skip to content

Western Medieval Manuscripts : Breviary of Marie de Saint Pol

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript was owned, perhaps commissioned, by Marie de Saint Pol, countess of Pembroke (c. 1304-1377) and wife of Aymer de Valence (c. 1270-1324), earl of Pembroke. Marie has a particular connection with the history of the University of Cambridge, being foundress in 1347 of the Hall of Valence Mary - now known as Pembroke College. She was also responsible for the refounding of a priory near Waterbeach for the Franciscan Poor Clares, which subsequently became known as Denny Abbey, and where she was later buried. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>This book certainly dates to within Marie's lifetime. In addition to thirty-nine illuminated column miniatures, the manuscript is heavily ornamented with decorated borders, marginal grotesques and bas-de-page scenes. These have been identified as the work of a single artist, known as 'Mahiet' (a diminutive form of Matthieu), a professional illuminator who worked in Paris during the second quarter of the fourteenth century, in the circle of Jean Pucelle. Its contents clearly chime with Marie's personal devotional preferences and her attentive patronage of a number of religious foundations within the Franciscan order, primarily in England but also in France. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>A breviary contains the prayers, hymns, psalms and readings for everyday liturgical use and this example contains the summer and autumn offices of the Franciscan use from Pentecost until the week before the start of Advent. (Another volume, preceding this one, would have contained the winter and spring offices; it is not known to have survived). Iconographic evidence demonstrates indisputably Marie's ownership of the manuscript. Among the thirty-nine miniatures is one that shows a woman in her heraldic mantle kneeling in veneration before St Cecilia (see f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(751);return false;'>388r</a>). The arms shown - Châtillon-Saint Pol impaled with Valence - were Marie's own (and were adopted by Pembroke College) and are seen in numerous other places in the manuscript (see, for example, ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(36);return false;'>28v</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(187);return false;'>106r</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(224);return false;'>124v</a>, <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(295);return false;'>160r</a> and elsewhere). Examination of these under a magnifying glass and ultraviolet light confirms that they were not painted over a previous coat of arms, establishing that the manuscript was made specifically for Marie.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Whether it was Marie herself or a third party who ordered the production of the manuscript remains open to question, however. The precise origins and other provenance of this manuscript are much less clear and, in spite of promising documentary evidence, all of the interpretations have so far relied on circumstantial, suggestive evidence. Debate has arisen in particular over whether this manuscript may be identified with one or other of the two breviaries recorded in Marie's will. One, which she described as 'mon petit breviaire que ma la Royne me dona' ('my little breviary which my Queen gave to me'), she gave in turn to her Franciscan confessor, William Morin. On the basis of similarities noted by Henry Bradshaw and reported by Paul Meyer between the script in the present manuscript and certain books written for Charles IV of France (1294-1328), Hilary Jenkinson conjectured that this breviary and MS Dd.5.5 are one and the same. Richard and Mary Rouse, while not endorsing this identification (see below), have by contrast suggested that Marie's intended meaning here was the Queen of England, 'doubtless Philippa of Hainault' (rather than the Queen of France, presumably Jeanne d'Évreux, third wife of Charles IV). However, Sean Field has since argued that Isabella of France (1292-1358), consort of Edward II and mother of Edward III, is 'the more likely candidate', given the evidence of a longstanding relationship between these two women, and of Isabella's particular interest in book collecting as well as habitual borrowing from and lending to others.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The other breviary recorded in Marie's will was gifted to Emma de Beauchamp, Abbess of the Franciscan abbey of nuns at Bruisyard in Suffolk, a book Marie noted as having previously belonged to the Sisters of Saint-Marcel (probably the Franciscan nuns of Lourcine-lez-Saint-Marcel near Paris). Disputing Jenkinson's interpretation, Richard and Mary Rouse proposed MS Dd.5.5 to be this breviary, pointing to the prominence given to the recipient and the breviary in Marie's will and the circumstantial connections that linked her to Emma (who had been a nun at Denny Abbey) and to the Franciscan nuns at Saint-Marcel (close neighbours to Marie's childhood home and later residence at Bièvre). The precise nature of the nuns' prior ownership of breviary is not clear from the text of the will, however, nor how a manuscript demonstrably made for Marie had belonged to them. The Rouses speculated that perhaps the nuns had been responsible for furnishing Marie with the text of a breviary she later had decorated in Paris, or had held the manuscript on deposit for Marie's use whenever she visited.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>As Sean Field has observed, it is also possible that MS Dd.5.5 is neither of these manuscripts, but a third breviary owned by Marie but donated prior to her death, perhaps (given its specifically Franciscan contents) to Denny Abbey - though there is very little evidence of the books that were held by this establishment: only two books are known to survive from there, a copy of the Northern Homilies in English (now Cambridge, University Library, MS Add. 8335) and a copy of William of Nassington's <i>Speculum vitae</i>, also in English (now <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton 18</a>).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was most recently displayed as part of the exhibition <i><a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge</a></i> (14th October 2019-21 March 2020), illustrating the important role women have played from the earliest times in the development of the University.</p>Dr James Freeman<br /> Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br /> Cambridge University Library

Want to know more?

Under the 'More' menu you can find , and information about sharing this image.

No Contents List Available
No Metadata Available


If you want to share this page with others you can send them a link to this individual page:
Alternatively please share this page on social media

You can also embed the viewer into your own website or blog using the code below: