'Queen Elizabeth's Prayer Book'

A leaf from A booke of Christian prayers, collected out of the auncie[n]t writers, and best learned in our tyme, worthy to be read with an earnest mynde of all Christians, in these daungerous and troublesome dayes, that God for Christes sake will yet still be mercyfull vnto vs, possibly by Richard Day, printed by John Day in London in 1581 (171 x 120 mm)

In its layout, this attractive little leaf is a clear descendant from the earlier printed Books of Hours, and it served the same function, though for protestants rather than catholics. Its compiler is thought to have been John Day's son Richard, who was a clergyman as well as a printer. What is significant is that the prayers are in English. Up until the end of Henry VIII's reign services in the Church of England were still conducted in Latin (though this leaf is from a book for private devotions, not a service book.) The beautiful opening words of the two prayers on this leaf, 'Soften our hearts O Lord ...' and 'Where charity and love are ...' remind us of the cadences of the Book of Common Prayer now seldom heard in services of the Church of England.

Editions of the Booke of Christian prayers had a frontispiece showing Queen Elizabeth I and she is known to have used an earlier version, so this became popularly known as 'Queen Elizabeth's Prayer Book'.

The woodcut borders depicting cardinal virtues – here moderation and sobriety I think – may be based on originals by Albrecht Dürer.

 

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