Of exceptional richness, the present manuscript bears unusually extensive evidence concerning its original owner, probably Richard Newton of Newton, Cheshire, who appears four times in the volume, once with a rebus that reveals his identity. This manuscript survives as an excellent example of what must have happened frequently:  a wealthy, landed gentleman from the countryside special-ordered a manuscript from a London bookseller who in turn passed on the directions to a supplier in Bruges.  From the workshop of Willem Vrelant, our illuminator – identified as the Mildmay Master – frequently carried out commissions in Bruges for export to England.   He is even named for one such book.  Richly illuminated, the Newton Hours has sixty-two miniatures, of which forty-four are full-page, eight are half-page, and ten are historiated initials, along with numerous illuminated and burnished gold initials.  Its intimate scale, fitting neatly in the hand, underscores its special, highly personalized devotional nature.
449 pp (paginated in ink, collation impracticable), written in dark brown ink in a small rounded gothic bookhand on 16 long lines (justification 50 x 34 mm.), lightly ruled, rubrics in purplish red, versal initials throughout in blue or burnished gold with penwork in red or black, 2-line initials in blue or burnished gold with penwork, 62 MINIATURES, 44 FULL-PAGE, EIGHT HALF-PAGE, 10 HISTORIATED INITIALS, with narrow burnished gold frames and full borders of acanthus and small colored flowers and strawberries with tiny gold besants.  Binding in the seventeenth century, marbled Havana calf, glazed, spine with 4 raised bands, front and rear cover gilt with ornate caissons with small irons, roulette and double gilt lines framing the outer edges (corners a bit battered, partially split), miniatures showing evidence of use, generally in very good condition.  Dimensions 92 x 74 mm. (113 x 83 x 49 mm. binding included).


1. Peter Kidd has cleverly (and we believe accurately) identified a marginal image accompanying the first miniature that depicts the owner in prayer (p. 26, fig. 1).  In the lower margin, a sheep, marked with the letter ‘N’, suckles its lambs, perched on a barrel. These motifs make up a rebus – a form of riddle or puzzle composed of letters, pictures, and symbols to depict words, phrases, or names – otherwise attested in several English manuscripts, as well as in finger-rings, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The letter ‘N’, the sheep (“ewe,” in Old English) and the barrel (“tun”), thus suggest the surname “Newton” (“N + ewe + tun”).

The decorative cycle (there is no calendar) gives particular importance to St. Erkenwald of London, St. Edward the Confessor of Westminster, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and St. John of Beverley (figs. 2 and 3).  The image of St. Erkenwald, who was the bishop of London in the seventh century, is extraordinary, and to the best of our knowledge unprecedented.  It depicts the saint on the towers of a burning church within the walls of a city conspicuously labeled “Londinium.”  This must refer to the fire in 1087 of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which miraculously spared Erkenwald’s relics, eventually to be removed from the crypt and installed on the high altar, where they were constantly enriched by donors through the fifteenth century. While Saints Erkenwald, Edward the Confessor, and Thomas of Canterbury would seem to point to an origin in London for our manuscript, the unusual presence of both a prayer to and image of St. John of Beverley, an eighth-century bishop of York, suggests the north of England.

So, who was Mr. Newton, the patron of our manuscript?  The Newton family is from a northern county, Cheshire, not London.  Our hypothesis is that he is Richard Newton of Cheshire (b. 14 March 1442; died 1497), who was married to Jane Lowe (died 1498) of Denby in Derbyshire.  Jane was from a family of means as the daughter of Geoffrey del Lowe of Macclesfield.  Richard was the eldest son and heir of Oliver Newton, who died of the plague in 1452.  He was a significant landowner in Cheshire and played a prominent role in local affairs. He was sworn many times on civil juries, sometimes on grand juries, was the collector of subsidy for the Macclesfield hundred, and held local offices in Cheshire, from which he was eventually exempted in 1494. The couple had at least six children, but only one son, Humphrey (1466-1536), who is much better known than his father and who became the sole heir of the Newton estates, married well, and accumulated additional wealth in lands.  Humphrey became a writer of some renown, his work surviving in manuscripts (e.g., especially, his Capesthorne Commonplace Book, Bodleian Library, Lat. misc c. 66), and it is thanks to studies on Humphrey’s writings that we have some limited information about the Newton family.  The Newtons were well-educated landed gentry of substantial means (Humphrey knew both Latin and English).  Association with the Newton family may help explain the presence of the bishop John of Beverley of York, since the county of York bordered just to the northeast Cheshire (Richard) and Derbyshire (Jane). (We are grateful to Hanno Wijsman for suggesting other avenues of research.  For example, he suggests that the arms might be original and could be those of another Newton family http://cheshire-heraldry.org.uk/vale_Royal/VRE19.html.  The appearance of Catherine four times raises the possibility that the patron was married to Catherine and, because the patron kneels before Thomas and John on p. 21, he might be named John.  These alternative identifications remain hyptothetical and do not change the basic premises of production and patronage).

The patron is depicted four times in the manuscript, which is quite unusual (see below, Illustration, for a full description of these miniatures, pp. 26, 32, 46, and 368, figs. 1, 4, 5 and 6).   In each instance he is in prayer, and these are not prayers of adoration (e.g., to the Virgin), but of contrition – in confession, fighting temptation, begging for final peace in death.  His dress confirms his status as a wealthy landowner; he wears a tunic with a cinched waist, a flared skirt with pleats that tops right below the buttocks and puffed shoulders.  With his black hose, he wears pointed shoes.  On the ground in the first miniature (p. 26) are two hats, the red one worn first, and a fur one over that (what appears to be a hat badge or pilgrim’s badge is pinned or sewn to the fur hat).   In the fourth miniature (p. 368) only the fur hat rests on the ground.  He has a dagger and a purse. A date in the early 1460s is wholly consistent with this dress (we thank Roger Wieck for confirmation of this detail).  Depicted as still a young man in the miniatures, Richard Newton would have been in his early twenties.

The rebus for “Newton” fits a pattern of identification of the English gentry (those without arms of nobility).  Other medieval manuscripts whose owners are revealed by pictorial puzzles include Roman de la Rose for the Stoughton family (British Library, Harley MS f. 45v-46) with a fish and a stock in a barrel.  A Book of Hours belonging to Richard Shearman reveals the owner’s identity with the letters ‘ry,’ a cart, a letter ‘d’, a pair of shears and a man (British Library, Royal MS 2 A XVII)(fig. 7).  Similar word play occurs on gold signet rings of the period:  an eagle above a barrel for Egleton, a hop-fruit and barrel for Hopton, and a key and a bell for Keble (Oman, 1974).  We can tie the use of the insignia of the barrel directly to the Newton family through Humphrey. A stained glass window donated by Humphrey Newton in the Jesus chapel at the north chancel of the church of St. Bartholomew in Wilmslow, where Newton family members were buried, includes his personal insignia, a barrel or ton (tun).  His effigy is in the same church is in the middle of three tons with the inscription, “Newton [father], Milton [grandmother] and Phiton [wife] To which I am heir.”

2. At a later, unknown date, the manuscript traveled to France, when it was evidently in possession of the Norman family, the Doulcet family of Pontecoulant.  Their coat-of-arms (silver ecu with the sand cross, fleurdelisee d’or) is added in the lower margin beneath the miniature of St. George (p. 57).  Close inspection reveals that the shield is painted differently and that it partially covers at its edges the floral and foliate border, which appears to be partially erased.  Thus, the shield appears to be a later addition. The Doulcet family, originally from Savoy, was established in Lower Normandy at the end of the fourteenth century (Rietstap 1861, p. 559). See Laillier 2004 for a full genealogy of the family.

3. Collection Jean-Baptiste-Florentin-Gabriel de Meyran, marquis de Lagoy (1764-1829), by descent. Nephew and executor of the will of the Marquis de Méjanes, whose collection constituted the first collection of the public library of Aix-en-Provence, the Marquis de Lagoy distinguished himself mainly by his collection of Old Master drawings.


The manuscript includes an unusually lengthy collection of prayers in memory of the saints introducing and interspersed with the Hours of the Virgin and a set of penitential prayers.

English influence is clearly perceptible in the choice of saints commemorated and represented, such as St. George (pp. 57-60), St. Erkenwald of London (pp. 66-68), St. Thomas of Canterbury (pp. 94-98), St. Edward the Confessor (pp. 114-116) and St. John of Beverley (pp. 144-146).  The textual use of Sarum (“secundum consuetudinem Anglie”) for the Hours of the Virgin (pp. 205-247) confirms the English origin of the owner.

