The stripping of the altars



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101 In 1494 the wardens of the parish of All Saints, Stanyng, presented Joanna I )yaca for breaking the paxbred by throwing it on the ground, "because another woman of the parish had kissed it before her". On All Saints lay 1522 Master John Browne of the parish of Theydon-Garnon in Essex, having kissed the paxbred at the parish Mass, smashed it over the head of Richard

Kentish Visitation, pp. 205, 207; L&P XVIII/2 pp. 205, 306. 11 Richmond, Gentleman, p. 198.

Pond, the holy-water clerk who had tendered it to him, "causing streams of blood to run to the ground". Brown was enraged because the pax had first been offered to Francis Hamden, the patron of the living, and his wife Margery, despite the fact that the previous Sunday he had warned Pond "Clerke, if thou here after gevist not me the pax first I shall breke it on thy hedd."102

The procession and the pax were by no means the only moments of the Mass in which such matters of precedence might generate friction, endangering the very unity they sought to affirm, for Eucharistic ritual was felt to be well suited to the demarcation and endorsement of social hierarchy as well as social bonding. The distribution of the holy loaf was no exception. The rotas of providers themselves constituted a list of the "honest men" of the parish, and in some communities the loaf after being blessed was cut into pieces of varying sizes, according to the importance of the recipients, and so dealt out to "every man in his degre", a recipe for friction in the contentious communities of Yorkist and Tudor England. John "Kareles", denounced to the Archdeacon of Lincoln by his neighbours in 1518 for taking too large a piece of the holy loaf, so that other parishioners were bilked of their share, was being accused of pride, of usurping the principal place in the community, not of gluttony.1113

Yet, as with the ideal of charity and reconciliation before reception of Easter communion, the unitive and harmonizing dimension of the holy bread rituals clearly exercised considerable influence over the lay imagination, an influence vividly illustrated by an incident in late fifteenth-century Bristol. In the early 1460s a dispute arose between the parish and wardens of the small church of St Ewen and a well-to-do merchant, John Sharp, over arrears of rent for a corn shop which Sharp leased from the church. The dispute was bitter and involved the parish in expensive and prolonged litigation. It was finally resolved early in January 1464, when Sharp and the parish came to a settlement. He solemnized this agreement by declaring that he was "advysed of his conscience to depart of sum of his goodes and to leve to this church" in order to have his own name, and those of his wife Elizabeth and his parents and deceased son, entered "yn the general mynd ycrly . . . and so after ther dethe to be prayed for evermore yn the commune bedlel roll." More was to follow. On Sunday, 8 January, it was Sharp's wife's turn to

'' Hale, Precedents, pp. 53—4; J. C. Challenor-Smith, "Some Addition to Newport's Repertoriuut: ii", Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, VII, p. 175. 1 am grateful to Michael O'Boy for the latter reference.

The Clerk's Book of 1549, pp. 58, 62 (Holy Trinity, Coventry); Lincoln Visitation, L p. 6.


128 ENCOUNTERING THE HOLY THE MASS 129


provide the holy loaf. Elizabeth Sharp, clearly a woman with a sense of style, duly turned up before matins and "ful womanly bro[gh]t the Cake with Candels in to this Churche, hyr mayden beryng the same after hyr and a fayre twylly towel with werkys at bothe endys and hool". Having duly offered the holy loaf and candles, Mistress Sharp summoned the parson, the leading parish notables, "and others dyvers bothe men and women", who were assembling for matins. Declaring her great joy at the happy resolution of the dispute between her husband and the parish, she announced her intention of symbolizing the restoration of their mutual charity by bestowing her splendid long embroidered towel "after my decesse" for use at Easter as a houseling-cloth, to be held under the parishioners' chins to prevent fragments of the Blessed Sacrament falling to the ground. Till her death she intended to keep custody of the towel, which would therefore be fetched from her house by the parish clerk "every Estur day only yn wurshyp of the sacrament": on her decease it would pass to the parish without condition. 114

