- The Taymouth Hours: Stories and the Construction of the Self in Late Medieval England by Kathryn A. Smith
The Taymouth Hours (London, British Library, Yates Thompson MS 13) is an English manuscript best known for its juxtapositions. Latin and vernacular languages and traditions, prayers and narratives presented in word and image, and visual expressions of sacred and secular power all proclaim the manuscript’s great interpretive potential. Previous scholarship has tended either towards the comprehensive cataloguing of the manuscript’s textual and pictorial contents or towards more focused interpretations of particular idiosyncracies. The manuscript continues to tantalize scholars with the promise of insights into medieval reading and devotional practices as well as networks of manuscript patronage and ownership within the royal circles of early fourteenth-century England. Kathryn Smith takes up all of these gauntlets in this ambitious monograph, the first study of this length dedicated to the Taymouth Hours. Here she newly postulates the manuscript’s patron and intended recipient and uncovers how the Taymouth Hours might have participated in and specifically shaped its owner’s construction of self.
Smith first addresses questions of the book’s commission, production, and ownership, building a convincing argument in her first chapter for the identities of both its patron and its intended recipient. She positions this significant piece of scholarship as fundamental to the discussion of the next three chapters, all of which explore the implications of the book’s illustrative and textual programs as reflective and even constructive of the identity of the manuscript’s putative owner. Taking as her point of departure prevalent medieval metaphors identifying the book with the self, and specifically as a mirror of the self, Smith proposes in her introduction that “the later medieval one-off illustrated devotional book” could have furnished “a mirror that reflected and mediated [End Page 336] both the inner and outward dimensions of its owner’s personhood—her conscience, values and ambitions, her habits of thought, feeling and response, her conduct, and her sense of social and spiritual place” (3–4).
Smith proposes in her first chapter that the person thus reflected in the Taymouth Hours is Eleanor of Woodstock. Meticulous research and thoughtful analysis of the manuscript’s owner portraits support Smith’s argument that the book was commissioned c. 1331 as a gift for the princess by her sister-in-law and guardian, Philippa of Hainault, on the occasion of the betrothal of Eleanor to Reinald II, count of Guelders. Though other royal female patrons and recipients have been proposed for the Taymouth Hours—notably Isabella of France as potential patron or recipient and Philippa of Hainault or Eleanor’s sister, Joan of the Tower, as potential recipients—Smith makes a solid case for Philippa as patron and Eleanor as recipient. She harmonizes detailed accounts of Eleanor’s betrothal and departure for the Continent and evidence from royal documents with the manuscript’s pictorial and textual contents and what is known about the book’s production. Smith is careful not to overstate her case— she acknowledges not only the conjectural nature of her argument for Eleanor’s ownership, but also the fact that, were this book indeed for Eleanor, there is no evidence that she ever received or used it. Yet the manuscript still rewards a reading in light of its possible affiliations to Philippa and Eleanor, she concludes. Implicit in this chapter—though more explicit in the book’s afterword—is that these proposed affiliations also complicate prevalent assumptions regarding the public roles and priorities adopted by these two royal women.
In the three chapters that follow, Smith conducts a detailed investigation of the manuscript’s texts and copious illuminations with an eye to their particular resonance with Eleanor’s spiritual and worldly experience. She proceeds in linear fashion from the book’s beginning to its end, dividing her analysis according to transitions in the texts and bas-de-page narratives and teasing out thematic concerns within or across these textual and visual sections. The first of these chapters hones...