St John’s Printed Manuscript

by Petra Hofmann (College Librarian)

Enchiridion preclare ecclesie Sarum

St John’s College holds a remarkable 16th-century book of hours (Use of Salisbury) printed by Germain Hardouyn in Paris in 1530 with the title Enchiridion preclare ecclesie Sarum. The volume is full of decorative features (borders with floral motifs on gold, initials in various colours) and colourful illustrations, most of them inside golden architectural frames. The main text is in Latin while the captions underneath the full-page illustrations are in English.

Figure 1: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, fols 14v-15r
Figure 2: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, fols 81v-82r

Books of hours were a popular type of Christian devotional books. They were developed for devout laity, possibly women in particular, to guide them through their daily prayers. They were so widespread especially during the late Middle Ages, that books of hours are now ‘the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript’ (‘Book of Hours’ 2022). The books include sections from a more or less fixed set of texts, namely a calendar, canonical hours (such as Hours of the Virgin), Psalms, Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages (Funderburg 2021). There are some local variations, called Use. In England, the Use of Salisbury (Sarum) was widespread.

Many, if not most, books of hours were high-end luxury items with incredible displays of decorations and illuminations. Towards the end of the medieval period, many were commissioned by members of the nobility or wealthy merchants. Arguably the most famous surviving book of hours is the early 15th-century Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (accessible online at   

Print? Manuscript? Hybrid?

We are often so used to think in specific categories that we can be flummoxed when confronted with something that just does not fit neatly into a category.  At first sight, it is easy to mistake our little volume for a late medieval manuscript, which would have been entirely written and decorated by hand. The font looks vaguely similar to some Gothic scripts. The text includes decorated initials and the typical abbreviations used by medieval scribes. Yet, looking closely across the pages, you can see that the text is too regular for handwriting and some letters show the typical signs of a printing ink having not quite attached to the surface.

Figure 3: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, fol. 14v, detail

Printed books of hours used metalcuts or woodcuts to incorporate illustrations. Often these were later coloured by hand. Whether this is the case in our little volume, too, will be discussed later. A degree of similarity to late medieval books of hours was unavoidable for a highly illustrated and coloured printed book of hours. There is, however, a clear indication that the similarity with medieval manuscripts was deliberately sought: the addition of faint ruling in red. In manuscripts, ruling was fundamental for determining overall page layouts and helping scribes to write in straight lines. It was usually the first feature to be put on parchment (or paper) before the first word was even written. In printing, however, the page layout is created inside the tray that holds the movable types and any other printable (or indeed non-printable) elements in the desired layout. In other words, the ruling known from manuscripts was utterly superfluous for printed volumes. When used in printing, it was a purely decorative element applied to hark back to manuscripts of previous decades and centuries.

There are indications that the ruling in our volume was applied as one of the last elements. On folio 106v (Figure 4), for example, the red ruling cannot be seen where it ‘collides’ with the black print ink. Yet, looking at the gold border, the ruling is clearly visible. The same can be observed on folio 166v (Figure 5), but here the ruling stops short of going through the round miniature.

Figure 4: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, fol. 106v, detail
Figure 5: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, fol. 166v, detail

I will return to the question when exactly the ruling may have been applied later on.

Even with the volume in one’s hand, the reader is still easily fooled into thinking they are holding a manuscript because the book was printed on parchment instead of paper. The history of books is often oversimplified by associating parchment with medieval manuscripts and paper with modern printed books. While it is true that cheaper (and less-labour intensive) paper was used for the vast majority of printed books, even incunabula (books printed before 1501), there are many examples of medieval paper manuscripts and also a notable number of books printed on parchment. St John’s College, for instance, holds two other volumes printed on parchment, a copy of Fust and Schoeffer’s 1465 edition of Cicero’s De officiis and a copy of the polyglot Genoa Psalter from 1516. Like a sophisticated, high-quality decorative programme, the use of parchment in printing is a clear sign of a luxury item.

The Hardouyn Brothers

Our book is the product of masters in their trade. The Hardouyn (also Hardouin) brothers, Gillet (or Gilles) and Germain, were expert book printers specialising in the production of books of hours. ‘Of the 100 Latin editions printed by Gilles and Germain between 1499 and 1541 only two were not books of hours’ (Mullins 2013, p. 140). Religious books like missals, breviaries, and books of hours were the lifeblood of the Parisian book market at the time and Paris was also a major exporter of these books (Mullins 2013, p. 126). Although the Hardouyns were renowned for delivering high quality, it is fair to say they essentially kept printing the same books by issuing reprints of earlier editions (Mullins 2013, p. 141). They printed books of hours (Use of Rome) in 89 editions (Mullins 2013, p. 140) in contrast to the three editions of the Use of Salisbury in 1528, 1530, and 1533. St John’s volume was thus part of a minor sideline of the Hardouyns’ business. The English Short-Title Catalogue lists only seven other surviving copies of the 1530 edition (of which one happens to be next door in the Bodleian). The Bibliographie des éditions parisiennes du 16e siècle lists three additional copies of the 1530 edition held in continental Europe. This makes a total of 11 recorded copies.

