Thank you so much to Kate McCaffrey for sharing this guest article with us today. Kate has been in the news recently because of her discovery of previously hidden inscriptions in one of Anne Boleyn's Books of Hours at Hever Castle - a wonderful discovery.
Over to Kate...
Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Two queens, two wives, two rivals. They are both highly recognisable leading women from sixteenth-century England, but are also famed rivals in love and power. At best, we consider them to have had a fraught, divisive relationship. In today’s society, as is so often the case, we frequently see them as two women pitted against each other: one ‘good’, one ‘bad’, one Catholic, one Reformist, one wife, one mistress. Certainly, they were rivals and had many differing opinions and standpoints, but they also had key qualities in common. They were both highly educated, pious women who were at the whims of their changeable husband and who, in their own ways, were victims of patriarchal circumstance.
We very rarely picture them in any moment of unity, but this may now be changed. A recent discovery I made during my research into a printed Book of Hours once written in, and owned by, Anne Boleyn, unites these two influential women in perhaps the most peaceful of moments: prayer. Part of my research was to trace other copies of the same printing as the prayerbook now held at Anne’s childhood home of Hever Castle in Kent. This led me in many directions, and will continue to do so, but one particularly exciting discovery that emerged was that one of the same copies of Hever’s printed Hours is currently held in the Morgan Library in New York and was once owned by Catherine of Aragon. Immediately, this sparks intriguing, new questions as to how both of Henry VIII’s first two wives owned the very same book. It has significant implications for their relationship with one another, and also their book ownership.
Both Catherine and Anne used and owned multiple copies of Books of Hours, which were popular prayerbooks seen as a highly appropriate outlet for female literacy and piety. However, up until this point, we have not known that one of the Hours they used was the exact same copy of the same book. We know that Hever’s printed Hours was Anne’s due to the survival of her signed inscription, ‘remember me when you do pray that hope doth led from day to day’. In the Morgan’s printed Hours, Catherine’s ownership is signified by an inscription in a sixteenth-century hand that reads ‘thys boke was good quen Katrin boke’. Thus, it appears as though Catherine herself did not write within her copy of the book, but she certainly owned it. In the years after the disgrace of both queens, their books were kept safe in the hands of those loyal to them. Another aspect of my research found that Hever’s printed Hours was protected by a group of women local to the Boleyns at Hever, whilst the Morgan’s printed Hours was passed to Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Margaret Coke, and so seems to have been similarly protected by those devoted to her.
A key issue that arises from Catherine and Anne both owning a copy of the same printing is the simple question of why? An attractive possibility would be that Henry gifted these books to his first two wives, and it certainly seems feasible that these books were presented as a group to Catherine and certain members of her household, including Anne. Yet it is equally possible that Catherine herself ordered these books for her own use and for the use of members of her household. Group reading, particularly amongst educated women, was a common pastime and it is likely that these books were for the purpose of reading and praying together. Another possibility is that both Catherine and Anne heard of the production of these books, and both requested a copy. The early provenance of this group of printings will be a subject of my future research.
Another factor of significance is the date that these books were printed. Both Hours were produced by the prolific French printer, Germain Hardouin, in Paris in 1527. The date can be surmised from the inclusion of an almanac at the start of each book for the year 1528. This is a particularly pivotal moment in the changing structure of the Henrician court. By 1527, Henry had decided his marriage to Catherine must be annulled and later that same year Anne accepted the king’s proposal. Thus, the ownership of the same book by these two leading ladies comes at a moment where Anne’s star was very much on the rise, and Catherine’s on the wane. It is, perhaps, this extra context that makes the image of Catherine and Anne using their same book together at a time of great personal strife, but in a moment of peaceful prayer, all the more compelling.
Kate has also written a guest article for the Anne Boleyn Files so do check that out - click 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/
Here is the video that Hever Castle released on 19th May about Kate's work: