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  • The Taymouth Hours: Stories and the Construction of the Self in Late Medieval England by Kathryn A. Smith
  • Judith Weiss
The Taymouth Hours: Stories and the Construction of the Self in Late Medieval England. By Kathryn A. Smith. (London: British Library. Distrib. University of Toronto Press. 2012. Pp. xxii, 310. C$65.00. ISBN 978-0-7123-5869-9.)

The Taymouth Hours (BL Yates Thompson MS 13), a richly illuminated fourteenth-century manuscript, has not received as much attention as it deserves. Its prayers, Calendar, and Latin offices are decorated with miniatures and large initials; however, what is most notable are the pictures at the bottom of nearly every page. These images derive not just from biblical stories, saints’ lives, and moral tales but also from secular pursuits like hunting, and from secular texts like romances. The Taymouth Hours has never before been published in monograph or facsimile form, so it is delightful to view much of it in this book, along with an appendix of contents and a DVD of its images.

Kathryn Smith makes two propositions. Many scholars have focused on who commissioned and/or who owned this work; although she was probably royal, no helpful heraldry in the MS identifies her. Possible candidates have included Isabella of France, Edward II’s queen; Philippa of Hainaut, Edward’s III’s queen; and Joan, Edward’s younger sister, who married David II of Scotland. Smith suggests as owner Eleanor of Woodstock, Edward’s elder sister, who in 1332 married Reinald II, count of Guelders, and further suggests that Philippa commissioned the Hours as a marriage gift for her young sister-in-law.

This suggestion is accompanied by a wealth of detail on Edward III’s court, especially its royal women. Isabella, Philippa, and to a lesser extent Joan were all associated with manuscripts, whether as patrons or owners. Philippa commissioned one Richard of Oxford to illumine two books with Hours of the Virgin. Smith argues that one of these volumes was the Taymouth Hours. What is first put forward as speculation (p. 28) soon hardens into fact: “Richard of Oxford’s work in the Taymouth Hours” (p. 30).

Very little is known of Eleanor of Woodstock. Smith calls her “an enigma,” practically forgotten by historians. Although in her first chapter there is talk of “scholarly conjecture,” “no internal evidence” in the manuscript, and Eleanor’s “putative ownership,” Smith’s last line in it makes it clear she firmly believes her candidate owned the Taymouth Hours. [End Page 157]

Indeed, this assumption is repeated in every chapter; speculation becomes fact, leading to some improbable conclusions. Although Smith repeatedly raises the important question of what connections exist between the texts in the manuscript and the secular images below them, her persistent linking of Eleanor to the images is unconvincing. She explains the scenes taken from the romances of Bevis of Hampton and Guy of Warwick (neither of which should be described as “cycles”) as appropriate to Eleanor, about to leave for a foreign land: the pictures of “quintessentially English knights” may have had “patriotic implications … [confirming] her sense of her own Englishness… a comforting reminder of home” (p. 77). A sweeping generalization asserts that “in most chivalric romances the objects of the heroes’ romantic aspirations are women of superior social station,” thus appropriate to Reinald and Eleanor. This ignores the fact that the Anglo-Norman Boeve (whom people in Edward’s court may have known as well or better than the hero of the later English romance) is neither “quintessentially English” nor “aspires” to his mistress; on the contrary she woos him, and he at first rejects her out of hand—princess or not, she is a pagan. The final image, of St. Christopher and the Christ-child, is again forcibly yoked to Eleanor’s “journey across the sea to commence a new life in a foreign land.” Christopher is, of course, neither a traveler to a foreign land nor starting a new life (except in the spiritual sense).

The whole book, including its bibliography, is full of deplorable typographical errors and inconsistencies. The most egregious examples are in chapter 2, where around page 75 text and notes confusingly...


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