The Medieval Review 10.06.16

Barratt, Alexandra. Anne Bulkeley and her Book: Fashioning Female Piety in Early Tudor England. A Study of London, British Library, MS Harley 494. Texts and Transitions: Studies in the History of Manuscripts and Printed Books. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. xii, 275. $105 ISBN 978-2-503-52071-1. .

Reviewed by:

Katherine French
SUNY-New Paltz

In her book Anne Bulkeley and her Book: Fashioning Piety in Early Tudor England, Alexandra Barratt offers both a close analysis of the contents and contexts of British Museum manuscript Harley 494 as well as an edited edition of the manuscript itself. MS Harley 494 has been little studied, but Barratt convincingly shows that there is much about this manuscript that warrants attention. MS Harley 494 is an anthology of religious writings assembled between 1532 and 1535. The book was likely the product of a mother and daughter collaboration and as such, it offers insights into women's reading and religious practices; its religious contents also provide evidence of religious interests on the eve of the Reformation. Moreover, as Barratt argues, the production of MS Harley 494 after the arrival of printing to England, demonstrates the continued value and use of manuscripts.

Barratt identifies the original owner and compiler as Anne Bulkeley, wife of Robert Bulkeley of Fordingbridge, Hampshire, and daughter of Robert Poyntz of Iron Acton, Gloucestershire. Poyntz fought for Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth and was knighted; he married Margaret Woodville, niece of Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV. Poyntz went on to serve as vice-chamberlain and chancellor to Catherine of Aragon's household. Poyntz's children maintained their royal connections through their service and marriages. Anne and Robert Bulkeley had numerous children, one of whom, a daughter Anne became a nun at Amesbury Priory, a house originally connected to the order of Fontevrault. Barratt believes that Anne the mother had the manuscript made, and gave it to her daughter, who added the last quire.

The major influence on the manuscript was Syon Abbey. Barratt hypothesizes that Anne Bulkeley's appreciation of Syon grew from Catherine of Aragon's interest in the foundation. The manuscript itself is the right size to fit into a pocket for carriage to church or a special place of contemplation. It contains thirty-three different items in both Latin and English. There are seventeen different hands, two of which might be the two owners and a third belongs to Robert Taylor, Clerk of the Works at Syon Abbey, who contributed sixteen different items. Taylor produced two other known manuscripts, the only manuscript of the Birgittine Myroure of oure Ladye as well as a translation of Savonarola's book on the life of widows. Barratt also suggests that some of the unidentified hands might belong to Syon nuns.

The book is notable for its diverse contents, some of which have yet to be identified or may be original to this manuscript. Identified pieces in the manuscript include several texts written by Richard Whitford a monk of Syon and William Bonde, a fellow of Pembroke College with close ties to Syon. Also included in MS Harley 494 are St. Brigit's revelations and extracts in both English and Latin from Mechtild of Hackeborn's Liber specialis gratiae. One unusual text is a spiritual exercise organized around the Five Wounds attributed to Mary Ostrewyk, also known as Maria van Hout, who died in 1547. She was a beguine from the Netherlands, who moved to Cologne to be near Gerhard Kalckbrenner, a Carthusian monk with whom she had corresponded. While Kalckbrenner published some of Maria's writings, including the spiritual exercise, he did not attribute it to her. However a manuscript from Darmstadt includes the Five Wound exercise and an attribution. Whether created at the behest of Anne Bulkeley the mother or her spiritual advisors, the contents, therefore, reflect access to specialized Continental sources connected with the Birgittine tradition.

After detailed analysis of the manuscript, the rest of Barratt's study focuses on contextualizing MS Harley 494. She argues that its production in a period of religious turmoil is testament to the frequent disconnects between religious politics and religious practice. Both Syon Abbey and Amesbury Priory were involved with MS Harley 494, and all the texts are associated with the Birgittines. Syon was known for its library and intense private spiritual practices, which are reflected in MS Harley 494's contents. During the Reformation, Syon was not dissolved, rather the nuns left, taking the keys with them, never having surrendered the house. Amesbury was dissolved, and some of the nuns, including Anne Bulkeley lived together adhering to some religious life, as evidenced by MS Harley 494. Barratt is also interested in Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent, whose treason trial coincided with the production of MS Harley 494. Barton was a frequent visitor to Syon, where her visions created interest and ultimately danger for the house. Barratt notes that while MS Harley 494 contains a number of texts from visionary women, they are not identified as such, possibly because of the dangerous connotations they now assumed.

On the surface MS Harley 494 compares easily to a preces privatae, or a book of hours. There are prayers for throughout the day arranged as such, although beyond that the organizing principal is not always clear. These similarities not withstanding, Barratt finds stronger analogies to MS Harley 494 in Birgittine prayer books, such as Lambeth Palace MS 3600. Barratt argues that while some aspects of the manuscript look like a book of hours, the nuns of Syon did not use books of hours. The similarity between MS Harley 494 and Lambeth Palace MS 3600 lies in their common bank of devotional texts available to both the Syon community and its devotees. One of the texts contained in MS Harley 494 is a text for how to live a mixed life called Dyurnall frequently attributed to Whitford. Scholars interested in women's piety often look to household piety, of which both Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and Cecily, duchess of York and mother to Edward IV and Richard III, were devotees. The Dyurnall was a more accessible version of the piety practiced by these two royal women. The version in MS Harley 494, like other items, was specifically adapted for a woman. These modifications suggest the flexibility of manuscripts over printed books.

Another element that differentiates MS Harley 494 from books of hours is its dominant devotional themes. The manuscript is a product of early sixteenth-century spiritual fashions. It emphasizes the sacralization of daily life, the sacraments, particularly confession and the Eucharist, Christ's passion, devotion to the name of Jesus, and the Virgin Mary. The saints, however, are little in evidence. At the end of her analysis of MS Harley 494's contents and contexts Barratt provides a transcription and translation of the manuscript. Included in it are notes on the sources when known, and a glossary.

Barratt has produced a valuable and interesting analysis of a heretofore little-known manuscript. While cognizant of the manuscripts larger import, Barratt stays focused on analysis of the manuscript and its owners and influences. She leaves aside larger questions of gentry life and religiosity, women's devotional and reading habits, mother- daughter relationships, and the fate of nuns after the Dissolution. Her careful and wide-ranging archival work, however, makes clear this manuscript's significance to these issues and its historical situation and female patronage will make it interesting to a variety of scholars.