing it so generously!

  22. Anne Barnhill says:

    Linda, thank you SO much for this amazing article–I felt as if I, too, were waiting to see them, as if I, too, were holding them. But I think I might have fainted! I tend to be overcome with emotion just thinking about it. You are so lucky but your own determination was what won the day. Kudos to you! I just cannot imagine the awe with which you held them–oh dear, it’s making me breathless! Thank you SO much!

  23. Brian Westbrook says:

    Linda Saether thank you for sharing. I too was taken up in the emotion of your words. The story of Henry and Anne is so distant and yet so powerful. You made it closer and more human.

  24. Sharon Laakkonen says:

    This is such a wonderful moment to share with us. I think I held my breath for most of the relation of this moment. I always wondered if the letters were burned, because the King had shown his vunerability and love to Ann, he was afraid they would be used against him, later during his reign. The emotion in this article was palpable and honest.

  25. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us! What a wonderful story, and so well told! I am so happy for you, it is nice to know the letters were handled and read by someone who obviously cares about them so much!

  26. Caitlyn Davis says:

    Thank you so much Linda for sharing!! I am going for my PHD in History to be a Tudor historian, and I wanted to go to the Vatican to see these letters myself for research on Henry’s and Anne’s personalities through their letters to each other. What are to requirements to actually do this? I have done research but none of it was useful unfortunately.

  27. janice says:

    oh my God, Ms Saether was so lucky. Last year i was checking what are the options & chances to get to this library. I was pleasantly surprised, there are women librarians (i`m graduated librarian & information scientist), but i convinced myself i would never get through like you did. What an amazing experiences (i wonder who had glued the letters into the book, guess it happened a long time ago, since nobody….at least i hope nobody….would ever behave towards such treasures).
    thank you a lot for this article 😀
    Greetings from Prague to everybody

  28. janice says:

    oh, one more note – on stolen things. That would be great if everything were returned, but i am convinced it is not possible at all. Even if Vatican would be willing to. Certainly it must follow some international law – f.e. swedish army has stolen many valuable artefacts from Prague in 1631. Among the best known is “Satan Bible”, which Sweden borrowed (!) for an exhibition held in Prague. And there is no way we will get any of those things back.
    And regarding the entry – surely Linda would have more precise info, but there were information about how to apply for the visit on the official website.

  29. Jerry says:

    Linda, just a few short observations on the comments posted here. First of all, to those of you who missed the letters during the 500th year anniversary, never fear! They’ll be back again at the 600th year anniversary.

    Next for those who bemoan the fact that the letters are in the Vatican, just think what might have happened to those letters had they remained in England. My guess is they would have been burned during the reign of Queen Mary I. At least the Vatican had no political or personal reason to destroy the letters.

  30. arspoetica says:

    As an art historian, and academic with previous reading privileges among many of the world’s great collections including the British Library, the Huntington Library and Getty Institute, I’m appalled at the repeated suggestion that the Vatican “stole” the letters. When once wealthy families fall upon hard times (and how often is this happening these days, for example), family heirlooms, including important documents, are often sold for such important work as repairing a roof that lets in more rain than it keeps out. I am sure the Vatican has records that substantiate how it acquired most of its holdings obtained over the last few hundred years, at least. Henry and Anne have been notorious for their relationship since they lived, and the letters would doubtless have had significant value at any time they might have been sold. The letters would almost certainly not have survived public holding during the Civil War; they did survive, and are available for any scholar with a compelling need to see the originals. And while mounting and binding practices may distress us today, it is probably this very treatment that allowed them to survive in the remarkable condition their viewer attested to. And please note the generous loan policies that enabled these to travel so recently, for all to see.

    For those of you envious of those of us who have had the opportunity to handle great works of art and history for our research and publishing purposes, realize that all you need to do is what we have done: pile up three or so masters degrees and a Ph.D., add on a generous helping of post graduate work at one of the six or so finest educational institutions in the world (only if they’ll take you, of course), all the while racking up huge amounts in educational loans and living in abject poverty for the best years of your life, spend twelve or so years writing a seminal work, and you, too, can be afforded such pleasures.

    Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t trade a moment of it. But few are satisfied with a life so entirely of the mind. Thankfully, someone like this author shared her Vatican experience for the surreptitious pleasure of all. But a final question: where were their gloves?!?! I always have two clean pair of my own.

