What history's love letters reveal

What history's love letters reveal

Charlotte Brontë's infatuated notes, Henry VIII's lovesick doodles and the anguished scribbles of Nelson's mistress: Fiona Macdonald picks eight love letters that offer a different slant on history.

"Love letters are an expression of intimacy; their words allow us insight into the private relationships of people down the ages," writes Andrea Clarke in a book that brings together a collection of manuscripts looking at 2,000 years of romance.

Published by the British Library, Love Letters traces a history of Britain through "handwritten, intimate exchanges between couples," that "span centuries, cultures and continents".

Here's our pick of eight that offer a different slant on the past.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, c.1528

Occasionally, messages of love appear between the lines, as in the jottings in the margins of this devotional Book of Hours, produced in 1528.

They are love notes between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, scribbled beneath significant illuminations.

According to Clarke, Henry chose to write his "on a page depicting the man of sorrows, thereby intentionally presenting himself as the lovesick king".

Anne, meanwhile, wrote hers "below an image of the Annunciation, with the Archangel Gabriel telling the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son", implying that she would succeed where Catherine of Aragon had failed, and provide him with an heir.

Henry's wish to divorce his first wife and marry Anne helped bring about the English Reformation.

Clarke, who is Curator of Early Modern Historical Manuscripts at the British Library, believes it's important to see the original love letter in the writers' own hand.

She tells BBC Culture: "I think the exchange of love notes in the Anne Boleyn Book of Hours - when you actually hold that manuscript in your hands, and with hindsight you're looking at something that was the beginning of a process that caused such seismic religious change - that's fairly powerful."

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