Archaeology

Ultraviolet Light Reveals Secret Keepers of Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book

The controversial and tragic death of Anne Boleyn in 1536 AD is brought back to mind this week, 485 years since she was beheaded. Now, a master’s researcher from an English university has revealed a secret list of names who protected Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book after she died.

Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII’s second wife, whom he had investigated for high treason in April 1536 AD. On May 2nd, Anne was arrested and sent to the Tower of London and was later charged and convicted of adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king. According to an entry on British History Online “some say that Anne was also accused of witchcraft but the indictments make no mention of that.”

It is generally agreed among modern historians that the charges brought against Anne were wholly unjust. For example, among the five men who were arrested, with whom Anne was accused of committing adultery with, was her own brother George, which just doesn’t seem to hold up.

This carefully “selected” set of charges meant that on May 19th of that year Anne was beheaded.

The year 2021 marks the 485th anniversary since Anne’s head came off. It is therefore no coincidence the media is filled with the story of “The Anne Boleyn book club,” a collection of prayers belonging to Anne that according to a Smithsonian article “was secretly passed around her noble women friends after her execution.”

The legend of Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book is almost as old as the story of her death. This is probably the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn, painted before the “scandal” began. (National Portrait Gallery / Public domain)

The legend of Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book is almost as old as the story of her death. This is probably the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn, painted before the “scandal” began. (National Portrait Gallery / Public domain )

Shining Ultraviolet Light On Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book

Legends have long spoken of Anne Boleyn handing a small prayer book to one of her ladies before she was executed in the Tower of London in 1536 AD. An article in the Daily Mail explains that Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book could have been one of several books, including a “ Book of Hours ” held at Hever Castle in Kent, which was the childhood home of Boleyn. The Hever Castle book is associated with Anne because it contains her inscription “remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day.”

During research at University of Kent, master’s student Kate McCaffrey applied ultraviolet light to reveal a set of “never-before-seen names inscribed in the book,” belonging to those who protected it after Anne’s tragic, and controversial, death.

Miss McCaffrey examined what she described as “smudges caused by water damage.” The ultraviolet scan revealed what the student described as “never-before-seen names and words lay beneath them when studied under ultraviolet light,” according to Smithsonian.

Now, the Hever Castle book is contextualized as having, for more than two decades after Anne’s death, been “secretly passed around her noble women friends who risked the king’s wrath to save it.”

Of the known names found in Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book, revealed by the ultraviolet light scan, are Sir John Gage, his wife Philippa, and her sister Elizabeth Shirley. This portrait of Sir Gage was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. (Hans Holbein / Public domain)

Of the known names found in Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book, revealed by the ultraviolet light scan, are Sir John Gage, his wife Philippa, and her sister Elizabeth Shirley. This portrait of Sir Gage was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger. (Hans Holbein / Public domain )

Investigating The Protectors Of The Holy Book

The newly revealed list of names is all handwritten in Old English . The names are all identified as having been in the confidence of Anne in her last days. Among the names is a politician at Henry’s court, Sir John Gage, his wife Philippa, and her sister Elizabeth Shirley.

However, while the names of the book’s keepers have been revealed, exactly how the book got from Anne Boleyn to the other women after her execution on May 19, 1536 is “a key missing link in the story,” according to the Daily Mail.

Miss McCaffrey said her new ultraviolet light research suggests the book passed between a network of acquaintances after Anne’s death and now it is clear Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book was carefully protected among a network of “trusted connections.”

The researchers told Smithsonian that “the book would have had to have been kept secret until Boleyn and Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558.”

However, what happened to the book after that “remains a mystery until the Astor family purchased Hever Castle in 1903.”

Top image: This Book of Hours manuscript, in the collection of Hever Castle, England, is now considered to be Anne Boleyn’s Prayer Book, as was recently revealed with an ultraviolet light scan that revealed a list of “secret names” in the book.  Source: Hever Castle and Gardens

By Ashley Cowie


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