Anne Boleyn’s hidden inscription discovered

Originally posted February 22, 2023.

‘By daily prove you shall me find, to be to you both loving and kind.’

These are the touching words etched into the bylines of Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours, c. 1528, recently discovered by researchers after hundreds of years.

Used by lay people during their private prayers, Book of Hours were immensely popular throughout the Middle Ages until the advent of the Reformation. These exquisite gilded manuscripts were ‘more akin to jewels than to books’ and were handled with a similar degree of precious care, and contained a compendium of psalms and prayers performed at fixed intervals throughout the day in service to the Virgin Mary.

The opulence of Anne’s particular copy is unique, however, indicating that it belonged to an individual of high status. It may have also played a role in the passionate, but ultimately fatal, love affair that burned between Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII in the 1520s.

The positioning of Anne’s now faint inscription bears profound implications. It is deliberately placed beneath an illustration of the  ‘Annunciation,’ which, in Christian theology, commemorates Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to inform her that she will give birth to a son. Anne was astutely sending Henry a flirtatious, though perhaps not entirely subtle, message. Implicit in this gesture was her intent to fulfill the King’s fervent desire — to provide him with a male heir, the very thing he desired most.

Henry VIII’s Inscription, signed ‘Henry R’.

To Henry VIII, whose twenty-year marriage to Catherine of Aragon had yielded only a daughter, Anne’s promise was everything. 

Beneath an image of the wounded Christ, Henry later relayed his own hopes to Anne:  ‘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.’ 

It is now posited that the survival of this precious tome was attributed to an act of female solidarity, whereby it found safekeeping among Anne’s ladies in May of 1536 and eventually passed into the hands of Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter. After this period, however, the Book of Hours vanished from historical records for centuries.

Anne’s Book of Hours is now on exhibit, along a similar one owned by Katharine of Aragon, at Anne’s childhood home of Hever Castle in Kent.

Anne Boleyn's Book of Hours, featuring a hidden – and poignant – inscription.
Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours, featuring a hidden – and poignant – inscription.

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