    1. Marilyn R says:

      I was surprised about the gloves too. I am a Collections Co-ordinator at the Epworth Old Rectory Museum, the childhood home of John and Charles Wesley, and we always wear gloves when handling books and documents. My own area of research is the medieval dukes of Norfolk and I was very surprised last year at the British Library to be handed the account books of John Howard from the 1460’s and not provided with cotton gloves. A short time later, at one of our best-known and magnificent castles, I was told they do not use gloves, so bearing in mind how important the unique document I was about to handle was, I put on my own that I always have with me. Then I thought that if the document appeared to have been damaged by me during examination, they might blame the gloves. To my mind it seems odd to expose documents, and artefacts, to grease and contamination on the skin, having gone to all the trouble of wrapping these items in acid-free paper and storing them in special boxes at specially controlled temperatures.

      1. Claire says:

        Just a quick reply as I’m on my phone. Dr Janeena Ramirez, in her recent TV programme on the illuminated manuscripts at the British Library, handled a very old manuscript without gloves because that was the policy. It was explained that it was better for the document to be handled with bare hands so that the reader was aware of how much pressure they were using in handling it.

    2. Dawn 1st says:

      Out of curiosity, can I ask why you think these letters would not have survived the Civil war, when other letters and documents of these times, and earlier have?
      If the vactican has got records of their acquisitions, I wish they would tell who they received them from, and clear up one of the many Tudor mysteries that torment us, that really would be a generous gesture.
      Your academia is very much to be admired, but sadly not everyone has the same level of intellect and able to achieve such goals, which you have worked very hard for, I am one of those people, and most of us envy in a nice way. But I do think it is a shame these letters are only available to be seen by those that are classed as scholars, and not those that have a genuine interest in Tudor history, being on loan for a short period of time, does not lend that opportunity to all who would like to see them.
      I think there are very few that are completely satisfied with ‘their lot’ at sometime or another, academic or otherwise, this is probably down to human nature, we only have to look at those we discuss on this site, Henry being one of the main culprits..bless him!

      1. arspoetica says:


        What great questions!

        My opinion re: the letters not surviving the Civil War was linked to “public holding.” People on a mission, especially one they believe sanctioned by God, can go to great lengths to control history, and I believe would have gutted the official record of anything proving Henry’s reasons for separating from the Church (of Rome) in preference of a suggestion of “God’s will,” or pure Protestant motives, when of course we know that Henry’s beliefs and faith remained unchained by his struggle of wills.

        Your second question: do a bit of research among Tudor scholars to find a sympathetic ear, and write the fellow a letter. S(he) may share your curiosity, and pursue such a line of inquiry with the Library, and you may end up with a note of thanks in the paper published on the subject that would satisfy your curiosity on the subject.

        And finally, while I know it is not as thrilling as the real, seek out published copies of the things that fascinate. In the many years before I saw the real things, pictures and slides of them were amazingly moving, were the things that drove me (and still are). I would say I became an art historian at age eight when Father Matthew handed me a holy card picturing Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat and told me I looked like one of the little angels (which I did, although I find them all to have the same Botticellian features). I was at my tiny, storefront branch library the next day. It took ten years of this printed relationship before I saw a Botticelli in person, and thrilling as that moment was, reading about art has never felt second best.

        1. Dawn !st says:

          Many thanks for your reply

          Yes, I can see your point on ‘people on a mission’ and their destructive ways, Henry with the pulling down of religious houses, Cromwell and his ruining of many castles etc, are prime examples. So, with the letters being passed into other hands could well have saved them from the fireback.
          As for asking a ‘Tudor scholar’ if they could pursue, a line of inquiry regarding the vactican maybe having a record of who passed the letters to them, is a good idea! And who better to approach first than, da-dah… Claire.
          How sympathetic is your ear Claire, lol, and you love playing the detective 🙂 Apart from being a wife, mother, author, writing a book, reseaching, posting on line, organising trips etc etc etc, I’m sure you have time for this too!, (really, I am joking).
          I have copies of the letters in the many books I have collected over the years, whether it equates to all of them I am not sure, I think there maybe a book, that I haven’t got with them all in. But as you say it isn’t the same as seeing the real thing, and like you, I do not feel reading about these special items 2nd best as such, but it would be nice, and a great treat, to lift the eyes from the books, just once, and focus them on the real thing..
          Nice pseudonym, by the way, does it mean ‘the art of poetry’?

