Ɵ Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, in Latin with Middle English inscription, illuminated manuscript on parchment [southern Netherlands (presumably Bruges) for English use, c. 1430 and later fifteenth century]
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134 leaves (plus one original endleaf at front and back), wanting a leaf or two from the added texts at end, else apparently complete, single column of 17 lines in a late gothic bookhand, capitals touched in red, rubrics in red, one-line initials in blue and liquid gold with contrasting penwork, larger initials in gold on blue and pink grounds with white penwork (six of these with coloured and gold text frames on three sides), one large initial in blue enclosing a spray of foliage on burnished gold grounds, with full border of coloured flowers and gold foliage and ivy-leaves, six full-page miniatures in rectangular gold frames (i. p. 23, the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket; ii. p. 27, St. George killing the dragon; iii. p. 31, St. John the Baptist; iv. p. 37, the Virgin and Child; v. p. 115, Judgement Day; vi. p. 151, a funeral service), pp. 226-69 an addition of the late fifteenth century with prayers on Christ and his Passion, the miniatures on pp. 31 and 37 rubbed and the latter partly cut away, somewhat scuffed and rubbed throughout with small losses to edges of a few leaves and one or two rubbed to point of becoming thin and with small holes, overall fair condition, 120 by 82mm.; limp parchment binding with cloth ties
1. Produced in the Southern Netherlands for English use c . 1430, perhaps for Bennett Nellson, who signed the famous inscription on the front endleaf of this codex. By the sixteenth century the book had passed to one William Parker, perhaps the namesake who held office as the last abbot of St. Peter's, Gloucester, before his death in 1540 (see P. Raes, p. 184).
2. Freeman Clarke Samuel Roper (1819-1896), botanist; his sale in Sotheby's, 31 March 1887, lot 71.
3. Captain William Alfred Cragg (1859-1950), of Threekingham, Norfolk, Lincolnshire antiquarian and manuscript collector; by descent to his son, William Gilliat Cragg (1883-1956; High Sheriff of Lincolnshire) and thence to his grandson, Major William John Rollo, ADC to the governor of Hong Kong; his sale in Sotheby's, 10 December 1962, lot 145, to Alan Thomas; his cat. 11 (1963), no. 115.
4. June O'Donnell (1898-1979) of Guildford (who also owned the Calendar of the Hungerford Hours and the two Orcadian charters sold in our Schøyen sale, 8 July this year, lot 79, among other manuscripts), and by descent to her son, Peter E. Raes (1924-2010); acquired from him by a private collector and thence Sotheby's, 10 July 2012, lot 36, to the present owner, an American collector, for £12,500.
The Middle English inscription at the front of this book is among the most well-known anathemas in any book from medieval England, loaded with dark menace, but as Raes notes containing a sentiment "any collector can sympathize with". The inscription runs:
"He that stelles
thes boke he
Shal be hanked
Apon on hoke
pro me Bennet
["He that steals
this book, he
shall be hanged
upon a hook
As de Hamel notes (1986, p. 185), Bennett Nellson, who wrote and signed this inscription, saw this as "the most awful threat imaginable", and the severity of the threat here shows that this codex "was a very precious possession in that household. It was probably their only book". However, there is perhaps a deeper meaning as well, in a common Middle English allusion to Hell as a kitchen where carcasses were butchered. The hook here is doubtless a meat hook secured on the door for the suspension of an animal carcass, and recalls the devilish kitchen threatened by one of Chaucer's unscrupulous friars on the sinner: "Ful hard it is with flesshook or with oules [spiked irons] / To be yclawed, or to brenne or bake", and depicted in a copy of Walter Hilton's mystical works in an illustration of two devils torturing a soul dragged from a corpse suspended above a roaring fire (sold at Sotheby's, 6 December 2011, lot 45, and now Princeton, Taylor MS. 22: D.C. Skemer, Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library , 2013, I).
This volume comprises: a Calendar (p. 10), with SS. Wulfstan, Cuthbert, Aldhelm, Edmund, the translation of Swithun and Oswald; followed by Suffrages to a number of saints, including SS. Thomas Becket (p. 24) and George (p. 28); the Hours of the Virgin, with Matins (p. 38), Lauds (p. 52, incorporating further suffrages as common in English use), Prime (p. 78), Terce (p. 86), Sext (p. 90), None (p. 94), Vespers (p. 98), and Compline (p. 102); the Seven Penitential Psalms (p. 110) with a Litany; the Office of the Dead (p. 152) and the Commendatio animarum (p. 200). The book ends with additions of late fifteenth-century prayers.
J. Varley, Lincolnshire Archives Committee, Archivist's Report, no. 9 (1957-58), pp.17-18.
N.R. Ker, The Parochial Libraries of the Church of England (1959), p. 2 (facing the title-page).
Fine Books and Book Collecting, A.G. Thomas festschrift (1981), p. 1.
C. de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (1986), p. 185.
C. Donovan, The de Brailes Hours , 1991, p. 167, n. 136.
P.E. Raes, 'He That Stelles Thes Boke', På sporet af Gamle Bibler (1995), pp.180-88.
C. de Hamel, review of Duffy, Marking the Hours , in New York Review of Books , LIV, 15 February 2007, p. 44.
B.A. Henisch, The Medieval Cook , 2009, p. 20.