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Thomas Cromwell’s Book of Hours in Trinity College Library

A jewelled Book of Hours in Trinity College Library is now believed to have belonged to Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister to King Henry VIII.

The same book appears in Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1532-3 portrait of Cromwell in the Frick Collection in New York.

Librarian Dr Nicolas Bell said:

“This book of devotional prayers is remarkable for its unusually grand binding, covered with velvet, jewels and highly decorated silver gilt borders, all of which date from the time it was printed and illuminated. It has been enormously exciting to position this luxurious creation in the very centre of the court of Henry VIII, where we know that both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn owned copies of the very same edition.”

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger © The Frick Collection; Photo Michael Bodycomb

Research by Assistant Curators at Hever Castle, Dr Owen Emmerson and Ms Kate McCaffrey, suggests that the Book of Hours, printed in Paris by Germain Hardouyn in 1527 or 28, would have been among the books left by Cromwell to his secretary and protegé Ralph Sadleir.

And it came to Trinity from Dame Anne Sadleir who married the grandson of Cromwell’s secretary.

Anne Sadleir, the daughter of eminent lawyer Sir Edward Coke, a member of Trinity, is one of the few women who donated to the College. She gave this Book of Hours, along with Trinity’s best-known manuscript – The Trinity Apocalypse – to the College in 1660.

Dr Bell has collaborated with academics at Cambridge and beyond to find out more about the Hardouyn Hours.

Based on a note in the front of the book, the gems on the covers and clasps were thought to be jaspers or jacinths, but analysis by Joanna Symonowicz, a doctoral researcher working with Dr Giuliana Di Martino in the University’s Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy, has used Raman spectroscopy to identify them as grossular garnets.

Positioning the book under the microscope

Laser shining onto the jewel

Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, former curator of silver and decorative arts at the Louvre in Paris, says that the silver gilt edging is by Pierre Mangot, goldsmith to King Francis I of France. Mangot, from Blois, often collaborated with Hans Holbein. He also made items for the Boleyn family.

Mangot’s hallmark is the letter ‘M’ and a lower case ‘a’ tells us that the binding was made between December 1529 and 1530 in Paris, only a year or two after the book was printed.

Detail of hallmarks

The Holbein portrait celebrates Cromwell’s appointment as Master of the Jewel House which may explain why the Hardouyn Hours features so prominently.

Hever Castle’s curator Alison Palmer was first to recognise the book and has since worked with colleagues Ms McCaffrey and Dr Emerson to investigate its ownership.

Ms McCaffrey said:

“We now believe that Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon, and Thomas Cromwell all owned a copy of the same prayer book. These Books of Hours have long been the subject of my personal research and it has been a privilege to embark on this next chapter in collaboration with Dr Nicolas Bell and The Wren Library. We are confident that this discovery will shed new light on the often-troubled relationship between these giants of the Tudor court.”

The Hardouyn Hours will be on loan to Hever Castle for the exhibition Catherine & Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers which runs until 10 November.

You can read more about the Anne Sadleir on the Library Blog

You can also view the Hardouyn Hours and the Trinity Apocalypse online in the Wren Digital Library.

The Hardouyn Hours (C.30.9). Photo James Kirwan

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