Friday, December 2, 2011

Prayers in Medieval Marginalia

I don't know that Eamon Duffy prayed he would find margin notes in the medieval books of hours, or prayer books, that he researched for his book, Marking the Hours: English People & Their Prayers 1240-1570 (Yale University Press, 2006), but medieval marginalia is what he hoped to find and did.

In America: The National Catholic Weekly, Thomas J. Shelley offers an informative review of Duffy's book. Summarizing the contents, he writes, with a quote from Duffy:
This book is an attempt, says Duffy with his customary wit, “to trace a history written quite literally in the margins.” 
Shelley expounds further:
These annotations provide a rare insight into the personal religious convictions of those who used the books daily to sustain their spiritual life. The fact that many of these laypeople were women adds an extra dimension of interest and originality to Duffy’s research. The book of hours was popular with such dissimilar characters as the unscrupulous King Richard III, hard-faced London grocers, pious country gentry, devout widows, St. Thomas More and even Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless royal minster who engineered More’s downfall and execution.
Prayers comprise the majority of the marginalia Duffy encountered in his research. Collectively, they offer valuable insight to the mindsets of people, primarily women, during medieval England. In turn, Duffy' book offers a valuable addition to the emerging field of scholarly research of marginalia.

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