Fifteenth Century Art

The theme of The Merry Wife of Windsor is William Shakespeare’s masterpiece The Merry Wives of Windsor and the 15th century world in which it transpires (as well as the reigns of the Lancastrian Kings, Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI). This website pays homage to the following plays of Shakespeare:

Richard II

Henry IV, Part I

Henry IV, Part II

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Henry V

Henry VI, Part I

Henry VI, Part II

That being said, the majority of the art featured here comes from two medieval masterpieces: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry) and The Bedford Hours (of John, Duke of Bedford). I have included art from both medieval manuscripts in an attempt to give the website a genuinely medieval atmosphere and feel.

What is a Book of Hours?

Book of Hours was a Christian devotional book that was popular in the Middle Ages. It included all sorts of useful aspects for the medieval penitent: a calendar of Church feasts, excerpts from the Gospels, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the 15 Psalms of Degrees, the 7 Penitential Psalms, the Litany of Saints, the Office of the Dead (praying for the deceased), the Hours of the Cross, and various other prayers. It included an abbreviated form of prayers that were utilized by the laity (secular Catholics). The clergy and religious Catholics prayed a longer version of prayers known as the Breviary or Liturgia Horarum (Liturgy of the Hours). The prayers were prayed at different times of the day:

Matins (sometimes called Vigils or Nocturns): prayed at nighttime; around midnight

Lauds: Dawn or 3 am

Prime: Early Morning Prayer or 6 am

Terce: Mid-Morning Prayer or 9 am

Sext: Midday Prayer or 12 pm

None: Mid-Afternoon Prayer of 3 pm

Vespers: Evening Prayer or 6 pm

Compline: Night Prayer or 9 pm

Who were the Duke of Berry and the Duke of Bedford?

The Duke of Berry and the Duke of Bedford were alive during the reigns of Henry IV (1399-1413) and Henry V (1413-1422). But who were they exactly?

John, Duke of Berry (1340-1416) (Jean de Berry in French), known as John the Magnificent, is recognized primarily for his resplendent and ornate Book of Hours. During his lifetime he was a patron of the arts and art collector, and had numerous illuminated manuscripts commissioned. According to J.R. Strayer, “Like other works produced on the duke’s auspices, this model of elegance reflected many of the artistic tendencies of the time in its fusion of Flemish realism, of the refined Parisian style, and of Italian panel-painting techniques.” By the time of his death, the Duke of Berry was actually in debt because of his numerous projects. According to the Louvre: “By his exacting taste, by his tireless search for artists, from Jacquemart de Hesdin to the Limbourg brothers, Jean de Berry made a decisive contribution to the renewal of art which took place in his time and to a number of religious houses, notably Notre Dame de Paris.”

  • To find out more about the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, click here and here.

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford (1389-1435) was the son of Henry IV and his first wife, Mary de Bohun.  During the 10 years the Duke of Bedford was acting as Governor of Normandy (for his nephew, Henry VI, son of the deceased Henry V), he took an active interest illuminated manuscripts, many of which came from France and England. He also played a role in the founding of the University of Caen. He commissioned: the Bedford Hoursthe Salisbury Breviary, and the Bedford Psalter and Hours. When Henry V had died, he left his son Henry VI “in infant bands crown’d King”, as Shakespeare put it, and he remained for a time in France to ensure that the French were honoring the Treaty of Troyes. The Treaty of Troyes removed Charles, the Dauphin from the line of accession (of the French throne)  and declared all children of Henry V and Catherine of Valois to be the true heirs of France.

  • To find out more about the Bedford Hours, click here and here.