Hidden signatures found Anne Boleyn’s execution prayer book

Anne Boleyn’s Book of Hours has joined Isabella Stuart’s in giving up its long-held secrets. Previously unknown inscriptions have been found that identify the close network of owners who kept the book quietly safe, at no inconsiderable risk to themselves, after her execution in 1536.

The Book of Hours, part of the collection of Hever Castle, Anne’s childhood home, was made in Paris in the 1520s for Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife, and likely given to Anne when she was Catherine’s lady-in-waiting. It was printed, not handwritten, and while it is technically illuminated, it was really just colored in because the illustrations were actually woodcuts that were then painted by hand. Anne’s was a more expensive version because it was printed on vellum.

It is one of only three surviving books of Anne Boleyn’s to have signed inscriptions in her hand. The inscription written across from an image of the Coronation of the Virgin reads: “Remember me when you do pray, that hope dothe led from day to day.” Underneath it is Anne’s signature. Legend has it she carried this book to the gallows.

Medieval historian and former steward of Hever Castle Kate McCaffrey was given special permission to examine the castle’s two inscribed Anne Boleyn prayer books. In the Book of Hours, she spotted what looked like smudges. When examined under ultra-violet light, the smudges proved to be four signatures of people related to Elizabeth Hill, a childhood friend of Anne’s and part of her court. Three of the signatories were women — Hill’s mother, her aunt, her cousin — and one was a man — her uncle. They had been erased leaving only the smudges visible to the naked eye.

Using ultraviolet light and photo editing software she discovered three family names written in the book; Gage, West, and Shirley (from Sundridge, near Sevenoaks). These three names centre around a fourth, the Guildford family of Cranbrook in Kent.

Kate’s research uncovered that the book was passed from female to female, of families not only local to the Boleyn family at Hever but also connected by kin.

She explained: “It is clear that this book was passed between a network of trusted connections, from daughter to mother, from sister to niece. If the book had fallen into other hands, questions almost certainly would have been raised over the remaining presence of Anne’s signature. Instead, the book was passed carefully between a group of primarily women who were both entrusted to guard Anne’s note and encouraged to add their own.

“In a world with very limited opportunities for women to engage with religion and literature, the simple act of marking this Hours and keeping the secret of its most famous user, was one small way to generate a sense of community and expression.”


“Nationally important” Roman ritual bronzes fall through Treasure Act loophole

A hoard of nationally important Roman ritual bronzes that includes a bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius have sold at auction to an unknown buyer for £185,000 ($260,000) thanks to the still-open loophole in the 1996 Treasure Act.

The assemblage was discovered last May by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field near the village of Ampleforth in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire. They first unearthed a figurine of a horse and rider. A foot away they dug up the bust and a conical plumb bob. They found the a key handle in the shape of the forequarters of a horse the next day. The hoard was then taken to York Museum and examined by archaeologists.

The bust is finely modelled, with detailed facial features and curled hair. There are rivet holes on the front of the chest plate indicating that it was originally mounted onto something, probably a priestly scepter. The features identify the bust as a portrait of Marcus Aurelius, which means the deposit dates to the 2nd century at the earliest.

Two comparable deposits found in the 19th century also included a scepter head bust of an emperor, horse and rider figurines and mounts and fittings. The plumb bob has no parallel in votive deposits. Archaeologists believe the inclusion of the key component of a surveyor’s tool may be an indication that the offering was related to construction, perhaps asking the sanction of the gods for the creation of a new town boundary (pomerium).

Despite the great archaeological significance of the assemblage, it does not qualify as treasure because it’s not two or more coins 300 years old or older, not made of precious metal and not prehistoric. This loophole springs from a ludicrously outdated definition of treasure established in medieval common law. The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport finally addressed the problem and a revision of the act that would plug the loophole was written in 2019. Unfortunately the complexities of the legislative process — public consultation period, further research, the publication of said research, the official drafting of the legislation and its passage by Parliament — mean it won’t actually be law until 2022 at the earliest.

