The Latin prayer book that once belonged to King Henry VIII is treasured in the British Library. It was one of the king’s most cherished books; evidence of this are the annotations that the king wrote throughout the manuscript, all still clearly readable. The notes of the king are of extreme rarity and provide the modern readers with the exceptional opportunity of knowing the king’s personal thoughts and spiritual concerns.
Henry VIII was a highly educated Renaissance prince: indeed, he had in-depth knowledge of Latin and Theology. This book of prayer was important to him as he consulted the codex frequently and wrote over 100 notes in an elegant and confident hand.
Prayer Book of King Henry VIII: The Concerns of a King in a Period of Isolation
In 1540, the manuscript was presented to King Henry VIII. This year was especially eventful for the king who married Anne of Cleves in January only to divorce her later that same year. Furthermore, he had his adviser Thomas Cromwell killed by execution on Tower Hill.
The notes in the Prayer book reveal the concerns of a king who found himself isolated after the execution of his advisers Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. The margins of the codex show King Henry VIII pondering whom to trust. Psalm 20 exalts the joy that a king should feel because of his strength. Henry VIII noted the psalm explaining that the king trusts in the Lord and through the power of divine mercy the king shall not be moved.
The Intimate Portrait and the Personal Thoughts of Henry VIII
The Prayer Book of Henry VIII was designed for use in private devotion. The illuminations that decorate the manuscript shed light on the private life of the king. Jean Mallard painted miniatures of the king reading in his bedchamber.
Seven elegant illuminations embellish the manuscript along with colored capitals ornated with animals, birds, foliate and floral motives. The Prayer Book was an important tool for the king’s decision making in regard to religious matters. As head of the Church of England, Henry VIII was responsible for providing his people with the interpretation of the sacred Scriptures.
This extraordinary book testifies how rigorously he studied the religious issues of the day. The condemnation of idolatry as well as the sacrament of confession are themes that recur in his notes. Additionally, more personal comments about how the king felt growing old appear in the codex bringing modern readers mentally closer to one of the most famous kings of England.
The manuscript is bound in red velvet; the binding retains parts of the original clasps and gilt edges.
- Images courtesy of the British Library