Latin-French Book of Hours Manuscripts in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek [National Library of the Netherlands], The Hague
Books of hours were devotional prayer books designed to be used by the Catholic laity in reciting prayers at the eight traditional “hours” of the canonical day, which ran from “matins” before dawn to “vespers” in the evening and concluded with “compline” at bed time. They were without a doubt the most important and widespread books of the Middle Ages throughout Europe. Originating in the thirteenth century they continued to be made well into the sixteenth century, first as handwritten manuscripts, which by the fifteenth century were increasingly mass produced in workshops in the Low Countries and France, and following the introduction of printing after 1480 also in that format. They were in Latin but also frequently contained material, such as prayers, rubrics, rhymes and calendars of saints’ days, in the vernacular. In general they followed a standardized pattern that usually began with a set of prayers and readings in honor of the Virgin Mary (the so-called “Hours of the Virgin”) and also included the Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Penitential Psalms and the Office of the Dead. Although generally cut from the same cloth, there was room for local variation within certain texts, called a “use”, for example “use of Paris”. Often material of a personal nature, such as favorite prayers, was inserted into the manuscripts and later into the printed books on pages left blank for this purpose. Marginal notes and jottings of a religious or more profane nature were common and books of hours were used to record family history, such as dates of births and deaths, but also to swear oaths and solemn vows, possession of the bible being still quite limited. They came in all price ranges, from lavish custom-made examples adorned with illuminated miniatures or full-page drawings by professional artists commissioned by nobles or wealthy bourgeois to inexpensive mass produced ones with a few illustrations of poor quality. If a person was likely to have any single book at all during this period, it would have been a book of hours. They were prized possessions meant to be used for both private and public devotion and were passed down to family members or other heirs at an owner’s demise, usually with the injunction to remember the deceased in one’s prayers. As a linchpin of the Catholic religion meant “to offer lay people a suitably slimmed down and simplified share in the Church’s official cycle of daily prayer…” (Duffy 2007, p. 59), it is no wonder that books of hours came under attack during the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. In countries where the Reformation triumphed such as England, their production and use disappeared. In countries that remained Catholic on the other hand, such as France, printed books of hours continued to circulate, with new editions, often bilingual Latin-French, being issued right down into the twentieth century.
The collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek
Among the medieval manuscripts of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague are 37 Latin Books of Hours that also contain parts in French and are included in the library’s collection of French-language Medieval Manuscripts as catalogued by Anne S. Korteweg, which was micropublished previously by Moran (MMP113). The majority are from the fifteenth century (29), while there are also six manuscripts from the sixteenth century and one each from the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries. They find their provenance in various parts of France and the southern Netherlands and follow different “uses” as explained above, the most common in this collection being Rome (16 examples), followed by Paris (8). Virtually all contain varying numbers of miniatures and other forms of embellishment such as initials and border decorations. The microfiches reproduce the entire text of each manuscript, including all illustrations, in black and white. Their availability will further research into a variety of subjects in art history, history of religion and private life, manuscript studies and text studies.
For complete details of each title, see the draft version of the guide, which can be downloaded from our site: www.moranmicropublications.nl. The illustrations can be consulted in color on the Koninklijke Bibliotheek’s website (see link on the front of this flyer, right column).
Reference: Eamon Duffy,
Marking the Hours: English People and their Prayers 1240-1570 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007)