A new study has found that the sumptuous printed and illuminated Book of Hours in the Wren Library of Trinity College, Cambridge, belonged to Thomas Cromwellchief minister to King Henry VIII until his boss beheaded him in 1540. Attribution is confirmed by an impeccable source: portrait of Cromwell Heinrich’s court painter Hans Holbein the Younger in 1532-1533. The book is the only object depicted in a 16th-century portrait known to have survived.
The clock was printed on parchment in Paris by Germain Hardouin in 1527/8. After printing, hand-drawn illuminations were added. It was then bound in luxurious velvet binding with silver gilt edges and clasps (one clasp is now missing). The center boxes on the front and back covers and the clasps were decorated with a large pomegranate.
It was one of only three known copies printed by Hardwin in one run. The other two went to no less persons than Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. This example is the only one of the three still in its original binding. The books were personalized for their owners, so even though they were from the same printed batch, they were not identical. The printed texts are the same, but the illuminations are hand-drawn and reflect the tastes (and budgets?) of their owners. Anna’s clockwork is larger and has a luxurious illumination: the drawings are more richly decorated and detailed, and the edges are decorated with additional ornamentation. Catherine’s is decorated the least skillfully. Cromwell is between the two queens in richness of detail.
The fact that Anne, Catherine, and Thomas had the same Latin prayer book highlights how fluid the boundaries between the customs of English Catholics and Protestant Reformers were at the time. All three held very different beliefs; even the two Protestants Anne and Cromwell differed considerably on doctrinal matters. Nevertheless, Cromwell owned, used and celebrated the traditionally Catholic text, displaying it front and center in his prestigious portrait, painted by the King’s favorite artist.
The Clockwork was donated to the Trinity College Library in 1660 by Anne Sadler or Sadler, wife of Ralph, a wealthy landowner whose grandfather was Sir Ralph Sadler, Secretary of Thomas Cromwell and successor as Secretary of State to Henry VIII. Ralph grew up in the Cromwell home from the age of seven. Cromwell was his mentor and teacher, and they were close friends throughout his life. Sir Ralph Sadler was the executor of Cromwell’s will and, more precisely, was named in the will as the recipient of all of his former mentor’s books.
Anne Sadler was also closely associated with the Tudor court (her father was Attorney General to Elizabeth I and later Lord Chief Justice) and was an avid collector of books and coins. For two decades (1649–1669) she donated her correspondence, diaries, manuscripts and books to Trinity College, Cambridge, which her father attended. The chapel, with silver gilt borders and garnet gems, was donated along with the Apocalypse of the Trinity, the college’s most famous illustrated manuscript.
Books of hours were probably ordered and donated to recipients by one person. This person must have very deep pockets to afford at least three of these extremely expensive luxuries, and a connection to all three parties. This narrows down the likely candidates to either Henry or Anna herself.
Using the hallmarks on the silver binding, researchers were able to locate the manufacturer of the silver and gemstone binding. They looked through entire books of maker’s marks to determine that they were not English, Dutch or Flemish marks. Then, with the help of French experts, the maker was identified as Pierre Mango of Blois, jeweler of King Francis I of France, who made the binding in 1529-30.
Anna spent the late 1510s and early 20s at the court of Francis I; here she was educated in literature, religion and the arts, showing a keen interest in illuminated manuscripts. She was a lady-in-waiting (something like a junior lady-in-waiting) to Francis’s wife Queen Claude for seven years before returning to England in 1522. She knew Pierre Mungo, a fact confirmed by the chain Anna’s brother George had Mungo make for him a few years later.
Given the ongoing ties between the Boleyn family and Francis’ goldsmith, and how extravagant Anne’s version of the Clockworker is, it is likely that she commissioned a print and gave copies to Cromwell and Catherine (who was still married to the Clockworker at the time). Henry, but was publicly dismissed in favor of Anne while the king sought an annulment).
Cromwell’s clock will be on display at Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, where a replica is part of the permanent collection. Catherine’s copy belongs to the Morgan Library in New York, but she was recently rented in Hever, exhibited side by side with Anna for the first time. Katherine’s office was returned to Morgan just a week ago, so Cromwell fills in the gap. Trinity College has digitized Clockmaker for viewing by virtual visitors.