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Prayer books belonging to two of Henry VIII’s wives reunited for first time in 500 years as part of new exhibition on Anne and Catherine

For the first time in 500 years two prayer books belonging to two of Henry VIII’s wives will be reunited and displayed together at Hever Castle in Kent.

From Wednesday 8 February 2023 (until 4 June 2023) a 1527 prayer book belonging to Catherine of Aragon on loan from the Morgan Library in New York will be available for visitors to see alongside the 1527 Book of Hours which belonged to Anne Boleyn, already on display in the Castle.

This is likely the first time in nearly 500 years that the prayer books will be together under the same roof, since their original ownership by Queen Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn in 1528.

The acquisition will form part of the second in a series of exhibitions about Anne Boleyn at her childhood home and follows the Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court which ran from March – November last year. It was officially unveiled at a press event today (Monday 6 February).

For centuries Catherine and Anne have been pitted against each other as love rivals with their differences celebrated. This new exhibition (which runs from February 2023 to November 2023); ‘Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers’ showcases the similarities between Catherine and Anne and through new research shows that Catherine owned the very same copy of the prayer book that Anne had.

Hever Castle’s Assistant Curator Kate McCaffrey, who made the discovery as part of her research, says: “Catherine and Anne both owned a copy of the same printed Book of Hours (popular scriptural prayerbooks), produced in Paris in 1527. Pertinently, it was in January of that year, whilst residing at her childhood home of Hever Castle in Kent, that Anne Boleyn likely made her decision to accept the king’s proposal. In doing so, Anne sealed the uncomfortable new reality of her and Catherine living parallel lives as queen and queen-in-waiting. They were both, at this point, arguably at their most divided, yet they were also united through perhaps the most peaceful of means: prayer.

“This new link between Catherine and Anne is the inspiration behind the exhibition. The similarities and differences of the two books, and the two queens who once owned them, will be celebrated.”

Along with the Book of Hours visitors can see a previously unexhibited panel portrait of Catherine of Aragon and replicas of the coronation robes and crown of Elizabeth I and Mary I which may also have been used by Anne and Catherine at their coronations.

The coronation robes which were made for the 1998 film “Elizabeth” and worn by Cate Blanchett will now be on display in the Castle’s King Henry VIII’s Bedchamber.

The exhibition will also include a 16th century panel, originally from Dunstable Priory, featuring the combined emblem of King Henry VIII’s Tudor rose, fused with Queen Catherine of Aragon’s emblem of a pomegranate.

Portrait miniatures of all four of the queens featured in the exhibition will be on display: Queen Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Queen Mary I, alongside miniatures of Queen Anne Boleyn and her daughter Queen Elizabeth I.

Visitors will be able to view four never before exhibited costumes from the recent StarZ historical drama “Becoming Elizabeth”. These will include replica gowns from portraits of three of Henry’s children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward – alongside a costume of Henry’s final Queen, Katherine Parr.

The accompanying catalogue will have a foreword by Professor Suzannah Lipscomb, whose book about the six wives of Henry VIII is due out in 2023. The exhibition is included as part of Castle admission.

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