pp. 5-24, Fifteen “O”s of St. Bridget of Sweden;

pp. 25-31, Prayer for confession;

pp. 33-36, Prayer of blessing to be recited at night;                                                                                     

pp. 37-44, Prayer to the Trinity, through the intercession of the holy apostles and martyrs, to be recited at sunrise 

pp. 47-49, Prayer in memory of the holy guardian angel;

pp. 53-54, Prayer to the holy Archangel Gabriel;

pp. 57-60, Prayer to St. George;

pp. 63-64, Prayer to St. Julian the Hospitaller;

pp. 67-68, Prayer to St. Erkenwald, seventh-century Bishop of London; 

pp. 71-77, Prayer in the Holy Name of Christ; 

pp. 79-82, Verses of St. Bernard of Clairvaux; 

pp. 85-86, Prayer to St. Bernardine of Siena; 

pp. 89-92, Prayer to St. John the Evangelist; 

pp. 95-98, Prayer to St. Thomas of Canterbury; 

pp. 101-106, Prayer to St. Nicholas of Myra;

pp. 109-113, Prayer to St. Erasmus;                                                                          

pp. 115-116, Prayer to St. Edward the Confessor; 

pp. 119-122, Prayer to St. Christopher; 

pp. 125-130, Prayer to St. John the Baptist; 

pp. 133-136, Prayer to the Holy Apostle Peter; 

pp. 139-141, Prayer to the Archangel Michael;

pp. 145-146, Prayer to St. John of Beverley, eight-century Bishop of York; 

pp. 147-152, Prayer to the Holy Ghost; 

pp. 153-157, Prayer to Christ; 

pp. 159-170, Prayer to All Saints;

pp. 173-174, Prayer to St. Anne;

pp. 177-183, Prayer to St. Catherine of Alexandria;

pp. 185-188, Prayer to Saint Apollonia;

pp. 191-193, Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene;

pp. 195-196, Prayer to Saint Barbara;

pp. 197-199, Prayer to Saint Margaret of Antioch;

pp. 201-202, Prayer to Saint Dorothy;

pp. 205-247, Hours of the Virgin according to the secundum use Anglicae, Matins and Lauds;

p. 248, Prayer to the Holy Trinity;

pp. 249-250, Prayer at the Cross;

pp. 250-251, Prayer to St. Michael;

pp. 251-252, Prayer to St. John the Baptist;

pp. 252-253, Prayer to Saints Peter and Paul;

pp. 254-255, Prayer to St. Andrew;

pp. 255-256, Prayer to St. Stephen;

pp. 256-257, Prayer to St. Lawrence;

pp. 257-258, Prayer to St. Thomas of Canterbury;

pp. 258-259, Prayer to St. Nicholas of Myra;

pp. 259-260, Prayer to St. Mary Magdalene;

pp. 261-262, Prayer to St. Catherine;

pp. 262-263, Prayer to St. Margaret;

pp. 263-264, Prayer to All Saints;

pp. 264-269, Prayer for peace;

pp. 271-335, Hours of the Virgin, Prime (pp. 271-282); Terce (pp. 283-292); Sext (pp. 295-302); None (pp. 303-310); Vespers (pp. 313-319); Compline (pp. 321-335);

pp. 339-362, Prayer to the Virgin “Gaude, flore virginali”; [five folios, two of which were illustrated with scenes from the Passion, were cut out and reassembled at pp. 312 and 320];

pp. 369-371, Prayer for all the faithful departed;

pp. 373-386, Prayers for those in a state of mortal sin, or in a great tribulation;

pp. 389-422, Seven Penitential Psalms, each followed by its own prayer;

pp. 422-449, Psalms interspersed with the litanies of the saints, followed by prayers for absolution and the salvation of souls.


Sixty-two miniatures make up the decoration of this manuscript.  Forty-four full page miniatures (52 x 35 mm.) introduce the different sections of the text.  Eight half page miniatures (32 x 36 mm.) introduce the different sections of the Hours of the Virgin, juxtaposing moments in the Passion narrative with scenes from the Infancy cycle. Ten historiated initials depicting the commemorated saints introduce the brief prayers inserted after Lauds of the Hours of the Virgin.

p. 2, The Raising of Lazarus (perhaps out of place and with no text);

p. 4, St. Jerome, in cardinal habit, translating the Vulgate;

p. 26, the patron kneeling in prayer before the Trinity surrounded by St. Thomas Beckett and St. John the Evangelist, accompanied by a phylactery containing the inscription Peccavi tibi fugeavi nisi ad te Deus (“I have sinned against you, I have fled only to you, O God”); in the lower margin, the rebus (see Provenance) accompanied by a phylactery containing the inscription Omnis spiritus laudet Dominum ("Let every spirit praise the Lord", Ps. 150, 1);

p. 32, the patron lying in bed, recites a prayer before night; his cloths are strewn on the bed, in front of a dying fire, and on the canopy of the bed, an image of the Holy Face faces the bust of Christ that appears in the cloud, above the golden railing of the window;

 p. 46, the patron, guided by an angel, fights the temptations of a hairy demon; the phylactery that issues from his mouth reads Victor, custodi me (“O Victorious, keep me”);

