Alumni Profile – Kate McCaffrey

Alumna helps discover Thomas Cromwell's Book of Hours

Kate McCaffrey

What are you doing now? 

I am an historian and Assistant Curator at Hever Castle, in Kent. Hever is, amongst many other things, Anne Boleyn’s childhood home (and the place where she spent crucial years of her adulthood during the tumult of the Great Matter). I have so far co-curated two exhibitions: ‘Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court’ and ‘Catherine and Anne: Queens, Rivals, Mothers’, the latter based on my personal research, and co-written three accompanying books. 

Can you tell us about your recent discovery? 

I recently, alongside my curatorial colleagues Dr Owen Emmerson and Alison Palmer, discovered Thomas Cromwell’s Book of Hours. Not only this, but it is also the very book that is depicted on Cromwell’s desk in his famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger. We believe it is the only, currently known, object to still survive today from a Tudor portrait. This discovery was an extension of my own original finding that Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon owned the same copy of the same printed Book of Hours produced in Paris in c.1527, revealing a rare moment of unity between these two traditional ‘rivals’. Cromwell’s book is, astoundingly, another of this same printing. I also uncovered never-before-seen, previously erased inscriptions in Anne’s copy, which is held in Hever’s collection.  

What attracted you to your course, and to Kent? 

I was attracted to MEMS (Medieval and Early Modern Studies) because of the interdisciplinary nature of their course. I had previously only studied history at university level, and I loved the sound of expanding my skillset to include a range of disciplines. I was drawn also to the community of MEMS and Kent, which seemed to be very close and tight knit. With Canterbury itself being such a beautiful and historic city, it seemed like the perfect place for me! 

Which aspects of your degree did you enjoy the most, and why? 

I think I most enjoyed becoming a part of the community of brilliant, supportive scholars that surround the university. I also loved the practical, hands-on archive experience offered to MEMS students. I learnt so much, for example, working in the wonderful Canterbury Cathedral Archives! 

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now in your career? 

I would say the skills I learnt in palaeography and codicology (and working in archives) are the ones I use most in my career at the moment, seeing as so much of my research has been to do with early modern books! 

Are you still in touch with any of your fellow students? 

Absolutely, some of the wonderful people I met at Kent (both on my course and others) are still my best friends today! 

Could you describe a typical day in your current role? 

What I love about my current job is that every day is different. I help to supervise the castle itself, as well as its wide and varied collection. I research, write, organise loans, catalogue, film videos for social media, visit other heritage sites and archives, and just generally get to work on projects I am passionate about. 

What is your favourite memory of Kent? 

I have many, but it is hard to beat graduating in the gorgeous Canterbury Cathedral! I technically finished my MA during the pandemic, but it was wonderful to have a delayed graduation ceremony and celebration after the lock downs. 

What advice would you give to somebody thinking of coming to Kent? 

Visit for yourself, if you can! Talk to current students, staff, and alumni – get a feel for the place, the city, and the community. 

How would you describe your time at Kent in three words? 

Inspiring, supportive, communal.