Prayer Book Owned By Thomas Cromwell Discovered After Hiding in Plain Sight for 400 Years

It’s not uncommon to find items of historical importance hiding in plain sight. This was recently the case with a prayer book that belonged to Thomas Cromwell, chief minister of King Henry VIII and one of the most prominent figures of the English Reformation. It turned out the book was stored at the University of Cambridge for 400 years without anyone knowing its true origins.

The discovery was made by Alison Palmer, curator at Hever Castle, the childhood home of King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn. Palmer saw the prayer book in Trinity College’s library and recognized similarities with a book depicted in Cromwell’s most famous portrait done by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Back in 2021, Hever Castle’s assistant curator Kate McCaffrey discovered that Boleyn and King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, owned the same prayer book, Book of Hours, published by Paris printer Germain Hardouyn in the early 16th century. While conducting further research, McCaffrey found out that there is a third copy of the same book housed by the University of Cambridge.

Hever Castle’s curatorial team went to examine the book, and that was when Palmer noticed that it was similar to one sitting at the desk in Cromwell’s portrait. They later confirmed that it is the same book through provenance. Dame Anne Sadleir, who donated the book to Cambridge, was the wife of Ralph Sadleir, the grandson of Cromwell’s secretary Ralph Sadleir.

Thomas Cromwell’s prayer book is currently on display at Hever Castle alongside the copy that belonged to Anne Boleyn.

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