Royal Devotion and Gold – a personal account

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in News

We started our recent trip to Europe in the UK and the first item on my agenda was visiting an exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library:  ‘Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer’.   Not being Anglican, rather than the Book of Common Prayer the drawcard for me was a book which predates the Reformation (and hence the Book of Common Prayer) – Richard III’s Book of Hours.

I had pre-booked my ticket for the first slot in the morning after the day of our arrival.  After a pleasant walk along the river, I arrived early and had enough time for a quick look at the beautiful front garden and the shop of the Garden Museum in the old St Mary’s church next door.

Lambeth Palace Gatehouse (© Dorothea Preis)

Then I joined a growing number of hopefuls waiting outside the main entrance of a brick gatehouse – which I found out later was built by John Morton.  However, it turned out these were members of an arts’ fund and waiting for a tour of the Palace, whereas the entrance to the exhibition was at the side of the complex.  Here a much smaller group of maybe 8 or 9 people was waiting and punctually at 11 the small door opened and we were admitted.

We were each handed a beautifully illustrated exhibition brochure and then our group was lead into the library (I was able to take some photos outside, but photography was not permitted in the exhibition itself) with some explanations on the building and its history.  Though the building itself is neo-Gothic, it creates the right atmosphere for viewing medieval books.

Lambeth Palace Library (© Dorothea Preis)

We were left to view the exhibits at our own pace and it was nice to be able to do so without being crowded.  The exhibition is displayed in 10 cases, the first of which was the most interesting to me, covering “Public & Private Devotion before the Reformation”.

The first book exhibited is the Chichele Breviary (MS 69), which belonged to Archbishop Henry Chichele (c.1362–1443).  It is one of only two books of his which are known to have survived to this day.

The second was the book I really wanted to see:  Richard III’s Book of Hours (MS 474).  A book of hours “was the private book of devotions of the layman in the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance”.  [Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, p.2]

It was open on the calendar page and I could read the entry for 2 October (or rather what the explanation card next to it said, as the original entry was somewhat cut when the book was rebound in the 16th century):

hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex Anglie III apud ffoderingay anno domini Mcc [cc lij]
on this day was born Richard III King of England AD 1452 near Fotheringhay (own translation)

This was added by Richard himself, obviously after 6 July 1483, as he refers to himself as king.  His handwriting is large, though tidy and even.

The manuscript was not made for Richard, but was produced c.1420 for an unknown owner.  As Sutton and Visser-Fuchs state it is “a very useful, solid, unflamboyant and English manuscript for his daily use”. [Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, p.2]

It is believed that he had the book with him at Bosworth and that it was found there after the battle.  In his speech at the opening of the exhibition, the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked:

There’s a personal book of ours belonging to Richard III in this library which does not seem to have brought him a great deal of good fortune, though he carried it at the Battle of Bosworth.

Henry Tudor gave the manuscript to his mother Margaret Beaufort, who seems to have made some half-hearted attempt to scratch out his name at various places, though fortunately not this one.

Standing next to a book, which Richard held in his hands, and seeing his handwriting was certainly a special and moving moment for me.  It was probably the closest I would ever get to the king I have been studying for some time.

The rest of the of the exhibition contained various other beautiful and interesting books, most having some royal connection, from the centuries up to an order of service from the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Case 8.  Coming from the Cologne area, I was pleased to meet Hermann von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne from 1515 to 1547, in Case 2.

However, before leaving the library I returned to Case 1 for a last glimpse of King Richard III, represented by his book.

Afterwards I made my way to the Goldsmiths’ Hall to visit another exhibition:  ‘Gold:  Power and Allure’, featuring more than 400 gold items from 2500 BC to the present day.  One of the exhibits was the Middleham Jewel, which is normally on display in York.

The gold lozenge-shaped jewel was found in September 1985 near Middleham Castle. It is beautifully engraved and a large sapphire is mounted on the front.  It is estimated that it was made between 1450 and 1475, certainly for a wealthy person.  Whether there is any connection to Richard III is not known, though it has been speculated that it might have belonged to Richard’s mother, Cecily Nevill.  It was beautifully displayed with both the front and back being visible.

Due to time pressure, I didn’t pay the exhibition the attention it deserved, though I spotted an Angel from the time of Richard’s reign.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Facebook page of the Richard III Society for alerting me to both these fascinating exhibitions.


Duffy, Eamon, Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570.  Yale University Press (2006).  ISBN 9780300117141, p.33

Sutton, Anne F. & Visser Fuchs, Livia, The Hours of Richard III.  Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd (1996).  ISBN 0750911840

‘HRH Prince Charles opens exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library’, The Archbishop of Canterbury (1 May 2012).  URL:  http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2469/hrh-prince-charles-opens-exhibition-at-lambeth-palace-library Date accessed:  14 June 2012

‘The Middleham Jewel ‘, The Richard III Society.  URL:  http://www.richardiii.net/2001_archive.htm Date accessed:  3 Nov. 2010

Karl, Werner, ‘Ananizapta and the Middleham Jewel’, Sammelblatt des Historischen Vereins Ingolstadt, 110. Jahrgang (2001), S.57 ff.  Available at URL:  http://www.ingolstadt.de/stadtmuseum/scheuerer/ing/ananiz05.htm Date accessed:  20 March 2010

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  1. Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive » Wet, Windy and Welcome!    Aug 13 2012 / 5pm:

    […] Since her return she had posted two items with a Ricardian link from her travels: a visit to Lambeth Palace Library for an exhibition on the Book of Common Prayer, including Richard’s Book of Hours. And seeing his […]

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