Social media is nothing new. From the cave paintings to graffiti in Pompei to “Bono is a Bollox” on a factory wall, people have always had a desire to shout out in public, anonymously or not. In the tudor court a huge book was compiled by three Ladies in waiting at the court of King Henry the Eighth who wrote and circulated text socially. The book, which is called the Devonshire Manuscript, contained current verse and stories of the time, messages from one person to another, laments of unrequited love, announcements and even apologies. It was a personal newsletter for the members of the court allowing young courtiers to write and respond to each other through poetry and gossip in the pages of one single document which was passed around.
Messages were often cryptic and would often be in verse with replies written below them causing great excitement as those that huddled over the book would attempt to work out the subject and often the author! Sir Thomas Wyatt the poet along with Geoffrey Chaucer have entries. It is suspected that many of the short cryptic verses dotted through the book to be by Queen Ann Boleyn herself.
Anthropologists often say that nothing changes and everything stays the same. When comparing the Devonshire Manuscript to Facebook you start to wonder if perhaps they are right. Will historians be reflecting on our own cultural collections in 500 years?
And of course historians speculate whether the verses by Thomas Wyatt are about Ann Boleyn and if they are was his imprisonment for adultery with her not as unjust as previously claimed.
At the time this was nothing more than a fun exercise to enjoy and pass time. However it was a hugely important cultural collection which has helped historians understand the Tudor court and times more than anything else could ever but no doubt Tudor parents would lament the amount of time their kids spent on that silly (face) book!
A sister to the Devonshire Manuscript called the Blage Manuscript is kept in the archives at Trinity college Dublin and was compiled by Sir Thomas Wyatt.