        2. Dawn !st says:

          P.S. when I said Cromwell, I meant Oliver Cromwell, not Thomas.

  31. Jodie says:

    very interesting article! thanks so much for shari ng your experience. As I read through these comments I just had to laugh, especially at the comment about being offended with the comments that the Vatican could have obtained the letters through stealing. And to echo the commenter’s sarcasm to say that it couldn’t possiblly have happened, as we all know they have never done anything throughout history that would have been unseemly, corrupt, wrong, sinful or the like.
    History proves that men are weak and sinful, that includes the Vatican and their participants. History is written by the victors who justify their actions as the educated should very well know. But regardless of being a highly educated pompous peacock preening and puffing up your feathers on here, or a humble student of life, this knowledge is available to all.
    I myself am grateful that these letters exhist in whatever condition, as things get erased from history all the time. I will not assume they were stolen, although that is a possibility, I wasn’t there nor do I own a time machine. It would be an easy conjecture and to take issue with that is idiotic, and a sign of ignorance. There is proven corruption throughout time in the Vatican and out of it.
    True seekers of knowledge, and a sign that you are, includes the realization that the more you know the less you really do. Humility is a virtue that you need to seek, instead of a long list of your credentials and insults. badly done

  32. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your fantastic experience, when I was reading your account of the event! I too was holding my breath. Of course those letters should be in the UK, either in a museum, Hever Castle, Hampton Court or The Tower of London. They are part of one of the greatest love stories of all time.

  33. Susan says:

    Fascinating read Linda ! I’m so sad the letters are not in England why have them locked away ? The feeling to hold one of the letters must be unbelievable I envy u so much . Rome hated Henry and Ann so give them back please so they can go on display here for our pleasure so unfair !!!!

  34. Anita Berger says:

    Thank you for this surreal experience that I think all Tudor history enthusiasts and English literature /book devotes are ecstatic to have the opportunity to vicariously have this experience. Your memory of it is quite vivid and without actually being there oneself, feel as if you’ve been allowed a peek into a private moment. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading this very much. The photo journaling as amazing too.

  35. Moniek says:

    What a wonderful read. So jealous you got to hold the letters!

  36. Michelle says:

    Def think these precious letters should b displayed at Hampton court not locked on the vatican were no one can see them!! Am sure Henry & Anne would not want them there!!!

    Its a real shame…all that security at the Vatican..makes you wonder what else they’re hidding!!! X

  37. Pierluigi Bigotti says:

    Wolsey is the culprit, perhaps? It is certainly possible that he has sent the letters to Rome, he was in the position to do so… (please, forgive my horrible english!)

  38. Beryl says:

    I don’t mind the letters being in an archive I’m livid that they are not open to the public. The Vatican should open up that library. They made that young woman jump hoops to get inside, they have a lot of nerve. The whole thing makes me angry. Bunch of male chauvinists.

  39. Lori says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing experience. It has brought tears to my eyes that you were a witness to history and were able to hold such fascinating documents close. I feel as if I was a mouse in your pocket. Nothing could be more personal and more profound particularly with what has come down to us through the centuries. It makes Anne & Henry so much more human and their story so much more tragic. I look forward to sharing your future adventures. Please keep us posted.

  40. Denise Duvall says:

    Wow! Beautiful post and so lucky to be able to share your experience by reading it. I can’t believe, how these letters have been preserved, by gluing them in a book! I guess if they restrict the number of people seeing them, they will limit the amount of further damage to them and then they don’t have to spend money on restoration. But how are they able to send only one to foreign exhibitions, if they are all glued in a book? Do they send a replica to the exhibits?

