In 1842, the Master of the Rolls described them thus: "They are of the highest historical interest and curiosity, throwing light on a variety of civil and political events; the progress of the Revenue, the Crown lands, the Colonies, the public transaction of office, and many of the private affairs of persons of every class".
The very first document in the volumes acts as a good example. On 11 January 1557, John Dee, described as a simple 'gentleman', supplicated Queen Mary, complaining of the 'lamentable displeasures' brought about by the attacks on the monasteries of Henry VIII's reign, but above all on their libraries:
wherein lie the treasures of antiquity and the everlasting seeds of continual excellency; but notwithstanding many precious jewels and ancient monuments had perished (as at Canterbury the work "Cicero de Republica"), yet the remainder, which were scattered, might be saved."
Dee continued to petition the queen to do what she could to recover the lost ancient libraries of England's monasteries, and, further, to allow him to create a new library in the queen's name which would contain new copies of many ancient volumes.
Dee was in fact a mathmetician, astrologer and antiquary (source, Oxford DNB article by R Julian Roberts, 2004), and was being, perhaps, a little disingenuous by this tacit attack on Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII had given Dee a pension of 100 crowns over the previous years, and also given him two rectories, while Dee had become tutor to the powerful Dudley family. In the reign of Mary, Dee's powerful Dudley patrons had fallen dramatically from power, and in 1555 Dee was arrested by the Privy Council and accused of witchcraft and 'enchantments to destroy Queen Mary'. Although released in 1556, Dee's interest in the controversial subjects of astronomy and mathematics were perhaps the reason he remained a peripheral figure in the reign of Mary Tudor.
Yet, in 1557 it seems Dee was trying to resurrect his reputation - and he would do so successfully over the following decades, receiving some favour from Elizabeth I and Cecil and buying a large residence for his expanding collection of books.