The symbolism of this vividly recorded incident is fairly easily deciphered. The centrality of the belle-roll and the anxiety of the Sharps, husband and wife, to be restored to the community of the "good doers and wellwylleres" of the church is very striking and is buttressed by related symbols.1u5 Mistress Sharp chose the appro­priate moment of the presentation of the holy loaf for her gesture, and underlined the implicit Eucharistic symbolism in a further gesture of reconciliation and unity. She provided an embroidered towel "to serve the parysshens of an Estur day". This towel was no casually chosen gift: its symbolic identification with herself was emphasized by her retention of custody of it till her death, and it was designed for use on the one day in the year when the whole parish celebrated its unity by receiving communion together. The record of the incident in the church book lays some emphasis on the towel being a single "pool" piece of cloth, and Mistress Sharp explicitly commented that she intended it to replace the parish's existing makeshift arrangement, in which several smaller towels were pinned together. I do not think it fanciful to find here a further underlining of the theme of unity.

Mistress Sharp did not have to invent her own symbolism. Bequests of personal items like the towel were very common: wedding rings to adorn an altar or a saint's robes, a velvet pillow to serve as a book-rest at the altar, embroidered gowns, bedspreads,

1O; Bristol St Ewen's CWA, pp. 60—1.

'5 On the bede-roll and its importance see below pp. 334—7.

or hangings to make frontals or vestments. Above all, again and again one encounters bequests of linen for use in the Mass. Gifts of this sort gave those of modest means a way of perpetuating their personal presence at the heart of the community's worship of the Sacrament. One did not need to be a millionaire to provide the parish with a "kerchief to make a corprax" or a "diaper towell for goddys borde in Ester tyme". ""' In physical terms at least one could hardly draw closer to the sacrifice which united quick and dead in one great act of intercession. These bequests might be com­memorated in the bede-roll, but offered little other scope for the public display of one's name. And maybe in these cases the actual naming of the testator was of less importance than his or her symbolic proximity to the Blessed Sacrament, the centre of the community's self-awareness. The same desire was no doubt behind the action of the Bassingbourn parishioners who clubbed together to buy a canopy for the Host on Corpus Christi Day, and had embroidered in the centre a Crucifix, "and the namys off the gifferes in the iiij corners", surely too small for anyone but the figure on the cross to read.

nn

If the worshipper kneeling at a weekday Mass was encouraged in a form of participation which approximated to monastic prayer, a form of intense affectivity which was essentially private and indi­vidualistic, the experience of Sunday Mass, while not excluding such an emphasis, had a different thrust. The Sunday Mass was surrounded with lively movement and ceremony, lit by many candles, accompanied by plainsong and pricksong. The solemn biddings set the prayer of the parish community within the context of the greater community of "the gloryous virgyn ... and all the company of heven", who glinted in gold leaf and bright paint from the screens, the tabernacles and the side altars. Participation in this dimension of Eucharist, even for the élite and the literate, was not solitary, penitential, interior. Its dynamism and zest are captured for us in one of the most distinctive and striking of fifteenth-century carols, described by its editor as "true folksong", and by Douglas Gray as "vividly combining homeliness and mystery". In it we catch something of the spirit of English parochial worship before the solemnities of reform slowed and darkened its music:



And by a chapell as y Came,

Met y whyhte Ihieslu to chyrcheward gone Petur and Pawle, Thomas & Ihon,



Test. Eibor. V p. 119; Lincoln Wills, ed. C. W. Foster, 1914—30, I p. 109; Croscombe CWA, pp. 35—6; Northants Wills, II pp. 314, 375, 419. "" Bassingbourn CWA, fol. 3b.

130 ENCOUNTERING THE HOLY

And hys desyplys Euery-chone. Mery hyt ys in may mornyng Mery wayys for to gonne.

Sente Thomas the Bellys gave ryng, And sent Collas the mas gare syng, Sente thon toke that swete offeryng, And By a chapell as y Came.

Mery hyt ys.

Owre lorde offeryd whate he wolde, A chalks alle of ryche rede gollde; Owre lady, the crowne off hyr mowlde, The sone owte off hyr Bosome schone.

Mery hyt ys.

Sent Iorge that ys own: lady knyghte, He tende the taperys fayre & Brytc - To myn yghe a semley syghte,

And By a chapell as y Came.

