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
YOUR VISIT TO THE FAVERSHAM FLEUR-DE-LIS MUSEUM
Do not let the small frontage to the Museum on Preston Street deceive you – there is plenty to see and learn about this unique historic town! From our Museum Reception visitors step back in time to trace Faversham’s growth from early settlement to the height of its prosperity, explained in words, illustrations, photographs and sound.
Displays lead visitors from pre-Roman settlement on the banks of the Creek, through the increased farming and building during the Roman Occupation, to royal capital of England in 1148 with the building of a substantial Abbey by King Stephen. The addition of other religious institutions including Davington Priory and Maison Dieu, marked Faversham as an important place for respite on the Pilgrim’s route to Canterbury.
Visitors can follow the growth in trade and commerce after the Norman Conquest which made Faversham a bustling and prosperous Elizabethan town with trade links to London and to Northern Europe. Signs of this prosperity can be seen in the large number of well built timber-framed buildings from that period that still exist in the town today, as well as in the surrounding villages.
The Museum shows information and related artefacts and images on all Faversham’s major industries as well as the farming of the surrounding land:
Local hop growing supplied breweries in Faversham including Shepherd Neame - which still operates as the oldest independent brewery in the UK - whilst also supporting coopering. Fruit growing has also been a mainstay of the local economy.
Alder and Willows on surrounding marshland produced excellent charcoal, an important ingredient in explosives which made Faversham one of the most important sites for explosives production from as early as the 16th Century.
Local clay fields generated a prosperous brick making industry, demand for which increased dramatically in the Industrial Revolution whilst the arrival of trains improved transport for delivery of finished products.
And, essential to all the trades, Faversham Creek and its maintenance allowed local shipbuilding to prosper in the production of the eye-catching Thames Barges with their characteristic red sails and, in the 20th Century, the building of a wide range of motor vessels and warships at the Pollock Shipyard.
With carefully recreated dioramas, visitors are also given insight into the cultural, domestic and leisure pursuits of Faversham’s people, their lives during war and peace, the shops they visited, the civic life of the town, and some of the important people who have contributed to Faversham’s success.
Please leave at least an hour and a half for your visit but preferably more…. or come back soon for another visit!
We are housed in old buildings and there is a steep staircase to the upper floor. There is no lift available. The ground floor has ramps that make it accessible to most wheelchairs. There is an accessible toilet.
We only allow assistance dogs in the museum.
A marvellous eclectic mix of boat building, farming, gunpowder making and wartimes ... loved it!
Very good journey through Faversham history well displayed
Very informative museum, wide range of exhibits and helpful guides. Particularly impressed by telephone exchange!
Interesting and well laid out. History sheet for children was fun to do, will be back for another visit as so much to see.
Excellent! Love the shops and the video history is v. good!
VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
12 Market Place, ME13 7AE
10am to 4pm - Monday to Saturday
10am to 1pm - Sunday (opening hours may vary)
FLEUR MUSEUM - FREE ENTRY
12-13 Preston Street, ME13 8NS
Open Fridays & Saturdays 11:00 to 15:00
11 Preston Street, ME13 8NS
10am to 3.30pm - Monday to Saturday
Off Stonebridge Way, ME13 7SE
Now closed until April 2024