Bedford Hours

Ms. Add. 18850 - British Library (London, United Kingdom)

Alternate Titles:

Bedford-Stundenbuch, Stundenbuch des Herzogs von Bedford

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Alternate Titles

Stundenbuch des Herzogs von Bedford

Extent / Format

578 pages / 26.3 x 18.4 cm

Around 1423-1430

Jean, Duke of Bedford (1389 - 1435) or Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (reigned 1419 - 1467)

Artist / School

Bedford Master
Master of the Munich Golden Legend
Workshop of the Bedford Master


5 full-page and 38 large-format miniatures, 3 historiated initials, approx. 1,250 border illustrations

Former owners

Anne, Duchess of Bedford
King Henry VI of England (reigned 1422-1461)
Margaret of Anjou
King Henry II of France (reigned 1547-1559)

Short description

The Bedford Hours is considered worldwide to be the richest and most beautiful illuminated manuscript of medieval book art. It was produced in the early 15th century in the renowned Parisian workshop of the Bedford Master, one of Europe’s most gifted medieval illuminators. The work gained its title through its close association with the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster. Each page of the comprehensive work presents as least one breath-taking pictorial scene in a splendid variety of colors as well as rich gold and silver adornment.

Facsimile editions available


Bedford Hours

Among the many masterpieces of medieval illumination and book art, the book of hours of the so-called Bedford Master has special significance. It is considered to be the Middle Age’s richest book of hours and is one of the greatest treasures of the British Library in London. The book contains 587 pages of an absolutely luxurious abundance furnishings. Altogether, the codex contains 38 large-format miniatures richly embellished with gold and silver as well as 1250 fascinating, smaller miniature medallions. The handwritten text of the private prayer and devotional books was recorded in Latin and the enchanting pictures are accompanied by French explanatory notes in red and blue ink. The work is counted among the most influential and masterful medieval illuminated manuscripts in the world.

The Mysterious Bedford Master

For a long time, it was thought that the precious book of hours of John I of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford was commissioned by John himself. This assumption clarified the title of the work and also the maker’s name of convenience, the Bedford Master. Although the Bedford Master belonged to the highest rank of medieval illuminators worldwide, almost no sources regarding his life have survived. It is merely known that the Master worked in Paris from 1405 to 1465 as one of the most prominent illuminators of Europe. He personally completed virtually all of his stunning miniatures, which represent the artist’s greatest tour de force.

A Personal Book Treasure

In the course of history, it has been determined that the unbelievably precious and expensive book of hours was not commissioned by the Duke of Bedford himself. In the year 1423, the Duke entered into a politically important marriage with Anne of Burgundy, daughter of the French Duke. Her father, **John the Fearless is considered to be a passionate lover of books and possessed one of the greatest collections of illuminated manuscripts in all the Middle Ages. One can gather that the Bedford Hours was presented as a wedding gift to the bride from her brother. However, the marriage of Anna and the Duke of Bedford was not recorded in historical sources as a mere marriage of convenience, but rather described as a genuine romantic relationship. As a result, the masterly book of hours is still seen as a symbol of the deep love and affection that the couple bore for one another.

Innovate Book Adornment

The exceptionally comprehensive book of hours is furnished with a phenomenal 1,288 miniatures in splendid colors and opulent gold and silver adornment. Each page of the work presents at least one breath-taking and incomparable image. The miniatures, all of which depict important scenes from the Old- and New Testaments, revolutionized medieval illumination. The Bedford Master possessed an indescribably exact instinct for the realistic reproduction of nature, for perspectival representations, for open landscapes, and for architectural interrelationships. Also, his talent in the art of portraiture was unrivalled by his contemporary artist colleagues. His expressive, realistic images represent a highpoint of the art of illumination in the Middle Ages and exercised a strong influence on successive miniaturists across the world. The image of the story of the Tower of Babel set standards in particular and is famous to this day. These marvelous book illustrations will bestow a sense of reverent astonishment on every beholder.

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