Mery hyt ys. '"H



I H Greene, Early English Carols, no. 323 and notes on p. 428; Carleton Brown, Religious lyrics of the XVth Century, no. 116; I). Gray, "neims and Imagery in the Medieval English Religious lyric, 1972, p. 16.3.

CHAPTER 4

CORPORATE CHRISTIANS

The religion of the English late Middle Ages has recently been characterized as increasingly "an occupation for the individual as well as, if not more than, the preoccupation of the community". In this perspective, changes in the layout of church buildings, like the introduction of pewing, are taken to indicate the growth of "introspection and non-participation" in church services.» A vision of the replacement of corporate by private devotion, of the laity kneeling separately at Mass, conning their primers or meditational guides, or with their eyes closed in private supplication, lies behind this picture of the breakdown of that corporate Christianity which other historians have seen as the essential feature of late medieval Catholicism.

Such a line of argument begs many questions: the apparently individualistic use of devotional books, and especially primers, during church services did not necessarily isolate the reader but may well have had the opposite effect of binding the individual more tightly into the shared symbolic world of the community. But certainly among the aristocracy and higher gentry at least there were signs of a privatizing tendency, notably the growing number all over the country who secured for themselves the convenience, and the status symbol, of -a private chaplain and therefore a private Mass.'

Yet however real such trends may have been, the overwhelming impression left by the sources for late medieval religion in England is that of a Christianity resolutely and enthusiastically orientated towards the public and the corporate, and of a continuing sense of the value of cooperation and mutuality iii seeking salvation. At its most obvious this continuing and indeed growing commitment to corporate Christianity is witnessed by the extraordinary and lavish



1 C. Richmond, "Religion and the Fifteenth-Century English Gentleman", p. 199.

2 Ibid. pp. 199—200; P. W. Fleming, "Charity, Faith and the Gentry of Kent", in T Pollard (ed.), Property and Politics, 1984, pp. 36-58, but see also C. Carpenter, "The Religion of the Gentry in Fifteenth-Century England", in D. Williams (ed.), England in the Fifteenth Century, 1987, pp. 53-74.

CHAPTER 6

"LEWED AND LEARNED":


THE LAITY AND THE PRIMERS

The relationship between the privacies of personal religion and the corporate religious drama of the liturgy was complex, and, as we have seen, by no means a one-way traffic. To grasp the inwardness of late medieval lay piety attention to the liturgy is vital, but is not enough. Beyond and even within the liturgy, there flourished another world of devotion, sharing much ground with the official worship of the Church but distinct from it, a world vividly glimpsed in the Book' of Margery Kempe. The undistorted reconstruction of this world of private prayer and devotional feeling is fraught with difficulties, not least as one attempts to penetrate below the level of the aristocracy and gentry to that of the common man and woman. Yet the prayers of late medieval English men and women do in fact survive in huge numbers, jotted in the margins or flyleaves of books, collected into professionally commissioned or home-made prayer-rolls, devotional manuals, and commonplace books, above all gathered into the primers or Books of Hours (Horae), which by the eve of the Reformation were being produced in multiple editions in thousands, in formats ranging from the sumptuous to the skimpy, and varying in price from pounds to a few pence. A study of these books and the related collections of prayers from which they were compiled or which were derived from them, will take us deep into the heart of late medieval lay religion. I



1 The standard handbook to the English printers is Edgar Hoskins, Horne Beatae Mariae î'irt'inis or Sarum and York Printers with kindred hooks, 1901; in using the printed printers I have identified the hook being used by reference to the numbering in Hoskins, as well as by the new STY' number. For the contents of the Horne, the magisterial work of V. Leroquais, Les Livres d'heures manuscrits de la Bihliothlque Nationale, 3 vols, 1927, with its 1943 Supplt'mu'tt is indispensable. Virginia Reinburg's 1985 Princeton doctoral dissertation, Popular prayers in Late Medieval and Reformation France explores the French Horae, and I ant very grateful to I)r Reinhurg for allowing nie to read her dissertation. She has also contributed to the valuable collection edited by R. S. Wieck, The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life, 1988. See also J. Backhouse, Books of Hours, 1985. Apart from Helen White's The Tudor Books of Private Devotion there is little in English on the printed Latin Horne, though Jonathan Hartan's Books of Hours and their Owners, 1977, has a short account on pp. 169-74. In discussing prayers which occur routinely in Horae I have used the text printed in Hor. Ehor.

