A psalter is a personal book of psalms. Henry VIII’s psalter was written in Latin and illuminated by Jean Mallard, a Frenchman who had worked for Francis I but moved to England. He appears in Henry’s accounts from 1539-1541. Henry then added his own notes in the margin in much the same way that other psalter owners contemplated the psalms and wrote down important information.
Henry VIII is shown as King David – his favourite biblical character. The psalter is in the possession of the British Library. It’s seven miniatures provide an interesting view of the Henry VIII. This image shows Henry in his private chamber contemplating the word of God day and night – an idea that many of his subjects might have found somewhat ironic not to mention Henry’s idea that he was amongst the blessed – he was after all God’s representative on Earth and Defender of the Faith. He even had a medal struck to that effect in 1545 some two decades after the Pope awarded him the title and before he’d broken with Rome. Double click on the image to open a new window at the British Library’s website. Amongst the illustrations are Henry taking on the French Goliath.
Henry’s role model for his book of personal devotions may well have been his paternal grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was well known for her own piety. She had control of the school room and royal nursery during Henry’s childhood. Amongst Lady Margaret’s prized possessions, apart from a piece of the True Cross, was her Book of Hours also known as The Beaufort Book of Hours.
A Book of Hours is a book of prayers that follows the canonical devotions – or the cycle of prayers said by monks and nuns. At the heart of any book of hours for private use were the prayers for the Virgin Mary to be said eight times a day. Wealthy women often received richly decorated books of hours as part of their wedding present or dowry. They then recorded key family events in their prayer books. Lady Margaret Beaufort was no exception to this.
Her Book of Hours also contained a calendar of saints days and she used this to mark in important events in her own family including the birth of Henry VIII although it is not as carefully recorded as the birth of Henry’s older doomed brother Arthur. She also owned Richard III’s Book of Hours which he may have taken with him to Bosworth. She did not systematically remove his name from the text but did add her own at the back.
It is perhaps not surprising that I can think of two Books of Hours without very much effort. Further study reveals that there are almost eight hundred of them in existence in various libraries as well as being depicted in various images. Owned by the very wealthy these books not only bespoke their piety but also their wealth as the miniatures and illuminated letters were expensive commodities. Duffy explains that several of the later Tudor Books of Hours were given by Elizabeth of York to members of the court but that these were not so richly illuminated and that there were increasing numbers of more cheaply printed Books of Hours which made the apparently generous habit of this gift giving a little more to Henry VII’s liking no doubt.
In fact the more closely you look the more that it is possible to find evidence of royal Tudor piety. We even have Henry VIII’s rosary which is on loan from Chatsworth to the National Portrait Gallery. He had many others which are listed in inventories of his possessions. He used his rosary throughout his reign even though the growing tide of Protestantism would dismiss them as Popish by the time his daughter Elizabeth was on the throne. On a more anonymous but perhaps more moving note several rosaries were salvaged from Henry’s flagship the Mary Rose.
Duffy, Eamon. Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570