Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours and the Fall of Anne Boleyn

What a whirlwind couple of weeks I’ve had! I still haven’t come back down to earth after the excitement of the Anne Boleyn Experience Tour and then living my dream and holding Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours at Hever Castle – wow!

I’m back home now and Tim and I will be putting together a second video on Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours, adding in photos that I took too, and I’ll also be going through all of my photos from the Anne Boleyn Experience Tour and telling you more about my time on it. Watch this space, and also the Anne Boleyn Files YouTube Channel!

I’m not going to do it just yet as I’m a bit like a zombie and need to catch up on some sleep. The beds may be divinely comfortable at Hever Castle, but I’m so excited to be there that I just can’t sleep! I just keep pinching myself!

Anyway, I thought I’d share the footage that Tim took of me interviewing Owen Emmerson, Hever Castle supervisor, about the two Books of Hours that are in the castle collection and that once belonged to Anne Boleyn, just in case you missed it. Also, if you missed my daily countdown of Anne Boleyn’s fall, which I did from 24th April to 20th May, I’ve included that below too – click here to see the full playlist. Now you just need some time to get your Tudor fix!

By the way, if you do fancy joining me on one of the Tudor tours I co-lead with the lovely Philippa (yes, I’m still calling her lovely even though she photo-bombed my gorgeous photo of Penshurst Place!) then then are still 4 places available on this July’s Executed Queens Tour (only 46 sleeps! Of course I’m counting!) and booking is open for next year’s Anne Boleyn Experience Tour – find out more at I believe that the Anne Boleyn Epxerience 2020 is already 1/4 full!

Here’s the first of my Fall of Anne Boleyn series of videos and you can click here to see the full series.

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37 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours and the Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. Always good to be home after a long trip no matter how much fun you had. I’m so glad you’re going to do a second video on Anne’s books. I so enjoyed the first. Thank you in advance.

  2. Claire you havnt forgotton the questions you were doing videos on before Annes countdown have you?

    1. Hi Christine. I can’t remember where I read or heard it but Claire did say she was still going to answer people’s questions.

        1. I’m with you. I love those videos. We get so much more detail than we do anywhere else.

  3. I felt very emotional watching this video of the books of prayer and hours and listening to the explanation from Owen the expert who kindly let Claire see and film them for us. I would probably have been in bits actually handling them. Two were shown in 2009, but I don’t know if it was the same two or one from the British Library which is also very beautiful. I have seen Richard iii Book of Hours and when we went it wasn’t behind glass. Obviously you could not touch it, but it was open on the page he wrote on and I was all overcome anyway having just been to the tomb so off went the tears. Local school children have made a replica which looks beautiful and bright as it would have done at the time it was made. It is also on line at the Leicester Cathedral website as it was digitised. The one belonging to Anne of Brittany is also online. I knew a bit about them but I never realised people used them every hour. Wow! That’s some devotion. It is customary in the Catholic Church today in England to stand for prayer in Church but to kneel for the Communion prayer and private and penitentiary prayers, but then you would have knelt in prayer, sometimes for hours. Can you imagine the knees? Even with cushioning on the kneeling stools your knees must have creaked. I find it particularly moving to know the small Book of Hours was with her as Queen and can imagine how she must have taken this one with her into the Tower, read from it during her last hours on the night before her execution. She may have had it with her on the scaffold. Could this be the very book of hours she gave to one of her ladies? We probably will never really know their entire history between then and when they were purchased for Hever Castle, which of course is where they belong and are loved. It is just comforting to think that Anne may have had one of her very precious prayer books with her for solace during that terrible time and as Claire said her DNA is all over them, she and others put loving inscriptions in them and we can connect directly to them because of these beautiful items.

  4. Yes it’s so moving when we consider her hands those long elegant fingers with her famous ‘little nail’, those hands that she could well have passed onto her daughter had once held those precious volumes, had turned the pages and possibly shed some tears over the miscarriages she had suffered, and the other tragedies she suffered, those tears could have fallen on those beautiful illuminated manuscripts, I am so glad England has those precious works of art in her possession and it is only fitting that they are housed in Hever Castle, the place she loved and was most at peace there.

  5. But what about the notations, Michael, in other hands? I can hardly believe that anyone would actually write in these beautiful, beautiful books, which were works of art even in their own day and had such religious significance. I admit to feeling quite non-plussed. I must be hitting a cultural wall of some kind.

