Mary’s Books of Hours

In today’s blog, Emily Wingfield, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Birmingham, talks about books of hours (prayer books) owned by and associated with Mary Queen of Scots.

In this post I’ll be following up from my last with a more thorough discussion of the books of hours (prayer books) owned by and associated with Mary Queen of Scots. I’ll look in particular at those most definitely associated with her, the majority of which contain autograph poetry composed throughout her life. In addition to once again interrogating the desire of librarians and auctioneers to associate a book with Mary – and especially with the moment of her execution – I’ll discuss the possible meanings of some of Mary’s verse and the often quite self-conscious relationship between her text and the devotional material (both visual and verbal) which it accompanies.

Some fourteen prayer books or books of hours have been associated with Mary Queen of Scots. The connection to Mary of some of these (including the Stoneyhurst book of hours discussed in my previous post, and books examined below) is fairly secure, but for others it is far more open to doubt.

Inscription attributed to King James II (1633–1701): “This Book belonged to Queen Mary of Scotland And shee used it at her death upon the Scaffold.” Huntington Manuscript 1200, ii verso. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Uncertain Associations

Examples of volumes with less convincing connections to Mary include California, Huntington Library, HM 1200 (a fifteenth-century vellum book of hours in which a note at the front, apparently in James II’s handwriting and visible only under ultra-violet light, reads: ‘This Book belonged to Queen Mary of Scotland And shee used it at her death upon the Scaffold.’);[i] a book of hours owned first by Pope Pius V (Chantilly, Cabinet des Livres, XII-BIS-H-002);[ii]  a book of hours at Arundel Castle, reputed to have been given by Mary to John Maxwell, fourth Lord Herries (c.1512–1583), as a thank you for the shelter he offered her at Terregles before she crossed the Solway to England;[iii] a miniature book of hours believed to have been created initially for the wedding of Claude of France (1499-1534) and Francis I (1494-1547) (in private ownership: Altshausen, Herzoglichen Hauses Württemberg);[iv] a grandly illuminated mid-fifteenth-century book of hours (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Latin 1405);[v] an early sixteenth-century book of hours originating from the Low Countries (Ravenna, Bibliotheca Classense, Codex MS 62) and bearing an eighteenth-century inscription ‘Maria Stuarda Regina di Scozia’;[vi] and a further book of hours (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS 81) which bears a flyleaf note by the duke of Parma and Piacenza, Carlo di Borbone (1716-1788), asserting that the manuscript had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots.[vii] Finally, ‘The Hours of Elizabeth the Queen’ (London, British Library, Additional MS 50001)[viii] – which was owned early in its history by Cecily Neville (b. 1424, d. 1450) and Elizabeth of York (b. 1466, d. 1503), and subsequently, in the eighteenth century, by the letter-writer Dorothy Osborne of Cheriton (1627-95) – has also been linked to Mary; according to a note on fol. iiiv, the manuscript had been given to Osborne by her mother who said that Mary, on the night before her death, presented the manuscript to one of her attendants, identified in a later note as another Dorothy, the daughter of Sir Christopher Willoughby (d.1538-40) and Elizabeth Tailboys (d.1546).[ix]

Several of the books discussed above and below have in common a claim that they were present with Mary at or just prior to her execution. It is ultimately highly difficult to prove for certain whether any surviving prayer books associated with Mary were with her at the scaffold, but the romantic desire on the part of generations of owners and librarians to associate a specific volume with the moment of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution and thereby transform that book into a relic of Mary’s ‘martyrdom’ remains a noteworthy feature of their history.  Examples of this tendency are still unsurprisingly common. Take, for instance, the following remarks made by Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History at The Huntington Library in California. Discussing the library’s cautious treatment plan for the book of hours associated with Mary which they own, she observes:[x]

“Normally library curators and conservators would work out a treatment plan to remove some of the glue and repair the binding—and perhaps even introduce new elements that would help stabilize the book. But in this case, we are taking a different approach, as this is more than just a book. This book likely comforted a queen in her final hours and rested on the scaffold during one of the most iconic moments in English history. This book is an historical artifact, and for that reason, we are reluctant to introduce new materials and alter its original structure. […]

As we continue to research, I’ll be going to a movie theater this month to watch Margot Robbie, playing Queen Elizabeth I, and Saoirse Ronan, playing the Scottish queen, face off in the film Mary Queen of Scots. I’ll surely be intrigued by the politics of the story, emotional over the heartache, and enchanted by the dresses. But, most of all, I’ll be looking to see if a little velvet-covered prayer book makes a subtle appearance at a crucial moment.”

