Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570

Article excerpt

Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570. By Eamon Duffy. (New Haven:Yale University Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 202. $35.00.)

In his History of Illuminated Manuscripts, after discussing books designed for emperors, for missionaries, for aristocrats, for monks, and for students, Christopher de Hamel comes to books of hours, which he calls "books for everybody." Because of their abundance and their prettiness, as de Hamel observes, these books have always been loved by collectors and slightly sniffed at by scholars. In the twenty years since de Hamel published his magisterial work, books of hours have become, if possible, even more strongly a focus of interest-now, as tokens of cultural history from which we hope to recover the emotional and personal realities that the past is usually so successful in concealing from us.

This is of course the approach of Eamon Duffy's new work, which is intended for an educated general readership, and its lavish production values and elegant layout are splendidly attractive. It is most unusual to have so many color photographs (120) for such a modest price ($35). Duffy's interest is summed up in his description of books of hours: "unexpected windows into the hearts and souls of the men and women who long ago had used these books to pray" (preface).

Recently this humane focus has been complemented by a general realization that books of hours are economically interesting as well, since they give evidence of the development of a luxury-goods market considerably earlier than the seventeenth- or eighteenth-century date most historians would think likely. Duffy summarizes the work of others, including this reviewer, in order to provide some economic context, relying, for instance, on a market-based analysis of Francois Regnault's printed primers that distinguishes two primer lines-smaller, with more English, vs. larger, with more Latin. But it should be noted that because we have little information about the actual price for which these primers sold, the frequent use of terms like "mid-price" or "cheap" is an extrapolation from size and gives a rather misleading impression of certainty.

Case histories provide the opportunity to analyze the character of these inscriptions. In a chapter on the Roberts family's book, Duffy's thesis is that its added prayers are "in no sense otherworldly. …

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