So now the Ryedale Ritual Bronzes join the Crosby Garret helmet, the Roman licking dog, the Allectus aureus and who knows how many other treasures of cultural patrimony that haven’t made the press. Let’s hope the buyer turns out to be a museum, or at least a generous donor.

250 rock-cut tombs found in Egyptian necropolis

A group of 250 rock-cut tombs have been discovered in the Al-Hamidiyah necropolis near Sohag on the western bank of the Nile in southern Egypt. They were found in the course of a Supreme Council of Antiquities project to document the archaeological site.

Tombs of different types — single and multiple shaft burials, chamber graves — were carved into the face of the mountain at various levels. The range in date from the late Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) to the end of the Ptolemaic era (305-30 B.C.). Most of the extant ancient archaeological remains near Sohag are Ptolemaic, so the Old Kingdom tombs are particularly notable.

One of the Old Kingdom tombs uncovered consists of an entrance leading to a cross-hall and a burial shaft in the south-east side, and a sloped passage leading to a small burial chamber, Waziri said, with burial shafts making an appearance in later eras.

Waziri explained that the tomb also featured a false door covered in Hieroglyphic inscriptions, alongside depictions of sacrifices and offerings to the dead.

Excavation of the tombs has unearthed funerary artifacts, primarily pottery, some of which were items of daily use. Others were purely funerary, votive miniatures explicitly made for burial purposes. The team also discovered spherical pots with traces of their original yellow paint, small alabaster vessels and a round metal mirror. In addition to the inscribed false door from the Old Kingdom tomb, archaeologists uncovered fragments of limestone slabs carved with hieroglyphics dating to the end of the 6th Dynasty.

This group of tombs represents the rulers and employees of the ninth region of Upper Egypt, which is considered one of the important administrative centres of ancient Egypt, due to the location of the Mediterranean between the exiled capital and Aswan, as well as the vicinity of the city of Abydos, which is the centre of the worship of the god ‘Osir’.

The main centre of the region was the city of Akhmim, and the main deity of the region was the god ‘Min’. It is expected that more graves will be uncovered before the project is completed.

Duke’s wife replaced in 15th c. illumination

Infrared imaging has revealed that a 15th century Book of Hours was reworked to replace the first wife of a duke with a depiction of his second wife. Curators at the Fitzwilliam Museum noticed a strange darkened area on folio 20r of MS62, aka the Hours of Isabella Stuart. The dark area was examined in the laboratory using IR technology to reveal the underdrawing and the late first wife.

The Hours of Isabella Stuart was not made for Isabella Stuart. The manuscript was commissioned by Yolande of Aragon, Dowager Duchess of Anjou, who had it elaborately illuminated by artists in Angers known as the Rohan Masters. She gave the book to her daughter, Yolande of Anjou, around the time of her marriage to the future Duke Francis I of Brittany in 1431. Yolande died in 1440 and two years later Francis remarried to Isabella Stuart, daughter of James I of Scotland. Francis had his late wife’s prayer book adapted as a wedding gift for his new wife by artists in Nantes. When Isabella’s daughter Margaret of Brittany got married (to her cousin, the future Duke Francis II) in 1455, the book passed to her. She had another Breton artist adapt the manuscript by adding a new illumination of Margaret kneeling before the Virgin and Child.

With more than 500 figural scenes, this is one of the most extensively illuminated Book of Hours still in existence. The large miniatures depict scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus taken from each Gospel. Smaller marginal miniatures depict signs of the Zodiac and seasonal labor (in the Calendar), and of Christ and the saints inspired by the Book of Revelation and a 14th century cycle of allegorical poems illustrate the prayers. Dense floral designs infill the pages.

The central image on folio 20r depicts the Virgin and Child. Kneeling in front of her to the left is a woman wearing a ducal coronet. Behind her stands St. Catherine. The dark blotch looms behind the coronet on the chest of St. Catherine. The overpainting was done in two stages. In the first stage, St. Catherine was added and the face and clothes of the original patron, Yolande of Anjou, were repainted to represent Isabella Stuart. The heraldic dress now featured the arms of Isabella Stuart, the Scottish lion rampant impaled (in the heraldic sense of a divided field) with the ermine of Brittany to denote her marriage. The same arms were added to the four corners of folio 20r and throughout the rest of the book.

