THE PRAYER BOOK OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, for the use of Fontevraud, made for Louise de Bourbon-Vendôme, Abbess of Fontevraud and given to her grand-niece Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1567) and Queen Consort of France (1559-1560), in Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1535-1540 (after 1534)]
An unpublished witness to the brilliant patronage of Louise de Bourbon, abbess of Fontevraud, and to her close relationship with one of the most evocative of all Scottish historical figures, Mary Stuart. A flamboyant product of European courtly life, illuminated by one of the most sought-after artists of the court of King Francis I, this manuscript is a poignant memento of a crucial turning point in Mary's life: raised and educated in France and recently married, the untimely death of her husband Francis II would mean a premature return to the Scotland of John Knox, and trigger a sequence of events that would lead to her tragic fate.
118 x 70mm. ii + 207 + ii leaves, modern foliation 1-206 followed here, catchwords survive, 21 lines, ruled space: 89 x 50mm, rubrics in red, illuminated initials throughout, 15 small miniatures accompanied by full-page floral borders, 20 large miniatures accompanied by full-page floral or illusionistic borders (lacking 8 leaves, including at least 4 with miniatures, several leaves misbound, occasional stains, cropping to margins). Late 18th-century neoclassical vellum binding by the Edwards family of Halifax, the upper cover with a putto and the figure of a blessing Christ between two candelabra, the lower cover with a crown and the depiction of the Baptism of Christ between two allegorical statues, both framed with gold and blue filets, both painted in grisaille under translucent vellum according to the method patented in 1785 by James Edwards.
(1) Illuminated in Paris after 1534 for Louise de Bourbon, abbess of Fontevraud (1534-1575), the Benedictine abbess presented by St John to the Virgin and Child on f.18. Louise entered the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, founded in 1101 by Robert of Arbrissel, as a child and took the robe at the age of fifteen. In 1521, she became its great prioress, and on 23 October 1534, Renée de Bourbon, lying on her deathbed, designated Louise to succeed her as abbess. The commission of this Prayer Book must be considered an early consequence of the new financial means and clerical responsibilities acquired by Louise de Bourbon in 1535.
(2) Given to her grand-niece Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1567) and Queen Consort of France (1559-1560). The ownership inscription on f.206 reads: 'Puis que voules qu’issi me ramentoive en vos prieres et devotes oraisons / Je vous requiers premier qu’il vous soviene quele part avés en mes affections'. It is signed both with Mary's anagrammatic motto ‘VA TU MERITERAS’ (which also signs her famous sonnet 'L'ire de Dieu') and monogram 'M?' (a variation based on the initial 'M' of Mary and phonetic initial '?' of Francis II, used also on a jeton held by French collector Auguste Preux in 1870). It follows that Mary Stuart must have added the inscription after her wedding on 10 July 1558 and likely before her definitive return to Scotland in August 1561. Both the hand and rhetorical composition of the addition on f.206 are comparable to a quatrain added by Mary Stuart on the unruled lower margin of a folio of a 15th-century French Book of Hours in Sheffield, Ruskin Gallery, R. 3548.
(3) Hale family of Alderley, Gloucestershire: their bookplate pasted on the upper pasteboard. The bookplate represents the Upper House of Alderley, rebuilt in the 18th century at the country seat that was purchased by their ancestor, Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676), Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in 1671. Hale had inherited, from John Selden (1584-1654), an important archive of manuscripts relating to Mary, Queen of Scots that had belonged to Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent, one of the principal commissioners for Mary's trial and execution. The Hale provenance is therefore significant in that it places the manuscript within the context of other papers relating to Mary owned by the family, and strongly suggests that Mary took the manuscript with her when she left France.
(4) Rebound in the late 18th or early 19th century by the Edwards family of Halifax, active in Pall Mall and Halifax. The narrative scenes painted in grisaille under translucent vellum are characteristic of the method patented by James Edwards in 1785.
Mary Stuart was born on 8 December 1542 to James V, King of Scots and his French wife, Mary of Guise. The only legitimate child of King James, she became Queen of Scots at the death of her father, only six days after her birth. She spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents. In 1558, she married the Dauphin of France and became Queen of France from his accession as Francis II in 1559 until his death in December 1560. While Catherine de Medicis became regent for young Charles IX, Mary Stuart, grief-stricken, returned to Scotland in August 1561. In 1565, she remarried Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who was murdered in 1567. In May 1567, she remarried James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, shortly before being imprisoned following an uprising. On 24 July 1567, she was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland. She fled to England to find the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had her confined in various castles to avoid her potential claim on the throne. In 1586, Mary was eventually found guilty of plotting against Elizabeth and beheaded the following year. The tragic fate of Mary Stuart has been the subject of a great number of plays, paintings, fictions and biographies over the centuries.
The Prayerbook is a significant and unpublished addition to the handful of illuminated manuscripts that can be seriously related to Mary Stuart, among the fourteen Books of Hours often vaguely attributed to the Queen of Scots. Among these are a mid-15th-century Book of Hours illuminated in Besançon inscribed with her poems, now in St. Petersburg (National Library of Russia, Lat. Q.v.I.112); a mid-15th-century Book of Hours illuminated in the workshop of Jean Fouquet inscribed with a quatrain (Sheffield, Ruskin Gallery, R. 3548, see above); a mid-15th-century Flemish Book of Hours that she purportedly held before her execution (San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 1200); and a late-15th-century Book of Hours illuminated in Bourges with two added coats-of-arms of Francis II and Mary Stuart (London, British Library, Add. MS 25696).
