I confess . I am a . . .

2 Sep

I LOVE research. There. I said it and I’m glad! I am a researchaholic, big-time. I’ve always loved libraries and books and history, and when they all come together – well!

At some point in the 1970s, I fell in love with the Plantagenet era in England. You know, the one that ended sadly with the death of Richard III at Bosworth. The next dynasty was Tudor. But the Plantagenets were a long-lived dynasty having been created by the Treaty of Winchester in 1154 that ended twenty years of civil war. Henry II was the first of these kings and their dynasty stretched  over 331 years, containing four distinct royal houses: Angevins, Plantagenet, Lancaster and York.

I read everything available to me at that time (this was long before computers and digitization, I would remind you) and became totally enraptured by the wife of Henry V – Catherine of Valois, the ruling family of France. It was expedient for him to marry her, as he considered himself the conqueror of France (Agincourt 1415) and thus it’s King as well as England’s. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be happy with that, he had to keep fighting, and consequently lost his life at an early age (1422), leaving a very young widow and an infant son.

It seemed to me that Catherine was virtually ignored by everyone. She was accorded all the status of a footnote, which really bugged me. After all, she was the daughter of a King, the wife of a King, and the mother of a King. How could this be?

Well, of course, her father, Charles VI, was known as the Mad King, but if you read his backstory, it seems reasonable to think he was derailed by the terribly tragic fire, accidental in nature, but which killed most of his friends. He did have periods of lucidity afterwards, but they alternated all too often with periods of (perhaps) insanity. But then, her mother was no prize, either. Isabeau of Bavaria was reported to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and she expected to be treated as such. It didn’t always work out that way, however, and while she had a bunch of children, she would never be considered as acting ‘maternal’ towards any of them, especially the later ones, of which Catherine was the next to last.

And then, there is Catherine’s son Henry VI, who was also known to have periods of insanity. But then, how many 9-year-olds could handle being forced to watch Joan of Arc being burned at the stake? Surely, that would be enough to hinder most people, especially a sensitive young boy. Of course, by that time, young Henry had been in the care of his uncles for seven years. They had forcibly removed him from his mother, saying a mere woman was not capable of raising a king. Of course.

So, I decided to write a book about Catherine, who did eventually find happiness with Owen Tudor, a Welsh archer in the train of Henry V. (Or so I firmly believe.) But a funny thing happened on the way to the writing. I fell in love with theater, and so all my research went into a one-woman play. It’s never been produced, but it came close once. The timing was just not right, and truth be told, I’ve not really pushed it anywhere, either. I still have it, though, and every now and then I go back to it and am amazed by the depth of the research. It covers her life from the age of six (1401) to her death in 1437.

One of the books I read mentioned her will as being part of a famous collection of ancient manuscripts. I had no idea! It never dawned on me that such things had ever been collected. But, yes they were. This particular volume was part of the Cotton Manuscripts. You can find out more about them here:  http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/manuscripts/cottonmss/cottonmss.html

What I found most interesting was his way of cataloguing these treasures: he named his volumes after people from history. The volume I wanted especially was the Cleopatra volume.

To be sure, this was all most interesting, but then – THEN!!! I discovered that our library in Cleveland (one of the best in the world, actually, a well-kept secret, apparently) had a copy of the volume that included her will! It was listed here: http://www.cpl.org/TheLibrary/SubjectsCollections/SpecialCollections.aspx

Needless to say, I promptly took myself downtown to the main branch where this collection is housed. What a wonderful voyage of discovery that proved to be! Wow. It was in the John White Collection, located on the third floor. One has to knock on the locked door for admittance, and surrender your driver’s license along with the library card and once in, they give you a pair of inexpensive white gloves to wear while touching ANYthing in there. (I admit that I’ve not been there in several years, and the rules may be different now. Or not.)

If you see a book on the shelf that you want to investigate, you do NOT touch it. Not even with gloved hands. No! You find a page and show him or her the book, and they will remove it from the shelf and bring it to your table. You’re allowed to turn the pages, but not lift it or do anything else with it. Don’t even ask to photocopy anything. Not usually possible, but on rare occasions, an exception may be made, depending on the volume you wished to have copied. For a charge, they used to do microfilming, as well. But it was not as immediate as a photocopy.

If the book you want is NOT on display but is listed as being part of the collection, you fill out a request slip and give it to the page, then go back to your chair and wait. Eventually, it’ll get to you. Same rules as before, and it’s firmly requested that no tears (the watery kind) are accidentally allowed to splat on a page.

What I wanted to see was Catherine’s will, and so I did. It ranks as one of the highlights of my life. But almost as important to me, THIS particular volume had been in the personal collection of the Prince Regent, (who later became King George IV) and he had actually affixed his signature and other important information on the inside front page! With tissue firmly clenched in my left hand (to catch any stray tears) I gently ran my gloved, right index finger over his sprawling signature.  WOW. What a major thrill. I’ll never – EVER – forget it, to be sure.

Books are wonderful, aren’t they? I couldn’t live without them. I wouldn’t even want to.



2 Responses to “I confess . I am a . . .”

  1. Ty Drago September 3, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    I’m a bit of a researchaholic myself, as you well know! Great entry!

  2. Betty (Scappaticci) Kaiser September 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    I really enjoyed the results of your research. Having been a librarian I understand your interest. I really enjoyed the students who were interested in “looking up stuff”

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