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Prince Henry as a weeping boy:  a royal treasure found at the National Library of Wales

One of the earliest and most remarkable depictions of the prince who was to become king Henry VIII has been discovered at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Poignantly, he is shown as a mourning 11 year old boy, weeping at the empty death-bed of his mother.

A detailed re-interpretation of clues in a manuscript donated to the Library by philanthropists Miss Gwendoline and Miss Margaret Davies of Gregynog in 1921 led Manuscripts Librarian Dr Maredudd ap Huw to conclude that the volume was a long-lost treasure from the royal library of king Henry VII.

Dr Maredudd ap Huw said:
“The manuscript contains an illumination showing the presentation of a volume to a monarch. Two girls wearing black head-dresses are shown in the background, together with a young boy weeping at a black-draped bed. Preliminary investigations suggest that these background figures may be the 13 year old Princess Margaret (later wife of James IV of Scotland), 7 year old Princess Mary (later wife of Louis XII of France), and 11 year old Prince Henry (later king Henry VIII), shortly after the death of their mother in February 1503.”

As if to reinforce the theme of bereavement, the manuscript contains two French texts: a Passional, inviting believers to meditate on the sufferings of Christ during his arrest, trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection, and Le miroir de la mort by Georges Chastellain, a poetic invitation to meditate on the futility of worldly pleasures in the face of certain death.

The richly illuminated and bound volume was later owned by Lady Joan Guildford (née Vaux, d. 1538). She served in the household of Queen Elizabeth of York, and acted as ‘lady governess’ to the royal princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor, who called her ‘Mother Guildford’. Her deposition on the consummation of the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon formed part of king Henry VIII’s case for his first divorce. Joan’s husband, Sir Richard Guildford, and their son Sir Henry Guildford, served as Comptrollers of the Royal Household.

It seems that the present manuscript remained in the hands of Lady Joan’s family, Vaux of Harrowden, throughout the 16th century, and was hidden when that family became Recusants and supporters of the Gunpowder Plot. It passed into the library of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), and later travelled by descent to Wales, and to the library at Peniarth, Merioneth, before being purchased for the National Library.

Andrew Green, Librarian, The National Library of Wales said:
 “As part of the Library’s on-going digitisation programme, this discovery shows what treasures still lie undiscovered among the collections of long-established institutions. Manuscripts are re-evaluated by every new generation, and I am delighted that the public will be able to appreciate this work of art for themselves on the Library’s website.”

Further Information:

Elin Hâf NLW Press Office 01970 632534

External Links:

The Vaux Passional digitised on the National Library of Wales’s ‘Digital Mirror’

Portrait of Sir Henry Guildford by Hans Holbein the Younger, from an original in the Royal Collection, Windsor