Neil Hennessy-Vass learns about the discover of the lifetime at Hever Castle with the finding of Thomas Cromwell’s prayer book.

Those clever historians have been at it again at Hever Castle in Kent. Not content earlier this year with uncovering a link between two Books of Hours from Henry VIII era but they have found a third, belonging to Thomas Cromwell, which has been hiding in the Wren Library in Christchurch College Cambridge University for 400 years.

This find ‘of a generation’ is something of a coup for the castle and its team of historians, Dr Owen Emmerson, and Kate McCaffrey. The prayer book of 1527 belonging to Catherine of Aragon (currently on loan from the Morgan Library in New York) has been on display at Hever Castle along with Anne Boleyn’s 1527 copy. Now you can see the Cromwell book on load from the Wren Library, Christchurch College, Cambridge, which was donated in 1660.

Cromwell’s Prayer Book
Credit above pic Hand Holbein the younger, © The Frick Collection: Photograph Michael Bodycomb.

Hever Castle’s curator, Alison Palmer spotted that the bejewelled silver gilt binding was the same as the one depicted in the famous Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of Thomas Cromwell (1532-3) which is currently housed in the Frick Collection in New York.

Given to the Wren Library by Dame Anne Sadleir, the historians at Hever have divined a pure link of provenance to Cromwell himself.

Palmer says, “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.”

Cromwell’s Prayer Book

Cromwell’s prayer book is on display until November 2023 as part of Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers’. An image of the Frick portrait is also available to see along with a fascinating book: Holbein’s Hidden Gem: Rediscovering Thomas Cromwell’s Book

Credit above pic Hand Holbein the younger, © The Frick Collection: Photograph Michael Bodycomb.

Hever Castle & Gardens

Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG

T: 01732 865224


Main image: Credit above pic Trinity College Cambridge