The prayer roll of Margaret of Anjou, she wolf of France

The following article by Christopher Muttukumaru CB appears in the Jesus College Newsletter (issue 27, Trinity Term 2017).

In Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3, Margaret of Anjou was described by the Duke of York as the “she wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France”. Margaret, who married King Henry VI and who, in 1448, was the founder of Queens’ College, Cambridge, was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. Her marriage had been a pivotal factor in the ending of the Hundred Years’ War. She became Queen Consort in 1445. With Henry VI in fragile health and incapable of wise decision-making, she became a figurehead in her own right and de facto the leader of the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses.

Yet the prayer roll of Margaret of Anjou, which belongs to Jesus College (Bodleian Library, Jesus MS 124), depicts a pious Margaret at prayer, kneeling at her prie-dieu.

What is the prayer roll?
Psalters, such as the sumptuous Copenhagen Psalter (which is attributed to English illuminators), had been in use in England from the early Middle Ages. They were primarily a collection of the psalms for use by the clergy. But by the fifteenth century, psalters were increasingly superseded by books of hours. Books of hours, while incorporating some psalms, also focused on other readings, prayers and, typically, a calendar. Like books of hours, prayer rolls were pre-eminently a personal aid to devotion.

Margaret’s prayer roll is a precious object of exceptional beauty. It is so rare that it was one of the objects displayed at the British Library’s Royal Manuscripts exhibition in 2011–12. It dates from between 1445 and 1453.

MS 124

The prayer roll, MS 124
(photo: Christopher Muttukumaru; published by kind permission of Jesus College)

The roll, when unfurled to its full length, is about 158 cm long. It comprises two pieces of overlapping parchment. It is likely that it was a royal commission, not a work done by monks. Its creation is attributed to William Abell, a professional illuminator who served an elite clientele in the 15th century. According to the Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian, the script is exceptionally fine. The colours of the images in the prayer roll are startling in their intensity. The text is written in a vivid brown ink. The prayer roll was typically rolled over a wooden pipe in order to be more portable.

Why is it so rare?
First, the Jesus prayer roll is one of comparatively few which have survived — there are no more than 25 in existence. This is a consequence partly of their fragility and partly of the excesses of the Reformation.

Secondly, while the majority of prayer rolls are dedicated to prayers focused on the wounds of Christ, the Jesus prayer roll is centred on the Virgin Mary. Thus she and Jesus are depicted within the ring at the top of the prayer roll, above the kneeling Margaret. In this connection, the visual imagery in the text and the historical context are worth exploring.

MS 124 rota

Margaret at the centre of the rota or wheel
(photo: Christopher Muttukumaru; published by kind permission of Jesus College)

Margaret at prayer

Margaret at prayer
(photo: Christopher Muttukumaru; published by kind permission of Jesus College)

Motherhood was, in Maurer’s view (see Select bibliography), the defining moment for a Queen Consort in a system based on lineal inheritance. Therefore, after an unstable period following the sudden death of Henry V, the birth of a successor to the throne became an immediate concern after Margaret’s arrival from France. Against that background, Margaret (who also visited the shrine at Walsingham four times, known to be a place where women sought God’s help in attaining motherhood) is depicted looking upwards and praying to the Virgin Mary. The son whom she and Henry VI wanted duly arrived in 1453.

Moreover, in establishing herself in England, Margaret was expected to intercede with God on behalf of her people — in short, to exercise “good ladyship”. As to this role as intercessor, the keen reader will note the detail in the wheel outside the central ring in which the Virgin Mary is shown. The spokes of the wheel show the classes in society who might be expected to pray to the Virgin, seeking Margaret’s intercession for the purpose. The identified classes include: the poor, the laity, the clergy and religious women.

Thirdly, the prayer roll, in depicting the Queen herself, is, in the view of an expert (Drimmer), very unusual in a late mediaeval manuscript. There are two other such depictions of Margaret. First, she appears in the Talbot Shrewsbury book (1444–5), a book of poems and romances presented by the Earl of Shrewsbury (Talbot) to Margaret upon her betrothal to Henry VI. Talbot had escorted her to England from France. Secondly, she appears in widow’s clothing in the Skinners’ Company Book of the Confraternity of the Assumption of Our Lady.

