Castle Objects of the Month: Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours

Anne Boleyn prayer book
October 17 2021 | Castle History

Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours

On the 2nd May, Anne was arrested for high treason and sent to the Tower of London where she was tried and found guilty on the 15th May . She was beheaded just four days later on the 19th May. In honour of Anne, the Castle Objects of the Month are her Books of Hours. On display at Hever Castle we have two of Anne’s prayer books, one of which was printed in Bruges between 1410-1450 and the other was printed in Paris c.1528.

“Hours” were personal prayer books which were popular in England from the 13th Century until the reformation. Short services to the Virgin Mary were read at eight fixed “Hours” during the day. “Hours” also contained a calendar of church festivals, psalms, prayers to favourite saints and services for the dead. They were often made to order, with minor variations to suit the purchaser.

Book of Hours

Book of Hours, Bruges 1410 – 1450

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 a 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.

Book of Hours

Book of Hours, Paris c. 1528

The book was printed in Paris by G. Hardouyn c.1528 for an English owner. Printed Books of Hours enabled more people to own one, but this particular book was printed on vellum which would have cost a great deal more and, therefore, would have been commissioned by a wealthy or important person.

As with the illuminated manuscript, in this printed book the office of the Virgin for the use of Sarum and the Calendar has many specifically English saints. Anne Boleyn’s inscription in this book reads “remember me when you do pray/that hope doth lead from day to day/anne Boleyn”.

See our range of Book of Hours merchandise in the online shop