Missal prayer book

Inscriptions and annotations by Fr Huddleston. National Trust Images by James Dobson.

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As reported in ATG No 2588 and online, the rare artefact had been owned by the priest who helped save the life of King Charles II.

The 400-year-old prayer book was Father John Huddleston’s (1608-98) personal missal. Huddleston was chaplain at Moseley Old Hall, near Wolverhampton, when Charles sought refuge after escaping Cromwell’s troops following the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  

Fr Huddleston

English School portrait of Father John Huddleston (1608-98). National Trust Images.

Fr Huddleston was a Benedictine priest who lived at the hall, dressed as a servant, with the Catholic Whitgreave family, who had stayed loyal to the Royalist cause following the execution of Charles I.  

Following defeat to the Roundheads at Worcester, Charles fled to Boscobel House in Shropshire, where he hid in an oak tree, before arriving at Moseley Old Hall the following night. Flanked by a small group of supporters, he entered via the studded oak back door, still in place today, and given shelter.  

Fr Huddleston helped Charles to seek refuge in his first-floor room which had a view of the approach road as well as an escape route via a back staircase. A priest hole, accessible by a trapdoor beneath the floor of a cupboard, provided a hiding space for Charles when armed soldiers turned up at the house. The ‘King’s Bed’, on which Charles managed to get some sleep, fully clothed, also remains in the hall today.  

Following nine years of exile and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles made Huddleston chaplain to his Catholic mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, and later to his Catholic Portuguese wife, Catherine of Braganza. He lived at Somerset House in London under royal protection.

Missal prayer book

The title-page of Fr Huddleston's missal. National Trust Images by James Dobson.

The book, bearing Fr Huddleston’s signature, was probably used to convert Charles II to Catholicism on his deathbed. 

Charles summoned Fr Huddleston to his bedside at Whitehall Palace in London in 1685, as he lay dying. Huddleston heard the king’s confession, administered the Eucharist and received him into the Catholic Church. The Duke of York is believed to have said that Huddleston saved the king’s life twice: first his body, then his soul.  

Published in Paris in 1623, the rare copy of the Missale Romanum was purchased by the National Trust at Cato Crane’s timed online auction in Liverpool which ended on March 30. Against an estimate of £2000-3000 it was competed for by two bidders and eventually sold at £6700 (plus 33.6% buyer’s premium inc VAT) to the National Trust.

The purchase was made possible by a donation from a volunteer and from the Friends of the National Libraries.

Missal prayer book

An engraving depicting the resurrection of Christ by Jaspar Isaac (d.1654), a Flemish engraver based in Paris. Several Isaac engravings are included in the missal. National Trust Images by James Dobson.

The missal joins a collection that includes portraits of Thomas Whitgreave, the owner of the hall at the time, and of Fr Huddleston, as well as a letter King Charles II sent to a local young woman, Jane Lane, thanking her for helping him escape to France.  

Sarah Kay, cultural heritage curator, said: “We’re delighted to have secured this important book which is central to the story of Moseley. If we hadn’t acquired it, it is likely to have gone into private hands and not been accessible by the public. Displaying and interpreting the missal will provide a compelling focus and renewed impetus for telling the story of Charles II’s remarkable escape.” 

Tim Pye, National Trust national curator, said: “The Huddleston Missal is a wonderful acquisition for Moseley Old Hall. Not only is the 1623 edition of the Missale Romanum a rare book – just one other complete copy is recorded in UK libraries – it is also crucial for our understanding of how Roman Catholic books were used and circulated at a time when it was dangerous to be anything other than Anglican.  

“The way in which Huddleston has inscribed and annotated his missal highlights just how precious and personal this book would have been to him.” 

The missal was previously owned by Joseph J Procter, who lived in Cheshire at the time. He had paid McGoff’s, a Liverpool bookshop, just sixpence (6d) for it, in the 1950s.

The book was sold with associated newspaper cuttings and research notes following numerous exhibitions during the 1950s-60s in Liverpool and at Moseley Old Hall. It stayed in the same family until this sale.

The National Trust said Procter’s family have visited the hall to view the book and expressed their delight at it now being on public display.