Richard III’s books

A few days ago I blogged about the importance of King Richard to the survival of the fifteenth-century book trade, given his apparent intervention in an act of Parliament designed to curb the activities of alien (mainly Italian) merchants in England in 1484 (an early example of economic protectionism).

When the blog was posted on Twitter, several people tweeted about the apparent importance of books in Richard’s life, with research having been done into the books that we know he owned and read (i.e. there is ample evidence that they were used by him, not just owned for show or to display his wealth and professed learning).

In 1997 Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs published their research in Richard III’s Books: Ideal and Reality in the Life of a Medieval Prince.


In The Order of the White Boar books are an important aspect of Richard’s life at Middleham Castle, and when in London/Westminster for Christmas 1482. Matthew is able to browse his extensive library at the former place, and also spends time with him in the library at the palace of Westminster.

I don’t know whether Richard owned De Cifris by Leon Battista Albertibut his son Edward finds on his father’s shelves a copy that he says Richard uses to encode letters to his brother, King Edward IV, when he is away at war. The members of the Order use it to devise their own secret code.


Another book of which Richard may have owned a copy – The Death of Arthur by Thomas Malory – also finds its way into Matthew’s possession and is treasured by him, along with many other souvenirs of his time at Middleham. (This is of course a manuscript copy, as Caxton’s famous print version was not published until 1485.)


Perhaps the most famous book owned by King Richard is his Book of Hours – a beautifully illustrated book containing prayers and biblical texts, as well as a calendar of important Christian dates. Now housed in the library of Lambeth Palace in London (from where it was taken to play a starring role in the 2015 reinterment of King Richard’s remains in Leicester), it is thought to have been found in the King’s tent after the Battle of Bosworth and became the property of Lady Margaret Beaufort (wife of Lord Thomas Stanley), mother of the usurper Henry Tudor.

Although it is likely to have been ‘second-hand’ when Richard acquired it, he is believed to have made some additions to the text, including what has become known as ‘King Richard’s Prayer’, which Matthew hears on the morning of the battle. There is also a handwritten note (perhaps by Richard himself) on the calendar for 2 October stating that as the date he was born at Fotheringhay Castle.


On the evening before Bosworth, Matthew finds himself in the royal tent and while Richard is conducting important business, idly whiles away the time flicking through the King’s Book of Hours, where it lies upon a makeshift altar. Not only does he come across the prayer that he hears intoned the following morning, but he’s also transfixed by a beautiful illustration of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, kneeling and facing a golden-haired, gilt-winged angel, surrounded by a frame of Richard’s colours of murrey and blue. Little does he guess at that moment who will own that picture and all the others in days to come.MS_474_f15_version2

Another blog about King Richard’s Book of Hours can be found at:

About alexmarchantblog

A Ricardian since a teenager, and following stints as an archaeologist and in publishing, Alex now lives and works in King Richard’s own country, not far from his beloved York and Middleham
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