Similar statements have been made about a book of hours containing an autograph inscription by Mary, recently sold for just over £310,000 at Christie’s.[xi] Speculating on the possibility that the book’s provenance can be traced directly back to Mary via Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent (1541-1615), one of the organisers and witnesses of Mary’s execution, the cataloguer Alastair Smart asks:

“Might Grey have taken it from Mary shortly before her execution, or seized it from one of her ladies-in-waiting shortly afterwards? It’s a tantalising thought.”

He also says of the book:

“It is one of 14 prayer books connected to Mary that survive to this day. Almost all of the others, however, are in public collections — and none of them boasts so personal an expression.”

“The prayer book for sale represents stunning proof of that religious constancy — as well as a relic from a tender, early moment in Mary’s life, before her troubles began.”[xii]

In the remainder of this blog post I want to look in a little more detail at some of the books of hours that can definitely be associated with Mary, not least because they contain autograph copies of her verse.

The Christie’s Hours

On 29 July 2020, a lavishly decorated prayer book containing an inscription by Mary Queen of Scots sold at Christie’s for £311,250. The manuscript had been produced for Mary’s great-aunt, Louise de Bourbon (1495-1575), abbess of Fontevraud (/Fontevrault), and contains a cycle of forty miniatures attributed to the so-called Master of François de Rohan (fl. 1525-46). The latter was patronized by King François I (1494-1547) and his sister, Margaret of Navarre (1492-1549), and he produced upwards of eighteen surviving manuscripts and four printed books.[xiii]

Towards the end of the Christie’s manuscript we find prayers added in French by several, later hands (including, perhaps, a young woman), and a verse inscription (fol. 206r) by Mary.[xiv] The quatrain reads:

Puis que voules quissi me ramentoiue
en vos prieres et deuotes oraisons
ie vous requiers premier quil vous souiene
quele part aues en mes affections

Since you wish to remember me here
in your prayers and devout orations,
I ask you first that you remember
what part you have in my affections

Mary concludes the verse with an anagrammatic motto, ‘Va Tu Meriteras’ (‘Go, you are worthy’), and a monogram based on the initial ‘M’ of her name and ‘ɸ’ (the initial phonetic letter of her husband François II’s name). The same motto appears at the end of another of Mary’s poems, the sonnet L’ire de Dieu, included by John Leslie (1527-1596), Bishop of Ross, in the 1574 printed edition of his Libri Duo: Quroum vno, Piae Afflicti Animi Consolationes, diunaque remedia: Altero, Animi Tranqvilli Mvnimentum et conservatio, continentur – two pious Latin treatises which he wrote for Mary between 1572 and 1573 during successive periods of his own imprisonment in England.[xv]

The simple quatrain has a memorial function – it is designed both to allow Mary’s great-aunt, Louise, to remember Mary, and to ensure that Louise knows that her act of remembrance will be reciprocated by Mary.[xvi]

Sheffield, Guild of St George, MS R.3546: The ‘De Croy Hours’

Sheffield, Guild of St George, MS R.3546, fols 16v-17r

A more sophisticated version of the Christie’s quatrain appears in a manuscript now better known as the ‘De Croy Hours’ after its later sixteenth-century owner, Diana de Croy (née Dommartin) (1552-1625).[xvii]  What makes this manuscript particularly interesting is the large volume of signatures and inscriptions in French, Spanish and Italian scattered throughout, most written by Diana and her husband, Charles-Philippe’s, friends and relatives.