Margaret of Anjou in the Shrewsbury Talbot Book (British Library)

Margaret of Anjou depicted in the Talbot Shrewsbury Book
(British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, folio 2v; published by kind permission of the British Library Board)

Margaret of Anjou in the Skinners' Company Book (Guildhall Library)

Margaret of Anjou depicted in the Skinners’ Company Book of the Fraternity of the Assumption of Our Lady
(London Metropolitan Archives, MS 31692, folio 34v; photo: Christopher Muttukumaru; published by kind permission of the Skinners’ Company)

Drimmer concludes: “Together, these images are exceptional in their portrayal of a mediaeval queen in three guises: devotee, recipient and widow.” Curiously, the contemporaneous Talbot family’s Book of Hours (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 40-1950) uses a long, thin format akin to a prayer roll. Talbot and his second wife are themselves pictured penitentially in illuminations in the manuscript.

How did the prayer roll come into the possession of Jesus College?
The college was founded in 1571. The prayer roll dates from 1445–53. Whence came the prayer roll?

Visitors to the Weston Building of the Bodleian will have noted the giant 16th century tapestry maps of parts of England — the Sheldon Tapestries. They were commissioned for Ralph Sheldon (1537–1613). His great grandson was also a Ralph Sheldon (1623–1684). From the time of his wife’s death in 1663, the younger Sheldon spared no expense in enriching the collection in his library at Weston in Warwickshire. Between 1674 and 1681, Sheldon engaged Anthony Wood to catalogue the collection. Wood’s two catalogues provide the clue to the migration of the Sheldon collection.

According to an article in 1939 in the Bodleian Library Record, Sheldon bequeathed most of the collection to the College of Arms. But the article records that Wood had been an “unworthy trustee, for several Vincent-Sheldon MSS, now in the Bodleian, were retained by him for his own use, and were later sold by him to the Bodleian or came to that library with Wood’s own collection”. It later transpired that “over twenty manuscripts destined for the College of Arms, found their way, through Wood, to Jesus College Library, for Wood’s disgust at the lack of a princely fee for his work at Weston …” Jesus College Library contains, besides the eight printed books which belonged to Wood, some forty manuscripts which bear his signature, ABosco, or his initials.

On the back of the prayer roll, Wood has inscribed the following: “the picture within drawne was made for Margaret of Anjou, wife of Hen 6 of England, as it appears by the arms joyning to it//1681 ABosco”.

As for the history of the prayer roll between Margaret’s return to France in 1476 and 1681, there is no reliable evidence. But it is known that many such objects were gifted by one female to another and so it is possible that the book was left to a confidante before 1476.

The prayer roll is, quite simply, an object to be treasured. As Keats wrote:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.”

Christopher Muttukumaru CB (1970, Law)

Select bibliography

Helen Castor, She-wolves: the women who ruled England before Elizabeth (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), pages 314–402

Sonja Drimmer, ‘Beyond private matter: a prayer roll for Queen Margaret of Anjou‘, Gesta 53(1) (March 2014), pages 95–120

Eamon Duffy, Marking the hours: English people and their prayers, 1240–1570 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), chapters 1, 2, and 4

Helen E. Maurer, Margaret of Anjou: queenship and power in late medieval England (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003)

Scot McKendrick, John Lowden, and Kathleen Doyle, Royal manuscripts: the genius of illumination (London: British Library, 2011), pages 160–161, 400–403

Erik Petersen, ‘Suscipere digneris: et fund og nogle hypoteser om Københavnerpsalteret Thott 143 2° og dets historie [a find and some hypotheses on the Copenhagen Psalter Thott 143 2° and its history]’, Fund og forskning i det Kongelige Biblioteks samlinger 50 (2011), pages 21–63

I.G. Philip, ‘Sheldon’s manuscripts in Jesus College Library’, Bodleian Library Record 1 (1939), pages 119–123

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Supporting students

When I arrived at the Meyricke Library in June 2016, one of my jobs involved returning books to a small subsection of the Lower Library. This consisted at the time of one-and-a-half shelves of books on welfare topics from study skills to student life. I noticed that the collection was very small, and having recently been a student myself, I kept wondering where the resources were on issues my friends and I had faced during our time at university. What help was there for Jesus College students struggling with stress during Finals, or unsure of the next steps after exploring sexual relationships for the first time? I decided to expand and promote a Student Support collection for my trainee project, to reflect students’ ever-changing welfare needs.

I first spoke to college staff who deal with welfare issues, from the Chaplain to the College Nurse, asking what issues students generally come to them with, and whether they currently recommend any particular books or resources to students. I also consulted the Counselling Service’s list of suggested texts and asked on social media. This allowed me to compile a provisional list of books mentioned by several sources. I wanted to ensure that everything I purchased was approved by more than one person as an indicator of quality and usefulness.

