Hever Castle’s Prayer Book temporarily on display at Hampton Court Palace

March 29 2023 | Castle History

Hever Castle has loaned one of its prayer books belonging to Anne Boleyn to Hampton Court Palace until 30 October 2023.

The manuscript Book of Hours has been loaned to Historic Royal Palaces while Hever Castle displays a book belonging to Catherine of Aragon alongside its second Book of Hours belonging to Anne Boleyn from its collection.

The Catherine and Anne books form part of an exhibition: Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers in the Castle until November (the Catherine book is on loan from the Morgan Library in New York until 4 June).

Hampton Court Palace as the home of Henry VIII is a fitting place for the book belonging to his second wife to temporarily reside and continues the good relationship Hever Castle has with the historic landmark.

The older of the two prayer books owned by Hever Castle, the Book of Hours on loan was hand-written in Bruges between 1410-1450.

The prayer book is usually on display in the Book of Hours room in the Castle and was bought by the current owners, the Guthrie family in 1997 from a private seller.

This remarkable and previously unrecorded manuscript is the earliest and most poignant of the books which may have been owned by Anne Boleyn. Not only does it contain her signature and a most touching inscription, but other leading members of the Tudor court recorded their signatures on the blank folios and margins.

The illumination of this exceptionally richly illustrated manuscript is the work of at least two artists working in the style identified as that of the Masters of the Gold Scrolls. These were a prolific group of illuminators who worked in Bruges in the first half of the 15th Century. The manuscript was made in Bruges circa 1450 for an English owner. The office of the Virgin for the use of Sarum and the calendar has many specifically English saints, including Thomas Becket (29 December), Hugh of Lincoln (17 November) and Edmund King and Martyr (20 November).

Anne Boleyn’s inscription beneath a miniature of the Last Judgement reads “Le temps viendra” (the time will come) “Je anne Boleyn” and she has drawn an astrolabe as a symbol of time. In spelling and script, the signature matches that of the cut inscription in the printed Book of Hours, also owned by Hever Castle.

Until the discovery of this prayer book, only nine books were known with Anne’s arms or emblems included in their decoration, or with inscriptions and signatures in her hand.

In the printed Book of Hours, her signature has been cut by a careless binder. Her name has been entirely removed and attempts made to erase her inscription from the British Library manuscript. This illuminated manuscript is the only book known where her personal annotation survives intact.

Hever Castle’s Assistant Curator Kate McCaffrey said: “There is no place more fitting for Anne’s Book of Hours to temporarily reside than the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. We are particularly excited by the location of Anne’s book next to Elizabeth I’s Book of Common Prayer. To reunite mother and daughter through their religious books in this way is of beautifully poignant significance.”

Tracy Borman, Joint Chief Curator, Historic Royal Palaces, said: “We’re thrilled to be able to display this remarkable object in the Holyday Closet, part of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. It’s tantalising to think that Anne may have used the book to pray when she worshipped in the Chapel at the Royal Pew. It will be displayed alongside a copy of the Book of Common Prayer which may have been used in the Chapel by the personal Chaplain to her daughter – Queen Elizabeth I. It’s wonderful to unite these two objects and it’s been a real pleasure to work with Hever Castle on the display.”

Visitors to Hampton Court will be able to see Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours prayer book from 29 March to 30 October 2023.