The manuscript seems to have been owned before Diana by her husband’s mother, Anne de Lorraine (1522-1568), who was also the cousin of Mary’s mother, Mary of Guise. Apparently at Anne’s behest, Mary placed into the manuscript (sometime between July 1559 and December 1560) another memorial inscription.[xviii] I provide below a new transcription of the original French text and an edited version in modern French. (In the transcription square brackets indicate text lost due to damage to the manuscript and asterisks estimate the most likely number of missing letters.) I publish too a proposed new translation in which I attempt to capture something of the sophisticated word play of Mary’s original French.

Si ce Lieu est pour ecrire ordon [**]                                         
cequil vous plest auoir en souena [***]                                    
Je vous requiers que lieu me soit d [****]
Et que nul temps nen oste lordonnan [**]
Royne de france
[monogram] Marie

Si ce lieu est pour écrire ordonné
Ce qu’il vous plaît avoir en souvenance,
Je vous requiers que lieu me soit donné
Et que nul temps n’en ôte l’ordonnance.
Reine de France

 If this place is arranged for writing
That which it pleases you to hold in memory,
I ask you that the place be given to me,
And that no time take from its arrangement.
Queen of France.

In a forthcoming article I will be suggesting that Mary plays in this quatrain not just on the language of command suggested by the repetition of ordonné and l’ordonnance but also and more particularly on the use of these words to refer to the ordering and arrangement of material. Together with her repetition of the word lieu (place), I propose that Mary is playing on another meaning of l’ordonnance, namely the notion of dispositio or rhetorical organization of argument. With her concluding focus on the effects of time, she plays too throughout the quatrain on memoria or ‘memory’, the discipline of recalling the arguments of a discourse. In classical treatises on rhetoric, dispositio and memoria were intimately connected to one another and in her quatrain Mary again brings the two faculties together. In the first two lines she writes of how space has been set aside in the book of hours for writing memorial inscriptions and in the third and fourth lines she requests that the words she now writes in that place will acquire a permanence, both on the page and in the mind or memory. In essence, Mary figures her quatrain as an epitaph, and suggests through word-play that her carefully ordered words are themselves both that epitaph and also the means whereby the epitaph and she herself will be remembered.

Elsewhere in my forthcoming work, I’ll suggest further that the ‘arrangement’ referred to in the final line encompasses not just the arrangement of Mary’s verse per se, but also the meaningful arrangement of the entire manuscript opening on which it appears.  The inscription appears below an earlier sixteenth-century image of Christ’s wounded heart (accompanied by the words ‘Hec est mensura plaga domini’, ‘This is the measurement of the wound of the Lord’), and opposite a miniature of a priest celebrating the Eucharist which also contains an image of Christ displaying his stigmata alongside the Cross and instruments of the Passion. These pictures were rich in contemporary meaning – they recall the tradition of the Mass of St Gregory in which Christ as the Man of Sorrows appeared to the Saint as he celebrated the Eucharist, for instance, and together with the wounded heart of Christ they also form part of the late medieval and early modern practice of devotion to the Holy Wounds and arma Christi. The Eucharist, wounded heart, and Christ’s body functioned all three additionally as symbols of the divine Word, represented by the Bible on the altar and the book of hours itself, whilst throughout the medieval and early modern period hearts and books further functioned as two of the most significant and related metaphors for memory.[xix] Mary’s quatrain and its placement on fol. 17r very much keys into these ideas.

In emphasizing the visual nature of her words and drawing repeated attention to the place in which they appear, Mary appears to be asking her audience to recall not just her words, but also the images of a memorial act (the Eucharist) with which they appear.

Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS Latin 21

Manchester, John Rylands Library, MS Latin 21, fols 114r, 125r

Analysis of the manuscript contexts of some of Mary’s other verse suggests that she often thought carefully about its placement. This is particularly the case for the inscriptions (largely composed during the course of her captivity in England) found in two other Books of Hours.

