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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Book of Hours

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.6.2 (hereafter MS Ii.6.2) is a small illuminated book of hours, produced in Flanders at the end of the fourteenth century. It follows the use of Sarum, and its calendar includes some English saints, which shows that it was always intended for the English market. It was probably imported to East Anglia which is where its earliest owners were based. The manuscript was used as an aid to personal devotion for more than two hundred years. It was used before, during, and after the English Reformation by three generations of the Roberts family of Willesden. These men, Thomas Roberts (d. 1542), his son Edmund Roberts (d. 1585), and Edmund's son Francis Roberts (d. 1632), left many traces of their ownership and reading, adding inscriptions and notes and a variety of short texts in Latin and English. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The main part of the manuscript comprises a calendar, Commemorations, Hours of the Virgin, Pentitential Psalms, and Office of the Dead. Its many blank leaves afforded space for the addition of important family records: on f. 33r is a list of the names of the six children of Thomas Roberts who were alive in 1537, along with a note that eighteen others had died: 'T Robertes hath in all xxiiij chyldern wherof xviij ben decessed'; a later hand has converted this note to the past tense. A similar list of the seven children of Edmund Roberts who were alive in 1575 is given on f. 109v. Other additions contribute notes of papal indulgences, extra prayers, charms, and a single medical recipe. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The recipe was added at the top of f. 110r by Thomas Roberts. He drew a line across the page to separate it from his next addition, a Latin prayer to St Erasmus which he signed at the bottom with his monogram. The recipe is for colic, which may have been a recurrent problem since in a remedy book that Thomas Roberts also owned, Oxford Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson c.299, he added recipes for drinks that would soothe this complaint. The recipe 'For the Collyk' in MS Ii.6.2 takes a different approach, prescribing a plaster to be laid upon the body to relieve the condition. It specifies only five ingredients and contains very brief instructions, assuming knowledge of how the plaster would actually be prepared. Whilst confidence in the recipe's power to cure is expressed ('ye shall be holl'), an important qualification is then added: 'By the grace of God'. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Although a medical recipe may seem misplaced in a prayer book, this addendum is a reminder that the pursuit of healing frequently combined medical and devotional elements. Pre-modern society placed as much store in the power of prayer as in the therapeutic properties of substances, hence the addition in MS Ii.6.2 of a prayer 'For Women to Conceyue Childe' (f. 10r), which invokes the names of various Biblical men whose wives conceived in old age. This belief in the power of words helps to explain why recipes and charms so frequently co-exist in medieval remedy books: combinations of such materials can be seen in CUL MSS Dd.4.44, Dd.5.76, and Ll.1.18. Since popular culture perceived no hard and fast division between bodily and spiritual health, seemingly stray inscriptions of medical recipes within books of hours are therefore not as surprising as they might first appear. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Margaret Connolly<br />Professor of Palaeography and Codicology<br />University of St Andrews</p>

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