Henry VIII and herbals: Prince Charles and Camilla’s visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library

Prince Charles and Camilla
(l-r) Gail Kern Paster, Prince Charles, Camilla, Georgianna Ziegler. 2005.

To mark the occasion of Charles III acceding to the British throne, we’ve been recalling his visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2005, with his wife, Camilla, then the Duchess of Cornwall, and now Queen Consort.

King Charles is the President of the Royal Shakespeare Company and has also founded charities related to young people and to the arts, among other causes. During the couple’s visit, they attended a Folger Education workshop with local public school children.

Charles and Camilla also took the time to see rare items from the Folger collection, some of which are linked to the British royal families of centuries ago.

Georgianna Ziegler, Louis B. Thalheimer Associate Librarian and Head of Reference Emerita (pictured above), remembers the royal party’s security team preparing for the couple to enter the Folger Reading Room. All of the readers working there that day were asked to temporarily move to a different room, although, as she recalls, one of the security dogs bonded with a Folger fellow who had been working in the balcony area, and so she was allowed to stay.

The following excerpts from a 2016 interview with Ziegler shed light on some of the items that the royal couple examined that day—including an early modern, but definitely non-royal, book on plants that got Prince Charles’s attention.

What was the visit like with Prince Charles and Camilla?

The Prince Charles day was fun. We had chosen a group of books, and we had them all lined up along tables in the Old Reading Room, things like Henry VIII’s copy of Cicero. That’s the book he had as a boy, in which he wrote, “This book is mine, Prince Henry.”

Prince Henry

What else had you chosen?

We had the First Folio, and a copy of the arrival and entertainments for Marie de Médicis [the French queen mother, and Charles I’s mother-in-law], when she came to visit Charles I and Henrietta Maria. That belonged to Cardinal Mazarin. We also had an herbal and some other things.

The arrival and entertainments for Marie de Médicis
Histoire de l’entree de la reyne mere du roy tres-Chrestien, dans la Grande-Bretaigne. 1639. Folger Shakespeare Library.

What got their attention?

They came in. and I remember that they wore red poppies, because it was November, and, of course, in England, they still commemorate the soldiers who died in wars by wearing poppies. We went down the table and were describing the books to them, and they were particularly impressed with the Cardinal Mazarin binding.

A French binding for Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ca. 1645.
A French binding for Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ca. 1645. Red goatskin over pasteboards with onlay, silver paint, blind, and gilt decoration. Folger Shakespeare Library.

And then we got to the herbal. It is a copy of Fuchs’s herbal from 1542, which was owned and marked up by Henry Dingley in England during Shakespeare’s time. I knew that Charles would like this, because he’s very much into gardening and has created an organic garden at Highgrove. He just stood there and started looking through it, saying things like, “Oh, we have those planted in So-and-So!” He was recognizing plants that he knew.

De historia stirpium. Leonhart Fuchs. 1542. Folger Shakespeare Library.

They were very nice and gracious, and looking back, it was sort of low-key. It was a big splash, but at the time, people were not tweeting or taking as many photos. It was a very pleasant visit.

This story is from an interview with Georgianna Ziegler, Louis B. Thalheimer Associate Librarian and Head of Reference Emerita, some of which appeared in the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of Folger Magazine. The magazine is complimentary for members of the Folger.

Esther Ferington conducted the interview with Georgianna Ziegler.