When it came to purchasing, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a £500 grant by the Jesus College Development Fund for collection expansion and development. This was my entire budget, but my provisional booklist came to over £1000, so significant cutbacks had to be made. Deciding what to include and exclude threw up some very complicated ethical questions and I was effectively forced to ask myself who and what was worthy of inclusion, while wanting everyone to be able to access the collection and find resources useful to their personal needs. This taught me a lot about my own inherent biases and instinctive decisions on which purchases were more or less important. I believe that constantly reflecting on one’s own practice and beliefs is key to informed librarianship, especially in terms of collection development.

Student Support collection

The Student Support collection in the Lower Library (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Next, I had to work out how best to shelve the new collection. When I arrived, it was available to borrow on an honesty system, so students did not need to check books on sensitive subjects out and nobody could see what they were borrowing. I decided to keep this system as I wanted to protect students’ privacy and save them embarrassment, feeling that this outweighed the fact that some students were not returning books. I also kept the collection in its initial location, but moved the books on writing skills to the English Literature subsection on the first floor in order to create more space. I considered moving the entire collection to the upper floor of the Periodicals Room, a quiet space removed from the main reading rooms, but felt that as the space was so little used, it would be obvious why people were going there, breaching the privacy I was so keen to ensure.

When moving writing skills books, I had to reclassify them in accordance with their new location, and this led to me drawing up a new classification for the Student Support collection. The Meyricke Library uses its own classification system where letters of the alphabet represent different subjects, e.g. P for Politics. I therefore decided on SS for Student Support, and created 9 subcategories from SS1 to SS9. Whilst these did overlap with each other – SS5 was Mental Health and SS6 was Grief and Trauma, which obviously do play into each other – I felt that broader categories better reflected the nuances of different welfare issues and allowed for refinement in future, as student support is a constantly changing field.

I then had to promote the collection, as it was underused and little known about in college. I spoke to both JCR and MCR Welfare reps and spoke on the collection at a Staff Liaison Committee meeting, encouraging staff to mention it to students needing support. The incoming MCR Welfare Officer has already donated books from his personal collection and is looking into getting a block grant for further collection development. I also updated the signage around the collection.

I have subsequently seen the collection in use, as books have been left on the returns trolley, so I feel it has been successful. I would encourage any college library to create their own Student Support collection by taking a balanced approach and examining their own beliefs on students’ needs compared to the feedback they receive from students themselves.

Harry Wright (Graduate Library Trainee, 2016–17)

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Treasures of Jesus College from Cirencester

The following article by Andrew Dunning appears in the 2016 Jesus College Record.

Among the medieval manuscripts owned by the Jesus College library are fifteen from Cirencester Abbey, a community of Augustinian canons. They are beautiful examples of bookmaking in 12th-century England, and the care taken with them over the centuries makes them one of the most unique collections of such material.

Orosius (MS 62)

Opening of Orosius (MS 62, folio 4v, photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

The most obvious allure of the Cirencester manuscripts is their colourful initials, which are better illustrated than described. Less apparent, but even more exciting for scholars, is the fact that they can be dated with relative precision. In the late 12th century, one of the canons recorded the names of the scribes at the front or back of many of the volumes. For example, Jesus College MS 52 bears the inscription This is a book of St Mary of Cirencester, written in the time of Dom Andrew, the second abbot, through the hand of Dom Alexander, afterwards cantor, and Ralph of Pulham, a scribe, while Dom Adam de la Mora was cantor. This tells us that the book was written between 1149 and 1176: Andrew was abbot from 1147 to 1176, while Adam was preceded in office by a Gilbert, who was still cantor in 1149. Alexander was one of the Cirencester canons, but Ralph was a professional scribe. His employment gives a sense of the importance the community placed on creating a library.

The inscriptions are all written in a single hand. The most recent of them names a scribe Walter, suggesting that the person responsible was Walter of Mileto (fl. 1180-1220), a scribe and administrator at the Abbey. He was later the clerk to the Abbey’s most famous writer, Alexander Neckam (1157-1217), commemorated in a 16th-century gateway installed in the Weston Library in 2015. He also acted as his literary executor, and sought to create a complete collection of Alexander’s sermons. One can sense his urgency in a surviving note to Roger Noreys, chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury: Mark on a sheet the beginnings of all the sermons that you have in your possession and send them to me by the first messenger you can find!

