Book of Hours

Book of Hours: Flanders, 15th Century
Gifted in 1943
Rare Books Collection Shelfmark: Ms. 312

Books of Hours were a form of prayer book which became popular in the fifteenth century among the rich and pious. Written and decorated by hand, these manuscripts were produced in large quantities in the area which is now the Netherlands and Belgium, and exported throughout Europe. It is easy to see their appeal: immensely attractive, with fairly standardised content which could be varied according to the preferences, and locality, of the customer. The illustrations and decoration too could be varied in quantity and quality according to the preference, and purse, of the buyer.

These were not books which the University acquired in its earlier days, although they became popular with private collectors. The majority of those in our collections were donated by James Cathcart White.

James Cathcart White (1852-1943) graduated from the University of Edinburgh with an MA in 1873. He was admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1875, and was Father of the Bar when he died, unmarried. A noted bibliophile and book collector, he bequeathed to the University a collection of about 340 volumes which, at the time, was compared to the bequest by David Laing in 1878. It included a number of beautifully illuminated medieval manuscripts (mostly books of hours, French and English, from the 14th and 15th centuries and early printed books on classical and modern literature, law, history, heraldry and medicine.

Further highlights from the gift include the first book printed in Venice, the first Bible printed in Venice, and a unique copy of an Edinburgh printing of Douglas’ “Encouragements for the warres of France” (1627), together with a sum from which an endowment fund has been created for the purchase of further rare books and manuscripts.

Story by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, Rare Books Librarian