Manchester, John Rylands, MS Latin 21 is a tiny book of hours – small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. An annotation by Mary occurs on fol. 114r after a prayer on fol. 113v for the faithful departed and cue for the prayer ‘De profundis’, based on Psalm 129, which begins: ‘de profundis clamavi ad te Domine/ Domine exaudi vocem meam fiant aures tuae intendentes ad vocem deprecationis meae’ (‘Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication’). Mary’s annotation – ‘Mon Dieu/ confondez mes ennemys’ (‘My God, confound my enemies’) – is well placed in this context; her personal prayer for divine aid during a time of trouble echoes the Psalmist’s subsequent call to God in the remainder of the psalm and hope that ‘redimet Israhel ex omnibus iniquitatibus eius’ (‘he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities’). Mary’s second annotation on fol. 125r follows suit: ‘Dieu viuant/ mon seul Iuge/ olyez mes plainctes & mes gemissementz’ (‘Living Lord/ my only Judge/ hear my complaints and my lamentations’). It is positioned immediately after a prayer to the Virgin at the end of the Office of the Virgin in Advent (‘ora pro nobis’, ‘pray for us’) and precedes an image of David in prayer on fol. 126v that itself prefaces the first penitential Psalm (Psalm 6):‘Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me neque in ira tua corripias me’ (‘O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath’).

St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS Lat. Q. v. I. 112

Verse by Mary appears in a comparable fashion in St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS Lat. Q. v. I. 112, a richly decorated Latin and French parchment book of hours from the second quarter of the fifteenth century that was owned and written in by Mary over a period of more than twenty years.[xx] In addition to items of verse composed by and in Mary’s own hand, the manuscript also contains the signatures of several prominent individuals associated with Mary’s captivity and the English court.

Mary signed the book of hours herself on six occasions, twice with a date – 1553 and 1579. In 1553, Mary was eleven years old and living at the French court; in 1579 she was thirty-nine years old and imprisoned at Sheffield Castle. The volume thus accompanied her throughout several significant stages of life in France, Scotland and England.

St Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS Lat. Q. v. I. 112, fol. 81v. Image sourced from an online edition of Mary’s poetry, forming part of the Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing Digital Archive (2017-20) (The National Library of Russia do not grant permission for direct reproduction; this image was supplied from a microfilm copy of the manuscript owned by the National Library of Scotland)

In total, Mary added fourteen verses to National Library of Russia, MS Lat. Q. v. I. 112 and seven of these occur, as in Manchester, John Rylands MS 21, on what was previously a blank folio (fol. 81v), opposite an image (fol. 82r) of King David, in prayer and accompanied by a book and harp.[xxi] The latter miniature again begins the sequence of Penitential Psalms (fols 82-95), and below it we find text from the beginning of Psalm 6 (‘Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me neque in ira tua corripias me’; ‘O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath’).  In the first three verses on fol. 81v, Mary reflects on her imprisonment, lamenting her misfortune and the way in which she is treated unfairly by others; in the fifth and seventh she reflects further on the nature of reputation, as well as upon (the apparently unfavourable) responses her words and opinions receive; and in the fourth and sixth verses she refers and likens herself to a ‘beautiful angel’. Approaching the verses as a set, Rosalind Smith has drawn parallels between them and the subsequent Penitential Psalms, suggesting both that the juxtaposition ‘amplif[ies] the queen’s claims to sovereign authority, lyric and spiritual’, and that behind Mary’s apparent pessimism there lies something of David’s concluding optimism as she imagines the opportunities death might present for her to gain not just a new reputation for piety but perhaps also a status as a Catholic martyr.[xxii]  Although in both this manuscript and the Manchester one Mary took advantage of previously blank space, the common juxtaposition of Mary’s words alongside the Penitential Psalms – and the fact that Mary clearly had the choice of several blank pages in the Manchester volume – certainly supports Smith’s suggestion that Mary might have intended us to draw parallels between her and David, a fellow monarch and poet (as well as symbol of penitence and type of Christ).[xxiii]