Pseudo-Hegesippus (MS 63)

Opening of Pseudo-Hegesippus (MS 63, folio 4v, photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

The Jesus College Cirencester manuscripts are also highly valuable for their bindings, many of which are original. Particularly from the 17th to 19th centuries, collectors and institutions would rebind their books, not because they were in poor condition, but because they wanted bookshelves that presented a uniform aesthetic. Volumes were bound with matching spines and covers that bore their coat of arms. For this reason, new books in this period were often sold unbound, and manuscripts were subject to the same treatment. Unfortunately, the trend in this period was to bind books very tightly and to trim the edges of pages to make them appear uniform, causing severe damage. We owe the past librarians of Jesus College infinite gratitude for their restraint in not abandoning their collections to this trend. The Cirencester manuscripts at Jesus College are among only a handful of surviving examples of English Romanesque bindings. Occasionally one even finds original bookmarks left by the canons. This allows us to appreciate the books’ original artistry and learn more about how they were used; they are the only evidence that Cirencester had a chained library in the later Middle Ages.

After the Abbey’s dissolution by King Henry VIII in 1539, some of its manuscripts were saved by the administrator Sir John Prise (1501/2-1555). The books now owned by Jesus College appear in the list of those willed to the College by his son Gregory Prise (1535-1600), as the late College archivist Chris Jeens showed in the 2015 issue of the Record. Prise took an interest in the history of England, and it might be because of this that so many works of Bede survive from Cirencester.

Bede's commentary on Samuel (MS 53)

Bede’s commentary on Samuel (MS 53, folio 3v, photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

In 2017, the town of Cirencester will be celebrating the nine hundredth anniversary of the Abbey’s founding with the Abbey 900 Festival. This will include a special exhibit at the Corinium Museum, in which Jesus College MS 52 will be among four manuscripts on temporary display.

Dr Andrew Dunning is Curator of Medieval Historical Manuscripts, 1100-1500, at the British Library. He was the RBC Foundation-Bodleian Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Book during Hilary Term 2016.

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New staff: Harry Wright

Several college libraries in Oxford take part in the Bodleian’s training scheme for graduates (of any university) intending to become professional librarians. The fourth trainee at Jesus College is Harry Wright, who wrote the following piece for the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees blog.

Hi, I’m Harry, and I’m this year’s Graduate Trainee at Jesus College Library, where I’ve been in post since June. Jesus is one of the more central colleges, whose students need access to a wide range of information, resources and study spaces, and it’s my job to help provide those things! My role this year involves assisting the librarian with the day-to-day running of the library, from removing damaged and superseded books to helping readers with all kinds of enquiries. I also help look after the beautiful Fellows’ Library and am enjoying learning about rare books.

Fellows' Library

Fellows’ Library (© Jorge Royan, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’m currently in the early stages of planning my Graduate Trainee Project, focused on expanding our Welfare Library.

Prior to working at Jesus, I did a similar traineeship in a secondary school library in Hertfordshire, after studying English Literature and American Literature & Culture at Cambridge and Leeds respectively. Teenagers are a lot of fun to work with (but exhausting at times) and over the course of my two traineeships, I’ve learned a lot about different demographics’ information needs. While I was there, I helped Sixth Formers with their university applications, which opened my eyes to their desire for good-quality information and differing levels of knowledge on how to acquire it. As a result, I am becoming more and more interested in access to information, and hope to specialise in information management within the academic sector one day.

That’s all from me, but I look forward to seeing how this year progresses and finding new areas of interest as I discover more and more about the library world.

Upper Meyricke Library

Upper Meyricke Library (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Harry Wright (Graduate Library Trainee, 2016-17)

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Organ donation

The completed refurbishment of the organ in Jesus College Chapel provides an opportunity to announce the new John Wellingham Organ Studies Library.

organ-music

Scores from the John Wellingham Organ Studies Library (© Jesus College, Oxford)

John Wellingham is a distinguished organ teacher and organist who taught at Jesus for over 30 years. The College marked his retirement from teaching last summer by hosting a celebratory recital and reception, at which donations were solicited to establish an Organ Studies Library in his honour. To quote the original invitation:

The aim is to gather a collection of the standard organ repertoire that may be accessed by the university’s organ scholars (and others on application) and borrowed on loan. Literature on the organ and organ studies will augment the collection. To assist students who may not be able to afford to buy their own scores at this early stage in their professional development, it will make available a variety of sheet music and offer a resource that they may explore in order to decide what repertoire they may themselves wish to possess in the future.