The Primer and Lay Prayer
The early history of the primer, as Books of Hours were often called in England, is complex and essentially monastic. Arising out of the pious practice of individual monks who added the private

recitation of the fifteen

gradual

Psalms

(120—34), and the seven

penitential Psalms (6, 32,

38, 51,

102, 130,

143) to the public liturgy

of the seven monastic Hours, the primer acquired an identity as a separate book and absorbed other material, most notably the so-called Little Office or Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From a voluntary devotion, these observances came to be considered in time an obligation on all religious. As the devout laity sought increasingly to emulate monastic piety, the Hours of the Blessed Virgin offered a convenient and religiously satisfying way of sharing in the monastic round of prayer. The Little Hours included some of the most beautiful and accessible parts of the psalter, notably the gradual Psalms, whose humane and tender tone was accentuated by the Marian antiphons, lessons, and collects celebrat­ing the beauty, goodness, and merciful kindness of the Virgin, with which the Office surrounded them. Offering the lay devotee some approximation to the order and tranquillity of monastic piety, it possessed the vital qualification for lay devotion of being relatively uncomplicated, varying very little with the liturgical seasons, unlike the calendrical complexities of the Offices recited by the clergy. It is not surprising, therefore, that although it was one of the last elements to be added, the Little Office came to dominate the primer. In addition to the Little Office and the gradual and penitential Psalms, almost all primers included the Litany of the Saints, the Office for the Dead (consisting of vespers, called "Placebo" from the opening word of the Office, and matins and lauds said as one office, known as "Dirige"). With these were usually grouped the Psalms of commendation (119 and I39), essen­tially an extension of the "Dirige". Many editions also included Psalms 22-31, the so-called Psalms of the Passion. A version of the calendar, placed at the beginning of the book, completed the basic shape. Few primers, however, confined themselves to this basic shape, especially after the advent of printing, when publishers were competing in a cut-throat market in which Books of Hours were being offered for sale in their thousands. Most books therefore included an additional range of popular devotions, over and above the core prayers derived from the liturgy. These included a range of morning prayers, devotions for use at Mass, most commonly elevation prayers such as the "Ave Verum Corpus", suffrages to

the saints and angels, prayers to the Virgin Mary, and, above all, prayers to Christ in his Passion.2

Given the range and variety of the primer, it is no great surprise to find that devout, literate, lay people increasingly gave it the central place in their devotions. What is perhaps more remarkable is the social breadth of its appeal. The very notion of a Book of Hours conjures up images of richly gilt initials, jewelled covers, exquisite miniatures, and many of the surviving early manuscript Horae were clearly designed for an aristocratic, or at least wealthy, readership. Nor did this orientation disappear with the advent of printing. When Edgar Hoskins produced his exhaustive analysis of the contents of the pre-Reformation printed Sarum Hours, he took as his base text the edition of 1494 printed by Wynkyn de Worde.3 This book, though without the elaborate full-page and initial illuminations which were so much a feature of manuscript Hours, is nevertheless printed on vellum, has hand-coloured initials and borders, and claims in its colophon the patronage of Henry VII's queen, Elizabeth. It was clearly expensive, and one of the two Cambridge University Library copies belonged to the Earl of Surrey. Yet even before the dramatic shift in the sociology of book ownership produced by printing, many editions of the primer were produced for a wider and less affluent clientele. Books of Hours were among the first books to be efficiently mass-produced; by the fifteenth century stationers' shops all over Europe had geared themselves to production-line methods.' The basic text was pro­duced by teams of copyists, then ornamented to a greater or lesser degree, normally by the colouring of capitals and simple floral ornaments, with the insertion at appropriate points of standardized full-page illustrations, themselves often mass-produced by hack painters of indifferent talent. Such pictures were designed not merely to ornament the books into which they were tipped or bound, but to serve as an additional devotional resource, providing material for devout meditation. But despite the contribution they undoubtedly made to the selling power of these mass-produced Horae, the pictures were sometimes omitted altogether, and there

The standard discussion of the evolution of the primer is the prefatory essay by F. Bishop in I I. l.ittlehales, 'L7n- Pryner or Proyerbook of the Lay People in the Middle Ages, 1891, reprinted in Bishop's Liturgic,' Historiea, 1918, pp. 211-37.



