Manuscript N.24

In the second of a new series of short articles exploring images from around the University, we look at the 15th-century prayer book owned by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII and foundress of St John’s College.

What is it?

Lady Margaret's Prayer Book (MS N.24) is an illuminated Book of Hours, a devotional work containing calendar and prayers. Its form of service comes from the diocese of Coutances in Normandy. Its decoration is typical of one of the great manuscript illustrators of the age, the Falstof Master (active c. 1415-1450). Miniatures precede each main section of text, surrounded by finely decorated borders: gold leaves interpersed with fruit and flowers.

Why is it so special/ what is the story?

The book is very special to the College as it was owned by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII, and foundress of St John's College.

Portraits of Lady Margaret typically depict her kneeling in front of a lectern bearing this manuscript, her personal devotional book. The inscription in her hand begins:

'my good lady Shyrley pray for me'

This opening encapsulates key aspects of the early College's life: scholarship and prayer. Their foundress asks that prayers be said for her, as they still are today, while St John is shown at work writing his gospel, watched by his eagle.

Can we see it?

The manuscript will be just one of the treasures of the Library on display during Open Cambridge. The Library is open to the general public from 10am-4pm on Saturday 10 September. Bookable tours are being run on Friday 9 September.

Want to know more?

A description of the manuscript from M.R. James' catalogue, together with reproductions of many of its wonderful images can be found on the Library's website at:

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