Mostyn Psalter Hours

Item date: 13th century
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £775,000
Item date acquired: 2017
Item institution: British Library
Town/City: London
London borough: LB Camden

The British Library is grateful to have received the support of the Friends of the National Libraries to purchase the Mostyn PsalterHours, a late 13th-century Psalter-Hours produced in London in the ambit of Edward I’s court (c. 1272-1307).  In Lucy Freeman Sandler’s continuation survey volume for the period 1285-1385, the Mostyn Psalter Hours is the only Psalter of the fifty-eight considered with a secure London provenance.

The text includes a calendar, decorated with 20 small miniatures of the labours of the months and a Psalter with eight large historiated initials (of the original ten). Canticles, a Litany, Collects and Hours of the Virgin, with suffrages to saints and the Office of the Dead follow. The manuscript remains largely uncropped, preserving its original, impressive size. Its original patron is unknown, but its high quality illumination and fine script indicate that it was made for an important individual, possibly a bishop, as an image of a bishop appears in the illustration for Psalm 101 where a donor portrait might be expected. It is partially damaged, showing some staining and signs of wear, and is missing two leaves: the opening of the first Psalm and of Psalm 38 (f. 42); yet the manuscript retains its appeal in its large quarto size and ambitious decorative programme. The book is now bound in a modern red goatskin binding over boards, made by Sydney Morris Cockerell and dated to 1975.

As a Psalter that can be securely located to London, it has a clear national heritage value in view of the fact that relatively few examples of luxury books made in London survive from the medieval period. The Psalter is therefore a pivotal point around which to group other manuscripts – of Psalter texts and others – in a Westminster/London context, for comparison with books made in other centres, enhancing the existing strengths of the collections of the British Library (the Library holds the largest collection of important English Psalters made in this period, including the Alphonso Psalter, Additional MS 24686, begun for Prince Alphonso, first born son of Edward I; the Huth Psalter, Additional MS 38116; the Rutland Psalter, Additional MS 62925; and the Evesham Psalter, Additional MS 44874). Until its acquisition by the British Library, this was the earliest English Psalter still in private hands and its entry into the national collection will enable researchers to explore further the style of illustration and text produced in London at the end of the 13th century.

The book is now bound in a modern, red, goatskin binding over boards, made by Sydney Morris Cockerell and dated to 1975.

The Mostyn Psalter-Hours, 13th century.
Above: the Mostyn Psalter-Hours, 13th century. Courtesy of the British Library Board.