The Book of Hours of Richard III

The Book of Hours of Richard III

When visiting the UK in July 2012, I attended an exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library: ‘Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer’. While the various Books of Common Prayer and their history was interesting enough, the drawcard for me was a book which predates the Reformation (and hence the Book of Common Prayer) – the Book of Hours of Richard III (MS 474).

It was open on the calendar page for October and I could read the entry for 2 October (or rather what the explanation card next to it said, as the original entry can now longer be seen completely after 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. At the time of my visit, two months before the dig in Leicester got under way and nobody had any idea what the archaeologists would find, I thought this would be the closest I would physically ever get to Richard III.

In the late middle ages, the religious life not only of clergy but also the layperson, was highly ritualised involving many elaborate prayers. For the private or personal use these prayers were collected in a Book of Hours [1]. The prayers were recited at specific hours of the day, paralleling the offices recited by monks, nuns and clergy, and thus helping the laity to unite their devotions to the church’s liturgy. [2]

Books of Hours were intensely personal objects and often small enough to be carried around. They were left within families and kinship groups through generations and even centuries. [3]

Books of Hours differed according to the diocese or monastic order in which they were used. In England the main uses were York (Eboracum) and Salisbury (Sarum) and this one is according to the use of Sarum. [4] The Use of Sarum has been describes as

“a rather exuberant, elaborate, beautiful, and especially well arranged adaptation of the Western or Roman Rite that was gradually adopted by most of the rest of England as well as much of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and even some places on the continent.” [5]

MS 474 was not made for Richard, but was produced c.1420 for an unknown owner. As it predates the invention of the printing press, it was written by hand, ie. it is a manuscript. There is no indication who owned the book before Richard or when it came into his possession, whether before or after he became king.

It is longer than many other Hours, full of prayers which must have been chosen by the original owner of the book. [6] Many of these were only appropriate for a cleric and it is therefore likely that it was originally made for a priest. [7]

This might also explain why the decorations are comparatively modest, whereas most medieval Hours were lavishly decorated with beautiful pictures and border decorations.. As Sutton and Visser-Fuchs state, it is “a very useful, solid, unflamboyant and English manuscript for his daily use”. [8]

There are several later additions to the book. Of special interest are a Collect of St Ninian and the prayer of Richard III.

Nothing much is known about the actual life of St Ninian. According to early sources from the 8th century, he was a Briton who travelled to Rome and the returned to convert some Southern Picts. He built a church at Withorn, the Candida Casa (‘white house’), dedicated to St Martin of Tours, where he was buried. Historically, it is not even sure, whether this happened in the 5th or 6th century. [9] Traditionally, it has been assumed that Ninian died in 432. [10]

It is just a short prayer asking for the Saint’s intercession. It is not clear when it was added, though clearly later than the body of the book. Some think it might have been an earlier owner with Scottish connections [11], while Sutton and Visser-Fuchs think it was most likely added at Richard’s request. The latter sounds convincing, as Richard included worship of St Ninian at all his religious foundations as well as his endowment of four priests at Queens’ College Cambridge. [12]

The prayer of Richard III is no longer complete, the leaf with the beginning is missing, though it seems to have been copied in the 16th century onto the upper margin. It is interesting that the script of this is the same as that of the Collect of St Ninian, strengthening the theory that both were added at Richard’s request. As both his name and title were originally included, it makes it certain that this was added after he became king, as with the entry of his birthday discussed above.  However, at a later stage, Richard’s name has been erased in two instances from the prayer.

The prayer is “the remnants of a highly personal devotion, though composed from existing formulas. They may have been actually chosen by the King, perhaps with the help of a priest, and reflect his preoccupations.” [13]

Copies of similar prayers survive from the 14th century, with some of the components going back even further to the 8th and 9th century. Considering Richard’s burial at the Greyfriars in Leicester, it was interesting to read that the fourteenth-century texts seem to have a Franciscan provenance. It possibly the prayer came to Richard’s attention through his Franciscan confessor, John Roby. The type of prayer was popular during Richard’s time and was also included in other texts of this period. [14]

It is believed that Richard 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, Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, remarked:

“There’s a personal book of ours [sic] 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”. [15]

The next owner of the manuscript, we know about, was Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor/Henry VII. As mentioned above, in the prayer of Richard III, his name has been erased. Often Margaret Beaufort gets the blame for this, but Sutton and Visser-Fuchs are not convinced. They argue that whoever did this, erased the name but not the addition regem. And as I saw for myself, the entry of his birthday in the calendar is still there. They think it is more likely that his name interfered with the devotions of a later user, who then tried to erase it.

Several later owners left their traces in the book. In the early 17th century it came to the library of the see of Canterbury and hence to Lambeth Palace Library. [16]

As already mentioned, the book was rebound in the mid-16th century. In the process the pages were cut, from at least 236 by 173 mm to 193 by 140mm and some of the letters of the entry of Richard’s birthday now disappear into the spine. [17]

In March 2015, the book will be, albeit temporarily, reunited with the most famous of its former owners, King Richard III. It will travel with him to his place of reinterment, Leicester Cathedral. It is planned that for three months “it will be available in Leicester, probably in one of the museums, free of charge for people to come and see it themselves”. [18]

While I said in the beginning that at the time of looking at the book in Lambeth Palace Library I thought this would be the closest I would physically ever get to Richard III. And that might hold true even after standing next to his coffin, but I am not sure whether this will be more of an experience than looking at his book. After all, in the coffin, there are just the bones of a person who died 500 years ago.  This book is a connection to a living person, it is something he cared about and left his mark on while he was alive.


1 Exhibition Catalogue of: Royal Devotion – Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer. A celebration of the Diamond Jubilee and the 350th anniversary of the revised Book of Common Prayer. The Great Hall, Lambeth Palace Library, 1 May to 14 July 2012.

2 ‘Featured Image: The Annunciation from the Book of Hours of Richard III‘, Lambeth Palace Library. URL: [last accessed 6 Jan 2012]

3 Duffy, E., Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570. Yale University Press (2006), p.23

4 Sutton, A.F. and Visser Fuchs, L., The Hours of Richard III. Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1996, p.4

5 Wright, R.J., ‘The Sarum Use’, Project Canterbury (2002). URL: [last accessed 22 Feb 2015], p.1

6 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., p.39

7 Duffy, E., p.100

8 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., p.2

9 Broun, D., ‘Ninian [St Ninian] (supp. fl. 5th–6th cent.)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [last accessed online 23 Feb 2015]

10 Huddleston, G., ‘St. Ninian’, The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. Available from New Advent URL: [last accessed 23 Feb 2015]

11 ‘Horae (Richard III)’, Lambeth Palace Library.  URL: [last accessed 23 Feb 2015]

12 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., pp.41-44

13 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., p.65

14 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., pp.61-78

15 ‘HRH Prince Charles opens exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library’, The Archbishop of Canterbury (1 May 2012). URL: [accessed 21 Feb 2015]

16 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., pp.39-40

17 Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L., p.4

18 ‘Richard III Prayer Book to Come to Leicester for Reinterment’, Pukaar News (20 Feb 2015). URL: [last accessed 21 Feb 2015]

5 thoughts on “The Book of Hours of Richard III

  1. Pingback: Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive Richard III Reinterment Week - Richard III Society of NSW

  2. It is astonishing what still exists from that time period, especially given the religious upheavals during the following century.


  3. Pingback: The Book of Hours of Richard III on-line | Dottie Tales

  4. Pingback: Forgotten archbishops everywhere | Dottie Tales

  5. Pingback: Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive Reinterment of King Richard III - Richard III Society of NSW

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