On 19th May this year I visited Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn's childhood home. It was on this day in 1536 that Anne was beheaded at the Tower of London following charges of adultery, incest and plotting to kill her husband, Henry VIII. Modern historians regard these charges as fabricated: the couple had failed to produce a male heir; several miscarriages had followed the birth of their daughter Elizabeth and Henry had begun to court Jane Seymour. In memory of Anne, on the 19th of May 2023, her precious Book of Hours was brought out from the archive and put on display at Hever, along with fascinating historical details that could be deduced from it.
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Anne was originally a maid of honour to the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, but by 1527, the year of the book's printing, Henry was hotly pursuing Anne and was considering the annulment of his marriage to Catherine. Assistant creator Kate McCaffrey explains in the Hever exhibition that books from this printing were commissioned for the English court, including both Catherine and Anne, but that their copies are of different quality.
The rivalry between Anne and Catherine is further shown in a tiny illumination in Anne's music book in which her emblem, the falcon, is shown pecking rather viciously at Catherine's emblem, the pomegranate.
In June 1528, when Henry was still married to Catherine and pursuing Anne, a 'sweating sickness' occurred in London that sent the court, in action all too reminiscent of the last few years, scattering to the countryside to quarantine. Anne and her father at Hever became dangerously ill and Anne's brother-in-law died of the virus. Kate McCaffrey's research suggests that the inscription was written at around this time, possibly while Anne battled with the death-dealing illness.
Remember me when you do pray
that hope doth lead from day to day
- Anne Boleyn
It made me shiver to think about what lay ahead of her only eight years later. I reflected on the relief she must have felt on her recovery, the determination to seize the day and her opportunity to become Queen and how fragile human hopes can be.