Concluding Remarks

I’ve discussed above four books of hours definitely associated with Mary Queen of Scots – some of them clearly owned by her over a number of years. Each of these books is valuable in its own right and for a number of reasons. Given that our focus is Mary Queen of Scots, they are of course especially valuable because they contain autograph copies of her verse. That verse frequently fulfils a memorial function, standing testimony to Mary’s relationships with her maternal French family, and allowing her to articulate something of her shifting identity. It is also playful – enigmatic and emblematic – and exists in an apparently deliberate close relationship with the verbal and visual material with which it appears. That this material relates to the Psalms – and that Mary herself echoes the language of the Psalms in her own verse – is especially worthy of note. Indeed, I would suggest as a parting shot that further work might profitably examine the complexities of Mary identifying in particular with the penitent KingDavid.

Emily Wingfield

University of Birmingham

[i] Seymour de Ricci et al., Census of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the United States and Canada, 3 vols (New York: H. W. Wilson, 1935-40), vol. 1, p. 104; John Guy, My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (London: Harper Perennial, 2004), p. 545; C. W. Dutschke, Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino: Henry E. Huntington Library & Art Gallery, 1989), vol. 2, pp. 550-2.

[ii] [last accessed 8 September 2020]. There are no inscriptions – contemporary or later – linking this manuscript to Mary.

[iii] Rosalind K. Marshall, Mary Queen of Scots: ‘In my end is my beginning’ (Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland, 2013), pp. 52, 17.  Again, there are no inscriptions – contemporary or later – linking this manuscript to Mary.

[iv] There is a deluxe facsimile of this manuscript: The Book of Hours of Mary, Queen of Scots: the smallest book of hours in facsimile, Hansmartin Decker-Hauff, Werner H. Roth et al. (Darmstadt : Facsimilia Art & Edition Ebert, 1988).  See also: Eberhard König, The Book of Hours of Claude de France, trans. Christine Seidel (Schweiz: Heribert Tenschert, 201), pp. 35, 44-5, 47

[v] François Avril, ed., Jean Fouquet: Peintre et enlumineur du XVe siècle (Paris: Biblliothèque nationale de France, 2003), pp. 402-7 (no. 56).  The volume contains a seventeenth-century inscription reading ‘Marie Stuhart rege d’A’ corrected in the eighteenth century to ‘de Marie Stuart Reine d’Escosse’.

[vi] Libro d’ore di Maria Stuarda (Castelvetro di Modena: ArtCodex, 2009); Caterina Limentani Virdis, ‘Attorno al MS. 62 della Biblioteca Classense di Ravenna: Storie di Regine, di Libri e di Falsari’, in Il Codice Miniato in Europa: Libri per la chiesa, per la città, per la corte, ed. Giodana Mariani Canova and Alessandra Saggese Perriccioli (Padua, 2014), pp. 629-41.

[vii] Cum pictoris ystoriatum: codici devozionali e liturgici della Biblioteca Palatina (Modena: Il Bulino, 2001), 209-12.

[viii] Scot McKendrick et al., Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination (London: British Library, 2001),pp. 154-5.

[ix] British Library, online catalogue of digitised manuscripts, [last accessed 8 September 2020]. 

[x],Manuscript%201200%2C%20folio%2067%20verso.&text=In%201568%2C%20Mary%20crossed%20the,to%20abdicate%20the%20Scottish%20throne. [last accessed 8 September 2020]

[xi] [accessed 9 September 2020].

[xii],a%20country%20she%20barely%20knew.&text=For%20Mary%2C%20it%20was%20to,three%20supremely%20ill%2Dfated%20marriages. [accessed 9 September 2020]

[xiii] Louise – who, like her aunt and predecessor as abbess, Renée de Bourbon, undertook an extensive programme of architectural reform at the abbey – is known to have commissioned other work by the same artist. See Myra D. Orth, ‘The Master of François de Rohan: A Familiar French Renaissance Miniaturist with a New Name’, in Illuminating the Book: Makers and Interpreters. Essays in Honour of Janet Backhouse, ed. Michelle P. Brown and Scot McKendrick (London: British Library and University of Toronto Press, 1998), pp. 69-91; Gabrielle Esperdy, ‘The Royal Abbey of Fontevrault: Religious Women & the Shaping of Gendered Space’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, 6:2 (2005), 59-80 (pp. 73-8).

