Familiar memory

Books of Hours (or ‘primers’) were devotional books for the pious laity. This is an early example of an Hours produced in Bruges for the English market. The addition of St Æthelthryth/ Etheldreda, patron saint of Ely Cathedral, to the Calendar, and a prayer to her at the end of the manuscript, indicate the manuscript’s early ownership in East Anglia. There are 21 (originally 22) full-page miniatures, framed by blue and mauve panels with white patterns, gold ornamentation, and surmounted by turreted arches, simulating masonry. One of the openings shown here is an illumination of the Veronica or ‘Vernicle’: the miraculous survival of the image of Christ on a cloth. The image is designed as a bodily mnemonic for the accompanying prayer, Salve sancta facies. The manuscript circulated in Suffolk and Norfolk for much of the fifteenth century and into the sixteenth century; at this point it passed into the hands of the Roberts family of Middlesex, a prosperous family in Willesden and Neasden since the thirteenth century. An extensive set of annotations by the family include prayers and the signature of Edmund Roberts (1521-85), sometimes obscuring the image. Roberts was firmly conformist to whatever religious orders prevailed at the time. In 1553 he happily returned to the Catholic faith, but he died a Reformed Elizabethan. He uses the book whatever the season, as an object of family devotion in the widest sense, recording the dates of birth of children (as here in the second image) into the 1570s. BC

‘Roberts Hours’ (Flemish, end of fourteenth/beginning of fifteenth century), fo. 12v and fo. 109v.

CUL: MS Ii.vi.2

Further Reading

Eamon Duffy, Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers (New Haven and London, 2006), pp. 81-96.

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