    1. If Anne had lived a long natural life I would still find it interesting to see her handwriting but it evokes an emotional response because of the awful tragedy that cut her life short. I enjoy seeing the writings of any historical personage as it is the closest we will ever get to that person. In re to writing in those books? I have my mom’s Bible that she got as a teen and she made notations in it. Showsvwhat she was thinking at the time. In many ways I wear my heart on my sleeve so I can be affected fairly easily

      1. My uncle bought my mum back a little bible from Jerusalem after the war, it was of a light coloured wood and he had inscribed her name and his and the date 1945, it has Jerusalem carved on the front and the pages are very thin, I treasure it as it’s so old and a perfect little keepsake from the holy land.

        1. It was something people did, make small dedications under an image which appealed to them and we know Henry made notes in the margins, especially in the books he was looking to back up his new ideas of Kingship and the new Monarchy in the 1530s. That’s why they had wide margins. His pointing finger next to passages he wanted to highlight is very iconic. He seems odd to me as well but at least they put the annotations in a space underneath, not in the middle of the lines as in modern books. I can’t stand scribbling all over books and then they really were works of art and it’s very difficult to see how anyone could write in them. Yet here we have bold and beautiful words and the hand of Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Seymour, which connects us to them. You can see how they are handed down, normally they would have gone to Elizabeth or a niece and here we can see they have still been precious to those through whose hands they have passed. I think if they said Joe Bloggs or John Smith we would be annoyed but because they belonged to people of history, people connected together and through time, we can appreciate the beautiful things they have written.

        2. That’s a beautiful thing to have. I agree with you and Globerose that it’s hard to see how someone can mark in these beautiful things but another way to see it is when people are reading them it is usually private devotion time and you can get an inside look at where they were at the time. Think about the passage in Henry VIII’S psalter where it talks about getting old and next to it a comment that showed his gloomy mood at the time! Where else do you get that personal insight into him? Let’s be thankful that people write in things like that.

  6. Me to in a way I kind of consider it sacrilege to write in these beautiful books as you say, they are works of art in themselves but we are so so lucky that Anne did write in them, as there are so little paperwork with her actual writing on that has survived, we have none of her replies to Henry’s love letters, we have two of her letters to Wolsey, one to a lady friend of hers was it Lady Lisle or Lady Wingfield? The Tower letter is debatable so her writing and inscription in these beautiful books are doubly precious.

  7. Does anyone know if there is any truth in the story that Anne gave a Book of Hours to Madge Wyatt? The legend was that she was given it on the scaffold by Anne but that is impossible as she wasn’t on the scaffold with Anne, her four spies were, appointed by the King and Cromwell to report everything Anne said and did, but still they were upset at the sight of her execution and the horrible task of carrying her to her grave. The document which speaks of the story is eighteenth century, but records may go back further. There is also a prayer book at Alnwick Castle owned by the Dukes of Northumberland which is also said to have belonged to Anne at some time. That is also very beautiful.

    If anyone knows anything about the Book given or not to Magde Wyatt please it would be appreciated if you could share. Thanks in advance.

  8. In Amy Licence’s biography of Anne she mentions this little book which is so tiny but so exquisite and there is also a photo of it in her book, it looked beautiful and she also comments on the tale that she could have given it Mary Wyatt, I have read this so many time but there appears no source to back it up, taking into account the ladies grief and distress at Annes death and also the fact, that they jealously guarded her body saying they wished no man to handle her, thus undertaking that sad task of carrying her remains to the church, seems to prove that they were her chosen beloved companions after all, and not the ones who were with her in captivity, but it appears to be just speculation Weir mentions that maybe Henry relented a little and let her have her friends with her especially the be
    loved Mary Wyatt, maybe after she agreed to the anullment of her marriage, he decided to treat her with more kindness and also we have to take into account, all the men were beheaded and their heads not put on spikes like common traitors, deferential treatment was what both Anne and her co accused had she even had the sword instead of the axe, so in her final days the King perhaps thought it would do no harm to have her friends with her, but as noted there is no source to back it up, and maybe just maybe the ladies grief and distress was perfectly normal at having to witness such a horrible end for their one time mistress, they had not been on friendly terms with the queen but camaraderie can grow after being enclosed together which is normal after having no other visitors to converse with, Anne had Kingston and Cranmer was to visit her but only once, she was not allowed any other visitors and a group of women together tend to chat and find maybe they have more in common than what they thought,on the scaffold she asked them to forgive her if she had ever spoken harshly to them and it appears that at the end, there was much respect between lady and mistress, I hope Mary was with her it’s a nice thought one gains comfort and strength from beloved friends, after her execution it was said her women were as like sheep without a shepherd, they must have been stupefied that the dreadful event had taken place and shock momentarily rendered them incapable of thought or action, somehow they gathered the strength to perform the dreadful task of carrying the butchered body of the dead queen to the little church of St. Peter, it must have been an horrific task to undertake as the queen would have been bleeding copiously as one can just see the ladies stumbling over the green now running red with blood, the blood also would have stained their garments and it’s a wonder they never fainted, whether they had loved her or reviled her in life now in death at least, they honoured her in her last moments.