Hoskins no. 7: RS"1'C 15875.

' Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coating of the Book, 1984, pp. 18, 27, 70, 88, 90, 92, etc.

are many surviving manuscript Books of Hours, plainly produced in a small format to economy standards.'

The advent of printing dramatically widened the accessibility of the Horae even further. Between Caxton's first recorded printing of a Book of Hours and the appearance of the first Protestant primers in the 1530s, at least 114 editions of the Latin Horae were published for lay English use. Precise numbers for editions of books of this sort are impossible to assign, but 500 is probably a conservative estimate, in which case there were something like 57,000 of these books in circulation in the two generations before the Reformation. Many of these editions were up-market productions, finely printed and richly decorated. But many were small ones, cheaply produced, with few or no illustrations, and they cannot have cost more than a few pence.('

There is abundant evidence of very wide use of the primers among the laity. Gentry wills had long included bequests of "my best Primer", "a little prymer", "a prymar covered in blew".' The remarkable expansion of lay literacy among the mercantile and artisan classes in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries placed such books literally within the grasp of the middling and lower sorts, a fact abundantly evident in their wills. A fifteenth-century London grocer could leave "my primer with gilt clasps whereupon I am wont to say my service", while Roger Elmsley, servant to a wax-chandler, left his godchild "a primer for to serve God with".'' An Italian visitor to fifteenth-century England, commenting on the notable devotion of the laity, wrote that "any who can read talc' el the Office of our Lady with them, and with some companion recitiei it in the church verse by verse in a low voice after the manner of the religious." The "Instructions for a devout and liter-ate layman" drawn up for the religious guidance of an unidentified town-dweller of the early fifteenth century prescribe the daily recitation of the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin in the parish church before Mass. In early fifteenth-century King's Lynn, Margery Kempe was accustomed to "seyn hir Mateyns" in the church when she went to hear Mass, "hir boke in hir hand". A century later, Jean Quentin's The Mauer to lyve well, translated into English for "all persones of meane estate" and published as

s For the production and character of MSS Horae for the English market see N. Rogers's unpublished 1982 Cambridge M Litt thesis, "Books of Hours Produced in the Low Countries for the English Market in the Fifteenth Century".

' For example Hoskins, nos 46, 68: STC nos 15919, 15940.

Hoskins, pp. xv-xvn: Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia III pp. xlvn-xlix: Horae Ebor pp. xxxviii-xl.

s Margaret Aston, Lollards and Reformers, 1984, pp. 101-33, quotes at p. 124. On the spread of literacy see also Janet Coleman, Medieval Readers and Writers 1350-1400, 1981, pp. 18-57; J. H. Moran, The growth of English Schooling: Learning, Literacy and Laicisation in the

a preface to a number of inexpensive Latin primers from 1529 onwards, instructed its readers "Whan ye have arayed you /say in your chambre or lodgyng: matyns / pryme & houres ... ," and the recitation of the Little Office was also enjoined in courtesy or etiquette books. By the early sixteenth century, in urban congrega­tions at least, one was probably almost as likely to find a primer as a pair of beads in the hands of the worshippers in church (Pl. 82).9

What is so remarkable about all this is that we are dealing here not with an English but with a Latin book. In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries English versions of the primer had circulated, but the panic over Lollardy had made them suspect. Fewer than a dozen-and-a-half pre-Reformation primers in English survive, none of then] dating from after the mid fifteenth century. The mere possession of one might be grounds for suspicions of heterodoxy in the early sixteenth century.'" The growing popu­larity of the primer among "persones of mean estate" is therefore something of a puzzle. The driving force behind the new literacy was practical, not scholarly. Men (and even some women) engaged in business or administration, or anxious to secure more immediate control of their own affairs by learning to read and write letters, bills, wills, and ledgers, or in search of amusement in the form of the rhymed tales of chivalry, romance, morality, or miraculous piety which circulated so widely in the fifteenth century needed English, and perhaps sonic French.11 Fluent mastery of Latin would have been outside the scope of most lay people, as indeed it was for many clergy and religious. How then did they say their prayers in Latin? The question should alert us to the complexity of the use of and response to sacred texts, such as the prayers of the primers, before the Reformation. Indeed, before we can seriously attempt to answer it we need to consider the extent to which primers were both more and less than texts.

