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Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455-1536)

French psalter  c. 1525-30

13.2 x 9.1 x 2.2 cm (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1051956

  • Despite the uncertainty over Elizabeth's status after Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry VIII ensured that his daughter received a fine education. Together with her brother Edward she learned to write in the Italic hand which had been developed during the early Renaissance period. An example of Elizabeth's handwriting can be seen in this psalter. After her accession in 1558 she invariably signed her name 'Elizabeth R', suggesting that this poem must date from before that time.

    The translation of these psalms from Latin into French is by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples (1455-1536), a French humanist, whose psalter was first published in 1525 in Paris. Translations by Lefèvre d’Étaples were favoured by Anne Boleyn: she had a number of his texts copied into manuscripts. However, it is unlikely that this psalter was owned by Anne Boleyn, and it is not certain that it was owned by Elizabeth. Her poem and signature could be an autograph in somebody else's book, something which Elizabeth's father Henry VIII's last queen, Katherine Parr, who Elizabeth was close to, often did.

    It is not known whether or not Elizabeth drew the armillary sphere, one of emblems, opposite her poem, but the quote underneath looks like it is in her handwriting. ‘Miser é chi Speme in cosa mortal pone’, or ‘Wretched is he who places hope in a mortal thing’ is a quote from Petrarch’s 'Trionfo della morte' ('Triumph of Death'). The text of the psalter is annotated elsewhere, in some places in a hand which looks like it could be Elizabeth's.


    Auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1923, and purchased by Quaritch on behalf of Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, 1st Baronet. The Leicester Harmsworth library was sold in 1946. This book was bought at the sale by Lord and Lady Melchett, who presented it to Queen Elizabeth II when Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her wedding, 20 November 1947.
  • Dimensions

    13.2 x 9.1 x 2.2 cm (book measurement (conservation))

    14 x 18 x 2 cm (open) (book measurement (conservation))

    14.5 x 5.0 cm (whole object)

  • Bibliographic references

    pp. 399-400

    pp. 37-8

    p. 132

    Alternative titles

    [Psaultier de David]

    Bible. O.T. Psalms. French. 1520?


    'Marking the hours : English people and their prayers 1240-1570' by Eamon Duffy gives instances of epigrams and poems inserted into manuscripts. One is by Catherine Parr: ‘Oncle wen you do on thys loke / Pray you remember wo wrote thys in your boke / Your loveynge nys Katheryn parr’. Therefore poems such as Elizabeth’s suggest that she was not the owner of the book, but writing in someone else’s – Duffy further discusses this a few pages later: ‘An entry of this sort clearly moves us in the direction of the autograph album, and such inscriptions were clearly recognised expressions of royal condescension to favoured servants’. Kate Heard , 22 Dec 2011

    The quote underneath the armillary sphere is from Petrarch's Triumph of Death, but Elizabeth has added the 'é', which makes the phrase stand better on its own. This could be seen as an example of her grasp of the Italian language, and of her education. Elizabeth Clark , 30 Sep 2013