    1. The girdle prayer book, so it was the girdle prayer book, yes, that was very tiny and you wore them on a clasp on the girdle of your dress ( auxiliary belt) along with your chatelaine which had the keys to the pantry, stores, various rooms and the castle on them. The lady of the house had this item or a housekeeper. However, ladies used these tiny books of devotion to remind them of their prayerful duties. They were most certainly too small to actually read without something to enlarge the print, highly decorative and clasped by silver or leather bound. Anne’s was clasped with silver. There is indeed a picture in Amy Linence but no more information I think than you have said. I think there is an article on here somewhere. It makes sense that such an item was given to an old and dear friend at some point. I doubt Mary Wyatt was on the scaffold because her ladies were specifically chosen for their neutrality and their integrity and knowing they would be diligent in reporting to Kingston, especially his wife, Lady Kingston and her Aunt and cousin. Mrs Coffin is a bit of a mystery as she was Anne’s nurse so may have been more sympathetic. However, children don’t always like their nannies or nurse because they often enforced rules and discipline. On the other hand, sadly they spend far more time with the children than their parents and know them far better. We can be certain that even if it wasn’t the same ladies on the scaffold, they were not friends of the accused. I think it is probably possible that Anne may have given the book to Mary Wyatt as a gift while the family were in favour at Court. The Wyatt and Boleyn family knew each other well and maybe in happier times Anne gave this beautiful little book as a personal keepsake. We don’t know much about Thomas Wyatt ‘s sister, but I think Anne was fond of her. It would certainly be a precious item to own, to treasure and pass down from one generation to another and from patrons to clients, mother to daughter, especially after Anne was so brutally executed. Relics of the executed were especially powerful because many people saw them as martyrs and things they had touched became extra special and beautiful religious relics and if you could get their blood at the execution, well that was even better. Holding a prayer book of the Queen, who was regarded as sacred anyway, then executed must have been like something magical, touching this life and the next. For someone who knew them well, the emotional connection would be immense.

      1. It was a Miss. Orchard who was her nurse Bq, Mrs. Coffin was the wife of her Master of Horse I think, it is speculated that Miss. Orchard was one of her ladies who was in the Tower with her, but as you say that would have been an odd choice, she shrieked with emotion in the gallery when the death sentence was passed on Anne, it is true that high born children spent more time with their nurses and nannies than their own parents, Elizabeth 1st herself remarked that one is more beholden to those that bring them up than their own blood kin.

        1. Ah thank you, that is what happens when you read five or six books on the same subject in a short period of time, all the names get jumbled up. I have been looking at the article on the Wyatt prayer book: it really is tiny, silver gilt and there is also a portrait of King Henry within it but the tradition is that Margaret Lee nee Wyatt, Tom Wyatt’s sister was given it at the execution and the family who own the estate now do have this tiny precise little prayer book which may have belonged to Anne, so who knows, maybe the legend is true. Nobody mentioned it in later sources, but not everything is written. Now I have a mystery to solve.

          My only inscriptions are on the title page of the book, for identifying it, or dedication, not inside as they are too precious. I certainly wouldn’t write a love note on my Book of Hours but that is what Henry and Anne did. Henry next to the painting of the Man of Sorrows from Isaiah, whom Christians identified as Christ and Anne next to the Angle Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will have a Son. Wedding vows? Accepted proposals? A promise and commitment? My old Bible came with a notes page at the back and I did write a couple of notes but certainly not on the text or even the margins. I suppose the people who owed such books knew they were personal, we will never know. Yes, books are such precious things and not for scribbling over.

          What is the oldest book you own?

      2. Hi Bq, I have several old books, I own the two original volumes of Anne Boleyn by Freidmann, they are about hundred years old or thearabouts, then the bible my uncle bought back from Jerusalem for my mum at the end of the Second World War, and I brought a very old copy of an Enid Blyton book dated 1947, from my local charity shop there were a load of old books we were selling a few weeks back, and I was determined to buy one, I loved Enid Blyton when I was little so it was for nostalgia I bought it, I do love old books.

