Old Mystery Solved as Thomas Cromwell’s ‘Book of Hours’ Found

Prayer book heralded ‘the most exciting Cromwell discovery in a generation – if not more.’

In a discovery branded the most exciting Thomas Cromwell finding ‘in a generation’, historians at Hever Castle believe that Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon, AND Thomas Cromwell all owned a copy of the same prayer book.

A 1527 prayer book belonging to Catherine of Aragon on loan from the Morgan Library in New York has been available for visitors to see alongside the 1527 Book of Hours, which belonged to Anne Boleyn, already on display in the Castle (from 8 February to 4 June 2023).

When Catherine’s book returns to the USA, visitors will be able to see another 1527 Book of Hours – which is now believed to have belonged to Thomas Cromwell – on loan from the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge.

This is the first time that historians have made a link between Catherine, Anne, and Cromwell regarding their prayer books.

Assistant Curator at Hever Castle, Kate McCaffrey, made the link that Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had copies of the same prayer book back in 2021. She then discovered a third copy of the 1527 Book of Hours, which had been donated to Cambridge in 1660, and took Hever’s curatorial team to view it.

Hever Castle’s Curator, Alison Palmer, recognised the bejewelled, silver gilt binding of the book from the famous portrait of Thomas Cromwell painted by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543) in 1532-3, which is in the Frick Collection, New York. Since Alison’s remarkable discovery, she has worked alongside Kate McCaffrey and Dr Owen Emmerson to uncover the mystery of the book’s ownership.

Previously little was known about the early provenance of this prayer book. However now Hever’s team has uncovered a compelling provenance trail that links the book from its donor, Dame Anne Sadleir, directly back to Thomas Cromwell. A team of experts, including historian, author and TV presenter Tracy Borman, have reviewed the exciting new evidence and have confidence that this is the very same book in the Holbein painting and that it belonged to Thomas Cromwell.

This book is thought to be the only object from any Tudor portrait to survive to this day and the first time the book has been lent from Trinity College since it was received on 10 August 1660.

Alison said: “It is thrilling to be a part of the solving of this 400-year-old mystery. Seeing the evolution of the Curatorial team’s research from my kernel of an assumption, just under a year ago to the final identification of this book’s original owner is the finding of a lifetime. I am enormously proud of the hard work that Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey have put into untangling the mystery that was this book and I am excited to see where this may now lead for not only Hever, but also the Frick Collection and the Wren Library.”

Dr Tracy Borman said it was: “The most exciting Cromwell discovery in a generation – if not more.”

 The discovery was announced at a press launch at Hever Castle on Thursday 8 June.

Cromwell’s prayer book will be on display from 8 June until November 2023 as part of the Castle’s exhibition: Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers’ which showcases the similarities between Catherine and Anne.

An image of the Frick portrait will also be on display for visitors and there will be an accompanying catalogue on the Thomas Cromwell discovery 2023 entitled Holbein’s hidden gem: rediscovering Thomas Cromwell’s lost book.

Credit Image: Trinity College, Cambridge