p. 52, the archangel Gabriel, holding a phylactery with the greeting to the Virgin Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta (“Salvation, full of grace, the Lord is with you, you are blessed”);

p. 57, St. George in armor, on horseback, slaying the dragon; in the distance stands the daughter of the king of Libya, in front of two fortified cities, and in the lower margin, the added arms of the Doulct family;

p. 62, Saint Julian the Hospitaller, at the helm of a ship, and his wife with a lantern, take a poor man across the river, in the guise of Christ;

p. 66, St. Erkenwald, Bishop of London, whose relics were miraculously spared by the fire that ravaged St. Paul's Cathedral in 1087. The miniature features an astonishing depiction of the burning city of London (labeled Londinium), protected by the saint blessing atop a belfry;

p. 70, the Transfiguration, depicting Christ between Moses and Elijah, and the apostles Peter, James and John stunned;

p. 78, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux treading the demon he holds in chains; 

p. 84, Saint Bernardine of Siena, bearing the monogram IHS haloed with rays, declines the bishoprics of Siena, Ferrara and Urbino whose miters rest at his feet;

p. 88, St. John the Evangelist, on the island of Patmos, receives from an angel the revelation of the Apocalypse, while a demon overthrows his inkwell from which he blackens the waves of the sea;

p. 94, St. Thomas of Canterbury is murdered by three soldiers under the gaze of King Henry II while celebrating Mass;

p. 100, St. Nicholas resurrecting the three children;

p. 108, martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, eviscerated before Emperor Maximian Hercules;

p. 114, St. Edmund, King of England, giving his ring to St. John the Evangelist, who appears to him in the guise of a pilgrim.

p. 118, St. Christopher, carrying Christ, crosses a tumultuous river overlooked by the hermitage of a Cistercian monk;

p. 124, St. John the Baptist, showing the Lamb of God that he wears on the closed binding of a gospel;

p. 132, St. Peter, dressed in papal ornaments and holding the patriarchal cross;

p.  138, The Archangel Michael, weighing a soul, while a demon clings to his scale;

p. 144, St. John of Beverley receiving from King Athelstan the foundation charter of his monastery;

p. 158, crowd of saints under the gaze of the Trinity, including the Virgin and Child, Saint Peter, King David, Saint George and Saint Francis of Assisi;

p. 172: St. Anne, reading the Scriptures, in the company of the Virgin teaching Christ as a child;

p. 176, martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria;

p. 184, Saint Apollonia holding the instrument of her torture;

p. 190, Saint Mary Magdalene;

p. 194, Saint Barbara;

p. 200, Saint Dorothy;

p. 204, Christ in prayer in Gethsemane;

p. 226, the Arrest of Christ;

p. 227, the Visitation;

p. 247, [historiated initial], the dove of the Holy Spirit

p. 248, [historiated initial], Throne of grace, God the Father supporting the dead Christ;

p. 249, [historiated initial], The Crucifixion;

p. 250, [historiated initial], the archangel Michael; 

p. 251, [historiated initial], St. John the Baptist;

p. 252: [historiated letter], Saints Peter and Paul;

p.  254, [historiated initial], Saint Andrew;

p. 255, [historiated initial], St. Stephen;

p. 256, [historiated initial], Saint Lawrence; 

p. 257, [historiated initial], St. Thomas of Canterbury;

p. 258, Saint Nicholas of Myra;

p. 259, Saint Mary Magdalene; 

p. 261, Saint Catherine of Alexandria;

p. 262, Saint Margaret of Antioch coming out of the belly of the dragon;

p. 263, group of saints, including an abbot and a monk;

p. 264, a crowd in prayer, led by a bishop, at the feet of Christ;

p. 270, the Appearance of Christ before Herod;

p. 271, the Nativity;

p. 284, the Flagellation;

p. 285, the Annunciation to the Shepherds;

p. 294, the Carrying of the Cross;

p. 295, the Adoration of the Magi;

p. 303, the Presentation in the Temple;

p. 312, the Descent from the Cross;

p. 313, the Massacre of the Innocents;

p. 320, the Entombment;

p. 321, The Flight into Egypt;

p. 338, the nursing Virgin, to whom an angel extends the hand of righteousness;

p. 366, Christ put on the cross;

p. 368, the patron, kneeling in the margin, praying for the rest of souls, in front of a cemetery from which the deceased come out of the ground; the phylactery that accompanies it reads Requiescant in pace supplico te, Iesu, Amen (“Let them rest in peace, I beg you, O Jesus, Amen”);

p. 388, the Virgin and Saint John in prayer before Christ of the end times, the dead coming out of the earth.

