Rare prayer book owned by priest who helped save the life of King Charles II goes on display
- 22 June 2023
Missing and presumed destroyed for three centuries, Father John Huddleston's prayer book, known as a missal, has had quite a journey. Now, this important piece of history has returned to Moseley Old Hall permanently, 363 years since it was first here, and is on display for visitors to see.
Who was Father John Huddleston?
Father John Huddleston was a Benedictine priest who resided at Moseley Old Hall during the time that Charles II sought refuge here in 1651.
When Charles arrived at Moseley on 8th September 1651, Father Huddleston gave him shelter in his own first-floor bedroom and it is believed that during his time here, Charles consulted a collection of Father Huddleston's books, with the missal likely to have been one of them.
When Charles II returned to England as king in 1660, he made Father Huddleston chaplain to his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, and then later to his wife, Catherine of Braganza. Father Huddleston was held in high regard by the king, so much so that in 1685, as King Charles II lay dying in Whitehall Palace in London, Father Huddleston was summoned to his bedside to hear the king’s confession, administer the Eucharist and receive him into the Catholic Church.
It is believed that the Duke of York said that Father Huddleston saved the king’s life twice: first his body, then his soul.
What is a missal?
A missal is a prayer or service book that contains the necessary instructions for celebrating mass throughout the year. Depending on the tradition of the user, and whether it was intended for public or private use, the contents of a missal would vary. The Missale Romanum was first published in 1570 by Pope Pius V.
Catholic Mass became illegal in England following the Reformation, so a missionary priest would have two copies within his possession, with one sent ahead to the family he was soon to visit and the other to the family he would visit after that. This would mean that the priest could travel in disguise, free of any possessions that could identify him or raise suspicion.
This particular missal has been well used, with annotations, candle wax drips and even Father Huddleston's signature found inside.
The book was purchased at auction thanks to a generous donation from a volunteer and support from the Friends of the National Libraries. The successful bid means this important piece of history has been saved for the nation.
Who discovered the missing missal?
In September 1950, Mr Joseph J Procter was walking in Liverpool when he passed by a bookshop with a box of books outside of it labelled 'sixpence'. As he began to rifle through the box, he stumbled upon a book missing its spine and front cover, with its back cover hanging on by only a few threads.
He felt that the book could have historical importance, and had noted the sisgnature on the front page, 'Father John Huddleston', and so he purchased it and promptly sent the book to be re-bound. After the book was returned to Mr Procter, it sat on his bookshelf for around seven years. In 1957 Mr Procter was invited to a Catholic Exhibition in Liverpool and during discussions at this event, Mr Procter mentioned that he had acquired an interesting book bearing Father John Huddleston's signature, offering to lend it to the exhibition. It was then examined by Father Julian Stoner OSB who confirmed to Mr Procter that this was more than just an historic book, it was in fact Father Huddleston's personal missal.
See the missal on display
The missal is now on display at Moseley for visitors to see during days that the property is open.
Please note, that due to the missal currently being located on the first floor, it is not yet accessible for all. We are working on creating a printed version of the display and are hoping that this will be ready in the coming weeks. We apologise for any disappointment this may cause.