In the second stage, Yolande’s head dress, which Isabella retained at first, was overpainted to blend into Catherine’s robe and the ducal coronet added. Yolande was never duchess because Francis didn’t succeed to the title until August 1442, two years after her death. When he commissioned the Nantes artist to make the changes to the Book of Hours, he and Isabella weren’t married yet, so the coronet was added after she became Duchess of Brittany.

Analysis of the materials used laid out a timeline of the modifications. The Rohan Masters used malachite, ultramarine, lead white, red lead, brown earth and a pink derived from insects for their images. The two Nantes artist that made the modifications for Isabella and  Margaret’s additions used less expensive materials — an organic green colorant instead of the mineral malachite, azurite instead of ultramarine and vermilion instead of red lead. The blue mantle of St. Catherine standing behind Isabella was painted with ultramarine initially, matching the rich blue of the Virgin’s garment, but when the kneeling patron’s headdress was covered up with the coronet, the front of St. Catherine’s robe was touched up with azurite. All of the blue elements in the Margaret of Brittany addition were made with azurite.

Richly illuminated manuscripts like this were expensive heirlooms and as they traded hands over the generations, the new owners liked to add their stamp to them. The addition of new heraldic elements, as was done here with Isabella Stuart’s arms, was more common.

Dr Reynolds said: “It’s a very exciting discovery.

“These books in a way are sort of archaeological sites and when you start to uncover what lies under these images it actually unlocks the human story of how these books were commissioned and then passed from one person to another as the story of these different marriages and different dynastic alliances evolved.”

She described the over-painting as “not unique but unusual”.

The Hours of Isabella Stuart has gone on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum’s new exhibition The Human Touch: Making Art, Leaving Traces. The manuscript has also been digitized and can be perused in high definition with copious fascinating annotations on the museum’s website.

Roman baths emerge from sand dunes of Cádiz

The remains of a Roman bath from the 4th century have emerged from the dunes of Cape Trafalgar near Cádiz, on the southwest coast of Spain. Roman buildings in any condition are rare survivals in Cádiz because the ancient city, founded by Phoenicians 3,100 years ago, was destroyed during the Visigothic conquest of southern Spain in 410 A.D., and this building is unusually well-preserved by the winds that quickly buried it in sand after it was abandoned.

The surviving walls are 13 feet high (the remains of Roman structures are typically foundations and short walls no more than two feet high) and contain numerous windows and doors. There are fragments of the red, white and black stucco used to decorate the walls, as well as marble cladding.

“It is a structure that has an exceptional state of conservation for the Iberian Peninsula and the western Mediterranean in general,” Darío Bernal, a professor of archaeology at the University of Cádiz, tells Efe. […]

Bernal and his team believe the building was a sophisticated rural bath complex complete with an oven-fueled hot air current that warmed the walls and floors.

It most likely served as a communal hot bath for local workers, many of whom would have toiled away in odorous coastal jobs like fish farming and salting.

Indeed, the archaeology team was exploring the site as part of a research project investigating the history of Roman aquaculture in the area. When the structure first emerge, Bernal thought it was a cetaria, a fish pond connected to the sea where fish and crustaceans were fattened up. Wealthy Romans attached these nurseries to their estates so they had a constant supply of the best fish for their own consumption and to sell.

Fishing and fish products were the main industry in this area during the Roman era. What is now Cádiz was a major producer of garum, the sauce made of crushed and fermented fish intestines that was consumed in prodigious quantities by people from every walk of life all over the Roman empire. The garum from the Hispania Baetica province was considered the best, and the remains of garum factories have been found in Cádiz and other towns along the coast.

Local authorities are now considering what to do with the dune baths once excavations are complete. One possibility is to maintain it as an archaeological park to attract tourism. The other is just to let the wind do its thing and bury it back in the sand for its own protection.