News | February 22, 2023

Prayer Books Owned By Two of Henry VIII’s Wives Reunited After 500 Years

Ollie Dixon/Hever Castle and Gardens

Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn's Books of Hours

For the first time in 500 years two prayer books belonging to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn have been reunited and displayed together at Hever Castle in Kent, England.

Until June 4, 2023, a 1527 prayer book belonging to Catherine of Aragon on loan from the Morgan Library in New York will be available for visitors to see alongside the 1527 Book of Hours which belonged to Anne Boleyn, already on display in the Castle, as featured in the winter 2022 issue of Fine Books & Collections.

This is probably the first time in nearly 500 years that the prayer books will be together under the same roof since their original ownership by the two queens in 1528. The acquisition forms part of the second in a series of exhibitions about Anne Boleyn at her childhood home and follows the Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court which ran last year.

For centuries Catherine and Anne have been pitted against each other as love rivals with their differences celebrated. This new exhibition, Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers, showcases the similarities between Catherine and Anne and through new research shows that Catherine owned the very same copy of the prayer book that Anne had.

Hever Castle’s Assistant Curator Kate McCaffrey, who made the discovery as part of her research, says: “Catherine and Anne both owned a copy of the same printed Book of Hours, produced in Paris in 1527. Pertinently, it was in January of that year, while residing at her childhood home of Hever Castle in Kent, that Anne Boleyn likely made her decision to accept the king’s proposal. In doing so, Anne sealed the uncomfortable new reality of her and Catherine living parallel lives as queen and queen-in-waiting. They were both, at this point, arguably at their most divided, yet they were also united through perhaps the most peaceful of means, prayer.

“This new link between Catherine and Anne is the inspiration behind the exhibition. The similarities and differences of the two books, and the two queens who once owned them, will be celebrated.”

Along with the Book of Hours visitors can see a previously unexhibited panel portrait of Catherine of Aragon and replicas of the coronation robes and crown of Elizabeth I and Mary I which may also have been used by Anne and Catherine at their coronations. The coronation robes which were made for the 1998 film Elizabeth and worn by Cate Blanchett will now be on display in the Castle’s King Henry VIII’s Bedchamber.

Portrait miniatures of all four of the queens featured in the exhibition will be on display: Queen Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Queen Mary I, alongside miniatures of Queen Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

Visitors will be able to view four never before exhibited costumes from the recent StarZ historical drama Becoming Elizabeth. These will include replica gowns from portraits of three of Henry’s children - Mary, Elizabeth and Edward - alongside a costume of Henry’s final Queen, Katherine Parr.

The accompanying catalogue has a foreword by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb whose book about the six wives of Henry VIII is due out later this year. The exhibition is included as part of Castle admission.