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Prayer-book Of Sigismond I. Of Poland

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

In the number of your magazine for this month, p. 493, a correspondent says, in reference to the Young Pretender, that "it will appear from a manuscript now in the British Museum, 'called a Prayer Book of Sigismond the First, King of Poland,' that his names at full were 'Charles Edward Lewis Casimir Stuart.' " He adds that he had not himself seen this manuscript, but that in it are entered the births of the children of James and Clementina, the parents of Prince Charles. Having had an opportunity of examining the manuscript in question, I am enabled to correct the error into which your correspondent has fallen, by assuring him that there are no entries in it of a date later than the sixteenth century, and that they all refer to the Queen and family of Sigismond I., for whom the volume was executed in 1524.

As the manuscript itself is one of considerable value, perhaps a description of its contents, and a transcript of the more important entries alluded to above, may not be without interest. It is a small quarto volume, measuring at present 61 inches in height by 4 1/2 in width, but has been cut down from its original size to the extent of at least two inches, and the illuminated borders in consequence have been most barbarously mutilated. It is difficult to say for what purpose this act of Vandalism was committed, unless it were to enable the owner to place the book conveniently in his pocket an object, one would suppose, dearly purchased by the sacrifice of so beautiful a work of art as this volume must have been when perfect ; the remains of which, even in its deteriorated condition, excite admiration in all who behold it.

The volume originally consisted of 203 leaves of vellum, and is written throughout in a fair Roman letter, each line of which is inter-ruled with gold, and with triple gold lines round each page.

The larger initials and borders are elaborately wrought in gold and colours, and the smaller capitals and alineas are also elegantly de-signed in gold on various coloured grounds. There are, in addition, four miniatures introduced, the size of the page, of admirable design and execution, and numerous arabesque borders. The first of these miniatures is prefixed' to the volume, and represents St. Jerome writing his Psalter at a desk, in a cardinal's habit, whilst his attendant lion crouches at his feet. A small crucifix is attached to the desk, and on the cushion beneath lies a velvet-bound volume, while others are placed in the recess of a window at the side, and above the holy father an hour-glass hangs suspended from the wall. The whole composition is full of dignity, and the colouring in this and in the other miniatures is rich and harmonious, and finished with a skill that is but seldom seen. The artist was clearly a follower of the German school of art, and a close imitator of Albert Durer ; but he has evidently also studied the Italian school, as appears in the ornamental designs of the borders. His name I have been unable to ascertain, but the initials of it, S. C., can be discerned by a keen eye in one corner of the miniature above described, and they occur a second time in the border of fol. 194b, with the addition of F. for fait. As the date of 1524, at the end of the volume, fixes the period of the artist, perhaps some person may be more fortunate than myself in identifying him : and it may assist the inquiry to state that another manuscript executed by the same artist in 1527, for Francesco Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, and bearing also his initials, is preserved among Douce's MS. collection in the Bodleian Library, No. 40.* In point of richness, and the number of illuminations, as well as preservation, the latter volume has greatly the advantage over the MS. in the Museum, although inferior to it in point of historical interest. In the border beneath the miniature of St. Jerome is the royal shield of Poland, hearing the white eagle, and on each side cherubs support a crown over it, a design which is introduced again ou the opposite page; and on the upper part of the painting is a small tablet, inscribed in golden letters, Salvum fac, domine, Regem nostrum Sigismundum." Beneath this, in capital letters also of gold, is written, " Incipit Psalterium S. Jeronimi." This first portion of the MS. does not contain the entire Psalter, but a series of extracts from it, which is closed by a prayer at fol. 3513. Then follows the "Letania Post Psalterium," which extends from foil. 37 to fol.!;2b, and concludes with another prayer. The second portion commences at fol. 53, and consists of "Orationes de Passione Domini," which are continued to fol. 64b, inclusive. Among these is inserted, at fol. 59, the second large miniature, which is of exceeding beauty and interest, representing the monarch Sigismond I. on his knees before the Saviour, who is drawn at full length, as if just descended from the cross, the crown of thorns still on His brow, and the drops of blood still pouring from His wounds, and offering to the royal suppliant bread and wine, the types of the Communion. The features of the king are admirably painted, and no doubt present us with a genuine portrait. He is habited in a scarlet robe, trimmed with fur, and over it is a rich collar of gold and gems.