Office of the Trinity and prayer to the Virgin ff. 1-3; short extract from the Gospel and Passion according to John ff.3-10v; Fifteen Oes of St Bridget ff.10v-17; Prayer for the Five Wounds of Christ ff.17-17v; O intemerata ff.18-19v; Prayers to the Virgin ff.19v-23; Suffrages ff.23-30v; Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany ff.31-41; Veni sancte spiritus ff.41-43; Communion prayers ff.43-44; S’ensuit l’oreloge de la Passion, in French, ff.46-48v (lacking end); Office of the Dead, use of Fontevraud (lacking beginning), ff.49-81; Psalms ff.81-111 (f.95 misbound, see below); Prayers, including the Seven Verses of St. Bernard, ff.111-114; Rites for death and burial of the sisters, with feminine forms throughout, ff.114-126; Suffrage to St. Roch (lacking end) f.126v; f.127 misbound (see below); Hours of the Virgin, use of Fontevraud, with variations for the days of the week (misbound) ff.128-172; matins (ff.146-147v, and 128-140v, lacking end), lauds (ff.141-145v, lacking beginning and end), prime (ff. 149-152v, and f.95, lacking beginning); terce (ff.95, 148, 127, 153, lacking one leaf of text]; sext (ff.153v-157v); none (ff. 157v-162); vespers (ff. 162v-165v); compline (ff. 166-168); Changed Office for Advent and Christmas (ff. 168-172); short extract from the Gospel of Luke (lacking end) f.172v; Passion according to Matthew (lacking beginning) ff.173-181v; Passion according to Mark ff.182-189 (lacking beginning); Passion according to Luke ff.189v-197; Prayers in French, added in different hands, including an indulgence on f. 205, ff.197-206.
The Prayerbook boasts an extensive cycle of forty miniatures that can be attributed to the Master of François de Rohan, one of the most sought-after artists at the court of King Francis I (r.1515-1547). The illuminator, active in Paris c.1525-1546, was originally named 'The Master of François I' after a Book of Hours made for the great Renaissance French monarch and patron of the Arts (the only extant fully illuminated Book of Hours made for François I), sold at Christie's London, 7 July 2010, lot 47, and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was renamed 'The Master of François de Rohan' by François Avril after a copy of the Archbishop of Lyons' 1530 translation of the Fleur de Vertu (Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 1877), and studied comprehensively by Myra Orth. Although he worked on a variety of texts 'The Master of François de Rohan [...] excelled in the illustration of these pious books [of hours], often surpassing his contemporaries in imaginative subject matter and lively narration' (M. Orth, 'The Master of François de Rohan: A Familiar French Renaissance Miniaturist with a New Name', Illuminating the Book: Makers and Interpreters, Essays in Honour of Janet Backhouse, 1998, p.77). More than twenty manuscript codices and leaves, half a dozen woodcuts and (in part) a triptych on vellum have been attributed to the artist (for an extensive list of attributed works see M. Orth, Renaissance Manuscripts, The Sixteenth Century, 2015, I, p.292). The present manuscript is a vibrant witness to the inventiveness and great subtlety of the frames and borders conceived by the Master of François de Rohan. Every large miniature is accompanied with a border where flowers, symbols, extracts, emblems and narrative scenes are specifically chosen to complement the subject of the miniatures.
Although of a much smaller format, the presentation miniature of Louise de Bourbon to the Virgin and Child (f.18) is conceived on the same model as the miniature of King Francis I kneeling before St. Marcoulph, a patron saint to the French kings reputed to cure scrofula. Both images are set in a tangible space built on a receding perspective, laid out in the checkered pavement and wooden chair, opened on the outside by a loggia and balanced by the contrast of strong bright colours. Both Louise de Bourbon and King Francis I are portrayed in three-quarter view, gazing upon the void rather than the Virgin or St. Marcoulph.
There are other witnesses to Louise's patronage of the arts, including some that point to a continued relationship with the Master of François de Rohan: a triptych at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts attributed to Pierre Raymond and depicting Louise presented to the Virgin and Child by St Louis (MIA.88.53) is surely based on a model by the Master of François de Rohan.
The subjects of the large miniatures are as follow: Trinity f.1; St John on Patmos f.3; the Agony in the Garden f.4v; Christ appearing to St Birgitta of Sweden f.10v; Louise de Bourbon presented by St John the Evangelist to the Virgin and Child f.18; Crucifixion f.25v; David f.31; Pentecost f.41; Man of Sorrows f.43; Descent from the Cross f.46; Adoration of the Christ Child f.81; Cirumcision f.95; Christ among the doctors f.148v; Virgin of the Seven Sorrows f.153v; Annunciation to the Virgin of her coming death f.157v; Dormition of the Virgin f.159; Virgin of Mercy f.160v; Holy Family f.162v; Coronation of the Virgin f.165v; Agony in the Garden f.189v.
The 15 smaller miniatures are on ff.23, 24, 24v, 5, 26v, 27, 27v, 28, 28v, 29, 29v, 30, 30v, 126v, 172v.