Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Crowned woman (likely Eleanor of Woodstock) at Mass
  • Creator: Richard of Oxford
  • Description:

    The Taymouth Hours manuscript (British Library, Yates Thompson MS 13) is extensively illustrated and includes elaborate bas de page images. Scholars have identified a variety of patrons including Joan of the Tower, the daughter of Edward II and later wife of David II of Scotland, Isabella of France, wife of Edward II, or Philippa of Hainault, the queen of Edward III. Recently Kathryn Smith has argued that the manuscript was created on a commission from Philippa for the betrothal of her sister-in-law, Eleanor of Woodstock, to Reinald II, Duke of Guelders, in 1331. Reinald was an ally of Eleanor’s brother, King Edward III, in his wars with France. This image of the crowned princess adoring the elevated host was intended to present Eleanor as a pious young woman hearing mass in her private chapel. Although the English court had its own artists and scribes, this book has been connected with the London book trade. The principal illuminator has tentatively been identified as Richard of Oxford.

    The image precedes a prayer to be said before the beginning of mass. It depicts, however, the priest elevating the consecrated host with the princess adoring Christ present in it. This was a common illustration of priesthood in the later Middle Ages. Eleanor’s gesture of adoration reveals an act of spiritual communion, the longing for sacramental oneness with Christ achieved through sight. This adoration of the Real Presence in the Eucharist had become common as reception of the consecrated bread declined out of fear of receiving communion unworthily and risking damnation. Gestures of devotion, such as that of Eleanor in this picture, were supposed to be accompanied by special prayers, many of which appeared in books of hours. In the image Eleanor kneels before a prie dieu on which rests a deluxe book of hours clasped shut.

    At the bottom of the page is an image of Saint Jerome writing with the pen in his right hand and the stylus used in doing erasures in his left. The Spirit dove is shown whispering inspiration into his ear. A brief text is barely visible on the writing surface. In the right hand margin of the manuscript, a sketch remains from the planning stages of the manuscript. An artist has added an image of a host with the YHS or Jesus monogram held up by two hands, indicating that the elevation is the subject of this page. Smith suggests that the sketch may have directed the artist's attention to a particular model which was available for reference. Upon finishing the book of hours, the artists neglected to erase the rough sketch.

  • Source: Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, British Library
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Books of Hours Duchesses Eleanor of Woodstock, Sister of Edward III, King of England, and Wife of Reinald II, Duke of Guelders Eucharist, Sacrament Lay Piety Mass Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Date: Second quarter of the 14th century
  • Related Work: Additional images from the Taymouth Hours:
    Miniature of a crowned woman and a bearded man (Eleanor of Woodstock and Reinald II of Guelders) kneeling in prayer;
    Martyrdom of St. Katherine;
    Full digital version of the manuscript on the British Museum website;
    Images of women's devotions during the Mass:
    A woman kneels with her clasped hands upraised, while a bishop celebrates mass. From a French manuscript, British Library Royal 10 E IV, fol. 193;
    Butler Hours, female and male members of the Butler family at Mass ( Walters Ms. W.105, Mid-14th century);
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Yates Thompson 13, fol. 7r
  • Original Location: England, likely London
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint; Gold
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 17/11.5/
  • Inscription: Words on the opened book in front of Jerome:
    "Douz sire (al) comencement" (Dear Lord, at the beginning)
    These are the same words which appear in the text following the rubricated title: Oreison avaunt la messe. This is an Anglo-Norman prayer to be said before the Mass to prepare the communicant.
  • Related Resources: Izbicki, Thomas M. The Eucharist in Medieval Canon Law. Cambridge University Press, 2015;
    Slater, Laura. "Queen Isabella of France and the Politics of the Taymouth Hours," Viator Smith, Kathryn A. The Taymouth Hours: Stories and the Construction of Self in Late Medieval England. British Library, 2012;
    St. John, Lisa Benz. Three Medieval Queens: Queenship and the Crown in Fourteenth-Century England. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.