Books and their Owners II: The Hours of Richard III

The argument about where the remains of Richard III should finally rest rages on a year after they were unearthed and scarcely a week goes by without him being in the news in one way or another. This week it was because archaeologists claim to have found the remains of a chapel commissioned by him in 1483 to commemorate the Battle of Towton (1461) but never completed because of his death at Bosworth two years later. This reminded me of a remarkable manuscript once owned by Richard, which is now at Lambeth Palace Library,  a Book of Hours  (LPL MS 474) said to have been in his tent on the day of the battle in which he lost his life and which gives us an insight into his devotional life.

Inscription in the hand of Richard III
Page from the calendar of Richard III’s Hours showing an entry in Richard’s own hand recording his birthday

Richard was not the book’s first owner, however. It seems to have been originally commissioned by a cleric sometime around 1420. According to Anne F. Sutton, it was probably made in Paternoster Row within the circle of the illuminator Herman Scheere.

Page from the Hours of the Virgin with historiated initial showing the Annunciation.
Page from the Hours of the Virgin with historiated initial showing the Annunciation.

A professional scribe has added several devotions to the book, the most important of which is the so-called ‘prayer of Richard III’. Written in the first person, it is a prayer for protection against his enemies and for reconciliation with them. It was not composed for him but is a variant of a standard prayer which circulated widely in the fourteenth century and which was used by Emperor Maximillian I and Richard’s contemporary Alexander Prince of Poland, amongst others.

After Richard’s defeat at Bosworth this book seems to have passed to Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, as spoils of war. Richard’s name has been crossed out throughout but one remarkable inscription has been left intact. In the calendar (see top), next to 2 October, Richard has entered the words ‘Hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex Anglie iijus apud Foderingay anno domini Mcc[cclij]’. (‘On this day was born Richard III, King of England, at the house of Foderingay [Fotheringhay] in the year of Our Lord 1452’).

Richard’s Book of Hours continued in use long after his death, even after the Reformation. One later owner has carefully erased every mention of the Pope in the calendar and it was used to record deaths as late as the summer of 1548.

Philip Schwyzer has speculated in his recent book, Shakespeare and the Remains of Richard III, that it is this Book of Hours that Shakspeare refers to in the scene in Richard III where Richard is entreated to accept the crown by the people of London. As he enters the scene between two bishops holding a prayerbook, Buckingham says “And, see, a book of prayer in his hand, /True ornaments to know a holy man”. Whether in fact Richard was “a holy man” is not for us to know but let us hope that his final resting place is decided soon.

Further reading

Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs. The Hours of Richard III . Stroud : Alan Sutton for Richard III & Yorkist History Trust, 1990.

Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs. Richard III’s books ideals and reality in the life and library of a medieval prince . Stroud : Sutton Publishing, 1997

Philip Schwyzer. Shakespeare and the remains of Richard III. Oxford University Press, 2013

Books and their Owners I: Private Devotions


Thys prymer of Salysbury use. Paris: Thielman Kerver, 1534. Shelfmark: 1534.46

The Lambeth Palace Library copy of Thys prymer of Salysbury use (Paris, 1534) is a fine example of how the physical evidence left behind in a book by its readers can give us an insight into the times in which they lived. Books of Hours (Horae), also called primers, were books of private devotions for use by the laity and were popular from the later medieval period until the sixteenth-century. This example, printed in Paris for the English market on the cusp of the English Reformation, although mainly in Latin, contains several popular devotions in English, such as The Days of the Week Moralized and The Manner to Lyve Well. Inscriptions in the book recording births suggest that this primer was owned by the Constables, a prominent Catholic family from the East Riding of Yorkshire. However, in accordance with various Royal proclamations, rubrics mentioning indulgences have been erased from it (see opening), as have all mentions of the Pope and St Thomas Becket. The crossings out made by this book’s owners have generally left the text legible, suggesting that they were following the letter of the law but did not necessarily not agree with it. Furthermore, the presence in this primer of devotional woodcuts dating from later in the sixteenth century attest to its post-Reformation use. Three woodcuts have been pasted in: a hand-coloured woodcut of St Roche, an image of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist and the Arma Christi, depicting the wounds of Christ. Two others, a depiction of the Pentecost and the image of the Virgin feeding the Christ Child (see above), have been sewn in.

This book was purchased for the Library by the Friends of Lambeth Palace Library in 1994 and was displayed in our 2012 exhibition, Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer. It attracted a lot of comment from our visitors and the postcard of the Virgin and Child was one of our bestsellers. Visitors were intrigued by the story it told about the turbulent times of the mid-sixteenth century and touched by the insight it gave into one family’s devotional life. Indeed, it was the books annotated by their owners, such as the Book of Hours of Richard III where he inscribed a note about his birthday in the calendar and the Order of Service for the 1953 Coronation, with notes by Archbishop Fisher about how to conduct the service, that really captured the imagination of the public during the exhibition. Over the next few months we will publish pieces about books and manuscripts from the collection which have been annotated in some way by their former owners.