An opulent object, with nearly fifty illustrations, this Book of Hours once belonged to Anne Boleyn (d. 1536), King Henry VIII’s second wife. Two pages (f. 231v and f. 66r, digitised images 1 and 2) are a testament to their budding romance.
Books of Hours, used by lay people during their private prayers, were enormously popular in the Middle Ages. Containing the Hours of the Virgin along with other prayers and psalms, they offered their owners an easier version of the Divine Office practised in religious communities. The elegance of this particular manuscript marks it out as belonging to an individual of high status. Alongside helping Anne to frame her personal prayer schedule, her Book of Hours facilitated her romance with Henry VIII.
It is easy to imagine Henry deliberately seeking Anne out while she was praying in order to make his mark on her book. Clearly, he wanted her to think of him during her devotions, since he wrote in French, ‘If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R forever.’ He wrote these lines beneath an image of the wounded Christ, likening his love for Anne to Christ’s afflictions.
At some point, Anne responded with a compliant English couplet: ‘Be daly prove you shall me fynde, To be to you bothe lovynge and kynde’ (‘By daily proof you shall me find To be to you both loving and kind’). Her choice of image was far more enticing than her words. By placing her message beneath an illustration of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her that she would have a son, she was implicitly promising to give Henry his longed-for male heir.
Why is it so important?
Remarkable for its artistry, this manuscript is also a rare example of lovers using a religious book to exchange flirtatious messages. Perhaps more than any other source, it captures the mixture of piety and coquettishness for which Anne was so well known.
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.