31 March 2023
The British Library is home to hundreds of beautiful illuminated Books of Hours, prayerbooks that were hugely popular during the medieval and early modern eras, as they allowed lay people to develop and observe their own routines of personal devotion. These Books of Hours also provide us with significant insights into the lives of their patrons and owners, who often inscribed these manuscripts with their own beliefs, thoughts and recollections, details of significant events in their lives, and interactions with their most intimate circles of friends and family.
One such Book of Hours (Add MS 17012) stands out for the additions made for one of its female owners. Originally written and illuminated in Antwerp around the year 1500, it subsequently came to London, where it belonged to a prominent woman at the early Tudor court. The volume’s female owner used it not simply as her own personal prayerbook and set of devotions, but also as an autograph book, in which she collected signatures and expressions of favour from numerous members of the court, and even the Tudor royal family. The manuscript has recently been digitised as part of our Medieval and Renaissance Women project and is now available online, thanks to generous funding from Joanna and Graham Barker.
A portrait of Mary Magdalene: Add MS 17012, f. 36v
The female owner of this Book of Hours has been identified as Lady Joan Vaux (b. c. 1463, d. 1538), also known as Mother Guilford. Her identity was determined by Mary Erler in a number of extended studies of the volume and its numerous inscriptions (see Erler, 'Widows in Retirement’, Religion and Literature, 37 (2005), 51–75; Erler, ‘The Book of Hours as album amicorum: Jane Guildford’s Book’, in The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images, and Communities in the Late Middle Ages, ed. by Joyce Coleman, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn Smith (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), pp. 505–36). Vaux was an English courtier who served as lady-in-waiting to four Queens, as well as Lady Governess to the Princesses Margaret and Mary Tudor, the daughters of Henry VII and later Queens of Scotland and France. She continued to play an important role at court for much of her life — she was even known to the Dutch philosopher and humanist Erasmus — and seems to have been well respected and admired there, receiving a healthy pension and lavish gifts from the King when she retired.
Joan married twice. Her first husband was Sir Richard Guilford (b. c. 1450, d. 1506), an explorer and naval commander who died on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her second was the English diplomat Sir Anthony Poyntz (b. c. 1480, d. 1533/35). Among the added inscriptions throughout Joan’s Book of Hours are messages and inscriptions by members of the Poyntz family. Her brother-in-laws John Poyntz (b. c. 1485, d. 1544) and Francis Poyntz (d. 1528) inscribed their Latin mottos and monograms at one of the volume’s blank openings, and Francis also added his own message, which reads, ‘Madame when ye most devoutyst be have yn remembreance f and p’. Their inscriptions appear beside that of another member of the Tudor court, Thomas Manners (b. c. 1497, d. 1543), Lord Roos and 1st Earl of Rutland, who says to her, ‘Madam wan you ar dysposyd to pray remember your assured sarvant always, T Roos’.
An opening from a Book of Hours, showing inscriptions from John and Francis Poyntz, and Thomas Manners: Add MS 17012, ff. 179v–180r
A heart-shaped monogram and added inscription: Add MS 17012, f. 180r
In addition to these personal inscriptions from her family and fellow courtiers, Joan also received expressions of favour from no less than six members of the Tudor royal family. These appear most prominently on a single opening at the very beginning of the Book of the Hours, before its main collection of prayers.
Inscriptions from members of the Tudor royal family added to the Book of Hours: Add MS 17012, ff. 20v–21r
Here, the left-hand page of the opening is given over to inscriptions by King Henry VIII (r. 1509–1547), who signs his name at the end of one set of prayers, followed by his first wife Catherine of Aragon (b. 1485, d. 1536), who writes her own message, calling the book’s owner a friend and asking for her prayers.
The signed name of Henry VIII: Add MS 17012, f. 20v
Catherine of Aragon
The added inscription of Catherine of Aragon: Add MS 17012, f. 20v
I thinke the prayers of a frend the
most acceptable unto God and
because I take you for one of myn
assured I pray you remembre me
Katherine the queen
On the facing page, we find added messages from King Henry VII (r. 1485–1509), his Queen consort Elizabeth of York (b. 1466, d. 1503), and their daughter Princess Margaret (b. 1489, d. 1541). The King and Queen wrote in English and the Princess in French.
The added inscription of Henry VII: Add MS 17012, f. 21r
Madame I pray you re
membre me your louyng
Elizabeth of York
The added inscription of Elizabeth of York: Add MS 17012, f. 21r
Madame I pray you forget
not me to pray to god
I may haue part of
Elysabeth the quene
The added inscription of Princess Margaret, shot under ultraviolet light: Add MS 17012, f. 21r
et moy je vous prie que maintietenes
tourjours en sa bonne grace
and myself, I pray that you remain
always in his good grace
this is Margaret
Remarkably, these inscriptions are not the only additions to this Book of Hours made by members of the Tudor royal family. At the end of the volume, another text has been added, an English translation of a Latin prayer (‘Concede mihi, misericors Deus’) attributed to the Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas. The prayer’s introduction indicates that this translation was made by Princess Mary, later Queen Mary I (r. 1553–1558), in 1527, when she was only 11 years old:
The prayor of Saynt Thomas of Aquyne, translatyd oute of Latyn unto Englyshe by the moste exselent Prynses Mary, doughter to the moste hygh and myghty Prynce and Prynces kyng Henry the viij. and Quene Kateryne hys wyfe in the yere of our Lorde God m'.ccccc.xxvij . and the xj yere of here age
The beginning of an added English translation of a Latin prayer by Thomas Aquinas, made by Princess Mary: Add MS 17012, f. 192v
In the margin beneath this text, Mary added her own message and dedication to the book’s owner, mirroring the sentiments of other members of her family in asking Joan to remember her in her prayers:
I have red that no body lyvethe as
he shulde doo but he that foloweth
verrtu and y reckenynge you to be one of
them I pray you to remembre me
yn your devocyons.
Mary the princesse
The multiple expressions of royal favour throughout the Book of Hours speak to the prominence and reputation of its owner, and they also provide a fascinating insight into the changing dynamics of the Tudor court itself. This is particularly apparent in the treatment of the inscriptions made by Catherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary. In all these cases, vigorous attempts at erasure have been made. Catherine’s title as ‘quene’ and ‘wife’ to Henry VIII, and Mary’s title as ‘princess’, have been scrubbed away and subsequently overwritten to prevent them from being read.
Erasures made to inscriptions and texts by Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary: Add MS 17012, ff. 20v, 192v
Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon famously did not last, with the King annulling it in 1533, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He subsequently banished Catherine from the royal court, stripping her of her title as Queen. Until the end of her life, she was known as the ‘Dowager Princess of Wales’, in light of her marriage to Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur (d. 1502). Mary, meanwhile, was deemed illegitimate and styled ‘The Lady Mary’, the title Princess similarly taken away from her. Joan Vaux herself was notably called for a deposition during the divorce proceedings, where she was asked to testify whether or not Catherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. It is unclear whether Joan was forced to undertake the removal of Catherine’s and Mary’s titles in her own Book of Hours, or whether this was the work of a later owner of the book.
A portrait of St Anne, with the Virgin Mary and Infant Christ: Add MS 17012, f. 34v
Joan’s book represents a tantalising witness to the life of a significant figure at the Tudor court, the affections of her family and friends, and to a fraught and changing political climate that dominated England in the early 1500s. We hope you enjoy exploring its pages online.
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