']'hat the primers were more than texts can be readily gathered from handling a few of them, manuscript or printed. The



Pre-Ile/nrnation fork 1)imese, 1'185; N. ( )ruce, English Schools in the Late Middle Ages, 1973; M. B. Parkes, "The I itertcy of the L.uty'' in I). I ).riches and A. K. Lhorlby (eds), Literature and Western Civilisation: the Medieval World, 1973, pp. 555-77.

A Relation, or Rather, a 'line Account o/ the ].lord of England about the year 1500, ed. A 'Irevisano, Camden Soc, XXXVII, 1847, p. 23; W A Pantin, "Instructions for a Devout and Literate I.ayntan", in J. 1. G. Alexander and M. T. Gibson (eds), Medieval Learning and Literature, 1976, p. 399; The !took of Margery Kempe, pp. 216, 221; This prymer of Salysbury use is set mu a lorrp wont oily seneryng / with ninny prayers / and goodly pyctures in the ka/ender.. Paris, F. Regnault 1531, Iloskins, no. 98, RS'LC 15973, 1o!. 15h, and Hoskins, p. xv; Foxe, Acs and Monuments, V p. 29; London C:ousistory Court IFills pp. 100-1.

'" One, front the library of' St John's College Cambridge, is edited in I,ittlehales, The Pryrner; W. Maskell, Monunwnta Ritualia Ecclesiae Art,('licanae, III pp. I-lxvii; Foxe, Acts and Mormrnents, IV pp. 230, 236.

" J. Coleman, English Literature in History pp. 18-57; F. McSL' '

rtrran and P. R. Robinson, Cambridge University Library MS 112 38; see above, pp. 68-84.

are many surviving manuscript Books of Hours, plainly produced in a small format to economy standards.'

The advent of printing dramatically widened the accessibility of the Horae even further. Between Caxton's first recorded printing of a Book of Hours and the appearance of the first Protestant primers in the 1530s, at least 114 editions of the Latin Horae were published for lay English use. Precise numbers for editions of books of this sort are impossible to assign, but 500 is probably a conservative estimate, in which case there were something like 57,000 of these books in circulation in the two generations before the Reformation. Many of these editions were up-market productions, finely printed and richly decorated. But many were small ones, cheaply produced, with few or no illustrations, and they cannot have cost more than a few pence.("

There is abundant evidence of very wide use of the primers among the laity. Gentry wills had long included bequests of "my best Primer", "a little prymer", "a prymar covered in blew".' The remarkable expansion of lay literacy among the mercantile and artisan classes in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries placed such books literally within the grasp of the middling and lower sorts, a fact abundantly evident in their wills. A fifteenth-century London grocer could leave "my primer with gilt clasps whereupon I am wont to say my service", while Roger Elmsley, servant to a wax-chandler, left his godchild "a primer for to serve God with".5 An Italian visitor to fifteenth-century England, commenting on the notable devotion of the laity, wrote that "any who can read taklel the Office of our Lady with them, and with some companion recite] it in the church verse by verse in a low voice after the manner of the religious." The "Instructions for a devout and liter-ate layman" drawn up for the religious guidance of an unidentified town-dweller of the early fifteenth century prescribe the daily recitation of the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin in the parish church before Mass. In early fifteenth-century King's Lynn, Margery Kempe was accustomed to "seyn hir Mateyns" in the church when she went to hear Mass, "hir boke in hir hand". A century later, Jean Quentin's The Mauer to lyre well, translated into English for "all persones of meane estate" and published as

s For the production and character of MSS Horae for the English market see N. Rogers's unpublished 1982 Cambridge M Litt thesis, "Books of Hours Produced in the Low Countries for the English Market in the Fifteenth Century".

