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Faversham Society Collections

The collections have been accumulated by The Faversham Society over more than 60 years, mostly through donations from the public, but also through targeted acquisitions and occasional purchases. The collection has grown to around 40,000 objects and archival items and now represents the largest and most significant collection of material culture in the Borough of Swale.

The Faversham Society Collections Development Policy is available to download here.

The archaeological collection is managed separately by the Faversham Society Archaeological Research Group

Astonishing Discovery in our archives - a book written Queen Katherine Parr (with thanks to Justin Croft for his expert help and advice)

Three rare and important books have been found in our archives – including one written by Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII. Her book, Prayers or Medytacions, was the first book published in England by an English queen and the first by an English woman under her own name.

The 16th-century books had been hidden away in a chimney, probably for hundreds of years, before they were found by a Faversham builder called George Johnson in 1881. His descendants donated the book to us but they have only recently been re-discovered. The three books are bound together in one small volume and contain a note suggesting they may have been hidden during the reign of Catholic queen Mary Tudor.

All three books are prayerbooks in English, dating from the English Reformation, when the idea of prayers in English rather than Latin was still new and contentious. The first book is a Primer by Thomas Cranmer, the second is titled Psalms or Prayers, partly the work of Katherine Parr (but without her name on the title-page) and the third is titled Prayers or Medytacions stating clearly that it is ‘by the most vertuous and graciouse Princess Katherine quene of England’.

‘Katherine’s Prayers or Medytacions was printed at a time when writing and publishing were still mostly the preserve of men, so it was quietly revolutionary. It was printed in multiple copies, but very few survive, so Faversham’s  copy is a wonderful discovery. Of course, it helped that Katherine was a member of the royal court and had access to books and scholars, as well as to the King himself. Very few other women could have done this at the time. The court around Katherine Parr in the 1540s was a powerhouse of reading, new scholarship and writing. It also included a number of learned women like the princesses Elizabeth and Mary, both of whom became queens in their time’.

A letter from about the year 1900 tucked into the Faversham book is from a local vicar who suggested that it might have been hidden at the time of Queen Mary Tudor - often nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’ for her persecution of Protestants in an attempt to restore Catholicism in England. Possession of a prayerbook in English during her reign could have been a ‘death sentence’. Just a few miles away in Canterbury, Protestants were being burned at the stake for their beliefs, which included the conviction that praying in their mother tongue was part of their faith. Whoever owned the Faversham prayerbooks in the 1550s wouldn’t want to advertise the fact - and probably had good reason to hide them.

Whoever hid these books in the chimney did history a service, as they have happily survived, albeit with a bit of wear and tear. They are now on display for the first time.

If you would like to find out more about the Reformation and how it affected the local area, we have a free paper available to download

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ME13 7AE
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12-13 Preston Street
ME13 8NS
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ME13 8NS

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ME13 7SE

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Registered Charity  Number 1135262 - Company No 07112241
The Faversham Society - Registered Address: 10-13 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8NS
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