Maternity and Faith in the Copenhagen Bohun Women Saints’ Lives (Royal Library, Ms Thott 517 4º)

Marina Vidas

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    Abstrakt

    Ms Thott 517 4° is a small illuminated fourteenth century English manuscript thatprincipally contains three Anglo-Norman French texts composed by different authors,each narrating episodes from the life and afterlife of one of the three most popularfemale saints in England at that time - Mary, Christ’s mother, Margaret, the virgin martyr,and Mary Magdalene, the repentant harlot. One of the lives, that of Saint Margaret,is followed by an antiphon, a versicle, and a prayer. The manuscript was illuminatedin a very distinctive style associated with two artists working for the Bohun family, probablysome time after the death of Humphrey de Bohun (1342-1373), the seventh Earlof Hereford, sixth Earl of Essex and second Earl of Northampton. This article discussesthe reasons why this manuscript may have been intended for a female audience,perhaps for one or more of the close female relatives of Humphrey de Bohun - hiswife, Joan (1347-1419), his daughter, Eleanor (1367-1399), who married Thomas ofWoodstock, Edward III’s youngest son, in 1376 or his daughter, Mary (1370-1394), whoin 1381 wed the king’s grandson, Henry of Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV.I argue that Ms Thott 517 4° contains texts and images that would be appropriate forthe contemplation and instruction of a female audience. I show that the texts that wereselected for inclusion in the manuscript narrate the lives of two holy women who wereclose to and important for Christ and who were present at many of the central eventsof his life, as well as a virgin who was martyred because of her faith. I also show thatthe major illuminations in the manuscript depict the heavenly favours bestowed oneach of the holy women as a consequence of the lives they led. Thus a female audiencecould draw strength from the holy women’s examples. Additionally, in the article Idemonstrate that the three holy women whose lives were included in Ms Thott 517 4°were all believed to come to the assistance of women in labour.It is argued that the likely intended audience for Ms Thott 517 4° was a female who,more specifically, was about to enter or already was in her childbearing years. However,it is also suggested in this article that the Lives were not necessarily meant for theexclusive contemplation of one person. The Transitus mariae and the legend of MaryMagdalene deal with issues, such as faith, conduct and death, which might have hadrelevance for a widow. Furthermore, the Transitus text, with its focus on the lamentingmother of Christ, could have had a particular interest for the dowager countess, whois known to have commissioned the devotional poem, the Complaint of the Virgin. It is,therefore, suggested in this article that both Joan de Bohun and one of her daughterscould have been the intended audience of the Lives.
    OriginalsprogEngelsk
    TidsskriftDenmark. Kongelige Bibliotek. Fund og Forskning
    Vol/bind52
    Sider (fra-til)55-80
    Antal sider25
    ISSN0069-9896
    StatusUdgivet - 2013

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