The Vaux Passional

Reference: Peniarth MS 482D

Introduction

Peniarth 482D is a manuscript written by one scribe, on parchment, probably in London, either in the late 15th century, or at the beginning of the 16th. As in the case of Peniarth MS 481D (The Battles of Alexander the Great), it is one of the most elaborately decorated medieval manuscripts in the Library, and a rare survival in its original binding. Its importance also lies in its connection to the Royal households of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

Contents

The manuscript contains two French texts:

(a)La Passion de Nostre Seigneur (‘The Passion of Our Lord’), an account of the Passion of Christ in 36 chapters, originally translated in 1398 for Isabeau de Bavière (Isabelle of Bavaria), queen of France (ff. 1-185v);

(b)Le miroir de la mort (‘The mirror of death’), a religious poem in 92 stanzas by Georges Chastellain (1415-1475), chronicler to the Dukes of Burgundy (ff. 186-205v).

The first text, beginning with the raising of Lazarus, and ending with the legendary lives of Judas and Pilate, invites believers to meditate on the sufferings of Christ during His arrest, trial, Crucifixion and Resurrection. The second text calls for readers to meditate on the futility of worldly pleasures in the face of certain death.

Illustrations

The manuscript is illustrated with 34 large and beautiful Flemish-style miniatures in gold and colours, of which 33 accompany the Passional. The first miniature (f. 9) shows a man presenting a book to a sovereign, with the royal arms of England (France and England quarterly). The heraldry of the illuminations indicates that the volume may have been prepared for Henry VII of England. A mourning figure of a young man (possibly Prince Henry, later king Henry VIII) beside an empty, black-covered bed in the background, together with two girls before a fireplace wearing black head-dresses (possibly the 13 year old Princess Margaret and the 7 year old Princess Mary) may suggest that the presentation was in some way associated with either the death of Arthur, prince of Wales in 1502 or more likely that of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, in 1503.

Binding

This is one of a few medieval manuscripts at the National Library of Wales to retain its original binding. It is bound in wooden boards, covered with crimson velvet, and retains the marks of brass bosses. It was probably bound in London at the beginning of the 16th century, and is very similar to that of Peniarth MS 481D.

Lady Jane Guildford and the early history of the manuscript

A number of heraldic decorations in the manuscript have not been identified, and further research may determine by whom the volume was commissioned.

The manuscript once belonged to Lady Jane (or Joan) Guildford (née Vaux) (f. 206), whose mother Lady Katherine, a native of Provence, was a lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. Jane is named as one of the ladies attending Elizabeth of York's coronation in 1487, and her connection to the Royal household was close enough to warrant the attendance of both Henry VII and his Queen at her marriage to Sir Richard Guildford (c.1450–1506) in 1489. Sir Richard was by 1494 Comptroller of the King’s household, and may be the figure bearing a staff in the foreground of the miniature on f. 9. It seems that Lady Jane herself served Queen Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon as lady-in-waiting. She also accompanied Princess Mary to France in 1514 for her marriage to Louis XII.

The Vaux family

The manuscript was inscribed (f. 206) by Jane Guildford’s son, Sir Henry Guildford (1489–1532), Comptroller of the King’s household, friend of Erasmus, and subject of a portrait by Holbein. On Jane Guildford’s death in September 1538, her ‘book of French’ was bequeathed to her nephew, Thomas, 2nd Baron Vaux. One of her executors was her cousin Sir William Penison, whose name appears inscribed on f. 206 of the manuscript. A further inscription (f. iiv) records the gift of the volume by Thomas Vaux to Sir John Fermor (1516-1571), his brother-in-law. Fermor rose to prominence as MP for Northamptonshire in 1553 and 1555 under Queen Mary. Thereafter, the families of Vaux and Fermor became Roman Catholic recusants, and may secretly have retained this volume throughout the 16th, and during the first part of the 17th centuries.

Later history

As in the case of Peniarth MS 481D, the manuscript may eventually have passed to the library of Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), whose grand-daughter married Richard Mostyn (1658-1735) of Penbedw, Flintshire. The Penbedw bookplate attests to its presence there at the beginning of the 19th century, before the manuscript passed by descent and marriage to Peniarth, Merioneth. It was excluded from the sale of Peniarth manuscripts to Sir John Williams in 1904, but was later bought by philanthropists Miss Gwendoline and Miss Margaret Davies of Gregynog, who presented the volume to the National Library of Wales in 1921.

Bibliography

  • Mary Williams, ‘French Manuscripts in the National Library of Wales’, The National Library of Wales Journal, 1 (1939-1940), 211-216.
  • Armel H. Diverres, ‘Le Miroir de Mort by Georges Chastellain’, The National Library of Wales Journal, 1 (1939-1940), 218-219.
  • Godfrey Anstruther, Vaux of Harrowden: a recusant family (Newport, Mon., 1953).
  • Edelgard E. DuBruck (ed.), La Passion Isabeau: une édition du manuscrit Fr. 966 de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (New York, 1990).
  • George Chastelain, Le Miroir de la Mort, ed. Tania Van Hemelryck (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1995).
  • Article by Sean Cunningham on ‘Sir Richard Guildford’, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Article by L.L. Ford on ‘Nicholas Vaux, first Baron Vaux', in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Gregynog Gallery

On 7th and 10th - 14th November the Gregynog Gallery will be hosting Arad Goch Theatre Company.

The Dylan exhibition will remain open as usual to the public, although visitors are advised there may be some disruption in the gallery during this period.

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