For example Hoskins, nos 46, 68: STC nos 15919, 15940.

Hoskins, pp. xv-xvii: Maskell, Monumenta Rifualia III pp. xlvii-xlix: Horae Lbor pp. xxxviii-xl.

Margaret Aston, Lollards and Re/irnners, 1984, pp. 101-33, quotes at p. 124. On the spread of literacy see also Janet Coleman, Medieval Readers and Writers 1350-1400, 1981, pp. 18-57; J. H. Moran, The growth of English Schooling: Learning, Literacy and Laicisation in the

a preface to a number of inexpensive Latin primers from 1529 onwards, instructed its readers "Whan ye have arayed you /say in your chambre or lodgyng: matyns / pryme & houres ... ," and the recitation of the Little Office was also enjoined in courtesy or etiquette books. By the early sixteenth century, in urban congrega­tions at least, one was probably almost as likely to find a primer as a pair of beads in the hands of the worshippers in church (Pl. 82).9

What is so remarkable about all this is that we are dealing here not with an English but with a Latin book. In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries English versions of the primer had circulated, but the panic over Lollardy had made them suspect. Fewer than a dozen-and-a-half pre-Reformation primers in English survive, none of them dating from after the mid fifteenth century. The mere possession of one might be grounds for suspicions of heterodoxy in the early sixteenth century.'" The growing popu­larity of the primer among "persones of mean estate" is therefore something of a puzzle. The driving force behind the new literacy was practical, not scholarly. Men (and even some women) engaged in business or administration, or anxious to secure more immediate control of their own affairs by learning to read and write letters, bills, wills, and ledgers, or in search of amusement in the form of the rhymed talcs of chivalry, romance, morality, or miraculous piety which circulated so widely in the fifteenth century needed English, and perhaps sonic French. I I Fluent mastery of Latin would have been outside the scope of most lay people, as indeed it was for many clergy and religious. How then did they say their prayers in Latin? The question should alert us to the complexity of the use of and response to sacred texts, such as the prayers of the primers, before the Reformation. Indeed, before we can seriously attempt to answer it we need to consider the extent to which primers were both more and less than texts.

'l'hat the primers were more than texts can he readily gathered from handling a few of theta, manuscript or printed. The

Pre-Relmmauion York Him cm., 1985; N. ( )rude, English Schools in the Lane Middle Ages, 1973; M. B. Parkes, "The I.iteraly of the Laity"in I). I )niches and A. K. 'fhorlby (eds), Literature aril Western Civilisation: the Aedieval Il'orld, 1973, pp. 555-77.

A Relation, or Rather, a "line Areount of the Islam/ of England abort the year 1.500, cd. A I'revisano, Camden Sot-, XXXVII, 1847, p. 23; W A Pantie, "Instructions Kw a Devout and Literate Layman", in ). ~. G. Alexander and M. T. Gibson (cds), Medieval Learning and Literature, 1976, p. 399; I lie Book o) Margery Meagre, pp. 216, 221; "Ms prymer 0 Salysbury use Is set nut au long wout ony senlryng / with many prayers / and goodly pyetures in the kalender...Paris, F. Regnault 1531, Iloskins, no. 98, RS'FC 15973, Col. 15h, and Hoskins, p. xv; Foxe, Acs and Monuments, V p. 29; London Consistory Court Wills pp. 100-1.

1" One, from the library of St John's College Cambridge, is edited in Littlehales, The Prymer; W. Maskell, Morrumenta Ritralia Licclesiae Anglicanae, III pp. 1-lxvii; Foxe, Acts and Monuments, IV pp. 230, 236.