The Hardouyns ran an unusual business for the time as they carried out both the printing and the colouring of their high-end products (Mullins 2013, p. 142). It was unusual because more often than not customers purchased uncoloured copies and then separately commissioned illuminators to have the black and white printed illustrations coloured by hand. The exceptional arrangements of the Hardouyns allowed them to use the printing technique to reduce their costs and the handmade decorations to elevate their products to a high standard (Mullins 2013, pp. 141-2).

Most images I have found online of other books of hours (mostly Use of Rome) produced by the Hardouyn brothers were also printed on parchment with coloured illustrations. This initially created the impression that these high-end books were all the Hardouyns produced. Fortunately, it was easy enough to consult another copy of our 1530 Use of Salisbury edition at the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian’s volume, Gough Missals 98, provided a welcome surprise. It was printed on paper, did not include the ‘line ruling’ (only the ‘layout ruling’), and, most strikingly, its metalcut illustrations have never been coloured.

Another notable difference is that the Bodleian’s copy was printed in black and red, which required two printing sequences, one for the text in black and another for the text (or initials) in red; non-printable elements were used in the tray for the areas not to be printed in the respective colours. By contrast, St John’s copy was printed in black only, which required only one printing sequence.

Consulting the Bodleian’s copy certainly answered some questions about the variety of books produced by the Hardouyns. It testifies that they produced books in varying formats, ranging from cheaper paper copies entirely printed and lacking the coloured decorations and illustrations to copies printed on parchment with the illustrations coloured by hand. This difference also provides a clue about the kind of previous ownership that may be presumed for St John’s copy. Only people of considerable social standing and wealth would have purchased the Hardouyns’ high-end books.


Consulting the Bodleian’s copy after having become familiar with St John’s volume felt like looking at a completely different book. The effect of the colour is truly astonishing. Looking beyond that, the Bodleian’s copy still appeared to have slightly different illustrations. One obvious difference is the architectural frames around the illustrations, which look much more elaborate in the Bodleian’s copy than in St John’s copy, which has comparatively simple frames elevated only by the use of gold. Even the illustrations themselves exhibited differences. The battle scene on folio 65v, for example, looks much fiercer and of a grander scale in the more detailed black and white metalcut (Figure 15). The coloured variant (Figure 14) focuses on the scene in the forefront while only hinting at the scale of the battle by showing some helmets and especially lances in the background. This makes it easier for the viewer to comprehend essential action in the foreground. Paradoxically, it also changes the illustration into a calmer scene despite the more prominent depiction of violence perpetrated on one individual.

This ‘simplification’ by focusing on key features when colouring the illustrations can also be observed in many other instances. In most cases, it has an advantageous effect by focusing the viewer’s mind on the essentials, thus making it easier to take in and understand the scene.

Let’s return to the two questions left unanswered above. Firstly, does our volume use underlying metalcuts for the illustrations? The comparison with the Bodleian’s volume helps answering this question. It is very easy to be misled into thinking the illustrations in St John’s copy may have been made entirely by hand, even though they were recognisably modelled on the metalcut illustrations. If you look closely, however, you can see elements of the metalcuts ‘shine through’, as it were. The nativity scene on folio 35r in the Bodleian’s copy has buildings in the background where there is only sky and a field in St John’s copy. Look more closely, however, and you can recognise those buildings very faintly in St John’s copy.

Figure 16: Oxford, St John’s College, fol. 35r, detail

The same effect can be observed in a number of illustrations in St John’s copy.

The assumption that the illustrations in our copy are indeed based on underlying metalcuts is confirmed by the illustration of the bathing Bathsheba on folio 65r, because the colour does not cover all parts of the metalcut underneath in the section of the grass in the forefront. Even the metalcut architectural frame, usually covered up very well, shines through here.

Figure 17 Oxford, St John’s College, fol. 65r, detail

The latter observation provides the answer to the second question left unanswered above: When was the ruling applied, before or after the illustrations were coloured? If the paint could be applied in a manner that provided the illuminator with some degree of variation whether the underlying black print metalcut was covered up by the colour or not, the same is must be true for the fainter red ruling. If we can see it, we are supposed to see it. This means it was applied after the colouring, which emphasises the point made earlier that it was a deliberate decision to make our volume look like a manuscript.   

Finally, it is noteworthy that the decorative borders in St John’s copy appear to have been added freely by hand, as there are no such elements in the otherwise identically printed copy held at the Bodleian.

