Remembering Anne: New Evidence from Anne Boleyn’s Printed Book of Hours by Kate McCaffrey

Posted By on May 28, 2021

You may have seen Kate McCaffrey on the news discussing her research and the new inscriptions she discovered in one Anne Boleyn’s Books of Hours. Kate kindly offered to do a couple of guest articles for me, one for us here at the Anne Boleyn Files and one for the Tudor Society website. Do follow the link at the end to read the second article.

Over to Kate…

To modern eyes, the sixteenth-century afterlife of Henry VIII’s ill-fated second queen, Anne Boleyn, is often clouded. This is due, in large part, to Henry’s concerted efforts to erase his second wife from history. For Henry, disgracing Anne’s name and ordering her execution was not enough. He also ordered the destruction of Anne’s emblems and portraits, effectively trying to wipe her from the narrative as he quickly moved on to his third wife, Jane Seymour. Although there was a moderate revival of Anne’s memory during the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I, it was not until a nineteenth-century surge of interest in the tragedy of Anne’s story that her name became, once again, well known. Now, 485 years after her demise, new evidence has been uncovered from a small, printed Book of Hours once owned by Anne, and now held at her childhood home of Hever Castle in Kent. This humble volume bears her touching plea for the remembrance that Henry denied her: ‘Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth led from day to day’.

I was lucky enough to closely study Anne’s printed prayerbook last January and the findings I uncovered during my research have important implications for Anne’s sixteenth-century afterlife, memory and reputation in the years after her downfall. For what I discovered, by deciphering four further notes within the book that had later been erased, was a complex network of owners who bravely chose to cherish Anne’s memory through the simple act of protecting her book. This was a defiant, communal act between a group of primarily women, who ensured Anne’s memory stayed alive with those who once had, and valued, a personal connection to her. Anne was not entirely forgotten.

By uncovering partial transcriptions of each further note within Anne’s printed Hours, I was able to see the signed names of those who had owned and used the book after Anne. Three out of four of these names were female: Elizabeth Shirley, Philippa Gage, and Mary West. Elizabeth Shirley and Philippa Gage were sisters, and Mary West was their niece. The sole male inscription came from Philippa’s husband, John Gage. Several interesting stories emerge from these names. It is particularly notable that the book was evidently kept safe within the trusted hands of one, extended family. Certainly, if the book had fallen into outside hands the consequences for those who were harbouring Anne’s note and book would have been significant. It would have been a blatant display of disloyalty to the king. Also notable is that the members of this family who kept Anne’s book safe were all local to the Kent area, and to the Boleyns at Hever.

Indeed, the connection between Anne herself and these other users of her book comes through, I believe, a woman named Elizabeth Hill. Interestingly, this is another female connection. Hill was also born and raised in Sundridge in Kent which is only eight miles away from Anne’s childhood home at Hever. She was at court at the same time as Anne, having married Richard Hill, the serjeant of the king’s cellar. Hill was the daughter of Elizabeth Shirley, one of the authors of the newly uncovered inscriptions. Thus, it seems as though Anne passed her book to Elizabeth Hill, with whom she shared a personal connection, be that a friendship from court or simply a common experience of locality and background. Elizabeth Hill then kept this book safe by passing it between close members of her family: her mother, her aunt, her uncle, her cousin. These people bravely chose to protect the book, and Anne’s place within it, in order to privately cherish her memory. Despite Anne’s widespread dishonouring, and attempts to erase her from the narrative, the newly-deciphered inscriptions within Anne’s prayerbook tell a different tale of women who remembered Anne, just as she had demanded.

You can read Kate’s second article here.

Kate will be discussing her discovery with Natalie Grueninger on her Talking Tudors podcast tomorrow (29th May) so do look out for that at https://talkingtudors.podbean.com/

You can follow Kate on Twitter @kateemccaffrey and also on her blog kateemccaffrey.WordPress.com.

Here is the video that Hever Castle released on 19th May about Kate’s work:

4 thoughts on “Remembering Anne: New Evidence from Anne Boleyn’s Printed Book of Hours by Kate McCaffrey”

  1. Sandi Vasoli says:

    Wonderful, fun, exciting, important research and reporting! Thank you Kate and thank you the ABF!

  2. Christine says:

    Very good article, so it appears that there were many of these books, of course Hever owns Anne’s copy which is gold dust, very interesting and poignant to that Anne’s book of hours was passed down to several members of the same family, and they were all Kent born, certainly Anne Boleyn was Kent’s most famous daughter, and when she died she was preserved in her memory, whilst Henry V111 chose to behave as if she had never existed, the Hill family must have been acquainted with the Boleyn’s since there were neighbours, and they probably knew the Wyatt’s of Allington Castle as well, and Elizabeth was at court so she could have been in her household, but what a treasured keepsake to own Queen Anne’s precious book of hours, it is probably the most important artefact ever associated with the doomed queen because it contains her signature, a rarity in itself since there are so few documents with her signature that have survived, we have the letters she wrote Cardinal Wolsey but none of her correspondence to the king, and there must have been plenty since he wrote to her so often, long after the queen was dead she must have been talked about often between the members of the loyal Hill family, they could well have been reformists themselves and must have believed in her innocence, every year on May 19th they could have lit a candle in her memory and prayed in the family chapel, in fact it is nice to think that most Kent families did light candles in her memory, and that when the older generations died out, the younger ones carried on the tradition.

  3. Janette Wright says:

    I’m so grateful for the fact that people like Kate are still finding new evidence proving Anne wasn’t the scheming “concubine” she was made out to be, before and after her unjust execution.
    Anne has always been my heroine, even though history has been callously distorted to try and make us forget what reforms she enabled and her selfless charitable work.
    She was an amazing, totally misunderstood woman and role model, who faced her ultimate demise with dignity and bravery. Thank you Kate and ABF for keeping her cherished memory alive, the world should never forget what an inspiration Anne Boleyn is.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    This is a great article and wonderful break through. Anne had loyal friends, a close network of women who kept her memory alive through her Beautiful Book of Hours. They took a great risk and they and their families could have been punished for holding onto such a vital and living memorial of Anne, words in her own hand, maybe written in the Tower? The discovery of five more inscriptions, all connected to Anne and each other is absolutely amazing. Anne asked that she be remembered and this incredibly brave group of women and one man, did so. This precious and beautiful book is so personal and links us to Henry’s second Queen in a deeply intimate way. These items were very precious as well as beautiful, they were used in the prayer and spiritual life of their owners, for meditation and prayer and they were often hand made for that person or handed down to them as family gifts. Some had Calanders in them and notes of dates of birth and so on may be put there. Unfortunately, Anne didn’t put this information inside hers so we are still none the wiser on that score. Margaret Beaufort, who preserved a family Book of Hours, recorded her grandchildren dates of birth inside and Richard iii famously placed an inscription and his birth date and signature in his miraculously preserved Book of Hours.

    There is a famous family tale that Anne gave a Book of Hours to one of her ladies and that Book came down to the Wyatt family via her friend, Margaret Wyatt, sister of the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, her ex lover. It’s never been authenticated but it would be fantastic if that tradition was and we had her Book of Hours as well. What a wonderful connection, maybe right to Anne’s last days. Kate’s research has,opened up many opportunities and its like we can touch Anne herself through her loyal friends and her desire for remembrance and prayer. Such intimate and lovely Books in themselves are extraordinary, that we can trace these two precious Book of Hours to Anne and her last days as well as her innermost self is beyond remarkable.

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