J. Coleman, English Literature in History pp. ~

18-57; F. McSlp arras and P. R. Robinson,

Cambridge University Library MS Et2 38; sec above, pp. 68-84.

ornamentation that most primers contained would have established for their readers the fact that they were, in the first place, sacred objects. Paintings or woodcuts of the Trinity, of the life of the Virgin, of the saints with their emblems, above all scenes depicting the suffering and death of Christ, served in themselves as focuses of the sacred, designed to evoke worship and reverence. They were often conceived as channels of sacred power independent of the texts they accompanied. The fifteenth century had seen the circula­tion of devotional woodcuts which the faithful were encouraged to meditate on, to kneel before, to kiss. These images often had indulgences attached to them, encouraging a devotion which might be mechanical or meditative, but at any rate not verbal. One typical image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows, surrounded by the Implements of the Passion – nails, scourges, lance, cross, vet-nick and so on – carried the promise that "To them that before this ymage of pyte devoutly say fyve Pater noster fyve Aveys & a Crede pytously beholdyng these armes of Christ's passyon ar graunted 32,755 yeres of pardon." It circulated widely as a separate wood-cut, sold at pilgrimage centres or hawked about by preaching friars, pardoners or simple pack-men (Pl. 85). The image, with its spectacular promise of indulgences, found its way into the primers, and its presence there alerts us to the fact that many who used these books must have been as interested in the religious power of the pictures as in the meaning of the text.» Nor were the pictures the only emblems of sacred power. The use of rubric print, and the frequent punctuation of the text with the sign of the cross, particularly in prayers of exorcism and invocation, also served to establish the sacred character of the primers as objects in their own right, by approximating them iii appearance to the books used on the altars of the parish church and iii other ceremonies of the liturgy.

The f ict that many of the texts contained in the primers were held to he powerful and holy in their own right also helped sacralize the books in which they occurred. In addition to the Psalms and other scriptural passages in the Offices of the Blessed Virgin and of the Dead, the primers usually contained at the beginning of the book four Gospel passages. These were the opening chapter of St John's Gospel "In Principio", the Annunciation story from Luke's Gospel "Misses est", the story of the Magi from Matthew's Gospel "Cum Natus est", and the final section of Mark's Gospel "Recumbentibus", containing Christ's promise to give his disciples power over demons, serpents, poison, and disease. The reading of Gospel passages, especially of the great feasts, had from time

'2 On this image see below, pp. 2:18f.

immemorial acquired a special significance in lay devotion. Priests could earn alms by reciting these Gospels for the laity, as a protec­tion for home or person, in much the same way as they said votive Masses; this equation of saying a Mass and reading a Gospel was exploited by clergy anxious to maximize their incomes. There was a long tradition of ecclesiastical legislation to prevent "doubling" or "trebling" of Gospels at Mass, and the Tudor jest-book A Hundred Merry Talcs has a joke about a priest who would say two Gospels for a groat, "as dog-cheap a mass as any place in England". All four of the Gospel passages found regularly in the primers were charged with special significance for medieval Christians, for they formed the Gospels read at Mass on four of the major festivals, Christmas Day, Epiphany, the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day), and the Ascension. They thus offered a sort of microcosm of the liturgical year, but their power extended beyond their association with the festivals on which they were read. They were found together in some editions of the Sarum processional, and were the Gospels read aloud at the. stations in the course of the Rogationtide processions, to scatter demons and bring grace, blessing, and fertility to the community and its fields.13

They were well suited to this purpose. The opening of St John's Gospel, "In Principio", was one of the most numinous texts used in the late medieval Church. It was prescribed as part of the ritual for the blessing of holy bread at the main Mass of Sunday, and was recited as an additional or last Gospel by the priest after Mass each day. There was a widely held belief that anyone who crossed themselves during this recitation would come to no harm that day. This belief was strengthened by the fact that in the early fourteenth century Pope (:lenient V had granted an indulgence of one year and forty days to everyone who attended to the last Gospel and who kissed something – a book, a sacred object, even their thumbnail – at the words "Verbum carp factum est." This indulgence was publicized in the standard instructional texts on devout hearing of Mass, and contributed to the awe associated with the text. William Tyndale in the 1520s was to complain contemptuously that


"Thousands whyle the prest patereth Saynt John's Gospel in Latine over theyr heedes crosse them selves wyth I trow a legyon of crosses behynde and before and wythe reverence on the very arses and (as Jack off napis when he claweth hint self-0 ploucke

E.

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