Owned by Henry VIII as a young man, this is one of the finest surviving late medieval prayer rolls.
Measuring over three metres in length, this roll contains prayers in Latin and English and fourteen illuminated images, which include martyred saints, St George slaying the dragon, and Christ’s Passion. As well as reading and reciting it, those who wore the roll could expect to spend less time in Purgatory and to be protected from sudden death and evil spirits. Placing it on the stomach of a pregnant woman would ensure her purification and the safe delivery of her child.
The royal badges at the top of the manuscript – the Tudor rose, the crowned ostrich feather of the Prince of Wales and Katharine of Aragon’s sheaf of arrows – show that Henry owned it before he came to the throne in 1509. Above an image of Christ with his wounds pouring blood, he addressed an inscription to a gentleman of his privy chamber: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry.’
Why is it so important?
Prayer rolls were one of the casualties of the Reformation: it is thought that perhaps as few as sixteen survive. This particular roll is crucial for our understanding of Henry’s religion. Historians have been unsure how far back to trace his journey from being a vociferous defender of the papacy to one of its most belligerent enemies. This prayer roll shows that Henry’s youthful religion was firmly rooted in the world of late medieval popular piety, with its relics, pilgrimage and the cult of the saints. The change in his religious beliefs is best understood as a conversion, rather than the gradual germination of doubts.
For more images of this item please see Digitised Manuscripts.