Books of Hours formed an important part of religious life in medieval England, they contained a series of prayers recited at specific hours of the day. The most elaborate were created for the wealthy. One of the most famous is King Richard III's.
This Book of Hours is a beautifully decorated piece of art, thought to have been created in London in about 1420. It has been said it accompanied Richard to Bosworth and was in his tent on the eve of the Battle in the August of 1485.
During Richard's reign, a hand written prayer was added, either by Richard himself or by a scribe. One prayer reads,
"Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free me, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed..."
Tradition has it that Richard either heard his last Mass in the parish church at Sutton Cheney or before he went into battle. Either way I have often wondered, would Richard have taken such a precious item with him onto a battle field? There would not have been a problem if he considered he would be the victor that day, but we know he was unsure of the outcome. In the event of him being unsuccessful, would he really want to it to fall into the 'wrong hands!'
You could argue that actually it did..........new kings mother!
You can imagine Margaret Beaufort turning the pages, admiring the imagery and reading the texts. It has been suggested that she crossed out any reference to Richard and wrote her own name in the back of the book. It is true she did write her name, after all it was a a trophy wasn't it? A trophy of war or more importantly to her, a trophy of conquest.
As to vengefully scratching out the kings name, that is just an image created over the years to blacken her name, the stuff of films and television series. Before finding its way into the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard’s Book of Hours passed through the hands of many. One owner, during the reformation, wiped out every mention of the Pope.
Today we too can stare in wonderment at this fifteenth century work of art, and visualise this brave king holding it in his hands on the eve of his last day on earth. What is more likely though is that this book remained in a safe place and Richard brought with him his own private prayer book, one that he kept with him, one that he used every day.
Which book Richard used that day in 1485 we will never know but we can see his Book of Hours on display at New Walk Museum in Leicester until the 28th of June.