The third portion of the volume embraces fol. 6513-79, and contains the " Oraciones ante et post Communionem, multum devotissime ;" prefixed to which is the third miniature, of richer execution even than the preceding ones, representing the Virgin, with the infant Jesus in her arms, standing on a crescent, in a graceful, yet commanding attitude, and surrounded by a halo, regarding with benignity the monarch Sigismond, who kneels at her feet. This painting is in excellent preservation, and the figure of the Virgin, in its attitude, dishevelled hair, and drapery, resembles so much a well-known etching of Alert Durer, as to induce me to believe that the artist may in some degree have copied from it.

The shield of Poland is repeated in the border, and in the following page another shield is introduced, hearing the arms of Lithuania, supported by two native soldiers, of very spirited design, but, unfortunately, somewhat mutilated.

At the close of this division are introduced in a later hand various prayers, which, as appears by a rubric prefixed, were transcribed after Sigismond's death, from another volume which had belonged to him. These extend from fol. 79 to fol. 8513. The last portion, which embraces the remainder of the volume, from fol. 86 to fol. i97b, is entitled " Clipeus Spiritualis," and has an address to Sigismond prefixed, written in blue letters, commencing in the following words : " Serenissimo domino Sigismundo primo, Regi Polonie. Qui hune libellum tibi miserim, non oportet queri, Serenissirne Rex Mittitur enim ab ignoto, ob hanc unicam causam, quod precationes victorie in eo contente, a quodam devoto heremita, cum commemoracione vite et factorum Christi, composite, ad to maxime pertinent, et uni tibi inter alios Christianos Principes proprie conveniunt, cujus ensis non in diffundendo, sed in defendendo Christiano sanguine exercetur," etc. We have here, therefore, the testimony of the donor of the volume, that he caused it to be executed for the King, and presented it to him, without letting his name be known, and chiefly with the pious object that, through the efficacy of the prayers contained in it, Sigismond might be enabled to triumph over his enemies. In the border surrounding the first page of this address, is introduced a coat of arms, gules, a ram passant argent, horned or, which is borne by the Franconian families of Vogt von Reinech and Tottenheim,* and may probably lead to the discovery of the donor. After the address follows the third miniature, which is intended as a frontispiece to the collection of prayers and litany. On it is drawn a large shield, supported by cherubs, and inscribed "Clipeus Spiritualis," etc., with the arms of Poland and Lithuania in each lower corner, and sentences from the Psalms inscribed around. On a tablet suspended from the top is the invocation, " Domine, salvum fac regem nostrum Sigismundum," as at the commencement of the volume. Many of the prayers in this and the preceding portions of the volume breathe a tone of the deepest humility and devotion; and that the royal personage for whom they were intended, or his successors, have constantly meditated on them, we have-the strongest proof in the thumb-worn leaves, the writing on which, in some instances, is now completely obliterated by use. At the end of this portion is written in capital letters of gold, "Laudans invocabo Dominum, et ab inimicis mein salvus pro. 1524. —S." After this are inserted in the volume, as now bound, some later additions on paper, extending from fol. 198 to fol. 219, written in Italian hand of the close of the sixteenth century. These commence with a prayer, " Ad recte obeundum munus regium," which is followed by other orations and psalms, evidently drawn up for the use of one of the royal possessors ; and these are succeeded by a series of prayers to saints, accompanied by drawings, among which figure St. Michael, the archangel Raphael, St. Christopher, St. Roch, St. Sebastian, St. Leonard, and St. Anthony. Many of these prayers are directed against an epidemic disorder (testis epidimia), and were composed probably on some particular occasion.

I now come to the entries relating to the family of Sigismond, which occur on the fly-leaves of the manuscript, at the beginning and end. They are all nearly contemporary with the events re-corded, and of much value, as affording fixed dates, on which reliance can be placed. Several of these are in the handwriting of Queen Bona, second wife of Sigismond I. (daughter of Giovanni Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan), who was married in 1518 ; and one of the first entries is a memorandum that her annual dowry in the kingdom of Poland amounted to about 54,000 Polish solidi, at the rate of 30 grossi to each, and in Lithuania to 36,000 solidi. On fol. 3 we read :

" La Ser Reina Bona si parte . de Varsovia it pm° giorno di Febru . . . che fù di Sabbato dell' anno 15[551 et arrive, in Bari, nel porto, alli . . . di Maggio del medesimo anno. Qu . . . la sua felicissima intrata dentr . . Cittâ di Bari, alli xiii. di det .. . mese, che fû di Mercordi."

This entry refers to the period when Queen Bona retired from Poland to her duchy of Bari, where she remained until her death, which took place in less than three years afterwards. Two other entries relating to this lady, one written while she was living, and the other after her decease, appear on the last fly-leaf of the manu-script.

" Die iia mésis Februarii, 1494, hora 13a m'. 30. Vegenolis* nata est Serma Dna Bona Sfortia, Regina Polonie, etc. Quam fata felicme servét, dum fluvii in freta current, convexa plus dum sidera pascet.

