Girdle prayer book

London, England, AD 1540-45

A girdle prayer book is a miniature prayer book enclosed within gold covers that is attached by long chains to girdle chains worn around the waist, almost as a conspicuous piece of jewellery. It was considered particularly fashionable for ladies of rank in the English court between around 1530 and 1560. The fashion may have originally been introduced into Henry VIII's England by the Spanish entourage of Queen Catherine of Aragon.

This example was probably made by Hans von Antwerpen (known in England as John of Antwerp), a Flemish goldsmith and friend of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). He was working in London for the Tudor court from about 1534. The foliate ornament and arabesques on the spine are similar to two designs by Holbein for a girdle prayer book, also in The British Museum.

The front cover of the enamelled gold binding depicts the biblical scene of 'The Brazen Serpent'. The inscription in black enamel around the border can be read: 'Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it up for a sign, that as many as are bitten, may look upon it, and live' (Numbers, 21:8). The text derives from the English-language printed Bible of 1539/40. The scene is based on a large silver-gilt book cover dated 1543 by the leading Renaissance goldsmith of Antwerp, Hieronymous Mamacker. The back depicts 'The Judgement of Solomon'. The inscription around the scene can be read 'Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and slay not: for she is the mother thereof.' (1 Kings, 3:27)

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More information


H. Tait, 'The Girdle-prayerbook or 'tablett': an important class of Renaissance jewellery at the court of Henry VIII', Jewellery Studies-1, 2 (1985)

H. Tait (ed.), Seven thousand years of jewell (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)


Height: 6.350 cm (spine)
Length: 8.600 cm (case)
Width: 8.000 cm (case)
Length: 8.600 cm (case)
Width: 8.000 cm (case)

Museum number

M&ME 1894,7-29,1


Gift of A.W. Franks (1894)


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