Lady Margaret’s book of hours

Lady Margaret Beaufort

The college owes its foundation to the generosity of an extraordinary woman – Lady Margaret Beaufort. She was, variously, a scholar, an astute manager of resources, a shrewd politician and a generous philanthropist. She had by the age of thirteen given birth to Henry Tudor, who was to become King Henry VII in 1485 with the assistance of her third husband, Lord Stanley. The intervention of Stanley’s forces at the Battle of Bosworth was critical in securing Henry’s victory over Richard III.

As one of the richest and most influential women in medieval England, Lady Margaret used her wealth to promote religion and learning. Much of her philanthropy was focused on Cambridge, due to the influence of her confessor St John Fisher, then Chancellor of the University. With his advice and encouragement, she founded two Cambridge colleges, Christ’s and St John’s. Lady Margaret was also to make significant contributions to the literary culture of the time. The printer William Caxton enjoyed her patronage, and she herself produced translations of devotional works such as Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ.

Lady Margaret’s Book of Hours (MS N.24) is a beautifully illuminated prayer book, a devotional work containing a calendar and prayers. The book is very special to the College as it was owned by Lady Margaret herself. It was her personal devotional book, and you can see it pictured in the portrait of her above.

The illustrations are typical of the Fastolf Master, a well-known illustrator active between 1415 and 1450, who worked in Rouen,  France. Miniatures precede each main section of text, surrounded by finely decorated borders: gold leaves interspersed with fruit and flowers. It was presented by Lady Margaret to Lady Anne Shirley, and the inscription in her writing reads:

my good lady Shyrley pray for

me that gevythe yow thys booke

y hertely pray yow | Margaret |

modyr to the kynge.

Lady Margaret's Book of Hours


This Special Collections Spotlight article was contributed on 20 May 2013 by YiWen Hon, Library Graduate Trainee 2012-2013.