Anne Boleyn's prayer book secretly passed among friends after death

Anne Boleyn's prayer book secretly passed among friends after death

May 19, 2021

The Anne Boleyn book club: Collection of prayers belonging to Henry VIII’s second wife was secretly passed around her noble women friends after her execution

  • Anne Boleyn is believed to have passed a small prayer book to one of her ladies before she was executed and a handful of books have been linked to the legend
  • One of those it could have been is a ‘Book of Hours’ kept at Hever Castle in Kent 
  • Masters student Kate McCaffrey discovered never-before-seen names inscribed in the book using ultraviolet light during masters research at University of Kent
  • Ms McCaffrey believes the names belong to those who kept it after Anne’s death 

Legend has it Anne Boleyn handed a small prayer book to one of her ladies before her execution in the Tower of London.

It has been linked to a few books, one of which is a ‘Book of Hours’ held at Hever Castle in Kent, the childhood home of Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII’s six wives and the first to be beheaded.

It contains her inscription ‘remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day’.

A book thought to belong to Anne Boleyn (pictured) contains the names of those believed to have had possession of it after her death, new research using ultraviolet light has revealed

Pictured: Former Hever Castle Steward and masters student Kate McCaffrey with the book 

Today, on the 485th anniversary of her grisly end, research reveals how Hever’s book was, for more than two decades after her death, secretly passed around her noble women friends who risked the king’s wrath to save it.

Kate McCaffrey, 24, a former Hever Castle steward, conducted the research for her Master’s at the University of Kent.

After examining what looked like smudges caused by water damage, she discovered never-before-seen names and words lay beneath them when studied under ultraviolet light.

The names, handwritten in Old English, include a prominent politician at Henry’s court, Sir John Gage, his wife Philippa and her sister Elizabeth Shirley, all from Kent.

How the book got from Boleyn to other women after her execution on May 19, 1536, is a key missing link in the story.

Pictured: The area of the Book of Hours which is illuminated by the ultraviolet light is thought to read ‘My nown good nes Joyna requere you to pray for your aunt with thys here prayer’

Research suggests book passed between network of acquaintances after Anne Boleyn’s death

Miss McCaffrey said: ‘It’s clear this book was passed carefully between a network of trusted connections.’

The book would have had to have been kept secret until Boleyn and Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.

What happened to the book after that remains a mystery until the Astor family purchased Hever Castle in 1903. The Guthrie family then bought the castle in 1983.

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