Thomas Cromwell painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1532-3. The Frick Collection

The Hardouyn Hours, a jewelled fifteenth-century prayer book in Trinity College Library belonged to Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII, new research has found.

The most exciting Cromwell discovery in a generation – if not more.

Tracy Borman

Hever Castle curator, Alison Palmer, recognised the bejewelled, silver gilt binding of Trinity’s Book of Hours from the famous portrait of Thomas Cromwell painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1532-3, which hangs in the Frick Collection in New York. Palmer then worked with colleagues Kate McCaffrey and Dr Owen Emmerson to uncover the mystery of the book’s ownership.

The researchers followed a provenance trail that links the book from its donor, Dame Anne Sadleir, directly back to Thomas Cromwell. A team of experts have reviewed the new evidence and are confident that this is the very same book in the Holbein painting and that it belonged to Thomas Cromwell.

The Hardouyn Hours is thought to be the only object from any Tudor portrait to survive to this day.

The team established that the book, printed in Paris by Germain Hardouyn in 1527 or 1528, would have been among the books left by Cromwell to his secretary and protege Ralph Sadleir.

The book came to Trinity from Dame Anne Sadleir who married the grandson of Cromwell’s secretary. Anne was the daughter of the eminent lawyer Sir Edward Coke, a member of Trinity. She donated this Book of Hours, along with Trinity’s best-known manuscript – The Trinity Apocalypse – to the College in 1660.

Trinity’s Librarian Dr Nicolas Bell has collaborated with researchers 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.

Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, formerly curator of metalwork at the Louvre in Paris, has confirmed that the silver gilt edging was made by Pierre Mangot, goldsmith to King Francis I of France. Mangot, who had moved to Paris the previous year from Blois, also made items for members of 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.

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

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.”

Kate McCaffrey, from Hever Castle, said: “We now believe that Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragon, and Thomas Cromwell all owned a copy of the same prayer book… We are confident that this discovery will shed new light on the often-troubled relationship between these giants of the Tudor court.”

Dr Tracy Borman said it was: “The most exciting Cromwell discovery in a generation – if not more.”

Hever Castle recently exhibited Catherine of Aragon’s 1527 prayer book (on loan from the Morgan Library in New York) alongside Anne Boleyn’s 1527 Book of Hours.

The Hardouyn Hours will be on loan to Hever Castle for their exhibition Catherine & Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers which runs until 10 November 2023. This is the first time that the book has ever been lent by Trinity College since it was received on 10th August 1660.

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