Hidden inscriptions discovered in Anne Boleyn’s prayerbook

Previously unknown inscriptions have been uncovered in the prayerbook which, according to historic records, Anne carried to her execution.

Kent’s Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, houses two of her exquisitely illuminated Book of Hours prayerbooks. To mark the anniversary of her execution on 19 May 1536, Hever Castle has revealed that, following new research, previously unknown inscriptions have been uncovered in the prayerbook which Anne allegedly carried to her execution.

Most of Anne Boleyn’s possessions were removed following her demise. Of the few of her books to survive, only the two at Hever Castle, and another kept at the British Library in London, bear her signature.

Unspecified Book of Hours prayerbooks were popular in England from the 13th century until the Reformation. They contained psalms and prayers performed at eight fixed hours throughout the day in short services to the Virgin Mary. This photograph shows an illumination from Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours prayerbook.

As part of the research for her master’s thesis, Kate McCaffrey, a former steward at Hever Castle, studied the prayerbooks under ultra-violet light and enhanced the pages with video-editing software.

Originally, it was thought the prayerbook that Anne may have brought to her execution bore only her signature and an inscription reading: ‘Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day.

However, the study uncovered three family names also within the book: Gage, West, and Shirley. These names centre around the name of the Guildford family of Cranbrook in Kent. This suggests the prayerbook was passed from female to female amongst families related to the Boleyns.

Photo: © Hever Castle & Garden. Former Hever Castle steward and University of Kent student Kate McCaffrey pictured showing the hidden words and names in Anne Boleyn’s historic prayerbook under UV light.

McCaffrey explained: ‘It is clear that this book was passed between a network of trusted connections, from daughter to mother, from sister to niece. If the book had fallen into other hands, questions almost certainly would have been raised over the remaining presence of Anne’s signature. Instead, the book was passed carefully between a group of primarily women who were both entrusted to guard Anne’s note and encouraged to add their own.

‘In a world with very limited opportunities for women to engage with religion and literature, the simple act of marking this Hours and keeping the secret of its most famous user, was one small way to generate a sense of community and expression.’

The prayerbooks are on display at Hever Castle, which has now reopened to the public in-line with government restrictions.