" Die 19 mésis Novebris, 1557, hora quinta noctis Serma dna Bona Sfortia Regina Poloniæ e vita discesist, in castro Bari, ubi stetit usque diem quart' mésis Octobris anni sequentis 1558, et ipso die sepulta fuit . . . archiepiscopali, in civitate Bari, et illic facet. . . ."

It would hence seem that Anderson is in error in placing her decease in 1558, as also is Padre Antonio Beatillo, in assigning it to the year 1556.f It appears from the last-named writer that the Queen's body was removed in 1593 from the cathedral to the church of St. Nicolas, where a superb monument had been erected to her memory by her surviving daughter Anna, widow of Stephen Bathori, King of Poland from 1575 to 1586 ; and in the inscription Queen Bona's age is stated at " 65 y. 7 n2. to d.," which does not, however, agree with the dates entered in the manuscript.

The entries which succeed in point of time are those which relate to the children of Sigismond I. and Bona.

"Die martis, hora quarta noctis statim pulsata, 18 Januarii, 1519, Cracovie nata est Illma D'na Ysabella Casimiriensis, ut felicissimis auspiciis, et vehementissime desideratis.

"Die primo Augti, 1520, Cracovie, prope diem albescente, pulsata statim septima flora noctis precedentis, natus est Illmus Princeps D"n's Sigismundus modernus, futurus Rex et heres, cui sidera faveant nestorea etatem, imperi' felicissim' et optabile.

"Die 13 Julii, 1522, hora 4a noctis subsequetis pulsata, Cracov nata est Ill D'na Sophia, sub felici et auspicatissimo sidere, qua rerum oinm conditor diu servet et felicitet ad nestoreos et optatos anos.

"Alli 18 de Octobro 1523 nasci Anna, sonate 13 hora.

"Allo primo de Novembro, 1526, nasci Caterina, sonate 4 bore."

Of these children, the eldest born, Isabella Casimir, became the wife of John Zapolski, Waiwode of Transylvania, and afterwards King of Hungary. The second, Sigismond Augustus, after the death of his father in 1548, was elected King of Poland, and died without issue in 1572, and with him expired the dynasty of the Jagellon line. He had three wives, the first and third of whom were sisters, both being daughters of the Emperor Ferdinand I. On fol. 217b are the following memoranda relating to these marriages.

"A di iii di Maggio, nell'ano 1543, la Reina Elisabeth, figlia di Rè di Romani, fù maritata al Serm° Sigismondo Augusto, Rè de Polonia.

"A di... di Luglio, del anno 1553, la Reina Caterina, pur figlia del sodetto Rè di Romani, fù maritata al sodetto Rè di Polonia."*

Of the remaining children of Sigismond I. Sophia married Henry, Duke of Brunswick, and died in 1575 ; Anna became wife of Stephen Bathori (as before mentioned), and died without issue, in 1586 ; and Catherine married John III. King of Sweden, by whom she had Sigismond III., elected King of Poland in 1587, after the death of Stephen Bathori.

The last two entries of births are in the handwriting of Queen Bona, by whom also a long note has been written on fol. 220b, but subséquently erased, and the following memoranda in reference to her mother, Isabella of Arragon, daughter of Alphonso II. King of Naples :

"Isabella Aragonie, Dux Mediolani, nata est Neapoli, die iiii Octobris, que est dies Fracisci, hora xa m' xii. anno M°cccc°lxx°.

" Alli 11 de Febraro, nel anno 1524, e morta la Illma Sra duchessa de Milano, in Napoli."

The only remaining entry in the volume worth notice (which is also the latest) is the autograph signature of " Sigismundus Rex Tertius," at fol. 203b, which has narrowly escaped the knife of the binder ; a proof, by the way, that the present binding, and consequently the mutilation of the volume, is subsequent to the period of his accession in 1587, and probably of his reign, which ceased in 1632. How the volume passed from the hands of Sigismond the Third's sons and successors to the Sobieski dynasty does not appear; and the remainder of its history is to be gathered from a recent note at the beginning, by which it appears that, in 1838 or 1839, the manuscript was procured at Frescati from the possessor of the effects of the Cardinal York, and came into the possession of the Stuarts by the marriage of the Princess Marie Clementine Sobieski in 1719 to Prince James, the first Pretender, son of King James II. It was presented to the Duke of Sussex by the Chevalier Gregoire de Berardi ; and at the sale of the Duke's MSS. in August, 1844, was purchased for the British Museum, for the sum of Z73 10S.

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