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Anne Clifford's 'Great Books of Record'

University of Huddersfield

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Credit: University of Huddersfield

LADY Anne Clifford - who died in 1676 at the age of 87 - was one of the most remarkable women of her age. She spent much of her life embroiled in a fierce tussle to claim her inheritance, and after she came into her lands in Northern England she was famously charitable and carried out the restoration of many important buildings, including Skipton Castle. But her chief memorial is the compilation, supervision and authorship of immense volumes of history and autobiography. They were intended to bolster her legal claims, but they also provide an invaluable panorama of English life and culture over six centuries. Now, the University of Huddersfield's Professor Jessica Malay has edited and published the first complete edition of Anne Clifford's Great Books of Record.

The volume is launched at a special event taking place on Thursday 16 July at 5.30pm at the University's Heritage Quay archive centre, where - to commemorate the new edition - one of the Great Books is on display from July 13-17.

Professor Malay's 976-page edition includes 480,000 words transcribed from the Great Books. In addition to an immense variety of historical documents acquired by Lady Anne, her mother and her antiquarian collaborators, there are also copious annotations - carefully reproduced in the new edition - and a remarkable autobiography entitled A Summary of the Records and True Memorial of the Life of Mee, the Lady Anne Clifford. She continued to write this until the day of her death.

In 2009, Jessica Malay - now Professor of English Literature at the University of Huddersfield - won a Leverhulme Trust Award of £156,274 to carry out an investigation of the Great Books of Record. This has culminated in the transcription and newly-published edition, to which Professor Malay also contributes a detailed introduction. Now, her plans include a new biography of Lady Anne.

"She was very clear-sighted"

Professor Malay's research has led her to challenge an earlier view that Lady Anne simply paid scholars to compile the Great Books.

"What became really clear as I worked on the books is that she was in charge, fully engaged in putting the whole thing together. She takes information from the documents and then she writes the history, putting her own twist on it."

The earliest document in the Great Books dates from 1088, and after Anne Clifford's death her descendants added material until the 1730s.

"So you can see the way that culture, history, practices and relationships developed over 600 years," said Professor Malay. "The Great Books reflect the lives of peasants, merchants and labourers as well as monarchs and the aristocracy."

Professor Malay's extensive research has made her an admirer of Lady Anne.

"She is often written off as just a wealthy 17th century aristocrat and a victim of the males in her family. But she was very clear-sighted and devoted to her religious beliefs. She was also devoted to reconstructing the lands of her inheritance in a way that was beneficial to everybody. She was strong-willed, but affectionate and very charitable."

Anne Clifford's Great Books of Record, edited by Jessica L.Malay is published by Manchester University Press.

Additional historical background:

When Anne Clifford's father - George 3rd Earl of Cumberland and a famous mariner - died in 1605, he left his northern lands not to his daughter, but to his brother Francis, who became Earl of Cumberland. Anne's mother Margaret, believing in her daughter's right to inherit as heir general, set in motion a long and bitter dispute asserting her daughter's right to inherit. In order to bolster Anne's legal position, Margaret employed clerks and antiquarians to collect and transcribe historical material relating to the Clifford lands, dating back to the 1100s. Anne Clifford carried on her mother's efforts on her behalf, eventually coming into possession of the Clifford lands in Westmoreland and the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1643. Skipton Castle, where she had been born and which she later rebuilt, was part of her inheritance.

The documentary material that had been collected to prove her right to inherit, along with information on each of the Clifford lords and ladies and autobiographical material written by Lady Anne, were bound into what has become known as the Great Books of Record - three 1,000-page sets consisting of three volumes each. Anne Clifford kept each of the three sets in different places, so the material could be consulted as needed.

The Great Books of Record remained in separate hands, but two sets eventually came to be housed at the Cumbria Archives Service in Kendal and in 2004 the third set was acquired by the Archive Service, meaning that for the first time in 300 years the Great Books of Record were in one place and available to scholars.

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