  41. Shoshana says:

    What a thrilling adventure! I can imagine how it felt to hold something of such historical value and that both Henry and Anne would have touched. I bought a set of wooden candlesticks with metal candle holder in the early 1980’s at an estate sale. I paid $25 US for them. They are 16″ tall and ornately carved. They are beautiful and I’ve enjoyed them over the years. I decided to sell them at a yard sale and when I was making sure the metal was cleaned of all wax I discovered it was inscribed with “Oak and Bell Metal York Minster Burnt May 20, 1840”. I researched the inscription and found that on 5/20/1840 York Minster cathedral suffered a devastating fire in the Nave. To offset the cost of repairs oak wood and metal from damaged bells were salvaged and made into a variety of objects to sell. They made tea caddies, memorial coins, and many other things including candlesticks. I’ve only found a total of 4 candlesticks including my own, and mine are the most ornately carved. On the bottom you can still see how the wood was blackened in the fire. On appraisals online I’ve been told anything from thousands of dollars to they can’t be priced because there is nothing to compare them to in order to set a value. But to me the true value is holding something so old that was used to build such a remarkable building. The oak was installed in 1290 (per the cathedral and the bell in the early 1300’s). To hold something that “witnessed” so much history, that was a small part of history is surreal. So I understand what it felt like to hold the letters; it is a remarkable feeling of being both in this time and theirs, to be sharing for one little moment a space and time like no other. I wish everyone could have that feeling once, it is wonderful.

  42. May says:

    Hi Linda! Greetings from Mexico, I´m fascinated with England history and history in general, I have one question if you can answer it to me it would be great, could you tell us what was the reason that you had to give to the vatican library to see the originals? On the other hand, I really appreciate that you share this faboulous experience with the world, I felt like I was there, and the feel of grattitude towards you is so big!! The letters are there!! A true testimony of what happened and the love of two people and the tragedy that followed. I wish someday with hardwork I would be able to travel to England. Sorry if my english is not excellent, I´ve tried my best.

  43. Cordell says:

    Loved the article very much, thank you! May I ask a question? What was the “compelling need” to see the originals that moved the archive to allow your visit. I know nothing of this and would find it interesting. I am sure that finding such an old way of storing something ( glue) must have been interesting. But what was uses as justification to see the originals.

    Thank you


  44. Cordell says:

    Loved the article very much, thank you! May I ask a question? What was the “compelling need” to see the originals that moved the archive to allow your visit. I know nothing of this and would find it interesting. I am sure that finding such an old way of storing something ( glue) must have been interesting. But what was uses as justification to see the originals.

    Thank you


    PS. Which of the 17 letters was “appeared to be written in a flurry, its strokes deeper, darker, and the page frought with ink stains”.

  45. Valerio Costenaro says:

    Had the letters stayed in England they would have been either destroyed by fire or for political or other reasons.So you should thank the Vatican for having preserved them well up to now.
    At that time Englad had no care or experience/culture on Archives.
    In addition one must consider that the Divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the new marriage to Anne Boleyn was the greatest matter of international concern and the Vatican was at the centre of the dispute and the letters were certainly part of the “trial/affair” documentation……
    The remarks about the Vatican not entitled to have and/or hold the letters or even to return them are a sign of non-knowledge of history, non-knowledge of the the importance of the trial and of what was at stake and ignorance of common practice on Archives.My compliments to Dr Linda Saether for the exciting “Insider Vatican Report”

  46. Adam Campbell says:

    The letters belong with the Boleyn family who would then make a decision as to the location of their accessibility to the British public. The Vatican should as a sensible and kindly gesture – for a change – return them tomorrow with an apology for their theft. The above institution has been allowed to get away with this kind of snobbish and selfish behaviour for too long. These are personal effects not ancient artefacts – there is a great difference.

  47. Banditqueen says:

    Wonderful experience. Had whoever stolen the letters not done so and not given them to Rome, then the Vatican Library, Henry Viii would have had them confiscated and destroyed as he tried to wipe Anne’s memory from the face of the earth. Ironically it’s only because they have been in the Vatican that they have survived. Museums all over the world have items belonging to other countries; they can’t all be returned willy nilly as this would cause chaos. It is marvellous to read about the letters. They have been filmed twice in recent years. A few of the letters were indeed part of an exhibition in 2009 at the British Library, which I visited. A lot of rare items belonging to Henry and his wives were there. It was fantastic. Kudus for being allowed to see these precious items.

  48. don says:

    Regardless of the Vatican having proof of how they came to have these letters they
    should be returned to England where they belong.
    If they are not returned then they should be on public display, not available to a few, they
    have no right to keep them secretly from any of the people of the world.
    How dare they make this decisions, the Vatican has much to answer for many many questions. It is time their secrecy is constantly questioned.

    1. Claire says:

      Why should they be returned to England? England is not asking for them. Should every museum and archive that holds foreign documents and artefacts return them to the country of origin? They are safe at the Vatican and well cared for. They are not kept secret.

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