The miniatures in the Newton Hours and Prayer Book are attributed to the Mildmay Master, who specialized in Books of Hours for the continental and English market.  Nicholas Rogers gave the artist his name in 1982 after a lavish Book of Hours, also produced for the export market, which includes notes of the family of “Sir Thomas Myldmaye, knight” whose relatives were later connected with the court of Elizabeth I (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS Case 35; also Saenger 1989) (fig. 8a, 8b)  The Mildmay Master worked in the style of his contemporary Willem Vrelant of Bruges (arrived in Bruges in 1454; died 1480/1481), who, while maintaining a workshop, may also have functioned as a sort of libraire or stationer, assembling artists, scribes, decorators, and binders for diverse commissions.  The deep reds and blues and the wide palette of greens are all typical of Vrelant and his associates and followers, and many of the compositions repeat Vrelant’s well-known patterns.

Extraordinarily productive, the Mildmay Master favored figures with markedly blushed cheeks and women and young men with slightly pointed chins.  His intimate miniatures evoke Bruges painting of the day, especially those of Hans Memling, the Annunciation, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Last Judgment (fig. 9).  In our manuscript, the artist paid special attention to the depiction of the handsome young patron, who is remarkably individualized, with a rounded face, long rounded nose, small graceful hands and torso.  From miniature to miniature, we can be sure that the same person is depicted, even when he has haphazardly discarded his clothing to get into bed and pray (p. 32).  This group of donor miniatures, as well as exceptional images such as St. Erkenwald, raises questions about the practicalities of manuscript production:  how did an artist in Bruges get specific instructions to enable him/ her to paint a highly personalized Book of Hours for a patron in Cheshire?  This small manuscript remains one of the most richly illuminated and one of the most personalized within the artist’s oeuvre and will certainly be at the center of attempts to answer this question. 

Our manuscript joins an ever-growing group of manuscripts in the Vrelant circle, which has become a kind of “catch-all” for manuscript illumination in Bruges in the third quarter of the fifteenth century (see exhibition Brussels and Paris, 2011, p. 242). In 2011, Bousmanne and Delcourt proposed an alternative to the complex commercial operation; they hypothesized the existence of a small family structure, in which anonymous hands, such as the Master of the Vraie Cronicque descose, were members of Vrelant’s family.  Vrelant’s widow Marie (the Master of the Vraie Cronicque descose?), for example, continued to pay dues to the guild in Bruges until 1490-1491.  The place of the Mildmay Master – whether a member of the family or part of a commercial network – with his/ her appealing colorful style in this “Vrelant” group has yet to be sorted out satisfactorily.

We are grateful to Gregory Clark, Peter Kidd, and Roger Wieck.


Unpublished; see

On the heraldry :

Chaix d'Est-Ange G., Dictionnaire des familles françaises anciens ou notables à la fin du XIXe siècle, XIV, Évreux, 1915.

de Pontécoulant Louis-Gustave Doulcet, Souvenirs historiques et parlementaires du comte de Pontécoulant, ancien pair de France, Paris, 1861-1865.

de Normandie 54 2-3, 2004. J.-B. Rietstap, Armorial général d'Europe, Gouda, 1861.

On the Newton family:

Youngs, Deborah.  Humphrey Newton (1466-1536):  An Early Tudor Gentleman, Boydell and Brewer, 2008.

Robbins, Russell Hope, “The Poems of Humpfrey Newton, Esquire (1466-1536),” PMLA 65 (1950), pp. 249-281.

On the Mildmay Master:

Rogers, Nicholas.  “Books of Hours Produced in the Low Countries for the English Market,” M. Litt. Diss. University of Cambridge, 1982.

Saenger, Paul.  Catalogue of the Pre-1500 Western Manuscript Books at the Newberry Library, Chicago, 1989.

[Exhibition] Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium, and Paris, BnF, Miniatures flamandes 1404-1482, Brussels and Paris, 2011 (catalogue by B. Bousmanne and T. Delcourt)

On the use of Rebuses:

Oman, Charles.  British Rings 800-1974, London 1974.

Online Resources:

The Capesthorne Manuscript:  the Commonplace Book of Humphrey Newton


Royan MS 2 A XVII, rebus https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=5758

Harley MS 7333, rebus mhttps://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=23300

On the Mildmay Hours, Chicago, Newberry Library Case MS 35 https://www.newberry.org/english-medieval-book-hours

and digital reproduction https://collections.carli.illinois.edu/digital/collection/nby_dig/id/2504/

BOH 218

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