So far, the library comprises 150 scores, including anthologies, facsimiles, and hard-to-find editions from Eastern Europe. Many have been donated by John Wellingham himself and others come from the personal library of the late conductor and musicologist Christopher Hogwood. Each has been catalogued individually on SOLO, the library catalogue covering the majority of the library collections of the University of Oxford, as well as in the current list of scores. To see the collection, please email both the Chaplain and the Librarian to arrange a visit.

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

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New online: Welsh manuscripts

Several important Welsh medieval manuscripts belong to Jesus College, most famously the Red Book of Hergest. These manuscripts were photographed twenty years ago for the pioneering digitisation programme Early Manuscripts at Oxford University originally called the Celtic Manuscripts Project. The images are now newly available on the Digital.Bodleian platform, together with a further six manuscripts which were photographed in 1996 and 1997 but which were not previously available online.

The original nine manuscripts:

  • MS 15 – Welsh grammar
  • MS 16 – Welsh-English-Latin dictionary
  • MS 20 – poetic and historical miscellany
  • MS 22 – calendar of saints with medical texts
  • MS 28Dares Phrygius & Brut Tysilio
  • MS 57 – laws of Hywel Dda
  • MS 88 – poetry
  • MS 111 – the Red Book of Hergest
  • MS 119 – the Book of the Anchorite of Llanddewi Brefi
MS 17 title-page

Alpha Beta, the first page of text in MS 17, defining Greek terms in Welsh (© Jesus College, Oxford)

The six manuscripts which have been added:

  • MS 17 – glossary of New Testament Greek
  • MS 137 – poetry
  • MS 138 – the Book of Robert Davies of Gwysaney
  • MS 139 – copy of The Book of the Vicar of Woking
  • MS 140 – poetry
  • MS 141 – chronicles

The College’s medieval and early modern manuscripts have been housed in the Bodleian Library since 1886. They may be consulted in the new Weston Library by appointment.

Qualified conservators from the Oxford Conservation Consortium have recently completed a high-level survey of our manuscripts’ physical condition. Separately, a team of researchers is preparing a new catalogue, due for publication in 2021, as the most recent catalogue dates from the 1850s and is in Latin!

Owen McKnight (Librarian)

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The manuscripts of Sir John Prise

The following article appears in the 2015 Jesus College Record. Chris Jeens prepared it for publication in February 2015. He died in August 2015 and is remembered in the College Record.

Sir John Prise’s supposed gift of 47 medieval manuscripts to Jesus College has long posed a puzzle. He died in 1555, 16 years before the foundation of the College. In his will he made specific and different arrangements for the disposal of the manuscripts he had acquired in the course of supervising the closure of religious houses in the West Country. His ‘written books of history’ were to go to his (second) son Richard, while his ‘written
books of divinity’ were left to Hereford Cathedral Library.

MS 94 front

A 13th-century theological manuscript. (MS 94, photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

Hereford Cathedral did indeed receive some such works, but the greater part found their way to Jesus, where in a register entry c. 1621/22 (RE.1, page 42) they were listed under the heading Nomina Librorum Manuscriptorum ex Donatione Johannis Prise Equitis Aurati Herefordiensis – ‘Titles of manuscript books from the gift of Sir John Prise of Hereford’.

Recent research by the College Archivist has provided an answer to how Prise’s bequest was so disposed to the benefit of the College. Sir John’s eldest son, Gregory Prise (1535-1600), was principal executor of his father’s will and a leading figure in the city of Hereford where he resided in his father’s old property of St Guthlac’s Priory. Gregory’s own will, made and executed in 1600, is preserved in the National Archives (TNA:PROB 11/95). Again, it makes provision for written books of divinity, but in this case Jesus College is the named recipient: ‘And all that the rest of my books of Divinitie in wrytten hand I geve and bequeath to the colledge or howse called Jesus Colledge Oxfforde to be there regestred kepte and reserved forever.’

MS 94 folio 79r

Alexander Neckam (1157-1217), Tractatus super mulierem fortem (Treatise of the virtuous woman) (MS 94, folio 79r, Photo: Andrew Dunning, © Jesus College, Oxford)

It is a matter of speculation as to why these manuscripts remained in Gregory’s possession after his father’s death, and why he subsequently chose to leave them to Jesus College, with which he had no other known connection. However, it seems clear that it was Gregory Prise rather than Sir John who was our real benefactor in this case.

Chris Jeens (Archivist, 2007-2015)

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