UK exhibition uncovers holy link between Henry VIII’s rival wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon


The power of prayer unites two of Henry VIII’s wives in a new exhibition opening today, Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers (until 30 June), at Hever Castle in Kent, UK.

Kate McCaffrey, Hever Castle’s assistant curator, has uncovered a link between Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively the first and second wives of the infamous monarch. “Catherine and Anne both owned a copy of the same printed Book of Hours (popular scriptural prayerbooks), produced in Paris in 1527,” she says in a statement.

The exhibition includes the 1527 prayer book belonging to Catherine of Aragon, on loan from the Morgan Library in New York, alongside the 1527 Book of Hours which belonged to Anne Boleyn which is already on display in the Castle.

Catherine of Aragon was the first wife of Henry VIII; she was 23 and he was 17 when they married in 1509. Catherine gave birth to six children but only Mary, born in 1516, survived. When the relationship did not produce a male heir, Henry annulled the marriage in 1533.

According to the Historic Royal Palaces website, when French-educated Anne Boleyn became Katherine’s lady-in-waiting in the early 1520s, “the Queen’s days were numbered. Anne was glamorous and young, and captivated the King”. She married Henry VIII in 1533 but after giving birth to a daughter—later Elizabeth I—she faced charges of adultery and conspiracy and was beheaded in 1536.

In a blog on the Morgan Library website (2021), McAffrey describes why the prayer book discovery is important, saying: “The ownership by both of Henry’s first two wives of a copy of the same edition holds hugely intriguing implications for their relationship with one another and their book ownership.

“Both Catherine and Anne are well known for being highly educated women who owned and used many books and certainly had access to multiple copies of Books of Hours. Yet their connection to one specific edition is different. It is a connection that comes from a pivotal moment in the English court when Catherine’s star was waning and Anne’s rising. Anne owning a copy of the same edition as Catherine is surely, if nothing else, an emulation of, and aspiration to, the royal status of queen which Anne herself would hold in only seven years’ time.”

The exhibition also includes a 16th-century panel from Dunstable Priory featuring the combined emblem of King Henry VIII’s Tudor rose combined with Queen Catherine of Aragon’s emblem of a pomegranate. Portrait miniatures of Queen Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Queen Mary I are also displayed along with miniatures of Queen Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I. 


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