This uniquely inscribed Book of Hours was presented to King Henry VIII by his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, an amiable but—in Henry’s view—utterly unattractive woman whom he rejected within four months of their arranged marriage in 1540. Anne readily granted him a divorce and lived in comfort on the settlement in England until her death in 1557. Given the tragic history of Henry’s other marriages, she is often considered the luckiest of his six wives.
Partly obscured when the book was rebound, the inscription in Anne’s hand reads (in modernized English), “I beseech Your Grace humbly when you look on this remember me, your Grace’s assured Anne, the daughter of Cleves.” Anne’s signature, one of only three surviving examples, is undated.
Printed in vellum in Paris in about 1533—seven years before the short-lived marriage—the volume was then beautifully decorated and illuminated by hand, making it indeed a gift fit for a king. The heavily gilded image from elsewhere in the book shows Mary, pregnant with Jesus, being greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, herself soon to be the mother of John the Baptist. Mary’s reply to Elizabeth’s greeting is the canticle of praise known as the Magnificat.