Breviary, use of Sarum in Latin, decorated manuscript on vellum.[England (East Anglia, Norwich or Bury St Edmunds?), late 14th century (c.1385–90)]




Decorated with 17 large initials in blue with extensions in red and blue, and red penwork flourishing (ff.1r, 28r, 61v, 106v, 125r, 129v, 133r, 135r, 172r, 179r, 183v, 187v, 191v, 197r, 202r, 207r, 212v).

218 + iii leaves, c.155×105mm, foliated on every 10th leaf, collation: 1–8 8, 9 8-2 (2nd and 3rd leaves missing after f.65), 10–17 8, 18 8-1 (5th leaf missing after f.138), 19–21 8 ; 22 6 (calendar); 23–27 8, 29 8-1 (last leaf, and probably further quires containing a Sanctorale, missing), written in gothic script in two columns of 37–41 lines (125×80mm), with extensive rubrics in red.

Text: (ff.1r–164r) Temporale; medieval additions (f.164v); ruled, otherwise blank (f.165r–v). (ff.166r–171v) Calendar (ff.172r–218v) Psalter, followed by canticles, ending imperfectly in the fifth of the usual six. 

19th-century blind-tooled polished leather (rebacked). 

A rare survival of a fine, if modest, and substantially complete Sarum Breviary of great research potential.

This record of the daily liturgy that would have been followed by priests across England in the late 14th century was apparently used in the Bury St Edmunds area and is one of only around 20 from East Anglia known to exist today.

Recent research into the Sarum Use begun by scholars such as Richard Pfaff has moved away from the idea that a liturgical uniformity prevailed across England 'the variation among those books [Missals and Breviaries] nominally classed as of the Sarum rite is enormous'. Sherry L. Reames' detailed exploration, Saints' Legends in Medieval Sarum Breviaries, Catalogue and Studies (2021), highlights the many differences in Sarum Breviaries and provides a catalogue of the 80 or so in total that now remain (the present manuscript is unknown to her). 

In a soon to be published review of Reames' work by Prof. Nigel Morgan he explains that 'the early [printed] editions came to be viewed as standard, whereas even the most cursory examination of any fourteenth or fifteenth century manuscript Breviary or Missal reveals multiple textual divergences from them, with the inevitable conclusion that no closely regulated liturgical uniformity of the Sarum Use ever existed'. 

The Breviaries recorded by Reames that can be localised to the Use of Sarum/Norwich or Sarum/Ely, although not necessarily produced there, are held at the British Library (BL Add.17002 & Add. 59862, Cotton Jul.B.VII (not in Reames), Harley 2785 & Stowe 12), Cambridge (UL Add. 3474, Clare Kk.3.7 (now G.3.24), Gonville & Caius 394/614), Durham (UL Cosin V.i.3), Oxford ( fragment), Norwich Castle Museum (Helmingham Hall Lib.18), Frankfurt (Stadtbib. lat.oct.97), plus a small number that have appeared in the antiquarian book trade such as ours. 

Earlier manuscript versions has already been made obsolete by the late 15th and early 16th centuries with the advent of printed Sarum Breviaries, more than forty editions of which were published between 1475 and 1556. Of those that remained, the Reformation and the continued implementation of 1549 Act of Uniformity as the 16th century wore on brought the wholesale destruction of Catholic service books. Thereafter they survived only among recusant families and antiquarians as is the case here.


1. The the feast of Anne (26 July), introduced in 1383, is present, while the feasts of Sts David (1 March), Chad (2 March), and Winifred (3 Nov.), introduced in 1391, were omitted by the original scribe and added later.

2. Other additions to the calendar of Norwich synodal feasts (for which see Medieval Art in East Anglia, 1300–1520, ed. by P. Lasko and N. J. Morgan (Norwich, 1973), nos. 40, 48, etc.), suggest that the manuscript was used at or near Bury St Edmunds by the 15th century: Felix of Dunwich ‘sinodal.’ (8 Mar.), the Translation of Edmund (29 Apr.), Dominic (5 Aug.), Thomas of Hereford (2 Oct.), and the Translation of St Nicholas (9 May) of which Nicholas Rogers writes, "when found in a Norwich diocesan calendar, almost invariably indicates a Bury connection" (‘Fitzwilliam Museum MS 3-1979: A Bury St Edmunds Book of Hours and the Origins of The Bury Style’, in England in the Fifteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1986 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. by D. Williams (Woodbridge, 1987), pp. 229–43, at 231). Another East Anglian addition is Etheldreda of Ely (17 Oct.).

3. The feasts of Thomas Becket have not been erased from the calendar. suggesting that the book was in recusant hands at the Reformation.

4. A few marginal inscriptions include ‘William H[...]’ (f.1r), ‘John Robinson ye owner Memento mori 1743’ and ‘Jacobus Harrisone’ (f.185r).

5. Sotheby's 14 July 1981, lot 96 bought by Alan Thomas.

6. Sotheby’s 17 December 1991, lot 68 bought by the Schuster Gallery; acquired from them by the most recent private owner in 1993. Accompanied by his typescript description noting that there are 1,628 small blue flourished initials. 

7. Sold by his descendants at Sotheby's 19 July 2022, lot 14.

The first and last pages dirty, extremities of decoration occasionally cropped at the upper edge and with a few other minor defects, but overall in good condition.

Ref: Sherry L. Reames, Saints' Legends in Mediaeval Sarum Breviaries. Catalogue and Studies, York Medieval Press, Boydell and Brewer Ltd. (2021). Professor Nigel Morgan's as yet unpublished review sent by private correspondence..

Stock Code: 246204

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