Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 11 May 2020

The Rutland Psalter and the Lacy family

By a fortuitous chance I came across a blog post from the British Library about the Rutland Psalter which it acquired in 1983 from the estate of the ninth Duke of Rutland, whose family had owned it since at least 1825.

The Psalter is arranged for the Sarum Use and is thought to have been made in London in the years 1250-60. The manuscript delighted William Morris when he saw it in the late nineteenth century. The blog post lays particular emphasis on the characters in the marginalia of the book, an extraordinary collection of vigorous, rumbustious figures blending human and animal forms.

The Psalter also has magnificent large illuminated scenes to illustrate or accompany the text. The BL blog OST can be seen at 2013/05/marginali-yeah-the-fantastical-creatures-of-the-rutland-psalter.html

There is also an insightful introduction to the iconography of Davidic prayer and kingship in the Psalter and the quest for harmony not just in music but in Christian society in another blog post. This also has a very fine series of photographs of pages and details which illustrate and convey the quality of the manuscript. This can all be seen at David's search for harmony - 'The Rutland Psalter'.

The Psalter has passed through many hands, and owners have left inscriptions which help to reconstruct the volume’s travels. In the later fifteenth century it belonged to a Prior of Reading Abbey who bequeathed it to his monastery.

However what particularly caught my eye was the fact that the earliest indication of ownership was the entry in the calendar of the obit in 1258 of Edmund de Lacy. This brought me back in heart and mind to my home town as Edmund had at the core of his estates the Honour and castle of Pontefract.

Born about 1227 he succeeded his father, John, upon his death in 1240, but was a royal ward until he was allowed possession of his inheritance at eighteen. He died in 1258, eight years before his mother whom he would have succeeded as Earl of Lincoln and to its attendant estates in that county. His biography can be seen at Edmund de Lacy, Baron of Pontefract.

His father’s biography is at John de Lacy, 2nd Earl of Lincoln and his mother’s is at Margaret de Quincy, Countess of Lincoln.

Assuming that the first owner of what is now the Rutland Psalter was perhaps, if not probably, Edmund himself, his widow Alicia or his mother Countess Margaret, then it gives us an insight into the cultured, cosmopolitan and affluent world of the Lacies, as well as a glimpse of their artistic patronage and devotional life. In those respects they appear to resemble the oft cited spiritual life of the Bohun family a century or so later as revealed by their surviving prayer books.

The Lacies had connections to the court of that great patron of the arts King Henry III - as a royal ward Edmund had been brought up there as a teenager and he and Alicia had been married at the royal residence at Woodstock in 1247. Alicia herself, coming from Saluzzo, belonged to the extended, and very unpopular, Provencal network associated with Queen Eleanor’s Savoyard relatives.

Edmund’s mother, the formidable Countess Margaret - Countess of Lincoln in her own right and who was to marry the Earl of Pembroke after the death of Edmund’s father, and outlived Edmund himself - was on good terms with the great Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln 1235-53. An intellectual of European stature, a theologian and theoretical scientist, patron of the Franciscans, possible candidate for canonisation, and much more besides, he dedicated Les Reules Seynt Robert, his treatise on estate and household management, to her.

St Richard of Chichester, who died in 1253, and unlike Grosseteste was actually canonised, had been tutor to Edmund, and who, when he founded the Dominican house in Pontefract in 1256, placed it under his patronage.

Edmund’s son Henry, who succeeded his father as a boy and his grandmother as Earl of Lincoln as a teenager in 1266, was as a young man engaged either as a dedicatee or a participant in a tract about going on crusade by the Hertfordshire landowner and writer Walter of Bibbesworth. He went on to serve King Edward I as a military commander in Wales, Gascony and Scotland, and as ambassador to Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. He was in 1311 temporarily regent for the young King Edward II, and saw his daughter and heiress married to that King’s cousin Thomas Earl of Lancaster. As patron Earl Henry helped the Cistercians of the family monastery at Stanlaw - where his father, grandfather and great grandfather were buried - to relocate from an inhospitable site on the Wirral to a new home and ambitious buildings at Whalley in 1296.

The next recorded owner - perhaps through a family connection - of the Psalter was Richard Talbot, second Lord Talbot, who was a well connected and rising figure in the first half of the fourteenth century. His biography can be read at Richard Talbot, 2nd Baron Talbot

The Rutland Psalter is then not just a beautiful manuscript or a repository of entertaining marginalia - it is one of the means of access to the aristocratic culture of mid-thirteenth century England and to the world of the Lacy family.

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