Sunday, 14 April 2019

A 15th-Century Breviary in Douai, Probably Made At Bury St Edmunds

Earlier this year I visited a few libraries in the far north of France, including Douai. One manuscript that I pre-requested to see is their MS 167, an English 15th-century Sarum Breviary. Such a text would not normally be of much interest to me, but for the fact that, based on the images online, I thought it was probably produced at Bury St Edmunds, in Suffolk, one of few English regional styles of illumination that I can recognise with some confidence.

By asking to examine the manuscript in person I hoped that I might find my gut-feeling confirmed, for example by finding that St Edmund and other East Anglian saints are given special emphasis.

The first leaf of the book has two inscriptions, the first in Latin:
[Detail. Click to enlarge]
“Liber Ricardi Atkynsoni donatus(?)
a Ricardo Mere executore ulti-
me volu(n)tatis Gulielmi Breton
quo(n)dam rectoris de sto[ smudged ]p(ro?)[ smudged ]
sub ea co(n)ditione ne unq(uam) aut
ve(n)deret(ur) aut donaret(ur) nisi
honesto cuipia(m) sacerdoti [ smudged ]
[ smudged ]is in cuius(?) manu(m)(?)
hic liber venerit(?) ne defu(n)c(??) …
testame(n)tu(m)(?) … ”
Parts are difficult to read, but it seems that William Breton, rector of [somewhere] bequeathed it Richard Atkynson, asking that Atkynson should, in turn, only give or sell it to a worthy priest.

The name of the place where William Breton was rector, is partly smudged:
[enhanced detail]
It appears to begin with the letters "st" then a few more letters, before "er", followed by a "p" with the abbreviation-mark for "pro", then a few more letters. So, something like "st[..]erpro[...]". I was not able to find any likely place-names beginning like this, but we will return to the problem shortly.

The second, later, inscription on this page is in English:
"This book as appears
yt above written belongs to ye
clergy as having descended from
above named Richard Atkinson
to my uncle Edward Paston &
by him ordered to be so transmit-
ted to posterity"
So the book passed from Richard Atkinson of the first inscription to Edward Paston, uncle of the person who write this inscription. Paston is a well-known East Anglian surname, thanks to the Paston Letters [Wikipedia], but the village of Paston is on the north Norfolk Coast, not particularly close to Bury St Edmunds.

It was only when I had turned every page and reached the very end of the volume that I found some strong support for a Suffolk connection: on the final flyleaf is a seven-line inscription that begins "Istum librum contulit mihi magister(?) Iohannes Hardheed natus in Suffolchia"
[Detail. Click to enlarge]
A possible transcription, with abbreviations expanded silently, and names in bold, is as follows:
"Istum librum contulit mihi magister(?) Iohannes Hardheed natus in Suffolchia quondam /
scolaris Cantabrigis & magister artium cuius anime propicietur deus sub hac /
condicione quod numquam venderetur [deletion] sed semper ...etur honeste presbitero. /
post decessum possident’ ad orandum pro anima predicti magistri Iohannis /
Hardheed parentum suorum & omnnium fidelium defunctorum  Io… \\post// decessum /
meum … quod Willelmus Breton habeat si fuerat?? … sacro ordines /
… dominus Willelmus Pecok(?) & magister Willelmus Footur’ de Cantabrigia"

Here is William Breton again, and some of the other people are identifiable, especially the first, John Hardheed, thanks to the fact that he is described as a former Cambridge scholar and MA. He appears in Emden's Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500 (Cambridge, 1963):
One of the important things we learn from this is that he was from Rattlesden (which is in Suffolk, not Norfolk as stated by Emden), only about 10 miles south-east of Bury St Edmunds:

I have trouble reading all of the final three lines of the inscription, but the names are relatively clear: William Breton, William Pecok(?), and William Footur’, of Cambridge.

There is more than one man named William Breton in Emden's Biographical Register, but we are safe to conclude that our man is this one:
Here we learn that this William Breton was rector of Coltishall, Norfolk, and of Stour Provost, in Dorset, so the reading of the smudged inscription now becomes obvious:
"Gulielmi Breton
... de stower p(ro)vost"
Coltishall is only about 10 miles from Paston:

William Footur' may be the man whose name is variously spelled Footer / Fotare / Fotar, who was rector of Euston, in Suffolk, less than 10 miles from Bury St Edmunds:

This just leaves William Pecok(?) unaccounted for, but even without identifying him it is clear that we are dealing with a group of East Anglia men who were all students at Cambridge at the end of the 15th century. The earliest identifiable one is John Hardheed (d.1483), who lived very close to Bury St Edmunds where, I suggest, the manuscript was produced.

Most of the illumination consists of foliate borders and initials, but there is also at least one catchword with figural embellishment:
and one of the illuminated borders (shown at the top of this post) includes four half-length figures at the corners:

For more images of the manuscript, see the BVMM website.

1 comment:

  1. I see that the MLGB3 database lists 8 manuscripts at Douai from English medieval religious houses. This breviary was presumably a personal possession and so not eligible for a MLGB3 entry although probably made at Bury St Edmunds.