Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Sobieski Book of Hours
Bound in red velvet, with gold corner-pieces and clasps on fore-edge, oval plaques on binding with crowned JRP (Johannes Rex Poloniorum, John King of Poland) monogram in centre.
This manuscript was written and illuminated c. 1420-5, initially in the workshop of the Master of the Bedford Hours. There were two other major illuminators responsible for the manuscript, the Fastolf Master (active 1440-50 in Rouen), and the Master of the Munich Golden Legend (active 1440-50 in northern France). The Bedford Master was responsible particularly for the miniatures introducing the life of the Virgin Mary in the Hours proper, and for the miniature shown here. This depicts a lady, probably Margaret of Burgundy, praying to St Margaret. The saint appears on the back of a dragon, her emblem (Satan in the form of a dragon swallowed Margaret during her martyrdom). It is thought that the lady is praying for a child to St Margaret, the patroness of expectant mothers. Margaret's marriage to Arthur of Richmond, younger brother of the Duke of Brittany, (who eventually inherited the Dukedom as Arthur III) was childless, and the bed behind her can be seen hung with green draperies, the traditional colour reserved for ladies of the French royal house in birth chambers. Beneath the miniature is the poem La Vie Sainte Margaret, popular in the fifteenth century. The hypothetical identification of the kneeling lady with Margaret of Burgundy rests partly on the fact that her sister Anne, Duchess of Bedford, another of the daughters of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy,was the patroness of the Bedford Master. In 1423, she married John, Duke of Bedford, younger brother of Henry V, who became Regent of France in 1422, on behalf of his infant nephew, Henry VI.
At the end of the seventeenth century, the manuscript belonged to Jan Sobieski, King of Poland, and by the marriage of his granddaughter Clementina to James Stuart, the Old Pretender, it passed into the Jacobite family. James was the son of James II, the king whose attempts to re-establish absolute and Roman Catholic monarchy precipitated his exile in 1688. The younger son of James and Clementina, Henry Benedict became a Cardinal, and was from 1788 acknowledged by Jacobite sympathisers as Henry IX, but by then there was no possibility of a successful uprising in his favour. After his death in 1807 and following his instructions, the manuscript was conveyed to the Prince Regent.
Catalogue entry from 'Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration', London 2002, with additional information