[xiv] The prayers include on to St Anne and O excellentissima.

[xv] Bittersweet Within My Heart: The Collected Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots, trans. and ed. Robin Bell (London: Pavilion, 1992), pp. 78-9; Pamela Robinson, ‘John Leslie’s ‘‘Libri Duo”: Manuscripts belonging to Mary Queen of Scots?’, in Order and Connexion: Studies in Bibliography and Book History. Selected Papers from the Munby Seminar Cambridge July 1994, ed. R. C. Alston (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1997), pp. 63-75; Jane Donawerth, ‘Stuart’s L’Ire de Dieu’, The Explicator, 59:4 (2010), 171-3.

[xvi] Memorial inscriptions are a not uncommon feature of sixteenth-century devotional volumes. 

[xvii] Emily Wingfield, ‘Re-Locating and Re-Assessing a Quatrain by Mary Queen of Scots’ (forthcoming).

[xviii] The fact that Mary signs herself as ‘Royne de france’ allows us to date the poem. She was only Queen for a short time before François’ untimely death in December 1560. After that date she instead described herself as ‘Marie Royne d’Escosse, douairière de France’.

[xix] Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture, 2nd edn(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), chapter 1; E. Jager, The Book of the Heart (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000). The link between the heart, book, and notions of memory originates in the Bible, e.g. Proverbs 3:3, Ezekiel 40:4 and 2 Corinthians 3:3. For a discussion of the heart in metaphors of reading in the early modern period see Helen Smith, ‘Grossly Material Things’: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 195.

[xx] A. de Laborde, Les Principaux Manuscrits à Peintures conservés dans l’Ancienne Bibliothèque Impériale Publique de Saint-Pétersbourg, 2 vols (Paris: Société française de reproductions de manuscrits à peintures, 1936-8), no. 64, pp. 63-66; T.P. Voronova, ‘Chasovnik Marii Stuart [Mary Stuart’s Book of Hours]’, in Istoria v rukopisyah i rukopisi v istorii, ed. G.P. Enin (St Petersburg: National Library of Russia, 2006), pp. 95-100. I am grateful to the NLR for sending me a copy of this article and to Maria Artamonova for producing an English translation of it.

[xxi] Bittersweet Within My Heart, ed. Bell, 86-93. See also: Lettres, instructions et mémoires de Marie Stuart, reine d’Écosse, ed. Alexandre Labanoff, 7 vols (London: Charles Dolman, 1844), vol. 7, 346-51; Stewart-Mackenzie Arbuthnot, Queen Mary’s Book, 113-15, 167-169; David Angus, ‘Mary’s Marginalia’, Review of Scottish Culture, 3 (1987), 9-12. I here present my own transcriptions and translations.

[xxii] Rosalind Smith, ‘‘‘Le pouvoir de faire dire’’: Marginalia in Mary Queen of Scots’ Book of Hours’, in Material Cultures of Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. Patricia Pender and Rosalind Smith (Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 55-75 (66-9).

[xxiii] The French king François I was frequently represented as David: Pauline M. Smith and Dana Bentley Cranch, ‘A new iconographical addition to Francis I’s adoption of the persona of King David and its contemporary literary context A new iconographical addition to Francis I’s adoption of the persona of King David and its contemporary literary contextA New Iconographical Addition to Francis I’s Adoption of the Persona of King David and Its Contemporary Literary Context’, Renaissance Studies, 21:5 (2007), 608–24. Compare Micheline White, ‘The psalms, war, and royal iconography: Katherine Parr’s Psalms or Prayers (1544) and Henry VIII as David’, Renaissance Studies, 29:4 (2015), 554-575.

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