Libraries and the Reformation


Sir, – Eric Conway’s reference (October 14th) to the vandalising of “the great Catholic university libraries” at the time of the Reformation would have been less open to criticism if it had been more loosely expressed, for example as “the great Catholic third-level libraries” or something similar. Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries put a sudden end to the supply of ex-novices who, leaving the novitiate without taking final vows, became teachers in schools across the country – their education a third-level function in present-day terms. It also led to the loss of public access to, and often the very existence of, the monasteries’ valuable collections of manuscripts in several languages (Latin, English, French, and so on). In the turmoil of the dissolution, they were scattered, privatised, “recycled” or burned, a cultural and linguistic impoverishment of the English-language cultural world. – Yours, etc,