St John’s copy of Germain Hardouyn’s Enchiridion preclare ecclesie Sarum evades our inclination of thinking in neat categories. It was printed but looks handmade, the illustrations are both printed and handmade, it is a high-quality volume produced by a mass-marked publisher with both printer and illuminator working in the same business. In short, it is a fascinating product of its time. Let’s not forget that European printing was, after all, only around 75 years old in 1530. Together with more traditional book crafts, the Hardouyn brothers used the new technology to maximum effect.


Unfortunately, there are no provenance inscriptions nor any other clues pointing to previous owners in St John’s copy of the Hardouyns’ 1530 edition of the book of hours (Use of Salisbury). The volume sadly lacks the first folio with the title page, which is often a place used for ownership inscriptions.

Anecdotally, St John’s copy has been connected with English royalty. The earliest recorded statement making that connection is also the earliest reference to St John’s College’s ownership. It appears in the travel accounts of the German book collector Zacharias Konrad von Uffenbach (1683-1734), who visited Oxford in 1710. On 25 September, he was at St John’s College and among the books shown to him in was ‘a Breviarium in 8vo impressum Parissiis ap. Germ. Hardoin an. MDXXX, which is said to have been Queen Mary’s mass-book, and was like one which we had seen in Cambridge at St. John’s College.’ (Quarrell & Quarrell 1928, p. 59). There is another account of our volume from the early 18th century by the antiquarian Thomas Hearne (1678-1735), who saw the book at St John’s on 8 September 1718: ‘At St John’s Library I saw what I had never seen before, viz. The Horary in Latin, with most curious Pictures and Illuminations. It was printed at Paris, [anno] 1530, on Vellam [sic], and under each Picture are English Verses, printed also at the same time. It is the more remarkable upon account of these English Verses, and these Gentlemen, who are very knowing in Affairs of this kind, said they had not seen the like, and yet they had all been travellers in Foreign Parts.’ (Oxford Historical Society 1902, p. 222). Hearne does not mention any connection with ‘Queen Mary’.

To which ‘Queen Mary’ may Uffenbach have referred? Traditionally the volume has been linked to Mary of Modena (1658-1718), Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland. She was the second wife of James II of England (VII of Scotland), the younger brother of Charles II. Interestingly, the fine binding in black-dyed morocco leather dates from the 17th century and is reminiscent of the bindings created by Samuel Mearne (1624-1683), the royal bookbinder under Charles II.

Figure 22: Oxford, St John’s College, A.2.11, front cover

Mary arrived in England only after her marriage by proxy to James, then Duke of York, on 30 September 1673. As the book of hours follows the Salisbury Use, it seems fair to assume that it was originally printed for export to England (perhaps Wales) and if it really was Mary’s ‘mass-book’ it seems fair to assume that it did come into her possession only after her arrival in England. James II was deposed by the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Having fled to France, Mary in particular spent her exile at the court of her husband’s illustrious cousin, the Sun King, Louis XIV (‘Mary of Modena’ 2023). As the volume was reported to be at St John’s College in 1710, eight years before Mary’s death, is it correct to assume that she did not take it with her into exile, if indeed it had been her book? Interestingly, both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the first two wives of Henry VIII, owned copies of the 1528 edition of Hardouyn’s book of hours (Use of Salisbury), both printed on parchment and coloured by hand (McCaffrey 2021).[1] Hardouyn’s high-end products were thus certainly fit for queens, but, alas, there is no material evidence confirming that Mary of Modena was one of them. How did it then end up at St John’s? Would the College’s previous connections with Charles I (via William Laud) and its continuing sympathies for Catholicism have played a role in this? Who knows… The truth is that we do not know who had owned our little volume before or how it came into our library – but we do love a book with a story at St John’s!

[1] My thanks go to Sophie Bacchus-Waterman, St John’s Special Collections Photographer and expert in the books of Anne of Boleyn, for drawing my attention to these royal provenances.


If you would like to see more images of this book of hours, check out our Book of the Month feature where the volume features in February 2023.


Bibliographie des èditions parisiennes du 16e siècle (2022)[Entry for BP16_106339]. Available at: (Accessed: 31/01/2023).

‘Book of hours’ (2022) Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 02/02/2023).

English Short-Title Catalogue. [Entry for S121253]. Available at: (Accessed: 31/01/2023).

Funderburg, Katie (2021) ‘Books of Hours’, Illinois Library: Rare Book & Manuscript Library, May. Available at: (Accessed: 02/02/2023).

‘Mary of Modena’ (2023) Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 02/02/2023).

McCaffrey, Kate (2021) ‘A Book Fit for Two Queens’, The Morgan Library & Museum: Blog Posts, 28 May. Available at: (Accessed: 02/02/2023).

Mullins, Sophie (2014) Latin Books Published in Paris, 1501-1540. PhD thesis. University of St Andrews. Available at: (Accessed 02/02/2023).

Oxford Historical Society (ed.) (1902) Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne: Vol.6, Jan. 1, 1717-May 8, 1718. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Quarrell, W. H., and W. J. C. Quarrell (eds) (1928) Oxford in 1710: From the Travels of Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

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