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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Bedford Master (c. early 15th century)

The Sobieski Book of Hours c.1420?

Manuscript on vellum; decorated initials and borders in bodycolour and gold leaf. 234 folios, numbered in pencil. | 28.6 x 19.7 x 6.5 cm (book measurement (conservation)) | RCIN 1142248

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This very fine Book of Hours was written in Paris about 1420, one of the best periods for the production of exquisite illuminated devotional books for noble patrons. Eventually three illuminators worked on the manuscript, but the most important, and the one who planned what the miniatures would depict, was the Master of the Bedford Hours. His title is derived from the manuscript, now in the British Library, known as the Bedford Hours, which belonged to Anne, Duchess of Bedford, one of the younger daughters of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. 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. The same year, Anne’s eldest sister, Margaret, married Arthur, Duke of Brittany, and there are strong indications in the Sobieski Hours that it was produced for her, not least a miniature of a lady kneeling in prayer before St Margaret of Antioch. One of the saints in the Calendar is a Breton saint, and there is a detailed depiction of Mont St Michel before the Suffrage of St Michael, which indicates a connection with Normandy and Brittany.

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, (later George IV).