Saturday, 17 August 2019

Leaves from a Book of Hours Repurposed as an Armorial

The leaf above was sold this week in a provincial English auction. The miniature presumably represents St Barbara holding a miniature tower, or Mary Magdalene holding her ointment-jar, but it is in poor condition, so it is hard to judge its artistic merit. It is on a leaf that was originally blank on the other side, and was thus doubtless the verso of single-leaf miniature, prepared in the southern Netherlandish manner for insertion into a Book of Hours.

Very strangely, the blank recto was later used for drawing the arms of various English families, identified in 17th(?)-century captions:

While looking for something else (this always seems to be the case) I found that two more leaves from the same manuscript, in much better condition, are at the Free Library, Philadelphia:
FLP, MS Lewis E M 8:19 (recto) [Source]
John the Baptist (verso)

FLP, Lewis E M 8:20 (recto) [Source]
St Antony (verso)
From these miniatures we can see that the illuminator was quite accomplished, as shown by the head of Anthony:
and the draperies of John:

The extent to which the shields are cropped at the sides and at the bottom give an idea of how much wider the margins of the miniatures originally were:

Presumably there are many more miniatures from the same parent volume waiting to be recognised, and I will be glad to hear from any reader who encounters them. And perhaps someone who knows more than me about heraldry can identify the families, to see if they point to any particular region of England?

Inscriptions on the rectos record that John F. Lewis bought them from "W M Voynich", identified as 14th-century English, for £10 each:

Wilfrid Voynich (1865-1930) [Wikipedia] is famous thanks to The Voynich Manuscript at the Beinecke Library (MS 408), but he is not otherwise generally associated with illuminated manuscripts, so I went to have a look at some of his catalogues at the British Library. Of about a dozen catalogues I looked at, none seemed to include medieval manuscripts, although he claimed to have them in stock, in both his London and Paris locations, including "Single Miniatures on Vellum":

[1] The full list of names appears to read:
Jalgarthby(?), Lavyngton, de [ ... ],
Stoughton, Thyrnyngham, Ellenson,
St Barbe,  Glehd(?), [ ... ]

[ ...  ], Jo. Spelman, Narburgh
[ ...  ], Lee, Bromley
[ ...  ], [ ...  ], [ ...  ]

Blounte, Deveroy, W[ ... ]
Vernon, Sharshull, [ ...  ]
[ ...  ], [ ...  ], [ ...  ]


  1. For the first miniature you discuss, You presumably meant to say St. Mary Magdalene with her ointment jar, not St.Barbara.

  2. What a great find! Thank you very much for posting it.

    I drafted some preliminary blazons, and ran cursory searches for them; the results are below. (Please note that the identifications are mostly vague and only intended as starting points).

    Voynich armorial fragment

    Row 1, L–R:
    1: Argent a Cinquefoil Azure [pierced]. = MOTON or MUTTON (Parker, Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry, s.v. “Cinquefoil”; Willement, Roll of Arms, 48 no. 513).
    2: Chequy Or and Gules. = Sire Thomas de MOLTONE (Gwilt, Roll of Arms, 146; Parliament Roll, no. 657).
    3: Quarterly Gules and Or in the first a Mullet Or. = VERE (Derham, J. Brit. Archaeological Assoc. (Dec 1917): 57–78 at 78).

    Row 2, L–R:
    1: Argent a Cross engrailed Azure. = SINCLAIR of Polwarth (British Armorial Bindings, s.v. “Cross Engrailed”; SINCLAIR of Herdmanston (Slains Armorial, SL543).
    2: [? Fusilly Sable and Ermine on a Fess Gules five Bezants ?] = ?
    3: Paly of six Argent and Gules a Bend vairy Or and Sable. = ?

    Row 3, L–R:
    1: Argent a Saltire engrailed Gules. = TIPTOFT (Powell’s Roll, f. 2v; Parliament Roll, no. 54).
    2: Argent a Chief Vert. = LUMLEY, Lord Mayor of London (Burke, General Armoury (1884), 629).
    3: Vairy Or and Argent. = FERRERS (Parliament Roll, nos. 17, 1038).

    * * *

    Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E M 8:19, recto

    Row 1, L–R:
    1: Uncertain; perhaps some variant on: [Argent a Chevron Or [between / in chief] […] [Leopards] Face[s] Or langued Gules]?
    2: Sable semé of Plates between a pair of Flaunches Argent. / Sable eleven Plates between two Flaunches Argent. = SPELMAN of Narburgh (Farrer, Church Heraldry of Norfolk, 220).
    3: Gules a Chief Ermine. = Chastelein d’ ARAS (Dering Roll, no. 310).

    Row 2, L–R:
    1: Uncertain; perhaps some variant on: [Party per [bend / chevron] Argent and Or in chief […] [? Lions] Head[s] erased Or], or else on: [Argent a Bend Or between […] [? Lions] Head[s] erased Or]?
    2: Argent three Leopards’ Faces Sable langued Gules. = STILLINGTON, Bshp. of Bath and Wells (Riland Bedford, Blazon of Episcopacy, 239).
    3: Quarterly per fess indented Gules and Argent. = Fulk FITZWARIN (Willement, Roll of Arms, 15 no. 137; Parliament Roll, no. 141).

    Row 3, L–R:
    1: Uncertain; perhaps: [Argent [? a Cross-Flory] Sable within a Bordure Vert bezanty]?
    2: Gules a Cinquefoil [pierced] Ermine. = town of Leicester; De BEAUMONT or De Bellomont, Earls of Leicester (Parker, Glossary …, s.v. “Cinquefoil”; Fox-Davies, Complete Guide to Heraldry, 267).
    3: Vert a Fleur-de-Lys Argent. = ?

    * * *

    Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E M 8:20, recto

    Row 1, L–R:
    1: Barry nebuly Or and Sable. = Sir Walter BLOUNT, Lord Mountjoye (Fox-Davies, Complete …, 388 no. 13); Barry nebuly of eight Or and Sable = Walt. BLOUNT (Willement, Roll of Arms, 20 no. 188).
    2: Gules a Fess Argent and in chief three Plates. = Sir William de EVEROYS (Gwilt, Roll of Arms, 141; Parliament Roll, no. 959).
    3: Uncertain; perhaps: Gules a Fess Or and in chief [three Bezants]?

    Row 2, L–R:
    1: Argent a Fret Sable. = VOIRNON (Willement, Roll of Arms, 44 no. 464).
    2: Barry nebuly Argent and Gules a Bordure Sable bezanty. = SHARESHULL (Powell’s Roll, f. 23v).
    3: Uncertain; perhaps some variant on: Argent a Bend sinister Gules between [? two] Cinquefoil[s] Sable?

    Row 3, L–R:
    1: Argent a Fret Gules. = BLAKE, Langham / Ashfield and Langham, Suffolk; BLAKE, Baron Wallscourt; BLAKE, Ireland; etc. (Papworth, Ordinary, 877–78; Fox-Davies, Armorial Families I, 102; Page, Topographical & Genealogical History … Suffolk, 796).
    2: Or a Saltire indented Sable. = John de BOTETOURT (Powell’s Roll, f. 2r; Willement, Roll of Arms, 9 no. 76; Parliament Roll, no. 55).
    3: Uncertain; perhaps some variant on: Argent on a Bend [? Azure] [? three] Unicorn Head[s] erased of the first? NB: Grazebrook (Heraldry of Smith, 40–46ff.) reports a number of similar arms.

    I hope the foregoing is helpful. It will be interesting to see where this leads …