Reference: NLW MS 15537C
To judge from the number of surviving examples, Books of Hours were the most popular texts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Western Europe. They range from exquisite and highly decorated volumes to modest texts devoid of illustration. Tens of thousands were created as commercial ventures, and thousands survive today in libraries, museums and private collections throughout the world.
Books of Hours enabled pious lay people throughout Western Europe to observe a private programme of regular daily devotion at home based on the church's daily services of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Noe, Vespers and Compline. But as often highly decorated creations, they also became popular symbols of wealth and prestige among the higher ranks of society during the later Middle Ages.
The core of every Book of Hours was the 'Hours of the Virgin', a series of eight sequences of psalms and prayers in honour of the Virgin Mary, to be recited at each canonical hour of the day. Each sequence would frequently be introduced by a miniature illustrating occurrences in the life of the Virgin, from the Annunciation (Matins) to her Coronation (Compline), miniatures often running parallel, facing page, with scenes from the Passion. These illustrations give a valuable insight into daily life in the Middle Ages.
At the beginning of each Book of Hours is a calendar, listing important Church festivals for each month, including the feast days of universal and local saints. The calendar is sometimes illustrated by pictures of the occupations appropriate to each month, and accompanying Zodiac signs.
The 'De Grey' Hours, of Sarum Use, and written on vellum, is one of a number of similar manuscripts made in Flanders for the English market during the mid-15th century. It contains the following elements:
Accompanying the texts are over sixty illustrations, including both full and half-page miniatures, together with fine historiated initials.
The festivals named in the Calendar, and the inclusion of a miniature of St Thomas Becket (f. 28v), demonstrate the artist's desire to tailor the volume to suit an English buyer. An early 16th century inscription in the Calendar for March (f. 3v) refers to the death of Elizabeth Grey, wife of Sir John Grey of Blisworth, Northamptonshire, and the arms inserted into the margins elsewhere in the volume are associated with the same family. Sir John Grey was a great-grandson of Reginald, third Baron de Grey of Rhuthun, whose animosity towards Owain Glyn Dwr led to the latter's rising. The history of the manuscript between the early-sixteenth and late-nineteenth centuries is unknown.
In 1895, the volume was purchased by Henry Yates Thompson, probably the greatest manuscript collector of his generation, and it remained (as MS 27) in his collection until it was sold at Sotheby's, 23 March 1920, lot 42, and purchased by Miss Gwendoline E. Davies of Gregynog, Powys. The 'De Grey' Hours, along with the 'Sherbrooke Missal' (NLW MS 15536E), were presented to the National Library of Wales by Miss Margaret S. Davies, Gregynog in 1951.