Books in the English Monarchs series stretch back to the begining of modern historical writing. As has been observed in the Publisher's page on this website, the momentum of publication of academic texts for the public was gaining strength through the 1950s, the fruits of which were available in the 1960s and particularly from 1964 when the series commenced.
Books at that time were enormously expensive and indeed remain so for many readers even today. The alternative to spending a large amount of money in buying the new hardback copy of a 1960s or even 1970s English Monarchs book - or any large book of the period - was to find a copy in a library. Even this was a task, as many public libraries around the world were undervalued, poorly resourced, and unlikely to purchase an expensive academic history for only a few interested readers.
One key impediment to their growth was the opposition to libraries by publishers. Their interests were not served by a copy of their product being read by a multitude of people. Copies in libraries in learning institutions with limited borrowing rights such as universities was one thing, but to have the public access a copy of a book without having to pay for it was anathama to many publishers. Even today, some publishers rail against books in libraries and are happy to see them wither. What they don't appreciate is that the best way to have readers buy books is to encourage reading. Some commercial sales strategies may not encompas this view.
However, they have a point, and a very valid one at that. Copyright law, despite what the electronic entertainment industry has believed for the past twenty years, is a legal compromise between ownership and consumption; between the intellectual effort and access. To breach the gap between the two with regard to libraries a public lending right scheme has been devised and exists in the European Union and in a few other countries - Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This scheme involves a representative survey of library holdings and a calculation of royalties for each author whose books are held in quantities above a certain base measure. Importantly for authors, this also applies for books which are out of print; this also happens to be most of the book stock in the world. In-print tites are only those which a publisher has on hand to sell.
Which brings us to the point of this page - if you can't find an English Monarchs title on sale, wish to evaluate a book before buying it, or don't wish to acquire a used copy (with all the possibilities of getting a shabby copy that entails), then the best option is to locate one in a library. Given the age of the earliest titles in the series and their intended audience, the chances of finding a copy in a public library near you are probably two: slim and none. The most likely prospect of locating the elusive David Mathew's 'James I' or David Douglas' 'William the Conqueror' is at an academic library. It's not generally realised, but there is no impediment for anyone to enter a university library and sit down to read. While borrowing is restricted to staff and students, the public are (usually) welcome to undertake their own private research as long as they abide by the policies of that library; never reshelve books yourself; respect the book and handle it carefully; don't try to smuggle it out, and so on.
So how do you find out where it is? Fortunately the Internet has come to your aid. Librarians are not the timid dwellers of dark places found in literature of the Victorian era; they live in the cutting edge of technology and have always been so - particularly since the advent of computers. For decades libraries have been sharing data and databases, contributing to union catalogues, and have been lending between communities of libraries. One of the best kept secrets on the Internet is which is an international catalogue of library holidings. Enter a title, ISBN or another access point and a long list of resluts will appear. These search results can be narrowed to the libraries close to your geographical location by entering a place name or postcode.
If you find a title on this resource it can be obtained either by a personal visit to read the item (not just books) or by arranging an Inter-Library Loan from a library at which you have borrowing rights. There will usually be a charge for this serivce, though some libraries will absorb this cost and the user will not have to pay. Inter-Library Loans are usually offered by public libraries.
English monarchs themselves were major contributors to libraries and book collections. As we know from the first royal portrait, that of Aethelstan, book collecting by medieval monarchs wasn’t new. Even earlier, Alfred was a keen collector and translator. After the threat of the Danes was neutralised he set about an education program based on books. Kings were also keen to establish universities and places of scholarship. Kings College London was granted a royal charter by King George IV in 1829. Henry III did his best to encourage scholars to migrate from Paris to Oxford and Cambridge. Henry IV built a room to house his books at Eltham Palace - and appointed a librarian to look after them. His sons Henry, Bedford and Gloucester were known as great readers and collectors. Henry V's books were mentioned in his will and dispursed with a specific note that none of the benefactors should have duplicate copies.
Royal manuscripts in the British Library date from the collection of Edward IV, a little arbitrarily as earlier books are also held, but Edward’s was the first coherent collection. The collection of George III was commenced by his agents scouring sales of books and whole collection and consists of 65,000 volumes. This forms a huge part of the British Library today. His father George II donated many of his personal collection to the nation.
To mark the importance of these royal collections the British library held an exbition "Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination" in 2011–2012. The current Royal Library, at Windsor Castle, was established by William IV from pre-existing collections, and now is one of Britain’s most important collections.
For further reading get - or borrow - a copy of '1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts', edited by Kathleen Doyle and Scot McKendrick (British Library, 2013, ISBN 9780712357081). This is a series of essays and illustrations which is described in the publicity for the book as a "...wide-ranging review of the evidence for royal interest in handwritten and printed books."
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