A Myrrour to Devote Peple, in Middle English prose, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[England, second quarter 15th century]English only
300 x 210mm. ii + 127 + i leaves: 1-158, 167(of 8, viii cancelled blank), COMPLETE, gatherings 1-13 with horizontal catchwords on drawn banderoles of red and black ink, 27 lines written in black ink in a semi-cursive anglicana by two scribes, ff.108-109 in a gothic bookhand, between two verticals and 28 horizontals ruled in ink, text capitals touched red, paragraph marks and rubrics in red, two- and four-line initials of blue with flourishing of red, ONE ARMORIAL INITIAL WITH FULL-PAGE BORDER made up of pink, blue, green and red against bars and grounds of burnished gold with curling hairline tendrils into the margins, TWO HISTORIATED INITIALS with marginal hairline sprays of green or golden terminals on ink tendrils (a few marginal spots or stains and a slight smudge to border of opening folio). Contemporary doeskin chemise binding over wooden boards, two brass catches and pin from clasp strap, modern red morocco lettering-piece (chemise trimmed, lacking clasps, extremities rubbed). Brown morocco-backed box.
A HANDSOME MANUSCRIPT OF AN EXTREMELY RARE TEXT
1. John 4th Baron Scrope of Masham (d.1455) and his wife Elisabeth Chaworth: his arms, azure, a bend or with a label argent, impaling those of Chaworth, azure, two chevrons or, in the opening initial (f.1). Scrope was a member of the Council of Regency during Henry VI's minority, Lord Treasurer of England 1432-33, undertook several embassies and was married to Elizabeth daughter of Sir Thomas Chaworth of Wiverton Notts. As the Myrrour was addressed to women it is probable that this manuscript was commissioned for Elisabeth's use. Her family were notable book-collectors: see T. Turville-Petre, 'Some Medieval English Manuscripts of the North-East Midlands', in Manuscripts and Readers in Fifteenth-Century England ed. D. Pearsall (Cambridge 1983), pp.132-133. After John Scrope's death his wife 'Elizabeth widow of John newly Lord Scrop and of Masham' applied to take the veil and 'swore to be chaste fro this tyme forward' Test. Ebor., iii, 333. She died in 1466/7.
2. Marginal annotations in 16th-century hands on the rear endleaves include copies of two legal deeds ('randyll bill is a wytnes to thys .....thys be de lyverred to william neusam of Nuporat Chap man an grase his wyfe suffer the sad Wylliam neusam an graes hys wife to by an sell all manner of wars that be' and 'to all ciristyn peple to whom this pasport writyn shall come to be sene .... under staned we the justis of peces and of the quorom of etc.') and the name Richard Savige. The cancelled signature of George Worthington was written below a quotation from Jerome on the verso of a front endleaf. It is not clear whether or not any of these owned the book. What is certain is its one-time value; the price 'Cost vis and viiid' is recorded in an early 17th-century hand on the blank leaf facing the opening of the text.
3. Marbury Library: bookplate inside upper cover
Myrrour to Devote Peple, opening 'Gostely sustre in ihesu criste I trowe it be nought yit from your mynde' ff.1-108; O Intemerata... in Latin, titled 'Oracio bona et deuota ad beatam uirginem mariam matrem domini nostri Ihesu Christi et beatum Iohannem Euangelistam' ff.108-109; The tretise of the craft of dying ff.109v-126
The Myrrour to Devote Peple is a Middle English prose devotional work addressed to a female audience. It appears to be of Carthusian authorship; the preface refers (f.1) to 'a man of our ordoure' who translated into English 'a booke of the same matier which is called Vita Christi', that is Nicholas Love's translation of the Meditationes Vitae Christi. Only one other manuscript of the Myrrour survives, Cambridge University Library Gg. 1. 6.(Analecta Cartusiana, 12 & 13, 1973/4).
The tretise of the craft of dying, a work on the proper preparation for death, survives in thirteen manuscripts: P.S. Jolliffe, A Check-List of Middle English Prose Writings of Spiritual Guidance (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies,1974), L 4(a). Jolliffe noted but did not examine this manuscript.
The type of border on the opening folio is consistent with the manuscript having been illuminated in London sometime around 1430. The repertoire of leaves, kidney-shapes, tendrils and acanthus of the borders, and the simply drawn smooth-contoured figures of the initials are related to those in manuscripts produced for the royal family during the 1420s. But the figures and settings of the historiated initials, while colourful and decorative, lack sophistication and are much closer to slightly later illumination such as the Brut Chronicle in Chapel Hill, California (Library of Professor Robert G. Heyneman) thought to have been painted in London around 1430-40: K.L. Scott, Later Gothic Manuscripts 1390-1490, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, vol vi (1996), no 77, pp.223-225.
An armorial initial with the arms of Scrope impaling Crashaw and a full-page border opens the introduction to the Myrrour on f.1
Historiated initial with the Virgin and Child and St John the Evangelist opens 'O Intemerata...' f.108
Historiated initial with a bishop in the lower part of the stave pointing up to a dying man tucked up in bed in the infill opens the treatise on dying well on f.109v