Featured Image: Queen Elizabeth I Prayer Book

This prayer book, as well as the first prayer book of Queen Elizabeth I's reign dating from 1559, are among the treasures on display in the Library's 400th Anniversary Exhibition, open until 23rd July.

Elizabeth I, who ruled for 44 years, is a figure of enduring fascination and this treasured possession acts as a tangible link with the great Queen. This is her personal prayer book, as we can see from this amazing frontispiece which portrays her kneeling in prayer. It is effectively a Protestant Book of Hours, printed by John Day in 1569, and its beautiful decoration including woodcuts is unrivalled by any other prayer book of the age.

Most of the prayers were taken from Henry Bull's Christian Prayers and Holie Meditations (1568), however some are original. Although she may not have written them herself she would certainly have approved and used them. In one, she asks for the same wisdom as Solomon: ‘how much lesse shall I thy handmaide, being by kinde a weake woma[n], have sufficient abilitie to rule these thy kingdomes of England and Ireland, an innumerable & warlike nation'. The words seem to have inspired her when she needed to give a heroic message: her Armada speech in which she contrasted her ‘body but of a weak and feeble woman' with her ‘heart and stomach of a king'.

The pink and green palette indicates that the book was hand-coloured by artists in the workshop of Archbishop Matthew Parker at Lambeth Palace. Inscriptions on flyleaves enable us to chart it being passed between family and friends until it was gifted to the Library by Archbishop Thomas Tenison.