        1. Hi BQ and Christine. The oldest book I have is a Protestant hymnal from 1872. Written inside the front cover in pencil is ‘Mike (illegible) Sept 9 1874’ In the back in pencil in very neat cursive ‘Willie L. Thompson, Portland Oregon May 2nd 1872’. No idea who these people were Previous owners I imagine.

          My most interesting old books are 2 geography text books from the very early 20th century. Fascinating to see international borders prior to WWI. A couple who lived next door to my parents moved out about 40 yrs ago and said we could take what ever they left. I took the books. No one else was interested

        2. They all sound very interesting Michael it is fascinating to contemplate how many hands have held those volumes over the years, I love old books in Leicester Square there are loads of bookshops all selling really old volumes, I could spend a whole day in there!

        3. Hi Christine and Michael, a Bible from Israel at the end of WWI must have been very beautiful and how lovely you have it now from your mum. Your hymnal sounds fascinating, Michael. I have a very old family Bible but the first people didn’t write and it goes back to my great grandfather. It’s huge but the title page I think is about 1850s and we know it was a gift but not who from. My oldest book is 1807 and its Hareunu ‘L Raschid and Charlemagne which is illustrated and I have a slightly later Koran which is beautiful and gilt and wrapped in a cloth for protection. I purchased it at a special sale and it was valued some time ago at £600 and no it’s not locked up but it is well hidden from sight and protection in that room. I have a full set of Agnes Strickland which came in a shoebox, well padded and are kept in the box with cloth to protect them. I am frightened to use them so have digital versions. I have a lot of old books and for me they are not ornament so they are used but of course not writing in them. I can’t resist them.

        4. The bible is beautiful as its carved from i think acacia wood it’s a very pale colour and it has Jersusalem carved on the front, the pages are very thin and the fly leafs are in gold so yes I treasure it, it is a very special family heirloom even though my mums family some of them anyway were not very religious, but to me it’s a little keepsake of both my dear uncle and mum, and also a reminder of the war that cost so many people their lives.

  9. As you are, so am I, delighted these historic figures did desecrate their works of art with very personal comments. That I am horrified says more about me perhaps, than them. If the most precious thing in a room is you, then all artefacts may be scrawled in, of course. I might feel very differently if I were of noble blood? I must admit my own mother wrote in her Bible, which was worth more to her than any illustrated script could ever do. So perhaps, let’s think, something of value becomes a part of you, almost projects you, and through it somehow you project a bit of yourself and make it real. “Here I stand” moments? Since it is common, it is a thing humans do, so I have to accept it, reluctantly.

    1. For historical teasons I’m glad people do. As for myself I have never written in my Bible or any other book. I didn’t beven write in my text books at school. I value books too much. If I want to take notes I’ll do it on a separate sheet of paper.

      1. I’m like that I have a notebook for when I write my shopping lists and make notes of things I need to and phone numbers etc, I don’t like to write in my books as there too precious, I feel like I ruin them if I do.

        1. Acacia wood was considered sacred and I believe it was used to make the Ark of the Covenant and inside the Temple. It was mentioned in several texts for building sacred buildings. Your Bible sounds very precious, especially from the end of a war which saw so many millions dead, a small relic of hope for the future.

  10. Hi BQ. £600 sounds like a pretty good deal. Old religeous texts of any faith are usually quite exquisite. I’m so glad there are so many who appreciate old books. They’re not just interesting. They are a direct link to the era in which they were created. Thank you both for sharing.

    Fascinating. As I’m writing this an ad from Biblio has popped up showing old books for sale!

  11. Bq you are lucky owning the original Strickland books, im not surprised you keep them tucked out of the way, I’d love to own a copy of Mary Anne Everett Greens Lives Of The Princesse’s of England, or is that queens? Anyway I love scouring charity shops because some of the books I seek are out of print though iv tried Abe books without luck. but you never know, a much sought after book may turn up I a charity shop or second hand market stall one day.

  12. Firstly Claire thank you so much for your wonderful and informative videos! Secondly does anyone on this thread know if its possible to purchase a replica of the books with notations included? Apologies if this is an obvious question or if it has been canvased elsewhere (I’m new to the site)

  13. Has any of the DNA on any of the books been tested? It would be fascinating to have data about the various owners and try and work out which DNA belonged to Anne.

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