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From One Queen to Another: Female Readership and the Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours

The Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours (British Library MS A XVIII, hereafter referred to as BBOH) is an impressive example of an English royal books of hours. The BBOH was composed in two parts between 1401 and 1500 and its obits read like a War of the Roses Who’s Who. Originally commissioned by John Beaufort and his wife, Margaret Holland, the book passed in the mid-15th century from the Hollands to Anne of York, daughter of Cecily Neville (famed for her sons, Kings Edward IV and Richard III and her piety), then to Margaret Beauchamp and her daughter, Margaret Beaufort (mother of King Henry VII and Henry VIII’s grandmother). The manuscript includes mentions and obits for no less than six queens and queen mothers (Catherine de Valois, Cecily Neville, Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort, Katherine of Aragon, and Jane Seymour). The BBOH is, first and foremost, a book of hours for queens.

That books of hours are particularly connected to medieval – and often aristocratic – women readers are well documented [1]. While hours were commissioned by and for men (such as the BBOH) they often became the property of women, either through commissions or inheritance, and with each new owner changes and additions were made. Sometimes the changes are small, like obits of births, marriages, and deaths, similar to the early Tudor additions made by unknown hands in the BBOH [2]. Others, like the additions attributed to Anne of York in the BBOH – including the Hours of the Virgin, psalms, and calendar – were significant [2]. What I’d like to discuss here are the second part’s assumptions about its future readers, and how additions like f.26r and f.34r placed their imagined reader directly into the BBOH. Those miniatures, coupled with the manuscript’s impressively aristocratic ownership, suggest that the BBOH operated as kind of piety ‘how-to’ for queens.

Folio 26r features an extraordinary depiction of a generic aristocratic woman with an angel above her, accompanied by an extended version of the Angele Dei (Prayer to One’s Guardian Angel).

Folio 26.r, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours Royal MS 2 A XVIII
Folio 26.r, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours, British Library Royal MS 2 A XVIII

The aristocratic woman in the scene is not an owner portrait but a generic illustration, thus allowing any reader to imagine herself in the woman’s place. The figure looks directly at her guardian angel while asking his protection in her speech scroll, to which the angel verbally responds in the affirmative. The miniature instructs at several levels: it shows how prayer should be performed (kneeling, in this case looking up), presents the acceptable text to be read aloud or silently in the aristocratic avatar’s speech scroll and the prayer itself, and illustrates the unseen so the person praying had a means to visualize an invisible angel. The image also demonstrates the efficacy of both the prayer and the elite woman praying. Provided the reader follows the presented model and text, her angel will respond. The pedagogical image also presumes an aristocratic woman reader capable, through the book’s instruction, of exerting the spiritual authority needed to converse with an angel. That she kneels on a large, sumptuous pillow and her robes are edged in gold makes her further recognizable to the royal woman using the BBOH. If the manuscript had imagined any member of the royal family using the book of hours it could have included an image of an aristocratic husband and wife, like the noble couple in the Annunciation miniature (f.23v).

Folio 23.v, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours, British Library Royal MS 2 A XVIII Show link URL Print
Folio 23.v, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours, British Library Royal MS 2 A XVIII
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That it did not seems to point to a female, rather than mixed, imagined future audience.

If f.26r were the only such miniature in the BBOH it could, perhaps, be considered an interesting quirk rather than a telling example. However, and as luck would have it, it is not. Ten pages later at f.34r we have another image featuring a very similar looking aristocratic woman at prayer.

Folio 34.r, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours, British Library Royal MS 2 A XVIII
Folio 34.r, Beaufort Beauchamp Book of Hours, British Library Royal MS 2 A XVIII

Folio 34r opens with a half-page miniature of the Annunciation over an historiated initial populated with the now familiar royal woman praying up to the heavenly scene. Like Mary, the woman has a prayer book open, and, also like Mary, wears blue robes trimmed with white fur. The two images instruct in much the same way as f.24r, but add a new affective element to the scene. While the illumination knowingly references and stylistically parallels the guardian angel image – speech scrolls for both the woman praying and Gabriel, kneeling and looking up – it also invites the assumed reader to reenact the Annunciation. Even though the medieval faithful were exhorted to picture themselves in scenes from Christ’s life, to actively encourage a parallel between the woman reading and the queen of heaven is a strong assertion of status. The Annunciation, then, takes on a special significance only available to those who would be queens or queen-mothers. While the folio doesn’t assume an equality between Mary and its readers, it does promote the special connection between earthly royal mothers and spiritual ones.

Lainie Pomerleau

PhD Candidate, University of Georgia

[1] For further reading on medieval women and books of hours, please see:

Penketh, Sandra. “Women and Books of Hours.” Women and the Book : Assessing the Visual Evidence, edited by Lesley Smith and Jane             H.M. Taylor, University of Toronto Press, 1997., 266 – 281.
Reinburg, Virginia. “‘For the Use of Women’: Women and Books of Hours.” Early Modern Women, vol. 4, 1 Oct. 2009, pp. 235 – 240. JSTOR          Journals,
Scott-Stokes, Charity. Women’s Books of Hours in Medieval England. D.S. Brewer, 2006.

[2] Please see British Library MS A XVIII “Content” and “Ownership”,