A trip down memory lane – Richard III’s Book of Hours and the Middleham Jewel

This morning, I remembered a wonderful day 10 years ago, when I had the opportunity to see Richard III’s Book of Hours and the Middleham Jewel, both in one day. I wrote afterwards about the visit on the blog of the NSW Branch of the Richard III Society, but it was such a memorable experience that it is also a suitable Dottie Tale.

Our 2012 trip to Europe started out in London. There the first item on my agenda was visiting an exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library, ‘Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer’. However, 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.

Exhibition poster

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 Garden Museum in the old St Mary’s church next door. Well, its shop, there wasn’t enough time for the museum itself. Though at the shop I also had to keep the quarantine officials in mind, who would welcome us at Sydney Airport on our return.

The gateway of Lambeth Palace

I then joined a growing number of hopefuls waiting outside the main entrance at the gatehouse, built by John Morton in the then fashionable brickwork.  However, it turned out these people were members of an arts’ fund, who were gathering for a tour of the Palace. The entrance to the exhibition was at the side of the complex. Here a much smaller group of maybe 8 or 9 was waiting and punctually at 11 o’clock, the small door opened and we were admitted.

We were each handed a beautifully illustrated exhibition brochure and then our group was led 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.

The library of Lambeth Palace

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 first display case was the most interesting to me, covering “Public & Private Devotion before the Reformation”.

The first book exhibited was the Chichele Breviary (MS 69), which belonged to Henry Chichele (c.1362–1443), archbishop of Canterbury. 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 for October, where for the 2nd I could read the entry – 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 though, having been produced c.1420 for an unknown owner. Sutton and Visser-Fuchs describe it as “a very useful, solid, unflamboyant and English manuscript for his daily use”. [Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, p.2]

It is believed that Richard had the book with him at the battle of Bosworth and that it was found there after the battle. In his speech at the opening of the exhibition, Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury at the time, had 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 along with others to his mother Margaret Beaufort, who seems to have made some half-hearted attempts to scratch out his name in some of them, 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. At the time, before the archaeological dig in Leicester had even started, I thought that this was probably the closest I would ever get to the king I had been studying for years. Little did I know that three years later I would be in Leicester for his reinterment and stand right next to the coffin containing his remains.

Just 3 years later, standing next to Richard III’s remains

The rest of the of the exhibition contained various other beautiful and interesting books, most having some royal connection. My hometown is in the Cologne area, so I was pleased to meet Hermann von Wied, archbishop of Cologne from 1515 to 1547, in Case 2.

After this interesting morning, 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. The exhibit I wanted to see 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 – among others – Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, or his wife Anne Neville. It was beautifully displayed with both the front and back being visible.

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

Further Reading:

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

Sutton, A.F. & L. Visser Fuchs, The Hours of Richard III.  Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, 1996. ISBN 0750911840

‘HRH Prince Charles opens exhibition at Lambeth Palace Library’, website of Dr Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury (1 May 2012). URL:  http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2469/hrh-prince-charles-opens-exhibition-at-lambeth-palace-library.html

‘Middleham Jewel’, Richard III – Rumour and Reality. URL: https://richardiii-ipup.org.uk/riii/45

Karl, W., ‘Ananizapta and the Middleham Jewel’, Sammelblatt des Historischen Vereins Ingolstadt,  vol. 110 (2001), pp. 57-74.  Online URL: http://www.ingolstadt.de/stadtmuseum/scheuerer/ing/ananiz05.htm

Richard III’s Book of Hours has been digitised by Leicester Cathedral and can be seen here: https://leicestercathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Richard-III-His-Book-of-Hours.pdf

(All links checked 13 June 2022)


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